Stupid Media Watch: Oh, Toughen Up
By Ken Magill
Are so many New York Times readers really this pathetic?
The Grey Lady on Sunday ran a piece headlined “Dealing with Digital Cruelty” offering advice on how to deal with negativity online.
It advised, among other things, trying to learn from online critics if they might have a point and internally disputing those who don’t.
The piece also recommended mocking negative feedback by reading nasty comments aloud in a goofy voice.
Really. It did that.
“Whether you’re a celebrity author or a mom with a décor blog, you’re fair game. Anyone with a Twitter account and a mean streak can try to parachute into your psyche,” the piece said.
The operative word in that sentence is “try.” They only get in if you let them. The article was written as if most Times readers had never heard the saying that begins with “sticks and stones.”
Again, are so many Times readers so pathetic they need psychological advice on how to deal with nasty comments online?
People have written vicious things about me online over the years. A favorite that comes immediately to mind is: “Ken Magill vomits out another editorial.”
Negative comments online have never bothered me. Maybe it’s the way I was raised.
My father was a mathematician who taught calculus at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He was alternately funny, charming and warm, and at times one mean son of a bitch.
He did not suffer fools gladly, as the old saying goes.
Over the years I have met dozens of his former students. They all either loved him or hated him. None were in between.
One young woman who loved him threw her arms around me when she found out who I was. Several who hated him clearly wanted to punch me, apparently failing to realize I had experienced an entire childhood of what they had endured for a semester.
“You had him for 16 weeks, you pampered wuss,” I would think. “I’ve had him all my life. Just be glad he didn’t crack you in the mouth and say: ‘Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.’”
Not surprisingly, my father’s yearly teacher evaluations from his students were equally extreme. He used to entertain the family by reading some of the negative ones at dinner.
“This man could confuse God,” said one. “Professor Magill crawled out from under a rock—a fat one,” said another.
Every year, my father would also get at least one evaluation telling him to change his pants. He had five pairs of identical khakis, so someone who didn’t know him well could easily mistakenly conclude that he never changed his pants.
One year, he decided he had grown tired of the “change-your-pants” evaluations. So he explained to his students that he had five identical pairs of trousers.
“I love reading your evaluations. But don’t waste your creative juices telling me to change my pants,” he told them. “Find something else to criticize.”
That year, an evaluation came back: “Okay, so you do change your pants. Now if you would just lengthen the old ones.”
Thing was, my father was a tenured professor. His teacher evaluations could accuse him of eating live puppies—or of being a Nazi, as more than one did—and they would have no effect on his career.
And that’s the key lesson the New York Times piece failed to impart. Internet trolls only have power their targets give them.
But then “Dealing with Digital Cruelty: Laugh at it and Blow it Off” wouldn’t have made for much of an article.