If anything characterizes The Way We Live Now, it is the cult of celebrity. It seems like almost everyone wants to be famous. We crave recognition so badly that many of us don't care what it takes: better notoriety than anonymity. And because we live in a day of unparallelled opportunities to self-publish and self-promote, people often have to scream to be heard above the din of competing sources of input. One way to stand out above the fray is to be Outrageous.
One recent commenter on Manboobz alluded to this as a way of explaining the "manosphere." For the most part, it's an internet phenomenon, which has linked various and numerous unhappy and disenfranchised white men. Unable to form a coherent platform, they have united behind a common enemy, which they call "feminism" but which really is femininity in general (including, as we have recently seen, female children and transsexual women). Much has already been written about this elsewhere, and much more eloquently than I could.
Members of the manosphere post, for the most part, anonymously. They have to, because to openly espouse the views they claim to hold would be to commit social and professional suicide.
A handful of leaders do identify themselves (Roosh V aka Daryush Valizadeh, Paul Elam, Matt Forney aka Ferdinand Bardemu), and a few have had their true identities made known against their will (Roissy "Heartiste" and the guy who went by "violentacrez"). Of course, any semblance of a "normal" life is over for them: they are now officially and irrevocably married to their online personae. In some ways, they have paid the ultimate price for their narcissism (or "martyrdom" as their acolytes might frame it).
Yet in order to maintain readership, they must keep producing more of what their readers want, which is ever more outrageous material. The "outrage" comes from the overtly hateful nature of their ideas, the hateful expression of these ideas, and sometimes from a potent and disturbing stew of fantasy, entitlement, resentment, and violent retribution. In other words: hate porn.
Then there are people like JudgyBitch, who is torn between the demands of her compulsive exhibitionism and the need to protect her personal life. From what I have seen, exhibitionism usually trumps prudence in these cases. Hence, she uses pseudonyms, but "vlogs" on YouTube; being recognized and outed is but a matter of months. And that is not a threat, since I have neither the means nor the interest in doxing her. It is simply a prediction and perhaps a warning. We may enjoy the anonymity of the internet, but we are foolish indeed if we think that it is guaranteed.
Personally, I'm not sure the threat of exposure is an entirely bad thing. Perhaps it's a reflection of my age, but I don't hold anonymity to be sacrosanct. The internet is not the confessional. A blog is is not your analyst's couch. Writing about, or for, other people affects them. Words can be as influential and powerful as actions, and they should be treated as such. People should be held accountable for what they say. Free speech is not free of consequences.
Right now the Internet is The Wild West and anything goes, so naturally it is a fertile ground for the worst of people and the worst kinds of people, but in time I am confident we will develop some respect for its power; we will demand and adopt standards of behavior and responsibility. Meanwhile, we are left with vigilante groups like Anonymous, which is perhaps better -- or perhaps worse -- than no moral order whatsoever.
At the same time -- and getting back to the title of this post -- I do understand the merciless thirst for recognition, and how blogging plays to that. That's because I understand The Quest for Immortality and The Denial of Death. What's more human and existentially poignant than to counter the inevitability of death by howling in protest? Of course, ranting and raging avails us little -- often makes everything worse in fact -- but it makes us feel powerful, and distracts us from the unbearable knowledge that all of this -- and all of us -- will be dust in a hundred years.
As one hostile commenter unkindly and needlessly pointed out, I have a very "obscure" blog. Indeed, I'm thrilled if five people look at it a day. I'm pleasantly puzzled by the number of visitors I do get. I'm not trying to make a name for myself here, much less a profit. I'm just practicing my writing skills, and I find it more motivating to write for an audience (even if it's only an imaginary, potential audience).
Like Hansel and Gretl, I've littered my blog with so many crumbs that it would be fairly easy to figure out who I am, if anyone cared (and I am very, very sure that no one does). And not that it matters because it really, really doesn't, in part because I am not only old, but also (like my heroine Jane Eyre) plain and poor and obscure and have no family or reputation to protect. Also, when I write critically about the New Misogynists, I only write what I would say to their faces, given the opportunity. I would be happy to meet with Roosh V or Janet Bloomfield in person and tell them what I think. Hell, I'd buy the first round!
However, a few years ago, I had a very different blog. It was a kind of confessional, recounting with humor and some salacious detail a year spent pursuing casual encounters on craigslist. (Frankly, I was more than a little inspired by A Round Heeled Woman by Jane Juska.) Well, as you know, Sex Sells, even sexual escapades as weird and pathetic as I was often describing in my crazy little blog.
As my readership took off, I found that more and more I was living my life in service to my blog. Consequently, I was engaging in behaviors that were increasingly humiliating and risky (both to my physical and emotional well being) just to have something to regale "my readers" with over their morning coffee. It got a little out of hand. Sometimes I said and did things I didn't really believe in or feel good about, just for the "copy." Inevitably, I got more than a little burned out. And, as fun as it was to shock and delight a lot of random strangers in cyberspace, I had to let it go. (Also, I happened to meet someone I loved, thereby putting the final kabosh on pursuing or reporting what I might call "My Slutty, SluttyYear.")
This experience gives me a little personal insight into -- and real sympathy for -- why and how a phenomenon like JudgyBitch is born. I imagine she's been bored and flailing about for something beyond family responsibilities to give her life meaning and purpose. Maybe she's always been the kind of gal with plenty of outrageous opinions, the kinds of opinions that are offered more for shock value than real insight ("the life of the party" so to speak), and now she's found a way to get a lot more attention for them. The validation comes from making people gasp (Oh no she didn't!) rather than making them reflect or engage in honest debate. She's found a forum where she is made to feel exceptional ("A woman in a man's world") and is accorded special recognition and privilege as such. As she is egged on, she goes farther and farther out on the limb, she exposes more and more, her position becomes more and more tenuous, she seems more and more deluded... But that attention! That masculine attention! It is as addictive as crack, and she just can't stop.