The More You Ignore Me Is One Long, Monstrous Comment on a Cooking Blog

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I saw the weakest minds of my occupation destroyed by blog comments, hate-eating hysterical shivering, dragging themselves through message boards at dawn looking for a troll to fight. I started writing professionally about eight years ago, just as comments became less a curiosity and more a given. But many of the journalists I met who'd been in the business before the arrival of comments could already become flushed with outrage about the very existence of reader feedback. Their faces would get red and they'd scream—and, yes, sometimes sob—about every mean thing someone left in the wide-open space below their stories.

Sure, sometimes a negative comment hooks into the meaty part of you. But it's not like the readership changed, that an imaginary army of cheering, adoring fans disappeared when the comment threads were installed, only to be replaced by a cantankerous mob of cretins. Now you get to instantaneously see how a small-but-vocal portion of your readers reacts to your work. Readers didn't have any unchallenged platform at all before, and now they do. Isn't that, on balance, really kind of cool?

When novelist and poet Travis Nichols worked for the Poetry Foundation, one of his jobs was to oversee a project in which comments were allowed on Perhaps the foundation expected an Athenian discourse about the nature of poetry and art in the digital age. And I'm sure the comment threads inspired some of that. But they also fomented a slew of bullies, off-topic comments, conspiracy theories, ax-grinding, and treatises on the sad state of American poetry. In an interview with Paul Killebrew, Nichols admitted that the negative comments made him feel "deeply, deeply bonkers for a few months, largely because I took a lot of the rote online bullying personally." The comment section was soon scrapped entirely, which caused several angry commenters to create their own sites accusing Nichols of fascism.

And now, finally, Nichols gets his revenge, in The More You Ignore Me (Coffee House Press, $15.95), a novel in the form of one ridiculously long blog comment posted by our narrator, known only as linksys181. He's recently been banned from a wedding blog (for a young couple he has never met) for excessive trolling, and he's taking one last opportunity, on an unrelated blog called BrendaCooking in response to an unrelated comment from someone called cookiekitty7, to justify his online existence. In linksys181, Nichols has engaged in a flabbergasting act of literary ventriloquism, a voice that on the surface reads like a highly intelligent individual.

But once you scrape past the interestingly arranged big words, you poke into a throbbing, recoiling core of sociopathy. This is a man who calls the time he receives his first negative response on the wedding blog "one of the happiest days of my life," who explains, in grandiose and unbalanced language, the origins and philosophy of his trollery: "The true commenter takes nothing at face value but remains intractably, joyously skeptical of any purported reality."

The More You Ignore Me is a Notes from Underground by way of the Huffington Post, a Pale Fire as told by an assiduously mediocre narrator, and, in one subplot, a Cyrano de Bergerac story starring a creep. But it does, at times, try too hard to make linksys181 into too much of a monster; there's a reason I introduced the book as Nichols's "revenge." A dash of compassion would have made for something more memorable than this high-wire act.

After all, trolls try as hard as they can to deny their own humanity in order to get a rise out of others. But let me state the obvious fact that so many of my cohort managed to forget, back in the mid-aughts: Trolls are people, too. They don't possess any special powers, or omniscient perspective, or enlightened insight. Their words are worth no more than the pixels they're printed on, until you give those words power and allow the commenters to cast themselves as the digital monsters they want to be. Isn't creating this elaborate and often astonishing temple to an outcast who deserves to be an outcast due to his own shocking hideousness, after all, feeding the trolls? recommended


Comments (16) RSS

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Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 1

Always suspicious when one media (long form text) criticizes another (short form text).
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on May 17, 2013 at 10:38 AM · Report this
dirac 2
Said without a hint of awareness of irony.
Posted by dirac on May 17, 2013 at 11:18 AM · Report this
Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 3

You talking to me?

Observation basically not criticism and hence falls out of the self referential recursion you are implying.

Another example is "Network" a movie (and book) about television. In general when one medium criticizes another it also goes overboard and demonizes the new and competitive medium. A Star Is Born played out on a McLuhanesque stage.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on May 17, 2013 at 12:48 PM · Report this
yelahneb 4
If you hate trolls on your site, delete their comments and ban them, or disable comments entirely. I don't understand why anyone puts up with them as if they're some sort of "unstoppable inevitability".
Posted by yelahneb on May 17, 2013 at 2:28 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 5
I don't know why "legitimate" * news sources allow comments. If people have strong feelings about an issue or article, they should be required to write a coherent Letter To The Editor, just like int the old days.

And I do mean old days: they should have to mail it in.

* I do not consider Slog legitimate.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on May 18, 2013 at 12:18 PM · Report this
Lissa 6
After the last few day at war to the knife with The Misanthrope over on the street harassment thread, I reeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaalllllllyyyyyyy needed to hear this. My poor husband spent last night trying to get me to sleep by repeating over and over,
"Everyone on that thread agrees with you. No one agrees with him." LOL
But yeah, he's a person. A deeply unpleasant person on line, but a person none the less, so thank you for helping me remember that.
Posted by Lissa on May 19, 2013 at 10:08 AM · Report this
I love Travis Nichols - before he left, he was the one Seattle poet that I wanted to host at a reading, but never got around to. He was a big supporter of Subtext too.
Posted by -w on May 19, 2013 at 4:22 PM · Report this
pinksoda 8
@ 4 - I agree with you. Some of the best comments sections I've read have done not only this, but have also deleted off-topic comments, as well.

What results is a really interesting comment thread, with well-thought out ideas and a discernible trajectory of process, assimilation and growth re: the subject.

It seems/sounds controlling and the quality of the moderator is absolutely key to the effectiveness of the thread, of course; but it's actually refreshing to have the comments section resemble the energetic discourse of a night out with peers - you may not always agree, but the conversation is lively, thought-provoking and (relatively) insult free.
Posted by pinksoda on May 20, 2013 at 2:05 PM · Report this
9 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
10 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
11 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Real writers (ie paid writers) who write above comment threads (should) think of their work as someone driving a boat out on the Sound. You dodge deadheads and go where you're going. Then the sea creatures frolic in your wake. Some of those creatures are wondrous and some of them are truly abhorrent, but it's your wake they're all in. And when you're on a break from your work you can go frolic in someone else's wake, completely unedited and deadline free.
Posted by Paddy Mac on May 21, 2013 at 10:13 AM · Report this
Posted by carnivorous chicken on May 21, 2013 at 1:03 PM · Report this
If reader comments were taken seriously, then they would push writers to, overall, write better.
-inaccuracies are noticed
-writers get to see if and how their work is contributing to society (dialog within the readership base)

@CHRISTOPHER ALLEN HORTON: dude, you Caps Lock is stuck. And I for one would consider 3 post for one article to constitute spam...or at the very least a rant. I would also consider people like you who essentially hijack a board to be a big part of the problem.
Posted by notroH nellA rehpotsirhC on May 21, 2013 at 1:20 PM · Report this
15 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Sabotage 16
CHRISTOPHER ALLAN HORTON in the comment thread on the review to this book is the most meta metashit that's ever meta'd some meta.

I read this book. It was supremely uncomfortable to read, which I think was (at least part of) the point. However, it was also very good.
Posted by Sabotage on June 28, 2013 at 11:52 AM · Report this

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