Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

Are You a Chronic Meta-Enabler?

META-ENABLERS!A number of us (and I am thinking her and her in particular) are sometimes mounting, and sometimes are not, an opposition to what Yahoo! News' Andrew Golis is calling "meta-enabling," in a coinage that isn't really going to stick but is fun for a while. For more explication: "Meta-enabling allows blogs to treat the way in which the posts are presented as the thesis of the post itself (hence, the necessity of the prefix meta- to the term)." Meta-enabling, and its prettier sister, the treatment of the highbrow in a pop culture way (which is, not at all incidentally, our own more-frequently-employed method here), are the hallmarks of our ironic, sarcastic, I-can't-actually-tell-what-you-really-mean age and it is causing a problem.

One of the problems, as we ALL have experienced, is that people can't tell when a regularly ironic person is being serious, and boy have I dug that hole deeper and not been able to climb out sometimes.

The other problem is people unhappily writing about things that they don't care about, because they are getting paid. This we see regularly in the land of TV recapping, which, for the most part, should be abolished. I don't really understand the TV recap, except in the cases of Doc Jensen or some of the TWoP people. Like, didn't we already watch that show, if we did, and if we didn't, well, then we didn't want to? It baffles me!

Except, Golis is wrong-ish to toss all this kind of writing in the same bag. There is a long, pre-blog history of critical thought devoted to popular culture, and there should be! Of course we have to care about the popular, and critics always have. (Also, maybe we like the popular! I have some pretty popular tastes.) Taking this as a new iteration is barely sustainable; it's barely a new iteration at all. It's just extremely prevalent-IF you even read blogs. And not all coverage of the popular (which is often equivalent to "lowbrow") is concerned with SEO! Some of it is derived from actual interest. It's just that people have a really hard time writing earnestly about something they like. (It's the hardest thing in the world to do! Try it today!)

His ideas (presented as they are 140 characters at a time, of course) don't take into account the division in blogs between ownership and production. Writers at big websites aren't out shaking it for pageviews and high-end ads because they want the blog to be a success; they're hustling pageviews because they want to not get fired. Its the publishers who are the ones hustling popular topics for high-end ads. The rest of us? Maybe we just actually like our blow-'em-up movies and cheesy TV shows.

67 Comments / Post A Comment

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HiredGoons (#603)

There is only 'Boxing Helena' and 'Blue Velvet.' All the rest is '80s Witchcraft-Porn.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Boxing Helena is the truth.

Moff (#28)

Suggestion: More people will read this post if you can somehow tie it in to bad science-fiction blockbusters or even just stick a funny cat video at the end.

Sproing (#561)

Or Mad Men. The rebloggers love Mad Men.

Olivia2.0 (#1,716)

Needs more smoking????

shostakobitch (#1,692)

Sarah Palin is not very fantastic political leader material. Perhaps touch on that a bit.

lbf (#2,343)

Every time we add a layer of discourse to this, we get to add an extra "meta" prefix.
This obscures the real point though: Andrew Golis is sexy.

Or the people who make their careers on it and then pretend not to know what it's all about. Those people.

Abe Sauer (#148)

(Parentheses-contained exclamation points!!!!!!)

lbf (#2,343)

I have a new favourite fake band name to namedrop.

KarenUhOh (#19)

This reminds me of my mother, who told me if I kept winking all the time my eyes would freeze shut. So I stopped winking and my tears dried up.

This comment deserves some sort of award (and/or unrelated animated gif).

I feel like Golis is intentionally ignoring the whole "sometimes, blogs aren't just labors of love" thing. Even though those blogs that are basically engaging in serious kneeling-on-rice penance for thinking about the topics they do (the misogynist "look at these hot women, what whores they are, but you still will click through 25 pictures of them" axis of gossip blogs being the most obvious/noxious examples of this) are the most popular. Trying to have a "professional" blog possessing a personality that is personal, and not some cockeyed mix of cheap snark and even cheaper news-cycle manipulation, is tough, because once the traffic goes down, the bargain bin gets raided in hopes of attracting more drive-by eyeballs. Golis must know this!

Re TV recaps: Even though they are, yes, pretty useless, they get mad traffic compared to so many other things. I would hazard a guess that this is because a "small" audience for TV is oftentimes a "server-crippling" audience for a blog. And people reading blogs during their downtime at work (which is still a fairly sizeable audience for these sorts of sites, unemployment levels/understaffing issues notwithstanding) can go back to thinking about how they spent their most recent bout of leisure time instead of taking care of the tasks lighting up their inboxes.

