Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Internet Slapstick

Why do we laugh when a man carrying a ladder turns suddenly and knocks some poor unsuspecting sod into a man hole? Or when the business man slips on a banana skin and lands ignominiously on his behind? Part of us loves to relish the humiliation of others. Of course it's not at all funny when it happens to us.

This week every writers' board I frequent has been buzzing with talk about the reaction of author Jacqueline Howett to a review of her book The Greek Seaman. I'm not going to post links because if you haven't already heard about this you must be living in a sensory deprivation chamber and if so you can easily Google her name to find it. To summarise, she was less than gracious that the reviewer pointed out spelling/grammar mistakes in her work and after an increasingly bitter row told him to F*ck Off.

Had that been the end of it nothing more need be said. But the ensuing reaction of the writing community was on a scale of Japan's recent tsunami. A flood of self-righteous condemnation, both on the blog and on writers' boards and Twitter, sent this story into the digital stratosphere. It's astonishing that one little book could create such a buzz, and for all the WRONG reasons. No doubt Ms Howett has sold a few more copies of her book as a result, but I'm not really interested in her per se. The reactions of others is far more interesting.

Why on earth were normal decent people mobbing a complete stranger like this? Does it really matter how good/bad/indifferent her book is? With the market awash with books who cares what a reviewer thinks of this one? No, this wasn't about the book. This was pure slapstick. This woman who had the temerity to put her work out there for review then reacted the way all of us would like to react to criticism and made a spectacle of herself. If we'd done it we'd be feeling awful, but this was someone else so it was alright to sneer and snigger. And all that sniggering added up to a tidal wave of indignation.

I can't help wondering how many of those doing the mobbing have even written a book, let alone published one.


Fiona Faith Maddock said...

A friend of mine once referred to the 'Message Board Muppets' which I think sums it up. You can see the MBM phenomenon at work in response to political party press releases, blogs on politics and so on. Mostly they can't spell either and they are not worth taking too seriously. In this case an MBM fever seems to have gripped these people and the poor author (bad or good is kinda irrelevant now) has unleashed it. There seem to be certain words, phrases or emotions which release the fury of the muppets. The nasty side of 'going viral', I suppose.

Justine Windsor said...

I'm actually a bit disgusted by it all. Someone's even made one of those weird video things based on it and put it on youtube.

She was stupid to do what she did, but she doesn't deserve the bullying that's erupted as a result.

Col Bury said...

It was a fascinating read, but felt sorry for the woman and I was cringing throughout. Thanks for pointing it out - yeah, I missed it. Back to my 'sensory deprivation chamber'! :-)

Sandra Patterson said...

@Fiona Ha! Message Board Muppets - I like it! :-D

@Justine Must go seek out that video.

@Col How could you miss it, Col? Don't tell me you actually WRITE instead of surf?