Photo via DaShaun Craddock
Look, I like reading the posts that Brandon Stanton posts on his Humans of New York page. People are interesting and their stories are interesting and we like to feel intimate and connected as a species whenever we can. I get it.
I once made a snarky comment on a post. It was snarky, sass to the brim, it was sticking its tongue out with one eye closed and the other rolled up into my head, the comment. I admit that. Somehow, even though this page is popular enough to generate hideous amounts of comments within mere minutes of a post, I was discovered. My punishment? I can see the posts no problem. And I can share them. I cannot like them and I cannot comment. I cannot respond to anyone in the comments or like what they have to say. Of course, messaging people is quite out of the question as Facebook has so graciously made it so that if you’re contacted by a stranger via messenger, it’s pushed to a folder marked “Other” which of course nobody checks and so even though I’ve reached out to a few people here and there without any actual hope that they’ll be neurotic enough to check that “Other” folder with any frequency, and also find what I say compelling enough to write back, I have nevertheless reached out. Facebook is totally unaware of how un-HONY all of this is, preventing people from talking to each other.
I was mad about being stripped of my right to blab, honestly. Maybe indignant is better. I had been wronged! Moron after moron could foist poorly worded comments in heaps upon this page while I, I an intelligent and thoughtful — you know what, I’ll write an email. I’ll write three emails and send a tweet! These carbuncular, seedy, gangrenous mongoloids could not deny me! They did because I probably would too. A mysterious and gaggingly pontificate word-meister, ferocious in the drooping manner demonstrated, comes out of the depths to attack my artistic credibility (which is what I did. I said he wasn’t an artist) after saying something nasty, demanding the right to continue being a sass-mouth on my page. I would, of course, and without second thought, ignore them.
I tried and tried to be heard. It’s been probably close to two years now that I see without speaking. I’ve stopped trying to regain my status as Commenter and actually embraced this new normal. Actually, truly, without some inverted spite or malice on my part, I think that HONY is better viewed from this point. There’s something peaceful here. I have a view from a summit and no words really need to be spoken and words would ruin the view and detract from the opportunity to reflect. The weird compulsion to add my generally useless voice to any comment thread has generally vanished, though of course I sometimes cannot resist. The other weird itch to be scratched that so few of us avoid is the comment section. The comment section: because this time it will be different.
Here’s where we encounter the trouble with HONY. The comments are so boring. People parade themselves as ultra-moral gurus of core-of-the-Earth type wisdom, or merely re-state something we just read or offer up some suicidally dull platitude or something like that. People want to be seen behaving a certain way and so I think it stops them from really connecting to a story in a way if they had no choice but to only listen. Listen and reflect, think about how the stories are juxtaposed with each other and how so many feelings and themes recur. Just listen and pay attention and be interested without your gut impulse being spattered like insects against the high velocity train that HONY has become. One could make a support page for incessant commenters who feel like they simply must be heard about how they feel about reading about a man who’s tried to kill himself three times in the past month so they can say “It’ll get better, chum.” Really, really, the comments are so bland and lifeless. The substance of the piece is supplicant to our out-and-out belief that we have something worthwhile to say. And we do, sometimes. Not as often as we think. I’d like to see the feelings and attitudes that HONY inspires in people sublimated into real life action, like on the street or in a store or with intimates. I’d like to see everybody forced to experience HONY as I do. Likes are one thing, sure, and as irritated as I get with what I often consider a more worthwhile post getting less traction than one that (very likely) reflects the same lackluster banalities that the HONY audience likes to espouse themselves, that’s a matter of taste.
I submit this to the Brandon Stanton and the people of the Humans of New York – disable the comments. Create a way for people to reach you if they are able to help the person you’ve photographed. Create a chat-space for those who want to discuss your work if that is important to you or your fans. Treat your stuff like it was in a gallery. No one wants to read comments in a gallery, and I think this would end up resonating very well and eliminate a great deal of posturing on behalf of the spectators, and likely what I imagine to be like a status anxiety among people you photograph. Maybe don’t do it forever, maybe do it for three months and see how it goes. It would be interesting.