Elan Gale, being a TV person and all, had a significant amount of Twitter followers when all this happened (I think something like 30,000). Predictably, his tête-à-tête with Diane was retweeted, blogged, and reblogged a lot. It’s Thanksgiving week, after all, what the hell else are we going to do beyond post shit on the internet while we’re trying to escape our families?
This started the inevitable internet domino effect: semi-famous person does something titillating. Tons of people spread the news. Semi-famous person’s following grows. Varying degrees of people who call themselves journalists amplify this noise. All of the internet gives their opinion of what happened, and since it’s the internet, these opinions are usually hyperbolic and often come with a healthy helping of horrifying insults and detailed of threats of violence. Never do anything in half measure when you are posting words online, right?
Then, of course, the other shoe drops: even though Diane is nothing more than a first name on a plane, someone on the internet (a cousin, I think) steps forward to let everyone know she has terminal lung cancer and missed her last Thanksgiving ever with her family.
Instead of my next paragraph being a repeat of my third, please just reread it and imagine the hyperbolic, horrifying insults and detailed threats of violence amplifying. That’s what always happens when this shit occurs.
Finally, last night, the other other shoe dropped: Elan Gale valiantly revealed that Diane was nothing more than an empty seat. She was fake! It was all a hoax! Elan’s a comedian – why would you ever take anything he has to say seriously? Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, people – not from Elan, and definitely not from the random unnamed cousin who claimed Diane had terminal cancer.
You probably asked yourself “why the hell are you talking about this, Elizabeth?” when you started reading this article. I can tell you right now it’s not to weigh in on the aforementioned kerfuffle. Yes, I read a buzzfeed somethingsomething on my Facebook feed while I was pretending to watch football with my husband. I chuckled at first, then saw Elan Gale throw the “eat my dick” zinger and fell into the unimpressed camp. Life moved on. I saw the brewing outrage on the internet, but since being entrenched in brewing outrage on the internet is what I do for a living, I opted out this time (I was on vacation, after all). As such, I entirely missed the horrors of Diane’s cancer and only circled back last night when the world gasped in shock as we all discovered that Diane wasn’t even a real person!
I titled this blog “On Shitty People” because that’s what I want to talk about: shitty people. Sure, in the universe where we all thought Elan Gale was actually harassing a random stranger, he was first living out our internet tough guy fantasy and then maybe went a little too far by repeatedly telling the said stranger to eat his dick. Sure, in the universe where we thought Diane was a real person, she was a shitty, selfish harpy, but she probably didn’t deserve to be trapped on a plane with a guy telling her to eat his dick, and she also probably shouldn’t have slapped him after the flight. And in the universe where Diane existed, for the brief moment where she had cancer, I don’t think this changes anything: you really shouldn’t be a shithead to someone, whether or not they have cancer, and likewise, you don’t really get a pass to be a selfish wretch because you are dying.
I believe that all humans are inherently evil. If, given the opportunity and the right stimulus or motivation, all of us would be shitty people and do bad things. We, as a people, are enthralled by pain, suffering, and humiliation: the more spectacular the trainwreck, the more thrilling. You might tell me I’m wrong, but you’d be lying to yourself.
I’ve been entrenched in internet culture since I was 10. I’m a person who has said in all sincerity “I went to that AOL chatroom back when it was member-created and only showed up at 9 PM on Wednesdays.” Just last week, I was reminiscing about low ICQ numbers (which are, in fact, a badge of honor). And yes, I’m a girl on the internet, so I know what that’s like, too. I’ve spent two-thirds of my life immersed in the online world: because of it, I met my best friend, got the job that turned into my career, and married my husband. There’s a lot of amazing shit that exists and happens because of the internet. I’ve benefited greatly from the internet existing: you could say I’m a big fan. But the internet also is a gateway drug to activate the innate shittiness in all people (and it usually does, at least once, to anyone who uses it regularly).
