June 23, 2007

Writing under a pseudonym.

I've been thinking about pseudonymous writing lately.

There's the AutoAdmit case where two Yale law students are suing various pseudonymous individuals -- presumably law students -- who wrote outrageous things about them on an unmoderated website. The plaintiffs -- who are themselves using pseudonyms to hide their identity -- seek money damages from the pseudonymous writers, but they can also punish them -- even without prevailing on their claims -- simply by unmasking their true identity, which could make it difficult for them to pursue their legal careers.

Many bloggers use pseudonyms. There was that doctor who was defending himself in a malpractice suit and blogging about it on the side, calling himself "Flea." Are you Flea? Dr. Robert P. Lindeman was asked on cross-examination. He had to say yes, and, at that point, he had to settle the case. The jury would have hated him if they'd heard all the cocky things he thought the pseudonym freed him to write.

I've always blogged under my own name, though I sometimes ponder the question whether the "Ann Althouse" of the blog is the Ann Althouse of my real life. (We could digress into the subject of when life on the blog becomes one's real life and life in the physical world becomes the act. There is the mask one wears to live in Madison, Wisconsin and to function in the role of a law professor. The blog persona is different -- and I have even argued that my "front page" blog persona is different from my comments page persona! -- and it may be more genuine.)

I've written about
my colleague who writes under a pseudonym:
Oscar wants to be free to use naughty words and otherwise break out of the professorial mode. But my experience is that even though students know who I am and can and do read this blog, they seem to accept this as a separate mode of mine and don't use it as a basis for talking to me in a newly confidential way. In the law school, the student-professor relationship is very well established. It really doesn't break down, even when students read your personal journal.
Or so I like to think! Maybe not. I'm sure some of my commenters -- writing under a pseudonym, of course -- will tell me that students do not keep this separate. How many of my pseudonymous commenters are, in fact, my students? Yesterday, I had a problem with a commenter who came here to speak insultingly to me -- "You look ugly, stop embarrassing us already!" -- and then asserted that he was a student at my law school. That crossed a line:
A law student might find it interesting to participate here and get outside of the conventional environment. But as soon as you identify yourself as a law student, that can't happen. And I'm not willing to assume my lawprof mentor style with someone who wants the freedom to talk to me in a way that he could not do if he were identified. I'm not going to have a conversation like that. If you want to talk to me as a law student or alumnus, do that, and act like one. But don't come here and insult me and leave me feeling like I have to respond in a tolerant, supportive way.
Remember the old problem of authors adopting a pseudonym so they could lard their book's Amazon page with fulsome praise? And, of course, there's the journalist or blogger who adopts a pseudonym to participate in his comments section as if he were a fan of himself.

I used to think it would be an artistic thing to do to be various personas writing within one's own comments section or writing and linking on various other blogs. The model I had in mind was Plato's dialogues. Why not design a set of fictional characters and write in dialogue form? Though I've written about doing that before, I've never done it. Years ago, it seemed purely creative to me. Today, it's so obviously against the culture that has grown up within blogging that it would require a very different sort of decision to go that route. One could do something like that by clearly revealing that the pseudonyms are your fictional characters. That would be like a novelist writing in the first person. No one thinks that is a fraud.

By contrast, there are these writers who purport to be memoirists who make things up. But they don't have a problem with pseudonymity. They have a problem blurring the line between truth and fiction. A fascinating pseudonym problem occurs when a writer uses a false identity to make a work of fiction more interesting and saleable.

There was a trial this week in a civil suit for fraud against Laura Albert, who made up the name "JT LeRoy" to write a novel -- "Sarah" -- about West Virginia lowlifes:
Ms. Albert, 41, was found by the jury in Federal District Court to have strayed beyond the normal limits of pseudonymous invention, in part by signing a movie contract using her nom de plume...

Long before this somewhat narrow legal matter reached the courts, the broader story of JT LeRoy, with its agitprop allure and celebrity aroma, played out on the larger and much more garish canvas of the press. After “Sarah” thrust the writer into stardom in 2000, JT LeRoy became the damaged darling of the art house set, a street waif and supposed son of a truck stop prostitute who, usually by way of telephone or e-mail (he was “famously reclusive”), befriended the likes of Courtney Love and Winona Ryder — at least until his startling existence as a fiction was revealed.

All the while, of course, it was Ms. Albert, a mother and otherwise obscure novelist from Brooklyn Heights, who was spinning gritty fantasies of drug addiction and Appalachian misery for the rich and famous names at the other end of the keyboard or the line. She gave interviews in a twangy accent to Terry Gross on NPR and sometimes paid her former boyfriend’s half-sister to appear in disguise as JT LeRoy in the rarefied air of literary readings or the international film festival at Cannes.

It was deceptions like these that Antidote’s lawyers said constituted her fraud. Yet even though the company’s lawyers assailed her in court as a trickster and wily master of self-promotion, they — and their client, Mr. Levy-Hinte — admitted a grudging admiration for her writing talents, and for her performance.

They also evinced a quiet sympathy for Ms. Albert, for it was soon apparent that the eight-day trial would include testimony about her rather gruesome history — a litany of adolescent trauma that included sexual abuse, institutionalization and 13 years of telephone therapy in which she spoke to her psychiatrist in the adopted persona of a teenage boy. That boy, whom she took to calling Jeremy or Jeremiah, was a sort of early incarnation of the full-blown alter ego that would eventually evolve into JT LeRoy.
Hmmm... the whole trial worked as a publicity stunt. It subtly transformed Albert into a sympathetic victim.
Among the various battles waged at the trial — art versus commerce, truth versus fiction, reality versus the imagination — it was perhaps the battle over JT LeRoy’s purpose in the world that was most in dispute. Before his identity (or, rather, nonidentity) was revealed last year in a series of newspaper articles, the production team at Antidote considered him that rare commodity in today’s biography-obsessed entertainment world: a gifted writer with a titillating past that only enhanced the value of the work. After the revelation, the company took the position that Ms. Albert had used the JT LeRoy “brand” — the same that had attracted them — as a celebrity magnet to draw attention to her books.

