This is a little bit of a tangent for what this blog is usually about, but after thinking it over I decided it needed to be said. If only for my own sense of self.
Yesterday I read one of most horrifying things I’ve ever seen anywhere, online or otherwise. It was a blog post in reaction to the Steubenville verdicts, and it was one of the most nauseatingly hate-filled, horrifyingly ignorant and inexplicably smug rants I’ve ever seen. It was posted by one Michael Crook – I had not known anything about him before reading this post, though apparently he’s been making a name for himself for some time as the very epitome of a troll. The sort of person the Internet has perfected, if not created, someone who longs so desperately for the validation of other people’s attention that they will do the lowest, most vile things imaginable just for a few more seconds of notoriety. The kind of person who considers it acceptable to be hated if only so people keep discussing them, whose endless shout of “LOOK AT ME” is all the louder because they have nothing else to say.
I don’t want to discuss the content of his blog post yesterday, for several reasons. One, he’s objectively wrong in his assessment, and I’m not going to entertain his points any more than I would entertain a Flat Earth proponent. Two, even without linking to his site – which last I checked had been taken down by the vast armies of the Internet anyway – I already feel dirty enough giving him any more attention, even to make a point of my own in the process. Last but not least, at best we would be furiously agreeing with each other over what a terrible person he is, which is cathartic in a way but has been done plenty elsewhere, and at worst some misguided soul would try to play “Devil’s advocate” and end up turning this into a huge, rolling flame war. If you want to read it, I believe it’s been archived in several places, but be advised – it is extremely unpleasant to read. It is hateful, misogynistic, condescending to the point of blinding arrogance and on the whole makes a YouTube comment section look as cogent and reasoned as a Feynman lecture.
What I’m interested in is the fact that most of the news stories I read about him categorized him as an author. As that is a profession I’ve been known to dabble in a bit, I winced to see him counted among our number. Not because he’s the lone bad apple that spoils the bunch – like any profession, authors have their fringe component of borderline personalities, sad to say – but just because it means another bad example getting too much attention. Before his site went down, I clicked around and saw a collection of short stories, a book containing his “guide to life” (and here I thought the Internet had lost its capacity to make me cringe), and an upcoming novel about a man who kills drunk drivers. The themes are as obvious as they are inescapable – the righteous man being unjustly served by the world, the lone wolf who dares to speak truth to power, the virtuous man rejecting the temptations of a sinful world, etc. Basically all your favorite misunderstood loner tropes are there to be counted. It’s clear that in his mind he is a righteous David fighting a monolithic Goliath, but the sad part is that it’s more like a delusional David fighting Goliath’s old off-campus apartment. It’s a “battle” that serves no purpose except to injure a bunch of innocents who want nothing to do with his supposed cause.
I expected to be even more infuriated, but ultimately it was just depressing, the work of a profoundly lonely, angry and seriously damaged person who feels the need to try to pimp his work by shouting horrible, hateful things at anyone who will listen. (Not that it excuses anything, mind you, just an observation.) Labeling him an author is like calling a ragged homeless man a singer for screeching obscenities at traffic – not only is it an ill-fitting label, it also misses the disease for the symptoms. Except that’s not really a fair comparison, as the homeless man in question would probably be much bettered with proper medical care and social intervention, whereas all you can glean from looking at someone like Crook is that they are already hopelessly lost in the labyrinth of their own fears and delusions and unlikely to ever find their way out.
As noted before, there exists online a faction of personalities that take the maxim “no such thing as bad press” to ludicrous extremes in their quest for attention. They would rather make a splash saying something hugely repulsive and hope it translates into page hits, book sales, album downloads, etc., than admit that they have no other way to get attention. It’s the equivalent of someone gloating “They’ll never forge me now!” after taking the stage at a concert and playing nothing but discordant noise before urinating on the audience. They might be right, but not the way they’d hope. They’re figuring that if they can’t be remembered for their talent, they’ll be remembered as someone who shocked us to our very core – this colossal figure that made us question our deepest beliefs – the grand antagonist who consumes and bedevils our every waking moment and is discussed in frightened whispers or furious rages for years to come. But really all they’re remembered as is a sad, ruined soul.
In the wake of this sort of scrutiny, it’s important to remember that this is not what art is about. Not really. Yes, art can be controversial. Yes, art can leap out and challenge your beliefs, make you question things you had considered unassailable only moments before. But just as obscurity is not always an indication of a lack of talent, so too is popularity a poor tool to measure ability in anything but the barest sense. There are some people out there who will embrace the path of sensation and controversy as a shortcut to notoriety – as the wise man said, it’s quicker, easier, more seductive – but many more of us reject that approach, and will not turn our corners of the web into hateful bully pulpits just to get attention. Not only that, but we reject these individuals as part of our community, and will not condone their presence at our events.
So. Here it is. In the wake of blog posts like yesterday – or the imitators sure to come, forsaking talent and hard work for sensationalism and a quick fix of media attention – I offer a little Responsible Author’s Creed:
* I will not use the real suffering of others as a platform to promote myself.
* I will not mistake controversy for profundity, or publicity for truth.
* I will not support conventions that give hate artists a bully pulpit.
* I am not a Crook.