There is a strange type of popularity that comes with being a well-known blogger. It’s almost surreal. While a (very, very, very, very small) percentage of the general population is very familiar with you and your work, an even larger percentage isn’t even aware that the medium you derive your popularity from exists.
You can be an obscure author, comedian, or rapper with a small but very passionate and very engaged fanbase. What separates blogging is that even if most people haven’t heard of that particular author, comedian, or rapper, they’ve at least heard of books, comedy, and rap music.
Let me put it this way: I’m sure many of you reading this have, within the last couple of years, had explain to someone what a “blog” was. If not, you were probably the person someone explained “blogging” to.
I’m not complaining, mind you. This surreal strain of “fame” is just a reminder that the internet world, while limitless, is very small—and very exclusive—and that helps keep things in perspective.
That said, when it comes to internet-based arguments and debates, this perspective tends to get lost pretty frequently by many people…including me.
To wit, Panama and I had a 1500 word long discussion last week about street harassment that led to over 800 comments. This discussion was prompted by a burgeoning national conversation about street harassment that doesn’t seem to be losing any steam.
But, I doubt the men who are online all day pushing back against the anti-street harassment movement are actually the ones on the street catcalling women. I’m also sure that the women arguing with these men are aware of that. What you end up having is an impassioned internet argument that doesn’t really serve any lasting purpose besides teaching people how to win or lose an impassioned internet argument.
You also see this whenever any internet conversation about dating starts to get heated. Despite the fact that many (if not most) people offline seem to have had good relationships and generally feel good about their relationship future, online the dating world turns into World War Z. I had a friend tell me a few years ago that she didn’t even know she was supposed to feel bad about being single until she got on the internet.
And please, don’t let the topic be interracial dating. Aside from Rick Santorum and Black barbers with bad haircuts, no one offline gives a damn about who you date. Online, though, you’ll find Black men who’ve had nothing but positive interactions with Black women offline referring to Black women as hoodrat bedwenches, and Black women who, despite the fact that they have Black fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, nephews, and friends they love and Black sons they’ve produced, consider Black males to be the bane of all existence.
Now, although these internet arguments don’t have much of a direct effect on or connection to what happens offline, they’re not completely purposeless. I was aware that some men catcall and randomly proposition women on the street, but I never thought to consider how dehumanizing it could be and how unsafe it could make women feel until reading a few pieces about it.
Also, I’m aware that I’ve led a (relatively) “easy” life so far, and these serious internet arguments—as hyperbolic as they can get—tend to increase certain awarenesses for people like me. Maybe things aren’t as bad as the internet would tell it, but extremes help reiterate the fact that different people have had different experiences, and these different experiences create different ways of viewing the world.
Still, the next time you find yourself in the middle of a heated internet debate about a topic that only 0.000000001% of the population would even consider discussing, do me a favor. Log off, take a walk, tell the first person you see in the street about the nasty argument you had in the comments section of VSB about passport stamps, and study their face when they ask you who and what the f*ck you’re talking about.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)