I should probably also note here that I read a few recaps of TV shows I don't watch because the writing is so good. Rich FourFour's ANTM recaps, for example.

kiyoshimartinez (#2,410)

RE TV recaps: There's a few great recap bloggers out there, like Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune and Alan Sepinwall of the Star-Ledger. Their "Mad Men" recaps were great, mainly for the analysis that went beyond "here's what happened last night."

Emily (#20)

Seconded. Gabe and Max's Top Chef recaps also. It's like watching a TV show with a funny person who you can imagine is your friend providing funny running commentary. Wow it sounds sad when I put it like that (also I felt like this so hard about Rich that I stalked him til I made him my friend).

But yeah as a genre of blog post it is odd. I did read them a lot more when I had a "boring day job." I have never relished writing them.

I liked writing American Idol recaps back in the day, but part of me wonders if that was because of the obvious traffic boost they gave to a site that had, shall we say, boutique interests. (Sigh, music.) There's some sort of "Denton-trained rat" thing going on there, I'm sure.

(That said, I loved liveblogging televised events, because at their best moments, they were like leading a really fun chat room.)

Neopythia (#353)

I also think there is a virtual water-cooler aspect to tv recaps. They can serve as a focusing point for fans of a show to discuss it. I'm more likely to discuss Lost, for example, in a thread than I will at the office, especially in the day and age of the DVR.

Of course it helps when there is someone clever writing the recaps, whether he/she is a fan of the show or not.

Neo I definitely think the water cooler aspect is what drives recaps. Cable shows are more niche oriented and not everyone in your office watches Million Dollar Listing but there is always someone online who has.

Cajun Boy (#132)

I never got the recap thing either until I started watching Mad Men. Sepinwall's Star-Ledger pieces always seemed to bring something to my attention that I'd overlooked during my viewings of the show, and Lisanti's Power Rankings at Movieline, particularly the Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level, often had me laughing out loud for their ability to take a show so steeped in seriousness and transport it into the realm of absurdity. Love that Lisanti kid…he's got potential.

the Loud Coast (#1,362)

Mad Men was the exact case when I started to realize that TV-Recaps were getting overdone, because if you read rss feeds and have Salon, Slate, and Awl in the same category, Mad Men started to take up a LOT of real estate in there, no matter how good they were.

@walton firm

We never did recapping. We did historical CONTEXTUALIZING.

joshc (#442)

Richard Lawson's recaps, now at, are things of perpetual beauty. I can't imagine how he possibly cranks so many words out on such a regular basis. Does he have a fleet of magical outsourced unicorns?

mordzook (#2,330)

Are you suggesting the unicorns work from India? I wonder if India has "Real Housewives." We can only hope, fer their sake. And ours.

fek (#93)

i don't get it.

brent_cox (#40)

Real-time post-mortem.

sailor (#396)

Nope, just chronic.

kiyoshimartinez (#2,410)

"It's just that people have a really hard time writing earnestly about something they like."

This is really true. It's much easier to tear something down than it is to build it up. I like stupid summer popcorn movies ("Transformers 2," "G.I.Joe: Rise of Cobra") but couldn't give you 200-300 intelligent words on why I liked it.

(unrelated: how does one replace their avatar with an actual photo here?)

hockeymom (#143)

Oh. My. God.
It's like we were separated at the brain.

lbf (#2,343)

I think you gotta e-mail Choire a nude pic, and he'll crop it to the bit he thinks is the most interesting.

(I am also interested in knowing is what I mean)

Steve (#1,777) is your friend.


hockeymom (#143)

This is all well and good, but I can't even figure out how to put a picture in the little box by my name so FOR SURE I'm not capable of commenting on meta-anything.

(seriously, how do I get a picture in the little box)

katiebakes (#32)

Good question. I even have a picture there and I have no memory of how it happened.

Anyway, Maura nailed it w/r/t TV recaps: And people reading blogs during their downtime at work … can go back to thinking about how they spent their most recent bout of leisure time instead of taking care of the tasks lighting up their inboxes.

So true. Now can we talk about Kelly Cutrone?

Bittersweet (#765)

Wish I could tell you, hockeymom, but my trips to have been fruitless. They don't recognize me as me and thus far I've been unwilling to give up my nice 3-digit number and sign in as someone else.

myfanwy (#1,124)

You have to make another profile, it won't recognize your commenter name. Unless you are already blogging on WordPress elsewhere.

brianvan (#149)

I am leaving a comment; by leaving any sort of comment, I am suggesting:
1. Via negative response, I am a smart person who thinks you're all morons
2. Via positive response, I am a stupid Internet person who leaves fawning comments on blogs, and if I approve of you, you must be idiots too.