First, let’s sidebar on some terminology: I’m using the word “shittiness” here now instead of “evil” for a very specific reason: while the dictionary definition of “evil” is “profoundly immoral and malevolent”, a definition that perfectly fits with what I’m talking about, the word “evil” has aggressive connotations that instantly makes people so defensive they don’t listen to what you’re saying. If I say “hey, you’re evil” you’ll likely think I’m a stupid, hyperbolic asshole. If I say “hey, you’re shitty” you’ll probably still think I’m an asshole, but we might be able to have a conversation without someone bringing up Hitler.
The entirety of the events surrounding Elan Gale, from the first tweet to the final revelation, was not impressive or even a difficult hoax to pull off. Elan Gale worked a handful of tried-and-true stereotypes to trigger the inherent shittiness in people and used the internet, the best amplifier for human shittiness, to ensure success.
Congratulations, Elan Gale. You showed people how shitty we are. Amazing. Maybe we should give you a medal for the achievement.
It is not impressive to trigger the shittiness of human beings. It’s more difficult to highlight people who aren’t shitty than it is to socially engineer a situation that will cause people to be shitty. People who actively seek to create more shittiness in the world aren’t special or notable: they’re just shitty people (you could also call them trolls).
I recently finished reading Allie Brosh’s new book, Hyperbole and a Half. If you don’t know Allie, go look up Hyperbole and a Half right now. It’s a brilliant blog, perhaps the only I’ve come across that I vehemently believe is awesome enough to deserve to be immortalized on paper (and bound in a fancy book, to boot).
Allie wrote and edited most Hyperbole and a Half while struggling with crippling depression. It’s palpable and almost painful in some of her entries, most notably her last two: Identity, Part One & Two. In these chapters, Allie struggles with her own perception of herself versus the reality of herself. Her writing is only half the beauty of this piece (her pictures are just as amazing as her writing) but the raw introspection and honesty to herself struck me as she wrote out for strangers to see how she looked deep inside her soul to try and figure out who she really is:
“Unfortunately, the source of my shittiness is the fact that I’m shitty. I just am. It is not possible for me to not be that way. I can prevent myself from being actively shitty. I can do things that a not-shitty person would do. But the shittiness is always going to be there, just beneath the surface, straining to get out.”
When I read Elan Gale’s revelation last night that Diane was not a real person and that he’d pulled a fast one on the internet at large by staging a fake airplane fight, all I could think about was Allie’s steadfast belief that she was a shitty person. I agree with Allie’s assessment that shittiness is always going to be there, straining beneath the surface, but I believe this is inherent within all of us. The crux of this matter doesn’t just stop with the understanding that someone is shitty, though: it matters what you do once you realize this is a state of being.
Allie says this better than I think I’ll ever be able to, so I’m going to quote her again:
“I might not be able to be someone who never ever gets the urge to push people or throw sand at them, but I try to be that person. In the not-throwing-sand-and-not-shoving-people competition, I get the participant ribbon. And even though I know there aren’t any special requirements for earning the participant ribbon aside from the participation itself, I still feel sort of proud of it, because IT’S HARD not pushing people and not throwing sand at them.”
Elan Gale didn’t even attempt to get the not-throwing-sand-and-not-shoving-people participation ribbon; he didn’t lose the difficult battle of trying not to be shitty. Instead, he actively plotted the easiest way to not only be shitty himself, but also get the largest amount of people to be shitty right along with him. He accomplished literally the easiest feat on the internet: get people to act shitty.
What differentiates a shitty person from a not shitty person is not the underlying shittiness, but the active prevention and conscious effort to not be shitty.
Allie Brosh is a rareity among people: she has not only confronted her own shittiness but actively fights it rather than trying to hide, excuse, or otherwise shrug it off. Instead of playing off the plethora of nastiness inherent within all of us, she tries to make herself and by extension the world nicer, happier and better.
That is a rare and precious thing.
I’m sure Allie isn’t perfect and I’m certain she doesn’t pull it off all the time (or hell, even most of the time) – but that’s not the point. She’s trying to make the world better, unlike Elan Gale, who is thriving on the lowest common demoniator of our own shittiness.
That is why Allie Brosh is the best person in the world.