Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Armed Hyenas: Walk Away From the Keyboard!"

Followspot has been useful, interesting, and frequently entertaining to me. I've always enjoyed Tim's cryptic and smart reviews, as well as the more thoughtful responses to them posted by readers. And, I always look forward to his interviews with local theater artists who are doing work at a high and exemplary level. By writing in a focused way about local theater productions and local theater artists--and by posting responses--Tim both helps knit together the local theater community and raise the bar for its work.

One huge weakness of any public blog that accepts unsolicited--and generally unmoderated--comments from its readers is that it can get hijacked by its readers with their own agendas, often anonymously. So, occassionally, a thread that begins innocuously enough as a forum for commenting on a show will devolve quickly into a murky screaming match between the armed hyenas who have taken over the cockpit and other readers who keep talking to them, assuming that SOMEONE still knows how to fly the plane. But, there is no talking the hyenas down, and so the thread wanders through the public airspace, lurching and dipping, never quite crashing, but making everyone sick in the process. Eventually, everyone just falls silent, and the damn thread runs out of gas, crashing silently somewhere out of sight in the dark jungles of communal psychosis.

And, so it is on the thread that purported to comment on THE TEMPEST. Things just got ridiculous. Tim's elegant forum turned into a food fight between petty, inarticulate, emotionally infantile, and very, very angry readers. Many of the posts seemed to be borderline psychotic, to my eyes, though again, that is often the nature of posting online, where we often seem to be inhabiting a communal dreamscape rather than a public square. Often, I can shrug off the psychotic quality of angry blog postings because I know that I'll never actually be dealing with these people; they're very far away, not only intellectually and emotionally, but geographically. They're in Arizona or Istanbul. Not my problem. But, I find them harder to shrug off when they're right next door. Perhaps literally. I don't like finding myself thinking less of people, whom I'm going to see on a regular basis, after they've succumbed to screaching online, under the cover of an "anonymous" signature which, as often as not, is a thin disguise, at best.

Things got so out of hand on this one thread that I worry Tim will be tempted to trying out new security measures to keep the armed hyenas out. But, I hope he just sticks it out, trusting that the occassional nutball thread won't undermine the more adult and artistic conversations that he hosts. If anyone sees him at the bar, buy him a drink, okay? He probably needs it.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

"borderline psychotic" seems a little exaggerated.

David said...

I was being gently hyperbolic, but actually, I don't think that "borderline psychotic" is much of an exaggeration, though I don't claim to have the competence to dish up a diagnosis. I think that otherwise sane people post online in a more fluent and unguarded way than, perhaps, even in a private journal. The online world seems to me to be a communal dreamscape, a realm with no borders save those of the imagination. Online writers are free to project their own demons onto others' words without any apparent, 'real world' checks. And, as online writers allow their rhetoric to get more and more baroque, they seem relatively unable to distinquish between the rhetoric and substance of their own complaints. It all begins to sound pretty psychotic.

One good reality check, for a writer of any kind, is his or her own ability to construct a substantive argument and interpret those constructed by others. S/he needs the ability--and will--to recognize when their own words are merely hot air, or when they're dangerously ambiguous, or inadvertantly self-revealing abut things having nothing to do with the subject being written about.

Back in the early 1980s, when personal computers were just beginning to hit the streets, I found myself impatient with all the hand-wringing about how computers would decrease literacy. I couldn't quite get that, since computers require you to read and write, after all. I felt just as perplexed by the hand-wringing over fears of encroaching illiteracy with the boon of the internet, for the same reason. You have to read and write. You need to develop some basic feel for every day logic in order to successfully construct a boolean search. You need to learn to distinquish between the crap and the substantive stuff on Wikipedia. And so on. But, I have perhaps been too sanguine. Maybe the 'dreamscape' like environment of the online world pushes writers back into more atavistic behavior rather than forward into evermore sophisticated literacy. Or, maybe, people are just more stupid than I think, and always will be.

In any event, if online writers don't want to sound psychotic, they need to learn how to write.

David said...

Oh, and by the way: over-reliance on profanity--which I don't have any fuck'n problem with, when used to good effect--does not constitute good writing style, or do much to individuate one writer's voice from the pack. Over-relying on profanity makes a writer sound just like everyone else, and is wearisome. Reading it is like listening to a boor use his 'outdoor voice' indoors.

Anonymous said...

Do you think you would feel this way if the post didn't strike so close to home or if the people posting were identified?

David said...

Yes, I do. I don't think posters would write with such vitriol if they used their own names, at least not on Followspot.

Anonymous said...

followspot himself being, of course, originally anonymous, and never using his own name.

David said...

Yah, Followspot was anonymous for quite a while. He has also been responsible--and measured--in his comments the whole while, at least so far as I remember. If he'd been a ranter, the 'anonymous' conceit would have bothered me. It's the ranting that I don't really like; doing it undercover of 'anonymous' just makes the ranting grate more.

I occassionally post anonymously--to Followspot and elsewhere--when I feel that I have something particularly worthwhile to say, but am afraid that saying it under my name would unnecessarily complicate my relationships with particular people. But, when I do, I take particular care to write dispassionately and in a spirit of inquiry.

David Loftus said...

There is a difference, I would like to think, between posting snotty comments anonymously about people you don't know (and therefore you are faced with little or no consequences even if your identity were to be revealed) and posting critical comments anonymously about people you do know and therefore with whom you have relationships you would like to preserve. Even people who love you may have a hard time taking criticism, especially when it is made "publicly" (i.e., online).

Kenic..er, I mean "Anonymous" said...

David, you suck. Like a sucking sucker who sucked in first place in a sucking contest held at Suck Park in Sucktown--sponsored by the Suck Foundation and by generous contributions from sucking viewers like you (thank you!). And you suck, too. And you'll never, ever know where these sucking insults came from! Bwahahahahaha!!!!

P.S.-See you Thursday....

David Loftus said...

That's extremely mean and unfair.


Sometimes I blow.


Chunks.



Big ones.

Kenichi said...

Have I ever mentioned how awesome both of you Davids are? I should. (And yes, I'm being very sincere.)

David Loftus said...

Oh . . . man!

What did I ever do to you?