Ms. Albert herself, in testimony from the stand, suggested that JT LeRoy was far more than a pseudonym in the classic Mark Twain-Samuel Clemens mold. She offered the idea that JT LeRoy was a sort of “respirator” for her inner life: an imaginary, though necessary, survival apparatus that permitted her to breathe.
So she has to pay back the option money, but the trial works to nullify the problem of the fake identity and to allow Albert to step into the spotlight as a writer who can openly take credit for her book. Presumably, it's a good book. Now, by the ordeal of trial, she has become a saleable character. She can now seek absolution in the Church of Oprah. Tell us all about how you needed JT LeRoy as respirator.

I half-suspect the lawsuit was a collusive enterprise, designed to advance the movie project and accomplish the disclosure of the author's identity with panache. You start off as an author with a boring background, so you make up a fictional identity, and then the process of owning up to your deception makes you interesting in your own right. If you'd just issued a press release, we'd have had contempt for you. But this ordeal of trial makes us care.

Where is the real fraud?

76 comments:

dave™© said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
steve simels said...
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jane said...

The above is why a lot of people stay anonymous online. Some people are freaky abusive. Other otherwise good guys get their feelings hurt and a little hostile when they’ve completely misinterpreted something you’ve written. A few even lovingly stalk you- this happened to me for a couple of years when I posted an email with my name in it. (He wasn’t my type.)

Isn’t pseudonymous fraud and sock puppetry mostly annoying, whereas pseudonymous hate, as in the above, despicable and cowardly? Evidently, some people feel free to plumb the depths of vileness, as long as they can hide behind a fictive, often ridiculous moniker.

AllenS said...

Anybody get the idea that dave comments, then takes off one sock and puts it on one of his hands, and, whamo, there's steve!

Socks of a feather, comment together.

Simon said...

"I used to think it would be an artistic thing to do to be various personas writing within one's own comments section or writing and linking on various other blogs. The model I had in mind was Plato's dialogues. Why not design a set of fictional characters and write in dialogue form? Though I've written about doing that before, I've never done it."

It's been done.

Ah, that's never getting old...

Maxine Weiss said...

If you don't want to be offended, and don't want your feelings hurt, perhaps you shouldn't be online in the first place, under any identity.

jane said...

Sure, that's right Maxine. The net's for abusing people, unlike everyday life in which people don't normally going around saying the rude, crude and really dumb to your face, because there'd be a reckoning.

Better to attack from cyberspace and out of arm's reach.

amba said...

This woman sounds like she's verging, or pretending to verge, on . . . what do they call multiple personality disorder these days? Ah, dissociative identity disorder.

Internet Ronin said...

Ah, the "regrets" stage of the binging alcoholic.

I would not be at all surprised if you were quite experienced at this.

Maxine Weiss said...

Better that it happen on the net, than in real life.

Isn't it nice to know that real life is much more polite and genteel, than online?

I can assure you if you ever met me in person, you'd be charmed!

jane said...

So, before the net, didya get out your aggressions and hidden hostilities by making hang-up phonecalls?

Insults via the net don't hurt or often offend so much as be disgusting or, even worse, disppointing. One likes to believe people aren't at heart real jerks who, given the chance, will express their insecurities and jealousies hatefully and anonymously.

steve simels said...

I've always blogged under my own name, though I sometimes ponder the question whether the "Ann Althouse" of the blog is the Ann Althouse of my real life.

Seriously -- does anybody think that was an insight worth sharing with anybody?

Maxine Weiss said...

"Hang-up phone calls"

????

Honey, I play in the big leagues. If I don't like someone I'll trash their personnel file, or give phony information to their TRW/Credit Report....

I don't fool around!

amba said...

You know Sissy's recurrent riff on the importance of being noticed? That's a good subject. Nowadays, "the fittest" are those who get noticed. But in an environment of intense competition and distraction, it's often the provocative or bizarre or outlandish strategies that succeed. So what is being rewarded by attention, what is getting selected for? The short answer is "the extreme" or maybe "exhibitionism," but there's more to it than that. Extreme and "out there," but with style. It's interesting. Attention is a sunlight all the plants grow toward, but some crowd out the others and leave them down in the gloom of obscurity.

Maxine Weiss said...

I was just kidding!

Ha ha. I didn't mean it.

Love, Maxine

amba said...

I meant to post a link to Sissy. She quotes Dr. Peter F. Rowbotham's 1992 essay "The Importance of Being Noticed":

We search for honor in favored venues and in chosen social institutions. We avoid those places and those social groupings which inhibit our search, which do not advance, and may even set back, our moral careers.

Sissy added in a comment:

"face" is fundamental to human nature, and to move beyond it is a Utopianist's dream.

But what "saves face," or "makes face" if you will, has changed.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dave™© said...

Anybody get the idea that dave comments, then takes off one sock and puts it on one of his hands, and, whamo, there's steve!

Don't I wish!

Here's a little info on Steverino.

He's not writing under a "pseudonym," either. Of course, neither am I, but if you do a Google search for "dave" the damn thing will explode...

Theo Boehm said...
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Theo Boehm said...
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Donald Douglas said...

