August 17, 2004
How to Get Famous: Take a Shortcut

Shelley Powers has a terrific post up today examining the Jessica Cutler (“Washingtonienne”) media buzzlet, the Michelle Malkin (“In Defense of Internment”) media buzzlet, and, among other things, what the two can teach us about how some things are the same whether you’re in old media or new:

Let’s do a reality check: here’s a woman [Cutler — ed.] who is very familiar with weblogging, Capital Hill gossip, Wonkette and what Wonkette sells — sex and politics — and she manages to take a weblog from Blogger to national TV in less than two weeks? “Accidental exposure” my ass… ets.

The play is different but the name of the game is the same: webloggers generate noise, and the media, ever on the lookout for a new edge, a new angle, follows that noise. People are beginning to notice this; the astute are even turning this to their advantage.

In this respect, Malkin is little different than Cutler with her entry into weblogging a few months back, just before she happens to release a book guaranteed to be controversial — writing in support of the Japanese Internment — and then spent time egging on webloggers who have written other books on the event.

The one screws politicians, the other screws history, and webloggers grease the way — in the end, it all comes down to someone being screwed.

I don’t agree with everything in the piece — saying “webloggers grease the way” is a bit over the top, IMO, when people like Eric Mueller of IsThatLegal? have been both more vigorous about demolishing Malkin’s premises and more courteous while doing so (see his guest-blogging at The Volokh Conspiracy on the subject to see what I mean) than anyone in the mainstream media have been — but it’s probably one of the most insightful things I’ve read on the subject nonetheless.

Much of the business of modern media is about pumping up what historian Daniel Boorstin memorably described as “pseudo-events” — events which were more of a staged imitation of something happening rather than something really happening. Media types love pseudo-events because they are everything that real events aren’t: where real events are far away, pseudo-events are conveniently close to NY, DC and LA; where real events are messy and complicated, pseudo-events are carefully plotted to have a straightforward theme; where real events always threaten to veer off course and stop being newsworthy, pseudo-events are meticulously stage-managed to make unpredicted outcomes an impossibility. Compared to these virtues, the fact that nothing is really happening in a pseudo-event seems almost secondary.

For anyone who wants to draw attention to a cause or personality, then, learning how to stage these pseudo-events is mandatory: it’s just much too effective a way to get journalists to pay attention to you to ignore.

Viewed as pseudo-events, Cutler’s and Malkin’s stunts make plenty of sense. Malkin’s book seems the more straightforward of the two in this regard — its deliberately inflammatory title (“In Defense of Internment”) and premise (that the wholesale internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two was merited due to intelligence the U.S. government had about Japanese infiltration) are pretty clearly designed to create angry protests around this non-issue, which is a pretty common pseudo-event tactic. In other words, a book by itself wouldn’t be news, so you have to write a book that makes enough people angry so THAT becomes news, and then the journalists have to mention your book when they write about the angry people.

Seeing Cutler’s exploit as a pure pseudo-event requires more cynicism, since Cutler had more to lose (her job on the Hill) than Malkin. Still, it’s certainly not hard to imagine a scenario where Wonkette and a friend gin up a scheme to do a “blog” in the friend’s name, since both could gain from such a scenario (Wonkette getting the extra hits by “breaking” the story, and the friend by getting a book deal to cash in on her notoriety, which Cutler has done). Is that how it went down? Who knows? Until anyone has evidence to indicate otherwise, we should probably assume that Wonkette and Cutler are telling the truth and that Washingtonienne was for real — but it’s worth reflecting on how easy it would be for someone like Wonkette to construct a “pseudo-event” for profit.

Shelley’s post got me thinking about issues like these, and a lot more — go read it already.

Posted by Jason Lefkowitz at August 17, 2004

I didn't see Wonkette as being an active part in this. I had the impression this was something that Cutler more or less cooked up on her own. Wonkette is pretty predictable, so not surprising how she reacted.

But pseudo-event for profit. Yes. And I really do think that we are the fuel in this particular fire.

Posted by: Shelley on August 19, 2004 11:29 PM

Hey i want to become a guitarist in a band and live in Hollywood. And one time this little boy came up to me at Walmart and he said "Are you JLo? Cuz your really hot and you look like her" and i didnt even know him!! it was so funny. I hope i become famous some day. :P

Posted by: Lynnelle B. on September 7, 2004 8:20 PM
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