I listen to On the Media each week by podcast, but this week I happened to catch the first segment live as I began my Sunday morning routine by making a pot of coffee. Of course, this week's topic was the media coverage of the shootings in Blacksburg, VA. Front and center was the decision of NBC to air what one interviewee called the "press packet" sent to it by Sueng-Hui Cho. Tony Burman, a Canadian Broadcasting Company official, discussed why that news outlet declined to use the footage in its broadcasts. It had to do with the fear of encouraging copycats by focusing on the perpetrator of such crimes, and he explained that, ever since last September's shooting at Montreal's Dawson College (1 dead, 19 wounded), the CBC has decided that it will focus on the victims at a moment like this.
This next little piece of the concersation fascinated me. They played clips of interviews with two VT students, in which they described their experiences. Burman commented that it is clear, listening to those clips, that the students are very aware that they are a part of a story and they have a role to play, in what Burman terms our "performative culture." He says that, ever since John F. Kennedy was shot, the witnesses have been on call to the media to play the part of witness (these are my words). Also a part of the phenomenon, though, are the "witnesses" who heard the news in classrooms or at a bar or wherever they were at those moments, and who then share those "Where were you when you heard?" stories, which people of my generation have, certainly, for the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and, of course, 9/11, which remains the Big Story.
In this performative culture everyone has a right to their moment in the sun, so to speak. And so we have phenomena such as... blogging, in which we all confidently assume that we have a story to tell, for which there will be listeners and to which there will be responders. I began, as Burman spoke, to connect with a slight sense of discomfort about this assumption of center stage on all our part, but now, as I ponder further, I ask, a la Harvey Fierstein, "Is that so wrong?"
Possible defenses of the blogging/ Hello It's Me phenomenon are many. Of course, we all know (I know in a particularly powerful way) that the blogosphere can be a community of care, a community of shared interests, and sometimes, a community the likes of which bloggers cannot find in their day to day non-wired lives. And there is something powerful, too, about saying "This is my story," whether or not one receives a response. The experience of sharing one's life via a blog can affirm and strengthen the individual persona.
And it's not all about "me." Bloggers have been instrumental in rooting out what may turn out to be prosecutable corruption in the current Justice Department scandal involving firing of US attorneys (because they wouldn't prosecute selectively based on partisan politics). The 2008 presidential field is all too aware of the potency of the blogosphere for forming opinion, and they are paying attention (with some missteps-- see John Edwards-- Ha! almost called him "Jonathan Edwards!" Not.).
But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is, if not solely about "me," then at least somewhat about power. And let me hasten to say, that is not necessarily a bad thing. There are a hell of a lot of people for whom blogging offers them an avenue to exercise a kind of power of persuasion or power of visibility who would not otherwise have a forum. These are people who are otherwise entirely or partially disenfranchised by the systems now in place. Someone like me might qualify as being in that kind of category: closted pastors are, by definition, hiding out and impotent to voice their situation-- except in a space like this. For myself, I don't feel honest about accepting the labels "powerless" or "disenfranchised," when the rest of my life is so steeped in privileged: white, US citizen, highly educated, no debt, good income (when compared to 99% of the people on this planet).
Here's my fear about blogging: that it keeps us from discovering the flesh and blood embodied communities that might, just might be available to us if we could just take a bit of a risk to find them. As a Christian, I believe in an incarnated God who tells us by word and deed that our bodies matter, that we are present to one another, healing and loving, by physical presence. I fear that, as much as we of the radicaleft are fighting against a dreary gnosticism that has seeped into orthodox interpretations of scripture, we are, ironically, living outside ourselves by engaging mind and heart and soul where we cannot engage our bodies.