Thursday, February 21, 2008

Every rainbow has to have an end

Every rainbow has to have an end
A pot of gold or dreams foretold, may not be there, my friend
In this high and mighty world we live in
sometimes we have to break, we have to bend.....

Strange thing about the Internet/World Wide Web in the early days: the Utopian ideal of sharing ideas freely and all usernames were equal regardless of whose account they were associated with actually existed briefly.

My friend list consisted of music fans around the USA, magazine editors, road crews past and present, and musicians - including my old crush. Imagine The Surreal Life in cyberspace and without cameras. And it was just fun. Horizons were opened and introductions were made all around, and some long-standing fantasies were fulfilled. Chat rooms were like nightclubs without bouncers; anyone could come in and sit together and it didn't matter who you were IRL.

But it didn't last long. Many bands and artists found that their very presence changed the fabric of each community. Usually fans communicating together, in the days before the Web, was just fans and artists were left to guess, wonder, or not care what was said. But now, artists could be voyeurs into fan gossip sessions. It was just too irresistible on both sides: the artists couldn't stand to be so close to their fans' real thoughts without peeking in, and fans couldn't resist the direct contact. No artist thought before now that maybe they wouldn't like everything they saw/heard fans saying; no fan imagined that an artist would object to their bull sessions.

So small arguments and extensive discussions among fans took a different tack. They didn't snuff themselves out anymore. If an artist is watching or participating, a subset of the group would do the usual suckup reserved for meet-and-greets. "I want to get more attention, so I'll just agree with everything that Joe Drummer says. So he likes me - woohoo!" The term "attention whore" hadn't been created yet, but this is what led up to it. It's difficult to not get caught up in the whirlwind of having a (gasp!) celebrity come and visit your little realm.

But what if you don't agree with everything Joe Drummer says? "Hey, this is the 'Net, I can share my opinion, too! It's just as valid and the First Amendment will protect me."


Well, more like "Remember the First Amendment protects your freedom of speech from the government, not from a musician with a fragile ego and an attitude problem."

Fan groups split, on average, within 3 months after the object of their affection joined the scene. It wasn't always obvious with fighting and flaming and the cyber equivlent of a riot. More like a quiet muffling; you could tell who didn't agree with sentiments expressed by the "artist in residence": they just stopped talking. Everyone just parroted what the artist thought, or said things they thought he wanted to hear. Real thoughts were shared only in private - or so many thought.

The "upsucking" eventually takes a malicious turn: some people just aren't happy unless they are the Number One Fan According to the Artist In Residence. If one of these individuals thinks that the artist is building a friendship with someone other than themselves, they'll break it up. As incredible as it sounded at the time, rumors and innuendo spread more quickly and were harder to disprove in this new medium. Today cyberbullying is such common knowledge that local newscasts and national talk shows build entire programs about it. Legislation due to the phenomenon is discussed in some state governments. But at the time, with such a new medium and such little experience with it, this degree of malice and the lengths it could travel were shocking.

I was on the receiving end of it. My first experience with cyberbullying came when someone whispered in my friend's cyber-ear that I was harming their reputation and repeating personal information to the public that was too intimate to bear.

Problem: I never had that kind of personal info to spread.
Bigger problem: I couldn't disprove it. How do you prove a negative? What part of "I didn't do it!" can be made more convincing?

So my old crush and new friend became my old friend and new enemy. He believed the rumors and lit into me on a fan forum - open to the public. Then the suckups joined in and reinforced the lie. Because it was posted in public, and supported by the "Artist in Residence", it was accepted as fact almost universally. Those supposedly close friendships with other fans that I had cultivated were vaporized.

Now wrap your head around this: Adolescent crushes run deep. They root themselves in the very dawn of your awareness of your adult emotions. Fate saw to it that somehow we not only met, but were able to converse regularly and become better acquainted. Then he turned on me like a rabid dog. It's not just the cyber "friendship" that crashes - it's a few key emotional foundations.

There are no real words for this. "Shattered" gets you in the ballpark. "Disorienting" works too. You twist in the wind looking for any emotional support to cling to. I did EVERYTHING wrong. I clung and whined and demanded more support from my remaining friends than they could handle or provide. They didn't need the drama any more than I did. I lost those remaining friends too.

Worst of all, I tried to just "move on" like nothing happened. I wanted to stay and enjoy the music. After all, that's where everything started, with the music. There would have been no crush without chords and lyrics and melodies. Nor would there have been any online friendships without the music in common to enjoy and discuss or even argue about.

I made myself pretty miserable by putting on what I thought was a brave face. I tried to continue to go to concerts and events. It just wasn't the same. The music that I loved and supported and identified with was now associated with lies, rejection, and hate. I couldn't even stand going to a concert - I was afraid to show how much I enjoyed it. Because if someone saw me participating, a new round of insults would start over. I had a career and home to think about and what started on the Web was spilling over into real-life stalking.

The only way to ensure that I would be insulated from this disaster was to leave all of it behind. The records, tapes and CDs were packed up. Not just this band, but all of it. No photos or autographs or posters. I threw myself into my job. I racked up a ridiculous amount of overtime and exhausted myself. I spent time with the TV when at home. I didn't show enthusiasm or emotional vulnerability - I got much better at covering up that heart on my sleeve. Whatever it took to seal myself off from that hateful wave and would stop. Maybe.

I thought it was a part of life - sometimes a chapter closes and another opens. I thought of music here as a chapter, not as a piece of my soul that I was making myself live without. Music and my love of it died that year in the late 1990s. Part of me died too, but I was too wrapped up in survival to care.

Feeling pain's a hard way to know you're still alive
But someday, someone will make you glad you survived

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