As we watch them fall
Every few weeks this disgruntled reader writes me an e-mail to tell me how annoying I am and how much he hates my column. My correspondence with Disgruntled Man (DM) started innocently enough with what I would consider your run-of-the-mill negative feedback. On Aug. 2, he writes: “Your column seems to be a personal broadcast that you are an outdoorswoman extraordinaire and someone of significance because you live in the mountains. The style in which you write portrays a desperate author trolling for attention and suffering from low self-esteem. You come off as a condescending elite who wouldn’t be caught dead with a ‘regular’ job and you seem to convey that your readers must all be schmucks if they chose a different path.”On Aug. 8 he gets more personal: “Grow up already! Your column sounds like a high school journal for crying out loud.”Then he goes for my audience on Aug. 16: “I predict that if you don’t wise up soon and start writing to a larger audience, you will spend the rest of your life in Aspen being treated like a child wannabe. Make no mistake, neither the fine, wealthy folk in Aspen nor the blue-collar folk in Carbondale or Glenwood take you seriously. By your own admission, you target the college crowd and those 30-somethings who haven’t figured out what they want to be when they grow up. Not exactly a loyal bunch who will support your career long term.” On Sept. 6 it was my friends: “Kind of funny that you write a weekly column about how cool you and your mountain friends are yet you end up revealing the fact that your lifestyle is rather monotonous.”Then on Jan. 3 it’s my town: “Aspen blows. Anyone who’s been in Colorado for any length of time knows not to go there as it’s filled with self-absorbed jerks or Telluride-wannabe’s [sic]. Then he goes after the easiest target in ski towns: “What is it with snowboarders anyway? Do you feel you’re ultra-cool with those stupid clothes or what? Get a life and stop writing to everyone within earshot about your self-absorbed one [sic]. You’re annoying already! They’re MY beloved rocky mountains, not yours. Just shut up and go back to New Jersey or wherever the hell you’re from.”Last week’s column about the media’s treatment of Olympic athletes got me thinking DM, and what appears to be a larger cultural trend for which the media itself is largely responsible.It seems there is nothing people love more than to watch others fail, particularly those who are in the spotlight. The star is put on a pedestal only so everyone gets a better view of his or her demise. It’s like this skewed voyeurism, only more perverse, guttural, predatory and even lazy. Rather than cheer people on (whatever happened to rooting for the home team, for God’s sake?), it’s like we want them to fail. Maybe it makes them more human, or maybe there is just something about watching other people suffer that makes us feel less inadequate, less dissatisfied with our own lives.E-mail from pissed-off readers is familiar territory for any columnist. In fact, it’s what we thrive on, the ultimate indication that someone not only took the time to read what you wrote, but to react to it. A reaction is what you’re after, because ultimately, the idea is to generate thought and discourse over whatever topic you happened to choose. But I have to admit, there are times when it gets a little overwhelming, when your efforts to maintain a professional front begin to fail and your feelings begin to seep in.Bode’s ordeal got me thinking about DM because I know he’s dealing with millions of guys just like that, only on a much larger scale. I don’t care how strong or reserved the guy is, or how good he’s become at putting up this lackadaisical front in public. He might be a sick athlete and a young guy with a bull-headed attitude, but he’s still human. Even if he managed not to let his failures at the Olympics get to him, I’m sure the public backlash probably did. Ultimately, his true strength is in never letting us see him crumble. Perhaps that is his best performance of all.That’s why the response to last week’s column on Miller was so refreshing. The dozens of e-mails I received were varied in terms of opinion, but thoughtful, intelligent and better yet, plentiful. This was clearly an issue readers cared about enough to share their opinions in a substantial, considerate way rather than unleash a personal attack on Bode (or on me as the writer, for that matter).And what do you know – I didn’t hear a word from DM. But to be fair, my conclusion is that ultimately, the material dictates the response and the burden of responsibility should fall on the performer and not the audience.Alison Berkley can be reached at email@example.com
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