Snakes on a Blog

Writing for USA Today, Bruce Kluger uses some rather strained logic to argue that the power of the blogosphere is largely mythological. His evidence? Bloggers failed to kill of Joe Lieberman’s independent campaign for the Senate and “Snakes on a Plane” had only modest success at the box office.

On Aug. 8, Connecticut businessman Ned Lamont defeated U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary, a triumph widely credited to the rah-rah racket produced by pro-Lamont armies stationed along the Internet.

Indeed, the bloggers had scored big. They had helped vault a local politician to national prominence and cemented the Iraq war as Issue No. 1 in the congressional elections. Not a bad day.

But their victory was short-lived. Even before the primary, Lieberman announced that, should he lose, he’d still run in November as an independent. This electoral chutzpah effectively rope-a-doped the bloggers and recharged the senator’s fabled Joe-mentum. Lieberman’s still the man to beat in the general election.

While it is helpful of Kluger to point out that bloggers are a subset of voters which are a subset of people, it’s unclear what that insight reveals. Would Ned Lamont be the Democratic nominee for the Senate absent the organized movement led by lefty bloggers? Doubtful. Can the Netroots have the same kind of impact in the general election? Well, no. So what?

If this wasn’t enough to drain the effervescence from the blogger bubbly, America’s noisy Web wags were dealt an even more sobering blow 10 days later when Snakes on a Plane opened nationwide to a decidedly flat $15.3 million box office.

Before its premiere, Snakes had been the latest blogger darling, as swarms of online film geeks prematurely crowned it the summer’s big sleeper. This hyperventilating fan base even convinced Snakes‘ distributor, New Line Cinema, to up the movie’s rating to R, to ensure a gorier, more venomous snake fest.

But all that clapping and yapping couldn’t put enough fannies in the seats. Ticket sales for Snakes‘ debut barely topped those of Talladega Nights, which was already in its third week.

So a comparatively low budget film overtaking a highly promoted film starring perhaps the biggest box office draw today, despite having been publicized almost entirely through a grassroots online effort is evidence of the failure of online marketing?

And which bloggers, precisely, were touting this film? I have read in various media outlets that bloggers were hyping–and even helping write–the movie. But I don’t recall any of the political bloggers I read–and I read a lot of them–touting the movie except as a one-off cultural reference.

There are some good comments on this at Crooked Timber, with Kieran Healy observing that, “in the absence of the jokey attention it got online, would have gone straight to DVD and never come close to the top of the box office for even a single weekend.”

Commenter Steve LaBonne offers, “I’m tired of these [censored] silly blogosphere columns in these [censored] newspapers.” And Michael Bérubé ties the two events together beautifully, offering up this gem: “Joe Lieberman is the only Democrat who takes seriously the threat of motherlovin’ snakes on planes. Elect Ned Lamont and you might as well hand America over to our Herpetofascist enemies.”

Elsewhere, N. Todd Pritsky offers an amusing if profanity laden response to Kluger and skippy the bush kangaroo replies without the use of a single capital letter.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Perhaps the data really suggests that while the lefty blogosphere wields heavy influence in the democratic party, their rhetoric doesn’t extend control to the larger population that takes seriously the “Herpetofascist enemies” and doesn’t extend absolute control over the democrats who still support Lieberman at better than 33%.

    The counter thought on this would be to track the record of MSM endorsements. If memory serves, most CT papers endorsed Lieberman in the democratic primary. Which I think will be interesting to see how they come out in the general election. If they switch their endorsements to Lamont, they show themselves to be tools of the democrats. If they don’t switch their endorsement, then they will not be loved by the left. Of course, given their track record of endorsements influencing the election, it really doesn’t matter.

    As far as snakes on the plane, the only references I saw to it were what I took to be scoffing ones. That the movies was based on a pretty thin premise and was an example of the bankruptcy of good ideas Hollywood seems to enjoy.

  2. Jim Henley says:

    Atrios was one political blogger boosting Snakes ahead of time. Multiple posts over multiple weeks.

  3. Patrick McGuire says:

    Personally, I am relieved that the blogosphere is being down-played. If the liberal weenies actually perceived it as a real threat, they would be screaming for it to be shut down.

  4. Jim Henley says:

    And they’d make the blogosphere marry gay people! In Iran!

  5. skippy says:

    thanks for the link, james, and i reciprocated on my post re: same.

    if i may extend the point you make:

    while it is helpful of kluger to point out that bloggers are a subset of voters which are a subset of people, it’s unclear what that insight reveals.

    indeed. i could only figure out that he got his logic, along with panties, tied up in a bunch.

    you are probably referring to this strange sentence in kluger’s piece:

    lieberman’s boomerang reminds us that voters represent a meager percentage of the total populace — and that bloggers are an even tinier subset of that group.

    to which i said in response:

    uh, bruce, in an election, voters are the only ones who count. the larger set of “people, including those who don’t vote,” doesn’t really factor into whether lieberman or lamont get elected.

    in other words, bruce, why bring up how big or small the subset of people who actually vote is when discussing the outcome of an election? if only one person voted, and voted for lamont, who cares how big the subset was? lamont won, jackass sir.