USA Today, August 30, 2006
Lieberman, 'Snakes' and the seductive mythology of
By Bruce Kluger
If ever America needed a wake-up call about
the mythology of blogging, we got it this month.
On Aug. 8, Connecticut businessman Ned
Lamont defeated U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman
in the Democratic primary, a triumph widely
credited to the rah-rah racket produced by
pro-Lamont armies stationed along the Internet.
Indeed, the bloggers had scored big. They had helped vault a local politician to
national prominence, and cemented the Iraq war as Issue Number One in the
congressional elections. Not a bad day.
But their victory was short-lived. Even before the primary, Lieberman announced
that, should he lose, he'd still run in November as an independent. This electoral
chutzpah effectively rope-a-doped the bloggers and recharged the senator's fabled
Joe-mentum. Lieberman's still the man to beat in the general election.
If this wasn't enough to drain the effervescence from the blogger bubbly, America's
noisy Web wags were dealt an even more sobering blow 10 days later when
Snakes on a Plane opened nationwide to a decidedly flat $15.3 million box office
Before its premiere, Snakes had been the latest blogger darling, as swarms of
online film geeks prematurely crowned it the summer's big sleeper. This
hyperventilating fan base even convinced Snakes' distributor, New Line Cinema, to
up the movie's rating to R, to ensure a gorier, more venomous snake fest.
But all that clapping and yapping couldn't put enough American fannies in the
seats. Ticket sales for Snakes' debut barely topped those of Talladega Nights,
which was already in its third week.
Although Connecticut and Hollywood are a continent apart, the two events speak
volumes about the capriciousness of the blog culture.
Lieberman's boomerang reminds us that voters represent a meager percentage of
the total populace—and that bloggers are an even tinier subset of that group.
Consequently, what appears to be a coast-to-coast juggernaut on a 17-inch
monitor is, in the real world, simply an elaborate PC-to-PC chain letter—
enthusiastic for sure, but not necessarily the national mindset.
"There isn't much point in detailing the chest thumping of the various blognut
extremists," wrote Time's Joe Klein in his analysis of the Lamont victory. "Their
reach is minuscule."
For those who think Klein is underestimating the power of the blog, I have four
words: Howard Dean for President.
But it is the underwhelming response to Snakes that reveals the real peril in relying
on bloggers to take the nation's pulse.
"There were a lot of inflated expectations on this picture, with the Internet buzz,"
New Line's David Tuckerman told The New York Times after Snakes' lukewarm
bow. "But it basically performed like a normal horror movie."
Tuckerman hits the problem squarely on its blogging noggin. Ever since the first
smarty-pants posted his first unsolicited opinion on the Internet, Americans have
become captivated by blog-o-mania—for good reason. For once, we own and
operate our own public medium. Power to the people. Vox populi. Yadda-yadda.
And yet, as the scrambling suits at Lamont headquarters and New Line Cinema now
know, it's easy to be seduced by one's own hype, especially when that hype is
preceded by a "www." Now it's time to play catch-up ball. Lamont's handlers will
have to face a candidate who will surely try to have it both ways on the campaign
trail, and New Line will have to sell a boatload of popcorn. That's the way the blog
As an occasional blogger myself, I'm still wary of the phenomenon. On one hand, it
can be liberating to log on and spout off, unencumbered by editorial oversight.
On the other hand, as August 2006 clearly demonstrates, bloggers can just as
easily get it wrong. That's worth remembering.
The whole thing reminds me of child-rearing. As the parent of any toddler can tell
you, the younger the child, the louder the screams for attention—and quite often,
the degree of the crisis is in reverse proportion to the decibels of the bellows.
To that end, it's important to remember that the blogosphere is still in its infancy,
and like any kid, it needs to be watched very carefully.