Anonymous Tough Guys on Humanity

“Remember, the top 30+ are real people..” This is the message, or something like that,  I received after blogging about the online world of surfing and the proliferation of ‘trolling’. I was told to investigate the ‘trolls’. Some kind of, NOW, YOU WILL FIGHT US ALL mentality.

fight them on the beaches

Naturally, I was contacted via an anonymous profile that was subsequently deactivated. Wouldn’t want your comments to be published elsewhere, would we, Mr Anonymous Tough Guy Defending the Industry? Oh, irony.

Sorry I had to paraphrase. But even if it’s an anonymous account, meaning it’s probably someone ‘important’ giving their opinion, this brings up a few great questions. First, I’m wondering whether I need to be MORE DIRECT. When I argue about sexism, I’m adamant that top surfers are human. I’m saying the Roxy Teaser is dehumanising for both the person in it, and the people watching it. Dehumanising means that it treats the person as an object, which is objectifying someone, which is… Never mind.

ecard patronising

The other question is why the “surfers are human” argument has come up quite a bit. It makes me wonder if people assume we see these athletes as minor deities.  I think we can all safely agree that Andy Irons was human. So are his fans, his friends, his family. Consequently, the ramifications of pretending recreational drugs are harmless fun and nobody’s business are, well, dehumanising. The Inertia has already covered this when Inertia editor Tetsuhiko Endo said:

I don’t, however, want to be part of a culture than churns out young addicts. Surfing does not have a drug problem; it has an accountability problem. It is so opaque, so enamored with its own stars and legends while at the same time so uncomfortable with self-criticism that one of its brightest lights was able to self-destruct in full view of the entire population. No one was responsible and everyone was responsible. That is a problem that is far deeper than drug tests.

It is a problem far deeper than drug tests. We’ve seen people wading through discussions about sexism, sexuality and discrimination without any consideration of their ability to do so. Some of them have faced real life consequences. Before you comment, look it up. If you don’t know what key words to look up, you really shouldn’t be commenting any time soon. Not without compassion, respect and tolerance anyway. Turning up in my feed with insults and scorn only underlines why people have respect for identities even more anonymous than you.

People have also quite rightly spoken up in defence of those who have been scapegoated, to ensure people know they are a good person. We get it. We know everyone is human. Compassion and vulnerability are two strengths overlooked in this debate, particularly when someone has made a mistake. But people are questioning the ASP turning a blind eye for that same reason. Likewise, the marketing and some of the responses to these issues are dehumanising in the first place.

If we want to talk about being human, let’s talk about those drug tests though. Fred Pawle, in The Australian, reported:

Slater seemed to defend the rights of surfers to indulge in recreational substances while not competing: “Should I come to your house and test you? I mean, these are people and real lives. These are private matters for people. I don’t think anyone has the right to intrude on someone’s life unasked. I’m just getting bombarded here with drug questions. It’s just silly..”

Yes, Kelly, they should come to your house and test you. This is what I had to do YEARS AGO as an AMATEUR ATHLETE in a MINORITY SPORT never televised, where nobody even cares. 19 hours a week training for competition, three part time jobs, no money.

They knock on your door at night when you’re shifting house.

“Are you from Drug Free Sport NZ?” I say.

They look at me suspiciously. Like, how would I know? Well, I’m an athlete on the register. The other month or so your organisation surveyed me to see if I thought I would ever be tested. I said no. Now two people in non-brand sportswear  are on my doorstep, looking extremely suspicious. Pretty sure it’s not a parking ticket.

So I walk into my soon to be ex-kitchen in front of my ex-flatmates and go through the paperwork. I can’t pee, I think, so they offer me drinks. I’m advised not to drink tap water. I have to check the drinks are sealed. I have to select the sample containers. I have to sit in the bathroom with the door open, shirt up to my chest, container beneath me, the female drug tester watching me. Dehumanising enough for ya?

I got tested ONCE in years. Clean as a whistle. If I can say that, why can’t anybody in surfing?

I’m an anonymous nobody watching the carnage, getting in the ocean when I can manage it around my real life. Human? Hell yes. If by real people, you mean someone will confront me about my opinions in person? I doubt they care what I think. Meanwhile, if your opinions are likely to embarrass you and your employer in real life, why are you doing that in the first place? Don’t turn up on Twitter like a tough guy, feigning anonymity while you assert your superior status, and assume nobody has the right to call you on it.

internet_tough_guys

There’s a tradition on Twitter now of the audience creating ‘anonymous’ surfing identities and it exists for a purpose. Partly it’s because the backlash from within the industry can be narrow minded and vicious.

But it’s not solely out of personal interest. The job of remembering that surfers are people does not fall solely on the audience. It is also incumbent on the industry. The ‘trolls’ don’t trust the industry to do the job. That’s not a reflection on the inhumanity of the audience.

