Archive - Sep 13, 2011

Dumbfuck At PBR Dot Com

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Ah, Politico. The web site that has inexplicably grown to dominate the online political news and discussion industry over the past few years, basically by carving out a niche as the Drudge Report of the establishment center-right. They're largely a money-laundering operation for Beltway political gossip, getting the gripes and talking points of "unnamed sources" and "senior officials" into the general info-stream of the punditocracy.

Or, to put it more succinctly, they're dicks.

One of the big dicks at Politico is Ben Smith, former Wall Street Journal writer. Now, because Politico acts as the relentless fluffer for the doubly oxymoronic "conventional wisdom", it's actually rare for them to take a position on a topic that someone more interesting and/or horrifying hasn't taken a dumber position on, Ben and his cohorts don't usually grace the fine pages of You Are Dumb Dot Net... although not for lack of trying.

Well, hard work and persistence has paid off, with an article entitled "AOL E-Mail As Status Symbol".

As headlines go, this is roughly equivalent to "Leaving Your Turn Signal On All the Time for Safer Driving", "The Open-Faced Turkey Sandwich: Gastronomy's New Frontier", and "Blockbuster Video: The Future of Media Delivery". It's absurd on the face of it, and would STILL be absurd if it were the headline for an article about how dudes in their 20s are trying to score America Online e-mail addresses as an ironic in-joke along the lines of actually drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon.

But it's not. I'm not sure of the genesis of this article, but knowing what I know about Politico, its raison d'etre, and its general functioning, I can guess. I'm guessing someone, somewhere, made an off-hand comment to Ben Smith. Something along the lines of "How the fuck am I supposed to take X seriously when X still uses an e-mail address?"

The mysterious X, in this case, is an old white guy, probably a moderate Republican. Possibly a politician, possibly a consultant. Whoever they are, they've been good to Ben Smith. Which is not to say that they're good at their jobs, or good human beings, or good in any way. But they've given Ben Smith access. And Ben Smith went to work defending them from the slur of having an e-mail account in a domain that has, since the dawn of online communication, been known as a haven for morons and technophobes. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"But despite Google's best efforts to stigmatize those unfashionable old domains, I've started to notice a certain prestige attached to the survivors. Now that my mother has switched to Gmail, virtually the only people I email at AOL accounts are bigshots -- people who were already so important by the time the various new fads (and technical advantages) arrived that they couldn't be bothered to switch, and had nothing to prove to anyone."

Jumping Jehovah on a rocket-powered pogo stick, where to begin? At the beguine-ing, I guess. AOL was unfashionable and stigmatized long before Google was a gleam in Larry Page's pants. AOL users were assumed to be dipshits until proven otherwise as far back as USENET. GMail's dominance is a very recent thing, even within the tiny subset of Information Age history.

Second, I would like to point out that Ben Smith thinks his mother is an unfashionably old little-shot. Which is a douchey thing to say about your mom on the Internet.

But notice Ben's reasoning. Ben communicates with AWESOME POLITICAL BIGSHOTS using their AOL e-mail addresses. Awesome political bigshots are the Fonzies of Politico, and are cool. Therefore, anything uncool about them must actually be so uncool, it's cool. They keep their shitty e-mail addresses because they have NOTHING TO PROVE TO YOU, not because they don't know any better now, and more importantly, didn't know any better then.

And who are the bigshots Politico thinks are so cool they can walk around handing out 3.5" floppies with AOL software on them and still seem powerful and relevant? ACTUAL LIST TIME!

"POLITICS: David Axelrod, Jim Messina, John Weaver, Joe Trippi, Mandy Grunwald, Dick Morris (a recent defector to gmail), Frank Luntz, Ed Rollins, Guy Cecil, Tad Devine, Al Franken, Aaron Schock. MEDIA: Matt Drudge, Arianna Huffington (who was holding onto an AOL account long before AOL bought her company), David Brooks, David Corn, Robert Draper, Rick Perlstein, Ann Coulter, Tina Brown, Lawrence O'Donnell."

Of that list, the only one that surprises me is Franken. Of course, since Ben Smith apparently compiled the list with info from "friends on Twitter", and admits after the list that while all these people were "recently" "reachable" (a pair of criteria so fuzzy they'd give a furry a four-hour erection) via e-mail, many of them have other accounts.

But again, apart from Franken, and maybe Huffington (who, as Smith even notes, has a very good excuse for keeping hers), that list is a Who's-Who of Washington's finest douche-nozzles. Consultants, pundits, hangers-on. That list is 80% barnacle and 20% ship. And they are clearly Ben Smith's bread and butter.

The fact is, in its heyday, America Online was the easiest way for people who didn't want to figure out the Internet to pretend they were on the Internet. That's why we still laugh at it today. Not because it's antiquated. Not because it's "no longer cool". But because it was shit, and a lot of the people who used it were shit, and an e-mail address was a reasonably accurate predictor of shittiness. There is no modern equivalent to AOL, although Facebook comes pretty fucking close.

And if Ben Smith doesn't like that, then maybe Ben Smith should start listening to a better class of people than Dick Morris and Ann Coulter.