5 ways poetry doth rock

Clostridium-difficile_456pxA friend this week shared a poem as her Facebook status, resolved that 2014 would be the Year of Viral Poetry. The game went: “Like” it and she would assign you a poet. Thus tagged, you must plunge into this master’s work, like unstopping a brain clog — getting down and dirty, because contemporary poetry has fewer rules than the augured couplets of ninth-grade Honors English. Next, share your wonder by pasting in a poem as your status. So non-status-quo!

Then, as others glom onto you with “Like” petals, you’ll divine, assign, entwine, and this rivulet of streaming consciousness become a swollen wave to displace the dreariness of insipid trumpery.

That was the plan.

c-diff-photo-300x225.jpgSo I dove, cannonballed, belly-flopped into the source material, hoping to dislodge a pearl from the sandy, stingy depths of complacency. But that poem seemed just words randomized, a word cloud, a fluffed pillow of broken dreams, alphabet soup. This poem didn’t speak to me. Another poem sabotaged itself with quirk. The famous series — mere postcards to a celebrity. I rifled, like a picky eater with a shellfish allergy, through the digital poem links, downloaded mp3’d poems, YouTubed and buzz-fed for a Great Poem, one that itself might be shared exponentially. The more I typed “poem” the more it didn’t look write [sic]. A tiny voice started whining: How did she get to be an acclaimed poet? Who is she to pout and ponder? What makes these word choices arranged this way art, and others but utterances? And isn’t “WordPress” so aptly named — we’re all just slaving in a word mill of meaninglessness, churn, churn, churn.

light-virus-1I begrudgingly posted one — of course about death, too obvious — stating I didn’t really like this one, but it’s published, it must be worthy … and waited for the thunderous clap of “Likes” and my turn to pick a pack of poetic, pickled, plucking peckers. … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … Hello? … … … … … … … … … Is this thing on? … … … … … … … Turned out my friend had assigned me one of her poetry teachers, ouch, and I had probably offended everyone in the room.

Tonal2

The word cloud I created from the poem I chose to post, “Tonal,” by Julia Bloch.

‘Course I think that I’m halfway smart and thoroughly understood this poem. Then my friend analyzed the poem … and in the process psychoanalyzed me. She showed me I had been applying my editing skills, and a poem is not necessarily built to withstand the acid tests. I had been reading it wrong, trying to sniff out the person behind the pen, legitimize her, case some logic or crack some code. Worse, I had been reading just the words.

Here is what I discovered about poetry through this fanciful Facebook exercise:

1. There is no “About Me” in poetry.

What was all that we learned in school about the id, the ego and the super-ego? Well, writers have ego. Writers-editors, super-ego. But the poet knows only the id, and that’s not spelled “I-D,” as in construct a Gravatar and share a little something about yourself in three pithy sentences. The poet dissolves amid the fluid exchange of lucidity.

2. Poems have an “interiority” complex.

This goal of “going viral” with a poem? Ridiculous. It’s already viral in the smallest and largest (universal) sense of the word. It connects like a unicellular predator inside of you and eats at you and decimates your defenses. You can’t put the experience “out there.” It’s like “E.T: The Extraterrestrial,” both outlandish and “right here.” It is of creation. A fabrication of the fabric of life. So there’s little point in sharing. That would be redundant.

3. To appreciate poetry, you must reject authority.

As puzzling as a poem might be, and as clever as you think you are in unlocking its meaning, there is no answer sheet. As my friend pointed out, “Is the poet the ultimate authority of her work? I think not.” You aren’t, either, because the next time you attend to it, it may strike you differently.

4. There’s death in every poem.

Writing may bring some immortality, but an immortal poem confronts death as the life-affirming force it is. What is life but the absence of death? When we write poetry, we are, in the most reductionist sense, tangling with mortal measures — and that’s why I’m writing this at 3 a.m., praying someone will hear, or care.

