Thursday, July 12, 2007

Say that to my face.

If you know me at all, you know I love the internets, and I read blogs all the time. It's my bag, baby. But I can never get over how utterly ruthless commenters are. (Not here, of course; you beautiful babies always treat me nice, say-thankya). I was reading this list of mostly-underrated actors, and it seemed to me pretty fair. The author was obviously looking for people who weren't necessarily headliners (with the exception of the always congenial Dr. House), but who brought depth and quality to their characters. While I didn't agree with all of them, a couple of the choices were pretty dead-on (Ben Linus from "Lost"? Bill Buchanan from "24"? Good calls, Larry.)

Fool that I am, I then clicked on the "comments" section. Wow. The first few entries were polite and engaging, offering alternate suggestions of actors they felt were overlooked. Then it devolved into "I'm sorry, but your list sucks." Mild enough, but from there, a few of the comments got really personal.

[Side-rant: A pet peeve of mine that is steadily gaining ground is the "I'm-sorry-but" formation. If you go on to say something insulting, degrading, rude, or confrontational, than your "I'm sorry" is a friggin' lie, and you just don't have the...guts to stand behind your statement. If you were "sorry," you probably wouldn't say it. Your "I'm sorry" really means "I know what I'm about to say crosses the line, but I still don't want to be called out on it." Grow some backbone, and say what you're gonna say, but don't gimme this bullcrap wannabe-polite backhanded insult stuff. It's weak, it's childish, and it's one-hundred-and-ten-percent transparent. Rant over. Continue.]

How can a person feel comfortable about telling a complete stranger that their personal picks for best actors is a "self-indulgent wish list" and then implying the author is picking "second-string" actors because he's not a "real" writer for a news publication and has some kind of subliminal nerd vendetta?

And then there's the commenters who took the cheap shots like, "Hmm, 7 are white males. Interesting." As if there needs to be some quota of minorities and women on a list of favorite actors for it to be "legitimate"? What is that about? Just come out and say it: you think the author is a bigot. (One of them did, calling the author a sexist.)

These comments are completely tame and almost laughable, compared to what I've seen on other sites. Really. Those are nothing. The incidents I've seen on other sites ranged from obscene and attacking comments to hate-filled, threatening emails (CONTENT WARNING) to even full-on death and torture threats from strangers (see the Kathy Sierra ordeal). And don't even get me started on political blogs and news-sites. It can sometimes reach the level of restraining orders and further legal action.

What's going on here? How did it get to this point? When did civility die, and how did I miss the funeral?

I'm not talking about fair criticism on a personal blog. Heck, I'm not even talking about unfair criticism on a personal blog. Would I be embarrassed if Bono asked me about the post where I bashed some of his recent music? Sure. Should I stop posting about it? No. Because this is my dumb little nothing blog, they'll never see it, and I don't think that stating my opinion of their music is wrong.

Who I have a SERIOUS problem with are the masked men who go on other people's websites and threaten and insult them. The people who harrass and slander. The people--the animals--who threaten and initimidate and stalk perfect strangers because of what they wrote on a friggin website. That makes me sick inside. And it embarrasses and stains all bloggers, the vast majority of whom use the medium for fun and information (or to bag on their 7th-grade classmates).

I don't have a solution for this. But I really needed to get it off my chest. No one--not you, not me, not anyone--has the right to go onto someone's personal blog and treat them so badly, so offensively. That's like being invited into your neighbor's house, and then spitting on the floor, insulting his wife, and punching him in the throat. No member of a civilized society can justify that. Yet so many do, hiding behind the seemingly-impenetrable veil of ones and zeroes.

Admittedly, the comments that sparked today's rant were absolutely nothing. It was mild, and instantly forgettable. In and of itself, unworthy of comment. But I think it's also symptomatic. The person who feels they have the right to directly question the education and abilities of a writer on a major website, to try to cheapen and belittle them based on their OPINIONS, is simply the predecessor of something darker, scarier, and more dangerous.

(And seriously, what kind of short fuse do you have to have to go from "zero" to "insulting," just because someone didn't mention Vincent D'Onofrio on a list of good actors? High-strung, much?)

Just something to think about. If you find yourself heatedly exchanging comments on a website, no matter what the subject, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable saying that comment to the person's face. Standing toe to toe, looking them in the eyes, and making that comment. If not, then you probably should just hit "cancel" and take a walk. Even if you think you're right. Because "winning" isn't worth it.

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