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November 16, 2002

Mix one slightly befuddling web metric with one slightly obtuse editorial writer, and what do you get?

Insta- PR like this, from Linda Seebach of the Rocky Mountain News: "Reynolds says his site gets an average of 75,000 individual visits a day. That's a larger circulation than about 90 percent of U.S. daily newspapers, and probably a larger readership. Most people who buy a newspaper don't intend to read everything in it - they might go directly to sports or stocks or grocery coupons - but someone who clicks to a Web page will usually at least look at what's on it."

Of course, Seebach is assuming that "75,000 individual visits" equals "75,000 individual visitors," but that's not necessarily the case. Why not? Because Comrade Reynolds uses to measure web traffic on his site, and as the FAQ clearly explains: "Site Meter defines a visit as a series of page views by one person with no more than 30 minutes in between page views. If you click on a link to another site, and then come back to your site within 30 minutes, you are still on the same visit and Site Meter won't increment the counter."

But what that also means is that if you visit at 10 A.M., and then return at 10:31 A.M., that counts as two "individual visits." So while the Comrade may attract 75,000 individual visits a day, Sitemeter provides no information about how many actual individual visitors are generating those visits. It could be 75,000 people visiting once each day. Or it could be 25,000 people visiting three times during the day, with at least 30 minutes passing between each visit.

Also of note: if you look at's stats for Instapundit, you'll see that it got over 75,000 "individual visits" exactly two days out of the last 30. So how exactly does that equal "an average of 75,000 visits a day"?

The Comrade also uses to measure his web traffic, but he only uses it on the main page. That's too bad, because unlike, does track unique visitors per day, and it suggests that he gets around 36,000 unique visitors per day on weekdays (with a high of 49,000 the day after the recent election).

36,000 visitors a day is still pretty impressive for a one-man site. And of course there are also visitors that isn't tracking: if someone goes directly to an archive page, and then doesn't go to the main page from that archive page, won't record that visitor.

So, say there's 10,000 - 15,000 people a day who look solely at an archive page: that would put's daily unique visitors at around 45,000 - 50,000 unique visitors each day.

Again, that's impressive enough as it is - so why did Seebach go with the higher number? It sounds like she did so because that's the number Reynolds told her, and she didn't bother to look at the actual stats herself.

Also, a public service announcement for Seebach or any other journalists trying to decipher's traffic: the Comrade recently announced that "for October, Extreme Tracker report[ed] 943,166 unique visitors to the main page."

But that's not actually 943,166 unique monthly visitors - that's the cumulative total of 31 days worth of daily unique visitors.

In other words, if 30,000 unique visitors visit each day, at the end of a 30-day month, it will have attracted 900,000 unique daily visitors. But if each of those visitors actually visits the site each day of the month, then the number of unique monthly visitors would also be 30,000.

Since a huge percentage of Reynolds' readership consists of repeat visitors, the number of unique monthly visitors is undoubtedly much lower than 943,166.

Posted by Greg Beato at 11:01 PM
November 15, 2002
Back in Blackface II

Ah, Comrade Reynolds - is there any greater master of the hit-and-run observation that says just enough to imply a lot more?

If you're a fan of such tactics, consider this splendid example, wherein he compares the fate of the UT blackfacers to the fate of some artist who won an award for his painting of a bald Asian guy with a lot of bombs strapped to his chest: "WEAR BLACKFACE AND YOU GET SUSPENDED: Paint something that people find offensive on other grounds and you win an award..."

With this post, the Big Education dissident alludes to one of his favorite themes: the pernicious effect that administrative idealogues have on public discourse on the nation's campuses. In his first post on the UT blackface incident, Reynolds decried the political correctness that makes "a mockery of claims regarding academic freedom at universities, which, as I've said before, are in fact some of the most hostile environments in America where free speech is concerned." In his second post on the incident, he exclaimed: "I'm very unhappy that the University's first instinct here was to respond in a punitive fashion. It has always been a point of pride to me that the University of Tennessee has been largely free of PC absurdities."

Now, back to the post where Reynolds says: "WEAR BLACKFACE AND YOU GET SUSPENDED: Paint something that people find offensive on other grounds and you win an award..."

