Wednesday, February 02, 2011

They're back!

I still don't quite know what Unfogged is, other than the blog where everyone decided a while back that I'm rich bitch of the millenium for having mentioned the existence, in the world, not in my closet, of clothing more expensive than J.Crew. (That pile-on having been my introduction to Unfogged, it didn't exactly invite me to read more.) It was my only personal experience with the kind of nasty, gratuitous online hatred that causes blood to boil.

Well, while I've been happy discussing a post below with X. Trapnel, who is someone I do know in real life, and am fine that he wants to bring the discussion elsewhere as well, when I saw the elsewhere he picked, I thought, here we go.

And here we go indeed. Since I saw it coming this time, the gratuitous "contempt," as one at least self-aware commenter puts it, which I still think is inexcusable and precisely how blogging gets a bad name, has not gotten to me personally. Also, it hasn't (yet) reached the burn-her-burn-the-witch heights of last time. ("Yet" because oh, they remember. "Is she the one who wrote the post complaining about Michelle Obama dressing her kids in J.Crew or whatever?" Ding ding ding! Not a public figure, not someone well-known who might tell Vogue when interviewed, "Dahling, I don't read my press," someone whose name you know, if at all, because this blog picked me for a pile-on once before.)

Part of me is tempted to use quotes from that thread to decorate this blog, where other bloggers put nice things that other blog-folk have said about them. The first especially:

"What is it about that Phoebe blog that is so annoying? I can never quite put my finger on it."

"Based on that post and comments she comes across as having an incredible sense of entitlement. But she doesn't come across as dumb, and that's something."

"A UChicago alum who's not intellectual? That can't be!" (Actually, I like this one as well.)

Then it stops being in the form of such quote-worthy quips:

"Well, I kind of suspect that the only reason her blog has any substantial readership is that it arose during a time when a lot of U of C undergrads who were at least loosely socially connected to each other were blogging." Another responds, "Ah. Got it. I guess that explains a few things."

Add this, then, to the borderline-sexist reasons trollish sorts give for why anyone would read or link to WWPD. I've gotten everything from preposterous claims that a famous blogger was romantically interested in me because why on earth else would he have linked here, to that Megan McArdle wants to support other female libertarians(!). But this, the idea that any readers I have (and for the curious, see the Sitemeter  - it's not that many, few enough indeed that visitors via Unfogged make a dent) are here because of some kind of conspiracy or great injustice does bother me more than the "annoying" and "entitled" comments. (Annoying is subjective. For "entitled" to make sense, I think it would have to have been me and not X. Trapnel confident in my upper-middle-class future, unless "entitled," too, was being used in the subjective, bet-this'll-sting sense.)

For what it's worth, how this blog came to be: In 2004, someone from Crescat did suggest I start this thing. (I certainly did not pay Crescat to "advertise" my blog, but that is a charming suggestion.) Someone I, in turn, had encouraged to get a column in the school paper, where I was the opinion editor and a columnist. We liked each other's writing and supported it. This blog was initially an extension of that opinion column [clarity update - "that opinion column" = WWPD the "Maroon" version, not the Crescat-blogger's one]. If in 2011, this blog has any readers, it might have something to do with people - again, not all that many people - wanting to read it. (The occasional link from the Atlantic that brings in thousands probably adds some regular readers, and I'm entirely certain Andrew Sullivan isn't trying to get into my pants.)


FLG said...

It's definitely easier said than done, but why care what anonymous asshole say about you? Are these commenters in any way relevant to your day-to-day life?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Groucho Marxist that I am, I'm far more interested in the negative things said about me/my blog than the positive ones. In all seriousness though, sometimes criticism is actually constructive, and it helps to start from the standpoint that it might be before deciding that haters will hate. I respond (in my head, not online!) to course evaluations the same way - I flip through all the positive ones, but if one student thought I couldn't have been worse, that's the one I hone in on. So if some Internet commenters think I wasn't so clear in an argument I was trying to make, yeah, maybe I should be clearer next time, because I want to write better.

Here, however, nothing too constructive came out of it. If there's any broader good to my highlighting this, it's that I do think it can't be said enough that pile-ons directed at real people, esp those who are not by any means public figures, are bad news. For the kinds of things I write, and for the size of the audience, I don't think I should be required to develop such a thick skin, although I now realize I'd been naive in that regard - any online presence is an invitation for this kind of thing. Keep writing stuff like that online, and one day folks like these will find out that oops, their gratuitous hate preceded someone's mental breakdown or worse.

