Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 23, 2007

Mike Vick, Kevin Bacon, & Gunfights at the Internet Corral

Is it silly for me to worry about what I might accidentally say on my blog, or who I am linking to, because maybe someday a reporter or employer or enemy will throw it back in my face and ruin my reputation? What if I want to run for political office? How careful do we have to be nowadays, if we’re not going to just sit still and say nothing?

For example, a phrase I used in the title of one of my posts back in the spring just happens to share a name with a very disreputable site. Aw heck, let’s just say it… a porn-related site. (No, really? There’s porn on the internet?) I didn’t know this at the time I wrote my post. My own post had nothing to do with porn. I just thought I was changing a few letters around and making a clever pun. But now I’ve had a few months of Googlers (I suspect), who when they key the phrase in, see my post come up in a list with other stuff more directly related to that no-no site, and they stray over by me for a look-see. (They’re probably disappointed and run away quickly, though… I have a terribly unsexy physique…)

Or remember when rabid anti-kiddie porn crusader Pete Townshend of The Who got caught in this bugaboo of guilt by association a few years ago? By doing research, by not looking away, he was pegged by authorities as a habitual consumer of the stuff. No conviction, not even a trial… just alot of damaging controversy. As an artist and private citizen trying to root out the true guilty parties (or at least achieve some healing of his own painful past), I genuinely believe Pete got shafted on that one.

I’ve also heard inklings of criticism lately about situations where website #1 links to #2, which #1 has no control over, but thought trustworthy… only to find themselves accused later that the #2 buddy-site is “just one click away” from some neo-Nazi screed or other venomous material, perhaps buried deep in a forum somewhere. Well excuse me, but isn’t the whole point of the internet that we start out six degrees of Kevin Bacon away from each other, only to see these weird connections grow, in ways beyond our control? Sometimes it’s fascinating to find you are part of a network that you formerly didn’t even know existed. But if you occasionally get caught in an unwanted web as well, what can you do about that?

Sure, it does matter who you hang with, digitally speaking. I’m not saying it doesn’t. There are good reasons I don’t have Rush Limbaugh or some death metal band as part of my WordPress blogroll on the right. I’ll always be judged to some extent on the company I keep. Unfortunately, the most vocal free-speech advocates nowadays tend to be the ones trying to rationalize and get attention for their own particular brand of sensationalistic crap. In movies, literature, journalism, music, in any cultural product really, a work is not automatically high quality just because it takes some risks or pushes the outside of the envelope.

Yet I also hope to remain openminded enough to hear out somebody that I don’t completely agree with. For example, I’m probably not as liberal as many of the folks at Neil Young’s Living With War site over on my blogroll, but it’s still material I feel is worth looking at. On the other hand, I’m not a public tv network. I don’t have to give equal time to all perspectives. Any good writer or editor will tell you their role is not ultimately about using or limiting free speech, its about exercising good taste and good sense.

If the whole recent Michael Vick thing has reminded us of anything, it’s this (a great line form an old They Might Be Giants song, Your Racist Friend) :

“You can’t shake the devil’s hand and say that you were joking.”

But what if you didn’t know it was the devil? (And in case anyone misinterprets what I’m saying, let me be clear: Michael knew. Don’t be “like Mike”, kids.) The devil is always lurking out there somewhere, after all, trying to trip us up. Deception is his whole game. In the new wild west of the internet, how can I keep from being gunned down by any hack with a keyboard?


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