Sunday, February 05, 2006
Commentary on Anonymous Writers
The Value of Opinion
A Commentary on Anonymous Writers
The value of "opinion" has certainly gone down in the last 10 years.
It was only a decade or so ago that widely disseminated opinion came by way of TV, magazines, and other publications, be it through a TV commentator, newspaper columnist, or letters sent to the publication, all of which have benefited from some sort of editorial scrutiny. Indeed, many national broadsheets required the letter senders to provide a real name and a real address as a pre-requisite for publication. It is, after all, the credibility of their station or their publication that is at stake. Opinion had value, because you knew newspapers would not hire just anyone to write an "opinion" about current events, about the state of the world, about entertainment or business or sport. They hired people who knew what they were talking about. People who were experts in their fields by virtue of their education, experience, and accomplishments.
Today, anyone and their pet poodle can log on the Internet, create a blogger account and spout off opinion that can be read all throughout the world. Today, everybody has an opinion, and everybody fights for their right to have that opinion. Right now, billions upon billions of opinions on varied subjects are being transmitted and read by billions upon billions of people all across the globe courtesy of the Internet. People can even do it without revealing their true identities and they can still have their say.
In many ways, it's terrific, because you get to have a listen to the great throbbing life blood of the world, uncensored, vibrant, and unfettered. Everybody gets to say what's on their minds, everybody gets to have their opinions widely read. So it's great!
But it's also becoming very difficult to discern just who is talking trash, and who is talking sense.
It's literally a jungle out there and if you don't have anything in place to make sense of it all, you'll certainly drown. And the safeguard I have personally put in place for myself is take anonymous writers with a grain of salt.
First, a definition of what I consider to be "anonymous".
I've been asked before, "How do you know if the person is anonymous? How do you know if the name he is using is real?
Generally, "anonymous" is someone I don't personally know, who uses a name other than what his true name is. People who I have met in person, who uses a name other than his real name online, I no longer consider anonymous. That's because I know who he is, I know what he looks like and I know what his girlfriend and his girlfriend's mother look like. I know where they live. People who uses names other than their real names, who leave links to their sites or blogs which contain their photos, personal information and anything that points to him as a unique individual, I no longer consider *too* anonymous. That's because I know what they look like, and when we meet in person, each of us would know who the other is and the things we have said. People who are famous, but I've never met, I also don't consider anonymous.
Basically, someone who is *not* anonymous (according to my own definition) is someone who knows that I am aware of who they truly are when they give me an opinion.
It is their opinions I respect over anyone else's.
I really don't put much stock and credibility towards anyone who doesn't tell me who they are online. Their opinions are just OK, be they praise, criticism, or insult. I can't deny that these opinions don't affect me, but it's just a little frustrating because their thoughts would be of much more worth to me if I knew who they are. I don't take them seriously, and for the most part, I don't really make much effort to discuss weighty issues with them, unless I find an opportunity to talk about matters where I perceive my words to be misunderstood, or as jumping points for matters I've always wanted to talk about, written for the benefit of everybody, anonymous or not.
An anonymous blogger contends: "It's not important who I am, but what I say."
I'm sorry, but for me, that is a load of CRAP.
And I'll tell you why.
Let me review. I've already demonstrated how much the value of opinion has gone down in the last 10 years. Because of the exceedingly inordinate amount of opinions freely available online, I have to learn to discern what is bullshit and what is not. And the one safeguard I think could help me with that is to seriously consider opinions only by those who offer their true identities.
I have several reasons why I think this is important.
1. Reputation. By freely giving my opinions on matters of comics and related matters, from my take on manga vis-a-vis Filipino comics art, Intellectual Property Rights, artistic integrity, etc., I put my reputation as a comic book creator, and as a human individual on the line. People know who I am, who my friends and family are, and how to get in touch with me. An anonymous writer online risks what?
By putting my career and my life at stake by the things I write, I believe it gives my opinion much more weight because I stand by it with my life. An anonymous writer risks neither his life, nor his reputation. ("Life" in this context doesn't mean biological life, but the physical, mental, and spiritual experiences that constitute existence: Everyday life.)
As a writer whose identity everybody knows, I take great care to be correct and respectful and, according to my own standards, moral in the things I say. I don't always succeed, but I always take personal responsibility for it. Saying the wrong thing can backfire on me and haunt me for the rest of my life. Freed from any responsibility and risk to his own life, the anonymous writer can afford to be less respectful, less careful, and less moral and correct about the things he can say. Even though he may still write with a certain sense of decorum, their writings are still suspect, because they have all been written free from any social and personal responsibility.