Don't change a thing over here. The different personas -- blogger, law prof, photographer, traveler -- are interesting and make people come back for more. (The comments section, I'll admit, makes for one of the best online coffeehouses out there!) There's also the credibility of standing up for one's views. People blog and comment anonymously because they're not confident in asserting their positions, or they're ashamed of expressing their real selves in the open, or they can't stand what others have to say, or.... Some acadmemics are especially careful about what they post, and who can blame them, given that the slightest indiscretion could result in tenure denial or a lost promotion. I don't use a pseudonym, but I've thought about it. Blogging and responding to criticism, even attacks, sharpen my skills and knowledge base -- gasp, I actually learn something from the views of others! As for my students, I'm sure they can tell the difference between my classroom demeanor and that found in my online writing and debates (which have been heated lately, which is corresponding -- unsurprisingly -- with an increase in traffic). I do wonder, though, about the real you over here!. Blogging does begin to form one's real identity and purpose, no?

Burkean Reflections

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mickey said...

ann althouse- i read your stuff because it's interesting and I can learn something. the student who insulted you was probably jealous or insecure(i'd bet they hope to look as good as you when they're your age.)

You're interesting( weird) althouse.
Simple.
I like.

ps- i read the plank thingy. thats what i mean by weird. i.e. waste of time on your part but i guess you thought someone was insulting you so, go figure. I would'nt have wasted my time.

Emy L. Nosti said...

Goodness, writing under a pseudonym seems so sexy and full of intrigue all of the sudden. Here I just thought I was a paranoid invertebrate.

Simon said...

Theo:
"[T]hat is why Althouse should return to comment moderation."

I really thought that was going to be a bad thing when it was first done last year, I thought it would really kinda squelch the free flow of debate, but in practice it worked out fine, so I wouldn't be opposed to that.

blake said...

Simon beat me to it, but it's also always good to link the classic "ripped-from-the-headlines" version.

Gahrie said...

I actually use a pseudonym to identify myself because my real name is much more common than you would think.

The pseudonym is based on an alternate spelling of my first name (Gary). I also link to a blog that has my real name posted, so it's definitely not an attempt to be anonymous.

I do find however, that I also use the pen name to separate my "personal" and "professional" writings and opinions.

trifecta said...

Althouse will not return to comment moderation you sheep.

She gets attention by saying something stupid and then letting us yell at her in a blogswarm.

She may be a drunk with a narcissistic personality disorder and no sense of shame, but she knows how to gum up business.

There are not enough stupid people who think she is inciteful to generate the attention she feels she deserves.

So, it's more onion rings, Sanjaya blogging, and boobs, with others being allowed to comment.

Get over it.

XWL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
XWL said...

I've always blogged under my own name, though I sometimes ponder the question whether the "Ann Althouse" of the blog is the Ann Althouse of my real life.

Seriously -- does anybody think that was an insight worth sharing with anybody?


Would you be more comforted and impressed by this insight if it were in Greenwaldese?

Here's a translation:

While waiting in the airport, which airport doesn't matter for this particular discussion, let's just say that I was in a foreign land where at one time I felt comfortable telling people I was from the United States, being more sensitive to the perceptions of others from elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, I never make that gross and burgeois faux pas as to describe myself as "American", due to the corrosive effect of Bush Regime misrule (all of which I've outlined in my book), I momentarily thought about engaging the young men around me not as myself, but as a Canadian named Pierre.

Adopting this other personae, wouldn't only be to mask my shame in possibly being associated with the evils of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib or apple pie, rather the process of putting on and taking off different masks, identities and modes of being are something every intelligent person does, sometimes shifting subtly between these personae on a moment by moment basis.

Online this process can take new and exciting forms. The allure of adopting a slightly different voice for comments, main page articles, and quick blogposts is the allure of being a stranger to oneself. The opportunity to write endlessly, and to adopt endless variations of oneself within that writing is not something new, but the cost of entry, and the multiplicity of venues with which to engage and exhibit these multiple personalities is something that has only recently been birthed. . . .



. . . . (sorry ran out of steam, time to go out and play, plus I don't think I really quite get to pure Greenwaldiness, still too straightforward to be a close parody)


Now, which is preferable? Multiply digressive not sticking to the point, or a quick statement of the heart of the matter?

It's not some dimwit college freshman philosophizing to wonder about how you engage in different venues and what those different personae represent, but "steve simels" has made it perfectly clear that he's against everything Althouse has ever blogged and besides, she's a doody head, she's wasting your time, and you are far superior to her in every single way. Funny thing is, I couldn't do what he and daveTM and the like do here at places like Crooks and Liars or Pandagon. First, I don't waste my time reading crap I know is crap, second, sinistral bloggers have a greater tendency to delete dissent out of their comment sections at the drop of a hat.

But back to masks, if the only personae "steve simels" has is the one he displays here, then good luck to you, you'll need it. But I'd love to here your defense for bothering to drop buy and comment at a blog that you clearly feel is a waste of your time, I'd love to better understand the mindset that leads to that kind of decisionmaking (and the simple 'rubbernecking' excuse, isnt' good enough)

Cedarford said...

Many writers use pseudonyms, have, likely, since writing was invented. We know of Greek playrights, Chinese officials questioning Confucian tenets, Elisabethans that had critical things to say about the present Ruling Elite or their supposedly illustrious ancestors.

