Daily Dojo

Hmmm, let’s talk civility, shall we?

I’m curious, my friends . . .

There’s been some scuffles on the theatre blogs, of which I absolutely admit I played a part.

And probably ended up looking like an ass, as a result, as I outlined here.

To repeat my karate teachers mantra, over on the right:

“When people see two guys fighting, they don’t see one guy right, one guy wrong, they just see two assholes fighting.”

After that he’d chuckle and say:

“Which doesn’t mean one should be afraid of looking like an asshole when necessary.”

I’ve been mulling that muchly as of late . . . I am evidently known as a bit of a rabble-rouser, and that ain’t necessarily a bad thing all the time . . . they be nothing wrong with shaking up the establishment, in my mind, and the very act of creating independent theatre is, in a way, a form of rebellion.

In a recent comment string, I was chastized for calling someone a damn hypocrite. I accepted it humbly, it wasn’t on my blog, therefore I accept the house rules.

But it caused me to think.

How can we define civility when it comes to blogging? At what point does a line get crossed?

I mean, we all know what a troll is . . . that’s someone who simply drives by and says “You suck” without really paying attention to what’s being discussed.

But we can all agree that one can challenge an argument strongly and passionately and not be a troll, right?

In this, screenwriters seem to be made of hardier stock, if one frequents Artful Writer (and if you are interested in screenwriting, you probably should) and listens in the conversations there.

There, you get Oscar nominated screenwriters tearing at each others throats, and million dollar producer / writers chiming in right along with spec-monkeys toiling at day-jobs . . .

It’s a sight to see Craig Mazin (his site, author of Scary Movie 3 & 4) and Josh Olson (Oscar nom’d for A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE) go at each other . . . you can read a sizzling one right here . . . it’s a long thread but fascinating.

Because these aren’t guys who simply yell “YOU SUCK” at each other and run . . . these are guys who weld words and ideas for a living, and do it well . . . when turned as weapons on each other, it’s a show.

I should note, while participating in the above, I make an error in statement on that comment string and I’m roundly spanked for it, repeatedly - LOL!

I owned up to it, admitted my mistake and took my lumps, because that’s what you gotta do if you want to be taken serously . . .

Imagine if I’d done, as a certain ego-puffed professor of theatre often does, and claimed it wasn’t my mistake, that folks misread what I wrote and it’s their fault . . . whew, it would have been ugly.

The other thing I would note about Artful Writer is that there is also a policy of civility posted . . . no personal attacks.

That doesn’t, however, stop anyone from saying “That’s the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life, what’s the brand of crack you’re smoking . . .” far from it . . . you can express yourself freely . . . just as long as what you say is pertinent to the discussion, all gloves are off.

Not that Craig hasn’t deleted a post or two, and that there hasn’t been rancor about it . . . usually that comes in with regards to fisticuffs, which have sticky legal ramifications.

But other than that, it’s prison rules with words . . . and the one with the smartest, funniest or clearest argument wins.

And there are challengers, you bet. And arguments.

So is it uncivil to argue with someone, and argue strongly?

Is it really an act to avoid in theatre, that all I’m doing is making myself look like an asshole?

I mean, is it uncivil to challenge someone and call them a hypocrite? Even if it’s true?

When did theatre, especially indepedent theatre, get so refined that a harsh word couldn’t be uttered?

I don’t at all mean to infer anything negative upon those more reposed than I when it comes to the last debate, not in the slightest . . . I believe Matt Freeman wrote a great balanced and reasoned post on the matter, and I’m a big fan of Mac Rogers and his writing. I love what both those guys do, for real.

But I don’t write like either of them, so why should I pretend to?

They have their voices and I have my own . . .

So when is civility crossed, in this latest discussion, when did I cross it?

I’m not being snarky, I want to be a good citizen, I do.

But my understanding is that I’m as free as anyone to call Bullshit on Bullshit, I’m as free as anyone to challenge any ideas out there.

But somehow, in the latest fight over ideas, I picked up an an ugly rep as someone only interested in fighting.

And I’m not the only one, it seems, if one goes to Theatre Ideas: Welcome, New Readers right now, you can see reader Devore challenge Scott Walters pretty cleverly, and I think fairly civilly, and what happens to him as a result . . .

Just like it happened with me.

And because I’m a fairly blunt guy, within these discussions, it got me tagged as a brute . . . I don’t agree that this is who I am, or that I am unfair about what I say when I say it, but I accept that this tag happened as a result of my own actions, I accept that, humbly.