In this case, it's not entirely "anonymous assholes" - both times I've come up there, it's been via college acquaintances. The other time it was via someone who had grievances unrelated to anything bloggy - stuff to do with us having dated one another's friends approximately 100 years ago. Meanwhile, "X. Trapnel" is someone I haven't seen in a while but who was at least at one point a friend. Not a close friend, but not a stranger or someone I would think had it in for me. I certainly give him the benefit of the doubt and don't think he realized what hostility that thread's participants already had towards me when linking. My point is, once it turns into speculation about my real life, my friends, etc., coming from those who claim to have authority on these matters, it becomes more difficult not to intervene, if only to say, 'you don't have a clue, so STFU.' But you're right - that would probably be the way to go. Maybe my skin will be thicker next time!

X.Trapnel said...

Eeep, no, I hadn't known about the history. Though I suppose I should have, given the "Read The Fucking Archives" ethos of Unfogged. I linked because I wanted more voices in the discussion, and there are actually many smart regulars at Unfogged, and I was frustrated at my own ability to articulate my disagreements with you. Though as you note, the linking didn't lead to anything like a useful conversation. UF does have the usually tribalism of long-running online communities, one manifestation of which is casual meanness, or at least lack of consideration, towards outsiders.

So, erm. My bad. Very sorry, sincerely.

Miss Self-Important said...

Where was this chicago gravy train when I was blogging in college? Except your car, of course, which has brought me many readers, but only after you once mocked a quote I gave to the Maroon about a magazine I worked on (though not in a biting personal way, like these people).

Flavia said...

Eh. I'm sorry, Phoebe. That sucks.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

X. Trapnel,

Good to have it confirmed from you that you had no idea. As for the smart people at that site, perhaps so, but this would be a case of smart not being everything.


I apologize for mocking if it was a bad kind of mocking! I have no idea what you're referring to specifically, but I'll take your word for it.

Obviously there was no gravy train. UChicago was not the center of anything particular, just a geeky place where people even on the same campus made connections through geeky conversations on the Internet. I mean, there are certainly privileges that come from going to a well-respected college, but one's blog getting links from fellow undergrads at said college seems, with all due respect to the brilliant and high-achieving Crescat bloggers, kind of small potatoes.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Thanks Flavia. It does suck, but as I mention, it's a bit less sucky when you see it coming.

Britta said...

I for one am definitely a member of the libertarian trust fund conspiracy designed to up traffic on your blog! or...I'm a (Marxist) grad student who found your blog through googling something about the Reg one time, and liked your writing.

I seriously understand how stupid comments from people who should mean nothing to you can get under your skin. I've never had anything like a semi-ish high profile blog, but I once commented on some high traffic feminist site about how you could buy vegetables at prices cheaper than out of season at Whole Foods, and I swear the next 50 commenters were pretty angrily going on on how I must be a trust funder who likes to tell poor people how to live their lives, in increasingly exaggerated and indignant tones. Even though, what did I care? I got so angry I had to stop reading the blog for a very long time.

I know if it's semi-personal, it's harder to ignore, but even if it's someone you knew 100 years ago, they a) still don't matter in your life now, and b) if they feel they have to bash you in obviously untrue terms on the internet, then you can take satisfaction in knowing you're a better person than they are on some level.

Amber said...

Fucking Unfogged. I like some of the people who post on Unfogged individually, but as a collective they often congeal into a clot of overintellectualized bitter tribalism.

Miss Self-Important said...

Here. Hardly offensive, but I found it while Googling myself once.

What is the appeal of open threads about dating that garner 400 posts from pseudonymous troll-like people? Are these all academic trolls, is that it?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


If you're affiliated with UChicago, you're clearly part of the conspiracy to make me... head blogger? Of what? I should really be at the very least getting paid for this, or determining policy, if I've accumulated such influence.

But yes, things that shouldn't get to you can still get to you. Who likes being called annoying and entitled? The entire your-privilege-is-showing ethos is about telling people that anything going well in their lives is unfair, which I suppose is where the conspiracy theory regarding how I came to have a blog that people outside of immediate family members might read. What was most ridiculous here, again, was that what's the great achievement? More than three people read my blog? Who cares if it was via some other blog whose bloggers I knew in college, or if it was handed down via some kind of bloggy trust fund? Having a blog that more than three people read is not quite the privilege it was being made out to be!

The Whole Foods incident you cite does sound familiar. It reminds me of part of the last Unfogged fiasco - that time, unlike this, I commented there to speak up for myself, and, if I remember correctly, something I commented about how J.Crew sale stuff can be plenty cheap led to a thing about how one's privilege is showing if one has even considered entering J.Crew, even if one has done so knowing full well that the full-price stuff is out of one's budget. Who has the time? But did it make me think for a moment that maybe I really am the rich bitch they were claiming, despite considering $30 the high end for pants, and that my income is a stipend, and that my post-grad-school best-case-scenario would not be all that high-paying? Of course - that's what it means when something gets to you. But it didn't make me 'question my privilege' in any productive way. It just highlighted how far off they were about the nature of any privilege I do have, thus highlighting the most salient area in which I, a grad student, lack privilege, namely the ability to afford full-priced J.Crew!


