By now you’ve probably heard about Google deleting Dennis Cooper’s blog and his email account. Just in case, here’s the deal: on 27th of June, Cooper tried to log into his blog, The Weaklings, as he had almost every day for the last decade, and found that it had been removed for violating Blogger’s terms of service. Stunned, Cooper and later his lawyer shot off a ton of emails to Google, asking, inviting, begging the tech behemoth to at least explain their actions. Google stonewalled. No replies, no explanation, nothing.
The whole thing’s been covered by pretty much all your major news outlets and culture mags: the Guardian, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Le Figaro, Artforum, Electric Literature, Vox (my favourite)… A petition demanding that Google restore Cooper’s accounts now has around 4500 signatures. In the glare of this kind of media attention, Google blinked and the latest is that they’re currently in top-secret discussions with Cooper’s lawyer. What the upshot of this will be is anyone’s guess.
While all this has gone down, I’ve been flitting erratically between different emotions. I’ve been livid with rage at the sheer fucking arrogance of Google, in particular its assumption that it can drag and drop an artist’s decade-long work into the trash with absolute impunity. I’ve also been deeply concerned for Cooper, who’s been a friend for a while now. I’ve seen how much work he puts into the blog, writing and publishing these enormous, amazing posts on every outré subject under the sun, full of links, images, videos, and of course GIFs 6 days out of 7 – and how devastated he was to find it had been removed.
Mostly I’ve just been sad, grieving the sudden demise of the community that was the life-blood of the blog. Those news articles about the Google fiasco by and large fail to mention the most important thing about The Weaklings for me: for the past ten years it’s been more than a blog, it’s been the hub of a community – something like a village square where people go to meet and talk. Or to choose a more appropriate analogy, it’s been that old house in the woods where the village’s teen outcasts, queers, and weirdos go to smoke cigarettes, flirt, let off steam, listen to music, talk about strange books, and build strange things together.
See things worked a little different at DC’s. Everyone knows that blogs have comments sections under posts that allow bloggers to talk with each other. And everyone also probably knows that most blogs have zero comments or if they have any at all they’re usually by bots or trolls that the blogger doesn’t respond to and why would they. But as anyone who’s spent any time around there will tell you, at Cooper’s place the comments were an incredibly important part of what made The Weaklings, The Weaklings.
In the comments section beneath a day’s post you could hang out and chat with renowned artists, little-known photographers, up-and-coming musicians, Dennis Cooper fanboys, film-directors, academics; leaners, loafers, and writers published and unpublished. All were fans to some degree and everybody came there for Cooper: to praise his work, to ask him about his next project, to offer thanks and love for changing their lives. Cooper returned that love and attention in his P.S. on the next day’s post, replying to each and every commenter. Sometime around 2011, when the number of comments regularly ballooned to over a hundred a day, Cooper would spend around 5 hours responding to what became known as the “distinguished locals” of the blog.
But if we came for Cooper, we stayed for the crowd. When I started commenting back in 2006, I never thought it was possible to feel simultaneously so stupid (there was SO MUCH amazing stuff I’d never heard of!) and so OK with that stupidity. I was learning amazing things every day from a bunch of inspiring people and it seemed like maybe everyone else was learning things too. It was a warm, fantastically fun place to be and even when we disagreed – I remember a serious set-to with one guy who was adamant that Morrissey should “come out” (into what? I thought) – our exchanges were respectful and engaged.
But the comments section had a strange tendency to spin out into real life. I remember one night revealing the painful betrayal of a friend to the other commenters who responded with anger and sympathy. One, the musician Nick Hudson, came to Brighton to console me and we ended up living together. Back in 2007 Alex Rose, an Irish artist, came to Brighton bearing a figurine of Judge Death for me because at some point I’d mentioned how important the comic 2000AD was to me when I was growing up in Nowheresville. In Washington D.C. a couple of years ago, alone, my marriage falling apart, I reached out to the poet Bernard Welt, who brought me out for lunch and showed me the warm underbelly of an otherwise frigid and forbidding town. And so on. As Cooper says in his introduction to Userlands, an anthology of writing by commenters he put out in 2007, “this is not an isolated incident” and I’m sure that every one of Dennis Cooper’s commenters has similar stories.
Seeing as everyone’s connected and contactable by Facebook and Twitter, I guess the networks of distinguished locals that were formed on the blog before it was shut down may remain more or less intact, even if The Weaklings folds. But my sadness reaches me from the future. What about the communities that were yet to be formed? What about the bonds and friendships and artworks that, in the absence of Dennis Cooper’s blog, will never be made? What about the lonely queer kid that will be a lot younger and only a little more foolish than I am now: where will he find his people? The great queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz wrote that “the here and now is a prison house” but queer artworks – queer artworks like The Weaklings – could offer us the future and the “concrete possibility for another world”: by removing Dennis Cooper’s blog, Google effectively killed off the possibility for other worlds and laid waste to the communities that would have inhabited them. Google has deleted the future.
Dennis Cooper will be coming to Brighton on October 4th and 5th to speak about his work at the University of Sussex and screen his new film at the Duke of Yorks Picturehouse with his co-director Zac Farley. You can purchase tickets to the screening (w Q&A) here. Send me an email if you wish to attend the talk at Sussex.
Dr Diarmuid Hester is the academic your mother warned you about. Writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, gorse, 3:AM, Full Stop, Mute, etc. Find him at diarmuidhester.com or on Twitter @dehester.