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March 03, 2007

In Defense of "Wanker of the Day"

By Ezra

It's sort of an odd quirk of Atrios's site that you really have to follow it for awhile before some of the elements make sense. For instance, I eventually broke down and e-mailed the man (the myth, and the legend) himself to figure out why someone named "Holden" kept getting ponies every time a new poll came out. Similarly, I'm sure if you just drop in every so often, "Wanker of the Day" seems like a drive-by vulgarity, a slab of red meat for an already gorged audience. But the feature actually has a substantive point.

Among other things, the lefty blogosphere was founded on a critique of the mainstream media that argued, contrary to popular belief, that the media was not actually liberal. The individuals who comprised it may have been tolerant on cultural issues, but years of sustained attacks from the right had cowed reporters into a hollow set of "objective" protocols that served to obscure truth rather than enhance it. Simultaneously, decades of sustained attacks on liberals had spurred "serious pundits" to underscore their independence by routinely attacking the left. The result was a media which may have voted Democratic, but was fairly hostile to progressivism.

"Wanker of the Day" is not an argumentative feature, it is a reinforcing one. It exists to repeatedly provide evidence for a critique of the media that is only now leaving the margins. Atrios's epiphany was that you had to actually prove it day after day, not merely argue it. Since this was a somewhat counterintuitive take on reportage, it had to be buttressed -- and not just once, but repeatedly. Now, you can argue about the language ("wanker") or even deny the feature's legitimacy, but it does have a point -- it's not simply rhetorical extremism or red meat.

March 3, 2007 | Permalink


It's also worth pointing out the other side of "Wanker of the Day", which is that conservative pundits are allowed to say basically anything and still be considered within the realms of acceptable discourse (see today's Ann Coulterism, for instance).

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Mar 3, 2007 4:24:21 PM

That's the best defense of the (annoying) practice.

I don't buy it, but at least it's a legitimate idea.

Posted by: a | Mar 3, 2007 4:43:11 PM

Atrios is a master of concision and distillation. He's like the quiet, perceptive dude in high school who's hand is on the pulse of a certain segment of alienated students, the one who comes up with the perfect nicknames for people, especially the wanker teachers, and coins a few sayings that everyone borrows because they convey complex yet widely shared emotions with a few words. You could write a book on the media's maddening love affair with faux-maverick John McCain, or you can label him the Saint and leave it at that. Sometimes Atrios amuses me and I don't know why, like when he says, "Why is Ken Pollack on my teevee?" Why is that funny?

And I still don't understand the ponies bit.

Posted by: david mizner | Mar 3, 2007 4:49:47 PM

Your brain makes me happy. Thanks.

Posted by: bonnieg | Mar 3, 2007 4:52:59 PM

I eventually broke down and e-mailed the man (the myth, and the legend) himself to figure out why someone named "Holden" kept getting ponies every time a new poll came out.

Did he direct you to the font of all human knowledge?

Posted by: Allen K. | Mar 3, 2007 5:01:08 PM

It amazes me how many people are offended by the word "wanker". Would it be more civil and mainstream if he called it "Idiot of the Day"? What about Olberman's "The Worst Person in the World" feature? Is that offensive as well?

Posted by: Col Bat Guano | Mar 3, 2007 5:01:28 PM

Very well said Ezra. And Minzer, once again, you hit on the thing that I like about Atrios the most, his capacity to reduce the tons of babble into a few, salient lines, a single point perhaps, post it, and then let the comments fly.

The only thing I miss about Eschaton was when the comments were more of a discussion of the issues than a social club for the commentors. That said, the essence of the site, Atrios, is still there and there are a number of good sites where discussion takes place.

And the ponies thing, it's really no mystery.

Posted by: ice weasel | Mar 3, 2007 5:05:35 PM

The catalyst for 'Wanker of the Day' can be seen in this post from The Poor Man.

