Thursday, January 20, 2005

Blogs and Estate 5: The Whys of Blogging

(The tone of this post will be personal. It cannot be helped, but if you were looking for the same thing you got yesterday (or, since it's just past midnight, the day before), you're not going to get it.)

The truth is, I can't do yesterday again. I don't know whether it's a feature of my psychology or my personality flaw, but my mind travels from one thing to another with a speed that occasionally unnerves and frustates me. Try getting a significant project done when your mind flits from one thing to another.

An Area of High Pressure Just Off the Frontal Lobe

Yesterday, my mind was clear about new media and blogs. Yesterday, my mind was focused, razor-sharp, on my opinions, and I could cogently discuss them like the armchair academic I clearly am not. Yesterday was good for discussion.

Not today. Today my mind is focused, razor sharp. But not on new media, not on blogs, but on a silly little game I can only play at Hani's house.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. I'm thinking about building a clubhouse.

She's gone berserk, captain

I saw Jeff Ooi's reason for why he blogs. Hani and I spoke about that today — well, specifically, why Jeff Ooi blogs. Many flock to it because blogging, to them, is a panacea for troubled minds. Hani guessed right, and said that Jeff Ooi has something to say — actually, come to think of it, he has so much to say that others can't stand it.

Some do it because they, apparently, enjoy it. And they want to communicate with loved ones Back Home. Hani started off that way, come to think of it, before switching to blogging therapeutically.

So why do I blog? When you ask me that question, you'll probably get this stock answer: “Because people get sick and tired hearing about me blather on about some obscure thing no one else could be interested in”.

Let Off Some Steam, Matey

And that's true, most of the time. Blogging is an outlet for me. A valve that I turn everytime my creative impulse gets too much, and twists inside me like a wild beast struggling to get free.

So I might be exaggerating, but that's what it feels like, right now. Even now I see images of Avon Hall, the way I want it to be built, with red brick on the outside, sumptous luxury within, and a graveyard with ghosts outside to tempt the unwary and the unwise.

Building Them Up So You Can Tear Them Down

It's actually a very pretty cemetary. A bit too bloody well lit for a spooky cemetary, come to think of it, but I can fix that. And yes, I did manage to get tombstones and funeral urns into my community lot.

If you know the game at all, you'd know that there's only one way to get a tombstone or a funeral urn, and it's pretty goddamn grisly. To give you an idea how grisly, let's just say I spent about two hours designing four different families (the de Avons, the Cavendishes, the Suryawahyunis and members of Avon Hall), each with eight members, mostly adults and teens, with a few elders to round out the score. No children (which is a shame).

And then I spent two more hours turning them all into tombstones. And funeral urns, for those who were interred indoors.

It's a lot easier than it sounds, but it gets repetitive after a while.

Possession of Obsession Leads to Depression

A friend of mine, a Lacanian psychoanalyst-in-training, once diagnosed me as an obssessive. That is, my mind is structured to a propensity for obssession. I never got the concept as well as she did, but I understood that bit. Which is interesting, and more often than not, true.

There are plenty of obssessions with my life. Computer games. New media. Writing. Science fiction stories. Pornography. The Internet. They're obssessions. And like the good obsessive, I have a hard time pulling away, even mentally, from the objects of my obsession.

And more often than not, this propensity can propel me away from what others may consider ‘important’. Which is probably why I find blogging so forgiving, if I stick to a few simple ground rules — ground rules I learnt from my first few years in my first participatory medium — USENET.

Do-It-Yourself Thinking

When you get down to it, you often write for yourself. It is, in a restricted sense, the same when you get down to blogging, or journalism, or non-fiction work, or fiction-writing, or any endeavour that requires even a smidgen of creativity.

You do it for yourself.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Blogs and Estate 5: Why One Is Not the Other.

(Like many Internet users, I adore novelty. The following response to this particular flashblog would have looked better if it had more flash. But I don't have the time, skill or means to purchase and use the required authoring software effectively. I can write, though.)

We're here to talk about what is now known as, perhaps, the Five Estates. It's a nice name, with a lot of history under it — the first three Estates made their appearance during the old French Estates-General: they were, in essence, the Nobles, the Clergy and Everyone Else.

