All Is Not Well In the Comment Stream
Is this the small or large matter?
One does not have to travel far to come across radically over-the-line comments on most any poetry blog that allows comments. Most of these comments do nothing but churn away at arguments or opinions that have, usually, little to do with the topic of the post. Such comments can be personal and harmful. One thing they usually are is hyper-aggressive.
So now Ron Silliman has turned off his comment stream, and I first heard about it on facebook. Maybe that means something. (At least I didn’t hear about it on Twitter, I guess.)
Are we seeing the end of a phase in blogging? Or would that be reading too much into Silliman’s decision? One of the reasons cited for his decision is how hurt Jessica Smith felt by the comment stream on his blog a few years ago when he was praising a book of hers. So it has a human element. And turning to her post:
How do age and gender play into the difficulties of the comment stream? Well, it is said (as Silliman and Smith both note) that most of the offensive comments in comment streams are from males, though at least some of that is a guess as people can use all sorts of anonymous-ish names online. But I thing it’s a pretty safe guess. Age? The assumption is that most of the bad things said online are from older (over 30? over 40?) (white?) (males?) people.
It doesn’t please me. It gets me all in the “why can’t we all just get along” mode . . . but, you know, we mostly don’t get along. Art, like politics, religion, and well, pretty much everything else, is not just predicated on disagreement, but also on power and bitterness. The comment stream, especially the anonymous comment stream, is a powerfully attractive force for people who really feel the need to vent.
So, with comment streams getting turned off, does commenting move over to facebook now, where the anonymous is gone, and one is only among “friends”? There is something to be said for that, I guess.
But the comment stream (what a pastoral concept!) is supposed to be a place where good things happen. For example, the other day I posted what I consider to be “the poem of our age,” aware that it was, well, a bit large of a statement. I was prepared for the worst. And what happened? Kazim Ali came on to remind me of a Jorie Graham poem I haven’t read in something like fifteen years. So then I had something to go do. A movement from one poem to the next. That’s when the comment stream is at its best and why I really don’t like the idea of turning it off.
We often set up a situation when we post, where the response is going to be hostile or abusive. One of those ways is by being way over the line in our assertions, right? Calling some book better than all the other books, or saying that a book or a poet is more artistically ambitious or some such tends to get people to react with hostility to what we’re saying. That seems natural, for if we say this book is better than all the other books of the last ten years, then everyone who has written a book in the last ten years is going to be, well, implicated. Same thing happens when we go all ballistic on a book or person. The defenders rise with mace and claw. But if one isn't going over the top in one's assertions, then one won't get attention for what one is saying. To say something on the Internet, the rule of the thumbs has it, one must say it BIG. We don't have time for just anything, you know.
But what if we really do think that some book is “the most amazing thing” or “the worst piece of trash”? Well, then here we are, back at squares squabbling in the comment stream. Silliman, in discussing his decision to turn off the comment stream on his blog, quoted from Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” And so I’ll quote from a Dylan song as well, not one of my absolute Dylan favorites, but a good song nonetheless:
I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound.
Someone’s always yelling “turn it down”
A difference of degree, how, as we’ve moved into Internetville and then out into the suburbs of Twitterland, our comments have become more snide, cynical. It’s like there’s a race to see who can make the most outlandish claims, and who can make the most snarky comeback. When I was young, they blamed television for the lack of civility and decorum, all those family sit-coms with the sarcastic kids and clueless, ineffectual parents, the current apotheosis of which is The Wizards of Waverly Place.
I’m not going to say that we were more civil when I was young. That would be reductive of me. We weren’t. And since most of the worst offenders are people who fit generally my profile (white heterosexual [does sexual orientation have anything to do with it?] males over 40) who grew up roughly as I did, it would be absurd to look back to a simpler time. But what is different is the way technology seems to encourage a sort of bombing raid approach to disagreement. It’s just too easy. So someone writes a post with a claim that’s inflated, as enthusiasm tends to have us do. And then someone bristles at the hyperbole and responds with a version of “you’re a wanker.” And then what? Someone else comes on with a version of “you’re a hob-knocker.”
La la la.
Addendum: I like to do fairly random google image searches to add to a post. So now I know that the above condom applicator has won some sort of "most beautiful" award. It's good to know there is someone out there keeping track of such things, you know?