December 28, 2007

Grandpa Simpson Speaks

I don’t usually link to off-topic stuff like this. But David Harsanyi did such a great job demolishing Andrew Keen’s dumb new book in Reason Magazine that I’m doing more than just posting an excerpt. I ordered Harsanyi’s book Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children.

Andrew Keen’s website claims, without a hint of humility, that he’s “the leading contemporary critic of the Internet.” No kidding? The entire Internet? A curious reader might wonder whether such an all-inclusive battle is similar to taking on, say, “music” or “radio waves.” It is.

More specifically, Keen’s depressing book, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture, laments techno-utopianism, free content, and the rise of citizen journalists, filmmakers, musicians, and critics as cultural arbiters. It is a book, in other words, of spectacular elitism.

Keen, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur turned full-time critic of user-generated Internet content, argues that our most “valued cultural institutions” are under attack from the hordes of lay hacks, undermining quality content with garbage. His central argument is—to pinch a word he loves to use—seductive. He’s right that the Internet is littered with inane, vulgar, dimwitted, unedited, and unreadable content, much of it fueling outrageous conspiracy theories, odious partisan debates, mindless celebrity worship, and worse. And then there’s the stuff that’s not even entertaining.

Keen refuses to confess that there’s even a smattering of intellectually and culturally worthy user-driven content online. If you do find something decent in the “digital forest of mediocrity,” he attributes it to the infinite monkey theorem: Even simians, if permitted to indiscriminately hit a keyboard for an infinite amount of time, will one day bang out Beowulf or Don Quixote. (Silly me, I was under the impression that monkeys had hatched the idea for VH1’s Scott Baio Is 45…and Single.) Apparently, these monkeys are discharging so much free content into the cyber-strata that they threaten to bury culturally significant work, dilute good craftsmanship, and cost me, a journalist and “cultural gatekeeper,” my job. So I guess I’d better take Keen’s thesis seriously.
You can read the rest at Reason Magazine. And you can order Harsanyi’s book (which just has to be better than Keen’s) at

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 28, 2007 10:46 PM


I used to work as a paste-up artist, Michael. Then pagination came along, and most of the paste-up staff at the newspaper took early retirement...the ones who used to be compositors and typesetters. I was moved to proof-reading editorial and advertising...then I became obsolete there, so they moved me to the newspaper library and for I time I was a transcriber....and I became obsolete. So I resigned myself to motherhood for about 10 or so years, and now, it does my petty, amateurish techno-utopian heart good to see the high and mighty take it on the chin like they are.
I have almost exclusively eliminated the MSM as a daily source of news. Seeing how besotted they are with themselves and their equally useless celebrities, I can only stomach about 5 minutes a day of television news... It is like watching a dazed accident victim declining medical attention, not realizing he's injured and probably going to die. Sorry for the gruesome comparison, but really, that is how I feel.

Posted by: Jauhara at December 29, 2007 06:32 AM

I've read many reviews of the book, none favorable. I should read the book myself, but I can't get past the arrogance on display in the title.

As Jauhara said, I don't rely on the MSM for news anymore. In fact, I have learned more about the Middle East and Iraq by reading this blog, Yon's blog, and the comments to each post, than I have from any and all MSM reports.

Keen's book is nothing more than a rallying cry for those in the MSM who haven't a clue how to adapt to the Web 2.0 world. Like the dinosaurs, though, they too will soon be gone.

Posted by: Dogwood at December 29, 2007 07:21 AM

So far Keen's work sounds like an entire book full of useless and inane commentary. Thank goodness he did not use the Internet to publish such junk, thereby lowering the cultural content and value of the web. Keen is just laying waste to bookstores and libraries!

Posted by: James Halm at December 29, 2007 09:43 AM
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