People act surprised when they learn that I occasionally receive hate email. I am sure they are acting, because when I tell them about the hate email, they gasp and cup their hands to their mouths, whispering the word "watermelon" over and over again. Some of them faint on masking tape "X"s I've placed on the floor. Others drop to their knees, clutching their recently murdered fiancée, and scream, "Why, God? Why? Nietzsche was right!!!!" It's maybe a little over the top.
I would love to say the hate email never bothers me, and it shouldn't be hard to let it roll off, since most of the sentiments are laced with profanity, deliberately anonymous (no return email address) or just obviously sub-literate. (Coincidentally, that last sentence is straight out of the press release for tremble.com.) I mean, how do you respond to an email like "you [sic] sight [sic] sux. to [sic] much scrolling. fuck u forever please OK."?
Anyhow, I'm not writing this to show everyone how sensitive I am to your slings and arrows. I'm not seated at my desk in the inky blackness of the night, tugging my sweater sleeves way past my fingertips, stroking my beautiful gossamer wings. I'm not looking for positive reinforcement, or some kind of understanding about what personality flaw causes someone to just fire off a random piece of hatemail without making delineating the hatred in a way that can be easily scanned and comprehended. Instead, I'd like to take this opportunity to help you write better hate emails so next time I get one from you I won't just think, "what a retard." I'll think, "Say, this retard has a point! A+!!"
The Personal Touch
I realize the Internet has made it effortless to fire off sentiments, "Your [sic] a dochebag [sic]." And I think that's great! It's wonderful to express yourself with words you accidentally made by banging on your keyboard with an empty Coors Light can. However, ambiguous name-calling doesn't go very far to correct behavior and, as far as hurting feelings goes, your message is going to be diluted if it's not focused and targeted.
For instance, try to roll something personal into the statement – something that tells the recipient of that email, "Hey, this isn't just some form letter I sent to all Internet-based dochebags [sic]. I thought enough to send a personalized attack. Hope you like it." So, instead of calling someone a dochebag [sic], why not call him a "bald dochebag [sic]" or an "inadequate father/dochebag [sic]?" See the difference a few minutes of extra care can make in hurting a complete stranger's feelings from thousands of miles away?
It's not the 'What' but the 'Why'
This section could just as easily be called "Know Your Imagined Enemy." My point is, do a little research and make sure it shows. What caused you to click that "contact" link in the first place? Was it a specific phrase? An ideology expressed somewhere online? A general feeling of displeasure at reading something? A smug contributor photograph? Whatever it was, make that part of your correspondence. Include a quoted passage. Compare their journal writing to Hitler's Mein Kampf. Describe the expression in that contributor photograph that set you off. Tell them exactly why you're sure they think they're better than you. It's great for your credibility, and it's guaranteed to make them lose a couple of extra nights of sleep. Hey, it might even result in an edit or a deleted blog entry. My point is, if people just let television shows like Designing Women get canceled without airing their opinions, we never would have had two excellent additional seasons. This is democracy, working!
What Color is Your Machine Gun
A good piece of hatemail, like a good résumé, is all about differentiating you from the competition. Being an above average passive-aggressive. Now I'm going to use myself as a case study, just for illustration. I should point out that I don't get a ton of hatemail (brag), but I'm pretty certain that's only because tremble is a relatively unknown online entity. If my name started appearing in press, or people started behaving as if I were precious, I am quite certain it would have a directly positive effect on the volume of hatemail I receive. Why? Because it raises the perceived You Think You're Better Than Me factor. And if I openly promoted all of the ways I've been given attention, adding yet another layer of context to that attention, the hatemail would be even more impressive. And rightly so!
So…imagine your hatemail is sitting in an inbox with another 30 or 40 pieces of anonymous vitriol. What's going to make someone click on your email? And, more importantly, what's going to make the recipient read it and think, "Oh no. Finally, the day I've always feared would come has finally arrived. Some insightful soul has seen me for the phony I truly am. I will now have to post one of those cryptic, 'Sorry, but I just don't feel like posting anything this month' entries on my blog until a enough sympathetic email streams in to completely camouflage the bad feelings caused by this trenchant, painful observation." Wouldn't you like to be that person? WOULDN'T YOU? Well, you can.
For example, if you choose to write me hatemail, there are a few topics that are obvious choices. In fact, they're so obvious that they don't really get under my skin anymore. They're just too easy to dismiss. It's like calling Cyrano de Bergerac "big nose" or calling West Egg "a symbolic stand-in for the Upper West Side." Here are some criticisms I've received so often that they almost never make an impression:
- Not funny
- You think you're funny
- Gay Jew
- Ugly site design
When I receive criticisms like these in an email, they barely merit a response, partly because they're just too easy to answer. You see, I've already obsessed on most, if not all of these items, probably much longer than you ever could. I know them like a second language. However, if you spend just a little longer on tremble.com, you can probably find some great, horrible things to say without much effort. Here are some ways to take those "generic" criticisms above and turn them into something really pointedly hateful:
- Your comedic rhythms are totally predictable
- You often use a "wacky" pop cultural reference in place of a creative punch line
- Penis jokes are great, if you're 15 years old and you didn't spend $80,000 on an English B.A.
- You end too many outwardly critical entries with a self-hating remark because you're afraid of being seen as unknowingly self-righteous
- You skirt too many issues in your personal life
- Writing lists is like saying, "my attention span isn't even long enough to write a 300 word entry today"
- You have a blog
- You have a blog that reminds me of [PERSON A]'s blog, but I think [PERSON A] has been writing his blog longer, and better
- That reminds me of this awesome Dave Barry column
- More stuff about cats, please!
- You think having a publicly humorous, self-effacing persona makes you cute
- You think having a publicly humorous, self-effacing persona distracts people from how truly horrible you really are
- You think having a publicly humorous, self-effacing persona distracts people from how truly and pathologically self-effacing you really are
- I just attended one of your shows. Those other performers were AWESOME!
- You're balding
Save the Best Swearing for Last
Finally, swearing always works in a hatemail, and is almost a necessary ingredient. Unfortunately, if you don't mete it out carefully you will end up compromising its potency. Avoid the temptation to front-load your email with swears because it might just mean your email will go unread. More sensitive egos hit the 'delete' button in a hurry. If you save the best swears for the end, you're increasing their chance of being digested and you're reserving greater respect for their sentiment.
Here's a great example, received recently, after reminding my mailing list about an upcoming show. (a mailing list that has a voluntary subscription base, by the way – that means people sign themselves up for it. crazy.) Please note where the swears fall:
"Buddy, I'm drunk and your email was extremely unimportant. I hope you choke on a cock someday for being such a ugly whore."
Wow. See the way the email teases the reader in by addressing him as "Buddy" and then proclaiming the writer's own state of inebriation? That's smart, because A) it sends out the message that the following thoughts are totally uninhibited and B) can be written off as a "joke" or a drunken mistake if the reader takes particular umbrage to the sentiments contained within.
And look at those swears! They're all relegated to the second sentence, and they have a nice kick to them. If the email began with that sentence, I might not have made it all the way to the end. (I probably would have, though. Even when I pretend to not read other's thoughts about me, I still find that I Google the shit out of myself every six months or so, during an especially difficult existential crisis.)
If you find it's difficult to control your swears, try this. Write a first draft, sprinkling swears wherever and as liberally as you like. Then read your email over before sending it – I know this part is hard because it requires "consideration" – and eliminate at least half the swears. If the email still holds up, send it. You've probably improved it in the process.
Good luck, haters! I look forward to hearing from you. We all do.
[personal item excised for personal reasons i.e. this is no place to get personal.]