Sunday, March 9, 2008

On the Internet, No One Can Tell You're A Jerk...Oh, Wait....

It's no secret that the Internet brings the worst out in people. The prior candidate for the worst jerkiness you might personally encounter on a daily basis was the automobile. And people are still remarkably rude and belligerent out there on the road, suggesting that we really didn't have enough freeway shootings.

But the Internet is special. Just as no one knows you're a dog, no one can slug you for being a jerk. (Actually, they can, but most won't bother.) This is how people justify their shenanigans over at Althouse. Sure, they justify it by claiming she's a conservative but pretending that she's liberal, and therefore worthy of any punishment, but at some more visceral level, they justify it first by "can I get caught"?

I'm inclined to believe that the Old West was incredibly civil, in places.

Anyway, one particular subset of bad internet behavior is (mostly guys) dissing on (mostly female) celebrities. Recently, over at Ace's, he posted a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker. The usual crowd ripped on Mrs. Matthew Broderick--though, actually, on the scale of internet disses not that severely.

This sort of thing used to shock me. I've always found locker room talk amazingly vulgar, to say nothing of the callousness evident in people's attacks on celebrities. I've known a few celebs--grown up around a few, even and, as a general rule, they're people. (I'm not ruling out that some aren't, just none of the ones I've met.) They don't look much like their on-screen personae, and they're never like you'd imagine.

As a result, I tend to think, in this case, the reaction of various female bloggers is off. Not necessarily in reference to their own reactions--cause, duh, those are what they are--but to various other issues, like the internet being a public social area. I mean, it is that, but it is that like a port-a-potty is that, or a strip club is that, or a Star Trek convention is, if you like.

Internet destinations are ultimately self-selecting. The nastiest comments I've seen of this nature are on Fark. There's considerable self-knowledge amongst most (I hope) of said commenters: The "pointy knees" meme, for example, which suggests that it's perfectly rational for an ugly toad to reject a gorgeous woman on the basis of some trivial, probably imagined, flaw--this may have been posted seriously once but became forever after ironic. In any event, you don't deliberately go (and you can't be forced to stay) some place you don't like.

Ever few years, I visit Fark or (more frequently) Slashdot or various other sites, but ultimately I tire of the tone, and stop going for months or years at a time. I think the real issue here is that the women involved do (to some degree) like the sites in question. They expect better from them (for some definition of "better"). Ace has admonished against accusing any women of internalizing, but sort of amusingly, that's exactly how it read. Or if not internalizing, then generalizing.

Of course, there is a mixture of braggadocio, glibness, sour grapes and poor humor in a lot of these comments, as well as more than a bit of internet-empowered jerkiness. In fact, one defense offered by an Ace commenter is that these women hold themselves out as sex symbols and therefore can be judged that way with impunity.

In fact, looking at it, it's really no different from the schadenfreude that many women seem to enjoy in following celebrity news. It's just a different target.

'course, I have no intention of linking myself at any of these other blogs.

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