Once the printing press was invented, people went wild with anonymous pamphlets on the Continent about Reformation, in particular.
In England, the roots of American democracy started in the pamphlet wars - threads of the Enlightenment, rationalism, Protestant sects that demanded Christian rule less like the Roman-ish Catholics had done and more attuned to what Christ actually taught - Many pseudonyms used for protection. As classic works spread, the 1st true modern state democrats were England's Levellers (notorious pamphleteers)centered in the Midlands.(ignoring various then 3rd world tribes that had democratic rules for their small tribes)After their start came Cromwell to "progress" the state, then the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which gave men the right to assemble, petition, property rights, and critically - to keep and bear arms. So The People could not only legally speak on grievances, but also retained the ability to physically resist a tyrant like Charles I.

Todays Internet also has wide use of pseudonyms. In these PC times and use of mass databases it affords some measure of privacy we crave, it allows the freedom of thought not allowed to Americans anymore without retaliation or repercussion - if their views are controversial.
It allows a teacher, for example, to say that banishing Christian symbols was stupid as she posts under a safe pseudonym in a school website. Using her real name would result in a trip to the administrator or even an ACLU lawsuit.
It is leading perhaps to skewed, hyperbolic sites of people saying idiotic things or deliberately provocative things they wouldn't say in "polite society". And much over the top, extreme advocacy they don't really believe - but many sites self select to a more and more extreme view.
"I oppose Bush on Iraq" gives way to "I hate Bush on Iraq" which gives way to "Impeach the Evil Hitler-like War CRiminal Killing Innocent Freedom Fighters and Waging War without Zero Civilians Killed."

And trolls, lots of trolls that just say wild stuff hoping for attention or just to attack and derail a blogger...

Well, the Levellers had other rabid pamphleteers competing with them, and even the Levellers said some hyperbolic wild shit - but lots of good came out of people suddenly having wide access to paper and printing presses and being able to get their views out past a small neighborhood circle..

jimbino said...

AA says:

"Remember the old problem of authors adopting a pseudonym so they could lard their book's Amazon page with fulsome praise?"

but I think you don't really mean "fulsome praise," or do you? It's not something most people would want.

Ann Althouse said...

Trifecta -- ironic name for a loser -- says I need to be more "inciteful"...

Oh, but I incited the hell out of people just by poking offhand fun at a little video. Do you really want to see what would happen if I tried to be "inciteful"?

fanofalthouse said...

If a faceless commentor argues a point that can be checked or links to credible sources, then his comments should be taken seriously. If he pseudonymously reports "facts" that can't be verified, then he should be discounted almost completely. Because there's no way to check his statements.

Comment section snipers are usually just reporting that they are angry. Who cares?

Bo Steed said...

The bile on display by some of the commenters here truly is astounding.

Professor Althouse: please humor me with a special request and direct your intellect on this question for the rest of us, i.e., the question of why you are so hated by a small subset of the repeat commenters, who, to give them at least some credit, would likely never dream of heaping similar insults on any person in "real life."

I have a theory about this, but would rather hear yours first.

Law & Order girl said...

Ann, “inciteful” as used is supposed to imply purse-ept-shun. Apparently you need to be more diss-earning.

Zeb Quinn said...

I don't know about JT Leroy, but does anybody seriously question why we value the secret ballot? Same thing in my book.

DW said...

Its xanax, not xantax, dave.

And I doubt she's using it - especially with alcohol - or she'd be inexplicably exploding in anger on innocent bystanders.





Oh, wait...

Ann Althouse said...

Bo Steed: "please humor me with a special request and direct your intellect on this question for the rest of us, i.e., the question of why you are so hated by a small subset of the repeat commenters, who, to give them at least some credit, would likely never dream of heaping similar insults on any person in "real life.""

I think we've discussed this subject a number of times. It's mainly that I'm identified as the kind of person who is supposed to toe the liberal line. I got that message for years before I started blogging. I have seen how liberals and lefties use shunning and disapproval to try to make it too much trouble to criticize them, and since I started blogging, I just don't respond to that anymore. So they kick up a storm in the usual way, and since I don't respond they crank it up more and more. At this point, I think they are afraid of my clout, since I'm a high-profile blogger, often cited and asked to write in mainstream media. They would like to ruin me, and when they think I've said the thing that could be used to ruin me, they pull out all the stops.

Why they thought this onion thing was the occasion to swarm me, I don't know. But judging from the earlier Clinton lunch photo thing, my theory is that the hottest hot button is Clinton's sexual problem. Also, I think I have above average visual aptitude. People like when I do photography, and when I use it to analyze a photograph or video, I think I am able to cut to places that really hurt. I have good perceptions, but they are about things that people would prefer to deny, and my articulation of what's in the picture is therefore infuriating.

Bas-O-Matic said...

Remember the old problem of authors adopting a pseudonym so they could lard their book's Amazon page with fulsome praise? And, of course, there's the journalist or blogger who adopts a pseudonym to participate in his comments section as if he were a fan of himself.

That's not "adopting a pseudonym" that's engaging in sock puppetry. Something that you can do whether or not you use a psudonym as a tag for your identity in some endeavor or another.

Mindsteps said...

I have even argued that my "front page" blog persona is different from my comments page persona! -- and it may be more genuine.)

I will resist commenting on the above, but will comment on your Bob Dylan = Great Artist = Right Wing link.

If I am understanding you correctly you equate the pursuit and valuing of autonomy as a 'right wing" value and the aims and core of the left wing is to value "connectedness".

I will give you some credit, although it is probably both an overgeneralization and an oversimplification to mix together these four constructs.

