10 November 2011 2 Comments

Net Nasties

Fiction readers are nicer than people who follow politics, who are in turn more thoughtful than people who watch youtube. How do I come up with this ranking of raging rankness? I’ve studied the comments on some websites.

Actually I’ve just read the comments following some reviews of my new historical crime novel MOZART’S LAST ARIA, the comments at the end of an essay of mine about Ariel Sharon featured on salon.com, and the things people occasionally write about my book trailers on youtube.

Here’s what I found: on one review in which the blogger gave a qualified negative review (you know the kind of thing: “Perhaps other people will like the book, but I’m sorry that I just couldn’t get into the….” etc. etc.), several commenters wrote that they had been interested in the book but now knew that it wasn’t for them. Because the reviewer had got the wrong end of the stick in reading my Author’s Note about the historical facts in the novel, one of the commenters wrote that the movie ‘Amadeus’ was “probably” more factually accurate than my book (Salieri will turn in his grave at that one, so will Mozart and, one day, if I don’t meditate on compassion enough, I will too.) Another suggested that the review confirmed her view that I’m an asshole because she had already “snickered” at my bio on my website. (I examined it, but couldn’t raise a snigger, let alone a “snicker.”)

As any writer will know, it’s a tough job overlooking such pointless little digs. A book is a very personal thing. Neither reviewers nor commenters seem to appreciate that a writer may not have a thick skin. Clearly they’ve also never come across the concept of karma. I sniggered at how the universe will pay back that commenter for her snickering. (Actually I didn’t. Because I decided some years ago that things do come back to you. I even stopped reviewing books unless I could give them a positive write-up, because I knew that somewhere out there a writer would be cursing me and feeling deeply hurt by my witty little barbs.)

But I came across another way to overcome the nagging humiliation of nasty comments about my books on blogs: I exposed myself to even nastier commenters.

I wrote an essay for a book called “Eating Mud Crabs in Kandahar: Stories of Food During Wartime by the World’s Leading Correspondents” which was published last month. The essay drew a parallel between Ariel Sharon’s passion for food (and shame about his weight) with his rapacious politics. The article appeared last week on salon.com and was greeted by a slew of comments –– often from chubby people who thought I should lay off Fat Arik, but also from people who, I’d assess, like to piss on other people’s theories while having few of their own. These commenters didn’t suggest that I was an asshole. They wrote it straight out. With an exclamation point. So now, on the jacket of my books, among the blurbs about how great my writing is, I could add:


Someone called “schifferbrains” wrote that “It doesn’t take a mental health professional to see that Rees has serious food issues.” Thankfully I consider my mental health when occasionally delving into the web and therefore only read the comments on my own articles or articles about my books. Otherwise I’d have mushforbrains or simply astressedoutamygdalainmybrains. (The amygdala releases a chemical in our brains related to the fight or flight reflex.)

Worse than anything, I suppose, is youtube, where the nastiness is both gratuitous and often incomprehensible. I won’t go into detail about the youtube comments which I have the pleasure of deleting. I’ve been accused of some weird stuff there. Recently I deleted a comment by some fellow who wrote: “Stupid Jewish!” I got rid of that one simply for grammar.

So, back to “schifferbrains.” I assume mental health professionals would have something to say about someone whose online moniker is “schifferbrains.” Apparently this was the first time “schifferbrains” had commented on a salon.com article. Nonetheless, I can’t really see why anyone would bother to comment in a negative fashion online unless they did have schiffer brains.

(Positive comments are invited for this article. If, however, you can’t say something nice, then consult a mental health professional – you clearly need medication, you poor miserable sod.)

2 Responses to “Net Nasties”

  1. Clara Castelar 21 November 2011 at 10:26 am #

    Back when I wrote weekly columns for newspapers I found that thanking unfair critics for asinine comments thoroughly confused. That was a few years ago before civility pretty much vanished and before so very many people could hide behind net pseudonyms. Then, people could be shamed into into better behaviour. Now, we live in brutal times and fairness seems rarer and rarer. However, you have the advantage of knowing that you are a good, sensitive person and a great writer. Nothing these fools say equals the genuine admiration the greatest percentage of readers have for your work. Just keep on writing, Matt.

  2. Matt Beynon Rees 21 November 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    Quite right, Clara. There’s no shame on the internet! Well, it’s all part of life’s general meditation: to retain focus and compassion and happiness, even if there are others who don’t even seek those things and are content to write all kinds of codswallop about someone…A welcome challenge, eh?

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