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December 16, 2009

Clean-Up at the Disco: Apology and Some Small Context

I got an email from a reader who objected to my calling Sullivan's audience "stupid queerbait readers."

First of all, I shouldn't have said that. I'll indulge in a bit of self-apologism and explain what I was thinking when I said that, but in final analysis -- I shouldn't have. My defense is not a defense that gets me off; it's a mitigation only.


Here's what I was thinking. As you may know, I have long considered Sullivan worthless as a pundit. And that includes when he was, supposedly, "on our side."

My criticism has always been that he's a hoaxster, and that his contrived media personality -- Gay. Catholic. Conservative. Thactherite. -- was always this PR mix of stuff that elevated him in prominence beyond what his abilities would warrant.

And, on the hoaxster thing, I always knew he was pink inside, and was always on him about that. For years readers disagreed, and claimed Sullivan is true-blue; and then of course he endorsed (quietly) John Kerry in the homocentric Advocate magazine while maintaining the pose on his blog (with all its red readers) that he was "still making up his mind" about Bush and Kerry.

The other thing about him which I also have long been on about: His "punditry" is and always has been over-emotive and histrionic. He doesn't analyze; he emotes. There is very little cold logic on display with him; it's always his gut-level emotional raging dressed up a bit with a British accent which (as British accents do) sounds a bit chilly emotionally, but even the chilliness of the British accent cannot conceal the fact that Sullivan is a histrionic, over-emoting, endlessly-shrieking Scream Machine. Critique of Pure Emotion.

This is the context in which I thought it was accurate to call Sullivan's readers "queerbaits" -- who. the hell. can put up with. this endless drama? I don't like drama, and I'm suspicious of emotion. (Not that I don't have it, obviously; I just cringe when I look back and see I've injected too much emotion into some writing.) I come down firmly on the chilly British/German reserved/repressed side of things, as far as what I consider ideal, and try to rein in my Irish/French hot-blooded melancholy side.

I do not think Sullivan adds much to any dialogue he's in. He does not clarify, he does not reason. He just throws in a lots of super-heated emotive language and makes up cute new put downs (I'm a "foaming Casarist," by the way, which is cute enough, but it's simply a novel way to call someone a fascist).

And I thought this about his advocacy for the War in Iraq, too. After 9/11, we were all pretty emotional (myself included, of course), and we all wanted a bit of hot-blooded emotional venting, and Sullivan was good for these purposes, and I think that's what attracted so many people to him. (Myself included -- I read him, of course.)

But at some point, even when he was still "on our side," I just became tired of his schtick. Yes, he was arguing passionately for War in Iraq, and so in fact was I (privately -- I hadn't started the blog yet), but everything about it was, in fact, passion. Everything was how horrible a tyrant Saddam was, and what a perfect and noble goal it was to free the Kurds and so on, and while that certainly is true, I just didn't get the hyperbolic language all this was expressed in, and thought then, as I think now, that wars are fought on the basis of enlightened self-interest, not on passion or doing something nice for the Kurds. The Kurds are a fine people, Christopher Hitchens assures me, and sure, it's nice to free them, but surely this cannot be the reason we send over 150,000 troops to fight in Iraq.

Without doubt, emotion plays into these decisions. And also without doubt, Sullivan also mentioned the rational case for war -- Jeffrey Goldberg (IIRC) discussing Saddam's WMDs, etc.

But a lot of people did that. People came to Sullivan not for that, but for the hyperventilating and the hysterics. Sometimes you want that sort of thing. Again, I admit, after 9/11, that's exactly what I wanted, because that's exactly what I felt. But at some point I just grew to despise Sullivan because he seemed a one-trick pony whose claim to fame was that he could lose his shit at the drop of a hat. On this last point, I didn't resent him so much that he was expressing what I felt, but that he was getting famous basically for having public crying jags on a daily basis.

And also, I thought: This guy is unstable. Anyone who is this emotional about everyfrickingthing is not a reliable ally. Because, what happens when he gets into a righteous snit about us?

Harlan Ellison observed that there was a great deal of childish naivete in muh of early science fiction -- that super-optimistic view of the future, the bubble-cities, the end of war and racism, etc., was this childish wish-fulfillment fantasy of a utopian world.

Now that's the obvious point. But the non-obvious point he followed it up with was this: The dystopian fantasies that followed in the sixties and seventies were also just as childishly naive. Because, as he put it, a utopian is just someone who's a bit immature and naive about the limits of human goodness and the fundamental selfishness lurking around in all of us; a dystopian, on the other hand, is just that childish, immature, naive utopian who's become pissed off about the failure of society to live up to his utopian dreams, and so becomes this equally childish, immature, naive dystopian.

Whereas before, he was too giddy about he future and wrote dumb things about how wonderful it would be, now he goes in the exact opposite direction -- and an equally wrong one -- and writes nothing but how awful the future will be.

Note Ellison was not talking about all dystopians when he made this critique; of course he was not slandering Orwell or even Philip K. Dick or any number of strong writers. Nor did he want to impugn all utopian-sort of writers. He was specifically addressing bad sci-fi, bad utopias and bad dystopias, and explaining how the exact same immaturity of thought of lack of insight into the human character animated both, the same damn stupid lack of balance and eventempertedness drove the lunatic first to dreams of utopia and then to angry spit-anger-at-humanity dystopia.

