It’s a Mad World


I was 18 in 1981 when I learned a hard lesson that serves me well to this day. That’s the year I began contributing editorial cartoons to my hometown newspaper, a gig that lasted 13 years. The lesson I learned is that when your work is published, a lot of people will disagree with it, they’ll be pretty harsh in telling you so, and you can’t take it personally.

I kept the thick skin I developed as a cartoonist and it’s a good thing, too. Because whether you’re drawing editorial cartoons or publishing an employee magazine or writing a blog, a lot of people will tell you that you suck.

The Internet takes that fact and puts it on steroids. It was bad enough back in my newspaper days when folks who hated my cartoons sat down, wrote hate-filled letters to the editor, signed their names (the editor wouldn’t run anonymous letters) and mailed them. Sometimes they’d pick up the phone and call or even drop by the newspaper office to tell me how much I sucked.

On the Web, anybody can write anything and they can hide behind the computer screen. Anonymity emboldens people and leads them to say things they might not say in person. Or maybe they would, in which case I fear for civilized society.

After I wrote my previous blog post on the Facebook bra-color campaign, someone on an Internet discussion board posted a link to it along with his response. I won’t dignify it by reprinting it here — besides, this is mostly a G- or PG-rated blog and this guy’s rant is filled with obscenities — but he ended by calling me a “sad waste of space oxygen thief.”

I’m not bothered that someone I don’t know feels that I’m robbing the universe of oxygen. I’m bothered that there is someone out there whose tinderbox of a soul was ignited by a blog post that, let’s face it, was read by a few hundred people.

I’m far from being the only one who is the target of such wrath. One of my friends sent me this link to a bit by stand-up comedian Russell Brand in which he responds to hate-mailers. And the funny website The Oatmeal compiled the “Retarded Emails Hall of Fame” in response to angry readers. (Warning: Both of these links contain coarse language.)

Kind of gives new meaning to “It’s a mad world.”

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9 Responses

  1. Robert

    Once again you so eloquently articulate one of the great malaise of the digital age: the flame e-mail or hate-blog comment. It’s a wonderful bonus of the Internet age. In the Middle Ages we had to go down the village square to laugh at all the assembled idiots. Today, we just have to shlep down the hall in our slippers to our computers to view the absurdities of the day. It is obvious to us (but not them) that the hate mail and flames will not change our views or the world. So the irony is, they are the ones wasting precious oxygen.

  2. Okay…I’m kind of slow on the uptake. Just realized you have a blog!

    I have blocked anonymous comments from my own blog.Perhaps you can do that on your blog, too. In the meantime, remember that those who post comments anonymously are cowards, not to be taken seriously.

    Oh, and for the record…I totally agree with your post about the bra colors.

  3. Hi Robert,
    I noticed that when I RT your FB bra-color campaign – on FB – a couple of my friends were offended as they felt that any awareness was good. I went back to them privately because in your blog you did point out some positive pieces. But, I felt you came at your post from strategic communications angle, not as a slam against the campaign. And, I saw other posts similar to yours where people (strategic communicators) shared their views on how the campaign could have been more effective.
    So, I’m glad you have thick skin and know that many of us understood what you were really trying to say.

    • Thanks, Susan. Yes, I know my view was not very popular, but it has nothing to do with support for breast cancer awareness (or lack thereof). As I said in my post, breast cancer is an issue that has touched close to home for me. As you noted, I looked at the bra-color campaign from a PR/communication perspective and I still think it was a failure, or at least didn’t live up to its potential. And I don’t expect everyone (or anyone) to agree with my views. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. I just think the angry, obscenity-laden (and usually anonymous) reactions are a sad commentary on our society.

  4. You were 18 in 1981? Good GOD, do you have one of those Michael Jackson tubes that you sleep in to keep you young?

    I still have your collection of cartoons!!!

    If responsible Internet communicators all banded together and agreed to never, EVER, EVER respond to an anonymous comment, they might go away. Probably not . . . but one can dream, right?

    Steve C. (and yes, that is my real name)

  5. Robert,

    Please don’t let the negative comments get to you. You articulate you points — as always — quite well. Having known you so well for so many years, I know you would never hurt anyone with your writing. Some people simply cannot understand the deeper points you were tryingt o make.

    Onward and upward, my Brother. Keep it coming.

    Les

  6. Thank you, Les, and everyone else for your kind comments. They encourage me.

    I don’t want anyone to think, however, that I let angry, hate-filled comments get the best of me. As I said in this post, I developed a thick skin long ago and it has served me well. And I welcome opposing points of view on this blog and in other venues because debate is healthful in the marketplace of ideas.

    I just think it’s sad that there are so many cynical souls out there who vent their anger in such unproductive ways. That kind of venom does nothing to contribute to the free flow of opinions and ideas.

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