Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything: How to Respond When a Creator Attacks a Critic Online
Let’s get this out of the way up front: This week’s column is gonna be all over the map. I was writing it, but then a full-scale emergency erupted on the Overlord Slack channel. Turns out one of our writers, who shall remain nameless, had a problem. And I quote: “I’ve got an earbud bud stuck in my ear. Ideas?”
Naturally, several Overlords leaped to his/her aid. And then SOMEONE, who shall remain nameless as well (fine, it was Seth — of course it was Seth) jumped into the conversation at the worst possible time with his reaction to Janelle Monáe’s new video for “PYNK” — a topic we’d been discussing like 2 hours ago, GAWD Seth. Anyway, here’s the conversation as it unfolded. I’ve edited this slightly for clarity and to remove identities — except for Seth and me, because he needs to own his ill-timed comment and frankly I need to own my whole “paperclip” suggestion.
The person in crisis will be called “Earhole” from here on out:
Writer 1: How far down is it? Is it reachable with tweezers?
Earhole: Not super far down, but I’m at work and don’t have tweezers with me (which was clearly my first mistake).
Tori: Tweezers or full-on doctor — and preferably have the tweezers manned by a separate human being. Can you go to a drug store?
Earhole: I’m thinking I might try to push the headphone part back into the earbud to see if I can pull it out that way?
Tori: What if it pushes it farther in?
Earhole: It doesn’t seem that far in. It’s more just … there?
Writer 1: Was about to say the same as Tori!
Tori: I guess it depends on the type of earbud thingy… OK, this is sketch as hell, but can you bend a paper clip and like hook it? Without puncturing your eardrum, OBVIOUSLY
Seth: Just catching up here and watched that Janelle Monáe video. Guys
Earhole: They’re just the regular squishy ones, but I lost the grown-up size and am using the tiny-child size replacements until my new buds show up.
Seth: I think it’s about vaginas
Earhole: I really wish I’d posted my comment after Seth posted his.
Writer 2: Weird time for your comment, Seth
Writer 1: Is it the kind of foam spongey bit? (Earbud not vagina!)
Earhole: I’m also going to try that paper clip thing.
Seth: Tweezers. Go buy tweezers.
Writer 1: Is there a first aid kit? Might be some tweezers in there, you know, for splinters
Tori: Also, are there any overly prepared women in your office? The kind who probably carry an unintentional quasi-first aid kit in their purse at all times anyway?
Writer 2: Also, having worked in EMS, I can tell you — go to any fire station, they’re not doing anything, and they can help you. Seriously. They’re watching tv.
Writer 1: Who’s got awesome eyebrows in your office?
Tori: OMG if you get a hot fireman to pull an earbud out of your ear, please please please document the endeavor
Seth: Bonus of going to fire station. Possible chili and hot firemen
So there you have it, just another average day at Pajiba HQ. And if you’re wondering WTF Seth was on about, here’s that music video. We’re all huge fans. HUGE.
MOVING ON. If you’ve been keeping up with AP(A)A, then you know the score. Someone emails us, we block-quote it verbatim (maybe polishing up a few typos along the way, and making it anonymous if the writer didn’t come up with a pithy handle for themselves), and then we dive into our 100% reliable, always helpful, only occasionally dangerous answers. Easy peasy.
What I’m getting at is: this week, the formula’s shifting — and not just because Earhole had an earbud problem. What happened was that we did get a question in, and it was a pretty fascinating one. It led to a lot of discussion amongst the Overlords. But the full email itself revealed a lot, and the writer asked that we not post it, instead giving us permission to paraphrase. So. This week’s question, in our own words, is:
Say you write a review of something on the Internet, and you stand by it. You thought it out, you weren’t cruel, but also it was a less-than-positive reaction. And then the creator of that something, be it a book or a movie or whatever, jumps in and responds to you in a comment, essentially heckling you publicly for your opinion. What do you do when you’re heckled or bullied by someone affiliated with something you’ve reviewed?
Pajiba’s on the Internet. We review stuff. This is a not-unreasonable situation for us to consider. And still, the staff generally fell into two camps on this topic.
Camp A felt that deafening silence is the best response. As Dustin put it: “They spend all this time writing what they think is the perfect, witty insult or retort, and for it to be ignored? Gold!” And think about it: The creator already has made a statement. It’s their art. If they are putting things out for public consumption, they oughta be prepared for people to not get it, or get it and not like it. As Genevieve put it, “There’s no such thing as universal acclaim.” If they need to defend their art or explain it further then that’s their problem. The work should be able to stand on its own.
And you, as the audience, are entitled to your opinion. As long as you were commenting fairly on the work itself, and not making a personal attack against the creator, then you’ve said your piece as well. If the creator comes back and makes it personal… well, fuck them. They’re wrong, but you don’t need to sink to their level. All you’re going to do is start a pissing contest in the comments, one that makes you look defensive, and frankly, both of you should have better things to do with your time. Namely: creating or consuming other art.
Camp B, on the other hand, pointed out that bullies are bullies, and sometimes you need to stand up against them. Especially when that particular bully is a creator, who likely has a larger following than you do online, and they can actually make your life miserable by doxxing you or sending their fans after you online. There is sometimes an impression that being a critic is, in its own way, just another word for “bully” — as though critiquing art is somehow mean or hateful. And in the eyes of people who feel that way, you’re the one in the wrong.
But whether you’re a paid reviewer or a consumer posting your reaction online for free, IT’S OK TO HAVE OPINIONS. AND TO TALK ABOUT THEM. And if you’re a creator and that threatens you, then you should probably step back and think about why you do what you do in the first place. Don’t you want people to think about your work enough that they talk about it? Even if it’s negative, even if you don’t agree — it still made an impression on someone. Isn’t that, ultimately, the goal?
Kayleigh witnessed some of this sort of behavior in the realm of book reviews, and offered a really interesting parallel. She said: “I think the problem is similar to when celebs with sizeable online followings wield that to attack critics. I know we’ve talked about Armie Hammer and Anne Helen Petersen before, but there is something truly terrifying about being a woman — and book blogging is heavily young and female — and having powerful dudes put targets on your back while they’re lauded as anti-bullying heroes.
The dynamics between critic and creator are weird and that’s even harder to navigate if you’re just an unpaid hobbyist who likes books but not that one.”
Ultimately, I think it comes down to the nature of the response you get. If a creator slips into the comments on your review of their work, they could be disagreeing with you. Which is unnecessary, but par for the course whenever you put ANYTHING online. Anyone, at any time, can disagree with you.
They could take it a step further, and heckle you personally. Make fun of YOU, and not just your critique of the work. Which is a dick move, but again — that’s on them.
But if their response slips into outright bullying, then that is cause for concern. Because there is a power dynamic at work, and a creator typically wields more power than the critic or the average commenter. If they wade in to yell at you, they’re punching down — and if they bring their full influence to bear, including followers, then the issue is no longer just a difference of opinion. And that’s when you need to call them on their bullshit, because someone has to.
What we’re saying is: burn the Internet. Or stick it in a bear trap.
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