Zen and the Art of Not Pissing in People's Cheerios
However, following on elynross's post on people posting negative comments to squeeful posts, I thought I'd at least attempt something. It's a tricky thing for me to navigate, because on the one hand, I passionately believe in public discourse, and discussion is one of the things I love about fandom (although I'm really more into the analytical, predictive, lit-critty discussions than "this did or didn't work for me"). And yet, I've found myself staring at a comment to something I posted, usually a post that was nothing but fannish squee and a comment about how much the commenter didn't like the thing I was squeeing about, wondering, "And you needed to tell me this, why?" And I've increasingly been searching for what makes me feel that the comment was out of place.
And that phrasing will be important later.
Being me, I'm going to start with a metaphor. Shockingly, it does not involve food, but college sports.
Let's say you live in a town called, oh, Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. This town is home to a large university we'll call the U of I, and thus college teams – we'll call them the Fighting Illini. During football and basketball seasons, pro teams might was well not exist in this town, because everyone's following the college teams. Now, let' further say that you're a transplant from oh, Ohio, and are a lifelong Ohio State Buckeye fan. For those of you not into college sports, the Illini and the Buckeyes are both Big Ten teams. They're not rivals on the scale of, say, either school with Michigan, but they're competitors.
Now, in a season where both teams are reasonably competitive, which of the following would you consider to be appropriate behavior, or more importantly, where do you see the line being crossed into obnoxious behavior:
A. You go to a U of I/Ohio State game at the U of I's field/stadium and root for Ohio State.
B. You watch the same game from a sports bar in Champaign and root for Ohio State.
C. You attend a friend/co-worker's game-watching party, knowing most other attendees will be Illini fans, and you wear your Ohio State jersey and root for the Buckeyes.
D. After the Illini win a critical playoff game against Ohio State, you attend a friend/co-worker's victory celebration wearing your Ohio State jersey and talking about how much the Illini suck.
Now, for me, there's a fairly clear line right above D. A and B are things I think no reasonable person could object to. Yes, it can be annoying to be rooting for your team in a stadium or bar and have a rival fan right next to you (although let's face it: it's really only annoying when your team is losing), but we're talking about not only a public venue, but a common venue. Yes, the stadium belongs to one school, but its implicit purpose is to host games that include other teams and thus other fans. A sports bar, likewise, is a common space, and if you choose to go root for your team there, you do so knowing there might be fans of the other team.
C is where things get tricky. If a co-worker walked up to me and said, "Hey, a bunch of people are coming over Saturday to watch the game, wanna join us?", I would probably feel okay showing up and rooting for the Buckeyes. For my own comfort, I might mention it first, or at least think about what I know of the colleague and how likely she is to be okay with it, and I would probably be a lot less, "In your face, Illini" in my cheering, but I wouldn't assume that only Illini-positive cheering was welcome. OTOH, if she came up to me and said, "Hey, a bunch of people are coming to my house to cheer on the Illini, wanna come?" I would probably just smile and say, "Sorry, Buckeye fan" and not attend.
D, however, would be just obnoxious. However disappointed I was at my team losing, there's no excuse for bringing down the people who are happy about the outcome. There's no purpose to it. Maybe I'd go to a Buckeye chat room to commiserate with my fellow fans, but there's nothing to be served by walking my unhappiness to people who are happy.
What's that, you say? The game was determined by a couple of lousy calls? And injustice has been done, and this must be shouted? Fair enough. And there will be water cooler discussions and on-line arguments and debates over beers at Guido's. Is it necessary to walk those objections to a party? Does it serve a purpose? Is it likely to change the outcome?
You may see a couple of themes emerging, here. The first is time and place. One of my favorite rhetorical concepts (yes, I have favorite rhetorical concepts, shut up) is kairos, which means, well, a lot of things, but most simply, "the appropriate measure/speech/words in the appropriate time and appropriate place." It's a way of looking at how a given situation calls for a given response. Most of the discussions of kairos you see are all about the when, the time. Me, I'm all about the where, the space.
The other, closely related theme, is about reading the cues of that situation, about paying attention to how things are phrased, what the purpose of an event/discussion/venue is, and how that shapes appropriate response.
Especially key here is that in no way am I talking about not rooting for the Buckeyes, or not making your feelings about a game known. I'm simply talking about thinking about how and where and when you do it, and what effect it's likely to have on others.
By now, I'm guessing my metaphor is clear, but let's go ahead and walk it through ;).
