One of the noticeable features of American suburbia over the last couple decades is the increased tendency for the upper middle class to barricade themselves in gated communities. There are of course numerous reasons why one might choose to live in such a set-up, including of course the perception of safety as well as the perception of communing among like-minded neighbors free from the undesirable riff-raff that pollute the inner cities and whatnot. I've never of course actually lived in one of these neighborhoods, nor are there any prospects of me ever doing so (not that I lose any sleep over it, mind you). I have however visited a few of them, and they are indeed strange places. The houses are uniformly large (I've heard the term McMansions used to describe them) and similar in appearance. Yards of course are neatly trimmed. The air of similarity pervades the environment. Naturally, of course, there is a gate blocking one's entrance to these places and one must seek permission in order to be buzzed in. It's a bit easier to get out than to get in, perhaps not too surprisingly. Given that at the time that I was invited in to such communities by punks and goth wannabes who just happened to have well-off parental units, I am sure that my arrival would coincide with a depreciation in property values. The car I drove that had peace sign and Crucifucks stickers on it was probably a clue that I was one of the riff-raff that the neighbors had tried to escape.
With that long-winded introduction you might now ask me what any of this has to do with dissident bloggers. Have patience. We will make our way to this weighty topic momentarily. The gated communities are ultimately about having the right appearance, the right car, the right job, the right values. Deviations are simply not to be tolerated - as I am sure any upstanding member of the various neighborhood associations governing these communities will tell you. The pressure to conform has to be enormous. But again, keep in mind that we are dealing with upper-middle class America, here, which really hasn't evolved much since the days of Father Knows Best. The main differences are the spiffy high-tech gadgets, the bling, the Hummer in every driveway, etc. (in other words, mere window dressing).
To a degree, the phenomenon of "community blogging" is itself a middle-to-upper-middle-class endeavor (I told you I was going somewhere with this). Of course there is nothing inherently wrong with this state of affairs per se, but it does lead to some characteristics of these blogging communities which one must take care to notice lest one be subject to public scorn and ridicule. One must understand for instance that taking up space in a gated community blog is viewed as a privilege rather than a right, and that the moderators (who act as the internet equivalent of a neighborhood association) ultimately get to decide on who is privileged and who is not. There are some for whom the gate is not supposed to open. So it goes. Nothing is ever one hundred percent fool-proof of course, and just as one cannot always choose one's neighbors (or the guests of said neighbors), one cannot always choose one's blog members. Needless to say, when saddled with embarrassing neighbors, the association must take action - especially if the other neighbors have failed to do so. That pressure to conform is enormous, suffice it to say, and any good gated community has ample tools at its disposal.
In the gated community blogs, this pressure to conform usually takes on at least a couple forms: one is the in the form of using guilt and shame as a tactic to stifle nonconformist discourse. Those using this particular tactic can proceed in at least two ways. They could try to reminisce about "the good old days" when we "were all on the same side" and lament the current state of dialogue. Another weapon is to take on the role of the victim who has been "attacked" by the hordes of "savage" leftists. The tactic is most effective if delivered with a sufficiently stern motherly or fatherly voice. Sometimes the unruly member might fall for it, and clam up. Others, smelling the stench of manipulation, the embarrassing guests will continue as before, with maybe a flamewar or two added for good effect.
Another tactic I call "you're in danger of not being cool." Let's say the dissident blogger quotes a source considered taboo by the "Liberal Blogging Neighborhood Association." One can play the tactic thusly: "if you're quoting Justin Raimondo (a libertarian), you're just a step away from completing the transition to being a David Horowitz clone." Naturally, no self-respecting leftist blogger would wish to associate with neocon slime such as Horowitz, which is why the tactic can be effective in achieving sufficient conformity in order for the community to keep up appearances of respectability. Actually it's no different than the old junior high school trick of saying "if you keep doing x, you'll end up just like the weird dude who eats his boogers during pep rallies." Again, this tactic is only effective to the extent that the targets don't perceive that they're being manipulated (in which case, all bets are off, except for the endless flame wars that will continue for days on end).
If none of that works, there's always raw coercion. Some respectable member of the community (perhaps even a member of the neighborhood association) might simply go off threatening to clock the offending dissident blogger or even go so far as to threaten the dissident with the use of firearms. That particular tactic smells of desperation, and other than making one question the mental state of those issuing such threats, it's usually fairly safe to assume that the person making the threat will never carry it out. Ultimately, the threatener ends up looking stupid, losing respectability in the process, and the dissident bloggers go merrily about their business (don't forget the flame war!).
Somewhat more effective might be the threat of banishing the dissident bloggers from the neighborhood. To the extent that we humans are social animals who thrive on interaction and who become stressed out by excessive isolation, that threat can carry some substance up to a point. The weakness of that threat is that the internets allow for the formation of multiple communities that can subsequently become homes for wayward dissident bloggers, and some of those communities even exist sans the usual gates and guards and such. The gatekeepers using this tactic should also take care to avoid playing favorites, as leftist bloggers (both dissident and the more "respectable" alike) tend to be especially sensitive to injustices and what should have been a quiet gathering at the country club can quickly turn into a crowd at a pro wrestling match.
Such are the trials and tribulations of the blogging community gatekeepers, who find themselves having to deal with the community they have rather than the one that they wished for. There is another tactic that would be well worthy of consideration, and is one that I humbly offer as preferable: try listening to the dissident bloggers rather than view them as those weird aunts or uncles who must be kept hidden in order to keep up those appearances of perfect normality in blogtopia's Wysteria Lane. Doing so, means giving up the pretense of gated community perfection, and risks the potential for touchy and "embarrassing" topics to be raised (and dare I say it, even front-paged). The benefits though include added potential to learn and to perhaps even change a few opinions here and there (on all sides). Besides, a neighborhood in which all the houses look the same gets boring - wouldn't you much rather have a community with some color to it?
Credit where credit is due: blogtopia was coined by skippy; the term "gated community blogs" was coined by Ductape Fatwa.