this photo is dedicated to BP editor Lindsay Gibb
ahem ahem) but the time has come to shine a spotlight on the week’s best and worst comments during a tense and fraught final featuring two fine stories: “Cardigan Blues” by Nana K. Adjei Brenyah and “The Offbeat” by Jeanie Keogh. Congratulations to both contestants – while there can only be one winner, you both conducted yourselves with intelligence and decorum on the comment boards, and when it comes to writing and taking feedback, you both murdered this competition.That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for re-reading the stories, voting and sounding off in the comments (which you can do right here,
I’m not sure if it’s standard for commenters to get all shrill, accusatory and racist in the final rounds of Deathmatches (wait, what am I talking about? Of course it is) but if that was the goal this time round, congratulations, as many of you ably demonstrated a) the art of trolling and b) being assholes.
Robert Lashley of course takes the cake in this regard:
Where do I get the the 10 minutes of my life I spent trying to digest your rape pamphlet, you degenerate hipster lawn jockey. This has nothing to do with the aesthetics of fiction and everything to do with you cooning for the vice reading white frats and hipsters who would read this. You might as well put on blackface, wear a handkerchief, and shine shoes at your form, id you are in the businesses of reaffirming racist stereotypes. But stop writing fiction. You Are not an artists. You are not a writer. You are a zip coon for Canadian hipsters.
Clearly Robert mistook this type of wording as being snarky and edgy, but lacks the cleverness to pull it off with any sort of aplomb. He was chastized by the moderator Hal (who is not easily offended, let me tell you) and came off looking like a Grade-A twat. Well done. To his credit, Nana responded elegantly.
I’ll reply to you, Mr. Lashley by first asking you to considering being a little more tactful with your language. There are people who would think more of you for it.
But considering your concerns and the concerns of some others. The idea that this story is about rape or pro rape has been discussed previously and I want to make clear that in no way does it endorse rape or sexual assault or any of the treatment of woman that does, in fact, happen everyday… Perhaps it would be more balanced if we had heard directly from Harriet, or maybe that would have told us what we already know, that she is a beautiful young woman the boys know is better than they ever will be. That they are disgusting and obsessed with appearances. That they are not what they believe they are. The story is meant to make you feel something. “What’s the point?” The point is to walk away knowing the story made you feel, and maybe think. It is supposed to suggest that in an exchange between humans and monsters, sometimes, the monster is just a collection of humans who, when together, lose their way. The “point” if the story is to display one of the possibilities of fiction, a grim possibility but a necessary one. A fair judge knows that the narrator isn’t glorified in this story.
Also, the reactionary comments were quite a treat. Take our delicate flower Proud, who was sounding off (I assume) on the accusations that Nana, as an American, was less deserving of the prizes and participating in Deathmatch period:
Wow these disgusting comments make me NEVER want to visit Canada. Is this how all Canadians are?
Oh shut up, dude. We don’t want you.
The following comments also pissed me off on a personal level – the ones where there was no qualifications backing up the words.
Winona: Your story is disgusting.
Ruth: Your story is rapey. boo.
Bandit Bonnie: Please, please, PLEASE stop promoting Alcoholic Culture with your drivel!
It’s ok to have feelings about the stories – but why not take a minute and unpack what they are, and why? You guys just sound goofy. And trollish. And whiny. Step up, show some commitment, grow a pair.
Then there’s Clare, who may have dropped my most hated or favorite comment of the round by virtue of simply being really weird.
I liked the stories. The one about the guy with the fun drinks was jokes. The one with the fat girl was a tale of passion. I reads them to my son and he cried. Diaper change or not, now THAT is something that father time will emphasize. Any leads on job?
Call if you can, but remmeber, ROme was in Italy, but y’all shouldn’t pity me.
Thanks for that.
I loved Brittany’s lovely summation of all things Deathmatch:
I wonder how the comments section might be different if folks had to include their first and last names and a picture before they posted? I’ve been thinking a lot about this. See, there’s no risk to make up a fake name and hurl insults at either writer. Much like the male characters in Nana’s story, its easy to hide in a crowd and say and do loathsome things.
But if you had to stand up and be recognized for your words, if you had to be called by name, how might your words change?
