Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blogosphere, playground of the Id

At the moment there's a lively, interesting, well-informed discussion going on at Larvatus Prodeo about today's Melbourne Cup. And yesterday in the middle of it, someone popped up to say 'Oh, is there a horse race on this week?' or some such drecky smartarse remark.

It's reminded me of something very similar that happened (also at LP) a couple of weeks ago when a light-hearted Kasey Chambers Appreciation Post went up and in the middle of, again, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable discussion, someone suddenly turned up to say something like 'Oh, this is reminding me of the tedium of country music.'

Would these people walk up to a group of strangers at a party having exactly the same conversation and say exactly the same thing? Would they be aware that such behaviour is beyond the realms of the pig-rude? And if they wouldn't do it IRL, why do they do it online? I would really like to know what other people think this kind of behaviour is about.

I know what I think it's about; I think it's about the sort of wankery that's involved in implicitly declaring one's own superiority over the people discussing the topics, and, by extension, of all of the topics' enthusiasts. I wish I could say I think the mindset that goes 'I know nothing about this, therefore it must be crap' was a product of our times but I fear not; it seems rather to be a particularly unattractive aspect of the human condition, possibly enabled by educational fashions in recent years that have encouraged children to think self-expression is more important than anything else.

Now it's perfectly all right to be not interested in stuff. I myself break out in hives whenever people start talking about renovations. The difference is that I try not to rudely say so in the middle of an enthusiastic discussion of renovating, being conducted by people who are far more knowledgeable about it than I am.

With the LP threads as aforementioned, I feared for a while, before I'd thought this through a bit more, that there may be an unspoken and probably largely unconscious class dimension. Country music and horse racing are so, well, you know. On the other hand, for some reason people also feel compelled to behave in this way during discussions of Harry Potter, a topic I would not have picked first up as a signifier of boganville. He does, however, have mass appeal, so I suppose the expressions of contempt there are to do with the speaker's desire to express her/his own unique distinction from the common herd. It's really more about self-definition by disownership. People given to this kind of behaviour do seem to reserve a special virulence for particular topics, but those topics also include feminism, literary theory and opera.

These online expressions of contempt for other people's enthusiasms, right in those people's virtual faces, might be somehow related to road rage. Perhaps the de haut en bas dissers feel safe in the knowledge that they're not doing it face to face.

Which raises the question of the power of physical presence. Do people actually fear they will be hit or spat at if they behave like this in the real world? And if they do think that what they have to say might provoke physical assault, is this not an indication that they understand exactly how offensive they're being?

Which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that they do not care. But if these people are so gosh-darned fussed about what other people think of them that they feel the need to express their superiority to a bunch of strangers, it's astonishing that they don't think twice about their manners.


fifi said...

I think that I have, on occasion, made such type of remarks, mainly to draw attention to the fact that I am a dumbass who has the potential to be so engrossed in fishy things, that something like the Melbourne Cup could come and go....who else would schedule a one-off lecture at 12pm on Cup Day....

do you think anyone will come?

hmm, as Mike Moore would say.

But yes, it is rude to pour cold water on a conversation either online or in real life. Anyone with manners wouldn't do it.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Oh noes.

If it's at noon and it goes for the standard hour, you are probably reasonably safe.

Mark Bahnisch said...

I suspect some (not all) of such people would be as rude in a real life setting.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Oh Mark, that is so depressing!

Mark Bahnisch said...

I was thinking about the scenario, and recalling people making similar comments in conversation... Mind you, they didn't make too many friends by it, and I think the same holds true online!

cristy said...

Sadly I think that Mark is right. The presence of those I'll-mannered types is also the reason that I have (somewhat sadly) withdrawn from participating in LP discussions, despite the fact that so many of the commenters are so interesting and well informed. I have just found that my tolerance for encountering such rudeness is no longer high enough to want to risk it.

Mark Bahnisch said...

It's unfortunate, Cristy. I think there's a critical mass effect here - once you get to a certain size, you attract all comers and the work involved in trying to preserve a nice chatty intimate space becomes overwhelming.

If I had my time over again, I think I'd forget any notion of fairness in moderation, and just ban anyone who's remotely annoying!

Which again is sorta like r/l - even when you have to put up with people who are rude and self-centred (as in work situations), you do what you can to try to maintain a comfortable space with more amenable folks!

Anyways, from a sociological perspective, I'd love to see some research on these interaction patterns - it would be a lot more interesting than endless bloggers v. journo articles I think!

Pavlov's Cat said...

I should have made it clearer that I'm talking about blogs everywhere, not just LP, which by chance happened to be the place where I'd most recently noticed it. It happens not only on all the group blogs with a large number of regular contributors and/or commenters, but even sometimes on individual bloggers' personal blogs, including mine. I just don't understand the impulse. It's a millimetre away from saying, to whoever's been enthusing about whatever, 'You're an idiot.' Which they may well be thinking, but what is it that compels them to say it? And -- even more to the point -- to think it's okay to say it?

Anonymous said...

I think those people do say it in real life and my evidence is based on a set of situations which have long puzzled me, one of which involved sitting on the grass on a sunny day with a friend, when an ACQUAINTANCE came and sat down and in mid conversation said to friend, with clear intent to humiliate, why are you wearing a stocking on one leg? Friend tapped said leg sharply and said, truthfully, 'it's fake', which filled Acquaintance with humiliation and apology. But why? She set out to be rude, she was successfully rude, why did the fact that she was also grossly unimaginative spoil it for her? The impulse appears to be the same as the one Still Life/Pavlov is referring to...

