the elusive internet commenter

19 Sep

Kevin Collier's comically enlightening column

For a little more than a year, Kevin Collier wrote a column for McSweeney’s called “Get To Know An Internet Commenter.” Most people have trained themselves not to stray below the article/blog post/YouTube video they’re viewing in order to avoid verbal shrapnel. But Collier, with the fastidiousness of a front-lines war correspondent, saw this violent no man’s land as the new periphery, where the thoughts and opinions of millions of Internet users went unheard, unstudied, and unreported on. There was a gaping hole in mainstream media coverage, and the name of that hole was online comment threads.

His project was really less a column and more a catalog, a collection of various Internet users and a representative sample of those users’ comments. His aim was not to poke fun at or reveal some demonic evil in the users he chose to include. Rather, he writes, “These are all real comments, and to the best of his knowledge they are typed in earnest.”

Because of the nature of the project, however—and because it was for McSweeney’s—the posts are hysterical. Which makes you feel a little dirty, kind of like looking at blogs like People of Walmart makes you feel dirty, because at some point you have to acknowledge at that you’re getting a rush from the feeling of superiority it gives you to diminish the opinions and communication styles of others. But not all the commenters Colliers includes are firebrands. There’s a Star Wars fanatic, a Disney-loving kid from Omaha, and a 91-year-old Air Force veteran and poet.

And, in an odd way, what Collier does also greatly humanizes these Web users. By taking their comments out of context and placing them together, one after the other, you start to see a better picture of who these people are. Some of those pictures still frighten me, but it also brings into greater clarity the fact that these are people. They each have their idiosyncrasies. And those idiosyncrasies can become almost endearing when attributed to more than a user name.

Below are my top five from Colliers’ 15-month-long catalog.

(Also, I need to thank Geoff George for passing this along a few months ago, and for the much-needed break from work it provided).

:: :: ::

#5 :: Username: Cindybin

Age: 53
Location: Illinois
Photo: Her, smiling pleasantly
Site: Yahoo! News and its affiliates
M.O., according to a Yahoo! blog post she wrote: “I see somebody casually use bad language or crude acronyms and I feel a burning desire to lecture them in my firm, motherly way”

On a straightforward article on a baseball game:
I go out of my way to avoid seeing a second of baseball on TV, it just makes me so mad that these guys SPIT!!! What is WRONG with them?? They spit even though they know they are on camera!! What are they trying to do, prove they are a man?? What a terrible habit!! I’d never date or marry a man who did that!!

On “Reese Witherspoon Weds Jim Toth!” which includes a picture of Witherspoon holding a glass of champagne:
We will NEVER get pot-smokers to understand why drugs are wrong, when grown adults like Reese and her husband use a mind-altering drug in the form of alcohol. It just makes me sick, looking at that photo above of them both drinking.

When pressed by other commenters for clarification:
Oh, and I’m talking about pot smokers ONLINE, not in real life. I don’t know anybody in real life who smokes pot.

On “NFL’s oldest cheerleader will have her life made into a film”:
Ugh, I don’t know how anybody can like football—it is so rough and violent! I wouldn’t want to cheer on anybody who plays or watches this game. I’d just want to try and talk to some sense into them and help them to realize why they shouldn’t like this sport.

:: :: ::

#4 :: Name: Larry Eisenberg

Site: NYT.com
Age: 91 this week
Location: Manhattan
Career highlights: Air Force radar operator in WWII, Ph.D. in electronics, biomedical engineer at Rockefeller University, co-designer of the radio frequency-coupled pacemaker, author of about 100 out-of-print science fiction stories and three books of limericks.
Approximate number of comments he’s made on nyt.com: 8,300
Approximate number of his comments I went through for this feature: 300
Number of comments I read that are not poems: 1
Most frequent poetry style, at least in my sample size: Limerick

On writers angrily replying to critics via internet commenting:
Harsh comments are so hard to take,
But Writers must learn to forsake
Erupting at each
Nasty critic in reach,
And suffer with subdued heartache.