However, if we use your taxonomy, you are a right wing blogger because you are trying to cut your own path through the liberal bastion that is Madison, Wisconsin. On the other hand, Kathryn Jean Lopez, over at The Corner, would very much meet your criteria as a left wing blogger because she serves the function of connecting all the right wing boys and girls at the corner together! (she rarely disagrees with her colleagues and often seems to encourage right wing people to join with one another).

You would label me a left winger, because of my mortal fear of being swallowed up by groups of all kinds...so I tend to reject both the ideological left and right because I don't want to be pressured to conform to any one ideology. In fact, I used to stay away from my middle daughter's brownie troop due to my fear that they would pressure me to conform to their particular brownie belief system. Interestingly though, I am not creative and am a lousy artist.

But then again, what if one pursues a balance between autonomy and connectedness? Is that a moderate?

God, I'm confused..........

Simon Kenton said...

Ah, Ms Althouse, it's been years, YEARS, since I got reprimanded by someone correctly using the word "collusive." As it happened, it was the redoubtable Judge John Kane. And the conduct in question was, in fact, collusive. Thanks for bringing that back.

Mindsteps said...

Ann Althouse said:

Do you really want to see what would happen if I tried to be "inciteful"?

Yes....Is there anybody out there with me?

Ann Althouse said...

Okay, I'll see what I can do. Just as a demonstration. See if you can tell when I'm doing it!

dave™© said...

It's mainly that I'm identified as the kind of person who is supposed to toe the liberal line. I got that message for years before I started blogging. I have seen how liberals and lefties use shunning and disapproval to try to make it too much trouble to criticize them, and since I started blogging, I just don't respond to that anymore. So they kick up a storm in the usual way, and since I don't respond they crank it up more and more. At this point, I think they are afraid of my clout, since I'm a high-profile blogger, often cited and asked to write in mainstream media. They would like to ruin me, and when they think I've said the thing that could be used to ruin me, they pull out all the stops.


Ah, but the strawberries...!

Ann Althouse said...

Dave, it was obviously a blog swarm... and a really weird one over next to nothing. That everyone adopted the "crazy" meme just shows that it was group behavior.

trifecta said...

The spelling was a pun. Glad for you to not notice the irony toots.

You didn't argue my point. You say idiotic things as a way of getting attention.

Fine. It's your schtick. Don't pretend to be nothing other than somebody in the Madonna/Camille Paglia mode.

dave™© said...

Really, lady, calling you a paranoiac nut job at this point doesn't even begin to cover it.

I'll bet they stand around the computer in the Times' editorial department looking at this shit and thinking "Man, we really dodged a bullet with that one."

Mindsteps said...

Ann Althouse said...
Okay, I'll see what I can do. Just as a demonstration. See if you can tell when I'm doing it!


Bless you Ann....it sounds like fun. But let me do a little expectations management and just say....I am a terrible judge of character and behavior.

Evil HR Lady said...

I blog anonymously but with the full knowledge that everything I write can be traced back to me.

I do it because the world is just a little too weird and I prefer to keep my real name out of it. But, if confronted, like Flea was, I would be perfectly comfortable with admitting that I am the Evil HR Lady.

Heck, I'm kind of proud of it.

Theo Boehm said...

Bravo, XWL!

Many have tried to improve the style of turgid prose (most famously C.Wright Mills "translated" a passage from Talcott Parsons' The Social System into English in The Sociological Imagination).  But you attempted a much rarer thing:  You took simple ideas and bloated them out like a cheap ham, but in someone else's style.  That is much harder than it seems.  A very impressive performance.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Next up: Swarms of flying monkeys and onion rings.

For my part, I thought the Clinton video a little creepy.  But I tend to value sincerity and straightforwardness.  Silly me.  My wife, on the other hand, thought it was hilarious, the perfect piece of self-conscious irony.  The sexual symbolism was palpable.  I found Althouse's analysis a bit over the top and mildly amusing.  My wife, no Althouse fan, simply thought it went on too long about the obvious.  To me, Althouse's analysis had a bit of a Pauline Kael-esque flavor to it, and I came away with a smirk and thoughts of how the piece might look in the New Yorker.

Then all hell broke loose.

What Wicked Witch sent these flying monkeys?  The conspiratorially-minded could name some candidates. My wife suggested something a bit more complex, though, that struck a chord:  There seem to be many, many people who are in the tank for a political party and some ideology.  People like this are not, in my experience, necessarily the brightest.  In any event, you have these large subcultures devoted to liberal causes and the Democratic Party, just as you have Dittoheads, et al. on the other side (editorial remark: may they both go to hell). It's common wisdom that the liberal side's strength is the blogosphere.  It's also well-known to be easy to mobilize lots of the Netroots types around any given issue.  Althouse gets under their skin, because she has grown in influence but is too independent for their little (sociology concept alert) "other-directed" minds.

So, the word goes out that she has insulted the sacred Clintons, and here is what everybody is saying.  Everybody's commenting on her blog, calling her a drunken crazy, making sexist remarks about her, etc., etc.

Was this an organized campaign?  Not in the crude sense that the Central Committee issued orders. It's just that people so inclined can pick up things they believe they should think and do from the Web.  That's the beauty of it.  The "other directed" (i.e., mindless saps) efficiently get information from their subculture, and they're all set.  So, in some sense, I suppose you could call this a "conspiracy," but it's really old-fashioned influence-building on Internet steroids.

All this is another example of the Clintons' famous ability to appeal to every stratum with a bit of triangulation thrown in. They've got the sophisticated vote, because we're all amused and disarmed by the Clintons ironic and self-deprecating sense of humor (not to mention that nobody in their right mind would vote Republican any more).  But not wanting to forget the stupid vote, the Clinton supporters set up Althouse as an enemy, and have gotten more buzz going because the crazy, right-wing, drunken, obsessed professor won't leave poor Bill alone.  We'll show those wingnuts about Sen. Clinton!

