Occasionally, against my better judgment, I (John) log into and read discussion boards in various online venues. These venues include sites where the public is invited to comment on newspaper or magazine articles, blog posts, books, and videos. Even worse than reading these discussion boards, I sometimes experience powerful emotions, emotions that draw me to the keyboard and into an internet discussion or debate. When I read something I find provocative or offensive, it can be very difficult to stop myself from commenting. But if I control this urge, after a few minutes, hours, or days, the impulse subsides and I’m then enlightened as to why my initial impulses to deliver a quick and clever retort were misguided. It also helps when I consult with wife on what it is that I’m wanting to write. Her sarcastic analysis of my juvenile impulses helps me inhibit my desire to make a fool of myself.
But there are times when I don’t wait long enough. And there are times when I don’t consult my wife. Instead, I channel the emotion I’m feeling (usually anger) into what I consider, in-the-moment, to be a pithy, clever, or creative retort.
The online world has a name for this phenomenon; it’s called flaming. Flaming is defined as a hostile and insulting interaction in an internet forum or discussion. It may include profanity and name-calling. I like to think I never stoop quite that low. Some internet users are intentional flamers who comment on specific topics in an effort to inflame or incite; others, like me, are occasionally drawn into an internet brawl.
In June, 2013, while perusing books about boys and male development, I came across the book: Raising Boys Feminists will Hate by Doug Giles. If the title of the book was a spark, the first page fanned my fire. Giles opened with:
Parent, if you have a young son and you want him to grow up to be a man, then you need to keep him away from pop culture, public school and a lot of Nancy Boy churches. If metrosexual pop culture, feminized public schools and the effeminate branches of evanjellycalism lay their sissy hands on him, you can kiss his masculinity good-bye because they will morph him into a dandy. (p. 1)
In this case, I could have taken a few deep breaths and waited. There was no hurry for me to respond. Why not wait? It also would have been advisable for me to consult my wife. But what fun would that have been? I knew what she would say. I also knew that instead of self-control or restraint, at that moment, mostly I wanted immediate gratification. Such is the nature of contemporary internet flaming. It’s about instant gratification; it’s not so much about thoughtful and reflective discourse. So, before I could fully contemplate my actions and while avoiding contact with anyone who might push me toward a more mature perspective, I quickly wrote a short book review:
This guy clearly has an ego of immeasurable proportions. I think the main problem is that he’s deluded himself to believe that just because he said it or wrote it, it must be true. I’m not sure anyone in the mainstream is against raising boys to be strong men with good character. But I suppose he’s just creating the image of Nazi-feminists so he can blast away at them and consequently increase his media attention. The real title of this book should be: “I hate feminists and because I’m a real man who knows everything, you should too.” I’d like to challenge him to a debate on Fox, but I’m afraid I’d lose control and get into fisticuffs and consequently damage my sissy-feminist reputation.
In retrospect, I see that this wasn’t my greatest moment. When I start a commentary with “This guy. . .” whatever follows isn’t pointed in the direction of intellectual sophistication. And when I deteriorate into mentioning “fisticuffs” well, then it just becomes a process of embarrassing myself.
Fortunately, I was posting on a relatively “quiet” discussion board. The first response to my post didn’t come until months later. Here’s a clipped version of what a person with the online handle “Jeffery Bozo” had to say about Giles’s book and my review of his work:
The Feminists stayed at the party too long and now they are just beating a dead horse. It’s time for them to find another hobby.
Doug’s comments concerning the Feminist takeover of education are spot-on. 90% of public school teachers are female and/or gay. Does that sound diverse and balanced to you? It seems these activists only concern themselves with their diversity pie charts when it favors their natural enemies. Sounds like female-Femi/Stasi-pigs to me. The height of hypocrisy.
What I took from Mr. Bozo’s post was that he was apparently unimpressed with my clever book review. And although much of what he wrote didn’t make any sense to me, I can see why he, and many others, might take offense to what I wrote. I was neither fair nor balanced. I didn’t focus on the book’s content. I was mocking and insulting Giles and his work. Even though it felt clever and gratifying in the moment, it wasn’t helpful or constructive (both of which are more valuable in a book review than offering clever insults).
You may want to come to my defense. After all, Giles was being intentionally provocative in his choice of book title and his opening paragraph. One great way to deny personal responsibility for immature behavior is to claim: “He started it!” And, although there’s truth to that, Giles’s being provocative is no excuse for my flaming response.
Interestingly, a few months later, another reader decided to enter into the discussion and share her feelings. Her post was directed to Mr. Bozo:
Wow, you are a truly special breed of stupid and ignorant, aren’t you? Your last name is perfectly fitting, because you’re a clown.
When this comment initially popped into my email I had the horrific thought that the posting was about me. Although I was relieved to discover that the commenter was on my side and referencing Mr. Bozo, this is still an excellent example of destructive flaming.
Here’s the main point: Flaming responses, whether online or in-person, nearly always have the intent of “teaching someone a lesson” or “putting someone in his or her place.” And here’s the corollary: It doesn’t work because the other person doesn’t want to hear the lesson and doesn’t want to be put in his or her place.