Here’s the thing.

I don’t really want this rep as a thug, I don’t believe it represents me or what I do . . .

And I do wonder . . . do I deserve it?

I mean, many of the writers I look up to and admire get far more worked up than I do on certain subjects (if you’ve ever spoken to Naomi Wallace, you’d know, let’s just say that she’s a fierce defender of ideas and not afraid to say it to someone’s face, I’ve been in those rooms, it’s a sight) and defend them with passion, humor and most of all, their own unique POV.

And they were right, most of the time . . . nor afraid to look like asses, if they thought they were right.

Which leads us to the second question . . .

If we are to agree the issues being discussed are important, isn’t fact as important as civility?

Isn’t accountability just as important as manners?

Shouldn’t we be more concerned with speaking TRUTH TO POWER, manners be damned?

Isn’t all theatre some form of rebellion against life and death?

You tell me, I honestly want to know . . .

12 Responses to “ Hmmm, let’s talk civility, shall we?”

  1. freeman Says:

    Josh -

    Everyone has to speak in the way they find truthful. I don’t think you’re a thug, I just think you and Scott push each other’s buttons. Maybe a healthy diet of No-Walters for you would be positive. Who knows? I think it’s important to remember that the blogosphere is about open debate and exchange, not personal issues.

  2. Joshua James Says:

    Fair enough.

    When did it get personal?

    What’s my personal issue with him?

    Other than I believe he’s dishonest, but that’s not a personal issue, is it?

    I felt I stayed on the topic of intellectual dishonesty pretty stringently . . . I kept it on what he said and done and stayed tall on that subject.

    I felt I was open to debate and exchange, and I certainly don’t believe I badger any other readers . . .

    Even the comment he deleted of mine was fairly tame . . . I simply said that if one shouted wild accusions, one had to be careful to back it up with data, otherwise you end up just another nut on a street corner shouting.

    Scott’s response, “Takes one to know one,”

    I called that response junior high and he deleted them. And left a snarky comment.

    So . . . it may be that one just can’t have a civil conversation with him (witness Devore above) and that’s true . . . it could be that . . .


    I dunno, man . . . do I have to walk around on eggshells with this guy?

  3. Tony Says:

    Man google reader is awesome . . .

    It’s a tough thing. I don’t necessarily agree that civility is the ultimate goal, I like Freeman’s “open debate and exchange.” That doesn’t mean debate and exchange can’t be heated. It is problematic when it turns into hunting each other down, wherever parties meet.

    I kinda get the sense that what happens in fight club should stay in fight club, whatever personal issues bloggers have with each other. While I think there may not be a correct measurement for required civility, there may be one of place. And believe me you and Scott are far from the only two who rub each other the wrong way when ever you see each other online, my mom used to email me phenominal transcripts of epic battles that would go down over people playing spades online in the mid-nineties.

    So maybe that throwdown blog thing is a cool idea. Of course I’m as full of shit at times as anyone else.

  4. Joshua James Says:

    I mean, listen to this comment Scott made to Devore:

    “You are making a case for me about how New Yorkers — and that includes transplanted New Yorkers, who are often the worst kind because they chose New York — about how stereotypes work. ”

    Which basically posits that people who move to New York are the worst ones at perpetuating a bigotted stereotypes.

    That seems personal not just to me, but to everyone, don’t you think?

    And then he says the following:

    “I can match your venom ounce for ounce, Devore, and don’t think I can’t. I have given up trying to be polite, and trying to explain my positions to people who want to become personally offensive.”

    And that’s when I go, huh? I’m the thug?

  5. S.P. Miskowski Says:

    These are great questions. I hope you realize my intent is not to sanitize or civilize or chastise, but merely to keep a Seattle discussion that might lead to change for the good focused on the topic.

    It’s a matter of focus, not civilized behavior. Personal argument chats just don’t lead anywhere, however amusing they might be. If we can keep people talking ON topic, however, they might work out some new ideas regarding funding and distribution of national funding. Who knows.

    Nice blog.


  6. Joshua James Says:

    Oh, I realized that . . . and that’s when I realized I’d been hearing too much of it, and needed to step back and ask myself what’s going on, why am I hearing this as often as I have been?

    It was a good moment, it really was . . .

  7. Alison Croggon Says:

    Josh - you should google the definition of “troll” sometime. You might find it interesting. It’s a bit more sophisticated than off-topic abuse. I think Matt’s advice is best!

  8. Joshua James Says:

    Will do . . .

