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What Not to Say: Six Surefire Ways to Get Lectured by Internet Commenters

By / 02.23.10

(img: xkcd)

I’ve worked from home as a full-time blogger for about three and a half years now. During that time, it’s been my job to make fun of the most frivolous aspects of society – namely, sports, television, and celebrity culture.

Along the way, I’ve learned that there are a lot of people out there on the Internet who don’t agree with my sense of humor. Like, A LOT. These are the people who, if you’re lucky, make “Two and a Half Men” the #1 sitcom in America and who find Dane Cook’s humor “too edgy.” If you’re unlucky, they’re the people who take perverse delight in being offended by some jerk with a blog. I know this because they leave comments and write angry emails.

Here’s how to piss them off.

1. Use the word “retard.”

Dear People Who Have a Family Member with Down Syndrome,

I am not calling your family member with Down Syndrome retarded. I’m calling NBC’s late-night programming decisions retarded. I’m calling what Glenn Beck said the other night retarded. I’m calling Ashton Kutcher’s fans retarded. You see, your Down syndrome-having family member is NOT a retard. He has special needs, or he’s mentally handicapped, or he’s some other sufficiently sanitized term that doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

So just get off your high horse already, okay? “Retard” isn’t the N-word. It’s not like wop or mick or dago or any of the old-school slurs that were designed specifically to be slurs. It’s a word that used to be acceptable until it was deemed insensitive to a certain group of people, and has since been co-opted for a different use. The English language is in a constant state of flux, and as the 21st century creates heretofore unseen acts of stupidity, so too must the language accommodate new adjectives to describe them. I mean, hello? Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel? That’s just retarded.

2. Unwittingly open the door for a heated discussion about domestic violence.

You may have seen this animated GIF before. In December, I called it the most gratifying animated GIF ever, because MTV showed it in a tease that followed two hours of Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi drinking excessively, begging for attention, and whining about not getting enough attention. Before we learned the details, Brad Ferro’s context-free punch was the comeuppance that many viewers wanted bestowed on Snooki. It wasn’t a celebration of male-on-female violence — as a rule of thumb, I like to see annoying people punched regardless of their gender, and a woman punching Snooki would have been just as enjoyable (if not more so).

Oh, but it WAS a man punching a woman. Therefore, some blackout-drunk idiot in New Jersey punching a yapping harpy he doesn’t know is therefore a symbol of rape and domestic violence. The following excerpt, for example, was only a portion of one comment:

It DOES make a difference between men and women. Men are overwhelmingly more powerful. Even if a girl provokes you, you will most likely do more damage to her than she could to you. Not to mention, there are societal overtones with male on female violence. Do you not realize that men have had control over women historically? And that women are overwhelmingly raped by men? Like men feel they have authority over a woman because she acts a certain way? Do you not remember the guy who walked into a gym and killed a bunch of women just because they were women? Because he didn’t get the attention from women he thought he DESERVED?

You’re not entitled to anyone else. Your actions have consequences. Even if a woman provokes you, you’re going to do more damage to her. There’s a creepy sexual charge about this kind of violence, too. One guy on another post described it as “blowing a load in her face that he’s been holding in for a week.” How does that not sound rapey?

You know, I avoided graduate school and became a blogger for a reason: I prefer laughing at something to overanalyzing it. That doesn’t make me better than the person who left that comment; it just makes me a lot more fun at parties.

3. Joke about one of the following: cancer/rape/the Holocaust.

We can all agree that cancer is a terrible, terrible sickness. (According to a cursory Internet search I conducted, it’s the third-leading cause of death in America, after heart disease and pissing off Chuck Norris.) Likewise, rape is an unconscionably cruel and evil crime, an act that’s conceivably worse than murder for the mental damage it inflicts on the victim. And the Holocaust? Well, it’s the single most horrific attempt at genocide in human history.

So why would I or anyone else joke about something so awful? Well, stop lecturing me over email for a second and I’ll tell you.

People joke about cancer not because it’s inherently funny, but because it’s inherently terrible. For many of us, laughter is a coping mechanism that takes the teeth out of something awful. Soldiers laugh about death in combat because the immensity of the horrors would otherwise be too great. So before you tell me all about your mother who died of cancer, why don’t you go over to Afghanistan and tell our servicemen what they should and shouldn’t laugh at, you America-hating terrorist.