Here, he adds an extra dig at the PC absurdists - not only are they obsessed with political correctness, they also exercise their obsessions with great inconsistency.

Indeed, one group of students do something controversial (wear blackface in public) and they're suspended. Another student creates a controversial painting, and he's given an award? How can this be? Does the capricious cabal who rule the nation's institutions of higher learning really have the power to impose their whims in such fashion?

Well, maybe they do. But in this case, they didn't.

In the world of insta-punditry, being careful about what you don't say is just as important, maybe even more important, than being careful about what you do say.

And, of course, there's plenty that Reynolds doesn't say here. Indeed, all he does say is that some students engaged in various actions, and that these actions prompted different responses from unnamed parties.

Given Reynolds' past diatribes about politically correct university administrators, the implication is that they're involved here too. But Reynolds is careful not to specifically say that.

Why not? Because in the case of the UT blackfacers, it wasn't the University of Tennessee who suspended them: it was the national office of Kappa Sigma, the fraternity to which the blackfacers belong. In the case of the Art Students League of Denver, it's unclear who actually gave the painter the award, but the school's administration did support the decision to do that, even after some members of the league complained. So if the Art Students League of Denver were in fact a college or a university, with degree-granting programs, then the attitude of its staff would bolster the Comrade's contention that the nation's universities are plagued with PC idealogues. But from what I can see, the Arts Student League of Denver isn't actually a college or a university; instead, it appears to be a small non-profit organization that doesn't offer degrees. It may have PC administrators, but they're not part of the college cabal that Reynolds routinely damns...

Also worth noting: because the national chapter of Kappa Sigma and the Art Students League of Denver have no relationship to each other, with neither one having any jurisdiction over the other, it's misleading to suggest that some double standard is in effect because they handled two different incidents in two different ways. Now, if the national chapter of Kappa Sigma holds an art show, and gives an award to a painting of a bald Asian guy with a lot of bombs strapped to his chest, then, yes, it will be time to make accusations about double standards. Similarly, if the Art Students League of Denver suspends one of its members for walking around the streets of Denver in blackface, it should also be condemned for employing a double standard.

Or suppose some commentator said "Hey, why the hell are those frat guys allowed to wear blackface? That's not free speech. That's racial insensitivity!" And then suppose a week later, the same commentator said, "Yeah, the painting of the bald Asian guy with bombs strapped to his chest? That's not suicide bomber insensitivity! That's free speech!" That would be a double standard.

But Reynolds doesn't actually point to anyone who said anything like that. So where, exactly, did the "uneveness of these standards" that he mentions occur?

Well, I have one nomination. In the blackface incident, Reynolds devoted one sentence to decrying the blackfacers ("Not that the fraternity in question has a lot to be proud of") and the rest of his several posts on the subject to decrying the University for impinging on the blackfacers' right to free speech (even though I have yet to see an article that says the University itself has definitively taken some action against the fraternity or any of its members). In the bald Asian guy painting incident, Reynolds devoted zero sentences to commending the administrators at the Art Students League of Denver for upholding their student's right to free speech, and four paragraphs to critiquing the bald Asian guy painting. Seems kind of like an uneveness of standards to me.

Students of blogging, beware - that's the kind of slip-up you can make when you say too much. Best to keep things short, sweet, and simple.

Posted by Greg Beato at 04:48 PM
November 14, 2002
Larry David's Dark Heart

Phillip Weiss on Larry David: "We may be privileged, but we're in pain, Larry David tells us. I don't get much pleasure from life."

Actually, I'd say that's not quite right. David's real message: "We may be privileged, but we're a pain." That is, success hasn't made him any less petty, any more noble. In other words, Larry David is sort of like Eminem. Except there's at least one big difference: When Larry David says "I don't get much pleasure from life," he knows the joke's on him.

Weiss also posits that "Jerry Seinfeld actually has a big heart."