5. We are all poets.

What’s really happening on Twitter, Facebook and the “Like”? A percolation of delineated and concentrated thought that congeals — like the creation of a Facebook status or that guy’s blog post, “Marriage Is Not for Me,” going viral — it was really his headline that did it. Yes, a certain twist on words, or something that connects, strums, makes inner music that others dance to. Our accidental choices mixed with nail-biting deliberations produce a form of condensed poetry, every time. We blindly follow the rules while cloyingly obliterating them. Technology is the platform for us to rise to the next stage, to one-up ourselves, but we stay above it, hovering, waiting for that next burst of creativity or clarity.

And that’s why I sat agape watching this commercial the other night, pondering: Is 2014 indeed the Year of Viral Poetry? “That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” — Walt Whitman, taking flight on an iPad Air.

Powerful play, Apple.

Oh, and jk about the “5 ways.” There are hundreds more, but I’m clearly no authority.

There is an afterlife, after all

In college, my medical-student boyfriend’s idea of a good time was to get me liquored up and sneak into the dissection laboratory. Not where they kept the frogs, cats or pigs — where they kept human shells.

I remember ogling one cadaver, an elderly man, somebody’s dearly departed grandfather who was completely naked. His spotted skin — age spots — had a faint yellow-blue haze, likely from chemicals replacing his bodily fluids. His mouth was propped open, possibly wired. I half-expected to hear him snore or cough up phlegm, he seemed that real. That is, “recent.” His hair was stubble — maybe former military, because other than being dead he looked in decent shape — and age spots showed through on his scalp, too. His toes were bulbous. His wrinkles stood starched, like peaks of bakery meringue.

The shock came when I walked around the table and saw he was sawed in half. Everything from his brain to his penis was bisected like a magician’s trick turned sour. I peered through a diorama of tissue that brought back the cellophane leaflets of childhood encyclopedias. Dead nerves, numbed senses — the halved eyeball a particular eye-opener.

University-affiliated programs supply an estimated 10,000-15,000 cadavers a year to nearly 140 medical schools in the USA. Of those, a portion are rejected because of weight and height limits. Embalming adds at least 40% of deader weight to what the scale read for the animated organism, making an obese person all the more difficult for morticians or technicians to manipulate. Cutting through so much fat would likely frustrate students who are going after just the basics of anatomy, the rationale goes. Grim fact: If we don’t take care of our bodies while alive, we make disgusting death specimens, facing eternal rejection.

That old man on the lab table made an everlasting impression on me. I didn’t know his name or handshake, his laugh or hobbies, but I might carry our encounter, now three decades old, to my own grave. His family couldn’t know him as I did. I saw his core and admired him for working the afterlife so hard — unwittingly teaching those whose business would be saving and prolonging lives of others.

So when my father recently circulated an e-mail to me and my siblings announcing his decision, along with my mom’s, to donate their bodies to science, I felt no squeamishness. I was proud and comforted that their end — not if but whenever those horrible days would come — could be extended, like an extended warranty on their service to the world.

“We can see no advantage of our bodies decomposing in a casket,” Dad bluntly wrote. “What is your opinion of this? Does it give you a problem or does it distress you?” And he provided this link to answer any questions we had about the process in our state.

Burying a body, by comparison, seems a stingy way to go. Even the worms have their work cut out for them, forced to drill through shellacked cherrywood, then layers of satin bunting to get the goods. While taking my aerobics through a nearby cemetery, I’ve often wondered where we get all the space to bury people. Certainly, if we all ended up with headstones marking off forever turf we’d run out of room on this planet — saving any macabre form of timeshare/rotation on plots performed centuries after generations have turned over.

A Tibetan sky burial site

Good thing then that some people choose cremation, burial at sea and other forms of disposal that seem, on the surface, less space-hogging. My Buddhist daughter no doubt wants the greenest burial she can conjure, and her bird-loving sister has toyed with the notion of a Tibetan sky burial — in which a body is stripped, filleted and placed on a mountaintop to “feed the birds.” An attractive, if unattractive, way to quickly return some of the Earth’s supply of nutrients while lifting one’s essence closer to the purported heavens.

In the end, humans’ melancholic nature may demand a mourning site. There’s nothing quite as poignant as an empty chair at the holiday table, whether Tiny Tim’s or Uncle Jim’s. Since Neanderthal days, beings like us have set up monuments to missing relatives — rows of voided lives, buried artifacts, out of sight but not out of mind.