  9. Mac Says:

    S.P. Miskowski just nailed it for me, a couple comments above. You know how you’re looking for the one key that will organize your thoughts on an issue, and then someone just says it and everything falls into place? Ms. Miskowski just did that for me: focus. Keep bringing it back to the issue, and eventually people will have to start offering productive thoughts.

    I broke off my conversation and other contact with Walters not because he was mean (I didn’t like that aspect, but, I mean, I’m not gonna break or anything) but because I felt like he was repeatedly using obfuscating techniques to keep the issue from gaining any focus. If you go back and look at our exhange (not that I’d recommend such a thing), you’ll see that nearly everything I posted was in the form of a question. I wanted Walters to clarify his thoughts so I could even know what I was responding to. It reached a point where, in answer to one of my questions, Walters asserted his right to make any statement he wished and to refuse to substantiate it if asked. At that point, I didn’t understand what further conversation with him would even mean. To this day, I still don’t properly understand the exact substantive argument we were supposed to be having.

    Look, I’m a total pedant about this stuff. I really like clarity of language, even if it takes a lot of words to get there. A writer who strives for clarity is a writer who has forced him/herself to completely think through their ideas before expressing them. This is probably why I’m such a lousy, sporadic blogger; I haven’t embraced the medium’s opportunities for allowing thoughts to evolve incrementally on a post-by-post basis. That’s a totally legit use of the form, I know, but for me I make an exception when a blogger is preparing to write something that insults a number of people.

    If you have any doubt that the insult you’re preparing to deploy is actually accurate, shouldn’t you take a step back, take a deep breath, and go back over everything in your head? Is that hard, that kind of impulse control? I don’t think of myself as a particularly mature guy, but somehow I’m able to do it. And if you do insult someone, and then your thoughts on the subject evolve to the point where you no longer believe your own insult, aren’t you then obligated by the core intellectual virtue of transparency to acknowledge the evolution and provide - not an apology, who needs apologies? none of us are dating each other, for pete’s sake - but a *retraction.* A statement that you no longer endorse the insult. There’s no shame in that, is there?

    I see that I still haven’t responded to your post, Josh, and I will. As a starting point, I guess I’d say that clarity and openness are more important to me than civility.

  10. Joshua James Says:

    Good stuff, Mac, I appreciate it . . . I’m going to really think about all of that.

    I don’t really consider myself a hothead, I do like to mull things over . . . but that doesn’t free me of over-reacting, not at all . . . or even acting wisely . . .

    I guess that there’s a part of me, due to my upbringing, that responds to certain stimuli in a certain way . . . if I’m insulted, I’m likely to challenge it up front . . . and I’m especially sensitive to bullies, after considering it, and in his way (and evidenced by the Scott string above) Walters is a bully, and he brings the fight out in me . . .

    but you’re right, and that’s why I wrote this post . . . it’s good to have these conversations . . . thanks . . .

  11. James Says:

    Well, it depends on what you mean by “civil.” Disagreeing emphatically isn’t uncivil. Calling out active bullshit and backing it up isn’t uncivil.

    Death threats are pretty uncivil. Trolling is uncivil.

    If someone makes an emphatic point/argument on a blog and allows, accepts and encourages feedback, it should be expected and accepted that there’s going to be some strong responses.

    I’ll say in general that it’s always a good rule of thumb to honor the “rules” of the discussion from the blogger (which you did and do). Someone who willfully ignores them or goes against them is being uncivil. And a total douche-bag.

    I think it’s pretty clear from his evasiveness with Mac and his hostility towards John Devore, Scott isn’t particularly interested in actually arguing, exploring or discussing ideas. Which is a shame, because Scott does strike me as a smart and passionate guy about theatre.

    I think Matt may be right in suggesting that it may be best to adopt a “Walters-Free” diet, Joshua, for an indefinite period of time.

    Gee, did I even come close in answering your questions?

  12. Joshua James Says:

    You did, absolutely, and I appreciate it . . .

    I agree that we can’t fight all the pig-headed profs out there and that I can find more positive ways to spend my time . . . we don’t want to be like John Irving, writing letter after letter to those who’ve criticized his novels (though I would add, Irving is a great yet flawed novelist and those who slam him indiscriminately know not what they speak of) when we can work on more postive things.

    I do disagree, of course, that Scott Walters is smart about theatre, I don’t believe his is, I believe he’s a fool, but I accept others believe differently - LOL!

    Thanks man,

Leave a Reply