You watch an episode of a TV show, and you don't like it. You may hate it, you may just be "meh," but you're not full of squee by a long shot. Where would you consider appropriate places to talk about or even just say you didn't like it:
A. A post in your own LJ.
B. A post in a community, either your own post, or a comment in a post set up for episode discussion.
C. A response to a post in someone else's LJ when the post amounts to, "Here's what did and didn't work for me. Thoughts?"
D. A response to a post in someone else's LJ when the post amounts to thinky but generally positive thoughts, and ends with, "What did you think?"
E. A response to a post in someone else's LJ when the post amounts to thinky but generally positive thoughts, and doesn't end with, "What did you think?"
F. A response to a post in someone else's LJ when the post amounts "OMG I loved that SO MUCH and here's all the reasons why."
Once again, A and B are easy. A is your LJ, your space, your thoughts. B is, in essence, the sports bar. It's a public space where people are brought together by the show, not necessarily by a given response to the show.
C explicitly invites response. Now, let's say it doesn't end with "thoughts?" I would still say that a "did and didn't work for me" post is implicitly inviting a similar response: that is, what did and didn't work for you. If it happens that your answer is mostly one or the other, you are still responding in the purpose of the post.
D, too, explicitly invites response, but E is a bit trickier. I generally assume that more analytical posts invite analytical response, although I personally try to keep my analysis on both the type and the topic of the analysis in the post (another thing that's occasionally made be go, "buh": I'll post an episode analysis that's about a very specific topic, and get, "I didn't like it for this completely unrelated reason."). What I'd say here is that you're in "wanna come over and watch the game" territory, where you may want to think about what you know of the person posting. That said, I think we can label this a bit of a gray area.
F, however, is both the impetus of this post and where I think the line into Cheerio-pissing gets crossed. I think it's safe to say that when someone's post starts off with, "OMG, I love this show SO MUCH!", they aren't looking to have an analytical discussion about the episode's failings.
And I just can't figure out why that's so hard to discern, or maybe just so hard even to think about.
A few years ago, I'd have put this down to the transition from lists to LJ. On lists, we were all in a sports bar. It was all common space, and if that had its own problems, there was no question about the appropriateness of posting your reactions to a space set up for various reactions.
LJ is much trickier, because we're all, in essence, hosting home viewings of the game. We're inviting people by sheer virtue of posting publicly, and thus opening ourselves up for response. And let me be very clear: I believe, strongly, in the notion that posting publicly means you're inviting response, and that to some extent, you are opening yourself up to unwelcome response. But I also believe that there is a commensurate burden on those giving the response to think about that response, to read the post and read the cues and look around the room and think about whether now is the time to yell, "Illini suck eggs!"
(You'll notice that I'm assuming in all of this, by the way, that people care at all about the effects of their actions on other people. I know that's not true of some people, but I kind of have to assume it is true of most, or what the hell is the point of anything?)
Because really, the bottom line here is that no one gets to cry "Silencing of unpopular opinions! Oppression!" in the age of LJ. You have your own LJ. If you want to host a Buckeye party in Champaign-Urbana, no one is stopping you. And hey, you'll almost certainly get more attendees than you think, if for no other reason than because there will always be people who are tired of hearing about the @#$%ing Illini. If you hated an episode, you have a venue for it. You can even invite debate if that's what you're looking for. What I'm suggesting is that the place to do it isn't someone's "OMG SQUEEE" post.
And again, there are gray areas. Me, I figure that the more thinky my post is, even if the thinky is all positive, the more likely I am to get negative commentary, and I accept that. However, there are people who would disagree with me on that, I'm sure, and would say that an all-positive post should not receive negative commentary. This isn't a clear science. However, what I'd really like to see is more discussion, or maybe just some acknowledgement, that commenting should involve a certain awareness of the cues a post is giving. That we at least think about it.
And that we also think about the purpose of a given comment. Why are you saying it? In a picspam post that talks about how hot a given character is, what exactly is the purpose of commenting that she/he is an uggo? What's the point of the throwaway sentence about how much you didn't like an episode? Why are you commenting about how much a show sucks in a post that's talking about a particular character detail? Note: I'm not talking about, "Well, that's kind of indicative of the bad writing overall." I'm talking about, "I stopped watching after the first episode because it sucked so hard." Okay. That contributes to the discussion at hand how?
And again, to be really, really clear, I am not talking about what we post in our own LJs. I'm talking about what we say in other people's. And yes, we have a perfect right to respond to a public post, etc, etc. I'm suggesting we think about whether we should, about whether we're contributing to a discussion or just pissing in someone's Cheerios.