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Wading into the silence

Where do you go for surfing news? Back in the days, I bought surf mags, if I was lucky enough to find them on the rack. Times have surely changed. Thanks, internet!

The Roxy ad furore made it to mainstream news in several countries. Cori Schumacher led the charge, posting blogs, giving opinions to journalists, and taking action with an online petition. The Inertia made some of the better efforts in surfing circles. Eventually even Surfing Life had three articles depicting points of view. ( Unrelated to Roxy but on a serious note, thanks for ending my dreams of Indo, Huck. )

So. When news dropped that a Quiksilver staffer had resigned, I’m sure many of us went online for the source. Here’s what we initially found: …

If you were searching for a quote in the media from Quiksilver regarding the now infamous ‘butch lesbos’ comment, there was only one source: Stab Magazine. Odd? Not in surfing.

In the online world of surfing, there appear to be two protagonists in the fight for the real story. On the one side: Surf Media 1.0, otherwise known as surf magazines; and on the other:  Surf Media 2.0 , aka “Trolls“( Alternate definition here. ) You know the ones. Railing against surf mags on Twitter, changing their points of view to incite controversy, playing the devil’s advocate while defenceless surf editors and journalists shake their heads at these irresponsible, anonymous mischief makers. Ahem. Not me though, I’m an ‘Anon’, which I think means member of the public who has no right to an opinion.

Jokes. My opinions matter. Thanks for the invitation.

But that’s a particularly polarised version of reality. Where’s mainstream media, you ask? Great question. When Quiksilver hit headlines, the company went to Stab. Likewise, when the ASP was sold, the interview went not to a mainstream outlet but to Surfer Magazine. That’s where this gets interesting.

Ladies, gentleman, trolls, those erroneously identified as trolls, those who want to be trolls but are failing at it, meet: Fred Pawle, Surf Writer for the Australian. Here’s a link to his piece that came out on the Drug Scene in modern surfing: Going to Water On Drugs. Except you’ve probably already met him. Fred Pawle knows where many of us go to find news. It’s Twitter. Here’s an example of a journalist on twitter responding to members of the public:

Surf magazines, like newspapers, maintain a presence on  Social Media, but as with all journalists, managing your online handle and your professional objective position can be ethically tricky. Fred proves it’s not impossible.  He knows his online persona can influence the objectivity of his job, and he manages it.

When I was baited by an ‘editor for Surfing Life for criticising an article*, I went to Surfing Life. I sent three tweets detailing mainstream and independent posts that provided alternate views to the article. I wanted better coverage. Bec Woods’ article was a huge improvement. Would they have done it without me throwing my toys? I never heard from them. I got the silent treatment. Don’t feed the trolls, as we like to say. Trolling stops when we get over it. Or when we do our jobs in the first place.

When Fred Pawle’s article hit, here’s what happened- my hours-old post celebrating Surfing Life’s articles was hit with a relentless tirade from the same account that held me to task over my opinions on the Mimi LaMontagne article*. When that didn’t get any bites, tweets started appearing on that account about recreational drugs. What do we call it? Trolling. When do we do it? Once our magazine has been outdone.

This could be a rogue individual. It could be a coincidence that they were trying to provoke controversy at that time. But when I was defusing the tantrum using my, I admit it, patronising teacher voice, I couldn’t help but wonder “Why now?” Then I saw The Australian article. Are Surfing Life fuelling controversy, using Troll accounts to attract an audience? Are they merely maintaing a blind eye to their employees’ behaviour? Or are they using it to maintain the silence?

What is prevalent in all of this is silence. Silence about sexism. Silence about homophobic attitudes. Silence about drugs. Ssh, everybody. We’re not meant to notice.

Surf magazines face a difficult situation. They attract advertising revenue from the same industry that sponsors the athletes and competitions. so they appear to tow the line. The organisations involved sit tight. Surf mags can’t always ask the tough questions. Journalists like Fred Pawles can’t always get a quote. People wait for the fuss to die down. Sometimes it won’t.

Love them or loathe them, the unlikely allies of surfing’s marginalised communities appear to be so-called trolls. Witty, infuriating, insulting, irreverent and relentless- are they actually trolling properly?! Fighting sexism and taking on a culture of silence doesn’t entirely appear to fit the traditional definition despite indignant cries from some professionals.

Meanwhile, debate rages on, sometimes sensibly and politely. It would be easy to believe that all this noise is a dialogue, that we are contributing to change and that differing opinions were welcome. Wade on in! The water’s fine! Everything’s fine!

After what I’ve seen, and the way myself and others have been treated, perhaps not.

In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood. ~Henry David Thoreau

Why so much noise, when we start to examine the silence?

*EDIT: The troll account mentioned and the harassment it linked to is no longer available as it has been shut down since this blog post was published.