One of the things that interests me about the internet is its community-building potential. Overwhelmingly, this is a good thing, at least for me — I’ve “met” people online that I’ve later met in person, widened my correspondence considerably and generally find life far more interesting with e-mail than without it. It goes without saying that if you’re a parent of a child with a rare disease, or a dog-fur knitter, or a body-modification enthusiast living in a small Indiana town, you no longer need to feel you’re the only one in the world carrying your burden. Surely there’s a Usenet group for you, or a blog, or whatever.
No matter how small the pond, the internet supplies a map.
One of the more interesting/amusing communities to start talking amongst themselves has been the…well, I’m not sure what they call themselves. New Urbanists, Crunchy Conservatives, New Traditionalists, who the hell knows? I don’t think they do, either. The face they present to the world is of politically conservative Christians who reject the go-go market forces beloved by the rest of their confederates, and in some lifestyle matters verge dangerously close to filthy-hippiedom. Rod Dreher, the self-designated crunchy con, is probably the archetype. He eats organic vegetables (and can go on at great, boring length about it), lives in a Craftsman bungalow, likes urban neighborhoods over suburbs, etc.
Here’s a prototypical post from a Fort Wayne blog called The Good City. The author grew up in the Fort, moved away to New York City, married and had a few kids, and decided to come back to a place where a family of five didn’t have to share 700 square feet. It starts like this:
Tonight I’m sitting out on the front porch of our 100-year old rental house in a paleo-urbanistic neighborhood, and I’m quite enjoying myself. The porch light is on, my pipe is lighted, my legs are propped up on the balustrade, and a slight chill is in the air. Though dark outside, the old-fashioned street lamps allow me to see clearly up and down the street and notice the wonderful rhythm of other houses with similar front porches. Quickly, however, the charming atmosphere so much promoted by New Urbanists begins to fade as I notice that I’m the only one actually outside on my front porch. Well, you say, maybe it’s because this is the coldest night so far this fall. Not true, however. This has pretty much been the same as every other night: for all practical purposes, no one is ever out on their front porch!
Where are they?! Don’t these people know this man returned from NYC to sit on this porch? Why aren’t they populating his fantasy of front-porch America?
Well, it didn’t take me more than a couple times walking up and down the block to realize the problem: instead of sitting out on the front porch, everyone is inside watching TV!
How dare they.
This makes me chuckle because I’m mostly in agreement with him — I, too, love old houses and front porches and wish others did, too, so we could stop building horrible subdivisions and the like. And I’ve written about it. I guess I didn’t realize what a scold I must have sounded like. (Just one tip for the blogger: In Indiana, they call a balustrade a porch railing.)
But not even in my scoldiest moments could I have written something like this, by Patrick Deneen: “It’s a Destructive Life,” all about how George Bailey destroys Bedford Falls:
George Bailey hates this town. Even as a child, he wants to escape its limiting clutches, ideally to visit the distant and exotic locales vividly pictured in National Geographic. As he grows, his ambitions change in a significant direction: he craves “to build things, design new buildings, plan modern cities.” The modern city of his dreams is imagined in direct contrast to the enclosure of Bedford Falls: it is to be open, fast, glittering, kaleidoscopic. He craves “to shake off the dust of this crummy little town” to build “airfields, skyscrapers one hundred stories tall, bridges a mile long….” George represents the vision of post-war America: the ambition to alter the landscape so to accommodate modern life, to uproot nature and replace it with monuments of human accomplishment, to re-engineer life for mobility and swiftness, one unencumbered by permanence, one no longer limited to a moderate and comprehensible human scale.
You know, it occurs to me he might be kidding. But he might just as well be not. The Crunchy Cons blog, which ran at National Review Online when the book was published, swiftly descended into blanket pronouncements that anyone who moves away from the (small) town of their birth is, prima facie, a bad parent and a selfish whelp. I liked it better when we said things like, “It takes all kinds” and left it at that.
OK, some new year housekeeping notes: Along with the sexy and curvaceous Ashley Morris and four others, I’ll be participating in a group blog on season five of “The Wire,” which all fans know starts this coming Sunday. The first episode is available On Demand now, and I’ve watched it twice, but I’m not posting anything until Sunday. Very old-media of me, I know, but sometimes a little stewing time is better than nyah-nyah-I-got-here-first speed. The site’s up now, and called — what else? — The New Package.
(Not-even-a-spoiler: One of the many small jokes in this multilayered series is the background noise of the corner touts calling out their wares, the brand names of which change periodically and reflect the times we live in; in past seasons we’ve heard them pushing heroin called WMD and Pandemic. There’s a new one this year. We should start a pool on what it will be.)
Hank tells us what’s in and out for 2008. You know he’s right.
No, it’s not just you: Network news sucks out loud. John Hockenberry has some thoughts.
On the second day of the New Year, I resolve to bring some order back to my chaotic office. Better get started.