And an onion ring is just an onion ring.

Ann Althouse said...

Theo: Thanks. Your wife's reaction is like that of one of my friends who "said having a married couple arguing about two foods, where one food is cylindrical and the other is hole-shaped, is so obviously sexual imagery that I'm surprised anyone is objecting to what you wrote." Weird how something can be completely obvious and utterly impossible at the same time!

Internet Ronin said...

Theo, I really enjoyed your comment, probably because it tracks quite closely to my own opinion.

At the same time, it seems to me that signal-to-noise ratio here has greatly deteriorated over the past few months and Althouse has become far less fun and much more contentious than it once was. The fresh mix of both pastoral and polemic articles, photos, and musings is not as varied as it once was. These days, I feel that almost every thread, no matter what the subject starts out to be, ends up being about politics or the sanity & motives of our hostess.

While much of that is due to those who now frequent here to advance their private agendas of personal destruction, it also seems to me that Ann Althouse has been "kicking it up a notch" with increasing frequency over time. (I'm not criticizing, just noting my personal observation - what the proprietress does or doesn't do is her business, not mine.) Thus, for me, while Althouse remains one of the more interesting destinations that I frequent, it has become a less pleasant one than it once was.

peter hoh said...

IR, I'm inclined to agree with your last comment. This blog was a lot more fun when there were fewer participants in the comment threads. It's not that everyone agreed with each other, but there was a certain civility to the disagreements, and this loony left fringe wasn't peeing in the pool all the time about how much they didn't like this blog. Are they any more left than Beth from N.O.? I doubt it, so the issue is not the tilt of their politics, but the tilt of their online personas.

Heck, I even miss some of the old trolls. These new ones are getting tiresome.

peter hoh said...

Part of why I chose to participate here (and elsewhere online) under my real name was in order to keep myself civil.

Theo Boehm said...

Thanks, Ronin.  I appreciate that, although I must tell you the last paragraph is almost a verbatim transcript of what my wife said.

It's funny, but I was just thinking about this the other day. I was considering doing a count of post categories, but I'm just not that obsessed!  My impression is that in recent months, though, Althouse has been posting perhaps more photos, pastoral articles and musings than usual.  I could be wrong, so it would be interesting if Althouse herself could say something about this.

Whatever the details of the blog content, the difficulty is, as you say, with those with "agendas of personal destruction."  And you've nailed it about ending up being all politics and all hostess's mental health all the time.  I agree that Althouse doesn't take things lying down, but I think she's been quite moderate, overall.  Too moderate, IMHO.  She's obviously trying several different tactics, including mockery, but I'm seeing not any improvement so far. On the contrary.

My advice, as I mentioned upthread, is to bring back comment moderation, painful as that may be.  The flying monkeys are not going away.  She has gotten too important, and there are political elements who are trying to take her out.  They are trying to drive her regular readers away and to demoralize her.  She may have more traffic than ever, but what's the point if it all winds up being a freak show?

Theo Boehm said...

Peter: Total agreement about the tilt of online personas. I think the mistake the flying monkeys are making is that they think the regulars here are some sort of right-wing monolith. They are not about changing minds or engaging in discussion. They want to
"damn" this blog (if you haven't already seen it, check out my definition of this term in this context upthread).

This would be a big mistake, IMHO. The Democrats should leave this alone as an important swing voter venue. Althouse has already stated a possible preference for Hillary Clinton, and I've been long inclined in that direction. But if this crap keeps up, with its obvious partisan basis, it's going to make a Giuliani voter out of me yet.

Theo Boehm said...

One more quick thing, and I'll shut up. I shouldn't threaten to switch my vote, because it's obvious the Democrats don't care how I, the individual swing voter, votes.

They're much more about energizing their base, and Althouse, as an enemy, helps that process in her own small way. Actually, we all, as regular commenters, will be cast as villains to make the flying monkeys feel better about themselves.

I always like to help people when I can.

blake said...

Of course it's a hot button.

Bill's sex could kill Hill's shot at the Presidency. Even if they don't like her, the Netroots may not be able to stop her from getting the nom.

Constant reminders of Bill's proclivities do not help her chances.

It's All So Very Important.

Mindsteps said...

While much of that is due to those who now frequent here to advance their private agendas of personal destruction, it also seems to me that Ann Althouse has been "kicking it up a notch"

I don't know whether she is kicking it up a notch, but I perceive Ann as frequently encouraging agendas of personal destruction (be it intentionally or unknowingly) with many of her politically related posts.

Ann, I am not an analyst, although I have trained under a few.....and your interpretive efforts seem analagous to me doing Perry Mason style legal analysis and passing it of as if it was true. What you did represents a popularized caricature of analytic interpretation. Your appraisal of Clinton's marriage might even approximate the truth....but I suspect that your preexisting knowledge, and personal biases influenced your portrayal. It had more of an astrological flavor then conclusions drawn from years of scholarship, study, and experience with psychoanalytic interpretation. I fear that you would chew me up and spit me out in the courtroom under some circumstances if I swore to the veracity of your account of the underlying meaning of Clinton's little ad (and I am speaking as someone who did not vote for Bill and will very unlikely vote for Hillary).

