by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
When I was at the Mirror I wrote a review that mentioned a female actor—working in the alternative theatre scene—in glowing terms. I got an anonymous letter afterwards the gist of which was, "Why are you wasting column inches on her." The punchline I remember vividly: "She's a cunt."
I thought at the time: my God! These people (the indies) eat their young! I have never been able to figure out the agenda of the letter-writer. Maybe she was a nasty person, or he a jilted lover. But what did it matter? It was not germane to the discussion. It struck me as sinister. Stalker-shit.
One very handsome, but utterly talentless, actor sent a letter saying that my opinions were as ugly as I was.
Later I had what the RCMP told me, at the time, was a good old-fashioned cyber-stalker. He was relentless. I sent his emails (with the hidden headers) to the cops when I discovered an internet rumour was being spread by this person that I was a pedophile.
So, why do I allow anonymous posting into the CharPo forums (and quite a lot of it for Patrick Goddard's recent article)? First, I don't like censorship in any form. Second, because MELT (Montreal English-language theatre) is a small community and discussion within it is crucial and some people have legitimate things to say and don't want to lose a chance to work with someone who might take legitimate commentary in the worst possible way. (Hey! There is no shortage of neurotics in theatre.)
To illustrate, let me recount a story where someone should have stayed anonymous. It was during a period of time when I was blackballed at Centaur Theatre. There was quite a lot of mail to Hour, my paper then, for and against me. One very handsome, but utterly talentless, actor sent a letter saying that my opinions (none of which had to do directly with him) were as ugly as I was. Hurtful, yes, and the paper did not print it; it smelled too much like the actor was currying favour with Centaur. Like I said: he should have stayed anonymous because the guard has changed at the Old Stock Exchange and he scored no brownie points as the letter wasn't published anyway. The wiser thing would have been...well...to say a wise thing. There was a tiny part of me that admired that he had signed his letter (even as there was a huge part of me that enjoyed that he has since gotten paunchy and his pretty face did not stand the test of time particularly well and has since been lifted and botoxed into rigidity).
However...there are limits.
To get back to the here and now, none of this means I like anonymous posting. It feels, a good deal of the time, sinister. In the case of many of the anonymous posts in CharPo, you'll also find that it is stupid and has the distinct pong of a settling of scores. Basically these sad, sexless posts read as: I think you're a fuckwad but I want to work with you anyway.
Sadder still is that many of us strongly suspect who the poster is (he has a typical writing style and a standard-issue list of man-in-the-moon enemies).
But, a nice thing is that I don't have to remove the posts as they provide a focus to the discussion—other posters seem to make an effort to further elevate the debate away from these posts—and the other people posting tend to put this pathetic little soul in his place.
However...there are limits. The Editor-in-Chief at CharPo, Estelle Rosen, and I can begin moderating all discussions if they get truly vile (we'll know it when we see it) and with the click of a mouse. That, though, neither of us want to do for the above stated reasons. But we encourage all inside and outside of theatre to post their names when they comment.
It shows two things: that you respect the person you are discussing; that you respect what you have to say.