Monday, 25 August 2008

Towards Little Green Circle Jerks - some notes

There's an interesting situation showing up on the blogosphere. Two progressive/feminist US websites with historic ties are seperating under the strain of the fallout from the Democratic primary selection. The larger site, Pandagon, headed by Amanda Marcotte, had a reasonably weak pro-Obama bias, the smaller, Shakespeare's Sister, headed by Melissa McEwen, had a strong pro-Clinton bias (note that these are my impressions, and I admit fully that I didn't follow the opinions of the various communities too closely).

Pandagon, larger and more diverse, seems to be rolling on as it ever did. However, Shakespeare's Sister is showing signs of evolving more towards an insular community defined by ideological purity - towards the type of blog epitomised by Little Green Footballs on the right. This sort of community has characteristics so common that an example can and has been aptly tagged as "a Little Green Circle Jerk".

For a good demonstration of this, see the comments on this thread.

This doesn't seem to be driven by the owner of the blog - McEwen has an admirable dedication to openness under provocation. Although intelligent, she appears less educated and articulate than Marcotte, and the latter is more accomplished. I believe, however, that she has considerably more actual insight, albeit coloured by her biases. Rather, it is the community of commentators in SS which are the engine behind this evolution.

The following strike me as important notes on possible characteristics associated with this change:
- A emphasis on status through ideological purity (in this case, a moderate progressive stance combined with radical feminist elements).
- A need to define identity by adherence to group norms.
- A rise in the sort of "stroking" comments and posts which reinforce group solidarity, mutual praise and admiration for members who succinctly express group norms.
- A drive towards vilification of a symbol for the other camp (such as animosity aimed at Obama himself for not having the same views. Compare this with the way the wingnut right talk about Islam and the Qu'ran).
- Treating dissent as an attack, and repeated calls for a closed community through banning dissenters.
- A drift further away from the mainstream driven, as far as I can tell, by the more radical, passionate members setting the agenda, and other more moderate members refusing to engage or call them on it - at the same time both gang up to pour scorn on the agreed "outsiders".
- A loss of a sense of proportion, which is pretty close to losing a sense of humour regarding touchstone issues.
- A rise in restoring to ad hominem attacks as the first response, and a refusal to consider engaging differing ideas.
- A possible turnover in membership, with some commentators becoming more and more active, and others quietly dropping out without anyone seeming to notice.

I'm not a sociologist, and I lack a trained (or unbiased) perspective. The way this group is changing in response to the stress of the primary selection and post-primary events is fascinating, though. McEwen's genuine progressive beliefs seem to stand in the way of this drift; an obvious next step would be for her co-bloggers to start more readily banning people with or without her permission, or to persuade her to do the same.

1 comment:

Dana said...

Phoe, I don't know how you could have written a post on this subject without mentioning that both Miss Marcotte and Mrs McEwan were hired to do blogging work by the John Edwards campaign, in early 2007. That's a bit of history that has to impact everything subsequent to it, because it means that, whomever they supported after Mr Edwards dropped out, they came to support somewhat later in the campaign than many other sites.

Nor do I think you can reasonably say that Pandagon has a "reasonably weak pro-Obama bias." Pam Spaulding, one of the main writers, was pretty much always on the O-Train.

Really, the most that I think you can say about any weakness in support for Mr Obama on Pandagon is that Miss Marcotte, though she supported Mr Obama after Mr Edwards dropped out, would have loved to see a female president, even if she wasn't particularly enamored of the female who was running for president.