Wednesday, August 29, 2007

COLUMN: Comments

I remember the first time I got on the internet. All at once, it was the gateway to a new dawn, an exciting future opening up over the horizon, and at least three or four other equally corny phrases.

Where would it all lead? Perhaps a portal for commerce. Maybe a way to communicate with people on the other side of the globe. A design to bring humanity together, to strengthen the bonds of man, to unite us all as one.

Or maybe, just maybe, it would be an easier way for a random stranger to call me a jerk and an idiot.

I love our newspaper's website, but I'll tell you what, I sure loved it more when you couldn't anonymously comment on every story. Actually, I don't mind the occasional criticism -- I'd just prefer it came from RATIONAL human beings, and rationality doesn't come easy on the internet.

In a way, it's karmic retribution. When I first got online, one of the first places I hung out at was a site for like-minded pop culture nerds such as myself. The premise was that it'd be a super-neat way to meet people from around the world and have thoughtful discussions and discourse about the state of popular entertainment. The reality was that it was a super-neat way to meet people from around the world and insult them mercilessly. You don't like this band? Then you CERTAINLY must be stupid. Oh, yeah? Well, YOU'RE stupid, stupid! Ad infinitum.

I know what it's like to get burned by somebody online, so I shouldn't take anonymous criticism too seriously. Yet every time I see a negative comment on one of my columns, I have to forcibly stop my competitive side from yelling "Game On!" and writing an equally pointless vitriolic rebuttal. Every week, the ritual goes something like this:

(1) I write a column. I try to be funny. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.

(2) The first online comment that always appears is something along the lines of: "Is this what passes for news nowadays?" NO. IT'S NOT. I'm a columnist, not a reporter. The day I break a news story will be the day you realize that something has gone horribly, horribly amiss at the paper. Not every iota of a newspaper is devoted to hard news. You'll find as much news in my columns as you'll find in one of our cookie recipes or an average strip of Nancy (Newsflash: Aunt Fritzi is still hot. Nancy is still creepy.)

(3) Another anonymous post will usually say something like: "I woke up today and I ate some cereal for breakfast. Then I took a shower. Can I get a job as a writer now, too?" I like this guy's style, I do. And once, just to get his goat, I tried to write an entire column about eating cereal. Sadly, that one out-mundaned even me. (Though, for the record, I once threw up after being force-fed shredded wheat by a slightly off-kilter 3rd grade teacher. But that's the extent of my breakfast material, sorry.)

From there, it devolves into an I-like-Shane, I-hate-Shane comment war that lasts until the next column pops up and people forget about the old one. Last week, though, I was especially scared.

There's a chance that my last column may have caused some controversy within the quaint town of Welton, IA. It may have stemmed from my opening line, which read, "Dear residents of Welton, IA: I hate you all, and I hate your stupid little town." You see, my car chose Welton, IA as the perfect place to break down on me recently. Ergo, via simple logic, Welton must be to blame, right? Okay, sure, I was overdue for an oil change and maybe I skipped the last 2 or 3 check-up appointments, but that's beside the point. Every story needs a villain, and in this one, it's clearly the humble (yet evil) village of Welton.

When the story ran, I was a bit ancy. Something told me that maybe some Weltonians might not get the joke. Sure enough, a couple comments popped up online from folks a bit miffed that I chose their town to have some fun with. The "is this news" guy showed up. Even the cereal guy made an appearance. But, for the most part, the comments were positive. Heck, I even got phone calls from a couple people in Welton who got a kick out of the column, one who shared a laugh because he saw me out there with my hood up waiting for a tow. Not to sound like Sally Field winning an Oscar, but hey, YOU LIKE ME! YOU REALLY LIKE ME!

Well, some of you do. Others? Well, I'll imagine the online comments will continue to flow. And I'll remain humbled by the good ones & neurotic over the bad ones. This week, I asked a few of my fellow columnists how they dealt with negative comments. Most told me to ignore them. Our own Johnny Marx, though, reminded me that -- good or bad -- the comments mean that you guys are reading our papers, caring about what we say, and paying our bills. When you think about it, what better compliment could a guy ask for?


Lin said...

I just thought it was kind of funny that there were no comments on your column about comments. So I thought I'd leave one.

What the hell? This is supposed to be NEWS?!?!?!!????!!!!!!


Anonymous said...

You spelled "antsy" wrong. I've corrected you. Can I get a job as a writer now? *snicker*
You know I love you and hate you alternatley, so it's ok, right?

(It's Becky, FYI...:D)