Friday, January 14, 2011

The Comment Threads

A lot has been written about the cesspools of bile and hatred that are tacked on to virtually every blog post, published opinion and news article linked to the internet. It's universally accepted and acknowledged that most of what actual readers append is mindless drivel mixed with envy, bigotry, ignorance and political agendas of all imaginable colors.

But Comment Threads have always reminded me of walking into a crowded singles bar.

As you're scanning all the people you hope won't show any interest in you, you're also catching the reactions of those checking you out. You watch yourself being dismissed as too young or old, too short, too fat, wearing last year's suit or the stylish new tie that pegs you as a reader of "Details".

But as you push past all the rejection and silent criticism and thoughtless thoughts you're suddenly face to face with some cutie with sparkling eyes and an angelic smile just aching for you to buy her a drink.

I think this exemplifies the same reason I have an affection for talk radio. For whatever reason, I have an aversion to silence when I'm working. I blame it on having done too much writing in noisy production offices or the periphery of working sets.

I also can't write well to music. Somehow I get caught up in it and pretty soon I've got one of the characters in my head asking, "Are we gonna shoot this fucking guy or dance?"

So the solution for me has been the radio. Sports talk. Straight news. Callers voicing opinions on topics on which they are either well or hopelessly ill-informed.

Maybe they're a replacement for the audience immediacy I miss from my days in the theatre.

Maybe it's because -- often -- in the middle of all the fan bravado and implausible trades, all the real world gloom and doom and the phoned in vitriol, there still are those moments of pure truth and insight.

Ordinary people, the ones more like you and me than the pundits we read and quote, often have no agenda beyond "here's what my own life and experience have taught me."

Somehow, right or wrong, that relationship between actual life and resulting belief carries more weight with me than what comes from those dealing in the theoretical, the results of a statistical study or the findings of a focus group.

I realize all of those endeavors have scientific relevance. But real world, first-person, actual experience trumps all of it for me.

Over the last week, the Tucson Shooting debate over intransigent political positions and who had the most ability to squeeze the ultimate in nasty out of a remark railed on, unchecked by actual facts or the impassioned speech of a great orator asking for all concerned to show some class.

Despite all that, each side just kept going, insisted the other had started it and obviously wanted to continue it, and they'd stop -- just as soon as they got in a couple of really good final zingers.

If you ask me, the problem with almost all of our "discussions" these days is that we spend a lot of time bolstering our own position with quotes and links from the leading lights of whatever side of an issue we have embraced as our own.

I honestly believe there was a time when somebody could say "Here's what I think." and somebody else could counter with "Well, here's what I think." and one guy might change his mind. But if not, they both knew where they stood and moved on.

But given the way that the internet allows you to quickly find as much case law, editorial comment and well constructed badinage from well-known pundits, it's easier than it has ever been to pull informational rank on somebody else.

In a rational world, the weight of evidence eventually makes one holding an opposite opinion change their mind. But in one where the opportunity for re-direct and re-summation is almost endless, I just don't think we can even get there anymore.

It just feels like even if you prove a forensic case, it won't make any difference to those who already have a different agenda to champion.

Maybe bored with the Arizona debate and in need of one of our own, or because Canadians picture themselves as being more socially responsible and respectful of minority cultures than most, we seem to have gotten into a quagmire of our own this week.

Two days ago, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council "banned" the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing" because it includes the word "faggot".

I don't know any sensitive person, Gay or Straight, who doesn't think that word is insulting and ignorant. Trouble is, according to the CBSC, you can't even use it in that context, which was Marc Knopfler and Sting's intention when they wrote the song.

I'm not sure you can now even use it in the kind of compassionate argument against Gay Bashing that Elton makes in his song "American Triangle".

I also wonder if next Christmas, people will have forgotten the debate about whether or not "Baby, It's Cold Outside" depicts Date Rape and have moved on to condemning The Pogues for "Fairy Tale of New York."

And its hard to get clarity on all of that at the moment because you've got Gay groups and Gay men and women who've fought against having their lives and lifestyles censored for centuries now feeling the need to side with those who censor.

Meanwhile, on the other (?) side, you have writers and artists, who harbor no animosity to any sexual persuasion, feeling as if they are the ones now being fenced in and silenced -- even when they want to speak out against homophobia.

Searching for clarity in these matters, as (believe it or not) I almost always try to do before committing words to the vast emptiness of Cyberspace, I dropped down beneath a Globe and Mail editorial on the subject.

Floating amid the usual garbage and the vomit of the Comment Thread was this:

"Increasing attempts to remove "offensive" words from our vocabulary has an Orwellian feel to it. Newspeak was designed to get the proletariat to think less, and be less likely to form a intellectual class, through removing "needless" words from the dictionary.

By removing the ability of artists to use the full extent of the English language to create satire, we are encouraging ignorance - the root of racism, homosexuality etc. rather than working to eradicate it. And how exactly is "get your chicks for free" less offensive anyway?"

It reminded me of something I'd read earlier in the week in the comment thread of the same newspaper's TV column after the land's most esteemed critic had used his column space to once again piss on the "television racket" as a whole.

"…the Americans have been the new Japanese for the last four decades, endlessly copying the Brits and hoping to hit domestic gold with a relentless stream of rip-offs and 'adaptations' (imitations)."
"This seems to be a growing theme in Canada. I believe what's at play here is the realization among posters, but not Doyle, that the constant bashing of American TV by Canadians who only watch American TV and have no successful shows of their own is unseemly, even by Canadian standards. Thus, if enough Canadians repeat something similar to the quote above and it becomes part of Canadian belief system the result will be more Canadians able to reconcile watching American TV with everything else they know about the US."

The people who don't write newspaper columns or host TV shows or even have enough time on their hands to post to a blog have always been wiser and more capable of getting right to the heart of an issue.

Maybe we need to spend less time making sure we've got an extended ammo clip of supporting arguments and just get back to talking to them.

Maybe then, a few more of us might realize we're wrong about the stand we're taking -- even just a little -- and start walking away from the arguments and toward a better understanding of each other.

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