That is the kind of guy Sullivan is, right there. The War in Iraq would create a utopia of bubble-cities and perfectly democratic society; and then one day he wakes up, gets a cold splash of reality in his face, and now the War in Iraq (and increasingly -- the War in Afghanistan too) is the worstest war ever and not only ignoble and without worth but waged for no other purpose than to get George W. Bush votes and add a half-point to Halliburton's stock price.

And, sorry to say I told you so, but I damn well did tell you so. I knew this was coming, and it came.

At any rate, this disgust at Sullivan's theatrics, and the paucity of clear thought, is why I despise him, not just politically (again, I didn't like him when he was "on our side") but because he is talentless and yet is rewarded as if he is supremely talented. I resent it, and I resent the unfairness of it, and yes, you can call that jealousy, but it's a well-founded jealousy: No one but a handful of over-emotive drama queens ought to read him, and it's simply wrong that this idiot is getting 200,000 hits a day (or whatever it is).

Now, it was wrong to say "queerbait" when referring to a gay man's blog, because in this context the gay meaning is going to necessarily come up as the obvious meaning. Further, I tossed in two other gay-charged put-downs -- "Panic at the Disco," "butthurt" -- and when you take all three together there's no way on earth it's possible to come away without an anti-gay vibe.

So I shouldn't have said that. But what I could have said was also a forbidden word, due to its implications: Drama Queens.

Because I'm sorry, but if you're still reading Sullivan, even now, you are addicted to the soap-opera drama of it all. You sure the hell ain't reading for his cogent analysis and consistency. You are reading for the contortions and caterwaulings of a splenetic and self-pitying clown of a man. You are reading for rage, pathos, bathos, catharsis and cri de couers, but you're not reading for anything approaching a sensibly balanced read on the news of the day.

I liked George W. Bush a great deal. He was the first conservative president who I'd actually supported... and won. I missed out on the Reagan Revolution -- was too young to vote and besides, was a liberal idiot back then. (Well -- sort of liberal.)

And yet reading Sullivan, I felt I had entered Batshit Crazy Cookoo Land, as he praised Bush as essentially a New Messiah in his typical Faves 'n Raves/What's Hot What's Not Tiger Beat style.

And I knew, because I'm not a lunatic, as some are, that George W. Bush, as much as I liked him, would wind up disappointing me a great deal.

I was prepared for the disappointment. Bush was a lot of things, including a human being, and not an idealized savoir. And I knew that the sputtering lovesick buffoon Sullivan was decidedly not prepared for that. So what would happen when George W. Bush, as he promised (but Sullivan did not believe, so o'er-the-moon in-full-swoon was he), supported the Defense of Marriage Act?

And what then? What happens when an all-consuming crush goes wrong? What happens when the object of a near-romantic obsession fails to adequately reciprocate one's affections?

I'll tell you what happens: Read Sullivan 2003-2005 and you can see for yourself.

I knew what Sullivan would do, but Sullivan had never apparently never considered what he himself would do, and was thoroughly shocked and rocked by the revelation of what was obvious from 1999.

So when he was spurned by the Apple of His Eye, all that Love turned instantly to Hate.

As they say, hate is not the opposite of love; indifference is. Hate is often just love channeled through disappointment over being spurned.

And so that is why I insulted Sullivan's readers. I don't for the life of me understand why you indulge yourself with a pathetic guilty-pleasure soap opera every day. I chose the wrong word -- I did; I did a bad thing -- but I don't get you guys. I don't understand what you are getting from Sullivan, except for cheap "classy-sounding" put-downs and endless geschreien.

If you want to read the blogosphere's equivalent of Melrose Place -- contrived, ridiculous, melodramatic ultra-pap with plenty of twists and turns and complete reversals of previous "plot point" positions (sometimes, as some have noted, the reversals coming within hours of eachother) -- fine, that's your right. I should't call you queerbaits for doing so, but... well, not sure what the word is. Drama Magnets, perhaps.

The guy has more reinventions and costume-changes and affairs and divorces than Madonna, and his tits are only half as big. Pass. If I want that I'll take the Material Girl herself. At least she still has nice legs and cute butt.

Fair is Fair: Some Context. Little Miss Attila passed along this partial defense of Sullivan, where, around two months ago, he sorta tipped his hand about ghost-blogging:

That is part of what we've been trying to do here. Since coming to the Atlantic, I've had the chance to get the input of interns to bring their generation's perspective to the Dish. Two of them have gone on to become under-bloggers who, with the active insistence of readers, have helped expand dramatically the number of posts and the variety of subjects. The Dish, I think, is now very different than the one-man blog it started out as.

Is that adequate disclosure? Well, let me note his readers, many of them at least, don't consider it adequate notice that he had his "under-bloggers" writing half of his posts. His "disclosure" here is of the most limited sort -- one could very well read into this that these "underbloggers" are only researchers and tip-screeners, which is, I think, the exact implication Sullivan intended.

Certainly he did not say "'under-bloggers are now writing half of 'my' posts for me."

This doesn't seem anything like disclosure to me -- this seems like a cover-your-ass false disclosure you can later point to and say "I told you all this," even though you really didn't -- but you can decide for yourself.

I've spent way too many hours today thinking about this foam-flecked buffoon

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posted by Ace at 02:48 PM

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