Again, I'd say that's not quite right (or maybe even incredibly wrong). I've always thought that Jerry Seinfeld tries to sell his heartlessness via a veneer of everyman affability. Much like John Cusack. David, on the other hand, is obsessed with revealing his selfishness, his contempt for social manners: he's an exhibitionist of heartlessness. But again, he always knows the joke's on him.

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:06 AM
November 13, 2002
HBO Late night

HBO has done late-night programming in the past, with Chris Rock and Dennis Miller. And in fact, Miller is apparently still doing his show. It must be fairly popular, because it's been on for nine seasons, which sounds like it's probably a record for HBO programming.

Still, I think I've maybe watched it twice in the five years I've had HBO.

And not because I have any particular dislike for Miller; I think I remember enjoying the show the couple times I watched it. But late-night shows ultimately demand frequency: how can Dennis compete with my "friends" Conan, Jon, Dave, Craig, and Jay, who are there every weeknight (almost) if I happen to tune in? Even if you're HBO, you can't really turn a late-night talk show into appointment viewing.

And here's the thing: as a genre, late-night talk is like network news - they're programming whose primary audiences are adults, and yet they're very, very PG-13.

In other words, couldn't HBO hit big with a profane, uncensored, R-rated late-night talk show that aired five nights a week from, say, eleven to midnight?

I bring this up because apparently Bill Maher is negotiating to do a weekly series for HBO that sounds like it will be similar to Politically Incorrect. That sounds like it could be OK - PI is a show that would actually be better if it were on less frequently, because then it could focus on A-list guests and A-list issues...

But at the same time, why not do for late-night what The Sopranos did for one-hour crime dramas - and make Maher the host of it? He's a good monologist, he's a good interviewer - the only wildcard would be the sketches, but you could just outsource those to others and turn that part of the show into a kind of showcase for comic shorts, with people like Andy Dick, Sarah Silverman, Robert Smigel, and HBO alums Bob Odenkirk and David Cross supplying the segments. After all, who wouldn't want their work showcased on HBO these days?

Is late-night too expensive to do nightly when you don't rely on advertising? Well, maybe, but on the other hand, it would give viewers a major new reason to subscribe: monologues and interviews with lots of profanity, unexpurgated bits from the stand-ups who appear on the show, and somewhere in the mix, since it's HBO and Bill Maher together, lots and lots of strippers...

How could it possibly fail?

Posted by Greg Beato at 10:02 AM
November 12, 2002
Find Yourself

When Eminem made his major-label debut with "The Slim Shady LP" in early 1999, the color of his skin was only the second most striking thing about him. The first? His aggressive candor in depicting himself as a loser. While the struggle for money, power, respect, and redemption have been constant hip-hop themes for decades now, rappers who spin tales of ghetto hustling almost always portray themselves as dangerous, potent rebels, working hard to make a dollar out of a dime by destroying their enemies, controlling their hos and bitches, and outwitting the police. And rappers who pursue a message of self-determinacy and uplift tend to cast themselves in similarly heroic terms: strong, proud, and indominatable.

Every now and then, of course, rappers toss off a line about doubt or fear or failure, or maybe even a whole track, like Grand Master Flash's "The Message," or Kurtis Blow's "Eight Million Stories." But an album? With track after track about dysfunction and defeat? Eminem rapped about being rock bottom, beaten down by minimum-wage jobs, a psychotic mom, and his own sullen despair rather than cops or rival gangstas. Even when boasting he had self-esteem issues: instead of proclaiming his sexual prowess, the best he could manage were a few sad-sack lines about his genital warts.

In 1994, Beck penned the theme song for self-conscious hipsters pursuing faux underachievement as a deliberate aesthetic, but Eminem delivered the real thing: a whole album articulating the rage, ennui, and disenfranchisement of a genuine Springer Nation loser. Other factors, like a funny video and the imprimatur of Dr. Dre, may have had more to do with "The Slim Shady LP's" multi-platinum success, but it was Eminem's candor about his misanthropic impotence that made it a masterpiece.

And, of course, success robbed him of all that, a fact that Eminem was quick to acknowledge on his next album, 2000's "The Marshall Mathers Show." "They say I can't rap about being broke no more," he exclaimed on its first track. "They didn't say I can't rap about coke no more/Slut! You think I won't choke no whore?"

