March 8th, 2010 / 2:10 pm
Behind the Scenes

Mailbag! – Feedback on the Feedback Edition

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_Zh_c9MvuJuY/ST95vHbdsGI/AAAAAAAAAsE/4c0Q7Wxo3HA/s400/Viewer-Mail.jpgOne of our regular commenters-in-good-standing, mimi, posed this question in a comment on this post of mine from a couple days ago.

>>I sometimes wonder how contributors feel about posts that don’t get any (or any serious) comments, because they _have_ gone to some effort. I for one am paying attention, even though most of my comments are kind of goofy.<<

I started to answer her in the thread, but then thought that maybe this was something more people would like to know about, so I’m posting it here. My longer-than-she-probably-wanted answer after the break.

the answer, mimi, is that it is disappointing when you work hard on something and don’t get any comments back about it– or you do get some, but they’re all from people doing the rough blog-equivalent of chucking dogshit at the ceiling fan. You write, “I’ve read (elsewhere on the blogosphere) that some chicks won’t come here any more because of the ‘misogyny’.” That’s true. I’ve read it, as well as had people tell it to me directly. I’d say three things to that- first, I think we’ve gotten worlds better about that, on the whole; second, nobody here wants to get into the game of catering to the most PC elements in a scene–if people feel that strongly about what they encounter here, then maybe the problem isn’t with us, it’s with them, and they should find a site better suited to their taste; third, American culture (the arts no less than elsewhere) has strong misogynist currents in it, which are usually unaddressed and untreated, but which occasionally rear up and make things very ugly and unpleasant for anyone in attendance. We are by no means outside of the culture, and even as we attempt to produce culture, we are always also products of culture. That’s not an excuse, btw; it’s a diagnosis. But it does disappoint me to think that someone who might be an avid reader or contributor-to-the-larger-conversation-we’re-having is turned off or won’t come by because of a concern about what they’ll encounter or how they’ll be treated.

But here is the thing–there’s an entire school of thought–and a whole major segment of our readership–that simply doesn’t see the value in going on-record in a comments thread, period. Those people tend to either respond to individual authors directly via email if they have something to say to us, or else to simply pass the link around without feeling the need to be in touch with us at all. For them, it’s not a question of offense or not, or anything having to do with merit or ethics at all–they are people who simply prefer not to leave a large (or any) kind of body of casual, short-form shoot-first-ask-questions-never writing out there on the web for people to find. They have a high suspicion concerning what comes of leaving the web riddled with these kinds of personal droppings, and though I (obviously) have not made the same choice as they have as a result of this concern, I do think that the suspicion itself is very healthy.

That, or they just don’t want to spend the time. Which also makes sense, especially as I approach the sixty-minute mark of attention-devoted-to-this-thing-I’m-typing. But hey, in for a penny in for a pound. Onward!

I’m fine with any/all of these approaches people have. We have some really amazing commenters here–people I feel like I’ve really gotten to know over the year+, whose opinions I respect immensely, and whose sustained presence on the site’s threads contributes to its vitality in a very real way. If David Rylance or Tim Jones-Yelvington or Lincoln Michel or Amber Noelle Sparks wants to leave a five-paragraph comment on a post of mine, there is a 100% chance of my reading it, and if they’ve raised issues that warrant a response, they’re going to get one. Not that it’s just those 4, but those are some of the best examples off the top of my head. you yourself obviously belong on this list- as evidenced by this note i’m writing you right now. Not to suggest it’s a contest, or that there’s any kind of meritocracy in place (obvs there’s not) but this is a basic outline of where I am coming from. And I can’t speak for any other contributor here, but that’s me.

And  I don’t have a problem with goofy comments. I’ve made plenty, and I like reading them. I don’t mind a ‘goofy’ comment on a ‘serious’ post–mine or anyone else’s. But goofy is a relative standard, and I think what happens a lot of times on here is that people don’t see eye to eye on what’s ‘goofy’ vs what’s mean/offensive/stupid/etc.

People are free to react however they want to to whatever they find here. That’s the risk we take when we post stuff. But I also reserve the right to react however I want to to whatever gets said to, or about me, or even has nothing to do with me but exists in a forum attached to something I wrote. Because at the end of the day, those comments are attached to something with my name on it–nobody forced that commenter (especially if they’re posting anonymously) into an association with me, but I have now effectively been forced into one with them, because their words are attached to my words, and it would be easy for a future reader to assume that anything I don’t denounce outright I must therefore condone. That’s not fair to me, and I have a responsibility to myself to (1) make sure that the occasionally disgusting or offensive things posted by commenters do not represent my own personal position(s); but simultaneously (2) that I don’t spend ten hours a day policing the very worst and saddest troll-people who occasionally pop in here to spread their brand of Xmas cheer. Usually, this isn’t an issue at all, but when it’s something like the absolute and inexcusable shit-show that the comment-thread on my Molly Young post became, it becomes a huge problem–not just ethical, but practical, because trying to keep up with PHM’s misogyny-engine is like trying to bail out a sinking ship with a grapefruit spoon. So I made my point as early on as I could–which was that I thought the emergent nature of the discussion was debased, disgusting, offensive, and beneath my dignity to engage with–then I tried to stand by my own words by not contributing a single new comment to the roughly 200 which followed mine. The hardest part, honestly, was not letting myself just delete the whole sad thread. Because as long as all that poison is sitting there, like an albatross around the neck of the post, I’m not free to pass my own link around without having to also include an advance explanation/apology to the person I’m sending it to about what they’re going to find when they get there.

