Sunday 15 June 2014

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Read the following verbal exchange and let me know, dear reader, where you think it took place:

-          Just curious, was it any different for other theatre companies? I mean, how many of those were "purged"?

-          Sounds like a rhetorical question. Stalin, as one of history’s greatest sociopaths, targeted all aspects of society. However this article is about one particular theatre company and the author has a right to focus on that one alone.... Or are you trying to get to some other answer? Are you concerned about the use of the word "purged"?

-         It isn't. I know huge part of the intelligentsia were killed or sent to the camps, but I was wondering if this particular theatre was targeted more than the rest? I feel you are looking for something offensive in my question, I wonder why?

So, did it take place on the Tube, do you think? Or maybe I overheard it at one of the many currently sun-bathed, al fresco cafes in summery London? Or, even better, what if I might have chanced upon these two people talking to each other as they exited a theatre? After all, they are discussing this art form.

I’ll spare you the torture of guessing. The above exchange took place online, in the comments section, in a respectable, liberal, left-leaning newspaper. The article was about a Jewish theatre company that thrived during Stalin’s reign of terror but later fell into disgrace. This kind of feedback was left “below the line”.

“Below the line” is a different world. It is an internet-based world with its own rules (non-existing, unless enforced by moderators, also known as “mods”), its own population and its own philosophy. I also belong to this “below the line” world. I have also, I must add, been at the receiving end of impolite comments like the one above on the occasions when I have written for national newspapers or magazines.

The nastiest species of  the"below the line" world
Please, do not confuse this “below the line” world with that inhabited by online trolls. Trolls are a different species. When it comes to trolls, you know where you stand. They are nasty people whose only intention is to silence the other person, whether they are a writer, a campaigner or a politician. Sometimes, they even destroy lives, or attempt to. However, today’s column is more about the other side of online commentary, the one where there’s no swearing, just a rather sophisticated way of insulting someone. Notice how the second person in the example above (in bold) changed the tone of the conversation: Or are you trying to get to some other answer? Are you concerned about the use of the word "purged"? At no point the first person gives any indication that he or she (I’m going for a “he”) is debating the use of the word “purged”. It is all subjective. And nasty. The first person, however, far from walking away (in a metaphorical, virtual sense) faces down his opponent (I’m also plumping for a “he” here): I feel you are looking for something offensive in my question, I wonder why? Take that, you punk. You might as well tell him to step out. Only that he won’t be able to. You see, you both are arguing online.

In real life I doubt these two would talk to each other in this manner, especially if they have just met. It is true that there are aggressive people around who attack you verbally a couple of minutes after you have been introduced to one another. But that is not the norm. Then, why is it different online? There is a blog I visit regularly and which is written by a Spanish woman on which she posts photos of her travels. Once a man – and this time I know the poster was a man – left a comment making suggestions as to how many photos to upload and how. Although his comment was addressed at the blog owner and was on the surface good-intentioned, I felt quite cross. It was the language he used that made me so upset. He was so patronising and insulting. I could have done what the first person above did but I chose not to.

The “below the line” world, as I explained before, is not always the sort of misogynistic environment that shuts down debate. Bickering is more common in this world than rape threats. The irony is that we spend an awful long time in our lives telling children, including ours, not to bicker, to avoid unnecessary conflict, and there we are, asking someone if they are “concerned” about a particular issue without any evidence to back up our question.

The internet has brought so many benefits with it. It has also, unwittingly, given a platform to a nameless, anonymous and hard-to-identify community that feeds off this uncalled-for need for confrontation. Rather than being the insult-hurling troll or the misanthropic loser, this is the inhabitant of the “below the line” world; a sophisticated individual whose putdowns are not less dangerous and whose poisonous comments make sometimes the whole online writing experience a very unpleasant one. In the same way we ought to ignore the troll and not to feed it, let’s do the same with this other species. Brush them off.

© 2014

Next Post: “Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana”, to be published on Wednesday 18th June at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. there's a lot of less than polite below the line duscissions going on on blogs and newspaper websites about the Scottish Independence referendum.

  2. I have seen various people too who seem to thrive on confrontation on the 'online world.' Once I notice that they are this kind of individual I steer clear of them. The kind of person who likes to find fault constantly or to put someone down constantly I would guess would be an unhappy person in real life & have few real friends. I agree with you about 'brushing them off.'

  3. apologies for my poor spelling in the comment above, I meant 'discussions' of course

  4. Oh yeah there are a ton of them, they can hide behind the computer from their mommy's basement so they try and act all tough.

  5. Yes, there are so many of these out there...and I can't help thinking they must be troubled individuals.
    Why would they need to attack others from the safety of a computer or phone screen unless they had problems communicating face-to- face? Either that, or they are just plain cowards...

    Another brilliant thought provoking post!:)

  6. Sadly there are a lot of them. People who feel the need to ease their own feelings of inadequacy by producing them in others. Often, but not always, anonymously.

  7. I had the misfortune once of having one of those trolls that left comments on my blog that I always deleted and then he stopped coming around ... He was a miserable person

  8. i can't stand people - neither in the online nor offline world - that place little dashes of poison into their words - just so much that you need a moment to really get how mean it is what they're writing - and i think it's good to confront them quite straightforward as well and if they don't wanna listen show them where the door is...ugh

  9. trolls are not fun, they spoil life for others. :(

  10. Tan solo dejarte mis saludos y que tu semana sea feliz.

  11. oh i hear is ridiculous some of the people online...who feel empowered to enforce their own opinions as if they were a gospel we all needed....i try to give them little attention...

  12. I agree with you but I am guessing that the particular exchange was motivated in part by the fact that is was a Jewish theatre company? So that there was an anti-Semitic aspect ? I am just wondering but I may not have followed properly . People are a bit nuts. Thanks for your kind comments and your ever thoughtful posts. K .

  13. What the internet seems bad at is allowing us to distinguish between interesting differences of opinion (it can be fun to explore those) and confusing those opinions with the person holding them.

    We may hold very different views about the merits of the English cricket team, but that doesn't mean we need to insult each other!

  14. How easy it is to confront when we can't actually be seen on social media ... I hate, yes hate, that sort of person. And how easy it is for a man to insult a woman, which happened to me. It was good to see other bloggers lambasting the perpetrator.

  15. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.



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