I believe that the trade of critic, in literature, music, and the drama, is the most degraded of all trades, and that it has no real value -- certainly no large value . . . However, let it go. It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.Mark Twain, director of the Office of Persona Management for Roxie’s World, is in a bar called Ishmael’s, around the corner from RW Enterprises, LLC global headquarters, eating fried mozzarella sticks and drinking whiskey in front of a large-screen TV. Twain has been despondent and drinking heavily for several days over concern that Moose’s recent lecture at Rutgers University on the subject of this blog and blogging generally would compromise the integrity of my persona as sole owner and proprietor of Roxie’s World. At my behest, Moose tracks him down at the bar for a talk.
-- Mark Twain's Autobiography
Moose: Hey, Mark. How’s it going?
Mark: Oh, it’s you. Back from your little road show, are you?
Moose: Yeah. Hey, look, no hard feelings, eh? What do you say we get back to work? Roxie wants to get the whole creative team together to talk about next steps. How ‘bout having a cup of coffee, maybe some eggs, and heading back to the office with me?
Mark: I’m enjoying these fried cheese sticks, thank you. An amazing culinary feat, you know – We didn’t have these back in my day. We ate actual food then. But what do you mean by “next steps?” It’s hard to un-ring a bell, Moose. The damage you did in your lecture was incalculable, devastating. What are Roxie’s readers supposed to think when you stand up publicly and speak for Roxie’s World? That’s not what you’re supposed to do around here! You’re merely a typist, a researcher, a critic, for heaven’s sake, and you know my opinion of critics –
Moose: Yes, yes, I know, Mark – the most degraded of all trades – but that’s really all I was doing at Rutgers – speaking as a critic about the development of the persona, the growth of the audience, and the relationship between and among words, images, music, and video in Roxie’s World.
Mark: Images are very important, you know. My books were always so nicely illustrated.
Moose: Absolutely. That Edward Kemble fellow did some amazing work on Huck Finn – Such spare, simple drawings, yet so evocative, despite the unfortunate appeal to the race and gender stereotypes of the day.
Mark: The what? Oh, never mind. Bartender, I’ll have another whiskey and bring the lady – may I call you that? – bring the lady –
Moose: I’ll have an extremely dry martini, up, with olives, and another round of those mozzarella sticks. This may take awhile. As I was saying, Mark, I really don’t think my lecture should be any cause for concern. I devoted a whole section to your office and to the important work you do maintaining the integrity not only of the central persona but of all the identities in Roxie’s World. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we need you back in the office soon. We’ve got a problem with a persona we’ve come up with for a new reader. She has some ambivalence about it, and I think we may need to go back to the drawing board.
Mark: All due respect, Moose, but you are way out of your depth on this. You have no idea how essential persona integrity is to what we’re doing in Roxie’s World. It is everything, and I mean everything! If our readers should come to doubt their belief in Roxie, we are doomed. If they come to suspect that she is really you, next thing you know some nincompoop is writing a book called Was Roxie Gay? And then where are we? Up the Mississippi without a paddle, I tell you.
Moose: I really think you’re over-reacting, Mark. Our readers are more discerning than that. And you and Roxie and the creative team are better than that.
Mark: An author values a compliment even when it comes from a source of doubtful competency, but spare me the flattery, madame, and pass the marinara sauce. We have other problems arising from your lecture, you know. While you had your head in the clouds of meta-blogging, the world continued to spin on its axis, and Roxie’s World has fallen woefully far behind. (He glances toward the TV, which is playing images of chaos in the streets of Pakistan.) It’s high time we updated our Benazir Bhutto Death Watch, for example. They’ve got her under house arrest now, and Musharraf is insisting that the best way to defend democracy is to destroy it. I’m thinking that brave woman’s days may be numbered.
Moose: I know, and I’m sorry we haven’t been on the story. It’s perfect for us – a beautiful, intelligent woman with a voice like melted butter and the courage to face death to help save her country –
Mark: (With a sidewise glance at Moose) Melted butter? Guess I’m not the only one trapped by the race and gender stereotypes of my day, eh? In any case, we’ve also been ignoring the presidential race here in the U.S., where another beautiful, intelligent woman who hopes to save her country is getting heat from a couple of fellas who seem to think that one politician calling another politician “calculating” is likely to strike voters as something other than a pot calling a kettle black. Excuse me – Was that racist?
Moose: I don’t think so. Joe Klein has a wonderful piece on exactly that subject in the latest Time. He argues that what some call calculation, he would call principle and that Hillary Clinton and her husband have been pretty consistent over the years in being moderate problem-solvers, willing to make deals in order to “get stuff done,” as Bill Clinton puts it, for the American people. Klein insists that the senator has become a very effective campaigner who doesn’t come across as the robot a lot of the coverage tries to conjure up. John Dickerson also has a piece in Slate on Clinton’s appeal to women voters in Iowa. According to him, the more the male candidates go after Clinton, the more women voters gravitate toward her. You know, Mark, my theory is that every time some guy calls her “Hillary,” ten women voters swing her way.
Mark: Interesting theory, Moose. When you’re through pretending to be a writer, you might try pretending to be a political analyst. And do I need to point out that the college basketball season has started and your beloved Lady and non-Lady Terps are already back in action? Shoulders and her crew knocked off #6 Oklahoma the other night, and Shoulders was named the ACC’s first Player of the Week for the season – but did Roxie’s World have anything to say about it, though our good pals the BasketCases did?
Moose: I know, I know, Mark, I hear you. Look, I realize this lecture has been a big distraction for all of us, but the guys in Clicks and Eyeballs are pretty happy with the new readers we’ve picked up, and I swear we’re back to regular programming now. We need you back in the office, though. I’m really stuck on this persona management problem. I mean, what would you call a gregarious Victorianist who loves opera, hates New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, and deplores the fact that any expression of deep feeling is dismissed as “sentimental?” We tried “Anti-Mo Do,” but she feels it’s too limiting. I kind of like the Gregarious Victorianist, but I think we might come up with something even better with your help.
Mark: (With a sigh and picking up his coat) Moose, [you] must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes [you] as much as a week sometimes to make it up. Coffee to go, bartender. I’ve got work to do.