Tuesday, August 03, 2010

All Is Not Well in the Comment Stream (The Second and Final Part)

A love letter to the world?

One last thing and then I’m moving on. I’m currently rereading The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, and having a good time. I should be posting a poem or two from it. I will tomorrow. But I want to clarify an aspect of my post from yesterday. In the post, I mentioned that:

“We often set up a situation when we post where the response is going to be hostile or abusive.”

And then I went on to talk about hyperbole. I forgot to mention something that is more common than hyperbole, so I want to clarify.

I believe civility starts at home, in the post itself. If a post on a blog, or in the comment stream, by the author of that blog, resorts to name-calling, then the response stands a good chance of going, as they say, nuclear.

One of the criticisms of Silliman’s blog, is that occasionally he would use analogies that were out of line, which inflamed discussion, and while I’m not going to go searching his blog for examples, I did find several examples from blogs this week of posts that contain elements of the sort that inflames discourse:

Jessica Smith: “Let’s keep in mind, however, that most of Silliman’s usual suspects are simply (and possibly clinically) narcissistic sociopaths and that there’s no real point in engaging with them or acknowledging their (usually insipid and underinformed) claims.”

First off, I want to make it clear that my sympathies are with Smith, but when I came across that sentence in her post, I saw how, rather than helping things, this was going to fan the flames. What is gained by such things?

In the same way, Jennifer L. Knox, with whom I’m also sympathetic, writes, about Comment Field Bullies: “trashing the joint like rednecks at a state park: Carving their names into trees, kicking empty beer bottles in the lake, tossing Aquanet cans in the camp fire, and hollering loud enough to scare the animals away. They’re exactly the kind of Yahoos I want to avoid . . .”

These sorts of name-calling and class (and mental health) comments set the stage for Comment Field Bullies. We do this unintentionally. It’s part of our culture to talk this way, to be witty and have a snappy comeback.

Lynn Behrendt writes, in her lament about how Silliman’s comment stream went: “And I wish that all the intelligent, kind, well-read poets who care more about poetics than their own dicks, agendas & axes to grind had spoken up more, too.”

Why does she feel the need to add “dicks” to an otherwise gender neutral and reasonable sentence? What are the assumptions here? “(possibly clinically) narcissistic sociopaths” . . . “trashing the joint like rednecks at a state park” . . . who [to paraphrase] care more about their own dicks than poetics.

I want to be clear that my sympathies are with Silliman, Smith, Knox, and Behrendt, and not with those they are criticizing. I just want to draw attention to the fact that the problem isn’t simply one of the comment stream being out of hand. Our whole level of discourse is out of hand in the same way that political discourse is out of hand these days. If you think there’s something, as the Pathologos blog asks: “are poets too stupid and immature to handle civilized dialogue? i still hope not, but that is what this seems to suggest,” then check out the posts and comment streams of newspaper articles and editorials.



At 8/03/2010 7:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to point out, most respectfully, that you have not posted any images of birds on your blog in quite some time. Do you have something against birds? Not judging, just curious.

At 8/03/2010 9:04 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Two responses:

1. When I searched for pictures with the search term "immature" what mostly came up was birds. In fact, I almost used on. It was a cartoon of a chick looking at a raw egg, you know, outside of it's shell. Sunny-side up. The chick was speaking to it, saying, "Immature!"

2. Birds! They're everywhere in my trees. The din is incredible. Perhaps that's a metaphor for comment streams. I should work on that.

At 8/03/2010 10:40 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That should be "its" not "it's" by the way. I was typing fast.

At 8/03/2010 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this post is right-on--I'm glad you've articulated some problematic aspects of the nature of people's critiques. It's sad that someone claims they want better discourse, and then revert to stereotypes like redneck, making the critique seem more personal than political....this is my biggest problem with JS's essay: she makes very large claims based solely on her own experience, and while of course personal experience is bread-and-butter, it's not always enough for certain attempts at articulation.

Adam Strauss

At 8/03/2010 7:21 PM, Anonymous telephone said...

thank you

At 8/03/2010 9:18 PM, Blogger Annandale Dream Gazette said...

John - I used the word "dicks" consciously and intentionally. Perhaps the tone of that phrase was a little acerbic, but I feel very certain that the majority of the bullying comments in Silliman's comment stream are from men. It often seemed to me like a bunch of rams bonking heads. Most any woman who dared venture her opinion was quickly eviscerated & shoved aside. There ARE gender dynamics being played out in so many of the bullying verbal duels, very much so. I suppose it has to do with how men are socialized, will to power, a whole bunch of things. So many female poets in the blogosphere are so tired of talking about it that they've just given up pointing it out, because it seems so futile. I haven't.

I do appreciate your calm & even tone & response to all these comments -- some of which have been heart sickeningly mean.

At 8/03/2010 9:26 PM, Blogger Annandale Dream Gazette said...

But you're right, it was an angry phrase and it's good to be reminded that emotionally loaded prose is not always the most successful way of getting a point across.

At 8/04/2010 4:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


On my previous post on the comment stream, I had to delete three comments, only the second time I've had to do that. Because of the nature of what they wrote, I'm assuming they were all males.

So, in other words, I believe your assumption to be correct. And, as I said in the post, my sympathies are with you on this.

What an odd place the comment stream is. I understand Silliman's decision to cut it off.

At 8/04/2010 3:02 PM, Anonymous Kazim said...

My favorite (least favorite) part of the Yahoo News comment feeds is how *everything* is always Obama's fault. Like the train accident in India for example, or the bad weather in the Midwest. Seriously.

When Jen Knox writes about the CFB's as "rednecks" etc I think tongue is firmly in cheek. Her tongue. My cheek. :P

At 8/04/2010 7:13 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


I want to be clear that I'm very much on her side. I agree with her point strongly.

I think, though, that, as much as I agree about the tongue and the cheek, as you say, such things are very easily—even if willfully—misconstrued.

At 8/07/2010 9:12 AM, Anonymous Jennifer L. Knox said...

Hi John, just wanted to say that Kazim is absolutely right. My analogy of CFB acting like rednecks at a state park was intended to be as ironic as possible. Of course CFBs are not actual rednecks. They wouldn't be commenting on poetry blogs if they were. It's not a comment on their class, but rather their bullying redneck-like behavior. I could've made a joke about them acting like Mongols, but it wouldn't have been as funny. I believe that when you're dealing with people who spend 22 hours a day saying derisive things on Other People's Blogs, we, the readers, are absolutely entitled to speculate as to the nature of their mental illnesses, i.e. clinical narcissism. I may very well be wrong, though, and would love to bring a professional in for a more thorough diagnosis.


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