The story of the brief, meteoric rise and fall Lee Siegel, The New Republic's culture blogger, has yet to be written. This will not be that story. This post is something of a requiem, as I now mourn for the blogosphere. For surely we are all poorer when they succeed in silencing such an original voice as Siegel's. For surely few can provoke such memorably vicious takedowns such as this one by James Wolcott. Yes, we should mourn. The man was probably the most consistently amusing target of blogger ire, and I'm truly sorry that we won't have. Lee Siegel to. Kick around. Anymore.
Why was Siegel so widely mocked? Siegel fashioned himself as a kind of intellectual David, slaying overpraised Goliaths such as Malcolm Gladwell, mean bloggers, Stephen Colbert etc. with his deft pen. His particular genius, however, lied not in counterintuitive brilliance, but in his unerring instinct for the perfect "firestarter" blog post. Style was part of the problem. Siegel crafts infuriatingly obtuse, grandstanding nonsense, written in a tone that is at once stentorian and snide. But there are plenty of delusional, self-satisfied blowhards published in important journals and fora. What made Siegel truly special was his inimitable fighting style -- two parts Randy Savage to one part Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. Siegel's m.o. is to lash out, in an especially indignant tone, at some hyperbolic straw man of his own creation. An academic who mused about Americans' sexual attraction to the lurid JonBenet Ramsay beauty pageant images looped ad infinitum on cable news is not merely wrong. According to Siegel, that academic is a pedophile and probable child-molester. (Never mind that Siegel once posted a Red Shoe Diary on how he should've fucked a sixteen-year-old Uma Thurman when he had the chance.) And those who disagreed with Siegel are permissive sexual degenerates who have doomed the Democrats to permanent minority status. And bloggers? They aren't just potty mouths with predictable opinions. They're the natural descendents of Mussolini.
You can see why Siegel attracted so much attention, almost none of it positive. Like a few others before him, Siegel could not withstand the viciousness of the blogosphere and got caught creating a sock puppet that was defending him against the army of infidels and haters that populated his comments section. (It gets a little suspicious when you've got your "fan" consistently writing suckups like "Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep." I try to at least vary the vocabulary and syntax of my own sock puppets.) It's a shame, really. Siegel had so much more left in him. No one but Siegel could have ushered in the Golden Age of blogofascism, an explosion of brilliant snark unrivaled in the history of the blogosphere. Fortunately for us, long after Siegel's forgotten, his immortal locution will survive.
Robert Farley over at Lawyers, Guns and Money graciously credited me for reporting the story (actually, I merely noticed that TNR took down Siegel's archive and noted it in that blog's comments). In any case, he's put together some very interesting thoughts concerning the desperate hostility towards the blogosphere of writers like Siegel (the blogosphere essentially devaluing smart but unexceptional writers like him), which will nicely dovetail into a longer post I'm currently drafting, my long-awaited magnum opus on the role of pundits, movie critics and other opinion traffickers in the age of the blogorrhea. Look for it at around the same time Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights is released, some time in 2009.