The message: his bad attitude wasn't merely a function of a bad environment; it was hard-wired in him too. And because that may actually be true to a certain degree, "The Marshall Mathers Show" is compelling in its own fashion, especially on "Kim," a wife-murder fantasy that exposes his first take on this genre, "'97 Bonnie & Clyde," for the cutesy shock cartoon it was. The latter was a one-note sick joke - cold-blooded snuff choreographed to a mushy love song. The former, like the more-celebrated "Stan," is genuinely literary, a white-trash gothic novel told in six minutes, an excruciating blast of uncensored psychosis punctuated by the grimmest black comedy. "How the fuck could you do this to me?!" Eminem screams near the end of the track as he prepares to kill his helpless oppressor - and has anyone ever described a batterer's pathological self-absorption in such incisive fashion?

There are other virtuoso moments on "The Marshall Mathers Show" too - from a purely technical perspective, the album's even better than his first one. But even though it has two fewer songs on it, it feels longer, it drags - you keep waiting for a track where the point isn't Eminem's anger or his victimization. Even "The Real Slim Shady," which bounces to a beat so catchy Lou Pearlman would have sacrificed two-fifths of O-Town to own it, is ultimately about disenfranchisement. Only this time, it's not Eminem's disenfranchisement from the world that's pissing him off; it's his disenfranchisement from the world of Total Request Live.

Of course, there's something fascinating about someone so popular who still prefers to see himself in terms of failure. As radios everywhere (not to mention MTV) blared "The Real Slim Shady, just as they had "My Name Is" before it, Eminem tried doggedly to rewrite history, to somehow undo his success. "Radio won't even play my jam," he rapped on "The Way I Am." "I'm a criminal/Cuz every time I write a rhyme, these people think it's a crime/to tell em what's on my mind," he rapped on "Criminal," as if somehow he could negate his triple-platinum popularity by insisting that his songs were something people didn't want to hear.

But it takes more than rhymes to earn a jail sentence these days, especially if you're famous. Thus, the events of June 3rd, 2000, twelve days after the release of "The Marshall Mathers LP." First, Eminem got into a confrontation with a guy who worked for the rap group Insane Clown Posse, then later the same day, he assaulted a man who kissed his wife Kim in the parking lot of a bar. Numerous felony and misdemeanor charges followed, along with costly legal battles, but to some, Eminem's outbursts were nothing more than a publicity stunt. But the truth is the album was already breaking sales records anyway - with that in mind, Eminem's behavior seemed more like an attempt to subvert success than court it: the idea of even greater triumph was too unsettling for him, he needed to fuck up, and fuck up big, to counteract another smashing victory.

People always compare to Eminem to Elvis, but for a while there, he seemed haunted by the ghost of Kurt Cobain: he had the same wounded charisma, the same crazy wife and beloved daughter, the same suffocating success, the same self-loathing. The only question? Who would Eminem's gun be pointing at when he finally pulled the trigger - himself or someone else?

Fortunately, that hasn't come to pass: at some point, Eminem seems to have achieved some kind of détente with fame, and with his own despair and self-loathing. But while he may be off death row, he still seems imprisoned by these things, and his work suffers for it. Like "The Marshall Mathers LP," Eminem's third album "The Eminem Show," is all about his disenfranchisement from fame, his victimization at the hands of success. These are rich subjects, sure, and there's something to be said for Eminem's recalcitrance in the face of stardom: we turn celebrities into gods these days, but with the expectation that they act happy enough for us to believe in them - and Eminem refuses to play that game.

But when he screams "Fuck you, Ms. Cheney! Fuck you, Tipper Gore!" at the end of "White America," it's hard not to laugh: he may be the only person on Earth who actually takes his critics seriously. Even worse, though, is how seriously he takes himself. The Eminem of "The Eminem Show" is as just as sour as the Eminem of "The Slim Shady LP," but where he once trucked almost solely in lacerating self-deprecation, he now adds way too much overwrought self-aggrandizement to the mix: every slur he tosses off is a valiant slur in the name of free speech, and all the silly finger-waggers who chastise him are granted powers they don't really have.

