Op Ed

The Internet’s Culture of Cruelty

Maybe I sound like an idealist, but I don’t understand why we have to be so mean.

On a certain ladyblog that shall not be named, a certain writer who emphatically ends her name with an IE wrote about a wedding. Not a celebrity wedding, an historical same-sex wedding, a wonderfully quirky and subversive wedding, or anything celebratory like that. No, what she did was take a wedding from Offbeat Bride and tear it to shreds. Nothing was safe. The literary quotes in their vows, their vegan and gluten-free fare, the bride’s bouquet made of kale, they were all open for scrutiny and cruelly mocked.

And apparently, posts have been circulating around Tumblr brutally ripping apart this same affair. On top of the fact that I feel incredibly bad for this couple – what should be a day of love and celebration is now the plaything of Internet bullies – it just makes me sad.

It’s not just about this one wedding. It happens all the time. And while this sort of thing isn’t a new phenomenon, but the anonymity and permanence of the Internet makes it seem worse. It’s really easy to start pile-ons and forget that you’re talking about real people.

I’m all for calling people out when they do something awful. If the wedding had been full of racism and cultural appropriation, yeah, go for it. I might even join in. But I see no point in ruthlessly mocking people who aren’t doing anything wrong. Not a vegan? That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy someone else’s animal-free feast. Don’t like kale bouquets? Don’t have one at your own wedding. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been to a wedding where every aspect was exactly what I would do for myself. Which is fine, since it wasn’t my event. It wasn’t about me.

Bouquets made of small heads of kale and purple cabbage
I happen to like them.

It’s the same mentality that keeps Daniel Tosh on the air and celebrates Joan Rivers making a fat joke about Adele’s baby. Nastiness, cruelty, and unnecessary judgmental attitudes about things that don’t actually have a negative effect on anyone. Let’s be honest, someone else having dirty toenails or a lot of tattoos or an outfit you don’t like really has no impact whatsoever on your life. Just look elsewhere.

What’s the benefit to ragging on someone else? If it’s entertainment, I don’t see the humor. Look, I’m not perfect. I’ve participated before. How did I feel after? Amused? No. I felt mean and awful. Besides, it’s not exactly original comedy.

I guess I prefer my comedy intelligently subversive. Instead of making fun of a couple for their quirky ceremony, I’d rather crack jokes that take on the wedding industrial complex. It’s smart and makes a point, without targeting individuals unfairly.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for people to stop being so judgmental.

By [E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

28 replies on “The Internet’s Culture of Cruelty”

The author of this article is being torn apart all over the blog that hosts her writing. Every night this week I have read terrible things about her and people seem just as aggressive toward her as she is toward random things and people she snarks about. Possibly more aggressive, as people are saying things like “I can’t wait for them to get rid of her” and “she is always stupid and the worst, what did you expect?” and it is these comments in addition to the posts being generated lately from the site that are making me steer away from it into new territory. A lot of people seem to be walking away from them, especially since that damn Britney’s-ankles-are-ugly post surfaced by the same author on the same site a couple of days ago. I have always enjoyed Persephone’s posts and find this to be a refreshing response to one of many posts gone wrong on a once beloved server.

So I finally just looked at the Offbeat Bride post (I didn’t read the Jez article either) and I was surprised at the article. I guess for all the summary of the smugnesss in the original article, not only did I not find it, I really liked a lot of the aesthetics of the wedding. Bats, black, ‘elegant’ goth? Totally my bag. The vegan/gluten-free aspect wasn’t, and I have feels about childfree weddings, but its not my ceremony, so what?

That said, I think there’s.. well, not a fine line, but a certain amount of educated cynicism one needs to approach the internet with. If you put yourself out there, in pretty much any sort of way, you’ve opened yourself up for criticism. Sometimes its completely disproportional to what you’ve actually done, but human beings are hardly known for their constancy or self reflection. I was called a rape apologist for my Baby Its Cold Outside article. It hurt and its untrue, but I have to have a way to let it roll off my shoulders or I’d never be able to post anything on the internet. (And I build in a certain buffer by only interacting online under a pseudonym.)

I’m sure you were referring to the Colonial wedding in Africa, which the couple who put on swear to high heavens was not based on romanticizing apartheid or racism or colonialism, and I know that they posted a response to the criticism of their wedding that hews pretty close to what Liza writes here. I know they found all the articles cruel too, but much like the kale friends, they sort of put themselves out there for inspection. I don’t have a real insightful closing thought to that, except that the situations are very similar, and the idea of ‘deserving’ can be a tricky beast from insider perspectives.

