What an age we live in; we can talk to friends around the globe, peruse films, songs and books, order a pizza and hurl bad tempered avian objects at precariously perched green pigs; all from the comfort of one’s own toilet. The Internet: it heralds (and has largely delivered) an age of hyper-consumerism, breathtaking creation, mass and instant global communication, collaborative endeavours that seem to know no bounds. At this point in the 21st Century none of this is new; we’re now children of the internet age; we are comfortable with the incessant shifting and changing of paradigms whether it be how we do business or how we learn. Though it feels sometimes, as a society, we haven’t really come to terms with the fact we’ve created this entirely new arena in which we interact and that we need to recognise that not all the old rules of human interaction and discourse apply anymore.
Now if you don’t know me or have read any of my work it’s probably best to describe me as a contrarian. I imagine there is a deep seated reason for this; if you are a developmental psychologist and want to tell me it’s because I didn’t get enough hugs as a child please leave a comment below. But for the most part it ranges from garden-variety jerkiness to some notion of intellectual jousting. So with that I declare my bias; saying negative things over the Internet is the lifeblood of my kind, our ambrosia. But even more than saving my own skin, I think the Internet would be a much worse place without jerks. That in fact, far beyond Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s moral maxim (when summarising Voltaire’s attitudes), “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – that there is also utility in jerkiness.
Firstly we’re going to have to exclude at least one type of jerkiness: threatening behaviour. Hard to police certainly but I’m not defending the ‘I’m going to stab you’ brigade; any and all viable threats need to be reported and investigated appropriately. I feel for the poor fuck that is in charge of that at Twitter. But I feel that all too often anyone that has anything negative to say gets lumped in with these aberrations. Sometimes, your album or short story or photograph is shit; I don’t want to cause you physical harm but I feel like you should know that the thing you produced is shit.
‘If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all’ – fuck this I have many, many thoughts/feelings and I gotta tell you not all of them are positive. But more than just expressing visceral reactions, there is a cathartic value in this Internet violence. Take Miley Cyrus (as referenced by the wonderful Megan Leigh recently), on a personal level maybe she doesn’t deserve boundless insults and scorn, but as a product she probably does. Not to dehumanise Ms Cyrus but with the heralding of amazingly sophisticated marketing and advertising campaigns, extremely talented PR people, and careful brand management she/they/we have managed to blur the lines between young person creating music and carefully constructed product designed for high impact and high proliferation.
I mean I don’t like or dislike Miley. I do not in any way consciously seek out her music, details about her personal life or pictures of what she is or is not wearing; yet somehow I have become privy to all three recently. For her management team this is exactly the result they’d like; their young charge has become in essence inescapable. So when you see horrible comments on youtube videos nearly always accompanied with the logical question, “Well if you don’t like it why did you come here? You can always hit the stop button” I think it’s probably a lot less ‘opt-in’ than we’d like to think. I mean when we’re rung up during dinner and asked about whether I have taken out PPI insurance; do we have a moral quandary launching forth a volley of abuse? No, intellectually we know the automaton on the other end isn’t directly responsible for the overall business model of the company, we know they didn’t willfully seek your phone number out and wait for you to get as comfortable as possible over your favourite dinner. However, we do so because we’ve been wronged, this interaction has been forced, our homes have been momentarily (and minutely) intruded upon by someone that was in no way invited. Furthermore we treat the person, quite rightly, as a representative of the no doubt abhorrent company. Now if you choose to trade on these terms, if you choose to target the highest proliferation possible, to reach the widest audiences without any thought as to whether people want to experience your product then you need to add a column to your ledger for the amount of abuse you will receive; because for you it has become a cost of business.
So for those artists that have made themselves (and not just their output) products; I don’t find it at all surprising they are subject to ad hominem attacks. So surely those burgeoning artists that are just putting their hard-crafted work out there for people to enjoy should be spared such derision right? RIGHT?! No! Fuck them too.
I don’t really mean that (probably) but I certainly don’t mean the opposite. We’re all special flowers and our works are the delicate, lightly fragranced petals that require careful nurturing so they can blossom. We shouldn’t make the mistake that anyone else cares about what you’ve produced as much as you. The people of the Internet owe you nothing. If you’ve created something, a song, a poem, an ill-timed and clumsily written article about internet trolls but can’t bring yourself to post it because people might say nasty things… then you scarcely deserve anyone to say nice things. Because something tells me this is the only reason you created something for the world in the first place, so everyone will tell you how wonderful you are. The Internet doesn’t seem to care about people fishing for compliments. There is just as much value in ‘This is shit, you should just give up’ as ‘Great work, keep up the good work’.
Now if all of this is far too upsetting and you’re the type of person that needs to know there is good in the world then consider this: the horrible things people say forms the bleak shadow by which we may hope to identify the light cast by all the lovely things people say. Otherwise we may just end up sitting on top a morass of indistinguishable platitudes. There you go you happiness vultures; take your ‘warm-fuzzies’ and go.
For these reasons and many more we may need horrible people to say horrible things; to defend our homes from an ever-encroaching sphere of media, to strengthen our artists resolve and to highlight the great and the good amongst us.
Bonus round! The person with the most inventive and jerkiest comment below will receive a mars bar or pint of beer depending on how far away from Oxford you live.