Loren Feldman: fighting for old media one blogger at a time

29 June 2008

In the wake of the uneasy truce between Loren Feldman and Shel Israel, it seems that Feldman has been able to do both things from the most famous quote from John Dryden's "A Discourse Concerning the Original and Progress of Satire":

"Yet there is still a vast difference betwixt the slovenly butchering of a man, and the fineness of a stroke that separates the head from the body and leaves it standing in its place."

In ruthlessly taking Israel apart with the humour equivalent of a rusty meat cleaver, Feldman co-opted Israel into saving the finer cuts for social media in general.

"And now it’s done, my little experiment with Social Media. I beat you with your own tools, in the arena in which you bill yourself an expert. You are an amateur Shel, an amateur, always remember that."

With the puppet, Feldman did distinctly old-media things. For one thing, it's all fake. It's a puppet pretending to be some other guy. Out through the window goes the social media stricture of "authenticity". Although the puppet was a goof, it was a lovable goof – the kind of thing old TV loves. And the set-ups were straight from from pro-TV school. It's just as well. Israel's videos were self-satirising: the one of him waving a boom mic around like a balloon on a stick in front of a bleary-eyed Jeremiah Owyang while supping disinterestedly on a latté is unforgettable. And not in a good way.

Feldman called the puppet "more real": a classic bit of legerdemain. Israel was very real during the whole spat. He was angry. He was upset. He wanted to get even. Faced with what Feldman was doing to him, what would you want to do? Social media's advice: be real, be honest.

But nobody believed the advice. The sensible advice to Israel was to bottle it up, act nice. And that probably would have worked. Had Israel gritted his teeth and pretended that he really loved the puppet, he would probably have come out of the whole episode more famous and better off. In other words, ignore Naked Conversations: Be inauthentic. You can't blog or tweet your way out of a crisis any more than you can knit your way out of a burning building.

And don't forget Feldman's position of being a pro versus Israel's amateur in what was meant to be an amateur's game.

And that is the Feldman's gift to social media in a situation where most in the club seem to have ignored the puppet sites's tag line: "A parody of Social Media’s impact on business & culture".

But what about the position of Michael Arrington and Jason Calcanis in this? Israel seems to believe that Arrington's hand was behind the puppet all of the time. Feldman's response:

"You chose to blame Mike Arrington, Jason Calacanis, and myself when you should have been blaming yourself. Mike is busy taking on AP and the NY Times. Jason is taking on Google. I’m taking on TV, do you think anyone of us have the time or even give a shit enough about you to plot a conspiracy?"

Or, to paraphrase with a slant on social media: these people are building media empires, do you imagine they give a shit about some social-media revolution? It's been good to them, it's been a laugh, but there's a lot more money in replacing the 'old-media' companies.

Now it seems to be Dave Winer's turn. The joke's just not so funny second time around but the ability of some of social media's voices to self-satirise, who knows what's possible.


Great post. I have to say a lot of the posts on this have just been rehashes of the situation (which there’s nothing wrong with but as someone aware of the specifics they haven’t been all that entertaining to me). But you really came to it with a fresh perspective and I was impressed.

I would disagree with one point though and that is where you say “The joke's just not so funny second time around but the ability of some of social media's voices to self-satirise, who knows what's possible.”

The mistake I think you make is in assuming it will be the same joke.

In the last post I made on my own blog (http://tomstechblog.com/post/The-Shel-Israel-Saga-REALLY-Comes-To-Its-End-(for-me-anyway).aspx) I got so annoyed by Mr. Israel that I just decided to keep my mouth shut on the topic for the time being. But I had a post on the drawing board (which I’ll still probably put out there one day) comparing Loren to Andy Kaufman and trying to explain how the beauty of his work is that he pushes the boundaries.

Given that trend, I think it would be uncharacteristic for Loren to repeat the same schtick with Winer. Plus, Winer’s not really about Social Media as much as he’s about infantilism (and Loren already seems to be hinting at that direction).

Anyway, I say again, great post.

Thanks Tom.

"The mistake I think you make is in assuming it will be the same joke."

A very good point: I'd dismissed the joke before even seeing it.

I liked your analysis here.