Thursday, November 02, 2006

into the fray she descends

What is fair game on a blog?

Several people have written on this lately, and it's an interesting question. How much should you censor your writing when you aren't the subject? Does a blogger have the right to tell another person's story?

How much of a blog about another person should be abstract and disguised with euphamisms and nicknames? I'm not even talking about about quality of your content here (I once referred to an ex as The Boyfriend, thereby committing Awful Blogging Cliche #417); just the responsibility factor. Because there is some majorly effed up stuff going on with some other bloggers, and the hints and winks and nudges don't disguise it and don't make it less ugly than the people who put a name to a face, or blog, or whatever.

I happen to think that criticism of writing is fair game. You write, people read what you write, they have opinions on it. And yes, I know I enjoy run-on sentences and split infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions way too much. And I type in all caps way too much. And many other things. And I start sentences with "And." If someone wants to call me out for that or other things about my writing, that's definitely playing by the rules.

This doesn't mean that all criticism is good. A lot of critics are tools, or stupid, or ill-informed. But hey, even the dumbasses get space on the Internet just like we do. That whole First Amendment thing is such a pest.

Where this gets murky is when the criticism starts to get personal. A lot of us write about our personal lives on our blogs, which begs the argument that as content, our personal lives are fair game for other people to comment on. Even if we bloggers don't like that, we have to accept the reality of it.

Just as readers have the right to call out a blogger, so does a blogger have the right to defend him or herself. We get these little corners of the Internet so that we can make our voices heard, and it's completely understandable to get defensive when someone makes fun of or disparages what we do here.

I don't believe for a single second that there is one person on the planet who is immune to criticism and mockery. Whenever people say "I don't care what you think of me," I instead hear "Oh God, pleeeeease like me." Bloggers especially-- be honest, we all have open comment boxes and Sitemeters for a reason. I mean, if you really don't care what other people think, why are you giving them your writing in the first place? Why not just keep a journal?

So, how much responsibility should a blogger take for the stories he or she does tell? If your readers choose to get very fired-up about a topic and take it beyond your original intent, do you have to own that? Recently some well-known bloggers (who I read and enjoy) had their children's posted photos taken and Photoshopped in rather crude ways by some blogger looking for attention. He got it, all right-- we're talking hundreds of comments calling him sick, vile, a pervert, threatening legal action and violence against his right to publish and his body. Honestly, those strings of comments, which were meant to be supportive, creeped me out more than some random loser who Photoshopped a turd into a photo of a toddler.

Sometime the cure is worse than the disease, people. Righteous anger from the parents is understandable, but a there is a difference between a child molester and a garden-variety jerk, a distinction that seemed to be lost on the general audience.

Something similar is happening now, and the bile that people seem to have for someone who "attacks" a popular blogger is really disturbing. I assume there's other, non-posted stuff going on that I don't know about, because people are saying some really nasty stuff that in my opinion is not fair game. Not to get too Pollyanna here, but if we channeled all of that nastiness into getting angry about something that actually had significance to the general world, like, oh, say, that war we're in or the pathetic state of the public schools in this city or the fact that my Safeway seems to have stopped stocking Softbatch cookies and that is REALLY NOT OKAY, then maybe we could get some good done out of all this anger? Productivity, not mud-slinging? Is that too idealistic a pipe-dream for this town?

Writing and writing styles are personal, but bloggers are all about making the personal public. So where does that leave us? Bound by very few rules and safe to hide in comment boxes and write things we would never say in public to a person's face because most of us really are very decent, very nice people who don't harbor violent fantasies or walk around telling perfect strangers that they're twatwaffles. Or we hide behind "personas" to bash people and lifestyles and choices and defend being a jerk because we're writing in character, like, it's just a role people, and you know I don't really mean the things I write here but I'm still keepin' it real.

Hell, I don't know where the line is. I doubt there is one. But I've read a lot of stuff lately that made me think "wow, that was not cool."


Hey Pretty said...

Agreed. It saddens me when blogs that I otherwise enjoy reading turn into public forums designed to critique a person's character. I know that in these instances, there is plenty going on behind the scenes that I don't know about, but still. Why can't we all just get along?

sparkles anonymous! said...

Agreed, a million times over. I've stopped reading Perez Hilton for some of the reasons you mentioned (despite being a raving whore for celeb gossip) because he was using his forum to out people who had no intention of being outed. Some things are just not fair game.

Kathryn Is So Over said...

Believe it or not, I completely agree with you. Not a proud day for this blogger.

bettyjoan said...

Amen, sister. I heart you SO much! :-)

Hammer said...

A lot of the time, the truly vicious stuff that goes on in our little scene, such as it is, is extraordinarily subtle rather than overt. Doesn't make it any less calculating and deplorable though. Fortunately, the sharp and discerning folks out there see through all that maneuvering and posturing, and they're not impressed. Not one little bit.