Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A collective Primal Scream

I have a close relative whom I've loved dearly for nearly half a century. It was only after we became social media friends, however, that I discovered she is an avid partisan. Make that rabid partisan. Whenever I open Facebook, my Notification globe bleeds red with urgent missives--it's her daily in-flow of videos, cartoons, and other headlines designed to enlighten me about the hanky-panky of political evil-doers.

Other friends and family proselytize across a spectrum of political thought, and beat the drum for pet causes. One matriarch frequently emails me jokes making sport of one candidate in particular. (She knows I like the guy, so I have to assume she's being passive aggressive--a common, if somewhat unlovable, trait in my family.)

I used to get irked by the chatter. Sometimes, especially when someone forwarded me a particularly outlandish bit of Internet lore, I'd retort with articles of rebuttal, or a link to Snopes.

Now I've changed my thinking. It's been a rough week for America, and we're heading into a hotly contested political season. People are cranky.We're not just cranky at the other guy's candidates. We're pretty much ticked at our own candidates, too. Everyone's upset about different things, and no one is coming up with great solutions. Or any solutions.

When I was at Wellesley years ago, we had a biannual tradition known as Primal Scream. On the eve of final exams, we'd run through the hallways collecting haggard, haunted-looking freshmen. We'd gather them on the roof of McAfee Hall and tell them to scream. Just scream as loud as you can, we said. Get it all out. There we'd stand, 40 or so young women strong, screaming from the roof at the top of our lungs. God knows what the campus police must have thought about Primal Scream. And then, slowly, we'd begin to laugh. Huge gales of giddy, exhausted, exam-demon purging laughter. Somehow cleansed, we'd return to the books.

I'm beginning to see the outcries on social media as our society's Primal Scream. Instead of standing on a rooftop, we're tweeting and venting from Facebook and Twitter.

Thirty-plus years ago in Paddy Chayefsky's "Network", an anchorman loses his cool on the air. He exhorts his viewers to get mad, throw open a window, and scream.  Back in the day the idea of a raving anchorman was an absurd, darkly funny notion. Now it's SOP. This will give you an idea: Yesterday when I was playing Howard Beale's "Network" speech on my laptop, my husband padded through the room.

"It's just the same old news over and over again," he complained, mistaking Chayefsky's Academy Award-winning speech for a cable news opinionator.

As an author, I try to curb my instincts on social media. For example, I'll reread this post three times to make sure I've purged it of any identifiable sectarian tilt. But I no longer resent speechifying by family and friends. I have reframed it in my mind. I see us all standing at our windows and on the rooftops, unleashing our malaise into the dark. It might be a cleansing thing for the collective soul.

In your author role, do you steer clear of politics, religion et al online? Have you ever stepped unwittingly into a hornet's nest by expressing a particular view?


  1. I've upset a few people with my stand on a few things, but I'd rather be known for taking a stand than to spend my time worried about offending people.

  2. That's an honest approach, Timothy. I'll state my opinion on hot-button topics if asked directly, but I seldom volunteer them.

  3. A long time ago, I decided no one would ever know what party I belong to, or which candidate I support. Publicly, that is. Hubby and sons are still subject to my occasional ranting.

    I've unfollowed people on Twitter for going overboard with nasty comments. I'm still annoyed with one author in particular who made a really nasty comment about the place where my hubby works. She's now on my mental never-buy-her-books list. It's a good lesson on alienating possible readers.

    When relatives send me the kind of emails you mentioned, I just delete them without reading.

  4. I'm like you, Joyce. I save my discourse for a few chosen victims--usually my husband or parents. When I started in journalism, it was verboten to express open political leanings--journalists aspired to be unbiased truth-tellers. Now that goal seems to have fallen by the wayside.

  5. Kathryn, I'm totally with you. You said it perfectly: if you're asked directly, you'll state your opinion, but seldom volunteer it. I'm with you 100%. I heard someone label this the "Thanksgiving Dinner Rule" and I think it's a good one.I have extremely strong political views as well, and while I'll occasionally engage in a discussion on a social page or "like" a particular comment I don't tweet, etc. I don't think everyone necessarily wants to hear my opinion about everything under the sun.

  6. I love Network. Remember, Howard Beale was actually CONNECTED to ultimate truth, which is why the TV network had him assassinated! Paddy Chayevsky was an absolute genius.

