Hamilton Nolan, Manifesos Are Dumb Manifeso
Never in history has anything good come from a “manifesto.” Their effects range from misguided repression (political manifestos) to mere annoyance (college student-written manifestos). Oh look, a new “manifesto” is out! “A Slow-Word Movement.” First ever good manifesto? No.
The primary problem with manifestos is that the designation of any written work as a “manifesto” is an uncannily accurate predictor of unearned authorial pretensions of grandeur (*furiously Googling to make sure I have never written a “manifesto”*). Today on Forbes.com (one of the media’s foremost purveyors of traffic-whoring instalisticles, btw), Trevor Butterworth writes “Time for A Slow-Word Movement,” which is—woops—subtitled “A media manifesto.” Darn.
Butterworth thinks that, thanks the the changing online internet media, etc., “generation Google” is just furiously Googling, like a man checking to make sure he doesn’t have any embarrassing “manifestos” floating around out there, and is not taking the good, slow time to enjoy good old slow media, which is, like Slow Food, a mark of a refined palate which you savages should learn to like. Who will save the old slow media? Dave Eggers.
But as the historian Michael Schudson has argued, it’s simply unrealistic to expect the public to read newspapers as a daily personal moral commitment to democracy. Instead, look to what Dave Eggers has brilliantly shown with the San Francisco Panorama, namely that the physical quality of a newspaper and the aesthetic pleasure of reading can make people so excited about journalism that they’ll buy it—not just conceptually, but in terms of parting with cash.
Eggers could well be the Alice Waters (queen of American slow foodies) of the news media, McSweeny’s its Chez Panisse.
Problem: as Choire pointed out, Panorama was not really a newspaper. It was an incredibly fancy book of essays, on newsprint. And a book staffed by, essentially, volunteers. It is not reproducible on a large scale.
So why doesn’t Butterworth just urge people to read more books and fewer blogs? That would obviate the need for “A media manifesto.” So FORGET IT. Instead, Butterworth gives the ol’ Facebook/ Twitter/ YouTube/ blogs/ warp speed of media has changed things blah blah blah speech, which, despite having an obvious grain of truth, is also, you know, obvious. And trite, at this point. Not manifesto-worthy!
“Who anticipated Gawker and its vision of the world in the late 1990s?” Butterworth asks. Hmm. All the dudes who wrote for Spy? We’re always hearing about how we ripped off their style. We don’t have a new vision. We just write on these new-style computer machines, now! It doesn’t take any new skills. Mark Twain, for example, would have been a great Gawker writer. He even wrote a media manifesto of his own, way back in 1863:
Our duty is to keep the universe thoroughly posted concerning murders and street fighters, and balls, and theaters, and pack-trains, and churches, and lectures, and school-houses, and city military affairs, and highway robberies, and Bible societies, and hay-wagons, and the thousand other things which it is in the province of local reporters to keep track of and magnify into undue importance for the instruction of the readers of a great daily newspaper.
We’re still doing the same shit almost 150 years later. There’s yer slow-word movement.
Send an email to the author of this post at Hamilton@gawker.com.