As the various waves of Internetdom have come, the Internet has increasingly been seen as a new egalitarian frontier. Of course, like most frontiers, there’s only so much room before new hierarchies form themselves.
About 14 years ago, you could be an instant millionaire if you came up with a new idea of how to use the Internet (still can, but it’s rarer). The “Web” was going to provide all sorts of great ways to do business with little overhead–some of them worked; some didn’t.
Then came Drudge Report, then Blogging–and, suddenly, anyone could be a journalist. Any Joe Schmoe with the right info could now break a national story by publishing it online. And lots of cases that merely would have been local before became national. For example, shortly after this blog was formed, a girl in California named Katelyn Sills became an Internet celebrity (at least in some circles) because of a row that she and her parents had had with her Catholic-in-name-only high school (which has since closed due to donations and enrollments dropping since the incident). After numerous other beefs with the school’s liberalism, Katelyn’s parents had pointed out that, while they were protesting in front of the local abortuary, they had seen one of the school’s teachers, Marie Bain, serving as a Planned Parenthood escort (you know, the people who “protect” women from the “dangerous” pro-lifers). Bain was fired by diocesan order, but Sills was expelled by the principal, and her parents were banned from the school.
It is the kind of experience that a lot of people have had at “Catholic” schools over the years–the Internet made it a story.
As it happens, I wondered in all this why no one had reported on Marie Bain herself (at the school, she was teaching drama, and she was supposedly an actress), so I Googled her name, and wrote a post about some of the previous work in her acting resume–information I found off of such places as IMDB and Bain’s own website–and got myself a mention on a radio talk show. I also got accused by a liberal of unfairly digging into this woman’s background (again, by Googling her name and finding a list of plays and movie’s she’d appeared in, all public record).
In the old days, a liberal priest preached heresy, and the laity who actually cared had to 1) shut up and put up with it, 2) switch parishes (if the other pastor would let them), or 3) be labelled a fruitcake fringe element (this included those who actually sent reverent and documented letters to bishops). Now, laity who are disgruntled with their pastors’ heterodoxy and/or liturgical abuses–and have the evidence to back it up–can post that evidence online.
Live in a parish that encourages people to come in costume to the Vigil Mass of All Saints? Bring a digital video recorder–or just your cell phone, and then upload the video to YouTube! The priest may even get a verbal reprimand from his bishop!
Proud that your parish “invited” you to dance half-naked in front of the altar to a recording of a Celine Dion song? Post it on YouTube, but don’t expect lots of positive feedback (comments on that particular video are apparently disabled).
Now, a priest named Fr. Joseph P. Breen of Nashville, TN, posted a video on his parish website of an “interview” in which he declares that the Church needs to change its teachings on issues like women’s ordination, contraception, etc. See, Fr. Breen has seen the amazing numbers of people flocking to fill Episcopalian MegaChurches, and, like many people of his generation, he thinks that these are the kinds of moves the Church needs to bring in more collection basket revenue to pay for his impending retirement to a tropical island.
Instead, it brought in a wave of protest, centering around a post at Creative Minority Report. The Most Rev. David Choby, Bishop of Nashville, ordered Breen to take down the video (which he did), and is considering further canonical action.
This never would have happened even a decade ago. I’ve directly heard at least 4 priests issue this kind of direct tirade–in person or from the pulpit–and have heard of many others (all of them wishing for the death of then Pope John Paul II so they’d get a “liberal” Pope–bet they were surprised!) One of those priests apparently gave the “homily” precisely because he was about to be ousted. In most of these cases, the people who *rejected* the homilies in favor of orthodoxy. Meanwhile, the rare priests I’ve known who’ve given homilies directly condemning the many evils of our society end up getting sent off to mental hospitals after offending “the wrong people.”
Anyway, another manifestation of the way the Internet is changing things is how connected we’ve become with Facebook and Twitter. Facebook, used properly, lacks the anonymity of message boards and blogs or the relative distance of traditional websites. In the early years of the Internet, you knew that it was possible that someone “famous” might be reading your posts, but they rarely contributed except in special guest chat sessions or whatever.
Sometimes, you might have a moderately famous person as a member of your listserv or forum. And of course, you could always comment on *their* blogs and sites, or send them e-mails, and might possibly get some feedback.
And if you *did* have someone on your forum or e-mail who claimed to be “important,” or even just an “inside source,” you were highly suspicious of the claims, due to the anonymity of things.
Now, with FB and Twitter, people of all classes and strata are interacting on a regular basis. You never know for certain if the “famous people” among your “friends” or “followers” are actually reading *your* posts, though sometimes they do comment on something you say.
There is always the question of whether the person on FB or Twitter really is whom they claim to be. For example, there was a bit of controversy recently over a guy claiming to be Jim Caviezel. Sometimes, celebrities on FB or Twitter even show that they’re just like the rest of us to the point that they tick people off. People don’t like finding out that their idealized pro-life hero has a potty mouth or that Scott Baio’s wife issued a rant on Twitter. So people may actually accuse the real person of being a fraud, even though they’re legit. And, of course, a person may have an “official” FB page or Twitter feed managed by an assistant, so you can’t be certain if the more personal posts are from that person or the assistant. The only way you can ultimately know that is by reading regular statuses.
Anyway, I was up last night worrying and praying over a crisis in my family. Ironically, it hit home for me precisely because of something on Facebook. The relative in question posted some troubling statuses. I tried to reach out, and he shut down his account immediately. I was rather shaken, and prayed, and wasn’t able to focus on my usual work because of it. So I was staring at FB.
Among the many pro-life leaders among my 900+ FB friends is Kathy Ireland. The former model turned fashion mogul is married to an OB/Gyn and attributes her own pro-life stance to reading her husband’s medical books (for this, the liberals in the media call her a stupid air headed model). In addition to more “acceptable” charities like Make a Wish, she’s very involved in pro-life work and has been a popular conservative “celebrity guest” on talk shows for the past decade or so.
Since I have so many FB friends, it’s rather random whose statuses show up, but around 3 AM last night, Kathy Ireland started posting *a lot* of statuses. First quotations, and then abstract reflections on life, intermixed with frustrations about insomnia and having to be up in 2 hours to get ready for work and a TV appearance. And, in the midst of those status updates, she said that the *reason* she was up and worrying about a relative with the same kind of problems.
In that particular instance, there was no direct communication, because she was posting through Twitter (which I do not actively use except to relay this blog feed), but it just struck me how close these social networking tools really bring us to one another, I where the elites and the nobodies meet in the same virtual space to share the fact that we are all just human beings, having the same human experiences.