By Tony Attwood
When I was a young writer, trying to break into the business full time, I adopted the tactic of writing articles and books that by and large no one else was trying: different approaches, different styles, different ways of looking at issues.
As a result I got a lot of rejections from publishers, and even (to my surprise) a certain amount of abuse. Indeed there was one piece of abuse I still remember all these years later.
I had sent the manuscript of a course book that I had written for secondary school music teachers to use in the classroom (I was earning my living that way at the time while trying to break into writing full time). The note I got back said this was the worst rubbish they had ever seen, that I should stop wasting the time of publishers with such arrant nonsense, and the least I could do would be to undertake some basic research into what is actually happening in school music lessons before trying to write a book on it.
Fortunately I’d had several books published by then, so I didn’t despair too much – not least because I believed in the book. So I simply decided to approach the largest publisher in the field: Oxford University Press. They took the book, it became a major success going through five editions in the first year, they then commissioned a series of other books from me, and for two years I was their top selling author in the schools book department. I wasn’t a household name, you couldn’t find my books on the bookstands at railway stations, but I was made as a writer.
Perhaps because of those events, abuse directed against me tends to make me laugh more than get angry. Laugh because written or verbal abuse directed by one individual against another simply shows how little the abuser has by way of argument. Or intellect.
And just to be clear, I am not talking about bullying here, not about mass abuse – as some footballers have suffered when the home crowd as turned on them – I am talking about abuse in correspondence with a person you don’t know whose basic argument is you are wrong, he is right, and if you can’t see that you’re an idiot.
That, in the end, is what abuse is. It isn’t even sophistry – there is no clever argument which looks real but is false, and which is deliberately put out to deceive us. It is just “I’m right, you’re wrong and you’re an idiot.” It is rather like shouting at your front door because the rain has warped it and it won’t shut.
In fact, now I come to ponder that image, being abused on Untold is exactly like shouting at your front door because the rain has warped it and it won’t shut.
I am often asked to be more stringent in removing abusers from this site, and I have asked Dr Billy about this. (His answers were not that helpful). So I’ve come up with this instead…
First, if you think a commentator on Untold should be banned, go to the comment, and you’ll see at the top of it the date and time of the comment. Click on that and you should get on the top of your screen the complete URL of the comment. Copy that and email it to me at TonyAttwoodofLondon@gmail.com I’ll do the rest.
Second, if you feel like replying to an abusive comment on Untold DON’T be abusive in your reply – otherwise you might get reported. You could always try writing, “Ah, look, abuse,” and leave it at that. At least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you are annoying the abuser – they generally don’t like being laughed at. What they love is someone abusing them back because it gives them a chance to be more abusive they are strange that way. (Dr Billy tells me it is because they eat too many beef burgers. I think it is a fundamental dysfunction within the British social structure as a result of Thatcher’s destruction of social unity, but each to his own theory).
Personally I find comments made up of personal opinions as universal truths without any evidence much more interesting than comments full of abuse. (Name calling is, after all, the thing most of us grow out of aged about six, so internet abusers are mostly people who have got stuck in their childhood – which is surely something to be pitied rather than anything else).
Here’s an example of the sort of thing I find interesting. It comes from a comment sent in a week or so back…
Don’t start me on going into a season with 6 defenders in the first squad and not replacing Vermaelen. That’s negligence that is totally unacceptable.
In a very real sense had Vermaelen stayed it wouldn’t have made any difference to the current situation – he has been unfit for most of the season, and so one could actually congratulate Mr Wenger on his ability to screw that much money out of Barcelona for a player would could not play.
Our defence for the season thus far has been Monreal, Chambers, Mertersacker, Koscielny, Debuchy, Gibbs, Bellerin, and subsequently Coquelin – and possibly Hayden. One can argue that some of them are not good enough – and with statistical evidence that would make a very worthwhile discussion which I would be pleased to have on Untold.
But even if that is the case (and I am not sure it is) the fact remains that Bellerin and Coquelin need to be included, for as with players before them such as Cole, Gibbs, Adams, Keown, Clichy etc, they need to have a chance to come up through the ranks; they need games.
Meanwhile, top players won’t come into a club unless they are going to play regularly. So you have top players, and up and coming youngsters, or fading out old-timers.
Look at the total appearances for the 3rd league and cup double in 2002. We did not have eight top defenders at the height of their game. We had Upson, Luzhny, Stepanovs, Dixon, and Adams backing up the four main men – the last two making 13 starts between them in the league that season. Had we not won the double there would have been mass criticism of Wenger for keeping Upson, Luzhny, and Stepanovs as backups. But we did win, so now those who moaned forget that fact.
Now as it happens we don’t have any fading out old-timers to play at the back any more, so it is the up and coming youngsters that make up the numbers. So, yes, we could debate why we haven’t got any old timers left, and again that is interesting, but we need data so we can have the discussion.
Personally I’d sooner see the likes of Bellerin and Coquelin coming through, because they are the future, not the past, but again that is a different debating point.
My view is that the person who made that point about Vermaelen is in fact far more dangerous than the abusive person, because his point is quite misleading. It is not sophistry because I don’t believe for a second the writer was deliberately trying to mislead – I just don’t think his brain operates in a sophisticated enough way to be able to see a logical argument through.
Now, was I just being abusive there? If I called him a moron that would be abuse, because “moron” is accepted as a term of abuse. But if on the other hand I recast the comment and say that he is just plain lazy (a criticism I have made against a number of journalists of late) then is that abuse?
So there’s a thought. Don’t call people idiots, pathetic twats, cretins or anything else. Just say, “I rather think you are guilty of lazy thinking at this point old boy.” Has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?
I’ve quite a bit more to say about the trolls, and their simplistic vision of the world – with quite a bit more evidence drawn from comments of theirs that we have not published, and I will return to this later. But for now, believe me, we do block large numbers of comments every week, and we’ll try and reduce the level of abuse further.
Meanwhile I’d ask, please don’t be abusive and if you want to reply to an abusive person just have a laugh, as in the example above, or put up a serious logical argument to highlight their lack of rigour – but please don’t respond in kind.
Oh – and by the way – that publisher who rejected the book what made me famous (well, a little bit)… they went bust. I smiled.
Nothing more. I just smiled.
And maybe chuckled a bit too.
And many years later wrote about it on Untold Arsenal.
No, I’ll have a glass of red, thank you very much.
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