|From May 2012
As a bloke who until recently had avoided the web beyond looking up rare Neil Young concert footage, the surf report and football news, I’ve only recently started using it with any kind of targeted regularity. Fact is I have to. In days when publishers have no dough, us scribblers become our own PR departments. Twitter and Facebook becomes a part of a daily routine. For me the former is more relevant. It’s instant. It allows me to engage with people I admire and whose work interests me. It also allows me to test the bounds of good taste with wanton smartarsery. I really do quite like it. My wife may say I like it too much. Perhaps I do. No doubt the novelty will eventually fade. For now though it makes the lonely and heartbreakingly under-rewarded drudgery of molesting a keyboard for a paltry quid near enough to bearable.
But now I know that it ain’t all peaches and cream out there in the WWW.
Frankly, the internet is a freakin’ strange place.
I’d been long warned, but for me the lesson came quick.
A few months back I released a book called House of the Rising Suns (Random House, all good tome sellers).
The book is about AFL football’s modern face against the backdrop of the Gold Coast Suns inclusion into the competition. It’s told through my own eyes – the eyes of an avid follower of the game, and the same eyes that for a time had the good fortune to look on as the Suns take its first steps on Australian sport’s biggest stage.
So far it’s been reasonably well received.
Most readers have been kind and encouraging. For that I’m grateful. It’s nice to know that even if people may not be entirely convinced by your ability to link words, they at least appreciate the effort you went to.
Others have been a little miffed.
The nature of the book meant I was bound to upset a few because it required me regurgitate my observations regardless of individual sensitivities. Often I felt compelled to write overstepped personal boundaries. Sometimes people like a significant say in shaping elements of their reality. But my brief was to call as I saw. Instant conflict realised.
And besides when a footy team’s involved tensions are always going to boil over at some point. I’m awfully defensive when my team, St Kilda, has a mirror held against it. That is the way of things in our game. Loyalty is a lynchpin.
So among those who have read it there have been mostly likers and a few slightly jilted types.
But now I’ve discovered there’s a new kind of word-eater in play. And it’s a loose, unscrupulous beast.
It’s the internet reviewer.
A few night’s back my wife looked up my book on Amazon.com. She found it easily enough. Underneath it were two reviews. One was a short, nice one. The other was a significantly less positive offering by someone known in Amazonian circles as ‘Peter J Wedesweiler’.
Peter’s view is premised, seemingly, on his disappointment that my book didn’t give him what he wanted: an insider account of a football club filled with player and coach interviews and photos and whatever else. Something between the AFL Record and a season diary, I’m guessing.
This despite the rather precise blurb on the back cover describing in some detail the contents within.
This despite a scene-setting foreword.
This despite a clear thesis in the prologue.
And this, most tellingly, despite said prologue openly articulating that the Suns were unwilling to commit to the kind of book Peter wanted because of a clearly enunciated fear that it might breach the tenets of its branding philosophy and because it didn’t want to be at the mercy of a product it couldn’t control.
Now, let me be clear. Criticism is unavoidable.
But to me its unfathomably odd to criticise Santa Claus for giving you a BMX when you really wanted a racing bike in circumstances where the choice was entirely yours in the first place. Just sayin’.
Anyway, all that aside, I told a local writerly colleague about Peter J Wedesweiler’s rantings and how bizarre they seemed.
My colleague was of the view that among other things (the internet is full of strange cats being one of them) that Peter had clearly missed the point. So he said he’d type a riposte to help redress matters.
And he did.
Peter J Wedesweiler didn’t seem to like that and almost instantly posted his feelings on the matter.
Because in the course of my colleague’s well-reasoned riposte, he didn’t disclose that he knew me.
So how was Peter aware of this?
Well, he was watching, wasn’t he.
Presumably he scoured my Facebook page and Twitter accounts to find some kind of link. I can only imagine his joy at his successful investigative work. A real Perry Mason moment. Next stop the truth behind Harold Holt’s disappearance…
If it’s not odd enough that someone would take time out of his day to do that, what exactly is Peter J Weidesmeiler’s modus operandi?
That he doesn’t like being disagreed with?
I’m reminded of a crotchety grandpa who doesn’t like anyone sitting in his favourite chair.
Anyway, welcome to the real world Matthew, I guess. Like I said, I’d been warned.
