Board Of It All

Outposts of stimulating debate, or citadels of covert cockfoolery? Gerald Ras Wiener passes comment on the tempestuous world of internet message boards.

By Gerald Ras Wiener

Have you ever got into a virtual row with a faceless geek called Cockburger23? Have you been sucked in and riled by smart-arse comments from an anonymous opponent sitting smugly at the other end of your broadband pipe? Worst of all, have you ever subsequently run into him in real life at a party? Did you have to face up to the fact that you'd said something unrepeatable about his mother's penchant for 12" winkies up her pooper as an insult? Or did he take you to task for a comment you made about an obscure drum loop that you said was shite? Either way, you'd rather rim your own father than have to talk to him for more than five minutes, right?

Well, more fool you for venturing onto an online message board in the first place: especially one that discusses music. Such places can be citadels of covert cockfoolery. I mean, let's face it: music is one of the most subjective topics you could ever wish to talk about. One moment in life you can meet a 'likemind', who may appear to have a freakishly similar photofit of music-taste as you: next minute, they're admitting that they're "digging Justin Timberlake", and the wedding's off (you know who you are, wanker.) In a forum, you'll end up skipping hand-in-hand with in agreement by someone one moment, and getting bully-rammed by them the next.

Music forums are made all the worse the further up the 'specialist music' food chain you get. And when I say specialist, I'm not talking dwarf-sex music. You're in real trouble when you move into the realms of 'electronica', 'techno' or, dare I say it 'the avant garde' (or any music where devotees believe that the God of music has selected them as the chosen few: the higher intelligence receptacle to receive His latest Jeff Mills loop or Squarepusher tonal frequency). Going onto these boards can be like going backstage at London fashion week.

The terminally-bored-at work. The socially excluded. The mentally imploded. The sick. The ugly. The talentless. The humourless. The curious, the furious and the downright spurious. Whether it's the virtually retarded, or the actually redundant, boards – like any community – can gradually attain their own type of micro-climate, attract certain germs that can survive the adverse and hostile conditions upon which they are run.

Of course – that's not always true. I've made some very good friends from message boards. Often there's also intelligent and stimulating debate. The sense of community and friendships made can be heart-warming – a very post-post-modern social circle, if you can live with the nerdy association. Sometimes you even get laid in real life (hell, I ended up rutting a girl I met on a message board once, much to all my friends' amusement). At their best, boards can inform, entertain and please in a way that spending time with any good bunch of people you know can.

But when they are bad, they are very, very bad. Indignation. Cheap insults. In-joking. In-fighting. Back-biting. Caterwailing. Histrionics. If only it were that good.

Don't get me wrong: for the casual observer, there's nothing funnier than men earnestly and heatedly arguing about drum loops, and whether Jeff Mills has destroyed techno or not. But get caught in the middle of it and you'll find yourself becoming what you've always despised: sitting red-faced at your computer, seething with rage, drafting and redrafting your furious retort with calculated menace. You get consumed by the dark side. Newbies get shot down in-flames. Old hands groan wryly. Zealots get on their high-horse. People flounce off dramatically – exiting stage left. Voices of reason cry out and then disappear in the virtual ether, consumed by their own rage. People make aliases of themselves to say what they REALLY think (only those who run the boards know who they really are).

But the real beauty of it all, as with today's e-mail culture, is how easily people can misconstrue each other. Even with a smiley after every sentence, without seeing or hearing the person you are arguing with it's sometimes impossible to completely know what they're really saying. It's like talking to an American – sarcasm and irony just doesn't translate. So paranoia is rife. And with a climate of intense competition in the air, an innocuous comment becomes a declaration of war. No one quite realises that they're taking it far too seriously.

It is however especially entertaining when "the great and good" have got involved – major DJs or their representatives have from time to time been exposed with their pants down: squabbling like little girls over the last skipping-rope in the playground. These people deserve your scorn.

And maybe I do too. Maybe I'm flattering myself to say that there's probably some thread starting on some message board somewhere slagging this article off. Well, here's my well-thought out and carefully observed 'post' in reply to you: Kiss my cunt :)
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