October 25, 2016

RIP STEVEN DEN BESTE: Glenn and Sarah Hoyt expressed their condolences yesterday, and I’d like to as well. The rise of the Blogosphere during the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was something to behold – the best analogy that I can think of is to compare it to the golden age of television in the 1950s: a new medium was born, and for those willing to seek it out, programming of a surprisingly high quality was available to be consumed on it.

But unlike television, which then as now requires an army of craftsmen and technicians to create, the early Blogosphere was almost exclusively a series of solo acts, and living in California, from about 9:00 PM to midnight Pacific Time each weeknight, I would eagerly consume the best of the new programming as it went online, usually (forgive me If my memory of the timing is a bit off) Den Beste around 7:00 or 8:00 PM, Lileks around 9:00 or ten o’clock, and then pre-Weimar era Andrew Sullivan around 11 or midnight. And of course, Glenn firing off new posts throughout the night.

Den Beste also demonstrated how infinitely flexible blogging could be. Glenn, Mickey Kaus, Sullivan and Virginia Postrel specialized in short posts offering news aggregation and commentary, but Den Beste seemed to effortlessly generate 1,500 to 3,000 word essays on the GWOT and other breaking news events every night. Of course, they only looked effortless to those of us reading them. I imagine the work that went into them eventually contributed to Den Beste’s health issues, and the merciless brickbats he received from the tolerance and diversity-obsessed left eventually led him to focus his blogging primarily on anime and other lighter fare.

As with the Golden Age of TV, which by the early ‘60s had collapsed into Newton Minnow’s infamous “vast wasteland…of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials,” the Golden Era of the Blogosphere was doomed to be a fleeting epoch as well. Today, blogging is universal, but also far too corporatist, an increasingly exclusive medium for Democrat operatives with bylines to pay homage to the state. But for a time, there were a plethora of individual voices to be read, and Den Beste’s was one of the most idiosyncratic and enjoyable.

“A software engineer by trade, exhibiting a precise logic in his thinking, Den Beste was acerbic, sharp and often charmingly irascible,” Jim Geraghty writes today in encomium. “I missed his playful cantankerousness when he had merely stopped blogging. He’s missed even more now.” RIP.

UPDATE: In his tribute to Den Beste, Ace of Spades compares the heyday of the USS Clueless as belonging to “a pre-professional blogging age (such as it may well be), a novice/hobbyist phase, when writers would just write about whatever interested them at that moment, whether it ‘fit the format’ or whatever. Rather like I’ve heard FM radio was when it first came out, as opposed to heavily-programmed/demographically-targeted AM.” Given the free-form, inventing techniques and terminology on the fly nature of the early Blogosphere, that’s an apt comparison as well.