When I give an opinion and put it online, that is now a permanent record of what I have said. Somewhere, somehow, those words will be preserved, even if my original posts have been deleted. And it will be connected with me for as long as I live. And for an equal amount of time, I would have to be responsible for those words and the consequences they bring. For an anonymous writer, he can just easily disappear and create another identity for himself somewhere else, easily avoiding having to face any consequence of his words, ditching any responsibility for them.
How credible can anything they say ever be? Speaking of which...
2. Credibility and Trust. If a publisher like say, DK Publishing, wants to come out with a book on how comic books are created, do they approach Mr. Herbert Gooblegabber, computer analyst, comics hobbyist with an amateur DeviantArt account or someone like Dave Gibbons?
Do they hire the expertise of someone who hasn't published anything but knows all about creating comics because he read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics or would they rather hire Scott MCloud himself? Or if he's unavailable, someone like Barry Windsor Smith or here in the Philippines Pablo S. Gomez or Steve Gan?
I think the answer is pretty obvious. You don't get someone who has second hand knowledge in comics to write a book about creating comics, or teach students about creating comics. You get someone who has actually created and published comics, because they know, above anyone else, how to do it successfully. That only makes sense doesn't it?
Anybody can have an opinion, but I would think that opinions of those who have experience in comics would have much more weight than those who haven't. For people who are forthcoming about their identity, it's easy to see who among them have the qualifications and those that don't. Our published works and accomplishments are all a matter of public record.
But how about Zlackbot333, 6mindfree9, or Tungga Bote, anonymous writers on the web? How can we trust what they're saying to be correct, no matter how eloquent they may seem to be, when their identities are hidden from us, depriving us of any sensible way of checking their qualifications? For all we know they're just bullshitting us, making everything up. What they say may well be factual, they may even turn out to be someone extremely qualified and experienced. But if they remain anonymous, we will never know. What they are saying may indeed be true, but I'd be far more trusting of someone like Dennis Villegas, than someone like Tikol Titi.
If they cannot trust the veracity of their opinion by putting their real identities on the line, how can we expect to trust whatever they say?
3. Fortitude. Many writers choose to stay anonymous so they can strike out at objects of their ire free from retaliation. Such a tactic is suspect, because one can surmise that such writers won't have the same fortitude to say the same things when their true identities are exposed.
Political writers during wartime, or during oppressive regimes have more reason to hide their identities because their physical lives, and the physical lives of their families would be at stake. But opinions about comics? Give me a BREAK. Nobody is going to kill you for THAT. The only thing you need to be concerned about is to be answerable and be responsible for the consequences of the things you write. And I'm sure, none of them would be life threatening.
Defenders of anonymous writers contend that writers tend to be anonymous because their thoughts would subject them to attack.
Well, so what? What does that make me? I've been attacked plenty for my own opinions. I can say the same for Randy Valiente, for Reno Maniquis, for Jonas Diego. And yet we're still here and we still stand by the things we say, inspite of being attacked, sometimes even ruthlessly. What does that make us? What does that make them who remain anonymous?
John Byrne's opinions in recent years may have angered many in the comics community, and it has seriously affected the appreciation of his art, and unfairly colored the worth of his formidable body of work. But I've got to respect him because it takes balls to say what he says. I'm more of a fan of his now than I was before. He's a far braver, and far more credible man than any anonymous writer who attacks him will ever be.
4. Respect. I'm not looking for any special treatment, but I hope I can at least demand some human decency from whoever I am talking to. How can I ever feel I'm being respected as a human being when the person I'm talking to is wearing a paper bag over his head as he dishes out strong opinions about me and my work? It's demeaning, and it demonstrates a distinct lack of courtesy and decency.
Anyone who has strong opinions about the state of the Philippine comic book industry needs to stand up for what they say, instead of shielding themselves with a mask. There is really nothing to fear. No reason to hide. A few heckles here and there from anonymous trolls, a few well thought out arguments from colleagues, many violent reactions from others. So what?
Adversity is part and parcel of dishing out opinions. If you are unwilling to risk facing that adversity with your real identity, opting instead to hide behind a mask, then I can never trust you, I can never take your word to be credible, and I can never take you seriously.
Stick up for what you believe in with your face squarely in the middle and people will respect you for it. Have the human decency to show me your face when you pass judgment on me and *I* will respect you. I may hate you, but I will respect you, and I will have no cause to doubt your sincerity.
If anyone anonymous feels the need to reply to this with their own "opinion", be it here or in their respective blogs, then please feel free to do so. I didn't write all this to stop anyone from writing what they want, nor is this a campaign to deprive anyone the right to have their say.
But if you are not going to write your real name down, you already know what I think of you.
Posted by Gerry Alanguilan at 2/05/2006 12:50:00 AM