Persecuted by toothless enemies, ostracized by fellow celebrities who long for his acceptance, bedeviled by treacherous subservient women, betrayed by fickle fans who don't worship him quite enough - Eminem works hard on "The Eminem Show" to makes success sound like the only thing worse than the overwhelming failure that animated "The Slim Shady LP." But isn't there one good thing to say about being a millionaire? About fucking Mariah Carey? About the fact that the world's most powerful media companies are dying to do his bidding?

Apparently not. The only moment on "The Eminem Show" where Eminem even shows a flash of light-heartedness is the track "Square Dance," when he forsakes his inexhaustible catalog of grudges in favor of pure flow. "God, I talk a lot of hem de lay la la la/Oochie walla um da dah da dah da but you gotta gotta?" he raps, and if he kept it up for another ten seconds, one imagines, a smile might have broken through his perpetual scowl. Except for the sheer rhythmic pleasure of hip-hop, though, very little seems to give him pleasure.

And maybe that's actually true, but I doubt it. For one thing, there's his daughter whom he loves, and his ex-wife too, whom he can't quite seem to shake: reportedly, they're back together again. Plus, there has to be some upside to being a fabulously rich celebrity with ready access to the finest everything that life has to offer. So why doesn't Eminem write more frequently about what he loves about Kim, instead of only what he hates about her? And how about at least one track that isn't fueled mostly by resentment and defiance? A hit record can't undo a lifetime of damage, no doubt, but it's got to offer a little consolation.

Eminem started off as an unusually honest artist, and to a certain extent, he remains one. Indeed, the most interesting moment on "The Eminem Show" occurs on the track "Superman," where he tells a love-struck groupie why she should be careful what she wishes for: "I'll chase you around every bar you attend/Never know what kind of car i'll be in/We'll see how much you'll be partying then/You don't want that, Neither do I/I don't wanna flip when I see you with guys." This is Eminem at his candid, albeit misogynistic and paranoid, best: how many other rappers, or even men in general, would so plainly admit that even in their idealized incarnation - devoted lover - they're really not worth the effort?

But because Eminem only seems comfortable expressing what's bad about the world, and what's bad about himself, his work is beginning to feel increasingly formulaic, much too easily arrived at. In 1999, "The Slim Shady LP" was a daring move - no rapper had ever gone platinum by describing what a loser he was. Now, however, what was once fresh and unexpected is now as generic as gangsta rap: an Eminem album equals invective aimed at mom, invective aimed at Kim and his critics, invective aimed at everyone else who done him wrong, and a pledge of undying devotion to his daughter. Even as his technique improves, he's stagnating as an artist.

And now, there's Eight Mile, a cinematic rewind of his life - a replay of that era when his prickly solipsism was a necessary survival tactic rather than an artistic limitation. Back then, all Eminem had was talent and ambition: it really was him against the world. Thus, the song "Lose Yourself" from the Eight Mile soundtrack is an instant classic, urgent and inspiring, driven by hunger instead of spite (though there's a little bit of that too - Eminem wouldn't be Eminem without some measure of ill will). But, ultimately, the movie itself is just a temporary solution. Eminem's decision to pursue acting was a risky move, of course, but unfortunately it paid off. If the movie had flopped horribly, well, it's pointless to fantasize about what might have been. Instead, it's critically acclaimed, it's doing tremendous box office, it's making Eminem even more popular and even more successful. And what does that portend? Will Eminem start dissing Gwyneth Paltrow for putting him on blast on the Bravo Network? Is Tom Hanks destined to be the new Moby? Will Eminem follow up Eight Mile with a movie about a hungry rap superstar struggling against all odds to become a rap superstar/movie star?

Or who knows, maybe he'll finally reconcile himself to overwhelming success and start championing the cause of Tibetan monks. OK, maybe that's a step too far in the opposite direction. But at this point in his career, any interest he expresses in anything other than his own misery and rage can only help his art.

Previous Eminem articles:
A review of Eminem's first album
A profile of Fred Durst, with an Eminem cameo

Posted by Greg Beato at 09:22 PM