Our collective minds are what make the deceased larger than life.

Meanwhile, my dad, of sound mind, already has expressed his dying wish to me: “I just want to discover all that there is to know, like a cognitive blinding light.”

FOREVER AT OUR FINGERTIPS

In the ethereal online world, we also reserve empty spaces for pouring out our souls over the loss of a loved one. Rather than pull the plug, Facebook enshrines profiles long after statuses stop updating; a bereaved community can continue posting live thoughts to the wall, like a virtual Wailing Wall or granite “Wall” on the Mall, breaking down the wall between now and then, here and thereafter.

Facebook even asked me recently if I wanted to friend someone who died three years ago. That gave me pause.

Bob Twigg was a colleague at USA TODAY who won the lottery two decades ago and quit. He died in 2009. Was the Facebook friendship suggestion really him reaching out from beyond the grave to give me good lottery numbers?

Yet so many — from Abe Lincoln, now enjoying box-office success and possible Oscar buzz with Lincoln, to Freddie Mercury of Queen, who still gets air time at countless sporting events — never witnessed their full impact on the world. Here’s a short list of creative souls who had more success posthumously than while breathing:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – He composed over 600 timeless works, ever struggling for a stable income or a court appointment, and famously died a pauper. Cause of death remains circumspect. Even after rave reviews for The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, according to Bio, the range of his full genius was lost on his contemporaries — he was more like a “child star.”

In [Mozart's later years in] December 1787, Emperor Joseph II appointed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as his “chamber composer,” a post that had opened up with the death of Gluck. … It was a part-time appointment with low pay, but it required Mozart only to compose dances for the annual balls. The modest income was a welcome windfall for Mozart, who was struggling with debt.”

Vincent Van Gogh’s “Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers”

Vincent Van Gogh — His art career lasted only 10 years and coincided with frequent bouts of depression and what others termed madness. He sold only one painting in his lifetime. Meanwhile, in 1987, his Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers introduced a new era of stellar art trades when it sold for $81 million, tripling the previous auction record. His most fetching work to date: Portrait of Dr. Gachet, valued in today’s dollars at $147.8 million, marks the fifth-most expensive painting ever purchased at auction. His death was called a suicide, but reports have surfaced indicating he took responsibility for the fatal gunshot to cover up the role of some neighborhood bullies he considered among his few friends.

John Kennedy Toole – Eleven years after the author committed suicide, his A Confederacy of Dunces, considered a canonical work of Southern literature, was published, winning him the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981, posthumously.

Stieg Larsson — The Swedish journalist behind The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was the second-best-selling author in the world for 2008 (behind Khaled Hosseini), four years after he had died suddenly of a heart attack. His novels were published posthumously, which is why, I’m thinking, they’re so poorly written. By December 2011, his “Millennium series” had sold 65 million copies. Once you factor in the film adaptations, there was untapped fame and fortune the creator never knew.

A PUZZLE FOR POSTERITY

Just over a month ago, after a “missing” poster circulated on Facebook of a young man whom I did not know but who was enrolled at my children’s former high school, I joined a community of thousands, mostly strangers, in an offline search.

It was announced there would be a vigil after the homecoming game: Bryan Glenn was a football player who was supposed to be playing that day, maybe going to the dance that night. What better homecoming than to get this boy home to his parents, and soon. I went, camera in hand, in case the family wanted it recorded for Bryan to see later. He’d be overwhelmed to see how many people, mostly strangers, cared.

The fence beyond the football field was decorated with soda cups spelling out a directive, a prayer.

I arrived at the field at the tail end of the game (we won) and recognized virtually no one among those gathered. Several women got busy setting up for the vigil. One came over to the fence near me who didn’t seem as occupied, so I asked her whether she thought the family might want me to videotape. There were two local news crews, but I figured they wouldn’t capture every moment.

