The science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon famously observed that “90 percent of everything is crap.” His aphorism was intended to defend science fiction from the charge that most of it is bad. Sturgeon’s point — since formalized as Sturgeon’s Law — is that such criticism is empty, since it applies with equal force to every form of writing.
If he had kept this in mind, H.G. Bissinger might have avoided making a fool of himself on national television. Bissinger is a writer and journalist, best known as the author of the excellent book “Friday Night Lights,” which explores life in a football-mad west Texas town.
Last week Bissinger appeared on the HBO program Costas Now, as part of a panel that was supposed to discuss the role of the Internet in sports journalism. Another of the panelists was Will Leitch, author of the popular blog Deadspin.
Bissinger launched into a profane tirade against blogs in general, and Leitch’s site in particular. Brandishing copies of vitriolic, expletive-filled comments posted by visitors to Deadspin, Bissinger quoted from these unedifying texts, while indulging in a vitriolic, expletive-filled denunciation of bloggers, who according to Bissinger dedicate themselves to running Internet sites full of cruelty, journalistic dishonesty, and naughty words. This, according to him, is causing “the complete dumbing-down of our society.”
Bissinger’s tirade was an all-too-familiar example of a certain polemical genre, which has become quite popular over the last few thousand years: a lament regarding the degenerate state of the younger generation.
It’s a particular favorite of angry, frightened, and confused old men, who look back with bitter nostalgia to the golden days of their youth, when a dollar was worth a dollar, young women didn’t dress like harlots, and athletes always played hard and bothered to master the fundamentals of their craft, despite comparatively modest salaries.
Indeed when glancing at Bissinger’s biography I was horrified to discover he’s only five years older than me. (I comforted myself with the thought that he may suffer from George F. Will Syndrome. Classic symptoms include, but are not limited to, emerging from the womb wearing a bowtie).
Bissinger’s biography does offer some clues as to why he might be so appalled by the notion that millions of people are visiting sites like Deadspin, as opposed to reading the work of, to choose an author at random, H.G. Bissinger.
Bissinger graduated from the nation’s fanciest prep school, Phillips Andover, before going on to earn a degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. Just a few years later he won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting he did at the Philadelphia Inquirer. A story he wrote for Vanity Fair was later made into the movie “Shattered Glass.”
In other words, Bissinger’s Jeremiad is being launched from atop the social and journalistic heap. People like Bissinger are (understandably) nervous about how the Internet is eroding the traditional gate-keeping function of the culture’s elite institutions.
And of course much of what the Internet offers as a substitute for traditional journalism is worse than worthless. But, as Sturgeon’s Law reminds us, that’s beside the point.
In regard to sports journalism, as in so many other areas, the best of the Internet isn’t as good as what was produced by the elite institutions of the old media: it’s far better.
Consider MGOBLOG.com, a site produced by a twenty something University of Michigan graduate, Brian Cook. If you happen to be obsessed with the Michigan Wolverines football team, you’ll discover that Cook’s blog is a source for news, analysis, and writing on this topic that’s vastly superior to anything one can find in the traditional media.
When it comes to journalism, the revolution will not be televised — it will be blogged.
(Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)