Thursday, September 09, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 218 (9/9) -- The Dog Dialed 911 by the editors of The Smoking Gun

The Internet might not have actually created more information -- in fact, it's easy to argue the opposite: that it's created massive amounts of misinformation -- but it certainly has made lots of information more swiftly and easily accessible to vastly more people than any single previous advance in human history. Of course, that information is still surrounded by the oceans of Internet misinformation, lies, half-truths, biased reporting, and (above all else) unsupported, ignorant opinion. But, as every problem is also an opportunity -- which may or may not be illustrated by a trite story about Chinese characters -- plenty of people have spent lots of time and effort to unearth what they consider to be good and reliable information, stick it up on the Internet, and see what happens next.

This year, it's Wikileaks. But five or six years ago, the reigning star of the "stuff various people really wish you didn't know about" was The Smoking Gun, a site that (then and now) specialized in posting real documents, with minimal commentary. TSG's two big foci were (and are) celebrity and crime, with a special emphasis on things that fall into both categories simultaneously. So they posted a lot of contracts and riders from various famous people (including the well-known Van Halen demand for brown-M&M-free dressing rooms), a lot of mug shots, and lots and lots of police reports and court documents (affidavits, motions, etc.)

And, since book publishing is always ready to do the same thing as other media -- only a year later and in a more permanent form -- TSG begat The Dog Dialed 911 back in 2006, two or three hundred Internet memes ago. It's exactly what you'd expect from a TSG book -- a collection of documents, nearly all of them embarrassing if not scandalous for the people named in them. It's got pictures of counterfeit money (with George W. Bush's face on it), details of Rush Limbaugh's drug addiction, plenty of mug shots (of the famous and non-), and lots of other things about criminal and antisocial behavior, particularly those involving sex and drugs.

It's entertaining in a voyeuristic way -- not that I'm in any position to judge, since I bought the thing (admittedly, as a cheap remainder several years later) and read it. At this point, though, some of the scandals (the aforementioned Mr. Limbaugh, Kobe Bryant's rape trial, Bill O'Reilly's sexual harassment suit) are old and mostly forgotten, which lowers the titillation factor. And TSG does have a focus on the seamier side of life that becomes unpleasant in large doses -- I'd only recommend reading this book as I did, a page or two at a time over the course of several months. This is fun to dabble in, but a steady diet of it would ruin anyone.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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