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April 08, 2007


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Interesting Wikipedia entry on satire:

Anglo-American satire

Ebenezer Cooke, author of "The Sot-Weed Factor," is possibly the first to bring satire to the British colonies;[citation needed]


Satire has not been our forte here, more like humor, generally, though Twain had the knack. Satire generally prospers in ages of Empire, as in Rome or Augustan England. I would predict a resurgence as long as our armies are victorious in planting freedom's flag on foreign shores.

Excellent advice from a practicing satirist. This is probably not the place to go into details about how a loose group blog (Meankids) with not even a shared sense that its aim was satire has occasioned every conceivable misconception about its aim, intent, and actual practice.

One finds, for instance, this sort of thing among the consolers of Ms. Sierra:

Hi, Kathy, I just heard about your problems. I have had similar problems with these right-wing nutjobs. I hope you find the right thing out there. Perhaps a book is the best way to go.

This fellow certainly did HIS homework.

That blog had many obscurities. Many of the posts were not ad hominem. Many were non satiric. There were strange and surreal things, which perhaps would be worth resurrecting (some other day).

What is difficult to convey is how, in that oblique roomful of voices, fuller than usual because most of the voices were doing more than one voice and the tenor of certain of the posts was someone speaking in character giving the whole thing a pretty radically dialogical pitch and yaw -- in that barroom of parodic lunacy, it was often impossible to ascertain who was writing, the tenor of any given post on first reading, and some sort of available context to make sense of things. When one contributor seemed to be gratuitously attacking a specific person, the first thought was not just: "this seems to be unacceptable, nasty stuff," but, at least for me, a series of questions, like, "is this some sort of joke about hate speech?" "is there some relationship between the writer and the apparent target that would explain why this is considered worthwhile?" etc., questions which took some time to gather meaningful answers because neither the writer nor the target was someone whose work, life, reputation, offered much in the way of clues, and, as noted, the absence of any "purpose" for the blog - other than to not be simply another mindless blog - complicated the interpretive status of much of its contributors' utterances.

In short, confronted with what seemed like ugly hateful stuff, and knowing that at least four of the people involved had no truck with that mode of writing, the first response was to wonder what was being aimed at other than mere scurrility. First there was the theatricality of the act of apparent ad hominem writing, then there was the question of how to read it: what was it about? why was it there? was there some undisclosed joke/relation/context? would this become clear via some response? Apparent nastiness is not always nasty, although in this case, it turned out to apparently be just that.

One other point: Posts and comments that seemed to be pushing some limit were met by other posts and comments that seemed to try to bring the entire brawl onto a different track. I.e., there seemed to be something genuinely dialogical going on, multiple voices very much not in sync, not in harmony, not even intelligible to one another - yet with some vulnerability to the idea that there could be, beyond the immediate surreality, some place this thing wanted to go, and if we were to keep going, something of interest might come of it, something other than the regrettable, distasteful, and abhorrent thing that is now what it is remembered to have been. As usual, much has been obscured in the rumor and retelling.

I wasn't a reader of the site, and first heard of it, Tom, through your post after it all came to a head. I guess the point is that when you mess about with many voices, and derision, contempt, calumny, obscenity, it is probably best not to be speaking of anyone in particular, not until you get control of the rhetorical context and your own emotions. "Candidia" is actually modeled on a woman I met at a philanthropy conference, name not to be divulged, but still vivid in the memory. By reversing the polarity, and making the character somewhat lovable in her own way, so she reviles you, rather than the other way around, you overcome your own malice and maybe set a better example. I was sorry the way the story unfolded around mean.kids, but "practicing" satire on living flesh is not really a very good idea, any more than practicing surgery on a a person you have drawn into your office without their informed consent. It is true you have to start somewhere, but you can always start with a character, and that character can always revile you, the author or your avatar. But, then again, I appreciate your providing the larger context and your overall impressions, Tom. I never read a single post, so my information is all via the rumors and repercussions.

Within the monological realm of authorial control, yes to all that you say. Between that and sheer noise is that open field in which there is a vulnerability to other voices taking over; necessarily at risk is the safety of artistic contrivance in the service of the moral high ground. Perhaps Dr. Chadwallah, upon his recovery, will give this some attention.

Oh, good god. This woman isn't worth the powder to blow her up. Way too much attention being devoted to her.

Right, Tom, and the poor guy who owns the domain name gets stuck with the bill.

Private property is, alas, not yet dialogical. That's what makes it proper.

Proprietary proprieties.

Is it too soon to be talking about the movie rights?

Imagine yourself Botticelli putting the final touches to your foam-flecked Venus. Then some ruffian barges in with a broken beer bottle and a bicycle chain, bellowing about blowjobs. It was a little like that.

c'mon, that was foam?

Cholera was pandemic until people figured out that shitting upstream from the public water supply intake was not good.
Cowardice is pandemic.

