Knife Fight in the Garden of Comments and Criticism

The avenues of the internet are lined on either side by buildings—some of majesty, constructed by award-winning journalists, others busted and bruised. Click bait pads for hustlers with shot out windows and a bottomless hunger.

Porno flop houses, clearly, mixed amongst your Salon.coms and your Guardians and your Slant, with a little Drudge Report fighting for real estate with HuffPo. Online Fox News cutting a considerable swab, a block away from your big Amazon warehouses, where somehow Circuit City and K-Mart have managed to cut out a square to call their own, dwarfed by the YouTube and Daily Motion multiplexes.

Facebook’s a whole city block—Instagram and Tumblr regular sunny art parks. Marxist to the max, where everyone’s an artist, and beyond it—like lightning in the sky—Snapchat, illuminating the horizon, with explosive selfies and overflowing urinals, all happily declaring the time of day they were snapped, and the speed that they were traveling.

But I’m here to tell you this: that ain’t where the action is. It ain’t on Google Avenue, or even down Bing Boulevard. It’s not the well manicured articles on Salon.com, or even Time or Newsweek or the Washington Post. It’s the back alleys, baby. It’s the graffiti smudged, fecal smeared, broken glass vistas, where people unzip their skin suits and hang ’em on hooks and let it all slop out. Where people show you their true colors and tell you who they really are:

It’s the comments. The cement cracked and bird snot stained comments section. That’s where the real news is.

The comments section, with a glow all its own. Something musty. Something bad for you. Alluring, but dangerous.

I used to think it was a trap. I’d be exploring a nuanced, multi page article from a nuanced, honey scrubbed intellectual, and I’d feel the gears in my brain start to grind and, hungry for more stimulation, I’d see the neon EXIT sign pointing to the back alley—the comments section, beyond the advertisements and the links for other well constructed articles.

The comments section, with a glow all its own. Something musty. Something bad for you. Alluring, but dangerous. A bruiser with a powerful engine and the need to drag, to chew asphalt and spit vitriol until the sun drops out of the sky and falls on its bright, luminescent head and ends it for good.

The comments—stay away, because here is where it gets nasty. Here’s where someone might put out a cigarette in your eye for no reason other than that they came here looking for a fight. Here’s where the intellectuals like to sharpen their brains right beside their knives. Where knuckles bloom like headstones, cracked and callused from the street brawl.

Here’s where the antsy and the wide eyed come to fiscticuff, without fear of reprisal. Here’s where the cowards come to throw cow pies.

It’s inane here—pejoratives rain like molten ash, and statistics flare up like factory fires—some accurate, others made up on the spot. Street improvisation for the Internet Age, to defend an argument, or a feeling, or an uncontrollable rage stoked by the original article or video (the warm nucleus for the whole thing). Where truth starts to matter less, and winning starts to become all there is.

The doughey but well meaning liberals. The crusty and exhausted libertarians. The angry conservatives—strict, yes. Puritanical, even. They see liberal compassion as fat fused with day dreams. They think the libertarians are all sweating THC. The liberals and libertarians all think the conservatives are Nazis—sieg heil!—and don’t hesitate to tell them. No hesitation here. Not in the comments section. Not when the knives come out and the liberal reveals—gasp!—he’s an accidental racist.

When the conservative explains—gasp!—that Jesus was full of it when he said, “An eye for an eye might make the whole world blind,” because some of these SOBs just need a little torturing.

When the libertarians admit—huzzah!—he’s been illegally streaming Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken the whole time, but can’t stop thinking about those hacked e-mails—should Angelina Jolie ever play Cleopatra?

Is she too white?

Wasn’t Cleopatra African? But were her ancestors Greek—blood going back to Alexander the Great, even?

What was the original article about?

Does it matter? Cue the beginning of a new argument—a new fight, newly made in the comments section. Recently summoned statistics, real history mingling with the recently made up, all used as a smoke screen to vent our anger, to vent these screaming needs that are impossible to articulate in real life, for some reason, but they’re gonna bleed out here, man. They’re going to bleed out here because they’ve got to bleed out somewhere.

Because, really, we all need someone to bleed on.

And in the comments section—why, you can bleed on me.

We need each other, down here in the comments section. We make the holes in each others’ hearts swell.

We think we’re enemies, down here, wrapped in political flags and hidden behind word-salad screen names. That is, until the trolls show up. Racist, scaly, awful wretches, with sewer water in their beards and crusty bacteria in their eyes. We all know they’ll show eventually—that’s half the allure of the back-alley comments section. You know you’ll get some action, and sure as the Earth is round, these trolls don’t disappoint.

In this digital gang fight, you lost no blood. You might have learned something—something like street knowledge for the virtual age. And any of the pride you lost to the troll, just consider it the price of admission.

And, like Ozymandias—arrogant and awful—the trolls unleash enough horror to unite the rest of us. Conservative, liberal, libertarian—who cares? Grab a torch and hunt the troll.

Unless, of course, the troll aligns himself with any one of our political causes. And then, good god, it’s over. Like a rabid dog let loose from the leash, he’ll bark and chew and snap and gorge until we’re all worse off. The armchair politicians on his side who’ve now been brought down into the dirt from his bating, his tactics, and all the rest of us—exhausted and insane from battling a thought virus with no real point of view, other than to frustrate. Other than to watch the world burn.

Ah, but there’s the first ray of the morning sun, peaking through your blinds, reminding you that, yes, you spent all night arguing, with all of your guts and glory, in an internet comments section. That your tour of duty is done. That you can come home.

That, in this digital gang fight, you lost no blood. You might have learned something—something like street knowledge for the virtual age. And any of the pride you lost to the troll, just consider it the price of admission. Now—eyes blaring, brain throbbing, skin molting and sweaty, you drag yourself out of the dimly lit nightmare of the comments section—it’s closing time anyway, the bruisers and the scoundrels are going to work, and you, happily among them, are going back, too.

Go home, rinse off, head out into the world, of morning traffic and coffee stains and endless meetings and know that what you see flickering behind your coworkers eye isn’t anything less than the madness of the comments section.

Maybe he was there last night, too.

Maybe you guys are best friends, mortal enemies, desperate lovers by the light of the late night monitor.

Maybe you bled all over each other.

Or maybe he’s a damn troll.

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