Saturday, March 01, 2008

(Quite) A Few Words for the Haymakers

For several years, I was part of an on-line (Usenet) community for a particular on-line multiplayer game. I started off as an outsider in an established community of players and gradually became better known. I went from being a little fish in a little pond to being a big fish in a little pond. On the surface, the attention and “status” (irrelevant and meaningless as it may have been) were rewarding. My posts and ideas got plenty of replies, people wanted to give me things in games and play in games with me. I also made a very treasured friend who I regularly keep in touch with to this day (about 7 years after we met in this group).

The flip-side to all of this attention and “celebrity” status was that for every 10 people who were happy to talk to you and liked you, there was a person who decided he or she had a problem with you. In the case of this particular Usenet community, there was a woman who felt that, as the high-ranking female of a group mainly comprised of males, my rising “status” was a threat to her position as queen bee. There was also a man who grew quietly and increasingly offended because I never responded to his particular posts and took to responding to me in a passive aggressive manner at every turn in retaliation for the slight he imagined was at work. The truth was that there were a lot of people I never replied to since the group was very active and not every topic thread interested me or was something about which I felt compelled to comment. And there were some other folks who loved nothing more than to take what I said and pretend I said something else or implied something I did not so that they’d have an excuse to attack me and my position.

The last group of people were the most maddening because they were so persistent in their efforts to argue with distortions of my posts rather than what was actually said. Such folks were expert at taking things out of context and setting up straw men so they could conveniently knock them down. They could argue for weeks if you gave them the attention they wanted. As time went by, I found myself having to killfile (that is, set my reader software so I didn’t even see these people’s posts) more and more to avoid these people. The problem with being a big fish in a little pond was that it made you a juicier target for aspiring little fish.

The problem for me at the time was that I needed this group as a social outlet. I was working in almost complete isolation much of the time in a job which was very repetitive for long stretches of time. I was also at a point where all of my friends had already left Japan and my lack of time and small number of coworkers made it virtually impossible to expand my social network. I was likely addicted to the group and found it very hard to walk away despite the increasing amount of frustration I felt over the drama and personal and unprovoked attacks.

The thing that finally set me free was that I had lost interest in the game and I had an intense aversion to hanging around the group when I had nothing to say about the topic the group was formed around. I had witnessed a lot of people who hung around making pointless (and often witless and boring) contributions because they couldn’t leave and vowed not to become one of them. I walked away and I did it without making any big proclamations about my departure as I didn’t want to invite people to beg me to stay (as it was something I’d seen others do and detested as well). I actually felt withdrawal for awhile, but I got over it and, as time went by, I felt better about not being in a social dynamic full of people with issues that they were acting out on by projecting their fantasies, illusions, aggressions and imagination on me (and other prominent group members).

Why am I writing about this here? If it hasn’t become obvious already, it’s because I’ve discovered that the problems I experienced in the Usenet community are little different from those in blog communities. It seems pandemic in all tendrils of the beast that is the internet that there will be people who can’t help but be competitive, argumentative, or delight in nothing more than arguing with distortions of what you say rather than what you actually say. Apparently, I was at the center of some brouhaha that I missed entirely because I hadn’t been reading various blogs lately (and I never do trackbacks). At the heart of this was a controversy over the Charisma Man post and a lot of people either never read what I said or had a complete inability to read what I said. Somehow, a complex post was distilled down into some distorted conclusions. One big conclusion some people seemed to make was that the post was omindirectional and pasted the "Charisma Man" label on any male who was dating or interested in Japanese women when it certainly was not (and it was made clear in more ways than one in the post but, hey, why read what I said when you can get upset about something I didn't say). Apparently, some felt my writing was an indication that Western women were bitter that Western men in Japan didn’t want them. The irony is, of course, that the whole concept of a “Charisma Man” (which I didn’t invent and predates my post by decades) is that these are men Western women find unappealing. They wouldn’t want them if they offered themselves. It also apparently got simplified into my saying that men who wanted to practice Japanese or date Japanese girls were tagged as “Charisma Men”.

I’m forced to wonder if I’m starting to see a repeat of my past from my Usenet days and it’s not something I’m keen to put up with. If there are bloggers out there who read my blog and have nothing better to do than invent some sort of adversarial drama to draw attention to themselves or to drum up content when they have nothing of their own to say, then I’m not sure that I want to be the focus of their distortion and projections. Perhaps all these folks who have nothing to post about and feel the need to piggyback on my content and make hay by pretending I’m saying something I’m not should reconsider whether they have anything unique and meaningful to offer as bloggers.