I wonder if the net result won't be more walled gardens, or invitational spaces with passwords. You either have to watch what you say, or watch to whom you say it. And if you are responsible to the authorities for whatever happens on your space, you have to police who comes and goes. As blogging goes mainstream, with public attention, I have felt more and more exposed, and more like retreating into a public persona, one that is relatively inoffensive. The alternative would be an invitational community space behind a wall. The final alternative, I guess, is to raise being difficult to an art. That is what satire was supposed to be.

Virtual fascism droned out (or is it doled out) by the new keepers of the gates ...

The both / ands so often written about glibly when considering the Web ... both "pay attention" and "ignore" in this case ... carry costs if you are determined to not be changed by what comes across or through.

So many of us wanting to be right, and not wanting to be wrong, when to be right seems to be wrong and when to be wrong seems to be right ...

If working at raising to an art "being difficult", I think it may be expected to encounter more often one or more of Umberto Eco's "Fourteen Ways" Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt"

What's striking about the Eco is that in 1995 he was writing the playbook of the Bush Administration, down to the grace notes.

What's also striking - and JJ is to be thanked for pointing to this - is the deeply cliched stupidity of each of the 14 aspects of Fascism described therein. This is comic book-level ideology. So deeply ingrained, it smells like us. It is this understanding of reality that was "elected" in 2000. And the media, enamoured of cliche, stood by, wringing its salivary glands.

exactly ... and therein the perspective that the blogospere is but reflecting the superficial and addled culture(s) in which and through which it exists.

Once again into the breech with Pogo ... "we have met the enemy, and the enemy is us"

I fink, pogo I am.

Just a whiff...

(via, apropos de nothing)

Debbie: "This woman isn't worth the powder to blow her up. "

Exactly my thought. I *know* I'm not worth the effort of writing about in that way, let alone Photoshopping. Same for Maryam. I wonder if you can appreciate that this is a big part of why this IS frightening... that people took the time and effort to do this to an utterly unimportant person who writes on user experience for god's sake.

And in at least one case, someone went to extraordinary lengths to impersonate someone else... just so they could use that painstakingly-hacked identity to post horrific things about myself and Maryam. It makes no sense.

But I'm very glad to hear that the "parody and satire" claim (one that's been cropping up) is not an automatic get-out-of-anything-free loophole that can be used to justify cruelty, threats, and intimidation against people like me who--we all agree--are not worth it.

Yeah, it's like the specific players really made no difference, this event was bound to happen, somewhere, sometime, somehow, and the inevitable event just attracted the players when conditions were right.*

You ever ride a bike down a bike path and wonder how three people, two riding at high speed in one direction and one in the other, so often converge on the same point on the same path at the same time, creating the potential for a harrowing crash?

It's odd, it happens quite a lot. Odder even, maybe, is that the players seldom make the minute adjustments necessary to avoid the confluence. Wassup?

(* To cross into MSM, a 'cute kitty' 'rageboy' hook was probably necessary (as others have mentioned.) But those particular avatars were not required, many others would have sufficed.)

Insomuch whereas anonymity enables cowardice, it can too easily be seen as cause or main access node, or some other technical descriptor.
We all seek to justify excuse maintain overlook disguise and forgive beforehand our own and our own shared weaknesses, because that's how we do things, but when the pathogens erupt this way, and real damage gets done, it's way easy to shoot first, toward the crawling thing that shows its ugly little head, and worry about the fine points later.
It may be past its coherent aptness date but the distinction, between the enabled coward hiding and the useful and strategically proffered anonymous mask - viz. the satirist's loose-fitting caricature - is paramount germane and increasingly crucial, so getting some definitional accuracy laid on the problem seems likewise.
Cowardice is what did it, not anonymity, not the net, not anything other.

Who wears a mask?
children on Halloween
revelers at Mardis Gras
hit and run flamer
malicious person intent on harassment
psycho at play
Indian at Boston Tea Party
Publius writing under a tyrant
Swift, Defoe, and many others
employee as citizen to protect employer
etc., etc.

Each instance requires interpretation before judgment and sentencing.

What is new in this scene is the police investigation, right? And the media coverage? "Whodunnit and why?" All of a sudden the stakes seem higher, and we all have to take them into account in our own blogger practices.

"You Own Your Own Words" is a warning. "Anything you blog can and will be held against you in a court of law." Not exactly that, but the stakes seem higher all the same. "Don't blog it unless you are willing to stand by your words before God, your boss, and the injured party's attorney." No matter how many masks are used, the legal process will reach through to a wallet and to body that can appear in court.

So, blog accordingly.


One thing I've learned about blogs and online forums is that I don't typically take things personally unless I actually know someone. Cyberspace is very impersonal. Is it possible, though, that perhaps some things became exaggerated in your mind? Perhaps I am projecting, as a drama queen in recovery. Just something to consider. Nothing more. That said, I have been stalked via email. I had to write to the individual in question to cease and desist or else I was going to publish her emails online. Was frightening not because the individual in question was making threats but because of the language used. I've been known to swear like a trooper, but this woman's language would curl your hair (assuming, of course, that it's straight to begin with). But I've known of people who have had their privacy invaded. It's very easy for predatory behavior to exist on the web. No way of knowing who people really are unless you meet them in person. And even then it's no guarantee. Been there done that, too. Even so, I don't know that I'd ever hide.

