Posted by: Jim | February 11, 2004


Porchlight Politics

Ever notice that they don’t build houses with front porches anymore? They don’t. You know why? Because people don’t use their front porches anymore. More specifically, at one time they did use their front porches. The front porch was an extremely important place. Each night after dinner, the man of the house would retire to the front porch, or would wander over to his neighbor’s front porch, where they would look out over the night, smoke their cigars, and talk about … you guessed it … shit.

So, in the age of the front porch, people had an opinion about shit that was somewhat influenced by their neighbor’s opinion about shit. Mostly, the shit was politics and religion. But the shit was probably also a lot to do with local gossip, crops, folklore, and other shit. Elections were won and lost on the basis of these porchlight conversations. Sometimes a man would get pissed off at his neighbor’s opinion about shit, and would punch his neighbor in the nose. It wasn’t exactly the Hegelian dialectic, but it was close at least.

So the national opinion about shit varied from place to place, based on the continuum of people and their various thoughts and feelings about shit.

Oh yeah, and there were newspapers. Until radio came along, newspapers were the only “broadcast” medium. People would listen to the radio, and read the newspaper, hear about shit, and talk with their neighbors about it, and sometimes a pug would end up bloodied. If you were to draw a picture about the transfer of ideas in this paradigm, it would look much like a somewhat random network of ideas being exchanged in both directions. Thesis, anti-thesis, and synthesis. Hegel. In this drawing, the people who traveled a bit more could pass on the juicier items of shit to other neighborhoods, and of course the newspapers and radio were broadcasting their shit, but it was only a one-way transaction.

Then came TV. Tragically, these tiny glowing tubes brought people in from their front porches and they stopped talking about shit, and only got their shit from the T.V. Men even stopped smoking cigars, because their wives would say “put that shit out, or go outside.”

But the shit on the T.V. was very very good shit, so the men would put their cigars out and listen.

Porches became obsolete. Porch builders, porch manufacturers, and all manner of people employed by porch swing industry lost their jobs. These people all entered the television industry.

In a fantastically short period of time, the picture we drew earlier changed dramatically. Now there were just a few points from which ideas about shit came. ABC, CBS, and NBC were the biggies. Then radio. Then Newspapers. No one noticed this change, and no one cared, because the shit they were seeing was too intoxicating. The shit on the T.V. was far funnier and more interesting than the shit they heard on Smarmy Willson’s front porch. The shit on T.V. was glitzy shit like what you would get if you ate an entire box of 64 Crayola crayons.

No one questioned the shit on T.V. because it looked far too credible to ever be wrong, and god knows Smarmy Willson was an idiot democrat with his own twisted perspectives anyway.

Over time, the opinions about shit didn’t vary much from town to town anymore. Oh sure, it varied a little but not much to speak of. Even the two political parties smooshed together to get closer to this massively similar perspective that everyone had about the various shit that people talked about.

T.V. really helped the country get its shit together.

Except that no one knew their neighbors anymore, and it became “out of fashion” to talk about religion or politics, or any other shit that might cause one man to punch another man in the nose. Lawsuits, you know.

Then came the internet. Never was a more divisive invention introduced into our communication paradigm, as it exposed how pitifully immature we were. People had no sense of manners at first, and started saying the rudest, damnedest things, like air being let out of an over-inflated tire. Married men used the internet to carry out their prurient desires. Married women did the same. Racists used the internet to express their stupidity. Child molesters did the unthinkable. Pornographers cashed in big-time, like they always do.

The internet also enabled people to actually form their own opinion about shit and share it with others—with no fear of obtaining a blood-spurting schnozz. Not only that, but their opinions were void of all the qualifiers we used to get on our front porches. On the internet, no one knows that you are Smarmy Willson. No one knows if you are a male or female, black or white, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, left-handed or right-. All they know is what you have to say about … shit. This allows them to actually form an intelligent opinion that is devoid of the racist, sexist, and generally crappy opinions that we usually form about people’s ideas. Readers of this blog can safely assume that I am a male since my name is Jim, but no one knows if I am gay or straight, single or married, black or white, or how I smell. I plan to keep it that way.

For lots of people, this became a liberating experience. We could now spout our own opinions in chat rooms, then instant messages, but now on home pages and blogs. Some of us have a hundred people reading our opinions about shit. Some of the people I link to have even thousands of people reading their shit. They’re not exactly “broadcasting”. Dare I coin the term “narrowcasting”? No, I dare not.

If you’re wondering if this is a blog about blogging, it is. Call it blogsterbation if you want.

The fact is this: society has, gosh darn it, improved. We have bumbled and stumbled on our capitalist asses, tripped, and backed accidentally into improvement.

The networks’ reign as the single source of opinions are over. Praise Jesus. We are actually talking again.



  1. […] Long ago, I wrote a post I called “Porchlight Politics,” proclaiming the internet to be the revival of dialog. Though I posted this three years ago, I originally wrote it in the mid-90s. I predicted that broadcast media would fall by the wayside, making way for what I called “narrowcasting.” A few years ago, music became the first casualty, as the advent of Napster wrested control from the music giants. Frankly, I was glad, as it was my opinion that most of the “broadcast” music was tripe, and becoming tripier by the day. Napster, and since, and iTunes, has allowed actual talent to make their mark outside of the control of the giants who previously ruled the land.I’ve been predicting that the movie and TV industry would be next, but I will admit that I did not expect to see this any time soon. Allegedly however, we are seeing the demise of the broadcast video media right now. And who is the usurper? WIRED magazine has an interesting article about them in this month’s issue. To quote it: “Without being overly simplistic or melodramatic, the state of the Old Commercial Broadcasting Model can be summarized like this: a spiraling vortex of ruin.” […]

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