Bloggers as the 21st century’s new evil villains
Evil villains are a staple of literature and entertainment. From the snake in the Garden of Eden (a precursor, the world’s first diabolic liar), to Snidely Whiplash in Rocky and Bullwinkle to Adolf Hitler and Hannibal Lector (we might more lately include Bernie Madoff), the semiotics of the human narrative requires and includes some incarnation of misanthropia to be complete.
Evil villains are not desirable–you don’t want to come across any in the course of a peaceful life–but they do serve a useful purpose: we can blame them for what’s broken and detestable in the world. (Which is not to say that they do not actually behave detestably.) If evil villains did not exist, it would be much harder to sort actions out into “good” and “evil,” which seems to be the basis for much of organized human society. Madoff, for example, reassures us that, because he was an “evil” investment manager, he was an outlier; and so we can sleep at night believing that the people who manage our money are good.
In the new movie Contagion, the arch-villain is, of course, the germ that’s hell bent on killing everyone in the world. But the evil villain in human form is a blogger (from San Francisco, no less) with the unlikely name of Alan Krumwiede (“crumb-weedy”, played by Jude Law), who not only is “the obvious villain” (in the words of Manohla Dargis, who reviewed Contagion for the New York Times), but is a “creep”, “fear-monger” and “sell out”, as well. Another critic, Ryan Fleming, says Krumwiede “teeters between prophet and charlatan”, which implies that he [Krumwiedge] plays fast and loose with the facts; indeed, Kenneth Turan, in the L.A. Times, notes warningly that what Krumwiede writes in his blog “is not necessarily information you can take to the bank,” while Roger Ebert, in the Chicago Sum Times, calls Krumwiede’s “concerns…ominous but unfocused.”
Granted that this view of bloggers as untruthful, or disdainful of telling the truth, or incapable of it, or being too lazy/stupid/power hungry/unfocused/paranoid (Matt Stevens‘ review, at E! Online, calls Krumwiede a conspiracy theorist) is director Steven Soderbergh’s own. Still, it’s noteworthy that the director of Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich and Traffic chose a blogger to be the vehicle for evil in his morality tale. Not a banker, nor a politican, money-hungry corporate CEO, reporter for a filthy little tabloid rag or even a standard movie psychotic, but a blogger! We have to dig a little and figure out why.
This is, to my knowledge, the first instance in the popular culture wherein a blogger has been cast in the role of the skunk, but it may not be the last. Once these die are cast, they tend to remain so. In the case of blogging, it’s not hard, when you think about it, to figure out why bloggers fit so easily into the role of the villain. The pieces already are in place, in the mass-public imagination. Bloggers (we all know it; it’s been part of the gestalt for years) can write anything they want, without substantiation or proof, making them a pretty irresponsible lot. They’re dangerous, too, because they can take whatever drivel they invent and instantly publish it on the Internet, where, if they’re lucky, or possessed of some talent for creating buzz, they may attract a following. Bloggers like Matt Drudge have inculcated this idea in most of our heads, while our knowledge that anyone can blog–a child, a drug-addled teenager, a wacko in a mental ward–suggests that the majority of what is blogged must, ipso facto, be irrelevant and incorrect. Since so many of us spend so much time online, we are necessarily exposed to wicked, stupid bloggers, in exactly the same way that the poor victims in Contagion are exposed to the killer bug. They cannot escape it, because it is everywhere, and it is lethal. By comparison, we, in real life, cannot escape the untruthfulness on the Internet, because it, too, is everywhere, and–in a moral and intellectual sense, if not in a physical sense–it also is lethal.
Thus the blogger as the new evil villain. This is, of course, a caricature of reality, since not all bloggers are the same. (I like to think that some are the epitome of virtue.) But it should stand as a warning, to bloggers, to thinkers who analyze the phenomenon of blogging, and to people who read blogs, that the trustworthiness we would all like to repose in blogs now has been called into question, by a movie that is sure to be a huge hit, and that will have ramifications that echo down the years. Indeed, we might even come to refer to bad bloggers as Krumwiedes–pot-stirring a-holes we should avoid.