Sneaking round the internet on my lunch hour yesterday, salad in the bowl before me, I couldn’t help but click on a link from Buzzfeed.com, one that carried the headline “E.L. James Held a Twitter Q&A and it Went Horribly, Horribly Wrong.” The article, then, did just what it said on the tin. It quoted numerous Twitteristas who threw shade upon the author, some funny, some sarcastic, some honest, some rightfully angry, and some… downright abusive.
Now, allow me to preface with this: I am not in any way a fan of E.L. James’ body of… er… work. I admit when I first tried to read Fifty Shades of Grey, I got through the second chapter and had to stop. I am, if asked, a critic of her writing, her word choice (salsa dancing? oh please), her story telling… her glamorization of abusive men and weak women and unhealthy relationships. I do not think Christian Grey as a male role model. I do not find the story romantic in the least, quite the opposite. It disgusted me. (I did ultimately skim through the rest of the thing, giving it a chance, and giving credence to my complaints, so please don’t accuse me of criticizing something I didn’t read.)
But then… it’s fiction. 🙂
That being said, I was, as a writer, really saddened and dismayed by what happened to Ms. James on Twitter yesterday. Not for her, per se, but for the rest of us writers. The Twitter frenzy, beyond the honest criticism, was gross. It was mob mentality at its worst. It was petty and jealous. Spiteful. It was hypocritical to the extreme — those who accused and derided Ms. James of glorifying abuse became the abusers themselves. Abusers quite unlike Christian Grey who stood face to face with his victim. These abusers were cowardly, hiding behind their computer screens and keyboards, flinging virtual stones, raising virtual pitchforks and setting virtual conflagrations beneath her feet as she stood on the stacks.
As for Ms. James, I’m sure she was able to handle it. She’s a very successful writer with loads of money now, and a hefty, beefy publisher to back her up. She’s been the brunt of criticism and backlash ever since Christian and Anastasia burst onto the scene. She’s had her fair share of negative Tweets and emails and the like. She’s been on the receiving end of (founded) criticism and confrontation about her work and her attitudes. She’s been called out about her main character’s hatred of women, her portrayal of what she considers a romantic relationship, and she still does. It’s old news.
But… many of the tweets yesterday went far, far beyond that into the realm of bullying, of mudslinging for the sake of mudslinging, for the sake of maybe getting a tweet reposted on Buzzfeed, for example. For throwing stones for the sport of it. For the fun of it. To show off wit. To be funny at the expense of another. Downright disingenuous.
I wonder if she even saw a fraction of the Tweets that came across yesterday. I wonder if her publicist was running the show. I wonder if she even knew there was a Q&A. 🙂 I wonder if she even cared about what the masses said. Probably not.
Anne Rice posted on Facebook about this, noting that the internet inflicts such abusive behavior upon independent authors all the time – in reviews, on Goodreads, on Shelfari, elsewhere — upon artists who do not have the fortress of protection of a major publisher or a publicist or the like. It does. I’ve seen it. I haven’t been the victim of it other than one hiccup with a rather cranky reviewer, but not to any escalated level. Thank God.
While this sort of internet violence likely did not even faze Ms. James, it has the potential to tear apart, shred, and ruin an up and coming writer (or musician or actor or artist, what have you). It can choke the life out of a creative individual. And this is a symptom of the internet age. Criticism is one thing, if it’s honest and founded. Abusive, demoralizing hate speech in a mob mentality is quite another. It’s frightening, isn’t it, how humans behave? It’s as if we have devolved into computerized cave dwellers, grunting and howling and beating our clubs on the ground. Ugh.
Furthermore, to say that the Twitter Q&A was a failure is maybe, just maybe, a misconception. In spite of the negativity, in spite of the flurry of Twitter vitriol, what was the end result? Hm? What was it? Think about it for a second.
The end result was this — people are now talking about E.L. James. They are talking about Grey. Her name is on the news sidebar on Facebook. Her name is trending on Twitter. Her name is on the news aggregation sites. Her name is on the nightly news. And so, while those who decry James are sitting back rubbing their hands together about how terribly the Q&A went and how witty they were, I can’t help but wonder if her publicist is doing the same thing. I can’t help but wonder if her publicist is rubbing her hands together, relishing in all the delicious exposure this has gained her client.
Maybe this was their plan all along.
Food for thought.
(or maybe they’re not that smart and it really did backfire.) 🙂