“You vajayjay. Who does that?”
The words stared at me from the desktop monitor. They were real, tangible, irreversible. The cat out of the bag. I’d been flamed before, of course, and it wouldn’t be the last time. But this came out of nowhere and had no real explanation. No real context was given for the source of the sender’s contempt, beyond the link he’d referred to, and even then no explanation was given.
There’s something rather disconcerting about receiving a negative comment like this for the first time you try out a new hobby. Let me give some context of my own. It was early 2011 and I’d just uploaded a video – my first public upload, in fact. The mashup was crude and technically juddery, but reasonably coherent in what it was trying to do – and, if I say so myself, even reasonably funny in places. It had taken me hours. And the first public reaction I got was one of complete contempt. I wouldn’t mind so much but I didn’t even understand it fully, although I got the gist. I’m so out of touch I even had to look up the word ‘vajayjay’ in the urban dictionary.
Welcome to YouTube, folks. I cried because I had no shoes. Then I looked at a YouTube comments thread and it completely destroyed my faith in humanity. There’s no point discussing it in detail. If you’ve ever looked at anything that’s reasonably popular you’ll see that the occasional nuggets of goodness in the post-video ramblings are eclipsed by spambots, viral messages about angels and good luck, irrelevant political discourse and flat out racist / sexist / homophobic abuse. I don’t think I need to give you examples. The Guardian got there first. One Direction videos are the funniest, of course, its fans and haters alike descending in spirals of ever-increasing profanity and vitriol, to the extent that Dead Parrot produced a rather amusing reconstruction using professional actors. Stop reading this for a moment and go and watch it. It’s brilliant.
Where were we? Oh yes; John Hurt. Now, my videos rarely amass enough views to achieve anything that might be even close to viral. I’m like the microscopic edge of viral. In a way, that’s OK. I fight and fight for YouTube traffic through clever tagging and appropriate tweeting and uploading at just the right moment, but there’s a part of me that knows that any sort of fame I achieve, however slight and however fleeting, is only going to be a millstone. Having a blog that no one reads and a channel that few people (in the grand scheme of things) actually look at means that the pressure’s off. I don’t have to worry about outdoing myself. I don’t have to give my audience What They Want. I can produce the videos I want to produce and everyone’s happy – everyone except me, of course, when I’m crying into my pillow at night because I can barely amass a hundred hits on a montage that took me a week and which I’m immensely proud of while some guy in Florida films his cat PISSING ON A WATER VOLE and it’s got almost as many views as Rebecca Black, and none of the death threats.
Blogging is always about the validation, whatever anyone says, and my YouTube channel is no different. It’s nice when people respond. And it hasn’t been all bad, not by a long stretch. I was overwhelmed, for example, with the sudden (and very positive) response to Dalek Zippy, which suddenly took off when Roy Skelton died not long after it went online. People loved it. I had suggestions for alternatives or constructive improvements, all nicely phrased and decently convivial. It even made Doctor Who Magazine a few months later. The same thing happened with the Red Dwarf mashup, which got to the Daily Mirror. It’s no Double Rainbow, but you take what you can get.
Still. I have a theory about YouTube users, and why so many of them are the scum of the earth. You have to have a certain amount of coherence to be able to respond to a newspaper article, no matter how ill-conceived your arguments or how despicable your views. Conversely, it takes very little effort to type in ‘FUNNY CAT VIDEOZ’ on your smartphone interface and then leave a negative comment. The best part is there’s no accountability. No one’s going to come back to you about it. No one will knock on your door and beat the crap out of you, the fate of the internet trolls at the end of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. (And answering honestly, is there a single person amongst us who hasn’t wanted to do this at least a little bit to someone we once encountered online?)
