Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Liberal Media, Pt. I

Kurt Vonnegut at one point in one of his essays referenced the theories of a professor he studied with while in the anthropology department at the University of Chicago* was something called 'folk societies.'  The basic idea was that one of the reason that modern Americans (and given when Vonnegut was in school, 'modern' here probably means '1940') are so generally unhappy is that mankind evolved as a social creature, but one that is used to a small and manageable group.  Too many people in your tribe and suddenly you become disconnected and adrift.  Basically, modern society is a bummer and your'e always going to feel sad and alone.

Of course Vonnegut saw it in those terms.  He was wired to view things as pessimistically as possible and enjoyed being that way.  If nothing else, it was profitable.

But the real problem with a large society - 308 million of us here in America - is not the need you feel for yourself to be part of a group of sympathetic and friendly people (which is certainly a need I feel), but the need for others to find a group that they can easily file you away in and thereafter parse every action, reaction and emotion you display as being merely symptomatic of your 'type.'

Yes, I do this too.  Shorthand gets us through the day.  But it benefits no-one.  The internet, which is supposed to be the great uniter, allowing like-minded folk from Pascataway and Kalamazoo to spend all of their time socializing with each other and ignoring those real people around them who have nothing to offer save geographic proximity.

In the pre-Facebook days, forums and chat rooms filled the Folk Society bill.  Forums and chat rooms are generally set up around small and smaller slices of an already small demographic pie - that is, the pie of people who go on forums and chat rooms in the first place.  I've been a fully participating member (under my own name, no less) in three chorums over the years:

  • The John Byrne Forum (dedicated but not limited to discussions about mainstream comics and other geek culture);
  • The Comics Journal Forum (dedicated but not limited to discussions about why mainstream comics and other geek culture suck and also to flaming the living shit out of each other, now mercifully defunct);
  • The Walrus Comix Message Board (paradoxically dedicated to anything other than discussions about comics, mainstream or otherwise)

Of course, the logical hole in the middle of the forum/chat model is simply this: if everyone agreed with everyone else, there'd really be nothing to discuss, would there? "John was better than Paul."  "Oh, absolutely!" "..." "Great, well, nice meeting you."  So the smaller the demographic sample of the board, the larger the possibility that there will be people who participate merely to stir up shit.

On the Byrne board, which is policed pretty heavily, 'trolls' - lamest name ever, but there it is - are banned for violating any number of rules, sometimes on first offense.  On the TCJ forum, people were banned only very infrequently and after multiple violations/complaints.  On the WC board, no-one got banned, ever.  At least I don't think so.  Perhaps I will be corrected on this in the comments section?



*Please bear in mind that this is all straight from memory, so I'm sure that 95% of the facts are accurate, but I swear the gist is angled correctly.

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