British boxer Curtis Woodhouse recently showed up at the house of some guy who’d been running his mouth about him on Twitter. Suffice it to say, there’ll be no more sucker punches from that guy.
It got me to thinking.
I don’t know about you, but I can sing like a motherfucker in the shower. Just the other day I brought myself to tears (or was it the shampoo?) with a plaintive version of Drive-by Truckers’ “You’ve Got Another.” In the shower I am Sam Cooke, Eddie Vedder, Howlin’ Wolf– blessed with golden shower pipes. (Wait. What?)
In the shower I’m not in the suburbs. I’m playing Carnegie Hall. I’m at Red Rocks. I’m at CBGB. I’m pitch-perfect and they love it!
Here’s the thing. In reality I’m in none of those places. I’m in the shower. I’m in my own head. I hear me with my mind, not my ears. Why am I not in those places really? I’m definitely ballless and probably talentless in the singing department. I get ‘stage fright’ in public bathrooms. I don’t want to know what the real thing is like.
I don’t sing in public because I fear ridicule and a lifetime of embarrassment for me, my family, and my pets. Some people call this “social equilibrium.” It’s an affirmative form of peer pressure.
Social Media has little of that. In fact, I think Social Media is becoming a great big shower stage. Twitter has become the Hollywood Bowl. Facebook is Madison Square Garden. Blogs, like this very one, are those great little clubs every town cherishes– the Continental in Buffalo, the Green Mill in Chicago… Places where you “play” for somewhere between handfuls and dozens of people who are mostly there just to get shitfaced.
I give massive credit to the folks who do it. They’re putting themselves out there. But let’s tone down the Rock ‘n’ Roll act a bit. It’s all getting a bit sharply worded, a bit too pointed, a bit too inflammatory for me. It’s kind of the equivalent of talking shit to someone behind bars. It’s easy. There’s no fear of reprisals. If you look, many if not most personal blogs have no response mechanism. Facebook and Twitter have that, of course, but there’s no law requiring you use it. You have the mic and you can really lean into it and give them the show they’ve come to see (in your mind).
As a consequence, you have a lot of folks who do the equivalent of yelling “Fire” in a theater that they’re not sitting in. They do it to stir people up, to get a reaction. That’s cool, but take it for what it is– provocation. Don’t get me wrong. I’m Irish. I love a good dustup. But this isn’t really that. It takes two to tango and usually these tweakers are either too spineless or intellectually flabby to really lock horns. They hit and run.
And they can. Your online you may or may not line up with your offline (aka—flesh and blood) you. You throw something out there and people may or may not ever see it. It’s literary littering on an empty street where you’re not likely to be recognized. You wouldn’t do it if it was going to be on the six o’clock news (remember that?), the front page of the newspaper your neighbors read every day, or, God-forbid, delivered by you in front of the congregation you so dutifully attend each and every week without fail. You wouldn’t do it because you’d own it. You’d own the sentiment. You’d own the consequences. You’d own the addition it made to people’s perception of you.
Social Media seems to be different. Maybe we’d like it to be. Maybe it’s where the kids that had sand kicked in their faces seek retribution. Maybe it’s where real-life sinners can pretend to be saints. Usually, though, it’s the opposite of that. It’s where people who are pretending to be saints in their real lives flex their genuinely demonic muscle. It’s where they can say what’s really on their minds without too many people noticing (except their likeminded followers) or tracking it all the way back from the virtual world to the physical. If that does happen, they can, and do, always brush it off that it was an off-the-cuff comment made hastily, taken out of context, and blown out of proportion. Usually that suffices.
I’m not advocating transparency of online identities. We can’t make dialog mandatory. People are free to say and “be” whatever they choose in Social Media. It’s unvetted. It’s unregulated. It’s unreal. What we can do is call a spade a spade. We can make sure folks’ online crocodile mouths line up with their real world canary asses. Like Curtis did. We can slip a real microphone into their shower (and a recorder too) so they and the whole world can hear what their little Johnny Rotten routine really sounds like.
Maybe then they’ll turn the amp down from ‘eleven’ before they’re counted out.