Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Hold Off

I’ve been away for a while.

Earlier this year, I spent about a month not writing for The Blogge. Then, it was simply a case of life accelerating a little bit. Something had to flop off the side of the wagon, and License d’Editoriale was it. And I did eventually stop the wagon, run back, pick the blog up and dust it off, and reassure it that I had not abandoned it, and would never let anything like that happen to it ever again, and whaddya say we go get an ice cream?

Whoops. So much for never ever again.

This time, though, it’s been a solid six weeks of nearly writing. An attention-getting number of times, an item has appeared in my online news feed which has struck me as fertile source material for a Mighty Online Comment. Consistently, that item was an action or an event or a public figure’s statement that I found so irresponsible, dangerous or downright unnecessarily cruel that I could barely wrap my brain around it.

(Maybe it’s a little-publicized alternate sign of the Apocalypse, or something: humanity will finally be irretrievably on its way to Hell In A Handbasket when we can’t keep ourselves from saying any old awful thing that pops into our heads. I used to hope that it was just our immature use of relatively-nascent Internet Comment Section technology. But not all of the miserable utterances came from the Interwebs. Technology isn’t good or evil; it’s just sitting there, and it’s what we do with it that turns it to the light or dark sides.)

For one example: in late September, the actor Emma Watson delivered a speech to the United Nations that stressed the importance of men’s involvement in promoting women’s rights – and immediately received death threats.

I was about to rail against this sort of awful treatment of people who are merely expressing what strike me as perfectly reasonable ideas, and doing so in a constructive manner, to boot. But before I could even hit “publish”, those death threats were revealed to be a hoax – one aimed at shutting down a website that specialized in leaking compromising photos of celebrities.

I wasn’t sure who the hell I should root for. Other than Ms. Watson, obviously.

For another example: right around that same time, a woman working in New York City as a bartender Facebook-posted an open letter “to the stranger who put his hand on my ass and asked if he could take me ‘to go’”. Apparently, that was the stranger’s answer to her bartender-ly question about whether he’d be ordering any food, or needing anything else from her (in terms of beverages, no doubt, since that was in the job description of tending bar). She wrote that this joke-but-not-a-joke was not atypical in her five years of bartending, from customers who clearly thought it was okay to engage in sexual harassment, under-the-radar though it might be.

This time something snapped, though, and the bartender took the fellow’s signed credit card receipt and utilized The Google to find out who he was. He was a hedge-fund manager, and a pretty high-end one. So she made sure to identify him by name in her broken-camel’s-back open letter. “I deal with incredible amounts of entitlement, condescension, and drunk nonsense,” she wrote, “and at a bar, it is impossible to ignore the fact that misogyny is alive and well. I can’t tell you how many times people have treated me horribly and I’ve memorized or photographed the names from their credit cards, fantasizing about internet revenge. But every time I’ve been tempted in the past (even after verbal attacks, physical affronts, or sexual harassment) I’ve stopped myself and let it go.”

(“I hear ya,” I thought, in her direction.)

But this time she hadn’t let it go, and she supposed that perhaps “via the intimately-connected Internet world, my post will reach you, and you’ll learn something about how hurtful and upsetting a small comment or gesture might be.” Reach him it did … a subsequent New York Post article reported that the hedge-fund manager actually made what he thought was a righteously aggrieved protestation of innocence. Remarkably – though perhaps not totally surprisingly – it was this:

He says he’s a connoisseur of the ‘ass grab’ – but this waitress just wasn’t on his menu.

A wealthy hedge-fund titan made a bungled attempt to defend himself against a claim that he fondled a waitress at a trendy Soho restaurant, by bizarrely bragging that he gropes other women all the time.

‘I’ve grabbed plenty of girls’ asses in my life,’ Brian H. Lederman boasted to The Post. ‘But I’ve never grabbed hers.’”

I didn’t know whether to start with the misogyny, the disrespect of fellow humans, or the sheer unadulterated attitude. But I couldn’t hit publish, because the quivering paralysis of not knowing which of those indignities to lash out at first was causing me not to be able to see straight.

(It’s a metaphor … but not by much.)

For a final example: a couple of weeks ago, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation fired its highest-rated radio personality. But not for reasons of poor job performance. Only hours after the firing was announced, that radio star Facebook-posted a 25-paragraph essay that presented his side of the story (“as friends and family of mine, you are owed the truth”) – including his contention that he was fired because of some details of his private-, not professional-, life. “I am still in shock,” he wrote. “But I am telling this story to you so the truth is heard. And to bring an end to the nightmare.”

As I read his essay, I mused that each side of this conflict, in some way, might have violated the unwritten but still sensible Heat Of The Moment Code. Look before you leap, and all that, for various legitimate reasons. I also supposed that anyone in this radio star’s position is kidding themselves if they think that publishing 25 paragraphs of probably-subjective interpretations on the Internet – even on the theoretically but not actually private Facebook! – will put an end to anything. “The nightmare may just be beginning,” I sagely opined. And I very nearly hit “publish” … but then something, curiously, told me: wait.

So, again, I held off.

Good thing too. The story acquired another chapter: within a week after the radio star’s Facebook post, at least nine women (including a few CBC employees) came forward and alleged that the radio star, in the course of his private-life activities, had treated them abusively – thus calling into question his original contention that those at-least-R-rated activities were consensual.

My post’s original sage suppositions – “perhaps the CBC acted hastily”, and “perhaps it would have been wiser for the radio star not to publish that essay quite so hastily” – had had a light cast upon them that rendered them very nearly obsolete.

Whew! Save, and a beauty. Perhaps I can chalk it up to “I sensed a disturbance in the Force; as if millions of blog readers suddenly cried out in terror…”

So, I’ve spent the portion of the last six weeks that would ordinarily have been devoted to creative writing … doing the equivalent of taking a careful step into the crosswalk and then jumping back onto the curb because I thought my peripheral vision saw a truck coming.

I’m not spooked, exactly. The blog is still up and running. It’s a lot easier to write posts about fluffy things like Star Trek aliens that only draw troll-ish rebuttals from the Mostly Harmless. But there are important issues to address, and horrible behavior to rail against. One could retreat into the world of “it’s too much for one person to change on his own, armed only with a simple blog.” The thought is tempting. But it’s a thought rooted in taking the easy way out. Debatable, in the end, whether I’d sleep as well knowing that I’d figuratively washed my hands of it and just bailed.

I do care about the world that my niece and nephew (among other young souls) will inherit, more than I care about just ignoring the creeps and the bullies and the politicians and focusing on living a quiet, insulated, happy little existence.

As they used to post on the TV screen just before Johnny Carson went to commercial …

More To Come.


November 5, 2014 - Posted by | blogging, current events, Internet, news, social media, writing

1 Comment »

  1. […] I have suggested previously in this space, no, a Facebook page isn’t, strictly speaking, totally public, like Twitter is. […]

    Pingback by Hold Off, Part 3 -or- Consider the Source (Especially When It’s You) « Editorial License | November 30, 2014 | Reply

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