Internet Culture and Rough Music

Not really a post, but more of an idea. I ran across this, about victims of the alleged Las Vegas  shooting who are being harassed on-line. I say alleged, because apparently there a lot of Second Amendment Enthusiasts who are convinced that the mass killing is a government or liberal or Illuminati conspiracy that will, of course, lead to grabbing our guns.

O.K., so nutjobs are sending you nasty e-mails and abusing you on Facebook. What is a spam filter for anyway? Toughen up buttercup! On the other hand, most of us now have an electronic life that is just as real as our meat-space life. College faculty often tell our students not to put their social life on the internet, since it may come back to bite you later, but that is advice from the Middle Ages or the 1980’s or something. If your social life is not on twitter then you have no social life.

Rough Music, under several names, was the “carnivalesque rituals of mockery through which communities displayed disapproval of moral and social infractions.” In olden times community meant people you might physically meet, or, if you were important enough, people who might abuse you in print. Now it is everyone. There is now a universal community that can abuse you, although you have no idea what your connection with them is or what may annoy them. It makes me think of Chinese people studying the 1971 People’s Daily to try and figure out what might be about to come down on them.

One thing I take away from this is that we (meaning the legacy media and the people who act like it) should take internet harassment more seriously. I don’t go with those who claim that speech is literally violence, but it can be an act of serious social exclusion, and if you are the target (or the shooter) it always hard to know where the dividing line between symbolic and physical violence will be drawn.

Historians have worked on how technological change has created new communities. They have worked on it a lot. Ideally, someone should write a book on how all the Early Modern Europe stuff on grub street publishers and a new print public and the Asian world of electronic communities, from the search engine of flesh (人肉搜索) and all the forms of on-line shaming that go on in Japan are informed by each other. I am busy today, however, so if you have written this book, or ideas for it, please post it in comments.


Rough Music and Charivari: Letters Between Natalie Zemon Davis and Edward Thompson, 1970–1972

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