New reader Frip asked
I notice you’ve been posting since 2012. Yet you’ve only got a handful of commenters. I hope you’re more popular than an audience of 7. If not, can you explain why? Or link me to a post where you discuss it?
I took a stab at an answer back there. Since I’ve been thinking a lot about New New Media lately, though, I thought I’d give it a more thorough try here. What does it take to be a big blogger these days (“big” being “enough to make a living at it, if so inclined”)?
I assume that we have seven (at one point it was nine!) readers, first and foremost, because of the free market. Speaking only for myself (Morgan doesn’t post much here anymore, because his own site probably verges on “big” as we’ve defined it), I just don’t bring that much to the table. This isn’t false modesty — I rite good and have a few things to say, but those aren’t rare commodities. They seemed to be back in the internet’s Wild West days, when we were all on AOL dial-up, but they’re not. As a zillion wannabe-Bill Simmonses found out in the mid-90s, only the trailblazers cash in doing what lots of people can do. Lots of people can snark and over-share and generally carry on like 16 year old girls trapped in 40 year old men’s bodies when it comes to sports… and politics works that way too.
To make a go of it now, one must really stand out. Short of coming up with a whole new way to look at things, the only way to stand out now is to have a shtick…. and that, too, is a free market failing of mine, because most of the shticks that work completely baffle me. Vox Day, for instance, has his “I am the greatest genius in human history” act. He also rites good and has things to say, but it’s the “I am an IQ god!” routine that put him over the top, and has helped him build a really robust cult of personality. I read his site, and I’ve learned a lot from him, but one of the main things I’ve learned is: I suck at trend-spotting. I stumbled onto his site; had someone described it to me, I would’ve sworn a blood oath to stay as far away as possible. He has sixty zillion readers; we have seven.
But even assuming I had a winning shtick handed to me I still couldn’t do it, because I’m lazy. Forget coming up with shtick-compatible content; the sheer grind of shtick maintenance would keep me from doing it. Milo had (has? is he still around?) a great shtick that anyone could pull off: The Gay Conservative. It’s such a winner that it has worked twice, which is unheard of (the Original Gay Conservative, of course, was Andrew Sullivan). But being gay is impossible for a lazy man, because it’s 24/7 — every homosexual of my acquaintance (and please remember that I spent long years in academia) can’t have a cup of coffee without wondering if this venti soy frappuccino is queer enough to be seen drinking. (And yes, for the record, I’m aware I just suggested I’m only straight thanks to my Harper Lee-esque work ethic).
These all combine into a perfect storm of mediocrity. Even assuming I had the goods to compete if I had a shtick (doubtful, but let’s stipulate), I don’t have the drive. Stacy McCain has a guide to how to get a million hits on your blog. Read it, and you’ll notice two things: 1) it’s a lot like this article, but much better, and 2) it’s exhausting. Seriously, I get exhausted just reading that shit, and it was written before social media really took off. Just tweeting, facebooking, and on-other-blogs-commenting is probably a 40 hour a week gig for established big leaguers (Ace of Spades reportedly spends up to 6 hours a day getting into Twitter slap fights with just Jake Tapper); it’s probably intern year-level time consuming for a wannabe.
The main thing driving blog fame, then, seems to be the main thing that drives all other kinds of fame: The sheer, grind-it-out, whatever-it-takes, leather-assed (and cast-iron-bladdered) drive to be famous. You’ve got to have enough ego in the game to not only play the game, but make “playing the game” your only compensation. Just as many doctors really make about $6.50 an hour when you divide their yearly salary by all the time they spend doing paperwork, so bloggers, even the relatively well-compensated ones, must make well below minimum wage….
…. and at that point it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. The #1 characteristic of famous people, both online and IRL, is that they’re built in such a way that “becoming famous” seems like the only logical career move. The only way you can survive 15 years waiting tables in Hollywood, starving in a garret in Paris, playing 10 years in the Minors, etc. is by being built to survive it. That’s why one of the most tragic things you’ll ever see is someone who thinks he wants to be famous, gets there, and finds out he’s not cut out for it, because the same personal constitution that lets you get famous is the only thing that lets you stay famous.
(this, from the 2.6 seconds of reading I’ve done on it, seems to be Jordan Peterson’s problem).
UPDATE 5/10/18: In case my bantering, tongue-in-cheek tone didn’t quite convey it, I’m not actually interested in why Rotten Chestnuts in general, or my part of it in particular, isn’t more popular.
Some are born with big blog audiences, some achieve big blog audiences, and some have big blog audiences thrust upon them. 1) and 3) are psychologically interesting, but unless they’re unusually frank about how this is going for them (e.g. Jordan Peterson, at least in the 2.3 seconds I spent reading up on him), we probably can’t infer too many general rules from their experience. 2) is interesting, and worth looking at, as it can tell us some things about the direction and velocity of the culture. But just because something is interesting to someone doesn’t mean he wants to be that something — I find Leftists fascinating, obviously, but I sure as hell would never want to be one.
For the record, here are the main reasons I don’t want to be blog-famous:
First, I’m lazy. Like, lion-on-the-veldt-in-high-summer-level lazy — I only move when I have to. The main component of blog fame seems to be the same main component as every other kind of fame: the sheer iron-bladdered, leather-assed willingness to do what it takes to be famous. I’m not wired that way, and I never have been. In college, for instance, I had an opportunity to do some sportswriting for the local rag. I jumped at the chance, thinking hey, I love sports, I know a lot about them, and I rite good….
And then I realized what it entailed. You mean I have to have an opinion — on deadline — on, like, everything? I don’t care why this NFL guy can’t stay healthy (too many steroids), why that MLB guy isn’t hitting as many home runs (not enough steroids), or why nobody cares about the WNBA (wrong kind of steroids). I just want to watch the games, and comment on whatever aspect of them — if any! — happens to strike my fancy at the time. Substitute “politics” for “sportswriting” and that’s what I do now. The other way is you know, a job. I already have a job; I’m way too lazy to do another.
Second, I spent a lot of years in and around the Ed Biz. Every class you teach comes with a built-in amen chorus. It’s easy to think you’re the greatest professor in the world when everyone tells you what you want to hear all the time. Wow, these students are really getting it! Alas, what they’re really getting is a copy of your old exam from their sorority sisters. Make ’em fill out a Social Justice Mad Lib for the final exam (and this is 100% of a modern “liberal arts” education), and it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re changing the world. This is why it baffles me that people are baffled by Jordan Peterson: If everyone you meet expects you to be some kind of guru, you start acting like you’re some kind of guru. I am not a guru, and have no desire to be a guru, and if people started treating me like one (which, if you teach long enough, will happen at least once to all but the dullest educator), I’d be forced to spend almost all of my time de-guru-fying myself. And see above — I’m waaaay too fucking lazy for that.
Finally, there are the weirdos. In real life, even D-list never-weres get their psycho stalkers, and since the Internet is much, much crazier than real life, cyber-stalkers are 100 times worse. Look at what happened to poor Jeff Goldstein. Unless you’re the type of guy who actually enjoys beating down trolls, it’s just not worth it. If the 9th reader (or whatever we’re up to now) turns out to be a lunatic, I’ll ban him with a clean conscience. If we were bigger, I’d have to worry about “echo chambers” etc.Loading Likes...