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The Rise of the Takedown

C-boys unite! You have nothing to lose but your own obscurity. And your time has come, my friends. The New York Times ran a feature this last weekend on the role that heckling plays in social discourse, and the piece basically proclaimed fruit fly supremacy:

For decades, hecklers who railed at entertainers, politicians and athletes were confined to the margins — they were often drunks or crackpots, tolerated (just barely) by polite society, like litter on a city street…But no longer do these self-styled cultural assassins merely snipe from the shadows. Lately, hecklers have moved toward the mainstream, making headlines, torpedoing careers (ask Mr. Richards), and exploiting a new stage of their own on video-sharing Web sites like YouTube, where clips of their antics are seen by thousands. 

Apparently somebody has gone and made a movie about the phenemonen, which argues that hecklers have become more scathing in recent years, and that it’s the Internet that’s emboldened them to become increasingly more harsh with their criticisms. “It’s not enough to give performers a simple thumbs down,” the article reports. “They must be personally lambasted, humiliated, even virtually willed out of existence.”

There’s even a new psychological term for heckling. It’s called the “disinhibition effect,” defined as people who express themselves more bluntly online than they would in person, people for whom “the old filters — namely, good manners — atrophy offline.”

Of course, we know all about that here on The art of impaling has been practiced here for over a year, and, frankly, you c-boys have really perfected your craft. I think you all can go ahead and take a little credit for the explosion of heckling that’s taken hold of the nation.

Jokes aside, I’m not convinced that an increase in the power of the peanut gallery is really a negative thing. Obviously, it’s not a good thing when the dialogue involves over-the-top threats and hostility. But—impotent rage aside—I don’t think anyone can discount the fact that blogs have really forced journalists to become accountable and accurate, in the same way that the boooooo-boys force aspiring rappers at open mikes to come with skills or be gone.

The director of the Heckler film posits that the rise in sideline sniping comes from cultural narcissism, a heightened sense of entitlement—the feeling that the hecklers themselves should be getting attention, damn it. My feeling is that it’s less a sense of entitlement and more a recognition that most of pop culture has spiraled out of the control and has become surreal, bizarre garbage, and that the time has come to throw in your own two cents. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that the current generation refuses to be passive consumers.

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