    Unfortunately, we have become less a nation of discourse than a nation of rant. As a writer with a public persona, I believe in treating my audience with respect, which means not getting in their face every time my knickers are in a twist. I have a platform as an AUTHOR, not a pundit or prophet. If I feel strongly enough about something, I'll let my characters duke it out in a book.

    I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with putting out a rant now and then. Maybe that's healthy. (Maybe someone should ask Frank Miller who blogged his opinion on Occupy Wall Street last November, got 11,000 comments, and hasn't been publicly heard from since).

    If you do have something you must spout about, I would say the following:

    1. Make sure you've thought it through. Facts and logic really help.

    2. Get an objective person to read it before you post it.

    3. Don't take yourself too seriously.

    4. Be prepared for blowback.

  7. I live in place where the opinions are vitriolic and rascist. I am having a serious debate about putting a political bumpersticker on my car for fear of vandalism.

    Online, I do join in the "truth squad" working to debunk the really bad lies and have been able to open conversations with a few people and get the facts to them (and received the response, "I don't care if it's a lie. I hate . . . (insert name)."

    So, I am in the middle, with a leaning toward Primal Scream. I don't start political discussions, but I darn skippy finish them.


    So, I'm in the middle.

  8. I stay out of everything except the lightest of moods - and discussing writing.

    My political and religious beliefs are my own and should not represent me as a writer. I've seen other authors put their views out there and it does affect my opinion of their works - and whether I'll buy them or not.

    When I discovered that Orson Scott Card was homophobic it warped my view of him and his works. I don't want to lose even a single reader over my personal beliefs.

    Like my books for what's inside and the story I tell - not what I do or don't do in my spare time.

    but that's just me.

    and I could be 'orribly wrong.


  9. I occasionally blog about a political/social/economic issue, but I'm careful to avoid rhetoric or inflammatory statements. If I as an author need to find my voice and express that to any readers I might have, I feel I must be honest with myself and not hide all my opinions for fear of insulting someone in order for my voice to be heard accurately.

    A writer can't please everyone with what he writes, so it follows that a writer can't please everyone with what he doesn't write.

  10. Eleven thousand, Jim? Ouch. Even for a big name, that sounds like a whole lot of negativity.

  11. Thank you for the link to the Frank Miller rant.

    It shows the difference between having strong opinions and launching a vitriolic personal attack on people rather than dissecting the issues.

    I just lost a bunch of respect for Miller so there is something to be said about choosing your platform and presentation carefully.


  12. Great post, Kathryn.
    The last thing we need to do is alienate readers.

  13. As a preacher and occasional talk show host my opinions are out there in the public sector on a daily basis. I don't hide them or try to cover them up in those parts of my life. That being said, I also don't post them too often on my facebook or my website. Unless it is something I feel necessary for a specific purpose I try not to bring up politics online and if I do never do it in the manner of personal insult so many folks choose to.

    I won't shy away from a healthy discussion on beliefs or politics, but feel about that the same way I feel about preaching the gospel. If you beat someone over the head with the bible(or any other topic) you simply render them unconscious and take away their ability to hear what you have to say.

  14. Kathryn, thanks for the thought provoking post. My approach, admittedly applied with mixed results, is to not whack’em over the head with my opinion, but to try to leave them with food for thought.

  15. I am a very opinionated person when it comes to politics. Recently, I've learned to keep it all to myself. Why? Because those who agree with me will agree with me and those who don't, won't listen. Nuff said.

  16. Well, Brian pretty much wrapped it up. I have some pretty strange and off-the-wall good friends (from childhood, back on the ole block). We've "pretty much" decided that it's more important to say friends then to beat each other to death over political and religious differences. Sometimes, it's difficult. Sigh.

    On the other hand, when the strategically placed character assassination "lies" really get my goat, I PRIMAL TWEEEET!! it away.

  17. I keep my head down when it comes to online stuff and my books but occasionally I still step on a landmine:) At home my husband is used to me venting forth but then as he and I have quite different political views it's miracle we don't have more arguments! We just accept each other's right to disagree:) I find one of the hardest things about Australian society is the use of humor to make essentially racist or sexist remarks 'acceptable' - when that happens I find it very hard not to speak out.

  18. Never seen that clip (or movie) before -- love it! Anger is a mobilizing emotion, sometimes the only thing to rip people out of a dull stupor.

  19. Isn't it great, Vero? I swear some of today's AM radio and cable opinionators must have patterned their acts on this classic character!