Sunday, March 16, 2008

Made You Look

Having spent the last couple of days looking over various blogs and websites for anything interesting that I missed, I've come to a single conclusion: We apparently can't help but look at the controversial stuff.

This is natural, I suppose. If an item is offensive, vituperative, or just downright inane, then it automatically piques our curiosity. It compels us to look, to watch the drama unfold, and to pull other people into the audience. Even if we're not the type to do so, such spectacles usually prompt us to write about them in some way... which consequently gets our readers clicking on links or retyping addresses in an effort to see what it was that got our proverbial goats.

I find this to be both strange and normal at the same time. There are more than a few intelligent posts out there, and yet I find few references to them when compared to the plain crowd-drawers and the worthless spectacles. We should be reading more of the former and less of the latter, in my humble opinion.

We have a bad habit of standing and gawking at things, of promoting passive activism from the comfort of our armchairs, of writing insults from the safety of anonymous usernames. We seem to make sure that there's a healthy distance between us and the short-term flavor-of-the-month for some reason. Maybe it's because we're too shy or too cowardly to do anything substantial about it. Maybe it's because we don't want to invest any direct involvement into something that wasn't ours to begin with. Maybe it's because we're desperate for entertainment, and there's nothing better to watch on TV at the moment.

Gawking is a terrible habit. I feel that we should just plain stop this -- either we take a more direct hand in these matters, or we duck out of the way completely. Any of these two actions seems like a far better option.

So there's a member of the moneyed class inciting a blog-fueled smear campaign against a former boyfriend. So what? Will leaving comments on this person's blog provide any progress on the situation? Hell, no. If we truly hold an interest in the matter, then we should be doing something more constructive -- like physically contacting both parties to bring about a proper resolution. And if we can't? Then, well... we should just stop reading the stupid blog, stop milling around in confusion, and get out of the damn way.

So there's a magazine writer who put up a potentially offensive article aimed at the people who wronged her in the past. So what? Will writing strongly-worded reactions or sending her vile counter-insults improve the situation in any way? Hell, no. If we really want to resolve the issue once and for all, then we should be meeting with this person and her editors in a proper forum. And if we can't? Then we should just ignore her and get on with our own lives.

So there's some guy who walks out of a courtroom, puts up a website, and tries to start a revolution on his own. So there's some guy who kidnaps a busload of kids from his own daycare center. So there's some putz who constantly uses his website to insult the best movies you ever watched. So what?

These are the ones who want your attention. These are the people who try to get a rise out of you, the bullies who take your lunchbox and then ask you what you're going to do about it. They want you to howl, stamp your feet and scream bloody murder. They want you to play their game. They make you think you can win if you play by their rules.

And the trouble is, it's all too easy for us to fall into such traps.

Better not to play. Better to steel your jaw and just walk away. Unless you have some direct stake in the game, unless you can walk in and enforce your own terms, unless you can make some solid mark that won't just bounce off the other guy's teeth... better to hold back and refuse to get roped in.

Our attention span should not be commanded around like a man playing fetch with his dog. Personal interest should be freely given and never compelled. It should be carefully considered and never instigated. Anyone who attempts to do the latter merely tries to play us for fools, more often than not.

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