You guys would look so much better if you'd write all your ranty culture-critical thoughts in a book! Margin-written notes are much more suggesting of approval! (as are actually selling a tangible product, and actually collecting customer money, but that's a topic for every other day!)

This comment rings so true. I think the print industry and dying, too. Thanks, for this, brianvan!

myfanwy (#1,124)

If I reply to your comment, does that make me passive-aggressive?

HiredGoons (#603)

(One Liner and/or Double Entendre).

iplaudius (#1,066)

Is it bad that the rhetorical distinctions between "lowbrow" and "highbow" are collapsing? What's wrong with thinking critically about the subject matter?

Who cares whether the writer intends to be serious or ironic? Isn't it more about the reading?

HiredGoons (#603)


iplaudius (#1,066)

What about the middle two questions?

HiredGoons (#603)


HiredGoons (#603)


Vulpes (#946)

I think people like recaps particularly of shows where they don't necessarily have anyone to talk to about it. If no one else in your circle of family and friends likes "Fringe" or whatever, it's nice to know that someone else is watching it. Boards are, of course, the same thing, but finding a good board can be very, very, very difficult. Fandoms can be hard to crack. Plus, they involve work on your part, and a lot of filtering people who can't type and don't have anything to say, even on a good board. A recap by either a paid professional or enthusiastic amateur is much easier. Plus, there's a thrill both in finding out that someone felt the exact same thing you did, and also in finding they noticed something you missed.

Also, not to be trite, but Richard Lawson's recaps are really, really amazing. I don't watch any of the shows, don't know who any of the people are, but I still do nothing but all-but-burst something trying to smother my laughter when I read them at work. And then when he goes off into some sort of opium dream, it's fantastic. It's the same with Rich from FourFour. (What is it with Richs who recap? Weird.)

Of course Richard Lawson's recaps (back in the Gawker days at least, I haven't read much of his stuff) venture into the fanfic genre as much as the recap genre, which is probably why they're better than the actual show!

Vulpes (#946)

You should check out his stuff. It's even crazier, and by that I mean even better.

LondonLee (#922)

How is this new? Haven't they heard of Roland Barthes or all those other people I read in college I've forgotten all about? (Dick Hebdidge! There's another)

Oh yes, I forgot, they think the internet invented everything.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

DFW was going off on this sort of thing back in like, 1993 I think it's sort of sad and pernicious that we're still struggling so mightily with irony vs. sincerity.

I was hesitant to comment here as I recap TV for fun, which probably worsens the crime in the eyes of those who despise recapping in general. Defending recapping is like defending TV to people who hate TV: they’ll never be convinced their position is not superior, and they’re not wrong. My only defense is whatever, I like TV and not just the good stuff like Mad Men.

As for recapping, I like it because it is something I don’t do professionally. After spending a day writing about time-scale separation and spatial power laws, it’s nice to write something silly and informal. And after a day spent dealing with student crises, it’s nice to just think about the mass of contradictions that comprise Tyra Banks’ thought processes, such as they are. So yes, escapism.

On the other hand, I can see that professional writers, eager to write about weightier things, might want to slash their wrists when Nick Denton demands they watch The Hills and write a little something about it. And I get that those who want higher quality content on the internet, hate that linkbait like recaps or gossip or listicles seem to be winning the page view race. But that’s not why I do it.

myfanwy (#1,124)

I think there's a distinction between, say, TV Guide-like recaps where it's just "blah blah this happened" and insightful and/or funny analysis of TV shows. People like to write off TV as a facile medium because they think that doing so makes them appear smarter.

jacksonwest (#637)

So does this mean Valleywag was meta-enabling Yahoo? I think it does. Also, what's up with Padma's bangs? What. Is. Up!

Ken Layne (#262)

Is there *really* a conflict between mentioning something because it should be mocked and mentioning that same thing because it will pull in a few hundred/thousand extra page views from people who will be offended by your mockery, while still generating page views?

Maybe this is part of those FTC ethics things we are supposed to follow now, thanks to Nobama's War on Laughter.

