Before I get to the issue at hand, which has to do with the death of Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, I want to say that I feel some compunction about my tenure here at TBP starting on such a contentious note.
A therapist I used to see years ago told me I was a dyed-in-the-wool conflict avoider, which seemed like a pretty accurate statement. I do much prefer for everyone to get along. That therapist would be amused, I think, reading the comments on my first two posts here.
Though a handful of those comments were uncomfortably personal, I can't say I haven't enjoyed the lively debate. For me, that's what blogging is all about. The conversation. Still, in the interest of balance, I had vowed -- I really had -- that my next post would be about puppies or rainbows. I want to be liked as much as the next guy.
But -- you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you? -- when I read the string of comments to this obituary of President Lech Kaczynski of Poland on JoeMyGod.com yesterday, my first thought was, "This is disgusting -- I have to blog about this!" My second thought was, "I can't! -- not only am I going to piss a lot of people off because they'll think I'm siding with a homophobic politician, I've already been called out once for criticizing the very popular gay blogger.
One of the reasons I blog is because it's stimulating and edifying and important for us to talk about this stuff among ourselves, to throw these topics around, to examine how we carry out the project of queer activism. It helps us pinpoint our intentions, agree upon tactics and tone, and clarify our arguments; it energizes us. I blog because I care.
So as much as I wanted, I couldn't let this pass. In the end, I decided I could not, even in the interest of being liked, not call this out.
The post itself was fairly neutral. (To reduce Kaczynski's life to his views about homosexuality struck me as tacky at first glance, considering the occasion, but I'll accept that to most of Joe's readers, the fact that he was a nasty homophobe is probably the only interesting aspect of his career.) It's in the comments that things get ugly. There are dozens, but here's a sample:
This is definitely one of those rare moments when you hear that someone dies and you go "Alright!"
So Jehovah must hate homophobes and Catholics. I hope it hurt.
Do you think we could get Benedict and the whole college of cardinals on a plane soon? (smiley-face emoticon)
DING DONG THE CUNT IS DEAD, WHICH OLD CUNT?
THE POLISH CUNT!, DING DONG THE POLISH CUNT IS DEAD.
Expressing glee upon the death of a public figure (in an accident that killed 97 people, no less), no matter how homophobic he was, does no good. It's gruesome. It turned my stomach. It made me sad and angry. Not only is it in outrageously bad taste, it is petty, cruel, juvenile, and far beneath anyone who is serious about the movement to improve the lives of sexual minorities. It is bad manners, and it is bad politics.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite bloggers, has a loosely-defined but strictly enforced comments policy, which I think makes for lively, informative, often persuasive debate - much like what happens here at TBP where the comments are also moderated. The rhetoric can get heated, but you always know there's worse stuff being diverted to the trash before the rest of us see it. Ninety percent of the comments to JoeMyGod's post about President Kaczynski should have gone straight to the trash bin.
The comments quoted above are not unique on JoeMyGod. Such orgies of hate are business as usual when bloggers post about homophobic officials or religious leaders. So I can't imagine that the comments are moderated in any way.
Are bloggers responsible for comments? I would like to argue that they are.
If one of the purposes of a blog directed to an LGBT audience is to create a space for a conversation to occur (and if that's not one of the purposes of such a blog, why allow comments at all?), then I think the blogger has a responsibility not only to provoke discussion but to make some effort to ensure that the discussion is, if not civil, then at the very least productive.
I call on bloggers who don't moderate their comments section to tell us what purpose it serves to allow -- and, I would argue, encourage by their absence of editorial guidance -- such a debased dialogue to happen on their site.
Okay that's all for now. If you need me I'll be under my desk for a day or two.