Pensive Prowler #28 by Dmetri Kakmi
Late in January, first thing in the morning, I received this on Facebook messenger: ‘You want to laugh at kids being groomed again come to my gym and do it on the mats. Will knock your ass straight the fuck out so a [sic] can laugh at you.’
The correspondent alluded to a Ren & Stimpy Facebook post in which he mentioned creator John Kricfalusi’s misdemeanours with minors.
His first message was followed by: ‘Will be sending a pic of you laughing to Eland book [my British publisher] see how they feel.’
A screen shot of the email he sent to the publisher popped up.
After contemplating the dizzying possibilities inherent in me rolling on a gym mat with a sweaty stranger, I pulled myself together and replied: ‘I don’t know who you are or what you are talking about. As someone who was sexually molested as a child, I do not find grooming amusing in the least.’
Back he came with: ‘Fuck you very much. Prick. Well you laughed at it. Why if thats [sic] the case.’
Sucker for punishment said: ‘Let me be very clear. I like Ren and Stimpy cartoons. That is not the same thing as approving child molestation. I often press like on Ren and Stimpy posts. To my knowledge I’ve never laughed at any cartoons about child grooming, something which horrifies me. Given my own experience as a child. Again I do not know what you are talking about.’
His reply: ‘Well I’m sorry Demtri [sic] you clearly hit the laugh and my post highlighting him grooming kids.’
Followed by a screen shot of the Ren & Stimpy post in question. Sure enough (much to my horror) I had pressed Laugh on his comment about Kricfalusi.
He went on to say: ‘You clearly did it. Am sorry for your experience thats [sic] horrible but it confuses my [sic] to why you done it then. You can explain it to your publishers.’
I explained it was probably a mistake when I was trawling comments to the Ren & Stimpy video. And I apologised for upsetting him. He accept the apology, adding that he will send another email to my publishers ‘suggesting it could possibly be a mistake.’ (Note the wording.) He signed off by saying he works in community development with victims of abuse.
I don’t bear the man a grudge. I’m not angry. He sounds sincere and well-meaning, if rather volatile. This is not about him. It’s about a phenomenon. Trolling. Call-out culture. Call it what you will.
I am astounded a stranger—someone I’ve never met and who knows nothing about me—can threaten violence, make vile accusations and fling about damaging insinuations; and then escalate the matter by including business associates in what is obviously a foolish error, something that could be sorted out in minutes if he and I engaged in civil conversation.
The intention was clear. Counting me among the worst offenders, he wanted to sully my relationship with my publisher and thus affect my livelihood. Why? Because a Ren & Stimpy fan, dizzy with laughter, mistakenly pressed Laugh on a comment about child grooming.
In the age of emotional upheaval and indignation, laughter (albeit mistaken) is complicity. Woe betide a dark or perverse sense of humour! On the internet individuals can now take it upon themselves to police behaviour and act as judge and jury, condemning willy nilly, certain of right doing.
Mature conversation goes out of the window. To say nothing of consideration and some degree of self-control.
I wouldn’t speak to the lowliest specimen like that. (Well, maybe a politician.) It seems untoward and rude. It’s no way for civilised human beings to conduct themselves in civil society. Given the far-reaching consequences, it’s tantamount to terrorism.
Only, of course, it’s happening invisibly and at a distance on the internet. We need never meet to destroy one another. Thus we need take no responsibility for the fallout. We need only sit back and enjoy our handy work.
How could you live with yourself if you got it wrong? Or doesn’t that matter when you’re piously beating your breast?
Even if I had deliberately pressed laugh, so what? It is not a crime to laugh. Given the subject matter it might be ethically and morally reprehensible. It might be in bad taste. But it’s still only laughter. It’s not the actual doing. Nor does it mean that one approves the crime.
People who go on the attack like this are ruled by their emotions. One word and they flare up. They’re offended. Their feelings are hurt. Now they will punish you. A scorched-earth policy rules. They have no self-control whatsoever.
If words can throw you into such turmoil, it means any one can control you. Anyone can press your buttons whenever they wish. Whereas true power resides in restraint. Sit back, take a breath and let it roll. Choose your battles.
When I mentioned the incident to friends, they laughed. ‘Welcome to the internet,’ they said. It appears I got off lightly. Lives have been destroyed for less. Offend online and you’re a goner. Might as well pack your bags and go live in the Vatican.
The double irony hit home when it was over.
Not only did this business happen because of Ren & Stimpy (an absurdist cartoon that sends up ugly behaviour), it also made a bad into a good. Getting molested as a child turned out to be a blessing for me in this instance. Something that blights my life, saved my bacon. If I hadn’t been fiddled with, I’d have no recourse against the march of the true believer—those who shoot first and never ask questions.
Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.