Who reads the news? It’s a question that you can’t just ask some guy on the subway. Or you could, and the two of you may have some sort of intelligent discussion. The wild world of “Comments”, however, has no room for intelligent discussion.
ISUPPORTTHEFATMAYOR started out pretty strong here. An ellipsis (more on that later), a list of countries, somehow including Ontario and “yes Canada” (I am guessing no Canada is the rest of Upper Canada?) in that list of countries, and a bold conclusion- “We cannot ignore this problem.” Wait, a hiccup, there’s more to be said: “Anymore.” Now, you would think that any rational, literate human being would just ignore that mess of garbled syntax and move on to the next article, but people who leave comments are some sort of bloodthirsty fighting breed, like two guys who fight on Saturday night outside a club while their girlfriends keep yelling their first name. “DAAAAAAALE! DAAAAAAAAAAAAALE! LET’S GO HOOOOOMMMME SHIT! WHAT ARE YOU DOING! DAAAAAAAAAALE!” Dale knows it doesn’t matter if she’s turned off; they both live with their parents forever, even after marriage. Punching a guy wearing a bedazzled spread collar shirt and distressed boot cut jeans in the sideburn is all he has. At any rate, ISUPPORTTHEFATMAYOR gets sidewinded by PeterBjorn, who accuses corporations of greed (why is this how the debate is framed? Has it ever won anyone over from one side to the other?), and then gets backed up- sort of, well, maybe not- by DanAtHome (agoraphobia?). Note how unreasonable the tone is.
Two hours later, ISUPPORTTHEFATMAYOR is literally shrieking through his or her keyboard. Note the ellipsis again! Are they screaming into one of those speech-to-text programs and stopping to take a breath periodically? Then, at the bottom, an accusation of nepotism: Unions are like the Tsars and Tsarinas of Russia! You have to be born into a union or, boy, forget about it. Nobody gets in. Then, from inside the commentators cave, the speech-to-text program transcribed the echo of their final word: “LIAR….LIAR…LIAR”.
I’ve always been puzzled by the persistence of the ellipsis in comments. Are they reading poetry? Doing a Christopher Reeve impression? Have you ever seen this in writing, apart from a super villain scheming to themselves out loud? It’s as if Peter Lorre were meant to deliver the lines.
Of course, the papers encourage you to leave a comment, but distance themselves from it with disclaimers and terms and conditions and rules. For the most part, these rules are pretty basic: No racism! No swearing! Of course, none of the moderators do anything if you take the vowels out of your swear word with an asterisk or two. Because no-one on Earth can figure that code out except consenting adults who already know swears. This way, you can call someone a c*cks*ck*ng m*th*rf*ck*r and only the cocksucking motherfucker will know what words you mean, because they’re already living that end of your game of hangman.
It’s not as simple at every paper. The Star, for instance, doesn’t put a disclaimer at the top of the page; they have a whole separate page explaining what comments are all about. And an FAQ on top of that. All so that you can read this article about toddlers escaping a daycare and then somehow arrive at a point where you are typing this:
Or read a review of a horror movie and feel compelled to tell the internet:
The internet, it is said, is a democratizing tool, where everyone gets a voice. I would counter that it’s not about giving everyone a voice, but about the speed with which an argument can spin out of control because the chorus of voices is saying so many different things and the closest thing you have to justification for these claims is a username, an avatar to agree or disagree with, and how much time you can spend with the caps lock of your Dell maxed out while you insist that the argument isn’t your argument, it’s my argument. See? I’m totally confused now, too.
Grammar and punctuation are thrown away as easily as logic and context. A reader starts to wonder: why do the papers allow the comments to continue? What is the use? In the past, letters to the editor were sorted through and published based on their publish-ability. In a comments thread, however, all that matters is that you don’t say anything directly offensive.
I submit that the comments section is the newspaper’s id: fucking and killing and eating everything in sight, pulling the ego away from the superego (the editors).
That’s reductive, though, someone in the back says. You’re right! In fact, there are multiple comments thread themes.
And my personal favourite: commentators on the case. This is when an article is published that the commentators don’t buy, or feel that they’re only getting “half of the story”. For instance, the Post ran an article about pot brownies being eaten by mistake which didn’t ring true to many of the readers:
“Noody with a sense of smell, and taste buds, do not bake brownies and put them in the freezer,” advises a reader. Wait, is that advice or an observation? “Yes,” the reader concludes, “The dog ate them.” Another reader says the symptoms disappear quite quickly. An yet another is even more suspicious: “A housewife does not know the contents of her own freezer?” That does seem suspicious. Or sexist. I have trouble telling the two apart.
An actual suggestion by one reader: round up all the potheads, roll them and smoke them! Someone else is commanded to get their head out of their “a$$”- what could that possibly mean? Oh, but it goes downhill from there. It devolves into an argument about public unions, environmentalists and the NDP. None of which are mentioned in the article! Talk about getting to the bottom of things.
In the end, the truth is that the commentator is not reading the news, after all. They have their opinion, and the news itself is secondary to that opinion: what the news has given them is a table to shout their opinion over. A forum, if you will. For incoherent rage. The commentators are the internet’s Erinyes (OK, Mister Liberal-Arts-Degree, “furies”); avenging screamers chasing anyone notable through the world until their desire for payback has been sated.
Either that, or television just isn’t enough. Voting for what you agree with just isn’t enough. In fact, anything short of talking down your opponent, Octagon-style, just can’t help you make it through another hopeless, dreary, aggravating minute of the salt in the wound that is your life.
About the author: Matt Collins reads and judges the four major newspapers every week.
You can read past volumes of No Good News [here]