Anthony said...

"drecky smartarse remark"

"pig rude"


OMG PC, you seem to have got the wrong end of the stick. I read that thread and laughed at the said comment. Rudeness? Wasn't it ironic? Or, should I say "ironic".

Surely this was a statement on the priorities of our broadsheet press and our tabloid TV and papers. For days my metro (broadsheet) paper in Melbourne has carried front page stories of the Cup: this at a time when we're in financial meltdown, literal meltdown (aka climate change); kids are being slaughtered at gatecrashed parties; Barry Obama is about to be elected leader of the free world. Oh, so is there a horse race on? You betya.

"possibly enabled by educational fashions in recent years that have encouraged children to think self-expression is more important than anything else".

Oh, now you're channelling Kevin Donnelly. I mean to say, pul-lease.

I love country music and have little time for horse racing. Opera I can take or leave. Literary theory and feminism... oh, what's the point in taking this bait.

Bernice said...

Susan Greenfield, UK academic, has some interesting things to say about the impact of the virtual upon patterns of social interaction and the consequences. She's just been on RN's All in the Mind, but her latest book is ID. Not entirely sure I agree with her, but its interesting nevertheless.

And I have to confess to having assumed the interloper was being ironic. I find tone so hard to get on a flatscreen... irony and the sardonic need that slight glint in the eye thing ;) or does it then become "too try hard"?

lucy tartan said...

Anthony, the point is that you are welcome to have little time for horse racing but it is not necessary to share that fact with the whole world, and in particular with people who clearly do have lots of time for it.

Anthony said...

Lucy, it's not about not having time for horse racing. My point was that the comment that PC seems to have taken such offense to was not about a dismissal of horse racing at all but was an ironic comment on the saturation media coverage given to the Cup.

I simply did the same manouevre PC did: IRL (as she puts it), if I and a friend were talking horse racing last week and another friend came up and said "Oh, is there a horse race on this week" I would have laughed (politely) and acknowledged the point they were making: saturation coverage of a sporting event when there are, perhaps, more important things to be on the front page of our newspapers. Sure, it's not a one-liner worthy of N F Simpson, but I'd hesitate to dismiss my friend as a "smartarse", or "pig rude" or engaged in "wankery". But that's just me.

Pavlov's Cat said...

'Literary theory and feminism... oh, what's the point in taking this bait.'

None, I should think, if you don't know anything about either of them. Very wise.

Chris said...

Warren Ellis (he of the seemingly very limited sleep and perpetuation of the zeitgeist) regularly asks people to post photos of themselves on his forum. He thinks people need reminding that there's other human beings behind the screen.

lucy tartan said...

Anthony, why not write a letter to The Age if it is annoying you, instead of taking it out upon people minding their own business.

Word verification is Skimpl - heh.

Fine said...

Oh, dear I like horseracing and country music. I knew I was truly lower class. My mum has always insisted we come from 'peasant stock and she must be right. I think it's an artefact of the intertubes. I know it wouldn't even occur to me to be so rude in real life. But there has been occasions on the tubes where I've had to pull myself up from making such a comment. For instance, I don't much like sci-fi or fantasy books. But what's the point of interrupting a thread to tell people that. Are they going to be interested? I don't think so. Does it serve any purpose for me? No, makes me look like a tool. But it's easy to do, so people do it.

Pavlov's Cat said...

'Oh, dear I like horseracing and country music.'

So do I, Fine. I hope it's clear that I was being ironic too.

Anthony said...

Laura, I mustn't be making myself clear. An entire Cup Day without a single glass of champagne must have left me sullen and inarticulate.

But my point was - and I say this for the third time - there is no evidence that the commenter on the LP thread was in fact in any way 'annoyed' with people talking about punting, or, in PC's words, that they wanted to assert their individuality through their 'disownership' of punting.

If, by contrast, someone intervenes into an online discussion about country music by asserting country music is crap, as PC's other example would have it, then I agree that it is impolite and reprehensible. And, I suppose, you're right: someone who is so annoyed by country music might best be counselled, maybe, perhaps, that they write a letter to The Age, an obscure right-wing broadsheet based in metropolitan Melbourne, and that this may might offer some solace...although I'm a bit sceptical as to the ultimate efficacy of this path...I mean, would they publish it?

Anyhow, I think fine's comment returns us to the way PC tentatively fingered the new class divide: punting, banjo-picking, opera going feminist literary critics on the one hand, and those who stand in hateful opposition to such activities on the other. Which side are you on, boy, which side are you on?

Fine said...

I appreciated the irony PC. And I really want to some 'punting, banjo-picking, opera going feminist literary critics.'

Pavlov's Cat said...

'... the way PC tentatively fingered the new class divide ...'

Um - I was being ironic.

Look. I read the LP comment one way, you read it another way. If we're going to start demanding 'evidence', where is your 'evidence' that the comment was about media saturation? The media was not under discussion at that point. Whatever it may have been referring to, the comment's effect, as I saw it, was to belittle the enthusiasm of people who had up to that point been having a perfectly nice discussion. You saw it differently. Good: the world is a wonderful place, full of epistemological, phenomenological and interpretive diversity. Now can we for the love of God move on, do you think?