I was talking to Beth a little while back about how we both misguidedly think of this blog as “secret”. Neither of us has actively promoted it to our Facebook friends, or indeed taken any steps to extend its readership beyond the circle of its authorship. It’s not that I don’t want other people to read it – on the contrary, I absolutely love getting comments from readers who aren’t the Flingers themselves – but more that I need to believe other people don’t read it, in order to write the personal subject matter. The secretiveness isn’t about the reading, it’s about the writing.
For my very un-secret blog in Hanoi, I was always painfully conscious of the audience. It was read by my friends, but also a load of people I didn’t know: Vietnamese people, other expats in Vietnam, people who’d never been to Vietnam, the Vietnamese government, people whose reactions you just can’t gauge at all. People who know me in the real world would often comment that they found the blog “restrained”, and it absolutely was. I was writing with the perspectives of so many different readers in mind, and trying so hard not to say anything beyond my remit of know-nothing-foreigner, that it was often a torturous physical effort to try to mould my thoughts into acceptable shapes. Sometimes the thoughts passed through so many self-censors I couldn’t even recognise what ended up on the screen. Sometimes my thoughts actually changed as a result of what I wrote, making me more positive and open-minded on the inside, as well as on the internet.
At least ninety-nine percent of feedback about the blog was positive, which was really pleasing, and made me feel all the effort paid off. The very few negative comments I did get were about the content of what I wrote – which is fair enough – rather than about me as a person, probably for the very reason that my person was so well-hidden, despite the blog being plastered with my photo. When they did take a stab at me – and I can only think of two times this ever happened – I was able to laugh it off, and think “Buddy, you don’t know me at all”.
Writing this blog is so much easier, but it leaves me feeling so much more vulnerable. I don’t think I’m even particularly revealing in my posts on here, I think I’m just particularly paranoid about the internet.
When I was in Hanoi, a very instructive thing happened on the internet. Some pathetic guy set up this blog whose sole purpose was to vilify and harass a few people in the Hanoi expat community who were well-known for starting a very successful local listings site. The blogger stuck up posters around town directing people to his pointless, personal grudge of a blog, which consisted of the completely predictable homophobic, sexist, violent, racist, pornographic slurs that this kind of guy on the internet favours.
He posted the family photos of his targets, and then made comments intimating child sexual abuse, and worse. He even forged a police record to accuse one of them of domestic violence. Having run out of vile things to say about his victims, he then expanded his net to include other seemingly randomly-chosen members of the community. He wrote pornographic rape fantasies about women I knew, and posted photos of the cast of the local theatre group and made sexually violent comments about them, including a whole bit about the genitals of one amateur actor – a high school girl. So I hear, anyway. I stopped being tempted to look at it many, many moons ago, and wondered why anyone else would. The can’t-look-away effect, I guess.
After an initial flurry of outrage, I realised that shit like this must be all over the internet. It’s not outrageous, because sadly it’s not even noteworthy. The internet is filled with guys like this, the ones Stephen Fry calls “all the stinking, sliding, scuttling, weird, entomological creatures that inhabit the floor of the internet”. This article about the kind of emails that female columnists receive is particularly illuminating, and revealed to me that even the language these guys use is all the same, a kind of stock-in-trade “shocking”. One columnist says she gets five sexually threatening messages a day. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing about, or how vulnerable you’re leaving yourself, or if you’re starring in your local amateur theatre production, if you’re on the internet, you’re apparently potential fodder.
And it’s for this reason that any vulnerability I feel about this “secret” blog is completely misguided. While I don’t think it’s wise to reveal too much of yourself in any public forum, there’s no point trying to hide yourself away or cover up your flaws or weaknesses on the internet, because there’s probably someone out there readying themselves to insult you or be offended by you just as soon as they find you, no matter what. Just the other day I noted that the author of one of my favourite sites, Parenting in Crappy Pictures, had had to defend her crappy picture of her child in a front-facing car-seat. Seriously, people?
This is one person, however, I never want to find this blog, and that is my mother. Bullies, trolls, misogynists, self-righteous do-gooders, whatever, bring ’em on. Mothers, however… that’s another story.