Personally, I am not offended by the content of your interpretation of the Hillary and Bill ad. However, so many of your political takes (in contrast to your pictures of flowers)seem to be influencedless by the search for truth and as much or more about your avowed need to separate yourself from your left wing millieu (I am referring here to one of your earlier blog posts). Now, my own take of what you are doing is probably more inaccurate than it is valid. However, I cannot read much of your stuff without imposing my sense that your takes are really about your struggle to separate yourself from the liberal power structure that comprises your world. I think you have basically acknowledged that this is your agenda. The way you go about it too frequently seems abrasive, angry, and mean spirited for my tastes. Moreover, once you have seen one of your political posts, I get the sense that you have seen them all (you can probably say the same about mine). My reaction to them now is, Oh....this post is really about Ann's need to separate herself from her surroundings, not about Bill or Hillary or Rudy or Mitt or Glen.

Ann Althouse said...

Theo: "My advice, as I mentioned upthread, is to bring back comment moderation, painful as that may be...."

You wrote that after midnight... If I were moderating, that wouldn't have gone up for 7 hours and no one would be in a position to respond until now. It would change the whole dynamic of commenting. That's what I don't like. You should see your comment go right up and be able to get into a back and forth with someone.

But if you mean by moderation that I should delete more things, I may do that. The biggest problem has always been commenters who are antagonistic to me and also do not care about the community in that they post too often and make themselves the center of attention. I accept and encourage disagreement, but there needs to be a base level concern about preserving debate. The first two comments on this thread show people who have nothing to say and just want to mess things up. Of course, I can't just delete them. Let me do that.

Also, you seem to remember a golden age when this didn't happen, but it's been an on and off problem ever since I've had comments.

hdhouse said...

Maxine Weiss said...
"I can assure you if you ever met me in person, you'd be charmed!"

Wanna bet?

Anonymous writing or pseudonym usage (George Sand anyone) came about thru necessity. The internet, by nature, is anon. Only those with IP trace tools know who you are. You could be Maxine Weiss or Dick Cheney for all we know so I guess you can say any damn fool thing you want but that isn't the purpose of pseudonyms.

It is, as Ann correctly desires, a way to have a dialogue and project various philosophies or opinions even and debate them.

It is, however, very close to split personalities and perhaps something your doctor told you to avoid.

suzanne said...

"I don't know whether she is kicking it up a notch, but I perceive Ann as frequently encouraging agendas of personal destruction (be it intentionally or unknowingly) with many of her politically related posts"

Goog lord, this is a blog, a civil blog, Ann’s blog. She’s not writing a column here, just posting whatever comes to her and how it strikes her, in serious veins, musing ways, questioning, declarative, political, artistic, psychological, cultural, personal, palliative, controversial, with words or visuals ways. Why should individual readers or swarms of them try to circumscribe Ann’s subjects and commentary according to their needs and interests? Do we visit friends’ or strangers’ homes and, unprompted and unwelcome, insist that they redecorate to make us more comfy?

I’m saving some of the Hillary video threads and sending them to my of-voting-age child who lives in Blue Metropolis, America for her to see how some ideologues handle debate and discussion and others’ civil expression of politics. This is a fairly centrist, center-left, security hawk blog, on the whole, with free-ranging topics, great analysis with which one is free to agree or not, and creative fun that evidently frightens a pack of Dems. I haven’t run across too many other fairly centrist, center-right blogs on which packs of Repubs invade and start calling the host clinically insane, a drunkard, a homosexual, perverted, unworthy of his/her profession, dangerous, obsessed, obviously in need of (more) meds, suffering unattractive hair (?! bizarre- her hair’s great and what a lame dig), etc. They can get intense and some will cross that line, but mostly they stay to arguing the merits of an issue.

What we witnessed this past week here with the swarming was unadulterated, egregious slander- both personal and professional insult- and a totalitarian abuse of others’ right to their political- artistic opinion as to certain public figures and their public product. Naturally, these are the same kind who nastily call Bush and Cheney, with whom they disagree, the Devil, Hitler, liars, morons, Zionist puppets, drunks, Christofascists, and so forth. Disagree with certain people on certain issues and you’re in for a treat. Put forth a fun and somewhat supportable thesis on a Clinton campaign vid and you’re dogmeat. These are the same people who cry that Bush’s fascist regime has squelched their dissent. LOL. They’re the free-speech haters. And the opening citation would lay the blame for their behavior at their victim's feet. Poor show!

On both far-right and far-left blogs commenters get carried away with their vitriol and politics of personal hate passing for “thought,” but at least those blogs are known for their extremism and to read them is to understand the fact and normally not bother with questioning the destructive tone. But to import that tone to civil arenas, on blogs, in papers and cable TV, is an affront to all reason and civil society. And a little scary. Presumably these are grown-ups who should know better and who may be neighbors or working alongside you in your job and who vote.

suzanne said...

"Goog" = a goggled good.

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Suzanne. Well put!

Mindsteps said...

"I don't know whether she is kicking it up a notch, but I perceive Ann as frequently encouraging agendas of personal destruction (be it intentionally or unknowingly) with many of her politically related posts"

Why should individual readers or swarms of them try to circumscribe Ann’s subjects and commentary according to their needs and interests?

Suzanne, I think this is how people tend to operate most of the time. There is some research out there that suggests that the tendency to divide people up, label them, and simply define them as red or blue, liberal and conservative, right and left has been shown to intensify stereotyping and conflict (that is a whole other subject, however).

Nonetheless, I am not a part of any swarm, right or left. I want to go on record however as saying that while there may be some utility to my perceptions of Ann's political entrys, I do not necessarily believe that others respond to her in the same way. As a matter of fact, my impression is that I am very much in the minority here at her blog when it comes to my reaction to Ann's politically related blog postings. I doubt, though it is possible, that I am a minority of one. Moreover, I can understand Ann's popularity and hope she becomes even more so. Her level of popularity, however will not change my perceptions of the forces that inform Ann's political postings. Only she can do that.

peter hoh said...

