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Fri

13

Jun

2008

Snark trolling
Friday, 13 June 2008 04:12
by Ed Naha

Growing up, in the days before the Internetz, I was a total newspaper junkie, devouring three a day. One of my favorite sections was the letters to the editor page (called by “The New York Daily News,” aptly, “The Voice of the People”). Some of the comments were cruel, some astute, some funny. None of them were overtly embarrassing any more than the bloviating of a drunken relative at a family party was.

When people began to flock to the Internet fifteen years or so ago, I was encouraged both by the news gathered and the opinions offered by blogs. I’ve always been a great fan of wit and saw, at times, the chance for the Internet version of an Algonquin Table for the masses to appear, with new Wollcotts, Parkers, Benchleys and Kaufmans arising from out of nowhere. Their blogging brand of snide commentary was eventually labeled “snark.” Their numbers mushroomed on line during the reign of King Bushed.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed that a lot of bloggers have jumped the snark. Their opinions have as much to do with wit and knowledge as hot cow pies do to layer cakes. They’ve managed to tap into their inner-Neanderthal and have spewed something I call “blomit,” or “blog vomit.” It’s messy. Ignorant. Ugly. Stinks to high heaven. Worse yet, it’s everywhere – perhaps launched to new heights by the bucketful via the recent Clinton-Obama soap opera.

In times past, inflammatory web remarks along the lines of “you suck!” used to be deemed the work of “trolls,” skulking folks intentionally trying to get one’s goat for their own amusement. I’m not so sure that’s the case, anymore.

I can barely read commentary on the net, these days. There are a few sites I still go to - like “The Smirking Chimp,” where people actually debate various topical subjects with passion, knowledge and humor, very seldom resorting to a wave of blomit to make a point. The deal is, most people comment on political, religious and sociological happenings. Exactly WHEN did folks begin to feel the need to comment on news events that have no good guy or bad guy involved? (“If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, DOES IT STILL SUCK?”)

Let me back into an example. Growing up in a working class New Jersey town, replete with bad air from nearby refineries, chemical plants and passing DDT trucks, TV and movies were a great source of escape for us kids. I loved ALL movies, but I really, really got off on monster movies. I’d read “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine and seek out all the new offerings, as well as staying glued to the tube to catch up on such golden oldies as “Frankenstein,” “Dracula,” “The Mummy,” “The Wolfman” and all their progeny. Movies, to me, were magic. It didn’t matter if they were made up or not. They were the manifestation of dreams and pushed me into launching dreams of my own.

A lot of the old horror movies were made at Universal Studios and, decades later, when I finally visited what was left of their back lot (a chunk of it already co-opted as a tourist attraction) on a job interview, no less (didn’t get it), that euphoric sense of magic swept over my adult body just as strongly as it did when I was a kid.

I knew I was on hallowed ground. This was the place that the Wolfman howled, the Hunchback of Notre Dame sought sanctuary for Esmeralda, Frankenstein shuffled, the Mummy arose, Dracula beckoned, the Creature from the Black Lagoon did his deadly dog-paddle and Rod Serling hung the portraits in his “Night Gallery.” Hell, W.C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, Francis the Talking Mule, Holmes and Watson, Beaver Cleaver and Norman Bates even called this place “home.”

As an adult, I realized that, although this studio was steeped in nostalgia for me, personally, it also represented a slice of American history. America, by its nature, is a transient society; it bulldozes its landmarks, both man-made and natural, in its Sisyphusian quest for expansion and perfection. The history of America is best reflected through its entertainment and, for better or worse, Universal had been manufacturing entertainment on that spot since 1915.

So, I was pretty upset when a chunk of Universal burned down last week, anywhere from between three to five acres destroyed, with a cost exceeding $25 million. Ten responders were injured. A lot of pristine copies of classic films were lost. At the computer on a Sunday, I tried to glean as much information as possible. I found myself even more upset by the blogosphere’s reaction to the fire.

Granted, the story wasn’t up there in marquee value with floods, earthquakes and twisters but it was still important to anyone who had ever surrendered to the magic of moviedom, as in: most of us in our childhood years.

The comments at The Huffington Post, fast becoming one of the leading blomitoriums of the Internet, were, uh, interesting. Alongside of those commenters who worried about the firemen, who recalled visiting the lot, who saw the fire as a real threat to the economy of Los Angeles since the studio employs tens of thousands of people, were a lot of knuckle-draggers who offered such gems as:

“Universal Studio has been taken over by Scientologist. If they lose out that makes me happy.” (By the by, I’m not going to correct any of the gammeer or speeling on these gems cause blomitacious folks tend not to. puntuate! VERY WELL OR SEEMS TO BE SCREAMING ALL A TIME!@)

“What a coincidence… Hillary’s Dream of a Presidency went up in flames today!” wrote another scamp, linking apples with oranges.

“What? Its Hollywood and nobody was even injured. What makes it tragic?” offered another reader.

“Shame it wasn’t a New’s or Oil corp that lit on fire.”

“Is God punishing Hollywood for Susan Sarandon?”

“Is this the beginning of Hillary scorching the earth? I hope everyone there is safe.”

“I hear they were filming the story of the Democrat convention in Denver.”

“I believe Flavor Flav may have foreseen this.…”

One fellow wrote in that he was taking his first two-week vacation in over twenty years and, confusing the California Universal Studios with Florida’s amusement park, said that he was looking forward to taking his 13-year-old son to Universal and Disney World and having Cuban sandwiches. One of the readers replied: “Cuban Sandwiches, YUCK! Don’t forget to speak English while you’re here. The last thing we need is another person here refusing to speak English. If that’s your deal, stay home!”

