Sunday, July 29, 2007

Web Celebs and Nathan Englander

In The Sunday Times today I interview Nathan Englander, a novelist taught by my hero Marilynne Robinson. And I mull over the new narcissism of the internet as I go down among the web slebs. This involved me in my first ever online video interview. It was with Amanda Congdon. It seemed, paradoxically, more intimate than a face-to-face interview. I was in the gloomy chaos of books and papers of my study - the perfect correlative of the penny-farthing hell I call my mind - she in a fresh, sun-drenched room in LA - the equally perfect correlative of hers. It was, you might say, poignant.
PS In the web celebs piece I mentioned the way YouTube videos have lost their innocence; most of them are now concealed advertising. Here are some of the weirdest examples I've seen, deriving their style from the off-hand surrealism which always seems to work with the young. Warning: crazy dyke action involved.
The picture shows an old WWII building in Norfolk. It is of no significance whatsoever.


  1. So that's not where a web slob lives then?

  2. Very insightful piece on the web slobs. I loved your line about Perez Hilton, "His voice is a cross between Andy Warhol and Graham Norton with a dash of Truman Capote." It conjures up an entire 3-D image.

  3. It's actually where I'd like to live but it's rotten with asbestos.

  4. I just don't believe it. I'm convinced that picture of a building in Norfolk does have significance. The longer I stare at it the more certain I am that I detect the beginning of animation. I now expect full-blown Web 2.0 technology to erupt at any second, and at least three naked Californians to run out from the right; a grinning internet entrepreneur to emerge from the left, and the face of a terrified newspaper editor to appear in that gap in the right-hand window.

  5. Wonderful article, although quite disquieting, really. I couldn't shake the panicky feeling that, while everybody else in the world will soon be making fortunes delivering news-in-real-time in a tone of frantic, narcissistic eroticism, I will be wiling away my lonely last days in a one room bedsit talking butterflies with Nige.

  6. Thanks, Peter, and don't worry, there are worse fates...

  7. A lot of this seems to boil down to the young doing what the young do - before growing out of it - while their elders tut tut over the Daily Beast. For example, putting up a website doesn't require much technical knowhow unless you choose to be fogeyish about it, and I've yet to meet anyone who thought Microsoft remotely laid-back and cool. Their "Zune" player, touted as an iPod killer, was a laughable misfire that sank without trace.

    Given the average age of those who subscribe to the big social networking sites, it's hard not to feel acute distaste for the commercial outfits and advertising moguls trying to make a buck off them. They remind me of suspicious types who hang around outside the school playground with a handful of lollies or the brewers with their alcopops.

    You ended your piece - really an excellent, thought-provoking read - with the question "Who is you?" The young don't yet know who they are. Perhaps we should give them a chance to find out, and trust them to get it right. After all, if we don't trust them, why should they trust us?

  8. I suppose so, Bryan. The contemplative life used to mean retreating to a monastery or solitary cabin in the woods. It seems it will soon come to describe anyone who regularly frequents less than ten blogs.

  9. The building is a Quonset hut, a cheap, prefabricated structure used by the US armed forces during World War II, and named for the place where it was first manufactured, Quonset Point, Rhode Island. I was born and raised in Rhode Island, and went to air shows at the Quonset Point Naval Air Station, where I first got the idea that I wanted to be a jet pilot from watching the Blue Angels, the Navy's precision jet aerobatic team.
    That desire landed me in the Marine Corps after college with a "guaranteed contract" to flight school (they can't guarantee you'll pass flight school). Unfortunately, between the time that they issued the guaranteed contract and the time for honoring that contract, just prior to my commissioning, they reneged on it, as the Marine's their quota for Naval Flight Officers, or NFOs, (the back seat guy who doesn't fly the aircraft but goes to flight school anyhow - I went the NFO route because I didn't have the 20-20 vision necessary to be a pilot, or as the Marines call it, a Naval Aviator. There are no pilots in the Marines, or the Navy.) was rejiggered due to an accelerated adoption of the F18 Hornet, a one-seater, over the F4 Phantom, the two seater it replaced.
    Having no other plans after college than going into the Marines and flight school, I joined the Marines anyhow as a "ground pounder", ending up as a Supply Officer, where my first duty station was with the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, in El Toro, California (that's the base that gets blown up in "Independence Day"). Ironically, for me, it was the first Air Wing to transition to the F18, and as the Supply Officer for the headquarters squadron, I got the call when the general's coffee maker died two days prior to the big inaugural brouhaha to celebrate the F18's arrival. So my personal history was tied to that aircraft after all. I delivered the new coffee maker in time for the rollout, and the rest is history.

