If you’ve spent any time on Reddit, or any of those meme sites out there, then you might’ve seen a picture of a guy pecking away at his typewriter on a sunny day whilst sitting on a park bench. Seems like a rather innocuous photo, if a little odd, but surprisingly, it elicited a huge amount of negative comments on Reddit, such as:
- “I see this as pathetic. If this was some sort of performance art, it would be one thing, but it’d be the worst piece ever. This is just some ***hole trying to look ironic. I mock him and other people because of the ridiculous set of standards they set for themselves.”
- “If you think this picture is bad, just imagine what kind of overwrought tripe is on those pages…”
- “Some days, I really want to be a bully.”
- “I have never wanted to fist fight someone so badly in my entire life.”
In an article titled “I Am An Object Of Internet Ridicule, Ask Me Anything,” the person in the photo — a man named C.D. Hermelin who started “busking” his writing skills in order to earn some extra money after arriving in New York — recounts his experiences of being a popular Internet meme, and what it was like to have his image and persona taken wildly out of context and ridiculed.
That, however, changed a little bit when Hermelin entered into the fray. He joined the Reddit thread and began to provide some context that was lacking in the photo:
I took the bait, eventually, and commented myself. I explained that it was me, that I was not just bringing my typewriter to the High Line for the hell of it — it’s pretty heavy, for one, and for two, I don’t really like writing outside. I explained that I was writing stories for people. In my explanation of my cause, it became just that — a “cause.” I knew, from the smiles on people’s faces when they saw me out typing, that I was out in the world as a positive, day-brightening entity. Bashing me was like hating on an ice cream truck.
Luckily, people agreed with me. After I posted, the message board thread’s climate changed immediately. Not unlike real life, people were complimentary and kind. Many people deleted their mean comments — one person was so embarrassed for threatening to smash my typewriter that he apologized to me, and then went through and started trying to make other haters apologize.
In other words, interacting with the person behind what had been a faceless meme brought out the humanity in others. The Internet can bring us together in ways that no other medium can, but it can also drive us apart and disconnect us by making it easy to dehumanize each other. It’s all too easy to forget that behind that e-mail address, that Twitter username, or that photo on Instagram, is another human being crafted in the image of God, with their own hopes, joys, struggles, and triumphs.
There’s much more to Hermelin’s article than his experiences on Reddit — he was also subjected to criticism in another online forum — but what is especially interesting is how Hermelin’s experience opened his eyes to how others are so easily dismissed:
A few months later, when Christy Wampole wrote an essay for the New York Times bemoaning hipsters and their devotion to irony, I couldn’t help but feel empathy for all those tossed onto the web as pitiful avatars of hipsterdom. Wampole had inadvertently joined the ranks of Internet commenters who make vast, sweeping judgments based on careless observation. It was a strange experience to watch the Internet’s vitriol encapsulated as a call to action — a call for dismissal, really — from the New York Times. When I hear someone labeled as a “hipster,” I make sure to have the opposite response. I take a second look. What Wampole, and a whirlwind of Internet commenters don’t understand is, usually, the hipster label is a compliment, a devotion to a self-evident truth.
Hermelin’s article is an encouragement to look beyond labels, which, more often than not, are tools of dismissal and dehumanization. That’s easier said than done, however, and even moreso on the Internet.