But stuff like that only happens very rarely. What happens more often, and is more interesting, is that sometimes a piece that garners either no comments (or no good ones) will still get widely read and passed around. The site-meter is a better gauge of a piece’s reach than the number of posted comments, and I think that a better gauge yet is to see the incoming links–though the last two are intimately related. The best example of this is Jimmy Chen’s Tom Wolfe post a while back. It got no or almost no comments, but it is among the most-read pieces in our site’s history. Why? As I wrote at the time (in a post that itself got ZERO comments, much to my surprise–I was expecting an influx of kudos and cheers to JC), it was because Andrew Sullivan picked it up, and that sent about 15k people our way. Not one of them, apparently, felt inclined to type “lol” in the comment box, though it seems fair to assume that at least some of them–not least of all Sullivan himself–must have done just that.

369 Comments

  1. ryan

      Praise of shitty writing does not counterbalance anything.

  2. ryan

      Jimmy’s posts definitely invites the trash commentators. The tone of the blog itself -does- play a part in the recent stream of shit.

  3. ryan

      Jimmy’s posts definitely invites the trash commentators. The tone of the blog itself -does- play a part in the recent stream of shit.

  4. keith n b

      htmlg is morphing from within. the original impulse toward ultimate, almost devastating liberation via anarchy and transgression is caving under the pressures of conscience and common sense. it’s been a fascinating process to watch. the move from cannibalism to agriculture. certainly the latter is more sustainable and compassionate, so to speak, while the latter is more possessed and ecstatic.

      i love it when htmlg gets all introspective. i feel you, htmlg, i hear you. we hear you breathing.

  5. keith n b

      htmlg is morphing from within. the original impulse toward ultimate, almost devastating liberation via anarchy and transgression is caving under the pressures of conscience and common sense. it’s been a fascinating process to watch. the move from cannibalism to agriculture. certainly the latter is more sustainable and compassionate, so to speak, while the latter is more possessed and ecstatic.

      i love it when htmlg gets all introspective. i feel you, htmlg, i hear you. we hear you breathing.

  6. gena

      kate,
      “(I teach gender and sexuality and race studies, btw).”

      no wonder your personality is flat and you repeat the same things over and over. you’re regurgitating to us what you’ve read from textbooks. what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”. don’t you see that there is no absolute right or wrong answer to anything?

      oh and i appreciate how you just ignored my comment about you offending me. thanks for being so insensitive. i found it ironic.

  7. gena

      kate,
      “(I teach gender and sexuality and race studies, btw).”

      no wonder your personality is flat and you repeat the same things over and over. you’re regurgitating to us what you’ve read from textbooks. what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”. don’t you see that there is no absolute right or wrong answer to anything?

      oh and i appreciate how you just ignored my comment about you offending me. thanks for being so insensitive. i found it ironic.

  8. Tim Ramick

      Blake—you say above: “i’d rather do the real thing: that is, talking about the work at hand. this is sidebar…”

      The real thing is DOING the work, of course, not talking about it. Talking about it is already sidebar. HTMLGIANT is sidebar (though it’s informative and often vibrant sidebar). Critical discussion is important—and is a way to cut through some of the loneliness of a day or night spent in solitary confinement with one’s own work. But it fast devolves into drivel when invective overwhelms respectful disagreement.

      I, like Tricia, told myself to steer clear of Giant’s comment streams after sampling only a small portion of the recent juvenile shitstorms (there is nothing liberating—or transgressive in any interesting way—about boys being boys). I take in enough mental toxins and puerile banality through incidental living—I don’t want to suck down more of the foul stuff via my own volition (especially if the comments are blatant sexism or racism or just plain old meanness hiding behind cowardly anonymity or in-the-club exemption). I don’t consider myself thin-skinned, but I think the brutality of assaultive language is as comparatively repulsive in this realm as physical brutality is in the world at large.

      This conversation has merit (and is already 130+ comments strong and only a few of them are unnecessarily inflammatory or stupid side-of-mouth jokey spew). This site can stand to become a tiny bit more mature (through occasional introspective discussions like this one, as well as its normal informative fare) without caving into anything resembling PC homogenization and without having to give up any of its legitimate edge or anarchic vitality.

      You and Justin (and all of your regular contributors) lead by example, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not, whether you want the responsibility or not.

      And I hope ZZZZIPP continues to keep me grinning by playing Giant’s Shakespearean fool.

