I've had it. If I get one more god damn email petition about American Airlines, Bud Light, Matthew Shepard, or any other queer drama du jour, someone other than a licensed clinical social worker is gonna hear my thunder roll. I'm frustrated as hell by the lack of internetiquette. Once upon a time, only organizations sent you junk mail. Now it comes directly from friends, family, and that semi-cutie who looked better at 1:30AM than in the JPG he emailed you the next day.
My beef with these petitions is that they're virtual activism. Did the terms "petition" and "chain letter" get switched at the birth of the internet age? People scroll down through miles of gobbly gook, add their names, forward it to 342 of their dearest friends, and call it a day. They have a satisfied coffee break, taking serious sips while they reflect on the enormous social change they've helped bring about. It's enough to make me want to spit blood.
But the Bud Light thing was over the top, let's face it. Last month, Anheuser-Busch ran an ad with the backs and joined hands of a gay white couple in a hand full of gay publications, but no nongay publications. I received hundreds (hundreds!) of duplicate messages from all over the world urging me to call Mr. Budweiser and kiss his ass. "Thank you, Daddy Bud, for selling us bland domestic hooch! Thank you, Daddy Bud, for buying killer product placement at our Pride festivals for a tiny fraction of what it would cost you at nongay events! Thank you, sir, for an advertisement that shows gay men without heads and nice arms! Thank you, sir, can I have another?"
Now, I'm not so cynical that I won't acknowledge that Bud's ads are a result of social change. But they didn't create the changes, and we shouldn't fall all over ourselves to thank a company for wanting the oft-cited "gay disposable income" which is the stuff of mythology. A shift in the way LGBT people are viewed in America forced Budweiser to reevaluate their marketing strategy. They realized that it's smart business to market to a community whose social centers are often bars. On one hand I'm thrilled to see the ad, and I support filling up Daddy Bud's voice mail boxes. But let's be honest about Bud's motives. This ain't no free lunch.
I know I can be rather nasty and bitchy about internet addiction and its accompanying delusions about the power of the people. Yes, I often rag on the geeks who are up at 3AM, banging out letters and manifestos, all the while convincing themselves that they're plugged into some movement. I take this liberty because I'm one of those geeks.
Hi, my name is Kirk, and I'm an AOLcoholic. I am powerless over my internet use. I'm ambivalent about higher powers and am therefore doomed to remain stuck on the 2nd step. My addiction is interfering with my life in the following ways:
1. I automatically assume that people I meet face to face are lying to me. After all, they fib online and employ a most curious version of the metric system in their self-descriptions.
2. I'm irritated when I must carry on one conversation at a time, rather than have 18 going on continuously. Most people just aren't interesting enough to warrant such focus.
3. I've gotten spoiled by the phrases "LOL" and "ROFL." People don't Laugh Out Loud or Roll on the Floor Laughing nearly as often as they type it. So when one says something amusing to a real, live person whose response is a simple smile, it's a tiny ego devastation.
Because I'm self-employed, I am usually a keystroke away from the Bermuda Triangle known as cyberspace. Because I'm self-employed, my time surfing is not on some corporation's nickel. Because I'm self-employed, this is a huge problem.
Case in point: I was at a Radical Faeries gathering in the mountains of Tennessee last month. For the uninitiated, my speed glossary definition of this group is "freaky queer hippies." Think in terms of the parking lot at a Grateful Dead concert, except that nearly everyone is homo. During the gathering, hundreds of people camp out with nary a phone or computer in sight. Here's my dilemma: several of them introduced themselves not with faerie names or even civilian names, but with email addresses. "I'm blah blah blah at earthlink.com." I felt so violated, as if Woodstock had been invaded by corporate producers capitalizing on a gullible youth market. Oh, wait...that happened. Anyway, it really freaked me out and made me question the sanctity of my faerie home. Et tu, Radical Faeries?
I am not alone, which is a sort of comfort, but not enough of a comfort to assuage my guilt. Damn near everyone I know is as addicted as I am, if not moreso. I take solace in tiny "At least" statements, which are akin to the cocaine addict who says "At least I don't do crack." My version of this is "At least I don't do E-Bay." But, come to think of it, since my last upgrade, I do kind of want to sell some computer equipment...
Kirk Read's writing can be seen in the recently published Best Gay Erotica 1999 and A Day for a Lay: A Century of Gay Poetry. He lives in San Francisco and can be reached at KirkRead@aol.com