We've got a lot of terms of derision which express similar ideas - "douchebag" comes quite close - but miss the mark by being too intense. Calling someone a "dick" or a "douchebag" isn't dismissive enough - it expresses too much active disgust, as opposed to passive contempt. "Tool" is very close, but doesn't have the same je ne sais pas. "Loser" is alsoquite close, but it isn't shameful enough. Everybody loses all the time; it's not fun, it's not a source of pride, but normal people don't have any problem talking about it. Only wanking is really wanking.

In Britain, things are different. Sure, there are plenty of wankers there, but it's not such a problem, because when you spot one, you can just say "Oi! Clear off, you wanker!" Powerless to resist one who holds his True Name, bound by a Geas that the Gods themselves cannot sunder, the wanker, Rumplestiltskin-like, must depart. He has been brought low by the superior man; his punishments is properly awarded, he knows how to move his feet to effect an exit. Harmony, once again, reigns.

As Atrios said in January 2005, "It's time to integrate this word into American Standard English." Hence, WotD.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Mar 3, 2007 5:11:54 PM

I think this may be Atrios's greatest contribution to the discourse, the one word phrase that may outlive him and be cited be historians as they examine the emergence of the netroots and that which it opposed:

"A Friedman."

Beautiful, no?

And I thought this was funny, from the Wik:

"Wanker literally means "one who wanks" (masturbates). It is generally intended as a general insult, rather than a literal accusation. Wanker conveys similar meanings and overtones to U.S.A. pejoratives like "jerk",[1] "jerk-off", and "prick". In particular, it may connote a self-obsessed, show-off person (usually male).[2] In December 2000, research published by the Advertising Standards Authority into attitudes of the British public to pejoritives ranked wanker as the fourth most severe pejorative in English."

Posted by: david mizner | Mar 3, 2007 5:12:04 PM

And the salient point of The Editors' comment is this, in reference to Jonah Goldberg:

patient application of the word "wanker" will diminish him, bit by bit, for such are the laws of Heaven. And then, one day, he will be gone.

There are too many wankers in American political discourse; the fact that they generally seem gleeful to be called as such is actually further proof of their wankerdom.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Mar 3, 2007 5:18:56 PM

All good points, but I do think Atrios has gotten a little lazy over time. When he gets going, he's still capable of good commentary and analysis, but at times days if not weeks go by before he'll actually post anything of substance.

More than anything, his site seems to retain its A-list ranking due to inertia and the above-mentioned crowd of commenters who've turned the site into their own social club, thereby keeping the traffic level artificially high.

Posted by: fiat lux | Mar 3, 2007 5:30:49 PM

Atrios' supposed laziness aside, no matter how non-substantive his posts are, the links he provides are informative and generally very timely. Atrios has said on many occasions that if Digby posted more often, he wouldn't have to blog at all. I think they are two sides of the same coin: Atrios points out the absurdities, and Digby deconstructs them.

Posted by: Media Glutton | Mar 3, 2007 5:51:27 PM

Over at Shakes' comments, we've long been tired of the terribly overused wanker; I've noticed a branching-out of late, with commenters and contributors alike invoking such neoclassics as wankstain, douchenozzle, and the smash-hit (but context-dependent) Christofascist. This week saw the introduction of an interesting new contender: squirrel melt.

But I'm not sure what we're going to do about this one commenter who said that what Anne Coulter really needs is a hug. Re-education via neologisms, for starters.

Posted by: l | Mar 3, 2007 5:58:55 PM

(that "l" is me. Weirdness abounds during the full moon. *sigh*)

Posted by: litbrit | Mar 3, 2007 6:00:55 PM

The web isn't good at preserving its own history in a narrative sense, but I can remember when the 'vulgar left' was Bartcop and Bush Watch and American Politics Journal and the late, much-loved Media Horse Online. Oh, and Betty Bowers, who is a better Christian than you.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Mar 3, 2007 6:10:47 PM

And I still don't understand the ponies bit.

