Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Fine Art of Saying Nothing

It's now late in the afternoon on Sunday, and I've just spent the last hour involved in a pastime at which I've become rather proficient. I read threads on various movie discussion boards, as I'm sure you do, and sometimes I read something that seems to invite my written response. So I set to it: I get the feelings (aggravated, more often than not) off my chest and onto my computer screen; then begins the slow process of their refinement. This involves the slow berry-picking of all the unwanted barbs that come with raw expression, the cooling of any heat, the complementary sharpening of common sense, perhaps even the borrowing of some accepted wisdom from Bartlett's or some other quotation compendium, in the event that some unimpeachable voice like that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bob Dylan, or Susan Sontag might be wrangled to lend support to my point-of-view. And then, after thirty to forty to fifty minutes of such fevered polishing, when my retort finally stands before my eyes at its most complete, what do I do?

I delete it.

I can't tell you how many times I've done this. In the dozen or so years I have been actively participating on various film discussion boards, I'm certain that I've deleted enough material to fill a book, if not two.

I delete these replies for many reasons, but the major one is usually that, even though these discussion threads may entice me to the extent of having my say, I intend my participation as a fling rather than as a marriage. If you post your participation in such threads, you'd better have the time and passion to stay involved, because once you're in, you're in.

My time is precious yet -- mea culpa -- before I act on impulse, I seldom stop to ask myself: What purpose is ultimately going to be served by this online grappling with some other movie buff, anonymous or unmasked, on a subject ultimately of little consequence, perhaps even to ourselves when all is said and done?

Something I've learned about myself in the twelve years I've been participating on discussion boards is that my work as a critic has encouraged in me a tendency to make my views known, and to sometimes labor under the misconception that, because my views are my bread and butter, they carry somewhat more than the average weight. Anyone who's been posting on message boards for as long as I have, especially those who do so under aliases, has likely fostered in themselves a similar delusional arrogance, but they may not have reflected on the idea long enough to see it as delusion; in fact, they may have arrived on the Internet with arrogance in full and malicious bloom, their alias a licence for baiting others for their own amusement. You never can tell.

One thing I've learned about the strangers with whom I've shared the same time and place online over time is that the Obvious means different things to different people. You can show other people what seems like common sense to you, but there is no guarantee they will see it or, if they do, that they will see the same gradations of gray in the simplest black-and-white statement. Such divergences don't necessarily mean that one is right and everybody else is wrong; it means that our respective lives and schoolings and reading and environments have led us to different places, where rights and wrongs don't always apply or have the same values. The other fellow's stance in relation to such matters, after all, may lead him/her to destinies of ultimate, unknowable good with which we have no right to interfere. One might easily say the right thing, only to have it misinterpreted and the wisdom put to pervese and destructive use. Despite knowing all of this in my heart of hearts, very often I don't pause to reflect on this bedrock philosophy as I roll up my sleeves and draft the preliminaries of a dive into the fray.

A good seven times out of ten, my posting of any remark on a discussion board is followed by a pang of regret, or at least misgiving. I don't post under phony names, and because my name is synonymous with my magazine, I need to bear in mind that I'm not only representing myself when I speak my mind, but also my place of business. This matters to me, and is another reason why I'm so soul-searching about a form of social participation that most people seem to engage in without a second (or, in many cases, even a first) thought. When I post a reply to an ongoing discussion, common curiosity prompts me to return, to check the responses to what I've written, and it's impossible to say which is more aggravating: to unintentionally encourage debate and be called upon to defend one's point of view (if not one's sanity) for days on end, or to realize after days of checking back, that one has had such a definitive say as to stop a thread cold.

As I've said here before, one of the main reasons I write criticism is to make the reasoning behind my views more conscious to myself. Perhaps this is what I'm doing when I spend so much time in the careful articulation of views about various online discusssions that no one but myself will ever see. If that's the case, I can relinquish some of my guilt because the time and effort are therefore not entirely wasted. Possibly it's this muted (if not moot) eureka that was my ultimate goal in writing on this subject today.

Now that's settled, the question is...

Do I post this blog entry or not?

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