The woman, holding a small box of Kleenex, bubbled, “Oh, yes! I think that would be wonderful. Especially for his grandparents, and other friends and family overseas. Thank you!” I went on to explain I had only seen the flier on Facebook and felt compelled to come out and help if I could, because it affects us all, aren’t we all family? Plus, it was almost exactly a year ago that a dear friend’s son had gone missing.

“Oh?” she asked. “Was he found?”

I regaled her with the miraculous story of how that young man, about the same age as Bryan, left a note and was gone a few nights just before Halloween, that a cold spell had blown in — like the one forecast that weekend — but enough fliers had been circulated and a stranger in the next town over had recognized him from his photo, somehow persuaded him to get into her car and drove him back home. He had walked in the house when I was on the phone with his mother, and I overheard her heart skip a beat before her cries of relief and jubilation.

The woman loved the story, and we chatted about three minutes about heartbreak and frustration, until she said, “Yeah, but we don’t know anything, we have not a single clue.

“I am his mother, by the way.”

There would be no miraculous ending for her, her husband and Bryan’s little brother, who had been the last one to see him that balmy fall day, when Bryan dropped him off at school.

Searchers check a drain near Thaiss Park in Fairfax on Oct. 8, a few hours before Bryan Glenn’s body was found.

Or was there? More than 100 neighbors turned out the next Monday, a week after he’d gone missing, at the park where Bryan’s car had been found. Perhaps that in itself was a miracle — that determined volunteers, covering the same ground that police had in vain the week before, discovered his body, slumped against a tree, still standing, head bowed, looking like just another figure searching in the woods.

I considered taking down the YouTube videos afterward, thinking it in bad taste to retain public images of a family filled with such hope — a family that had grown into a countless crowd of well-wishers tossing wishes down a dark, cavernous well whose pingbacks rang hollow. Yet the video views literally doubled the next day. I realized those clips offered some comfort to mourners — something material to grab hold of when the immaterial overwhelms us.

A missing poster remained on the window of the Dunkin’ Donuts at Fairfax Circle where Bryan Glenn was last seen alive, on surveillance camera.

His “missing” posters also stayed up awhile — because missing him was the message, after all.

The mystery of what happened to Bryan may never be solved, no matter what toxicology and autopsy reports eventually reveal. UPDATE ON FEB. 25, 2013: Bryan’s death has been ruled a suicide by the medical examiner. See The Washington Post’s coverage, here.

Maybe something he scribbled somewhere or posted on the Internet may shed some light someday on what sent him into the woods, alone, lost. Maybe not a great work of art but something we can all relate to, something universal that will make us love him more. But his memory — a memory of someone I never knew — has become part of my daily life. Whenever I pass that park, so close to my home it’s hard to avoid, I think of him. I thought of him on Thanksgiving, and of his empty chair at the table, though I’ve never shadowed the threshold of the Glenn home, nor do I even know their real-world address.

Bryan still exists for each of us, for the hundreds of students and faculty at W.T. Woodson High School who didn’t have a chance to meet the new kid or who might have passed him in the hall or spoken words now elevated to epitaph — for the 3,443 people in his group on Facebook, who check frequently for news that doesn’t come.

Whether Bryan was out there under his own power or someone else’s, did he give any thought as he faded as to how he might be found? When he might be found, or by whom? Did he wonder about the reaction of friends or strangers — those three people who came face to face with his remains and could be haunted for life by the frightful sight. The searchers who needed grief counseling for weeks afterward.

Lucy, Turkana Boy or any of the fascinating paleontological discoveries made in our lifetimes have helped fill in missing puzzle pieces of human history. No matter their features or insights, one thing they had in common: They managed to die in a fortuitious, happenstance way as to become historic and represent an entire race or era of people. We speculate what they were doing on those fateful days of their deaths. What their lives were like. So, too, Bryan Glenn might have become a fossil and spoken volumes in some impossibly distant future, far more than our myopic tear-filled vision could ever realize. A truly teachable moment.

“Legacy” is a hard concept to live down. The jury remains out, uncontested. Any summary of our individual lives is beyond our control; it lies in the joined hands of the grief-stricken or historians or the otherwise insatiably curious.