So, what’s good for the goose… I Googled ‘Peter J Wedesweiler’.
And what did I learn?
Well, I learned that I doubt his real name is Peter J Wedesweiler.
My search merely directed me only to his Amazon reviews of which there was a few. No Facebook page. No Twitter account. No LinkedIn. No blog. No whatever-else-people-sign-up-to-nowadays. In this modern age it seems improbable for someone to so easily fall through the cracks. Unless of course Peter is one of those lonely, befuddled, bully-coddled man-child types who still lives with his overbearing mother or something. Or maybe he’s an undercover cop or an SAS operative. I can’t be certain.
Another dubious element is that Peter says he lives in Perth. For a fledgling AFL team to have such an obsessively loyal fan on the other side of the country seems a little iffy to me. I can’t think of a single Eagles supporter on the Gold Coast and I do move in circles that would surely reveal at least one.
Other than that I can tell you that Peter likes war stories (Adolf Hitler seems to strike a particular chord) and action novels. It seems that the sports genre is quite foreign. Oh and he thinks Jackass The Movie is morally contemptible but that Wayans brothers classic Little Man (you know, from the people that brought you the equally sublime White Chicks) is five star cinematic perfection.
That’s about it.
So to his book review.
Let me begin by saying that for a bloke who didn’t enjoy my book, he seemed to get to the end of it easily enough. That said, there is some evidence of his skimming of a few sections. Perhaps his selectiveness was deliberate. For some people an unleashed dog on a beach is far more important than four foot glassy barrels peeling over pristine white sand. So be it.
I’ve already mentioned the basic point-missing gist of it all, so I won’t dwell on that further.
Actually, no. I WILL dwell on it.
Peter, whether by default or design, you really, REALLY, completely and utterly and totally missed the point.
In fact if you were an archer you would have lined up the car park instead of the target.
But you’re not alone. Sometimes we just don’t get stuff.
Hell, I sat through the Craig Thomson’s entire parliamentary explanation and once I even took in an entire episode of Big Brother.
So I can empathise, at least to a degree.
More specifically though, Peter reckoned two ‘behind the scenes’ anecdotes about a pair of Suns players were dull. Of course on their own they were. But without the context that informs said anecdotage – namely backstage events at the 2011 pre-season draft and the Suns’ host family program – Peter’s criticism is rather nude. Dislike the stories or how they were presented by all means, but who bemoans a punchline without first shit-canning the gag?
Then there’s mention of my lack of passion for what Peter reckons was an incredibly thrilling first season for the Suns. ‘Magical’ is the word he uses to describe it. The club enjoyed victory just four times in twenty-seven outings in its debut year. One of those wins was in a foreshortened first round trial game that took place before the local water temperature was still 26 degrees.
Regardless, fleeting moments of success were indeed exciting and all of them I recount with fond enthusiasm. So too games like those against West Coast, Adelaide, Fremantle, and the season closer against Hawthorn during each of which the Suns showed glimpses of what their talent-packed future holds. But Peter would know this as he watched all the games. At least that’s what he writes. And frankly he can write whatever he likes. That’s what this internet thingo offers – a new, fandangled critical medium devoid of any checks and balances.
And so to the point of this whole tale. It is this: that now, more than ever, EVERYONE is a critic, particularly dyed-in-the-wool, everyday consumers to whom good becomes little more than a decision between whether or not to click a ‘like’ button rather than one shaped by intelligently informed relative merits.
So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that someone is lurking in a dark room somewhere Googling my name and scouring my social media platforms to make a kind of a self-satisfying point from under the dense shade of some iCloud somewhere. Perhaps it’s a kind of back-handed compliment that anyone could be so bothered. Or maybe Peter’s just a mischievous Suns fan looking to twist a knife. Whatever. In the end it matters little. The point is the gloves are off and Joe Public’s havin’ a deadset dip.
Am I being a trifle precious? No. Even if my newfound accessibility to nit-pickers creeps me out a touch, I wouldn’t do what I do without a thickened hide. It’s bread to my butter.
But the fact still remains that never before have opinions and arseholes had so much in common.
It’s the new way.
It’s not in the slightest bit fair, but it is what it is. If you want to write for a buck you’ll have to be prepared to suck back a cup of concrete, harden the hell up and simply deal with the fact that even slightly unhinged folk can have a say.