Posted by: david mizner | Mar 3, 2007 1:49:47 PM

See, here

Way back in the dark days of March (or maybe April?) 2004, Holden bet me [Athenae of First-Draft] $50 that Bush would drop below 40 percent approval rating by the 4th of July. Since Holden was clearly a crude and fuckwitted peddler of nonsense, I agreed to his silly wager.

Over the next months, we proceeded to taunt one another, until finally Holden insulted my womanhood or something, so I was forced to reveal that he is, in fact, a girl who wears a frilly dress.

Thus began the great Eschaton Civil War. There were teams. The teams had uniforms. Mine were better. Holden’s had more lace.

But there’s only so much clothing online, and so we ran out of ugly bridesmaids dresses to clothe one another in, and thus it was revealed that Holden, in addition to being a frilly girl, also rode a pony.

Somehow (there was a lot of liquor involved) this bet evolved into Bush’s sucky poll numbers resulting in Holden ACQUIRING a pony, rather than just riding one, and now they are irrevocably linked: Bush sucks, Holden gets a pony.

More than anything, his site seems to retain its A-list ranking due to inertia and the above-mentioned crowd of commenters who've turned the site into their own social club, thereby keeping the traffic level artificially high.

Posted by: fiat lux | Mar 3, 2007 2:30:49 PM

The commenters are only a very small fraction of the people who visit Eschaton.

It serves very well as a bellweather of the left blogosphere.

Posted by: Bas-O-Matic | Mar 3, 2007 7:11:20 PM

I always assumed that Atrios picked up this usage of "wanker" from Tom Tomorrrow's "This Modern World" comics. Sparky the Wonder Penguin used to exclaim "George Bush Is A Wanker!" back in the days of the other Bush. I think Sparky has aimed that term at pundits and reporters frequently as well over the decades.

Posted by: Jacel | Mar 3, 2007 7:53:49 PM

Sorry, I don't buy into the inertia with regard to Eschaton's popularity and influence. It's nowhere near that simple and, it's just wrong. Duncan Black has a very keen sense for picking out interesting stuff to post. If you wish he would write more blather, well, I do too. But that's never really been the point of Eschaton, at least I think that's the case.

And yes, this comes from someone as annoyed by the Eschaton comment clique as anyone.

Posted by: ice weasel | Mar 3, 2007 8:27:15 PM

I stopped opening up Atrios' comments a couple of years ago, when every single comment thread started with "frist!".

litbrit, my favorite insult over at Shakes was "retrofuck jackhole" - they can get creative with the vulgarities over their, and I thank them for it.

Posted by: maurinsky | Mar 3, 2007 9:30:20 PM

I'm with Ice Weasel. Eschaton is my first blog stop of the day, because Atrios has the talent for picking out and linking to the stories/ideas that are going to be talk of the blogosphere. In a sense, he gives me an introduction/table of contents for the more in-depth posts I read at other blogs (like this one).

Posted by: Samba00 | Mar 3, 2007 9:32:24 PM

The gang at Shakes' place has the advantage of Brits and spouses of Brits, and as such, the swearing is bound to be more creative. (I thank b3ta for 'fucksocks'.)

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Mar 3, 2007 9:36:05 PM

What I want to know is how he finds the time - he must have a very well-tuned rss aggregator system to keep it up. And I too haven't read the comments in years.

Posted by: john I | Mar 3, 2007 11:05:56 PM

Maurinsky, I love retrofuck jackhole too. Now, where did The Doughy Pantload come from (no, please, not literally; the name)? Was that an Ezra-generated moniker or a Shakesism--or does it hail from another land altogether?

Posted by: litbrit | Mar 3, 2007 11:10:15 PM

litbrit: the top result from teh googlez marks the canonical point from which 'Doughy Pantload' sprang, like Athena, full-form'd from the skull of Zeus. More here.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Mar 3, 2007 11:28:00 PM

Why does Atrios keep giving ponies to someone named Holden everytime Bush reaches a new low in the polls?

Will someone please, please, please explain? I have been confused about this for YEARS NOW.

Posted by: Please Answer Me | Mar 3, 2007 11:45:31 PM

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