It was quite a spectacle yesterday. While the rest of the blogosphere was opining on the withdrawal of Harriet Miers, the Bloggernacle was transfixed with a blog train wreck: Bannergate. It was painful, but you just had to watch. It was grotesque entertainment, strangely out of place on the computer screen. The accusations happened here, here, and (most effectively) here; the groveling confessions (and one pathetic non-confession) appear in glorious and ongoing detail here. What to make of this bizarre episode? Here are a few abbreviated observations.
1. Hindsight is 20-20. Yes, the participants seem to admit that, in retrospect, it was a flawed idea that shouldn't have been pursued. Several people saw that up front and declined to become involved with the project or backed out before it "went live." One who did participate admitted the concept got corrupted along the way, which is instructive and probably applies to many of the projects (both noble and crass) that we get involved with in life. You know, if they had just put a subtitle on their banner saying "Six composite characters explore life as young and photogenic Mormons," no one would be complaining. Many but not all figured that out anyway; those most offended by the episode are those who didn't figure it out.
2. Take Your Lumps. Nothing like a good apology to earn a little redemption. It doesn't need to be a perfect apology, just a good one. Not that there's much forgiveness to be had in Mormon organizational culture. Judgment, on the other hand, abounds. I sometimes place the story of the woman caught in adultery in a modern context, and think that if Jesus had announced "Let him or her that is without sin cast the first stone" to a Mormon audience, the rocks would have been flying. So confession doesn't prompt forgiveness in Mormon circles like it seems to do in Christian circles. Mormon bishops, we're constantly reminded, sit as judges in Israel, full of keys and authority ... except the power to forgive. Only God can forgive. What a strange notion, that God grants full power of judgment and authority but not of forgiveness.
3. The L-word. Liar is a strong word. My cheap online dictionary defines a lie as "an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive." Well, a blog or a blog character in this particular case is more like a dramatic production than an assertion and it's unclear what the intent of the various contributors was, so I think "lie" and "liar" are too strong here. On the other hand, the second definition given is "something that misleads or deceives." Some were clearly mislead and deceived, so there's a better fit with the second definition. Still, I think it is better described as a project that went badly awry and was probably flawed from the beginning. That's probably too long for a blog post title.
4. The Plight of the Storytellers. One comment noted that the B'nacle abounds in lawyers and PhDs, and that others feel a little left out at times. Most people can't go toe to toe conceptually with folks who (1) are professional debaters of sorts, (2) have too many degrees, and (3) seem to have a lot of time on their hands to compose detailed posts and ripostes. I sympathize with that critique and think it deserves to be taken seriously. On the other hand, B'nacle sites are quite open to comment and participation by anyone with anything to say, whether erudite or personal, and bend over backwards to be considerate even to commenters who might not deserve it. But it's true that "regular folks" are more inclined to write about personal experiences and observations, sometimes using poetry and storytelling, than to try and emulate the detailed doctrinal or historical posts that get attention at the big group blogs. So yes, BoH might be thought of as an experiment in storytelling, a way to bring a little narrative into the game rather than more analysis and commentary. For some, it was the moral equivalent of Raskolnikov's experimental crime, utterly misguided; for others it was just a sophomoric prank. For a few it was actually meaningful. Whatever. They tried something different and it didn't turn out very well. I hope it doesn't dissuade others from trying different things (learning a few lessons from BoH, no doubt).
5. Mormon gullibility. Yes, a culture that praises unquestioned faith as a virtue and considers doubt to be a sin is a problem. Yes, believing anything you're told is a problem. There are people who tithe themselves into bankruptcy, then want to be patted on the back for their faithfulness. There are people who believe everything they read online, then want to cry on everyone's shoulder when it turns out they were fooled. Yes, it's unfortunate some people were fooled, but it always the case that some of the people get fooled some of the time — that's just life, folks. The remedy is to be a little less trusting in some contexts, not to rail on about how unfair it all is.
6. Punishment of the Innocent. That's phase five of the Six Phases of a Project, right after "search for the guilty" and right before "praise and honors for the non-participants." Rosalynde was an innocent non-participant who did the right thing by declining to participate, so I can't imagine why she feels bad about anything. I, too, declined an early feeler. Just knowing about the fakeness of the blog doesn't mean anything -- most people who didn't know it through the grapevine knew it was fake after three visits.
7. Bittersweet Success. After shuffling along as a serial drama of six composite characters that not too many people followed, suddenly now that it is unmasked BoH is the hottest thing in the 'nacle! Go figure. It wasn't much as a "social experiment," but now that the human drama of (reluctant) confession and (grudging and partial) forgiveness is on full display, BoH might have a future. Nothing like a public flogging to draw a crowd.
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