Israel and Feldman: High school 2.0?

In what has to qualify as the longest-running bitchmeme — or blogosphere soap opera — in recorded history, Loren Feldman of 1938media and “social media” guru Shel Israel (who co-authored the book Naked Conversations with Robert “Scobleizer” Scoble) continue to fight their bizarre feud throughout the battlefields of new media: Twitter, blogs, YouTube and FriendFeed. Their weapons? Injured pride, hand puppets and righteous indignation. And to some extent, we who follow them on the various social networks are the audience, the judge and jury, a variation on the Greek chorus yelling advice, and occasionally just amused bystanders, unsure of what the heck is going on.

So what is going on? A quick recap: Shel is a social-media consultant and Loren Feldman is a former actor who started a video-production business called 1938media.com and began doing video blog posts about some of the personalities in the blogosphere — Michael Arrington, Jason Calacanis, Dave Winer, etc. Loren has a New York accent and attitude, and doesn’t pull any punches either in language or delivery, looking straight into the camera and calling people out if he thinks they need to be called out. It’s refreshing, and it’s often pretty funny — but it is also occasionally kind of mean-spirited, in that “Hey, you’re a moron, and your mom dresses you funny” kind of way. Think Don Rickles with video.

Loren’s videos “taking the piss” (as the Brits say) out of Mike Arrington and Jason Calacanis got him a lot of attention, and he has wound up becoming friends with both of them — and as far as I can tell is now working on doing the same with Julia Allison (here’s the two of them discussing what is okay and what isn’t okay as far as parody goes). One of the places where Loren made friends with Mike was at mesh 2007, when Mike was a keynote and Loren was on a panel about video, and for the record Loren was polite and funny and a pleasure to have as a panelist. I did a video with him, and he was a real pro.

Over the past few months, Loren has been making fun of Shel and his video interviews, which until recently Shel was doing through FastCompany.tv (where Scoble now works). The early videos were fairly painful to watch, and Loren sent a lot of Twitter messages and so on around about how bad they were — and then came the puppets. In a flash of evil genius, Loren came up with the idea of doing interviews with a puppet version of Shel, and has since done them with a number of people, some of whom Shel knows. I confess that I find the videos pretty funny — even though Shel has made it clear that he doesn’t, and that he resents people like Mike Arrington supporting Loren, and resents friends who are playing along with the joke.

One of the reasons I decided to write about all this is that there are some fascinating debates going on about the implications and issues involved, and most of those discussions are taking place on FriendFeed. There’s a thread from a few days ago in which Chris Pirillo compared what is happening to the abuse of Kathy Sierra (a comparison I took issue with in a comment on that thread — I think they are very different); there’s also a thread that Dave Winer started, in which he rails against people who defend Loren, blames Mike Arrington, attacks complete strangers, and draws some comments from Loren as well as support and non-support from a host of others.

As Mike Arrington notes in one thread, Dave’s role in all this is a lot more murky than he would like to let on: some early Twitter messages make it clear that Dave thought the videos were pretty funny, and that Shel was handling them the wrong way by getting his back up, instead of laughing along the way Mike and Jason and Scoble have. Those Twitter messages have been deleted. Dave has also taken some of his own shots at Loren and has also said some fairly mean things about Stowe Boyd in the past (although he says they are friends now).

In Twitter messages, Loren has said that Shel took shots at him when he was starting out, and that in some sense what he is doing is payback. I asked him about that on FriendFeed, and his response is here. But he also argues that what he is doing — whether it’s mean-spirited or not — is funny, and that he finds Shel’s reaction to what he’s doing fascinating, in the sense that a social-media guru can’t seem to figure out how to handle it. Is it funny? Opinions differ on that front. I think a lot of it *is* funny (although I thought the Tech Nigger routine crossed the line), and the problem with edgy comedy is that it’s not always clear what is too far until the line has been crossed.

I must admit that on a certain level, whether it’s high school 2.0 or not, I find the whole thing fascinating too. The latest installment is here.

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