Edward Burke, claimed Carlyle, named the Fourth Estate as the Press itself, in the context of explicit advocacy and in its ability to frame political issues. And, if you've been reading up on your blogs, someone decided to name us bloggers the Fifth Estate, and placing ourselves in what seems to be an implicit competition with the venerable Fourth.

Estate Boyaz in da Hizzouse

The the first two estates are cute anachorisms, of course — the way society has changed in the past three hundred years has ensured that nobility and piety take, at most, an advisory position in governance. The Third Estate — Everyone Else — makes the decisions now, with the Fourth and the Fifth influencing and informing the Third.

The Fourth Estate's influence is obvious, and their reach powerful. There's no need to deny that they do not exist. The Fifth exists as well, but they aren't blogs. They'll never be blogs. The Internet, another contender of the Fifth Estate, will never be the Fifth Estate. Even the Internet is too small to comprise the whole of the Fifth Estate.

On the nature of blogs

Asking bloggers to define what blogs are, and you'll get as many answers as there are bloggers. It is, however, fairly easy to define what a blog is based on its ‘physical’ characteristics. A blog is a web site, or a web application. It is made of individual entries, arranged chronologically.

That's it. A blog is a medium — an “intervening substance that carries messages or information”.

Incompatible Ideas

I said, earlier on, that blogs were too small to encompass the entirety of the Fifth Estate. I'm still right, but that's not the only reason why blogs are not the Fifth Estate. You see, blogs, like many convergence technologies, straddle many fields.

One of the many fields it straddles is the Fourth Estate.

As much as Jeff Ooi would hate me to say it, he is a Fourth Estate Blogger. Not because he has political or monetary connections to press agencies (I doubt it), not because he pushes for their agendas (quite the opposite), but because he practices a form of journalism. He reports.

Differing Views

In a sense, my opinion is a product of my worldview. I am no Mack Zulkifli or Jeff Ooi. I am barely mature enough to express my ideas coherently, but express them I shall.

Blogs like Screenshots and Brand New Malaysian, as well as thousands of other news sites and op-ed peddlers and commentators and reviewers and hate-mongers and rumour-spreaders, all belong to the Fourth Estate — not because with who or what they are associated with, but because of what they do. Their task is to inform. Or comment. Or influence the Third Estate with the use of information, both right and wrong.

It is less of who they are associated with, and more with what they do. This is an important distinction to make.

Whither the Fifth?

So what is the Fifth Estate, then? If you want a good example of a Fifth Estate blog, take a look at TV Smith. Yes, he does have one foot in the Fourth Estate — the things he writes about are based on current events, and his goal is to influence you partially, with reason. But then again, he and Jeff and Mack are members of Estate 3 as well; as am I. We're all law-abiding, vote-eligible citizens. What separates TV Smith from Jeff and Mack is that he parodies while informing.

The distinction between Estate 4 and 5 is imagination. Both use it to an extent, but Estate 4 uses imagination sparingly most of the time. Estate 5's bailiwick is imagination.

I suppose you can guess what I think Estate 5 is. Estate 5 is art.

The Fifth Estate Revealed

It sounds too crackpot to be true. The domicile of pretension, the Fifth Estate? But artists are about as pretentious as journalists are dishonest, or bloggers are elitist. While some are the above, it does not mean that others should be tarred with the same brush.

Art refers to all creative endeavours, excluding survival and reproduction. Any product that is of the creative impulse is art. Which of course mean that rumour-spreaders and hate-mongers belong to Estate 5 as much as they do to Estate 4, but that's convergence for you.

Art influences Estate 3 in different ways than Estate 4. While Estate 4 may engage in the faculties of reason and knowledge to influence Estate 3's decision-making, Estate 5 speaks to Estate 3's emotions and fears. Art reflects and directs the energies of The People, and allows them Understanding where Knowledge barely suffices.

You can read about the Holocaust, and know how the Jews suffered and died. Or you can read Spiegelman's Maus, and finally understand its horror. You can read about Palestine, and know its history and the links between the disparate peoples there. Or you can read Sacco's work, and finally understand its insanity. You can read about the Iranian Revolution, or you can read Satrapi's Persepolis (book I and II) and finally understand what it was to grow up in such an time. You can read news broadcasts, op-ed columns about 9-11. Or you can read, again, Spiegelman, and understand the anguish of living through a time when all your illusions died.