Ken Layne (#262)

FOR EXAMPLE: If I make a bizarre and incorrect reference to Twilight characters in a post about, say, John McCain or David Vitter, and I only know about the Twilight thing because Google News has about 5,000 top stories about it, the post is a) actual dumb comedy about the pointless coordinated arrival of 5,000 news articles about a movie made for teen-aged girls who do not read any of these news outlets, because said girls are furtively masturbating to a vampire book written for teen girls and who reads newspapers anyway?, and also b) confusing link bait. The only difference between ironic blogs doing this shit and the Today Show doing this shit is that the Today Show has to pretend like it's not stupid.

metoometoo (#230)

Writing earnestly about something I like is pretty much the only thing that I am good at, so, you know, if anyone wanted to pay me to do that, that'd be cool.

slinkimalinki (#182)

in terms of the reading of recaps, well, if you spend your evening watching dumb programmes with dumb people, and then the next day you get to go online and read something written about it by a smart person, well, there's a sense of relief.

Aatom (#74)

I've come to view online high/low writing generally as the death of earnestness. No one ever seems to actually like anything anymore, except in a sly maybe I do, and maybe I sort of don't or shouldn't way. I tend to think that this is a lazy impulse, designed to give the writer plausible deniability and insulate them from the withering snark of their peers. But it can be both layered and revealing if done correctly and infused with genuine personality.

Spiers always rode the line between ironic detachment and dorky earnestness really well, as do you at your best, Choire. Balk's genuine passion for gay rights (among other things) always serves as a bracing tonic against too much meta-enabling as well.

Baroness (#273)

"It's just that people have a really hard time writing earnestly about something they like." Did you mean "dislike"?

Why would a writer have a hard time writing about something they like? "Liking" is a pretty key part of inspiration. A writer who has a hard time writing about something they like is no writer at all, really.

Jesse Miksic (#2,436)

Why would a writer have a hard time writing about something they like? Who f'ing knows? But they seem to, at least on the Internet. It often seems that to the youngens, sincerely celebrating any pop culture (or sometimes, anything at all) is a sign of stupidity. Perhaps it's the symptom of some sort of collision between Generation X cynicism and intelligentsia aloofness?

missdelite (#625)

Or, be provocative.
Write shit that sticks to the brain like crazy glue. That way, when your audience matures into the "don't-give-a-fuck-what-people-think" phase, they'll consume your output as brain food.

Rod T (#33)

I pitched a Gossip Girl recap to Gawker back in the day. I sent in the first piece, titled "The Rape and Murder of Manhattan", that basically ripped the show as not being representative of New York. This piece was rejected by this piece's author and another recap was run singing the show's praises (which was maybe written by "her" aka Emily, but maybe not). It was in a period where all of a sudden there were many more teevee show and movie recaps popping up on the site, which seemed to be a sea change and, to this reader's perception, an attempt to court advertisers. I found it curious at the time and questioned my own writing and whether I was simply too negative. Now I realize that maybe meta-enabling was the issue? Or not. I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and this all seems a bit hand-wringey.

Vulpes (#946)

If you're blazing away on the chandelier, the rest of us must be busted up Christmas twinkle lights.

Did you end up posting that GG recap on your blog? Because I swear I remember reading something like that by you, but I have no idea where.

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

"Meta" and "Ironic" are interesting concepts. I tend to think each simply represents passive-aggresive liking or disliking of something because we're living in a world where simply being a "straight shooter" is not accepted lest egos get ruffled. When in reality most folks do want to hear someone say "You know, [whatever is horrible]…" or "I really like [something people dislike, like Billy Joel]…" but few people ever say that anymore.

So what are you left with? Irony, jokes and meta. And with publishing dying, people so desperate for web traffic they will talk about anything popular without having much knowledge on the subject. To me, the whole concept of simply writing about something as a "meta-enabler" (what an asinine term) is the same "old wives tale" logic in web 2.0 that was once the mantra of "We must update content daily to drive traffic…" was in we 1.0. I can assure you that updating something daily does not increase traffic. And simply saying "Tiger Woods!" won't bring you more than a nickel via Google AdSense.

Which is all to say: Just write passionately about something you like and don't worry about the rest. Yeah, that won't gain an ounce of traction in the world of AOL pro-blog sites and such, but still. I don't begrudge someone pimping a blog for a job, but to spend your personal time forcing something out about Adam Lambert out of the faint hope you'll drive enough traffic to make an extra $10 that week? That's just sad.

Which is all to say (Part II): All the words in the world can never compete with a video of a cute cat on YouTube; so if you're that desperate for traffic just video your cat/dog/creature every day and hope it goes viral. Less work and more fun! And just look at Maru the box cat; dude has a DVD deal in Japan! Just for running into a @$!@^%% box! Will James Cameron ever reach that level of insta-fame? NEVER!

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