Like I said, just something I’ve been thinking about. It takes a lot of guts to be this vulnerable. No matter what the outcome of this match, both of these writers should be proud for standing beside their work.
Emily’s BFF also provided another thoughtful analysis of Nana’s story, which split commenters down the middle and brought out a lot of derision and strong feelings (which, we maintain, are often hallmarks of a good piece of writing). A good comment, especially considering it’s International Women’s Day, and we should all think about this stuff a little more than we do:
Jeanie – props to you for sitting through this round with so much attention being focused on Nana. You are a very talented writer, I enjoyed your story completely, and just about threw up with writerly jealously over the line “Tonight is still in its package.” Perfection. There’s nothing really that needs tearing apart. In this competition, however, there are elements to Nana’s story and approach that are simply more compelling and which generate topics for debate.
After reading Nana’s story, and the comments, I actually spent an evening with Emily over dinner talking about all the issues it raises, and the responses it has elicited. Which, to me, is the most exciting thing about a piece of writing, or any work of art – that it makes you want to discuss it. Makes you feel something. Makes you want to know more. Pulls you in. I’ve read plenty of trash, hundreds of easy and complicated stories in various forms, and completely agree that it’s important to have all kinds of writing out there. But what elevates a piece of writing to art, for me, is the response it engenders in others.
For those of you who feel his story is disgusting, and are outraged on behalf of the women in your lives: it is disgusting. Please do continue to be outraged. But be outraged for the reality of the world we live in, that this level of harassment and assault are things that the women in your lives have to deal with. If you’re a woman lucky enough to escape, for your entire life, any kind of sexism, harassment or violent assault, bless your heart. That simply has not been my experience or the experience of any woman I know.
This is the kind of story I could see being discussed in a classroom somewhere. And I hope, very strongly, that Nana isn’t negatively impacted by some of the insane comments, or (I’m sorry) sheer stupidity of some of the readers here who don’t understand what he’s trying to do with the voice, POV, etc. I appreciate how he’s stood by his story – there would be no art if the artist was swayed by the observer.
My favorite comment, however, belongs to JoSchmoe, who replied both to the stupid “this story is rapey” comment and Em’s response, which intimated that the commenter couldn’t handle anything harder than Clifford the Big Red Dog books:
Em, I don’t like that comment either, but most frustrating is that it’s the first thing people see on this page and it therefore frames the whole comparison in terms of whether it’s better to write about rape or not write about rape. For Nana, that leads to people saying either “that story’s disgusting because it’s about rape”, which is ridiculous, or “that story’s better because it’s about rape, which evokes a lot of emotion”, which is equally ridiculous. And for Jeanie, her story becomes simply “the story that’s not about rape”, which is completely unfair to the integrity of both stories and both writers.
Basically a lot of people are voting based on whether they feel it’s ok to write a perpetrator-perspective story about rape or not, and not based on each story unto itself.Deciding that one is the better story *just* because its subject matter sparked a visceral reaction is kind of akin to saying “Steven Spielberg is the best director in the world because his movies deal with Important Social Issues like the Holocaust, slavery, and the American Civil War, that spark a strong emotional reaction.” Steven Spielberg is a great director. I enjoy his films. But I sure am glad there are a lot of other amazing directors out there whose character-driven films also transport you (Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, the Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, Atom Egoyan, Sarah Polley, bla bla bla, to name just a diverse few).
These directors explore emotions, subtle relationships, tensions, moral dilemmas, and they often do this without leveraging the emotional charge of Important Social Issues — arguably the more challenging feat. And so they are also great directors.So please don’t suggest that there’s a dichotomy in literature between stories about Big Important Social Issues and Clifford the Big Red Dog. Because there’s so, so, so much more. And we are the richer for it.
JoSchmoe later got all butthurt about something Nana wrote on Twitter, and disappeared, which is a shame. Come back Jo!
I’m gonna play us out with the immortal Billie Holiday, who croons the eerily Deathmatch-y lyrics:
“It’s quarter to three, there’s no one in the place
Except you and me
So set ’em’ up joe, I got a little story you oughta knowWe’re drinking my friend, to the end
Of a brief episode
Make it one for my baby
And one more for the road”
Dedicated to Nana and Jeanie and your wonderful words. Give them one more for the road, and toss them a vote before the game is done.