Welcome to the Freak Show

I have a confession, of the darkest kind: I sometimes read the comments sections on TV sites.

Sometimes, yeah, because I’m curious about what people are saying, be it positive or negative. But most often, it’s for their entertainment value.

I’m not sure why. Part of it’s probably because people fascinate me, which is how I wound up with a degree in psychology.  And part of it, I think, is that it’s sort of like a rawer version of reality TV. I mean, you get the same desperate, wacky people, willing to put their flaws on public display for the amusement of others. (Well, okay, that’s probably not their goal, but the result is the same.)

I should make it clear here that I don’t usually engage these people, because that’s sort of like poking a stick at an animal in a cage: unfair, cruel, and likely to result in unpredictable or dangerous behavior. (Sometimes mine, sometimes theirs.)

This also isn’t about whether or not I agree with their opinions. (Often, I can’t tell you what their opinion actually is, even immediately after reading it.)

No, this is just me, being honest enough to admit to being amused by the ridiculous things people post on the internet. (I’m also not alone in this behavior. There’s good fun to be had in the comments sections at times for those of us with well-developed senses of humor, and we share.)

The funny comments fall into three types of posts.

The first are by the flat-out loons who admit to not having watched a show for years but still hunt out places on the internet to rant about old plot lines.

Think about that for a minute. Their lives are so dull, or they’re so obsessed (or both) that they have no better use of their time than this rather bizarre behavior.

I mean, I get that the internet is the ultimate time waster for a lot of people, but seriously? There’s nothing else you find interesting enough to do for it to win over ranting like a nutjob about a show you’ve not watched – by your own admission – for four years? Have you tried porn? Or sports? Or, I don’t know, current TV?

Okay, then.  I’ll just be over here, backing away slowly.

(There’s an exception to this type of post, by the way.  I give people who’ve only recently broken up with their show – say, within the last year – a pass on this.  We often do get deeply attached to our shows, and if something goes wrong and we just can’t continue with it, it can be traumatic. I’ve been there.  So if you’re ranting because the break was within the last year…go forth and vent. May you get it out of your system and find a way to move on to peace. Or at least to the point where you’re not still raving about the same things three years from now. Life’s short, dude.)

The second type of post is written by people who do seem to be watching the show.

While doing calculus problems.

In ancient Japanese.

While standing on their head.

At least, that’s the best I can come up with for their mixing up characters or plot lines. I’m not talking misspelling character names, but rather, combining the story lines of two people into one (and then griping about it, of course) or of paying so little attention to the plot that there’s some doubt about what episode they’re talking about – which doesn’t stop them from ripping the writers to shreds, of course, for being ‘confusing.’

But truly…if you want a tension releasing belly laugh, read a comment by someone apparently baffled by the genders of the leads, or who’s culturally clueless about who Emily Dickinson is (but still feels free to rant about the ‘Emily Browning’ plot line.)

(Yeah. Oh, and hey…did you know Cyndi Lauper can sing?)

The third type of comments I find amusing are the ones by people too lazy even to attempt coherence. It’s like when someone’s drunk tweeting on Twitter. I’m generally not going to put any more effort into figuring out what it means than they did writing it – but I’m quite willing to be entertained by it.

This is important: I’m aware that many people struggle with literacy disabilities of one degree or another.  Several close family members have done so their entire lives.  The catch is that they struggle with it. It matters to them, deeply, that it’s so difficult for them to express their thoughts in writing, and they work hard not to be defined by it. That is so not what I see in a lot of comments.

And a second group that gets a complete and total pass here are people for whom English is not their first language. Dude, seriously. If you’re courageous enough to practice English by going onto English-language sites to discuss your favorite television shows, more power to you. I have nothing but respect for you, regardless of how it comes out.

But a lot of the gibberish is just laziness. (Here’s a newsflash for you: many of those of us who are literate can recognize the difference between a goof caused by someone just learning English and someone who’s just lazy. True story. The syntax is a giveaway.)

And if you mix in text speech? You might as well be wearing a sign that says, “Too lazy to learn to write in my own language.”

(One of my favorite non-entertainment site stories about this kind of silliness was when someone posted the question, ‘R U hiring?’ on the website of a major corporation. The last I looked, they were still waiting for an answer, and I can only assume the HR department for the company is still rolling on the floor with laughter.)

So supposing someone reading this is thinking, ‘Wow! She might be talking about me. But I want people to take my thoughts about TV seriously – what should I do? (Okay, probably not. But it’s been a depressing week, so let me keep my fantasy on this one, okay?)

Here are my recommendations:

1.  Be relevant.

Seriously. If the article is talking about something that’s getting ready to happen on the show, don’t drag up something that happened six years ago to gripe about. Sane people who are still watching the show because they enjoy it don’t care. (We won’t discuss the people who are still watching it when they don’t like it. But is someone like that really who you want to interact with?)

Oh, and you should stay on topic in another way, too: if the article is about Criminal Minds, don’t start ranting about Law & Order: SUV. (Or vice versa.) Seriously. Just don’t. 

2. Get the details straight.

Everyone makes an occasional mistake here. I quite often don’t catch every plot point the first time I watch (and I realize that you can want to discuss a show without being devoted enough to watch it repeatedly.)  But figure out who the main characters are, and if the gist of the plot is that confusing to you, ask for clarification with your comment rather than attacking the writers. Because, yeah, sometimes they’re not bad writers. You just weren’t paying attention..

3. If it’s an English site, use English

Text speech is only for texts, and should only be used if you’re texting someone else who’s as lazy as you are. And if you don’t know what’s text speech and what isn’t, get help immediately.

Next …spell check is your friend. No, it won’t tell you the difference between ‘to’ and ‘too’ or ‘you’re’ and ‘your,’ but it will catch some of the more obvious blunders. And some browsers (Chrome, at least), have one built in. As I type this, a red line appears beneath anything I misspell. Cool, huh?

Particularly important advice: At the very, very least, if you’re going to insult someone’s intelligence, make sure you’re spelling the insult correctly.  I’m still laughing over the post accusing someone else of being an ‘idoit.’ (Oh, look! Chrome wants you to know it’s spelled ‘idiot!’)

There you have it. Follow those guidelines and people will be much more likely to take you seriously. How hard is that?

(Of course, if you do, I’ll have to find other ways of amusing myself, but for civilization’s sake, it’s a sacrifice I’m prepared to make.)

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3 thoughts on “Welcome to the Freak Show

  1. I’m thinking about unsubscribing from the online Times newspaper. It’s supposedly a more upmarket newspaper, but the people commenting below the articles make me despair for the human race.

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