Date Published:4/18/2003
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

Response to "Why the Web Will Win the Culture Wars for the Left"
(article 125)

Kevin Barnhurst

It may be that the form of information on the internet expresses the sort of critical, deconstructionist logic that Lurie describes in this piece. My work with John Nerone on media forms would suggest as much.

To take the next step -- to assert that that logic will have the sorts of influences on the Right that Lurie proposes -- is quite a leap. In the zones where conservatives hang out on the internet (not just the bible but the sites operated by well-known right-wing groups), authoritative interpretation and fixity of belief can survive and prosper in spite of the forms of information. The vast majority of web traffic goes to "mainstream" sites, where another, related logic (of market leadership, corporate identity, brand loyalty, and supposed brick-and-mortar solidity) surely counterbalances the structures of web information.

Lurie's argument may spring from something else that grows out of the structure of the internet: call it hegemonia, the land of illusion where everyone "out there" shares one's own worldview. Those who have participated in the flood of anti-war messages and posts, links to protest images, and on-line petitions, e-mail-writing campaigns, and other actions are stunned to learn from a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project (April 1, 2003, that in fact opinion on the web has closely paralleled opinion off line. A similar majority supported war in Iraq, but the structure of the internet allowed (encouraged?) U.S. citizens all to live in our own comfort zones.

Causes for hope seem so few these days, but one might be that these zones of safety will nurture great ideas from the left (and for that matter from every subgroup). But can strong leadership emerge without continuous exchanges and clashes among differing groups? Isolation, which is also expressed in sanitized shopping malls and gated communities, through gay (and liberal) inner-city ghettos, and by newspapers sectioned to serve private interests, is another potential also built into the structure of the internet.


Kevin Barnhurst is the Associate Head of the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The Form of News, A History, with John Nerone New York: Guilford, April 2001