Sunday, December 09, 2007


Today's New York Times Book Review includes a review of Philip Davis's book Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life. Here's the paper's capsule biography of the book's reviewer:

Lee Siegel's "Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob" will be published next month.

That's the name of Lee Siegel's new book? Just this title is breathtakingly wrongheaded.

(You remember Lee Siegel. He began blogging for The New Republic and soon afterward declared that he saw in the blogosphere "hard fascism with a Microsoft face," after which he began railing against "blogofascism." His attack on an academic named James Kincaid who writes about images of child sexuality in the media included unsubstantiated charges that Kincaid is a pedophile, despite the fact that Siegel himself has written about his regrets that he did not sex with Uma Thurman when she was sixteen. Ultimately, he lost his New Republic blogging gig after creating a sock puppet named "sprezzatura" who gushingly praised his writings and viciously attacked his critics.)

But ...Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob? Wow. Just wow. So much stupidity in a mere twelve words.

First, the main title: If you want to be taken seriously as a cultural critic (and an adult), why on earth would you give your book 75% of the name of a band whose most enduring contribution to the culture is the chant "Fuck you! I won't do what you tell me"? (Yeah, they did rawk, but still.)

Then the subtitle: Er, what could be more human than a mob? OK, yeah, some animals also travel in packs and engage in group violence -- but a mob is (and was long before the Internet came into being) a whole bunch of humans. In the Internet age, it's still a whole bunch of humans. The "electronic mob" (assuming you think such a thing exists) isn't a bunch of electrons. And the victims of mobs also tend to be humans, or humans' handiwork. So in what way would being either part of an online mob or the victim of such a mob threaten your humanity? Even if a whole bunch of blogofascists got together and hounded you to your death (which, of course, happens all the time, right?), you'd still be human.

Here's a sentence from the publisher's description of the book, via Amazon:

The web and its cultural correlatives and by-products -- such as the dominance of reality television and the rise of the "bourgeois bohemian" -- have turned privacy into performance, play into commerce, and confused "self-expression" with art.

Hunh? Yuppies like bare-wood floors and locally baked organic bread, and that somehow is linked to the popularity of American Idol? And the beginning of the modern reality-show trend is a "cultural correlative" of the Internet, even though the first big hit in the current wave of reality shows was The Real World, which premiered in 1992, when most people had never seen a Web browser? And, yeah, privacy was being turned into performance back when people put themselves on 24/7 Webcams, but has anyone even looked at a performance-art Web cam since the late '90s? (Porn doesn't count.) And, er, wasn't there a hell of a lot of performance art decades before that?

Dumb. Stupendously dumb.

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