    Is that enough significance for you?

  10. Bryan I enjoyed the article, not least because it mentioned some people I had not heard of. I was dreading that you would mention Girl With a Cock on Her Mind and her narcisstic rubbish but thankfully you didn't. Those web savvy guys actually have it sewn up. The rest of us are playing at it.

  11. Susan B., short fiction lover,July 29, 2007 4:50 pm

    Englander is an amazing short-story writer -- you all should check out his first book, the collection. Now that I know he studied with MRS. Robinson, I'm not surprised.....

  12. Thanks for introducing me to Nathan Englander. I'll have to check him out. I admire Marilynne Robinson very much so if he took advantage of her wisdom he should be a fine writer.

  13. Dr. Information DutyJuly 29, 2007 8:28 pm

    I am surprised that you find Amanda Congdon to be a web celeb and by doing so, you discredit your authority as a writer on this subject to all who are in this space. Amanda WAS a celebrity of sorts, but no one talks about her anymore. She lost her footing unfortunately and as sad as it is to watch happen, her online value has been run into the ground. This is because she shot the finger at EVERYONE who made her. The only time she is mentioned online now is negatively as she shills for Dupont and her latest, American Express. Can you find a single positive review of anything Amanda has actually done in the last year since she left Rocketboom (BTW, Andrew Baron is not a TV director)? Very few reviews even exist because she has exited the web community. You did not discuss any merits of her work, just that you are attracted to her physically.

    Few to no comments on her blogs anymore, no critical acclaim for her work (maybe just for her physical attributes in articles like yours), she got demoted from ABC News after just a few months, HBO show has become defunct. Amanda is a full-time infomercial hack, trying to sell products which you said yourself is a shame when it happens.

    You can see her infomercials which comprise her latest work for American Express here, only 24 views in last 3 weeks:

    For more research, see:

    Take a closer look and do at least a tiny bit of research. Thank you.

  14. Bryan,

    Unlike your blog, Violet's does't even allow user comments, which are the sin non qua for Web 2.0. Nor is there any other aspect of interactivity on, and even less adverting than on your site. Why such a hardon for Ms. Blue?

  15. Hardon? I just mentioned her. I did send her, I think, 3 emails asking to talk, but no response. Just an example of self-promotion.

  16. "Hardon" is an Americanism used when someone expresses a degree of mean-spiritedness that seems out of scale with the target of their criticism, (using "they" as third-person singular when gender is ambiguous is another Americanism,) and is meant to suggest some sort of psycho-sexual motive that the critic may not be entirely aware of themselves. (There's that they thing again.)

    As to Violet's self-promotion, Violet is the author and/or editor of a dozen or more books, and a freelance magazine writer. As a writer yourself, I'm sure your aware that penning a book is only half the battle, the other half being to make the world aware that you exist, and showcasing one's work and other accomplishments. Certainly is an example of this, no?

    Back to hardon.

    Once can't help but get the feeling you have a 'hardon' (sometimes hyphenated as 'hard-on') for Ms.Blue because, in addition to showcasing her work and giving commentary on the cultural landscape, she has saucy picture of herself on her website. Better her than you.

    Then again, maybe you're just hurt she didn't write you back. Don't be. Violet is as busy as she is famous. She doesn't respond to every e-mail I send her either.

  17. dr. information duty,

    Whoops, lots of errors in your "research". Amanda is alive and well at ABCNews. A number of her videos have been on the "most viewed" list there. Don't know that anything's changed about the HBO project, and I bet you don't either. Last I heard it was on. The AMEX Members Project is classy and well done, including Amanda's portion.

    Wassup with you? At least get the facts straight if you're trying to discredit someone. This way, you only succeed in discrediting yourself.

  18. I enjoyed this article in the Sunday Times but feel that you could have placed more emphasis on the companies that underpin the successful Web 2.0 technologies such as Google and Yahoo. Time may celebrate ‘you’ or ‘us’ but surely if you are a Google customer this is only a celebration if you live outside of China for instance. Are we really, truly being given tools to shape our own lives? Anything which can be given can also be taken away.