You'll have to forgive me. My comics bias is showing.

Where do we belong?

So where do blogs show up in all of this? Where do blogs fit it?

Everywhere. Blogs pepper the space, like every other media you can define, between Estates 3, 4 and 5. There are diaries, some open to the world, some not, that straddle the space between 3 and 5. There are op-ed columns that straddle 4 and 5. There are journals, from men and women On The Scene, that swing from 3 to 4. Some diaries never stray beyond Estate 3. There are newsblogs that wholly belong to Estate 4. There are art-pieces that wholly belong to Estate 5.

Just like any other kind of media.

Monday, January 17, 2005

VCDs, guns and dangdut tempatan.

Check it out. Shit hitting the fan.

Actually, if you check out Jeff Ooi's blog entries, it looks like more than one piece of excrement1 hitting more than one electrical contrivance for moving air for ventilation via rapid rotation of rigid vanes using an electrical motor2.

I guess it isn't a good time to be a cop in Malaysia right now. Or is it?

If I have to be cynical3, I could be saying, “Cops fuck up! Innocent people get hurt! Film at 11!”. Seriously, how is this anything other than ‘business as usual’?

I'd really be exaggerating if I said that Malaysians live in fear of the police. But I wouldn't be exaggerating that far. We don't trust the police. Not with our lives. Which seems a terribly wrong thing, but what're you going to do about it?

The land of the knee-jerks

Amusingly, Malaysians reacted to the whole scene the way they usually do: with moral indignation over what was seen as the abuse of power by the powerful4, and cries of radical change that is sorely needed to rectify the Great Wrong That Has Already Happened.

Except that banning cops from using guns, as some people have already suggested, is impractical, not to mention predictably knee-jerk. That's what we do when we Malaysians see something that threatens us, and our way of life. We move to eliminate it.

It's the same with long hair in television, movies that portray The Enemy in a sympathetic light, groups of people who deviate from the Great Norm. We try to stamp it out. Well, actualy, the Government tries to stamp it out.

We're just very good students.

Ban it 'til it glows

We've learnt to deal with things that scare or unnerve or frighten us that way. We try to edit it out of our lives. Sure, a certain amount of denial is healthy — certainly to mend bridges, to forget past hurts — but this isn't a healthy amount of denial. Police-men need guns. Enforcement officials of Ministries and municipal councils don't. Certainly not against VCD sellers.

On the extremely insensitive but humorous point, though, you could really say that we're dealing with the piracy problem in a strict manner. What's next, roadside executions for copyright violators?

Man, there goes the Malaysian tertiary education community.

Making things right, Malaysian style

Of course, the Innocent Bystander now has to pay 15,000 ringgit to get a bullet off his back. A bullet, mind you, that got fired because an enforcement officer fucked up. People are urging the ministry to do something, and so far, all they've offered is their profuse apologies. Which is obviously not enough, so people are telling the ministry to pay the guy's bills, to demonstrate our how loving and caring we are.

Load of crap. The Ministry should pay the surgical fees before the factory worker decides to get Ideas Beyond His Station and sue.

Of course, the Ministry has a great chance of winning — our justice system is far from perfect, and we're not as litigation-happy as, say, the Americans. But seriously, the guy has everything to gain, and the Ministry has everything to lose — even if the Ministry wins.

I'm sure Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh are cackling away, at Opposition Headquarters…

Lim Kit Siang: Ha, ha, Comrade Karpal, an opportunity to make those idiots at BN look like fools!

Karpal Singh: Why yes, Comrade Lim. And I can look extra good doing (quotation mark gesture) ‘pro-bono work’!

LKS: Mwahahahahaha!

KS: Mwahahahaha!

Settle out of court, and get the guy back on his feet. It's better than getting your ass hauled into the fire with the press. Or with bloggers. Who aren't ethical, as a rule5.

  1. Shit. Go Back
  2. Fan. Go Back
  3. Or, perhaps, more cynical than usual…. Go Back
  4. Which it was, but let's not go there. Go Back
  5. Not that the press are paragons of ethics, mind you. Go Back