What I was picturing was actually a wedding that was posted somewhere (I don’t remember if it was Offbeat Bride or somewhere else) of a wedding that was supposed to be “bohemian” but was actually just chock full of Native American appropriation. I’m cool with critiquing things like that.

I don’t see a problem with a child-free wedding. Kids can get in the way and interrupt ceremonies and make people feel like they can’t cut loose. If I ever get married the event will definitely be CF.

I guess I’m in the minority here, but I don’t see the problem with mocking someone for something that’s pretentious or over-the-top. Yes, sometimes people go way too far, and that’s cruel. I don’t approve of when it gets personal, or when people start digging up stuff that was not volunteered, but this bride eagerly put all of this out there to the world. It’s not like they crashed some random girl’s wedding and made fun of it. She’s proud of her wedding. What got me was not that the wedding was “different” or whatever, but that they seemed so damn smug about it. I mean, do you see anything wrong with making fun of Twilight fans who had a Twilight wedding or something like that? Are we not allowed to make fun of anything anymore? What about people who have reality shows? Are they off limits? What about Gwyneth Paltrow, who also loves to talk about how eco-friendly she is without giving a second thought to the privilege involved?

I’m not trying to start drama or anything, I just don’t think these people are worth defending. Now, when it comes to Joan River’s offensive jokes, or ANYTHING that involves going after children or invading someone’s privacy, I agree that that’s wrong.

She deliberately went to a site that is dedicated to weddings that are, by definition, different and unique and zoomed in on one to ridicule, focusing on the very things that make it that way.

What exactly was smug about it? That she talked about how her wedding was eco-friendly and vegan/GF? It was, and she was answering questions about it, so why is that smug?

And, yeah, for the record, I would find it nasty if someone did the same thing to a Twilight wedding. I’d rather talk about the problematic elements of the book series than get cruel and nasty over someone’s special day.

I saw this going around Tumblr the other day and I’m with Liza on this. Ripping someone apart like that is easy. Give me well-thought out satire any day over this.

It’s getting to the point that I almost never post my thoughts, opinions or work online because of backlash I might receive. If someone disagrees or points out one problematic error in my thinking, suddenly I am a terrible person. Should problematic thinking be pointed out? Yes definitely, but we are all human and did not jump from the womb being perfectly cool with all the right opinions.

And heaven forbid I ever post my writing or art and someone just rips it to shreds with no constructive criticism.

I’ll be the first to admit I can be a raving bitch. But that article really just made me sad. I can imagine the bride’s face falling after reading that and it kind of makes me nervous about posting my own wedding stuff.
Can I also just say I don’t get the whole open season on vegans thing? I’m a vegan, and while I know some of the more militant vegans among us can be rather moist blankets, holy fuck. Enough already, I don’t eat cheese, I’m the shittiest person alive, I get it. Christ. It’s not like I’m slapping the cheese out of your hand and lighting you on fire, isn’t there some other low hanging comedic fruit for people to go pick?

I find that in times like these, when people feel powerless, confused, angry and afraid, one of the ways they help themselves to feel stronger and more powerful than they really are is by mocking and picking on people who can’t necessarily fight back. Not that it excuses such behavior — it certainly doesn’t — but it might help to explain it a little. The fact that there’s now a relatively “safe” outlet for such cruelty only amplifies it. Personally, I subscribe to the theory that snark is only effective in small doses — or directed at people/things more powerful and/or established than you are. Anything else is just unnecessary and mean.

(BTW, I saw the handwriting on the wall with The-Ladyblog-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named long ago — specifically, when it closed its comments. I knew things were just going to go downhill , so I hightailed it out of there.)

Totally agree. I’ve been growing more and more disenchanted with said certain ladyblog for quite a while now, and that post was really the last straw. It was mean-spirited and cruel without making any worthwhile points.

I’ll be taking my ladyblog business elsewhere, where the authors don’t feel the need to rip people apart just for having a wedding that makes them happy and harms no one.

Is it just me or is the internet getting meaner? I feel like there is no safe space. And I really don’t get where making fun of someone’s individual choices is acceptable publishing material, especially on what I assume was a feminist site. What the heck? Let people have the weddings they want and leave them alone. Unless they are encrusted in blood diamonds and are using trafficked children as wait staff at the reception, I think they should be allowed to choose the aesthetic that works for them!

I think it comes and goes in waves. I follow a community that can be full of uncalled for bitchiness, but also can turn into a massive Dear Lisa place full of legitimate and serious support and help when need arises.

Besides that it’s so easy to yell Wolf instead of ask ‘What?’ online. If there’s a different opinion, you might be ripped to shreds as well and who wants that.

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