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.
Nice. Respect Mr Patel. A number of things spring to mind, but they are all being obscured by my desire to throw film quotes out at you that seem vaguely relevant (media intruding my/your life see?)
“A symbol of a country can’t just be a flag, it has to be someone excercising their right to burn that flag.” or
“You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You have to be assume that God does not like you.” or
“Some men just want to watch the world burn”.
I somewhat agree and have no problem with the internet being a nameless, faceless way to say ‘fuck you’ – although thanks to Twitter, Facebook et al, it often isn’t nameless and faceless.I do think the door goes both ways – if we’re OK to let trolls and 14yr olds in their pants at home write abuse online, then I think the ‘celebs’ and pro footballers of this world should be allowed to write whatever they like on their Twitter feed. Nothing makes me more sad than hearing that a footballer made a racist comment (or a comment that could be percieved as so) on their own Twitter feed and was then forced to remove it. Bollocks to that. If that is your view, if you want to say it and you think it is funny/intelligent/helping society further itself (unlikely) then go ahead and write it. It is you Twitter account after all.
I think that’s absolutely fair. To be honest I think I’d like to know that a pro footballer for example was terribly racist. I think forcing people to take their views down can be a) a bit oppressive and b) forcing an issue underground which will inevitably come out in other ways. I say let us hear what celebs/sports-people really have to say; I wager for the most part it’ll be as dull and devoid of worth as the currently PR agent-curated dross that they currently let fly. But at least it’ll be honest.
Great article. I agree we need people to hurl insults and constructive criticism, as it only makes us better or tells us we are doing the wrong thing.
“If you want to be a diamond, you have to get cut like a diamond!” – Eric Thomas 🙂
The only thing that annoys me about internet trolls is not when they attack me, it’s when they attack each other. That’s just moronic behaviour; people looking for fights.
Anyway, big fan of tough love where applicable.
Thanks for reading. Couldn’t agree more with the sentiments of Mr Thomas.
Great article, Nik! Articulate and thought provoking as always. Interesting the way you setup your personal stake in this too, I’d like to offer my perspective:
Whilst I know that you often wrestle with your confused, oedipal emotions, lamenting the lack of affection and constant disapproval you received from your mother as you sob into the latest chunky-knit cardigan (an almost identical copy of one she owns) that you purchased from Topshop, this is not the source of your overwhelming need to find fault with everything that confronts you.
The reason you feel the need to set yourself apart from the prevailing viewpoint is that during your early years you were provided with neither the genes nor the required levels of protein to propel your frame to a sufficient height to allow your sense of identity to develop in such a way that prevents an individual from becoming a miniature tyrant. I suspect that similar physical deficiencies are a common trait of internet trolls. Such people feel that they must take an opposing stance to whatever opinion is expressed as a means of raising a verbal flag above the heads and shoulders of their peers and waving it in the face of common sense in order to drag as much attention towards themselves as they possibly can. In doing this, they seek to validate their place on earth, as possessing some kind of force which must be accounted for in lieu of actual physical representation of such capacity.
Here Nikul, in this opinion piece, I see your flag and acknowledge it and would like to reassure you that I am aware of your existence.
Well that was brilliant; you cut to the heart of me in a scarily accurate way. Kudos; that certainly looks like it deserves a free pint.
Also for the record, I wear chunky knit whereas my mum has thinner cardies. But otherwise spot-on.
just wanted to comment to applaud L. He missed a chance to discuss what Nik’s hipster glasses say about his innate need to be seen as cool and contrarian but otherwise bravo.