Saturday, April 30, 2011

Comment America

A few days ago, when I opened my morning newspaper (or executed the digital equivalent thereof), the first thing I saw was the face of a guy (Bob Murray) I went to high school with. I haven't talked to him in person in over 15 years, but I friended him on Facebook a few years back. I've enjoyed reading his humorous status updates since then, and so when a year ago he posted "I'm thinking of making a movie called Date America where I would take a cab across America and go on dates with women that I meet on-line" (or something to that effect) I thought it was another joke. It turns out he was serious. And now as he embarks on the journey this week, the local media is paying attention....and so is the local peanut gallery.

It would be too easy to write a blog post every week taking issue with the comments section of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, or any other newspaper for that matter. But the comments that accompanied this article were different than the standard, in that rather than directing venom and vitriol against public figures or the news media, the target was a guy who simply decided to do something harmless but a little bit out of the ordinary (okay, a lot out of the ordinary). A sample of some of the backlash:

This method will result in an ex-wife. This is not how you find a spouse. What happened to meeting someone in college, or introduced by friends, or through work, at the library or the grocery store? Now it's either the Internet or some type of reality show, apparently. Weird.

this guy is a d-bag. How about meeting someone through friends like normal people?

Ugly dude is hurting for attention. Look at me, I'm taking a taxi looking for dates! Yippee, I hope I get on TV! Instead of doing this, please go see a DENTIST or go over to the UK, you'll be a big hit

Now, I can see why some people would turned off from the idea of dating a guy who wants to make a movie out of the experience. But nobody is asking these commentators to be a part of it. Why do they feel the need to express such contempt? Part of it may be the inevitable reaction to living in a changing world. Any time you start a sentence with "What happened to..." I see that as code for "I'm not comfortable that things aren't like they used to be." If only the Internet had been around, I'm guessing that an ancestor of the above commentator may have written: "This method will result in an ex-wife. This is not how you find a spouse. What happened to having your spouse picked out for you by your parents? Now it's either furtive notes and glances or some elaborate courtship. Weird."

And in fairness, there is something to be said about the potential problems of living in a world where everybody is clamoring for a media spotlight. But is that really what is going on here? Bob's lead quotation in the article is "I love adventure." I suppose you don't need to take him at face value, but this would indicate to me that if he finds love, gets media attention, or makes money from the project he's not going to be unhappy, but what this is really about is shaking things up and doing something different for the sake of doing something different (perhaps this theory can be further confirmed by the opening lines of the promotional video he's made).

And gas prices and recent economic conditions notwithstanding, we live in a time when it is perhaps easier than ever before in history to get out on the road and seek adventure (especially if you are single). The Internet has permitted us to strike a balance between the potential spontaneity of the classic American road trip (or going further back, the romanticism of a knight errant) and the safety and structure of being able to plan ahead and communicate with others. And rather than Kerouac having to spill his memoirs onto a 120-foot-long scroll, you can now easily document your adventures in real time for anyone who might be interested. So it seems that Bob is tapping into the archetypal and the contemporary all at once.

But why does that make people angry? Actually, I think another on-line commentator is onto something:

"All of the negativity speaks volumes about how people have difficulty seeing others get attention for their efforts. Taking potshots in the comments section is a cheap way to "get into the paper," as opposed to Bob, who has apparently spent a great deal of time and effort on this idea."

Even as we live in a time when it is easier than ever to embrace adventure, it is now also equally easy to recoil from it, to retreat to our screens and shy away from real contact with others. But when we see that someone else has become invigorated rather than enervated by technology, it may awaken a stirring within us. It's too bad that for so many the stirrings take the form of jealousy and anger rather than inspiration.


Blogger Brandon Rooker said...

some people are just too un-understanding

2:26 PM  
Blogger Uncle Jerry said...

I just wanted to leave a comment so I can say I am leaving a comment about a blog about comments about another blog! Now I can say I am being redundant again!

9:44 PM  
Blogger Scotty said...

I like to think that people with no originality and a lack of zest for life would be critical. Sometimes others are so miserable that they can only find happiness in bringing others down. Your friends mission means nothing to them, all they want to do is type a few words and feel relevant in their own twisted minds. There are better things to worry about than a man who is doing something unique. Even if he doesnt meet someone to form a relationship with any of them its still sounds like a great experience thas has no boundaries.

1:05 PM  

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