By contributing writer Caleb McEwen
Why is it that on the internet, everyone is a badass? When people are typing, why do they use ten times the number of exclamation points their real-life speech patterns actually necessitate? Why will people viciously attack individuals and points of view they would never even question if confronting them face to face?
The simple answer? Anonymity.
Yes, the same technology that allows a 48-year-old man poaching wi-fi from a windowless van to set up a MySpace page as Tiffany the 15-year-old pep club member also allows normally mild-mannered citizens to become outraged, intellectual berserkers with just a few keystrokes. It's the same technology that allows porn to be a multi-billion dollar industry, even though you can't get enough public porn-supporters together to have a parade. It's the same technology that allows idiots to get scammed on eBay and Craig's List by people selling time shares on the Mir Space Station and the ghost of John Wilkes-Booth sealed in a Yoplait container.
Anonymity, my friends. It's easy to be a badass when no one knows who you are.
It's like road rage. We think, “Surely no one can assail the impenetrable walls of my Kia. It is my own Korean Jericho. I will fly the bird with impunity!” Then, one fine day, you flip off that one guy who is willing to stop in the middle of traffic and walk over to your driver's side window to have a little chat about your choice of fingers. You know the guy. He's got tattoos on his neck that suggest something more complicated continuing below the collar, and his name is something ironic—like “Tiny.” He's been waiting to have this conversation all day, while you've been avoiding it your entire life. The conversation is brief.
The internet has empowered an entire group of people who should never have been empowered. Now, they're popping the cork on the bottled repression of a lifetime of swirlies and rejection. They're lighting the fuse and getting away. Not only does the internet give them an audience and a potentially false identity, it also gives them the means to enough watered-down information to think themselves experts on subjects they have no business even talking about. Where else but the internet would someone who calls himself kegmeister317 engage in a heated debate over the viability of stem cell research, citing an episode of South Park as a primary source? Where else but the internet would grade schoolers attack the practicality ofLockheed's new High Altitude Airship (HAA) program? Where else but the internet would a swimsuit model be considered an authority on how to solve the country's immigration problems?
You can be certain that with rare exceptions, the more forcefully someone is speaking on a topic, the less they know about it, and the louder their response is on screen, the quieter it would be in person. If people spoke in real life the way they write on the internet, America would make the Middle East look like a singing, dancing, good-time jamboree.
There are very few badasses in the world—and I'm talking genuine badasses. You want to know who is a genuine badass? I'll give the example I always use: the 5'1” guy who's working the door at a Tijuana disco—he's a badass. He's only got one arm and one good eye, and he weighs 142 pounds, but he will beat you like you stole his cookie. You could stab him in the stomach, and he would pull out his own colon andchoke you with it. He's a badass.
The gangsta-talking frat boy wearing the Abercrombie and Fitch baseball cap and calling you “bitch” in TGI Friday's—he is not a badass. He doesn't even really know what a badass is. However, you can be sure he has a screen name that sounds something like “omegaterminatorX”or “frontierjusticerobot.” After a fight with our friend from south of the border, there will not be enough left of this guy to fill one of his Lugz.
Here are some guidelines to bring us all back to reality:
– If you have ever paid for bottled water of any kind, you are not a badass.
– If you can name any type of unpasteurized cheese, you are not a badass.
– If you blog mercilessly, yet never use your real name, you are not a badass.
– If anyone has ever turned around abruptly and asked, “What the hell did you just say to me?” and you have responded in anyway other than repeating the exact same thing you just said, only louder and more slowly, while pretending to use sign language, you are not a badass.
– If you have any sort of opinion whatsoever concerning Britney Spears, you are not a badass.
– If you have never actually kicked someone's ass, you are not a badass.
– If you have never had your ass kicked, you are not a badass—if you fight enough to be a badass, you have to lose sooner or later.
My point is that sooner or later, your fantasy life will have to confront your real life. Will you be ready?