I’ve recently been reading Something Sensitive, a wretched hive of internet scum and villainy whose sole real purpose is to dish out to the denizens of the Something Awful forums the sort of mockery they spent years handing out to posters at TV Tropes, Reddit, tumblr and just about everywhere else on the internet (not to mention plenty of people off it). Since SS are a bunch of highly-trained doxxers and I am an idiot who has included his own name in the address of his blog, I must hastily add that I am full of admiration for their enterprise, talent and good looks, and that the fat envelope of cash is in the post, before going on to consider the reasons for my non-brilliant posting career.
(“Lol it was because you are an unfunny faggot” – Any goon up to the late 2000s or so).
It’s fair to say that I genuinely enjoyed a lot of my time on SA, if only because I am the sort of frustrated wimp who is capable of making up for his own ineffectuality in life by pouring vitriol on everyone else (or by watching other, funnier, people do it more entertainingly than I could) whilst combining that with enough intellectual pretension to enjoy arguments about, well, intellectually pretentious things. Really, those are the basic requirements for goonhood in general.
I paid money to join the place and left it of my own free will because I was getting bored rather than by a swing of the ban-hammer, so I can’t truly claim to have “seen through it all along” or some such nonsense. I’d also have to say that the posters I met in person, which I did a couple of times, mostly seemed fairly normal. Whether that’s because they were British, and so not quite so affected by some of the more screwed-up aspects of US nerd-dom, or just because they were the ones functional enough to get themselves out of the house and to a pub, I don’t know.
And yet…the biggest single lesson I get looking back on the whole experience is that intelligence of the narrow, academic kind does not equal good character, good judgement or a good life. That “goons are the worst people” is a well-worn cliché on the forums. It’s not completely fair to everyone there by any means. However, there are many who are deeply dysfunctional people whose dysfunctions are probably made worse by the fact that they can justify them using fancy academic language and/or be funny about them.
In the 1820s, the writer Charles Lamb imagined himself into the head of an alcoholic who first gets into trouble when he falls into the company of some proto-goons – “men of boisterous spirits, sitters up a-nights, disputants, drunken…We dealt about the wit, or what passes for it after midnight, jovially.” It turns out he’s a good jokester, and his friends egg him on. But they haven’t taken into account his crippling social anxiety – “Reader, if you are gifted with nerves like mine, aspire to any character but that of a wit.” He ends up increasingly dependent on booze to “perform” and hating himself for needing the audience – “to waste whole seas of time upon those who pay it back in little inconsiderable drops of grudging applause, are the wages of buffoonery and death.”
Melodramatic, yes; but I think that’s part of what’s going on, on the comedy forums. Even down to the death – there were a couple of actual suicides while I was posting there, of people whose lives sounded like a mess. And there were plenty of others where you had to wonder where the hell their lives were heading if not in that direction, and how far we were aiding and abetting that by providing them with attention that gave them a temporary kick, but kept postponing the moment when they would realise they needed to change their lives. Why did I never achieve goon superstardom? Unfunny faggotry, of course; but also never being prepared to sacrifice my sanity to impress people a bit. And having some mental balance to sacrifice, which not everyone there does.
It was also true that the overriding theme of my stint on SA, and I think a few years before and since, was the concerted attempt by a bunch of social justice minded mods and posters to make the place more politically correct, safer for (in particular) women and the transgendered. At the time, I’ll admit I thought this was a necessary civilising process. I sympathised. Now, especially after tumblr and seeing the craziness of internet identity politics at work there, I think if anything it makes things less civilised. Again, it aids and abets dysfunctional people in never re-examining their lives. If everyone laughs at the fat guy in an ill-fitting dress and poorly done make-up, that’s cruel; but if it makes him re-consider whether he really thinks he’s a woman before he’s had his genitalia irreversibly messed around with by a surgeon, it’s less cruel than cheer-leading him all the way to the operating theatre.
And that’s the other reason I never cut it as a goon. Like TV Tropes, like tumblr, like many, many other internet forums, SA tended to claim it was a “community”. Unfortunately, the downside of communities is a stifling consensus of opinion and a party line that must be toed, and if you aren’t prepared to put up with that, you shouldn’t stick around.