Memo to Lee: some books suck too

by Mathew on June 7, 2006 · 5 comments

If Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal was Nick Carr, I would accuse him of trolling again, but since he isn’t I will assume that he actually fervently believes all the things he says in his WSJ column about the dangers of “mashup culture” and the imminent decline of civilization as we know it as a result of YouTube, etc.

Not surprisingly, Nick himself was all over this one like white on rice, since it fits right in with his thesis that interactivity is bad. Why? Because in Nick’s view it allows morons and mouth-breathers to clutter up the public discourse with their puerile thoughts, instead of leaving it up to smart people (like Nick, presumably) to determine what is discussed and how.

Lee’s approach, which as some have noted was likely sparked by John Updike’s recent outburst at BookExpo, is a variation on the “Digg is bad” or “YouTube is bad” theme — which in most cases consists of taking a random sample of the top stories at or the top videos at YouTube and making fun of how stupid they are. Like shooting fish in a barrel. And therefore, ipso facto, the Internet is a vast cesspool of morons, right?

I think Eric Schonfeld makes a good point, which is that much of what we now revere as art started as a “mashup” of other people’s art, and much of modern art and even literature was derided as crap in its early days (Joyce being just one example). For that matter, much of it actually is crap, just as much of what is on TV is crap. Plenty of books are crap too. So what? To say that this somehow invalidates interactivity is absurd.

It also doesn’t have to be an either/or question. Lee (doing some more Carr-like trolling) describes this new literary future by saying: “Imagine a long email message with responses and earlier messages included. We’ll have those in lieu of “Middlemarch” or “The Corrections.” That’s hogwash, and I’m sure Lee knows it. Then he contrasts videos with the top hits from the BBC, and says that the list of sitcoms (Fawlty Towers being number one) and talk shows are “weighty meals for the mind.” WTF?

In fact, now that I think about it, maybe Lee’s column is actually an elaborate satire. I wish that were true.

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