June 26, 2015

Twitter goes bananas on novelist; no one is surprised but novelist in question

by

Twitter is a terrifying place. It is all the worst parts of the playground, with none of the smooching behind the music annex and way more nuns smacking you in the ass for running your mouth or throwing a kickball at Timmy’s big dumb head. It sucks there! And everyone knows this—or should. But, if you don’t, and you expose your self as even a little bit of a dummy, Twitter will learn you real good, real quick. Matt Haig, the author of Reasons to Stay Alive and NOT Brand Failures: The Truth About the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Time learned the hard way last week, when his tone-deaf comments on men’s writing on masculinity earned him the attention of irate Twittererererers.

What happened here is simple: Matt Haig pissed off the internet. Which isn’t surprising. There are several book length treatments of the perils of the WWW. We just published one. And, while I certainly don’t want to belabor the point, it’s worth saying once: if you fuck with the internet, it will fuck with you. Duh.

Really, this is the whole point of Twitterstorm Haig, which you can read aaaaaaall about over at The Guardian. Haig had a conversation that he should have had at a bar, with his buddy from graduate school and his bored girlfriend, in the middle of the internet. Some people had some shit to say about that, and Haig felt that the response was not proportionate to the offense. Reading his comments after the dust had settled, it seems as if he was totally unaware of the kind of audience that his comments might reach. In a different world, on a different platform Haig might have attracted no more than rolled eyes, a disaffected “SMH” or, at worst, a half-hearted “Fuck you, buddy.” And, by my lights, this would probably be reasonable. Say what you will about his thoughts on the relative utility of feminism, or the importance of a fluid masculinity. But I think that any reasonable person would admit that this:

I want my son not to feel self-conscious he likes ballet and my daughter to carry on playing Han Solo, that’s all.

is not a repugnant sentiment.

Neither is this:

the answer to the crisis of masculinity lies with feminism.

And really, if you were being honest, you’d have to agree:

 

Admit it, Twitter! These are not the ravings of a chauvinist.

But they weren’t his lead. This was:

and this was his follow-up:

These are dumb, dumb things to say. But they’re particularly dumb things to say on Twitter. Because when you’re wrong on Twitter, Twitter does not sneer. Twitter screams. And writing it off as churlishness just makes you more wrong.

As is usually the case, the Dude said it best:

Matt Haig is not totally wrong and he is probably not even an asshole—not really. Well respected activists Kamila Shamsie and Sophie Hannah certainly don’t think he is. But, like many people—and all men, it seems—he assumes that his right to express himself openly and fully insures him against public ridicule. He makes the same, stupid mistake that well-meaning men, dulled by an excess of power have been making forever, it seems. He thinks that his good intentions will provide a context sufficient to insulate him against the bubbling rage of the internet. How else could a person not currently in a vegetative coma say this with a straight face:

He told the Guardian that, while he “knew that gender is a sensitive and potentially heated subject, and that Twitter can be a bubbling cauldron of animosity”, he was surprised at the reaction his comments provoked.

Really? You didn’t think that jumping feet-first into “a bubbling cauldron of animosity,” calmly declaring that masculinity—even a critical masculinity—needed more voice in the public debate, and then LITERALLY ASKING IF YOU WERE WRONG wouldn’t cause a little hubub? Twitter is not an “audience,” not any more than every person in Union Station at 5:45pm on a Wednesday is an audience. Of course the internet is going to rip you a new one, Matt, and you deserve it! Even if you’re not totally wrong.

 

Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.

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