And, so it went. Okay, you may say, Ed, you went to the wrong site for info. You should have gone to straight news sites. Surely, the commentary on those sites was more sensitive. To thee I say: nay, and get out of there!

At “The Los Angeles Times’” site, there were such bon mots as: “Let’s go to Disneyland. No loss Universal was started by the Chicago mobster Jules Stein (now blessedly dead) so who cares. Was it an insurance fire?” (Note: WTF?)

And: “Let Hollywood burn. It’s the most racist industry on planet earth. The Feds need to investigate their hiring practices.”

And how could anyone argue with such touching comments as: “Hey, Sharon Stone, must be karma…….For all the bad anti-American military movies that Holley Wood been shoving down are throats!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“I hope the whole cess pool of a place burns down, without hurting anybody. This country would be better off without Hollywood. Maybe it would also put many of those loud mouthed bleeding heart so called ‘actors’ out of work.”

“boy howdy partner! You are so true in your statement! Hollywood is the terrorist of the world and they take money from the poor struggling Americans who can hardly buy milk for the children and gas to go to work. And sit back and enjoy the richest doing drugs, having *** with everyone, and showing the world that Americans are dirty, filthy, drug infested, std, racist, cop killing, etc,etc,etc, people. when in reality, we are not.”

Apparently, we’re not literate people, either.

CBS offered similar insights.

“God is displaying his displeasure with Hollywood values. BTW, whats with all the commercials showing fatherless families?”

“guess you are glad sean penn was not hurt in that fire, or any of the other lala fairy tale Hollywood cant decipher between reality and real life terror actors.”

“God did it to punish those that make vile movies!”

“Hollywood is the terrorist of the world”

ABC pretty much continued the Al-conkin’ table witticisms with: “Did the republicans finally go after the evil liberals?” and “Obama’s friends the pastor and the priest did it.” (It should be noted that nearly half of the ABC comments were pulled, some really spewing anti-Obama venom.)

At the ol’ “New York Daily News,” home of “The Voice of the People” and my personal fave paper growing up, there were such gems as, “LETS HOPE ALL THE LIBERAL HOLLYWOOD STARS ARE CAUGHT IN THE BUILDING.”

“The Chicago Tribune” blomited: “typical L.A. report, more worried about a dumb park than homeless people” and “My guess it was caused by someone doing another job Americans don’t want to do.”

“USA Today” championed: “so, let’s see…tens of millions in damage…that’s about 1 days receipts from 1-2 films. Maybe the studio can get some of their overpaid ‘stars’ and other employees to cough up a few $$. hopefully, it maybe be awhile before we get more garbage from this studio. put some public housing on the lot! the liberal holly-wood elite would love that!”

“Newsday” presented more erudition with “Ha ha ha, die Hollywood, die!!!” and “Hollywood churns out so many vulgar films, and TV shows plus left wing propaganda movies. Universal Studios got what they had coming.”

Okay. It’s exhalation time. What I’ve just presented is disturbing on a couple of levels. People were actually editorializing about a fire. They were critiquing a news event that was started by a blowtorch. This is like criticizing a car crash (“They were probably in a car not made in America! They deserved to die!), an earthquake (“They knew when they moved to California there were earthquakes! It’s their own damned fault!”) or a tornado (“If they’re dumb enough to live in Kansas, they were asking for it. They probably voted for Bush!”).

The above blomiting is also both sad and informative. America is, and has been, a country obsessed by money, class distinction, race, sex and the amount of “stuff” one has. It’s a country where a lot of people feel that everyone is out to get them. (In my case, I know this to be true. They all want my psychedelic record collection, those bastards!) We’ve also been taught to tow the line and shut the hell up. Our opinions don’t count. We’re supposed to feel helpless and fearful, especially in this Bush Age of manufactured doom. So, the Internet presents us with a perfect place to vent.

However, if we feel frustrated enough, if our sense of helplessness has reached the boiling point, we don’t know what topic to target – so, we just blomit EVERYthing out in one ineloquent, confused tidal wave of words. It’s understandable but it’s counter-productive. If HALF of us took our frustrations and spoke about them with our friends, our family and, yes, even our local leaders, maybe we could actually take a couple of baby steps forward to lessen our woes, both real and imagined. If one person shares the same attitude as you, it’s TWO people against the world, not one. That’s a 100% difference.

The deal is: our opinions do count. We’re not helpless. We just have to get together with like-minded people to push things forward.

It’s this sense community that has given rise to everything from political parties to local theater groups to community gardens. It’s easy to complain about things. It’s harder, but a lot more rewarding, to try to change them. Wit can be used effectively as a tool. Heck, good snark can even be inspirational.

Here’s Dorothy Parker at her snarkiest in “Frustration.”

“If I had a shiny gun,

I could have a world of fun

Speeding bullets through the brains

Of the folk who give me pains;

Or had I some poison gas,

I could make the moments pass

Bumping off a number of

People whom I do not love.

But I have no lethal weapon-

Thus does Fate our pleasure step on!

So they still are quick and well

Who should be, by rights, in hell.”

Now THAT’s well-aimed snark. We can laugh about it. Identify with it. Share it with others. And you can be sure it’ll be around long after all those “yooze guys stink” epics are flushed down the toobz of the Internetz.

Last week, fire damaged a chunk of Universal Studios, which, since 1915, has employed millions of Americans and represented the dreams of tens of millions more.

Dreams are never a bad thing.

Let’s not forget that.
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