  9. Tim Ramick

      Blake—you say above: “i’d rather do the real thing: that is, talking about the work at hand. this is sidebar…”

      The real thing is DOING the work, of course, not talking about it. Talking about it is already sidebar. HTMLGIANT is sidebar (though it’s informative and often vibrant sidebar). Critical discussion is important—and is a way to cut through some of the loneliness of a day or night spent in solitary confinement with one’s own work. But it fast devolves into drivel when invective overwhelms respectful disagreement.

      I, like Tricia, told myself to steer clear of Giant’s comment streams after sampling only a small portion of the recent juvenile shitstorms (there is nothing liberating—or transgressive in any interesting way—about boys being boys). I take in enough mental toxins and puerile banality through incidental living—I don’t want to suck down more of the foul stuff via my own volition (especially if the comments are blatant sexism or racism or just plain old meanness hiding behind cowardly anonymity or in-the-club exemption). I don’t consider myself thin-skinned, but I think the brutality of assaultive language is as comparatively repulsive in this realm as physical brutality is in the world at large.

      This conversation has merit (and is already 130+ comments strong and only a few of them are unnecessarily inflammatory or stupid side-of-mouth jokey spew). This site can stand to become a tiny bit more mature (through occasional introspective discussions like this one, as well as its normal informative fare) without caving into anything resembling PC homogenization and without having to give up any of its legitimate edge or anarchic vitality.

      You and Justin (and all of your regular contributors) lead by example, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not, whether you want the responsibility or not.

      And I hope ZZZZIPP continues to keep me grinning by playing Giant’s Shakespearean fool.

  10. gena

      wow, you must be really angry at him. i don’t understand how someone could harbor so much hatred towards someone they’ve never met? i think it’s really irrational. maybe you should get psychological help so we don’t find you at our doorstep?

  11. gena

      wow, you must be really angry at him. i don’t understand how someone could harbor so much hatred towards someone they’ve never met? i think it’s really irrational. maybe you should get psychological help so we don’t find you at our doorstep?

  12. gena

      p.s. just saw your post about what happened here. so passive-aggressive of you. it’s like i’m reading your private diary…but i’m not. i’m reading you complain on your blog. you really are a weak person. i feel bad for you, because it really DOES seem like people’s comments affect your mental state much more than they should. it’s sad, kate. really sad.

  13. gena

      p.s. just saw your post about what happened here. so passive-aggressive of you. it’s like i’m reading your private diary…but i’m not. i’m reading you complain on your blog. you really are a weak person. i feel bad for you, because it really DOES seem like people’s comments affect your mental state much more than they should. it’s sad, kate. really sad.

  14. David

      gena, i wasn’t going to comment any further, so i’ll keep this short. my irritation above hardly qualifies as hatred, about the only thing that i wish i hadn’t said after even more reflection was that jereme was not all that bright, that being a slur on a level and kind approaching something someone like you would say, and in fact have said in this very thread, but since you, like jereme, seem to have some special “life studies” doctorate that gives you such piercing clarity into people’s psychological states, who am i to argue? guess i’m just a hater. in which case, i will say that your snarkiness and troll-like baiting of people is really sad, very much a case of you playing whatever cards you can grab to try and raise stakes, rather than speak to any takeable point at all. still, what’s more tedious is your attack on people like kate for supposedly being mind-droned by “textbooks” (or, hm, are they just books? sorta changes the connotation if they are, don’t it?) you clearly haven’t read, or understood, yourself only to counter all that pesky book knowledge with the tired mouthing of the most inane ideas of our culture, like: “don’t you see that there is no absolute right or wrong answer to anything?” oh, the humanity! thank god, we can all go to bed then, nothing else to talk about. nighty night.

  15. David

      gena, i wasn’t going to comment any further, so i’ll keep this short. my irritation above hardly qualifies as hatred, about the only thing that i wish i hadn’t said after even more reflection was that jereme was not all that bright, that being a slur on a level and kind approaching something someone like you would say, and in fact have said in this very thread, but since you, like jereme, seem to have some special “life studies” doctorate that gives you such piercing clarity into people’s psychological states, who am i to argue? guess i’m just a hater. in which case, i will say that your snarkiness and troll-like baiting of people is really sad, very much a case of you playing whatever cards you can grab to try and raise stakes, rather than speak to any takeable point at all. still, what’s more tedious is your attack on people like kate for supposedly being mind-droned by “textbooks” (or, hm, are they just books? sorta changes the connotation if they are, don’t it?) you clearly haven’t read, or understood, yourself only to counter all that pesky book knowledge with the tired mouthing of the most inane ideas of our culture, like: “don’t you see that there is no absolute right or wrong answer to anything?” oh, the humanity! thank god, we can all go to bed then, nothing else to talk about. nighty night.

  16. gena

      oooh, you seem to hate me too.

      like i said before: please don’t show up on our doorstep.

  17. gena

      oooh, you seem to hate me too.

      like i said before: please don’t show up on our doorstep.

  18. Blake Butler

      this has been, well, something. thanks to everyone for chiming in.

      i’m going to close comments on this thread now. time to move on.

  19. Blake Butler

      this has been, well, something. thanks to everyone for chiming in.

      i’m going to close comments on this thread now. time to move on.

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