Talked to Shakes last night about her new gig leading the blogging for John Edwards. This is great news for Shakes, and great news for Edwards. And congratulations as well to Amanda Marcotte who will be joining the Edwards campaign too. Shakes has me about convinced that Edwards can win the nomination, a prospect that doesn't bother me at all.
Discussion ranged outward from politics---shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, and kings came up. Eventually we got to talking about what we'd been reading on the web lately and, I forget which one of us brought him up, but a blogger whose writing we both admire got mentioned.
Turns out neither one of us had checked in on his blog recently and for the same reason.
He is a very good writer but his blog persona can be grating.
Before I go any further here, let me assure you. It's not you. First off, it really is a guy. I'm not changing anybody's gender here to protect your feelings. So all of you who are female can breathe easy. As for those of you who are male, I don't think this guy reads my blog much and Shakes is pretty sure he doesn't come around her place that often, and since I figure that if you bother to read my blog at all you're smart enough to be a regular visitor at Shakes' place, which means the odds are strongly against its being you.
Second, if it is you, I really do admire your writing. You've got a gift, and what do you care what anybody who reads your work thinks of you beyond that?
Third, how do I know what you're like from reading your blog? Most of what's you isn't on the screen. Blog personas are fictional constructs anyway, some deliberate, most accidental, half-conscious, at least, or half-baked.
But that doesn't stop me from feeling that as highly as I regard this guy's work I'm convinced I couldn't stand to be in the same room with him for more than two minutes, especially if that room contained other people whose attention and admiration he was trying to court.
Guy has a habit of putting his wounded feelings on display. When he lets his focus shift from the objective to the subjective, the subject is himself and how deeply he feels things. He alternates puppy doggish demands for affection with extended sulks in which he pretends to not want to talk about the ways various people---his readers, other bloggers, someone he knows offline---have hurt his feelings, and then of course he goes on and on about how his feelings got hurt.
His loyal readers then fill up his comments with comfort and reassurance, which is what he was after in the first place.
I told Shakes this and said, He's the kind of guy back in college who tried to get girls to notice him at a party by picking pointless arguments with the guys the girls were already noticing and when that tactic didn't work he retreated into a corner to sulk, looking all wounded and "deep" until some girl took pity on him and came over to talk.
That second trick especially pisses me off because it reminds me of me. There was a period back when I was 18 when sitting in the corner at a party and looking deep and soulful was my favorite ploy.
I gave it up when I discovered that the kind of girls it most often attracted were far more deeply wounded themselves than I was pretending to be.
"Never play poker with a man called Doc, never eat at a place called Mom's, and never go to bed with a woman (or a man) whose troubles are worse than your own."
Shakes enthusiastically agreed with my description of the guy and added that he's always reminded her of Hayden Christensen's character in Shattered Glass.
"Did you ever see that?" she asked.
"Have I seen it?" I yelped. "I love that movie!"
Shattered Glass tells the story of Stephen Glass, the talented young journalist who turned out to be an even more talented fraud and conman who wrote a bunch of stories for the New Republic that he'd invented out of whole cloth.
If you are the blogger, or you're a friend of his, take note. Shakes wasn't comparing you to Glass himself or his character in the movie. She wasn't saying you or your buddy's a fabulist and a con artist. She was talking specifically about Hayden Christensen and the way he played the part. So you should be flattered in a way. She was picturing you as being six foot one and boyishly handsome, with deep, soulful eyes.
At any rate, in the movie Christensen plays Glass as an overgrown puppy of a boy, bouncing around people with a love me-love me-love me-you do love me, don't you? insecure neurotic's demand for affection that he alternates with an equally puppyish way of being easily hurt---he's always begging for forgiveness in sad-eyed, cringing yet hopeful manner, as if saying I'm sorry-I'm sorry-I'm sorry-What did I do and you still love me, don't you, don't you?
And as if happens I can tell you from almost first-hand knowledge that Christensen's portrayal of Glass is pretty close to true to life.
There're only two degrees of separation between Glass and me, because at one time he and the blonde worked at the same newspaper. Glass was doing an internship and the blonde was one of his editors. They didn't work together long. Shortly after he arrived, she left on maternity leave, but she saw enough of him to think he was talented. She liked him too. He was a charmer, but needy. That's how the blonde describes him, "This little, likable, needy nerd."
Little there was part of his affect, since Glass was taller than her. He had a way of making himself look small when he needed affection and reassurance.
After what he'd done at the New Republic came out, folks at the blonde's paper went back over the stories he'd written for them, looking to see how much he had made up while working there. Turns out: none of it. It all checked out. Of course, he'd had constant supervision and it's harder to get away with making stuff up for a local newspapers because people tend to know what's going on in their own neighborhoods and readers will catch onto you if your editors don't. But more than the stories being true and accurate, they were well-written and well-reported. Glass had done a fine job for the paper, especially for an intern.
This is something Shattered Glass doesn't really convey because it's hard to get across in a movie what makes a person talented in something that can't be photographed----Stephen Glass didn't have to become a fraud to work in journalism. He could do the job. For some reason, he chose not to do it.
Knowing this about him, that he was talented and capable, gives you a different take on the movie. You don't watch it wondering when the fraud will be discovered, you watch it wondering why it wasn't discovered sooner. You see all the time and effort Christensen/Glass is putting into charming his editors and colleagues and you keep asking yourself, how come he's not using that energy, time, and charm to cultivate real sources. Why isn't he doing outside the New Republic what he's doing inside it? And then you ask, why aren't all his editors and coworkers asking the same questions (at least one does)---what are you doing hanging around me, Stephen? Why aren't you out knocking on doors or at your desk making phone calls?
Christen's Glass is the center of the movie, but he's the antagonist, not the protagonist. The movie is less about him as the deceiver than about characters like editors Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria) and Charles Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) as co-conspirators in their own deception, Lane, apparently, despite knowing better. Shattered Glass is about the art of seeing what you want to see and believing what you want to believe because it's flattering to you. The glass that's shattered isn't Stephen. It's the looking glass he holds up to others. He learned to make himself a flattering mirror for other people to look into and see themselves in ways that served their own egos and vanity.
The movie suggests that Glass had intuited and completely internalized a truth of today's white collar working world: What too many people want of their jobs is self-love.
It's not just that the fragile economy and the evils of the corporate world make people so terribly insecure that they have to constantly seek validation and reassurance at work. It's that a lot of people see the point of a career as self-aggrandizement. They are celebrities in their own mind and their success at work is proof of their wonderfulness. Glass, in the movie, at least, has figured this out and decided that his real job is to give his bosses and his colleagues what they want---daily reasons to feel good about themselves. It's a full-time job with constant deadlines. No wonder he didn't have time to go out and do any real reporting.
It's a good movie, I recommend it, and if you're that blogger Shakes and I were talking about, don't take it personally.
Related: Slate editor and media critic Jack Shafer on why he thinks Glass was able to get away with it for as long as he did.
A somewhat inscrutable interview with Glass's one time editor, Charles Lane, not exactly explaining how Glass did get away it.
Once again, thanks to Avedon Carol.