Humor is not absolute; it is an individual taste, and every individual has a line that, once crossed, creates nausea rather than laughter. Humor is, at its purest essence, the misfortune of someone else. The difference between comedy and tragedy is whether or not you know or feel sympathy for that someone else. And you know what? Choosing indignance over laughter doesn’t make you a better person; it just gets you a better grade in your Women’s Studies class.

4. Get a detail about the world of Star Trek/Star Wars/Avatar wrong.

“Um, hello? The tauntaun’s sole appearance in the Star Wars franchise was in The Empire Strikes Back, not Return of the Jedi as you erroneously claim.”

“In your misguided attempt to pillory the Na’avi language, you neglected to take into account that they lack both the word for ‘murder’ and the pluperfect subjunctive tense.”

“In episode 2F09 when Itchy plays Scratchy’s skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession, yet he produces two clearly different tones. I mean, what are we to believe, that this is some sort of a magic xylophone or something? Boy, I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder.”

5. Use the word “fag.”



While “South Park’s” episode about this subject wasn’t the show’s sharpest cultural critique, it did raise some important points, specifically: (1) language is in a constant state of flux, and (2) the word “f**got” has had a particularly malleable history. Moreover, it’s an epithet that’s unique to America; ask for a “fag” in the U.K. and someone will give you a cigarette. But you wanted gay sex!

Chris Rock also addressed the change in the word’s meaning in his 2008 stand-up special Kill the Messenger:

You don’t have to be gay to act like a f**got. You don’t even have to be a man to act like a f**got. Anybody can act like a f**got.

Let me give you an example: I love Gwen Stefani. I think No Doubt is one of the best groups in the world; I keep a No Doubt CD in my car…  Now, if I’m drivin’ my car, and I’m at the light, and you in the car behind me, and the light’s red, and I’m just sittin’ there blasting some Gwen Stefani… and you in the car behind me and the light’s red–cool.

But then the light turns green. And I don’t see it, because I’m in Gwen Stefani heaven. And I’m just goin’ “Ain’t no hollaback girl! Ain’t no hollaback!” Now the light starts f*ckin’ blinking! It’s gettin’ ready to turn red again, and I *still* don’t see it, and I’m in my car going “This sh*t is bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!” … Now if you in the car behind me, and that light’s gettin’ ready to turn red, and I’m going “this sh*t is bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!” If you in the car behind me, you have the right to go “HEY, F**GOT! The light’s about to change!” Sh*t, even Elton John would call me a f**got at that moment.

It’s not the word, it’s the context in which the word is bein’ said!

Now, Chris Rock is hardly William Safire, and even I don’t feel comfortable with the six-letter version Rock endorses. But I understand that he’s using it for comedic effect, and even if I did have some kind of moral high ground to defend, I wouldn’t go to Rock’s web page to lecture him about what words he shouldn’t be using. Besides, he has a point. “Entourage” is all about straight guys, and that’s the faggiest show on TV.

6. Write about something that doesn’t affect the outcome of world history.

People on the Internet have an eye for detail. Experienced Web surfers will catch details in the background of a picture or video still within seconds. In some forums, typos and grammatical errors are cardinal sins. So it should be no surprise that such an unforgiving culture would revel in trivialities like a starlet’s panty flash or a boneheaded error in a sporting event. This inevitably leads to the moral outrage of a “drive-by” commenter, whose response is always something along these lines:

WHO CARES!!! You poeple need to GET A LIFE! I bet your parents are real proud of you, making fun of someone who’s just TRYING TO DO THERE JOB!

Hey, I’m sorry, Anonymous Person Who Surely Has An Important Job Like District Attorney, but not everyone in the world can work in the Peace Corps or the New York City Fire Department. Some people have soul-sucking jobs where their only respite is seeing someone with untold wealth and fame experience a small amount of misfortune. Is it fair or kind? No, not especially. But it’s human nature. It’s nature, period. Lecturing Internet users for being mean is like logging on to National Geographic’s website and yelling at horseflies for biting cattle.

Conclusion

Think of the commenting on the Internet as walking around a big city with a lot of neighborhoods. I wouldn’t take my brand of schadenfreude and dick jokes to the New York Times or The Atlantic any sooner than I would try to crash a black-tie fundraiser at the Ritz. And I’d rather drive slowly through Compton blasting Elton John than try to lecture the users of the /b/ forum at 4chan on what’s not funny because it’s offensive.

Now, this isn’t a call for the segregation of ideas. By all means, go out and explore the various nooks and crannies of the Web. Just don’t go to Harlem and tell people to stop acting so black.


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