Suzanne wrote: I haven’t run across too many other fairly centrist, center-right blogs on which packs of Repubs invade and start calling the host clinically insane, a drunkard, a homosexual, perverted, unworthy of his/her profession, dangerous, obsessed, obviously in need of (more) meds, suffering unattractive hair (?! bizarre- her hair’s great and what a lame dig), etc.

That's because Andrew Sullivan doesn't allow comments.

hdhouse said...

Suzanne...if you think for an instant that this blog is "centrist or center left", girl you have a perception problem.

This blog, nearly any blog, is what the readership defines it. Ann does not write opinions for debate, she simply tosses out a variety of observations without real comment. As some sillies have glomped on to this board and these sillies are, by clear majority, slightly left of Atila the Hun (but only slightly) hardly casts this board as left of center, even by a little bit.

peter hoh said...

Theo, yes, "damning" the show is a good analogy. I've been thinking that going to the opera and complaining about how much you dislike opera would be pretty stupid, and that's pretty much what I think about the trolls here.

In a more recent post, you raise the issue of the swing voter. There are many on the left who think that all Bush voters need to be punished, mocked, reviled, etc. Good luck winning any more presidential elections with that policy.

Reagan won because he reached out to a large bloc of voters who had previously been voting for Democrats. The Democrats need someone who can do something similar on the national stage. I don't think Sen. Clinton is that person, but that's just my opinion, and as usual, I'm ready to be proved wrong.

So back to the trolls here, and damning the show. Perhaps they are here and not at a NASCAR event holding inflammatory placards is because they don't want their asses kicked.

Donald Douglas said...

I came back late to this thread, but I thought I'd comment on Trifecta's poor language usage. No need, Ann's jumped in to set "three parter" straight:

"Trifecta -- ironic name for a loser -- says I need to be more "inciteful"...

Oh, but I incited the hell out of people just by poking offhand fun at a little video. Do you really want to see what would happen if I tried to be "inciteful"?"

Hey, it might be insightful to incite Ann Althouse! Let the games begin!

Burkean Reflections

Theo Boehm said...

Also, you seem to remember a golden age when this didn't happen, but it's been an on and off problem ever since I've had comments.

I don't really remember a golden age so much as wish for one. One of the defining features of this blog, along with Althouse's commitment to free speech, is frustration.  There are so many interesting, high-quality commenters with whom you wish to have an adult conversation, but things always seem to get disrupted or break down somehow.

Actually, I do remember a golden age of interaction on the Internet.  Starting about 14 years ago on AOL, when it was relatively small and expensive, we had hosted, special-interest chat rooms. I worked as a host to get free AOL. I made a couple of long-time friends there, and remember that world fondly for the fun times and witty conversations we had.  We had "Snerts" (AOL-speak for trolls) then too, but the key was that the conversation was moderated, and we had resources (admittedly limited) to keep things under control.

The current blog world is technically infinitely more difficult to police, so we have what we have.  But, yes, a Golden Age does lurk in the back of my mind.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

First, although I don't use my real name here, i consider my screen name more of a descripive persona than a hideout. I hope it lends a base point to my comments, to give a sense of where I'm coming from when I comment.

In the past I was a frequent commentor under my own name when the Atlantic Monthly had their free forum section, and had a relatively good time there.

It was a lefty haven, but most of the visitors were civil to one another, and the exceptions were for the most part ignored.

I really miss those civil disagreements.

blake said...

Theo,

Ah, yes, the early '90s on the 'net. A lotta fun.

Though, you know, a lot of the old-timers were complaining about how things had gone to hell since the '890s....

blake said...

Aw, dammit, I meant "the '80s".

Theo Boehm said...

The Democrats need someone who can do something similar on the national stage. I don't think Sen. Clinton is that person....

Peter: I don't know either, but she's certainly trying to position herself in the center.  That's fine with me.  I rather like her, not as a person, I hasten to add, but as one of the more qualified and certainly tough candidates.  I think a lot of people will find her, as things develop, to be about the only alternative to the grumpy old men and blow-dried stiff on the Republican side, not to mention the increasingly marginalized crew in her own party.  She's done a very good job of creating an air of inevitability about herself, to the point that she can relax and do our Sopranos video to almost everyone's amusement.

I just wish her 'Net supporters would not think it necessary to send flying monkeys to attack Althouse.  But, as my wife said, they think they need to do something to firm up the stupid vote.

Given her husband's continued popularity, I think they've already got it.
.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

ER: Yes, that Atlantic Monthly forum was great. That's exactly the kind of center/left forum I would like to see return.  I was just thinking about that this morning after surfing around last night, checking other blogs with a political content.  I really can't find any left-side blogs where the comments are as wide-ranging or the disagreements so tolerated as on Althouse.  If there are any, please let me know.  In the meantime, I think I'll pop over to Boing Boing, which at least has Technorati comment links.

Blake:  Yeah, I know!  I was always being reminded by my techie friends of how wonderful the Usenet was before all the hoi polloi showed up.  Unfortunately, that Golden Age occurred after I was in college but before I could get back online.  At least by the early 90's, we had GUI's.  (Well, those of us who used Macs did ;-)

Fen said...

Theo: There seem to be many, many people who are in the tank for a political party and some ideology. People like this are not, in my experience, necessarily the brightest. In any event, you have these large subcultures devoted to liberal causes and the Democratic Party -

Read up on the history of Austrian brownshirts. Same gutter-trash, same patterns.