When good forums go bad

I've been pretty active in the political web forum world the past few years, and what I've learned is that just about any web forum, no matter how benign its purpose or uncontroversial its subject matter, can turn ugly if negative or hostile or aggressively stupid members are allowed to dominate the conversation unchecked. When that happens you have three choices: you can ignore it, you can fight back, or you can leave. In this case I found it hard to ignore, because the hostility was hitting pretty close to home: a lot of snide remarks about academia, a lot of juvenile stereotyping of academics, a lot of chest-puffing anti-intellectualism of the Limbaugh variety (it was even suggested that I'd been "brainwashed by academia"—echoes of Horowitz, ferfuckinchrissakes). I don't really have the time or energy to engage it—too many papers to grade, little kids, copy edits due in two weeks—plus, after a year or so on crimespace I realize that such attitudes are pretty deeply ingrained: literary fiction writers get all the girls, or something. I did post a long, impassioned rant in which I said as clearly as I could that I took such attacks personally, since my wife, my father and most of my closest friends are artists, poets, lit-fic writers and/or academics, but the poo continued to fly. After another round or two, I left. It's possible that I'll sign up again when the new book is a little closer to its release date. Or, you know, not.


John McFetridge said...

Art is like food - even when there's an abundance some people choose to live on junk food.

And a steady diet of entertainment (even high quality entertainment) and schlock leads to all the same problems as malnutrition.

You can say, "Pffft, nutrionists, what do they know, this tastes better," but you'll get fat and lazy and be cranky all the time and start listening to Rush Limbaugh and pretty soon the whole world will be out to get you, and...

Jon Loomis said...

I love escapist "entertainments," as Greene called them—at least when they're well done. There's absolutely nothing wrong with them, although I'm baffled by the whole horror genre (isn't life scary enough?), and this business of romantic virgin vampires, or whatever they are. You can make the claim that "Twilight" or "The Stand" is art, but it's a little like making the claim that creationism is science: you have to really, really not know what the fuck you're talking about in order to be able to do it with a straight face.

John McFetridge said...

It's possible, too, that if you really-really know what the fuck you're talking about you can make a claim for something being art that wasn't considered art and you'll be able to back up that claim with some reasons and others will agree with you after considering what you've said and why.

It's happened that things that were rejected by the art world were later reconsidered. I guess for what we were talking about Chandler is the poster boy.

It's just so rare.

And the reasons have to be more than, "I like it," or "Lots of people like it."

Someone said that the worst thing that happened in America these last ten years was that people who have spent their whole lives studying something, doing research, reading everyone else's research, receiving PhDs, etc., carry no more wieght in the discussion than some guy who just wandered in.

It's like that in policy meetings about climate change, the economy and the arts.

It's sort of democracy without responsibility.