Earlier this week, Andrew Sullivan announced to his readers that he would soon be ending his blog. There was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth from the audience, and now Sullivan is reconsidering (or, to be more precise, is looking into the idea of having the blog continue without him at the helm, instead run by a team of people). One need look no further than RogerEbert.com to see how something like this might play out, what with the film critic's web site continuing to publish the reviews of others after he passed away almost two years ago.
In truth, I am uneasy about such things. It can be argued that Ebert's web site has been a success since his death. Admittedly, I periodically check its reviews, and sometimes happen across a reviewer who I likely never would have heard of otherwise. That's what Ebert was wanting, I think -- both to keep film criticism alive, and to nurture a new crop of reviewers, giving them the needed exposure. It's not the same, of course, going from a repository of one man's opinions to that of many but, yes, it might be working.
The situation with Andrew Sullivan is similar to that of Ebert's, though Sullivan is thankfully very much alive and with us. When a web site has been known for so long for the being the voice of one person -- his thoughts, opinions and feelings -- is it possible to shift it over (successfully) to being representative of many voices? Granted, he's had others contribute to the blog over the years, but predominantly when he was on vacation or otherwise indisposed. Readers knew that Sullivan would be coming back. How about now?
What we are seeing, both with Andrew Sullivan and with Roger Ebert, is the emergence of their names as a brand (a bit of corporate-speak I can barely stomach, but one which seems to be here to stay). No longer individual men, their names are enough to mean something, even without their direct involvement. That, dear reader, is a brand. We've seen this occur in the literary world, with the "new" books from Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, written by Jill Paton Walsh and Sophie Hannah, respectively.
There can certainly be healthy debate as to whether or not the 'branding' of individuals is a good or bad thing, though it would seem there can no longer be any debate that it is, indeed, happening. I dunno, it rubs me the wrong way a little. I developed an affinity for folks like Ebert, Sullivan, Christie and Sayers for how they wrote, for their individual voices. It's difficult for me to make the adjustment from the person to the brand.
One is reminded how this situation is, in many ways, the precise opposite of those Latin words on the great seal of the United States: E Pluribus Unum -- "Out of many, one." Nowadays, it seems to be many from the one. Still not sure what I think of that.