The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, December 29, 2004  

Just Your Average Blog

Finally I have something in common with President C-Plus Augustus [Credit: Charles Pierce, I believe.] That -- C-plus -- is the grade this site received in a round-up of Philadelphia blogs published in the January 2005 issue of Philadelphia magazine. [Ed.: No link for the non-linking.]

The piece appears in what is called in the magazine publishing business “the front of the book,” the hodgepodge of brief items editors rely on to keep junior writers and interns from spending all day on the phone with friends. More specifically, the reviews, written by staff writers Maureen Tkacik and Sasha Issenberg, occupied the aptly named feature, “60-Second Critic.” [Note: The article is not yet available at the magazine’s web site.]

There may have been a time I would have been insulted by receiving a C-plus for this effort. And there still may be a place from which receiving that particular grade would sting, but surely Philadelphia isn’t in that category.

This is a magazine in which editorial meets advertorial meets advertising in a union so gleeful it’s never clear which is which and what is what. Best restaurants! Best real estate! Best doctors! Best restaurants! Best schools! Best of Philly! Best hospitals! Best restaurants! Really, all you need to know about Philadelphia is that the cover of the issue under discussion features “The Best New Restaurants,” which may have been the cover story of the October issue also, but I would have to check.

So what do Tkacik and Issenberg, obviously writing on the fly and simultaneously aiming for a hip, in-the-know style of commentary, a target they clearly miss, have to say about The Rittenhouse Review?

A few brief excerpts:

WANTS TO BE: Andrew Sullivan with a local conscience.

This is a colossal joke, or an attempt at such, or simply evidence of woeful misinformation. Note to writers: Sullivan is a conservative, I am a liberal; Sullivan is detestable, I am likeable; Sullivan is dishonest, I am honest; Sullivan takes August off, I don’t; Sullivan publishes slipshod substitute bloggers, this site is mine alone; shall I go on?

QUINTESSENTIAL QUOTE: “George Will is cracking me up today. The adulterous right-wing pundit shifts his girly throwing ‘skills’ to basketball, and the results are no more effective than when the big jock talks baseball.” [“Political Notes,” November 17, 2004. As taken from the original text.]

If this is quintessentially Rittenhouse I’ll eat my hat. Actually, it’s a pretty good line now that I read it again.

FASCINATED BY: Political imagery of masculinity.

I have no idea what this phrase means, nor to which posts I’ve written that it refers. Perhaps this particular fascination of mine resides in my subconscious, leaving me completely unaware of its effect on the blog. Or maybe it’s just a deliberate smack.

WORST HABIT: Self-indulgent patter about his mother.

How does one self-indulgently write about another person? I count 11 posts, out of thousands, in which the phrase “my mother” appears and that also refer to my mother. Perhaps the writers intended to cite my gratuitous bulldog blogging. Mildred’s name appears in more than 200 posts, and while she, Mildred, is self-indulgent, I don’t think my writing about her is any such thing. Boring maybe, overdone almost surely, but “self-indulgent”? Sorry, Mom, if I’m to follow the implied recommendations of my critics you’re off the blog. Those readers who asked me to ask you to guest blog? I guess they’re as pathetic as I am.

For their final comment, Tkacik and Issenberg offer this:

VERDICT: Capozzola vacillates wildly between measured criticism and wanton bitchiness.

But isn’t that why readers come here? Where else are you going to get that? And for much less than the $42.45 annualized cover price of Philadelphia?

Now, aside from the flaws already noted, Tkacik and Issenberg have woven a not-too-subtle and not-very-clever subtext through these remarks. Did you catch it? Andrew Sullivan . . . A quote that includes the phrase “girly throwing ‘skills’” . . . Fascinated by “imagery of masculinity” . . . Unusually attached to his mother . . . “Bitchiness.”

Trust me, I caught it. I’ve heard it all before. And it doesn’t get any wittier with each subsequent occurrence. In this respect, I will say that while not insulted, I am offended by the review. And Tkacik and Issenberg should be ashamed.

Two things bother me about all of the reviews written by Tkacik and Issenberg. First, it’s obvious they started from scratch, looking at the blogs’ most recent posts and drawing misguided conclusions from these cursory glances, hardly reasonable considering this site is more than two-and-one-half years old.

Second, and this is a point of frustration I’ve expressed here before, once again we have an example of the inability of writers who have never published a blog to understand what the endeavor is really about, what motivates a blogger, how a blogger gains a sizable audience (to emerge, for example, in the top 100 of the blog universe, estimated at more than 5 million sites), and what purpose blogs serve their writers and their readers.

Other Philadelphia blogs reviewed by Tkacik and Issenberg include Eschaton, which received a B, and Suburban Guerrilla, which was given a C-minus. Very snarky, I think. Only one of the six blogs won a A, and an A-minus at that: something called Philebrity, where the theme is notes about nightlife and the like. About that blog the writers issued this fawning verdict: “Entertaining glimpse into the obsessions of the Philadelphia slackeriti [sic].”

Why Philadelphia’s fact-checkers, if the species exists, didn’t catch the writers’ erroneously tying Duncan Black to Haverford rather than Bryn Mawr I cannot say.

At least they spelled my last name correctly.

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