Tom Wolfe on Blogs: Narcissistic Shrieks and Baseless Information

The WSJ has a guaranteed link-getter piece today on the “tenth” anniversary of blogging. It’s mostly what you’d expect, but I was mildly entertained by this crank-ish Tom Wolfe entry:

One by one, Marshall McLuhan’s wackiest-seeming predictions come true. Forty years ago, he said that modern communications technology would turn the young into tribal primitives who pay attention not to objective “news” reports but only to what the drums say, i.e., rumors.

And there you have blogs. The universe of blogs is a universe of rumors, and the tribe likes it that way.

Blogs are an advance guard to the rear. For example, only a primitive would believe a word of Wikipedia (which, though not strictly a blog, shares the characteristics of the genre). The entry under my name says that in 2003 “major news media” broadcast reports of my death and that I telephoned Larry King and said, “I ain’t dead yet, give me a little more time and no doubt it will become true.”

Oddly, this news supposedly broadcast never reached my ears in any form whatsoever prior to the Wikipedia entry, and I wouldn’t have a clue as to how to telephone Larry King. I wouldn’t have called him, in any case. I would have called my internist. I don’t so much mind Wikipedia’s recording of news that nobody ever disseminated in the first place as I do the lame comment attributed to me. I wouldn’t say “I ain’t” even if I were singing a country music song. In fact, I have posted a $5,000 reward for anyone who can write a song containing the verb forms “am not,” “doesn’t,” or “isn’t” that makes the Billboard Top Twenty.

Favorite blogs: Mr. Wolfe, “weary of narcissistic shrieks and baseless ‘information,’ ” says he no longer reads blogs.

Narcissistic shrieks? Sounds like a great blog title!


  1. Tom Wolfe does not read blogs, but he comments authoritatively on it. Only ignorants like him will think Wikipedia is a blog.

  2. zoyd wheeler says:

    Blogs are really like body piercing or setting VCR clocks. It’s another one of those generational touch points, that if you are too old, you just don’t get it. And Tom Wolfe is definitely 5 degrees left of ‘too old’.

  3. BayAreaGuy says:

    His whine is that “blogs are full of dissembling and fake news”. Let’s see… in what way is this different from the mainstream media? With respect to the accuracy of the Wikipedia entry, the main inaccuracy in it is that someone tried to pay a compliment to his sense of humor, but didn’t realize that he doesn’t have one.

  4. @Pradeep — You should read whole sentences (and even paragraphs!) before forming an opinion. This isn’t twitter!
    @zoyd: There’s definitely a narcissistic angle to blogging; it’s not just generational. In the old days, diary’s were locked and stored under your bed, and you’d be appalled if anyone read your innermost thoughts. Now you have emo kids and “emodults” ™ publicly blogging their every move/ sandwich/ club review.
    The tech world is famous for narcissistic behaviour, which is why “bloggers” have a blind spot for this quality. They think public broadcasting of every mind fart is generational evolution, but it’s not.
    At least I hope it’s not :)
    @BayAreaGuy: as most American bloggers say when affecting anglophilic sophistication: “Spot on”!
    The reason blogs have prospered as a “news” source is the conventional sources were so awful in the first place. Chickens coming home to roost!

  5. my parents friend who are lit types are also afraid of wikipedia.
    i fear it is the same type of fear of the fundementalist religious type. fear of losing power and control of what ‘should’ be in your control.
    i told them. join up. give accurate information to people for free. that isnt narcissistic it is just helpful.

  6. Actually, I’d say the “reason blogs have prospered as a “news” source” is that they aren’t *news* – they’re talk-radio in print form.
    lancey: The idea that everyone who dislikes Wikipedia should bail it out from its own failings, is one of the most cultish aspects.

  7. I read blogs for info and getting clued in, period. Rumours? Nope, facts and substantiation only. I read Wolfe way back in the sixties for the same reasons. Wolfe, of course, would say I had good sense choosing to read him. Why would I not have the same good sense in seeking out blogs like this one? Paul is not a vanity opinionizer and it is great to keep in touch with his current thinking. Thank you, Paul.
    I have never read a criticism of blogs that has stood up. It is a bit like criticizing books. The difference between blog and blog or book and book is the content, for heaven’s sake.

  8. Keep in mind that Tom Wolfe collected some obscene sum from Portfolio magazine to write an article about hedge fund managers, but never even interviewed a single hedge fund manager for the entire 10,000-plus word piece. And he’s complaining about bloggers?

  9. Well, what’s so bad about being narcissistic? Didn’t Tom look for his own Wikipedia entry? Feeling a bit narcissistic is intellectually stimulating because it instils a sense of urgency to improve self. We may make mistakes but we are trying all the same. I think that’s far better than just stop at being amazed by others.
    Carping about a new age media that gives everyone a liberty to air their opinions (that’s all there is to blogs)and invite feedback reeks of an egoist who feels threatened by the democratization of publishing rights. I’ve noticed this scorn in journalists and columnists in particular – they are losing a private domain to public and that scares them like hell.
    Or is Tom finding the higher decibel levels of criticism to his thoughts too much lately…?

  10. Hear, hear! An example of digital left-behinds (as different from digital natives and immigrants, a classification according to John Palfrey, to which I add a layer, digital naturalised citizens)…

  11. Maven, I read that Portfolio piece of his, and although he may not use the word “ain’t,” he sure might want to think about incorporating the use of a period every few sentences or so, because it sure is annoying to read several run-ons strung together as one terrifyingly long sentence by a 93-year old writer (I think I read his age at Wikipedia) who is supposedly a master of the craft but in reality is someone I’ve heard of only because of two movies made out of his books about going to the moon and Wall Street excess, to which he now belongs as a footnote in the form of being a chronicler of that very excess. There. At least I was generous enough to use a few commas to assist the reader in his or her effort to comprehend the sentiment I was attempting to convey through the use of my own vile and repulsive period-free writing.

  12. @seth: you make a more-refined point than I tried to, but many people think talk radio is news too! :(

  13. I just changed the tagline of my blog to ‘Narcissistic Shrieks’ :0)