Thanks, but I wouldn't describe what I've been the recipient of, this time or last, as "overintellectualized bitter tribalism." It just felt like an entire (portion of a) thread of trollery, overintellectualized only insofar as they're calling me names, but "fat" - the usual go-to to insult women - isn't one of them.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks for showing me what it was. And I'm both in agreement and glad that it wasn't anything insulting. The Dysentery remark, to be clear, was a reference to the line from "Annie Hall" about how "Commentary" (right-wing) and "Dissent" (left-wing) might have merged to form their own publication, and what that publication should be called. 2006 Phoebe, add links to things like that!

Which are the "open threads about dating that garner 400 posts from pseudonymous troll-like people"? Is that what's on the rest of Unfogged? Or is this in reference to something else? The "game" blogs Whatever it is, it does sound idiotic.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

*add links to explain things like that

Britta said...

I guess the fact I am a grad student, didn't go here for undergrad, don't read the Maroon, and have never met anyone who knows you doesn't exempt me from the UChicago conspiracy...

I have to admit I looked at Unfogged, and honestly, if that is the level of commentary (personal attacks, "hot-or-not" debates about your appearance), maybe you should be glad that they dislike you!

Also, from a brief snippet of what I read, one of the Unfogged posters said something along the lines that it is not that hard to get a nice woman's button up, just find one brand that fits and stock up. If having women's button up shirts anywhere fit you is not privilege, I don't know what is! :P

Amber said...

Oh, they're reveling in their perceived intellectual superiority all right. You care about clothes! Don't you know that true UChicago types confine their frivolousness to cock jokes on the internet?

Sigivald said...

I can't even remember how I found your blog.

Maybe via the lamented Crescat, possibly also via Miss Self Important or the like.

Which is kinda hilarious, since that's like the "UChicago nexus" theory, except I've never even thought about going there, let alone actually enrolled.

(Having just taken a quick peek at Unfogged, I don't see the appeal, but to each their own, I suppose.)

David Schraub said...

I had my edition of this in my extremely ill-fated guest blog stint at Feministe (which, admittedly, I partially brought upon myself -- Lauren warned me that the commenters might not react all friendly-like, and I blissfully ignored her/assumed I could handle it). So yeah, it's pretty atrocious.

Megan McArdle said...

That exclamation point seems gratuitous--I do like to support other female libertarian bloggers. Both of them.

On the rest . . . the dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. When you think of how poor the mental life must be of someone who wastes time ranting about how much they hate a total stranger on the internet, the sting is greatly lessened. And the rest of us are still awfully fond of your blog.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"If having women's button up shirts anywhere fit you is not privilege, I don't know what is!"

True enough! When some of us wear such shirts, too much "privilege" is always showing, so we don't wear 'em.


The ridiculous part of the OMG she's not an intellectual insult is that I'm well aware that I fit that type less than my CV or whatever would suggest. They picked up on some of my insecurities, I suppose, but I'm not


I think the trajectory, not unsurprisingly, was, first people who knew one another or at least of one another in real life read one another's blogs, then readers from further afield.

David Schraub,

Was this over Zionism? Feminism? I think that whenever a guest blogger shows up with a different voice, even, than what readers are used to, panic ensues. This happened recently at Jezebel where a post was considered not so much anti-feminist as too self-help-ish.

Megan McArdle,

1) The exclamation point is in reference to the fact that I'm not a libertarian, and am thus unlikely to receive favoritism on account of being one.

2) Thanks for the sensible and kind words!

Ben W said...

It certainly is instructive to see oneself('s blog) as others see it.

But really, some guy finds your blog annoying (surely no big deal), some other guy thinks you come off entitled (whatever), and someone else has totally outdated opinions about your blog (and I certainly don't think he meant "advertised" as in, for money), which even if they were informed wouldn't rise to the level of postulating conspiracy or injustice (and I have no idea what the person who thought the theory in contention explained a few things thought it actually explained, or how, but I find about 90% of what she says extremely puzzling) … I dunno, I can understand being ticked, but it doesn't seem quite at the same level as connecting you with McArdle's charity.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


As I mention, these particular remarks were gratuitously mean-spirited, but part of what I was reacting to was that I'd only even encountered Unfogged once before, which (as you know) was when a much worse pile-on was directed at me, and especially once I saw that preppy clothing store mentioned, I began to suspect that I was in for another round.

But come on. The fact that you're coming here to defend these kinds of comments makes me wonder why I'm even responding to this. I've quoted the things that were said, and others here, at least, who are not close personal friends of mine, and nor is this blog an acolyte-ish kind of place, seem to agree that the remarks were out of line.

Do you really think the answer is to tell bloggers who aren't even famous, aren't even writing anything super-controversial, to get a thicker skin? I mean, yes, it's ideal to have a thick skin, but the person to be telling others this isn't someone who goes around insulting people on the Internet.