On a pair of goats found wandering near the interstate:
What lout would abandon a Goat?
Or lose two and not even know’t?
May the future be fair
For this charming Goat pair,
Hope this ends on a real happy note!

On meat-infused cocktails:
A Cocktail should not be carnivorous!
Or even a soupçon omnivorous,
As a Vegan at heart,
I’d prefer for a start,
To have mine made mostly herbivorous!

:: :: ::

#3 :: Username: wookieloving

Site: oregonlive.com
Location: Portland
Number of comments posted on January 13, 2011, between 8:42 am and 3:48 pm: 76
Percent of comments to reference Star Wars in some way or another: 100.

On “Portlandia Panel at Television Critics Tour Pokes Fun at Portland, Gives Away Snow Globes”:
That’s no snow globe—it’s a space station!

On “It’s official: Train horns in Tualatin Fall Silent Starting Today”:
I have a bad feeling about this.

On “Spoiled Ground Beef Sold to Institutions in Oregon, California Recalled”:
How you get so big, eating food of this kind?

On “In Eugene, Excitement Followed by Resignation as Auburn Rolls to Win”:
I suggest a new strategy, Ducks. Let the wookiee win.

:: :: ::

#2 :: Username: EPG Mr. Justin MD

Site: Yahoo! Answers
Gender: Male
Location: Omaha, Nebraska
Age: 18 at first comment, 21 now
Favorite Disney movies: The Aristocats, Fox and the Hound, The Rescuers, The Rescuers Down Under

Sample questions he has posted to all Yahoo! Answers Users, In Chronological Order:

“How Do You Get On A Jet Ski?”

“How Old Can Horses get Before They Die Any Kind Of Horse?

“Can Cats and Dogs Get Headaches? It May Be A Random Question But Is It Possible That Cats And Dogs Get Headaches?”

“Asking For A date? There Is This Girl That I’ve Known For A Long Time Since 1st Grade To Be Specific Anyway I Want To Ask Her If She Wants To Go Out Sometime But I Dont Know What To Say”

“Do You Have To Pay Taxes In The State Of Florida? I Don’t Think You Have To Cause Of Tourists And Toll Roads But I Wanted To Make Sure”

“Im Going To A Movie With My Girlfriend This Is Our First Date And I Was Wondering When Is the Best Time To Put Your Arm Around Her Or Hold Her Hand While Watching The Movie?”

“I Hope This Is Not An Offensive Question I Was Just Wondering I Heard This On TV/How Much Is 20 Keys Of Cocaine/I Was Just Curious”

:: :: ::

#1 :: Name: Ronax

Site: http://www.fountainpennetwork.com forums
Average number of posts per day: 9.65
Location: “The shores of Belfast Lough, UK”
Favorite pen: Montblanc Miesterstuck 149
Favorite ink: Montblanc Sepia
Coffee/Tea: Tea

In response to a review of the Wiland MUKI (2009):
Great review and great looking pen, thanks.

In response to a review of the Parker Esprit:
Great review and nice looking pen, thanks.

In response to a review of the Sailor A.S. Manhattaner’s NY Artists Guild: F Nib:
Nice review and nice looking pen, thanks.

In response to a review of the Pelikan M800: 18c Broad Italic:
Excellent review and nice looking pen, thanks.

In response to a review of the CS-Writer’s Edition:
Great review and nice looking pen, thanks.

In response to a review of the Waterman Charleston:
Great review and nice looking pen, thanks.

In response to a review of the Stipula Modelt T (Titanio):
Great review, thanks.

In response to a review of the Yuelan Orchid 968:
Nice review, thanks.

In response to the post “What Pens Are You Using Today?”:
Today I am using a fine nibbed Montblanc Hemingway.

One Response to “the elusive internet commenter”

  1. tworden September 19, 2011 at 4:59 am #

    This is really interesting…

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