[Paleopsych] NYT: On the Internet, 2nd (and 3rd and . . . ) Opinions
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Tue Mar 29 15:56:32 UTC 2005
Arts > Critic's Notebook: On the Internet, 2nd (and 3rd and . . . ) Opinions
Here's a list of the lists:
Beatrix: A Book Review Review
The Elegant Variation
Golden Rule Jones
The Reading Experience
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Ed Champion's Return of the Reluctant
The Museum of Online Museums
I Love Music
Our Girl in Chicago
The Truth Laid Bear
On the Internet, 2nd (and 3rd and . . . ) Opinions
By SARAH BOXER
Published: March 29, 2005
Do you remember Charles and Ray Eames's 1977 film "Powers of Ten," in
which the camera zooms back from the surface of the Earth to a far-off
point in space? As the details of the planet recede and vanish, new
features of the universe appear. Before you know it, you've been
sucked into another order entirely.
Sometimes the Internet is like that. The traditional objects of
culture - books, movies, art - are becoming ever more distant. In
their place are reviews of reviews, museums of museums and many, many
Ron Hogan, who writes a literary blog called Beatrice.com,
recently began a second blog, Beatrix: A Book Review Review. He's not
the only one reviewing reviewers. The blogs Bookdwarf, Conversational
Reading, The Elegant Variation, Golden Rule Jones, The Reading
Experience and Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind - all gloss, grade
or review other people's book reviews. On Gawker.com, a writer
known as Intern Alexis reviews The New York Times Book Review.
The site Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant also bears down on
The New York Times Book Review and its editor, Sam Tanenhaus. Each
week the site posts "The Sam Tanenhaus Brownie Watch." It is an act of
counting. It compares, among other things, the number of pages devoted
to fiction versus nonfiction and the number of women assigned to
review nonfiction, promisingthat if there are enough fiction pages or
enough women Mr. Tanenhaus will be sent a brownie. Otherwise, "the
brownie will be denied."
Most book-review reviews are summary, to say the least. Their main
purpose, it seems, is to get noticed and linked to by more popular
blogs. This, for example, was Golden Rule Jones's assessment of The
Chicago Tribune's book coverage on Sunday: "What I liked: Good
numbers; timely, worthwhile selections. What I didn't like: Reviews
are a little skimpy."
What about the other traditional objects of culture: movies, music and
art? They, too, are becoming distant objects on the Web.
The Museum of Online Museums site lists Web links not only to real
museums and exhibitions but also to museums of odd objects (old
Christmas lights, microphones and casino matchbook covers) and, yes,
even to a museum of lists.
The Web site I Love Music appears to be a bulletin board where music
lovers can discuss music, but many of the questions posed on the site
are in fact invitations to a list-making. One suggested topic was "the
foxiest rock critic." Another was "You owned more than one album by
them, you listened to them fairly often, you knew in your heart of
hearts that they really weren't very good."
As these examples suggest, many lists on the Web have distance built
into them. Respondents comment less on objects of culture than on
themselves, their taste and their memory. The narcissistic lure can be
Consider a Web diversion recently cooked up by Laura Demanski, a
Chicago-based writer and book reviewer, better known on the Web as Our
Girl in Chicago (or simply OGIC), who sometimes posts on Terry
Teachout's blog, About Last Night. She asked her readers to list the
first five movie quotes that popped into their heads.
Some 200 quotes came in. "Casablanca" topped the list with seven
mentions, each one with a different quote. The most-cited movie quote
of all came from "Network," which the Web site gives as : "I'm mad as
hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" And there was a six-way
tie for shortest quote:
"Stella!" ("A Streetcar Named Desire")
"Plastics." ("The Graduate")
"Willoughby!!!!" ("Sense and Sensibility")
"Sincerely." ("Stand By Me")
"Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!!" ("Star Trek II")
Ms. Demanski promises "a few general observations" about movie memory.
What she really delivers, though, is a great set of lists.
Not all lists are so much fun. There are plenty of boring lists on the
Web. Everyday, Web contests list their winners. Every blog has a
running tab of favorite Web sites. Many of them take a good part of a
minute to scroll through.
And then there are the Amazonian lists, those offered up by sites like
Filmaffinity.com, Muiscplasma.com and Music-map.com. Once
you reveal a book, film or musician you already like, these sites will
"tell what you will like," Sarah Lazarovic writes on the Web site
CBC.ca. Such lists, she writes, are "supplanting the good
old-fashioned review as the primary way for consumers to discover new
music, movies and literature."
In other words, the review is being replaced by a shopping list. Which
brings out something important about the economy of the Web. The more
lists you're on, the more you're wanted. The premier compliment for a
Weblog is to be listed (or linked) by lots of other blogs. The Truth
Laid Bear keeps a list of the most-linked sites, a "blogosphere
ecosystem." It's like the Social Register.
The Web is not really a web after all. It is a list of lists.
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