"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 19 March 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Learning To Fly



When a fat pheasant rises from

the wheat, it's hard not to pull

out the shotgun. The real-life

scrawlings of Web diarists

certainly offer an easy enough

target, but after the umpteenth

sluggish bird drifts into

sight, we start to

question our need to pull the

trigger. "I was out of cereal

this morning, so I had to open

the box of emergency oatmeal...

Oatmeal doesn't wake you up the

same way Frosted Mini-Wheats

do... " There's nothing

especially offensive about such

prose - who hasn't had their

mellow harshed by an equally

trivial breakfast event - but

why do people make these

parables of morning malaise

public domain? And why do we

read them once they're there?



To be sure, diary websites

reflect a turning point for

their writers. We all wanted to

be rock celebs at some point -

aloofly sucking on Lucky Strikes

while some reporter from Spin

asked us about our drug

problems and our interior

decorator-cum-dealer. But once

we grew older, it became clear

that no one was going to ask us

shit. The quarter hour we were

promised went the way of the

dollar before it - sometime in

the 80s, the price of fame got

devalued. The number of talk

shows increased while the

significance of joshing around

with Johnny-Jay-Arsenio-Chevy-

Joan-Jon-Dave went down.



Left to either accept their

insignificance or rage against

the magazine, a proud and

courageous few chose the latter.

These gonzo journal-ists

scattered the contents of their

lives across the information

highway and now simply wait for

rubberneckers to crane for a

view of the twisted wreckage of

their minds - or, more commonly,

their last five meals.


[Justin Allyn Hall]

While a running commentary on

anyone's life might seem mundane

("Watched the end of a bad

made-for-TV movie and fell

asleep."), these passages have

the same illicit and

inexplicable appeal of

eavesdropping - and once we

start, we can't stop. Naturally,

our fascination increases

exponentially with the degree

to which the diarist's headshot

makes our palms sweat. Such

sites also provide an excellent

opportunity to keep up with the

Joneses, especially since we can

tune in to see how they stack up

on a regular basis. Think things

are going badly? Read on: "An

hour later I'm back in the room.

The 5 grand is gone."


[41-Year-Old Virgin]

Besides, condemning the

exhibitionism in a Web diary is

like bringing Scrabble to an

orgy. TV's Funniest Home Videos,

Oprah, Cops, and The Real World

have proven incontrovertibly

that there is no such thing as a

"private life" anymore. A star's

squeals to the contrary are

nothing more than an attempt to

claim a level of dignity that no

longer even exists.


[Paper Doll]

Overexposure may seem

wrong-headed now, but people

scoffed at the first bikini,

too. After all, the net is like

an unclaimed Mr. Microphone. If

it's just sitting there, you're

gonna pick it up and start

spouting. And why sing yet

another chorus of "Jesse's Girl"

when you can poetry slam?

There's plenty of heavily-edited

creative content in the world -

where else are you going to find

this level of realism?


[Federal Writers]

Of course, there's no way to be

certain whether or not the

stories we read are true - maybe

they stem from a fiction

workshop, or a cathartic

alternate reality, or a

well-intentioned governmental

intervention. And even if they

are true, trying to be utterly

unselfconscious in your material

when it's globally available is

like pretending the window is a

mirror - so maybe we shouldn't

be surprised when people start

throwing rocks.


[A Parody of Justin's Life]

That said, Web diaries are the

ultimate digital litmus test -

of the reader. If we find

ourselves crying more easily

during an AT&T commercial than

while reading a particularly sad

Web entry, it's clear that our

well of emotion has been cashed

out, its currency replaced by

mood Monopoly money.


[The Diary Project]

But when we enter into the

examination of counterfeit

motivation, diary sites

themselves shouldn't be

forgotten. After enough harsh

email about some slice of bad

behavior (or complaints that

there's not enough of it), who's

to say the author won't bow to

audience pressure? The diary

home page mainlines feedback

until you can't choose a shampoo

without hearing either jeers or

"You go girl!" - the psychic

equivalent of a Ricki Lake



[Parker Lee]

But that's not all bad, is it?

Paranoia is the illusion of

choice for many bright young

netlings. The world is much more

exciting when you think it

revolves around you, and most

can't get that feeling without a

heavy dose of narcotics.


Everyone knows that all the

world's a stage, but the camera

only rolls for those who turn it

on. So what are you waiting for?


[Natalie Engel]

While some of these memoirists

leave a trail of HTML that a

smart publisher would be wise to

follow, our admiration - truth

be told - heads more

consistently in the direction of

their courage than their craft.

What with Wack-a-Mole criticism

becoming the Webzine norm, these

would-be Anais Nins are

stretching their wings to take

off into the air despite the

sound of gunshots in the

distance. Less adventurous

webizens can pour down a few

Buds and reload their guns all

day long, but they ain't never

gonna fly.

courtesy of Polly Esther