I don't know how it usually goes down at Unfogged, but if pile-ons are the usual way, one day a thread will pick the wrong random blogger to pick on and get someone who will be very upset by this kind of thing. Yes, the comments stung, but I have other things going on that are both far better and indeed far worse than people thinking I'm entitled on the Internet. Do you think it's so important to be able to criticize random people on the Internet (as opposed to people with, you know, actual power in the world) that you're willing to risk really upsetting people?

And whereas the commenter at McArdle who believed I was the recipient of some kind of libertarian-female bloggy affirmative action was alone in this, both times at Unfogged, it's been a ganging-up atmosphere - there's a general consensus that a given person is the one who'll be mocked by all. Which changes things.

I finally did look again at the thread in which link brought Unfogged to my blog, and in which your wording made it clear what direction you wanted the thread to take, that I'm some kind of out-of-touch socialite. "Jesus, somebody should punch that woman in the nose" was what got the pile-on going. You responded, "Now, now."

This is not even getting into the unrelated thread there that I'd forgotten the details of, where you and another commenter/blogger/who knows debate my appearance and its appeal or lack thereof to another blogger. If you still think that sort of thing is reasonable, then consider this comment for others reading but not for you in particular.

PG said...

This is not even getting into the unrelated thread there that I'd forgotten the details of, where you and another commenter/blogger/who knows debate my appearance and its appeal or lack thereof to another blogger.

Jesus. There are people who think that sort of thing is defensible yet whose knuckles don't actually drag on the ground? Tacky doesn't begin to cover it.

And for the record, I'd present myself as an example of being able to disagree with Phoebe -- frequently! with much repetition! often at annoying length! -- without, to my recollection, ever engaging in personal attacks on or even personal speculation about her. I don't know that Phoebe would ideally want *more* commenters like me, but I suspect I'm greatly preferable to the Unfogged type.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks for seeing the distinction. I think it's worth noting that not only do we disagree all the time, but I never react to these disagreements by retreating, thin-skinned, into a corner, and complaining about having been dealt with insufficiently delicately.

Which is what I meant by WWPD not being an acolyte-blog. Yes, you're more of a debater than most, but the overall atmosphere is not one of implied agreement. Of course it's nice to get the occasional comment along the lines of, how right you are and how well-put. But it would get boring if that's all there was.

Someone who can only hear agreement (I'm thinking of this one professional personal-style blogger whose blog, as they typically are, is about posting pictures of herself in different outfits, but who insisted there be no comments critical of her outfits) has no place having a blog, let alone with a comments section. I mean, we have the right to edit our sites however we like, but if you're that sensitive to non-mean-spirited criticism, don't open yourself up to it.

But I'm not sure this is really a thick-vs-thin-skin issue. I don't feel as though debating this or that, with you or anyone else, requires me to have a particularly thick skin. Meanwhile, I think it's right to point out that nasty comments are hurtful even to those who'd like to think they'd be above caring what strangers on the Internet think. It's certainly better not to dissolve into a puddle of tears when such insults appear, but agreeing with the Unfogged types that their comments are "whatever" will encourage them to think such behavior is acceptable, and that those who are bothered by it are oversensitive, not mature enough to have robust discussions online, etc. Copping to some sensitivity may encourage them, as it does with schoolyard bullies, but in the case of adults on blogs, encourage them to do what? Be even nastier and look even more ridiculous?

CW said...

I've never commented here before, but I think those comments are nasty and incorrect. I regularly read this blog because you write well and have interesting things to say. Sure, I followed a link here from one of the Atlantic bloggers (probably McCardle), but I kept coming back because of your content. That's what brings in and keeps readers. I didn't go to the U of C (in fact, my parents, who had gone there in the 70s, promised their friends when I was born that I would never study there), and have no personal connection to you.

David Schraub said...

It was on Zionism, and more specifically, the intersection between anti-Zionist/Israel politics and anti-Semitism, and the need to locate anti-Semitism inside the broader corpus of anti-subordination theory developed for racism, sexism, and other like concerns.

Which I posted in the middle of Cast Lead.

Bad timing, that.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...



David Schraub,

Claiming anti-Semitism is a relevant ism is, in your-privilege-is-showing circles, akin to saying that you (not you-personally) feel oppressed on account of being an upper middle class white person from a family that values education and probably lives in some coastal hub of achievement and organic vegetables. Peace could be declared in the Middle East and that would still be how they'd view it.

Perezoso said...

"""I still don't quite know what Unfogged is.'""

It's a collection of human garbage--that's what it iz. Terrorists, really . They will be exposed soon

They're the mockery of progressive blogging. Even semi-rational jews should oppose those piece of scheisse. Note that many are from Stanford U. That should give you a hint of their politics--ie, the DiDi Feinstein right.