BRATISLAVA – I just listened to a podcast in which a popular American sports commentator, Bill Simmons, interviewed the co-creator of “Lost,” a TV show whose fan base is so rabid, some have created websites in which they dissect and critique every plot twist.
The host and guest both seek audience feedback, and they agreed on one point: happy fans tend not to take the time to comment. Instead, it’s typically the “loud minority” that does. (As opposed to Nixon’s “silent majority.”)
Of course, there’s no way to prove how representative any comments section is. Which raises the question: do their often angry voices add any value at all?
I knew it would raise hackles: it was about the escalating incitement of hatred against the Hungarian Roma and Jewish minorities, and why I doubt the new government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban will reverse this trend.
The very first of the 203 “komments” caught my eye: a super-sleuth pasted a link to my bio that appeared in a Jewish newspaper in Los Angeles. The message: “Ah-ha, a closeted Jew! Only a Jew would criticize us.”
OK, maybe I read too much into this, but I know the machinations of some Hungarians. (For more of the flavor, I also accepted onto my blog a May 5 comment from Hungary, which creatively called me the “idiot son of an asshole.” He nailed us both, Pops!)
Many of the remaining comments were negative as well, yet I pestered my wife to translate them. Sure, I can be as thin-skinned as any journalist, but I was curious to know if anyone had addressed the substance of my critique, on Hungarian hatred. Many, in fact, did not.
Some, unsurprisingly, were along the lines of “This American should get his nose out of our business and write about problems in his own country.” Several suggested I focus instead on naughty Slovakia, where I now live.
Others zeroed in on a decade-old quote that I’d included, uttered by a liberal politician disliked by the right. That missed my point: compare Orban now with when he first served as prime minister, ten years ago. Perhaps that was their point: discredit the whole article over a minor quibble?
Many slung mud at fellow commenters. As my wife described it, “It reads like they know each other.” My favorite, though, was a novel attack: “I won’t keep silent! I don’t like this hatred that Michael Jordan provokes us with. I object to it!” Did you know that writing about hatred can fuel hatred? Me, neither.
Lord knows, I’m all for freedom of speech. And this’ll sound elitist, since I enjoy the occasional media platform, while most people do not. But where is the value in empowering the peanut gallery?
“Tell us what you think!” Every media outlet implores us, hoping to lure eyeballs and advertisers.
For the readers, though, if an article has, say, 10 comments, and eight are sour, does that reveal an overwhelming “negative” reaction? So many variables are missing: the total number of readers, how many had positive reactions, why those readers didn’t write, how many more had negative reactions, how many others plain didn’t give a damn, etc. Like Disraeli said, “Lies, damn lies and statistics.”
Without context, words are devoid of meaning.
When I surf news and opinion sites, I myself often can’t help but voyeuristically scroll to the comments. Most are howling at the moon. Perhaps it’s somehow cathartic, to simply be “heard” – even if venting anonymously against Obama or Republicans, against Muslims or Jews, or simply against someone, anyone.
What do I get from it? Agida, mostly. But by all means, tell me what you think!