I’m beginning to think that the internet, especially the social media aspect of it, is probably the most intricate and fascinating social experiment in the history of the world. There’s an old saying that goes, “Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks.” This is what the internet has become. Hundreds of millions of people with their own special opinion on EVERYTHING and a whole bunch of them chomping at the bit to point out what’s wrong with everyone else’s, especially yours.
I get it. I really do. It’s so hard to resist. You know you’re right. You are right! You must let all the people know you’re right. I’ve been there a thousand times. Hell, I’ve been there as recently as this weekend. Try as I might, I would not bite my tongue and had to chime in on something that, had I left well enough alone, would have left me in a perfectly calm state. As it was, I was left frustrated and disappointed and all I accomplished was completely wasting half an hour of an otherwise wonderful day.
That’s all fine and dandy when it’s average folk arguing with each other over average things. What really makes my head turn is when there’s a company + customer dust up. When I see this happen the first thing I try to do is determine which party is batshit crazy, then I typically root for the other one. If both parties involved are off their rockers then that’s even better. Without a horse in the race, I can just sit back and enjoy the show.
I am left wondering what the ever loving hell is there to be gained – on either side – by engaging in these shenanigans? In many cases, it’s the company that ends up looking the fool. The old adage, “The customer is always right,” seems to ring true, at least in the court of public opinion (even though it’s really bullshit). Occasionally, though, a company will come out on top and boy-oh-boy is that fun to watch. There is something thoroughly satisfying about watching an internet asshat get their just desserts.
For an example of this, we need to look no further than The White Moose Café in Ireland. Café owner/manager, Paul Stenson, took exception one day to some vegans who frequented his café and slagged him in a review. For the record, Paul had no problem with vegans frequenting his restaurant but expected a little heads up beforehand. Instead, their expectation was that he would be able to cater to their very specific dietary needs on a whim. What Paul did next was nothing short of genius.
He fought back and he fought back hard.
Have you ever heard of the joke “The Aristocrats”? It’s a go-to amongst comedians, often told in the company of other comedians. The whole point of it is to take it as far as you can in terms of obscenity and offensiveness. Gilbert Gottfried is renowned for using this joke to turn around a crowd of comedians that were gathered for a roast of Hugh Hefner shortly after 9/11. Gilbert told an offside joke that could be easily categorized as being “too soon”. He got boos. He got heads shaking. He got finger wags of shame. Then he busted into The Aristocrats. By the time he was done all was (mostly) right with the room again. More people were laughing compared to the moments before he took the mic so it’s safe to say he pulled off one of the greatest comedic recoveries ever.
Well, our friend Paul, the owner/manager of The White Moose Café in Ireland, after getting his crappy review from the angry vegans, he launched into his very own rendition of The Aristocrats. He went full-blown five-alarm batshit crazy with his responses at one point [sarcastically] posting, “Any vegans attempting to enter our café will be shot dead at point blank range.” Buzzfeed chronicles the whole sordid affair and it is pure gold.
The end result? The White Moose Café is now one the busiest establishments in Ireland, likely giving the Blarney Stone a run for its money. If I ever go to Ireland I’m stopping by to give Paul some business. I just hope I can get a table and don’t have to step over too many dead vegans while standing in line.
On the other side of the coin, we have M. R. (Michael Robb) Mathias and the website Fantasy Faction. It should be a really simple relationship. The writer writes and publishes (in this case self-publishes) and the readers read, review, and discuss the writer’s work (utilizing the comments section on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as the handy dandy Fantasy Faction forum).
Now, I once had the good fortune of meeting Chuck Wendig at a writer’s workshop and the writer/reader relationship was briefly discussed. In a nutshell, once that book leaves the writer’s hands, it’s no longer about them. Reviews are for readers, not writers. At no point should a writer inject themselves into a conversation about their work – at least not in a public forum like a review site or forum and certainly not unless they were invited. Full stop.
It would appear that Michael wasn’t in attendance that day because he took his own “Aristocrats” approach and it failed miserably. Michael posts some self-promoting thing to a forum. Forum moderators move it to the self-published and small press section. Michael takes exception to this and, in the public forum, unleashes an egotistic rant that will go down in infamy as “Mathias’s Meltdown”.
You can read a summary of the meltdown here, or you can take a gander at the original forum discussion or peruse what twitter was saying in real time. I have read them all end-to-end and all I can say is, wow! Of course, to a certain extent “any press is good press” applies here (I’m sure he got a few sales out of the whole exchange) but when forum posters (not just the mods) are calling you out for being a twatwaffle, the right play here is not to double down on being a twatwaffle. There were at least half a dozen ways Michael could have navigated those waters and not drowned. As it is, he has the distinction of out batshit crazying Anne Rice.
All things considered, if Google search results are any indication and you have an online presence as a company (or brand or content creator etc…) you are more than likely going to end up like M.R. Mathias and not Paul Stenson from the White Moose Café.
In summary, be careful out there. Online engagements are a lot like peeing into the wind. It may provide you with some measure of relief but all you really do is end up smelling foul and having to explain to everyone why you’re such an idiot.