But if YouTube is like a big wall that’s ripe for anonymous graffiti, I sometimes want to find out the thinking (or lack thereof) behind what people are writing. I question the logic, for example, of anyone who says “I want my thirty seconds back”, because chances are it took them at least a third as long again to write down that they wanted their thirty seconds back – time which, if time were as important to them as they maintain, could have been spent devising a potential cure for cancer or the world hunger problem. Just because you can say a thing, it doesn’t always follow that you should.
There’s no real point engaging with the stupid or moronic, but not everyone who leaves negative feedback on the internet is stupid or moronic. Some of them just don’t understand. Some of them miss the point. I’m probably tempting fate by even engaging with anyone who seriously thinks that an obvious clip collection could be called ‘fake’ when the item description (and the other comments – why oh why don’t people read the other comments) makes this abundantly obvious. That’s like complaining when you find out that Spinal Tap aren’t a real band. You can click a mouse. Don’t expect us to think for you as well.
But still. Some of those comments have stuck in my memory. Some I’ve responded to; some I ignored. All are the exemption, rather than the rule. Perhaps that’s why they stick in the craw. But occasionally I’ll bite back. It may be about re-education or pointing them in a different direction. It may be about explaining something that I later realised was ambiguous when I originally posted. Or it may simply about being right. In any case, here are a few choice nuggets.
The Doctor’s Facebook Film
“No Rose? No Martha? No Donna? No Amy and Rory? No Clara? No Sarah Jane? No River?” (Various people)
Response (not sent): No, because I had a minute or so to summarise fifty years of television, which meant that some people were for the chop. In terms of episodes, New Who is a drop in the ocean. Sorry if your favourite characters are missing, but to be honest I don’t really give a shit. So are some of mine. And I think we’d all rather forget about Martha, wouldn’t we?
The Paranoid Android Invasion
“Some people have too much time on their hands.” (Facebook comment)
Response (not sent): I get really cross when people tell me I have too much free time. I don’t watch much TV. I don’t play sports. I don’t go out drinking or clubbing. The time I spend in front of a computer screen doing this is the same ‘free time’ that people spend crocheting, or painting, or slumped in front of Call of Duty, none of which I do. Free time is relative.
The Numberjacks Vs. The Prisoner
“not verry good\cool” (faisal habib, YouTube)
Response (sent): Learn to spell, kid.”
Darth Gene (trailer)
Response (via email):
I mean, I congratulate you on your astounding dexterity and skill with words. That must have taken you all of, what, two seconds? As opposed to the video you describe as gay, which took me several weeks, on and off. What have you done today that’s constructive?
We should clear something up. Did you mean ‘gay’ in the homosexual sense? That’s one particular reading of the Star Wars trilogy – the imagery of Luke Skywalker flying down the trench and shooting his load into a small hole is not lost on some people (google Charlie Brooker Star Wars, for example), nor is the homoerotic love triangle between Luke, Leia and Han Solo (who quite clearly has a thing for Luke). And there’s an awful lot of homoeroticism in the portrayal of the unreconstructed Gene Hunt from Life on Mars, whose voice I used. So that’s a fair point.
Or perhaps – this has just occurred to me – you meant ‘gay’ in the happy, hearts-and-flowers sense, which is much better. I did intend for this particular video to be upbeat and amusing, so perhaps I’ve succeeded. If that’s the case, may I apologise profusely for my somewhat bristly opening paragraph. I hope you can forgive my negative assumptions; it’s just I’ve dealt with so many trolls, haters and idiots over the years that – like driving – it’s always best to assume the worst: that way no one gets hurt.
What’s most likely, of course, is that you meant ‘gay’ in the derogatory, generally insulting sense. In which case you’ve added nothing of any value to the internet this week, and have simply come across as an ineloquent twat. Congratulations.”
Two days later:
“gay as in happy its funny”
(I win that one.)
The Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors hold a video conference
“Fake so fake saw all of those episodes” (WhenLifeGivesYouLemons, YouTube)
Response (sent): Of course it’s bloody fake. What the fuck did you expect?!?