Saturday, November 09, 2013

On the internets, mean is the new green

Historiann weighs in on the mean-spirited review of Disregarding Henry in The Chronicle and quite reasonably wonders why the reviewer bashes the author of a memoir about her experiences as the mother of a special needs child for telling the story of her experiences as the mother of a special needs child.  The substance of the review, which says little about the book in question, is that the author hasn't suffered enough and in the proper ways.

From what I can see, this review is an anomaly. The Chronicle actually has better standards and is less willing to publish mean-spirited stuff than they used to be.  I'm surprised, though,  they let this one get to press unless (cynically) they thought of it as conversation-inspiring click-bait, as some of Historiann's commenters suggest. 

Old-school journalism used to say "If it bleeds, it leads," and advertising says "sex sells" (though Don Draper begs to differ).

On the internets, although we do love our cuteness overloads and cat videos and 5 amazing tricks to lose weight/get money/be productive/be more eco-conscious, we have a new measurement of success. Mean is the new green. If you doubt it, check out any comments section except those of our esteemed preceptress Historiann and the academic blogosphere. (Or don't, because you can't unsee the meanness in the comments.) We can't get enough of schadenfreude or of Daffy Duck syndrome: "It is not sufficient that I succeed. You must also fail."

The biggest surprise is that in this case, meanness moved above the fold to become the article itself. I'm guessing, or maybe hoping, that it was a lapse that won't be repeated soon.


Historiann said...

Thanks for the link and for adding your thoughts, Undine.

Whenever I write posts like these, I'm very ambivalent. First, it feels too easy ("Hey, lookit what this jackass has to say, let's pile on teh stoopid!"). Second, are we just spreading around the mean in the guise of criticizing it? I wonder. (Kind of like the old sporting press in NYC in the 1830s and 40s, which would publish the addresses of & delights found within brothels in the pose of decrying prostitution, when of course their real purpose was to titillate and share the information with interested gentlemen . . . )

Anonymous said...

Historian, there's a difference btw pointing out something is a personal attack rather than a professional article (and shame on the chronicle) and perpetuating stupid media driven mommy wars by attacking the author back. Such things deserve criticism, though personally I don't like to link back to the original click bait in these cases. (Also I think attacking the author's body of work is fine in these discussions, but not her own personal life, even as she attacked her victim's.). Chronicle should have known better or is deliberately trying out low brow.

undine said...

Historiann, I see what you mean. I was ambivalent, too, but then I figured that maybe not calling out the behavior may help to perpetuate it. I do get tired of internet meanness, and the Chronicle ought to know better. (I thought it had, in fact, gotten better about mean columns.)

nicoleandmaggie--I agree, though I probably shouldn't have linked back. I did look at one of the reviewer's other reviews and found it to be much the same.

Historiann said...

I wonder if the 2000s and early 2010s will retrospectively look like the height of jackassery on the interwebs years from now. I see so much more commentary to the effect of "watch your social media use/profiles and be careful what you post online, because employers now care what you say and how you behave on Twitter, blogs, the old fB, etc." At least, I hope it's having its desired effect! People seem so much more aware of curating their internet presence than they were 5 or 10 years ago.

Thanks for the reassurance that I'm not just a lazy and/or mean blogger myself, BTW.

undine said...

I hope you're right, although just when I think the idiocy and jackassery can't get worse, it takes another dive. Of course, if i would just stop reading comment threads, which have an unholy fascination for me, maybe that wouldn't be true. It's true that more people are at least aware that if it's on the internet, it's forever.