Kathy, thanks for stopping by. The lessons to be learned from this painful episode go way beyond the who and how of the particular events. I am trying not to link because the issues don't strike me as personal, but generic, as if they had been latent in blogging from the beginning and are now surfacing in clear form. "Sobering," maybe that is the right word, said he, taking a nip of the Thunderbird, held in shaky hand. "Not a good time to be running around in a mask. Maybe I will just hunker down and read Paradise Lost."

I speak as one blog for ten years. Having hosted popular newsblog and forum, I have received the death threat more than once, and so have visitors make threat to each other. One must make mix "take grain of salt" with "be very scared of AK47 man." Although anonymous, I know that medium-skilled google-stalker find me. I know they still try to find me! But they think I dead or retired, no kidding. Don't tell, please. Unfortunately, government interested too, and think I not be dead. How this shake out, only nobody know, but in any way to say is tough - people not only make threat each one other, but also make sad story to break heart. Threats and hearthbreak, that they do. For this I wonder if is cure. Only shut up, is all can think.

Thanks, Santos. I appreciated the link to "Only Shut Up." I am struck by the observation that the old tech-blogger, libertarian, mostly male, A-List Crowd have lost their hegemony, and now we have no prevailing face to face community of top guns who can impose their standards, manners and mores, as loose as they were, on the burgeoning field. So, we seem on the verge of reverting to "real world unisex standards," like at work, of being inoffensive, civil, and punctilious. "So, we must set a high standard," said he, staggering towards his Dumpster.

You must have work some differnet place how I remember of myself. I can not see this reverting. I remember bosses which workers make nickname Hitler and Frankenstein, and so say to boss face, every day, day after day. You must have work some place where ladies make trouble.

Yes, Candidia gives me all I can take.

I'm not familiar with Kathy Sierra or Meankids, but the episode evoked the tempest in teapot that transpired between Michael Berube and Turbulent Velvet/Et Alia where Berube linked and somewhat devastatingly deconstructed blog comments by them which he construed as threatening, and which were later deleted by their authors. It was actually a pretty effective smackdown by Berube (who I am also not familiar with outside this context) but there was that whole ambiguity around whether Berube was over-reacting, or if he was over-reacting, why were the comments deleted, etc. etc.

It's as if business as usual in the blogosphere actually depends on the interplay between transgression and self-censorship.

Like that bit Harry Shearer does on public radio where he reads the apologies of the week.

Trangression and self-censorship, I see a lot of that too, in my own writing. Without transgression, no lift to the writing, no Carnival, without self-censorship, no "civility."

I think it's somewhat arbitrary to limit the discussion to blogging.

You could take as a starting point, for example, Jack Valenti, the MPAA, and the rise of the ratings code as the dawn of a new incivility in public media. The first Hollywood film to receive an R rating, if I remember correctly, was "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?"- if you're looking for an early example of transgressive incivility, that's a good one. As Sontos might say, it was chock full of "threats and hearthbreak" - in some rather raw language for that time.

Further liberalization in mainstream mass media also occurred after television stations extended their broadcasts past 11pm, first with talk shows (which were rather genteel), then with adult episodic programs like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, and Fernwood Tonight.

Then you have the rise of cable, which was almost entirely free of FCC content restrictions.

When you place the internet/blogging controversy, along with other outbursts ala Imus/Gibson/Richards into this continuim, it could make you think there's a systemic impulse towards progressive incivility.

Obviously I don't know much about social theory and other academic stuff, but it's almost as if the controversy over blogging is just a stand-in for the transgressive dynamic of capitalism. People think they're taking a stand on one side of the issue or other, when they're just swimming around a goldfish bowl, or being knocked back and forth like ping pong balls on a field of play whose parameters they do not perceive because it is not permitted to think critically about capitalism.

Well, that's my theory at least. If I was smarter I could say more about it, but I can't.

I think Klaus is on the right track. I'm not any smarter or even as smart, so can't say much more either.

Rick Salutin has a good piece out today in a Canuck newspaper titled Imus and the American Dream, but you can't really count it 'cuz it wasn't made in America.

If anyone is interested, you probably have to register to get to it as it's behind the G & M paywall, but I posted it here as well.

People everwhere are under pressure daily to be assholes ... and that problem continues to spread.

So, speech codes, content ratings, movie codes, etc rise with the rise of incivility, not as a cause, presumably, but as a weak face saving gesture by a system that is intent on playing not to what people say they want, but what they actually purchase and guiltily enjoy. "Protect the woman and children!"

I'd suspect there are two sets:

Speech codes, content ratings, movie codes, etc rise with the rise of incivility, both as a cause, and as a weak face saving gesture by a system that is intent on playing not to what people say they want, but what they actually purchase and guiltily enjoy.

Inhabiting a third set.

The Hegelian synthesis, then, of Carnival and Sermon is what? A tradition worthy of continuation, I think.

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