The way society comes together when someone dies, though, is as natural and as strong a force as any dissected by physics. It is like filling in the displacement of water disturbed by a pebble. Water ripples outward and molecules immediately try to restore equilibrium, just as the inconsolable seek their uneasy peace — way different than before, with a new arrangement, new permanent and permeable connections made along the way.

It reminds us we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves, whether Internet or safety net. It’s a web with a backbone that carries on long after we’ve departed.

Bryan’s dad shared this photo on Facebook and wrote: “At Bryan’s graveside service yesterday a gathering of family and friends were blessed with this amazing sight…a visual message from Bryan telling us he is OK and with our Father. — at Arlington National Cemetery, Section 64.”

(After I posted this, I drove off to do some errands, and as I approached the park where Bryan died, there was this formation in the sky overhead — a doughnut, with the hole encircling the search area.)

Is there life beyond Facebook?

Is Facebook pulling the wool over users' eyes?

Imagine life without the Facebook. You may not have to imagine it; it could happen. Could you stand it?

Lemme think: I survived for a full and fruitful four decades without it. I do get sick of being digitally poked and prodded lately. We aren’t cattle after all, we’re sheep. (See “Like Facebook sheep to slaughter (LIKE!).) And don’t even get me started on Farmville; I strictly disallow such weed-like apps in my FB experience.

Facebook has its plusses: It has helped me reconnect with mentors whom I thought might have died by now. Funny how, in our teens and 20s, we assume all older people are WAY older; then, a few blinks later, they are our peers.

But be honest: We all have bones to pick with The Social Network. Its annoying layout changes no one requested; those creepy Big Brother ads that prove it does track our clicks and circulate our data; the peer pressure to friend strangers; the injustice of a Harvard dropout with few real-life friends becoming the youngest-ever billionaire with 750 million fake friends, 50% of whom log on every day to drain our nation’s productivity.

People spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, according to its FAQ page. Ever more sites are enabling our addiction with automatic sharing buttons and access frames through which other apps peer. Facebook execs also are targeting struggling media companies with tips on piggy-backing hits.

This has gotta be irritating to other geeks. So why wouldn’t sabotage be tempting? Worst of all, Facebook is one of those companies that has exported its headquarters to Ireland to escape twice-as-high corporate U.S. taxes, which means all the income we generate for it is being exported overseas, along with American jobs.

And a personal thorn …

Facebook's sacrificial lamb: She was only exercising her free speech right.

In February 2010, my daughter, a heavy Facebook user, was kicked off because of its self-policing policy that empowers fellow users to report abuse, the equivalent of a citizen’s arrest.

The Dresden Dolls -- shown in proportion to band contribution (to be honest, c'mon, and I love Brian as much as the next fan)

Her crime: sheepishly playing along with one of those viral games — the one where you choose a famous doppelgänger as your profile picture. She identifies with Amanda “the ‘F’ word” Palmer, the better half of the punk-cabaret duo Dresden Dolls (sorry, Brian), and who is all about free speech, file-sharing and uploading video of their concerts. To accompany a solo album, Palmer had collaborated with her husband-to-be, Neil Gaiman, on a lovely coffeetable book, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. My daughter chose, from its array of murder vignettes, an especially edgy shot and, bam, deactivated, no questions asked, no true appeal process. After a month of peaceful protest, we had to pull a few strings to get her account restored.

If Facebook were to be taken down even for a day, I might see it a bit as comeuppance.

License by CreativeCommons

But, really? A self-policing state, Facebook? Is that not socialism? Should we trust fellow users to make such judgments about what’s fair game, fair use, a fair call? Same thing with all these “report” buttons everywhere — “report as spam,” report abuse.” Even “like” and “dislike” have repercussions. Who is marking these things, and who comes along afterward as arbiter? No one. It’s chaos. It gives mere PEOPLE all the power!

License by CreativeCommons

Anonymous, this is the forum you are targeting. Socialist or fascist or cultist (blind leading the blind) … whatever it is, it is populism at play. 

Since its initial threat in July, Anonymous has backpedaled on its spin, saying it isn’t really out to destroy Facebook — that this is merely an awareness campaign; its followers are anti-following prophets. The simple message: Don’t trust Facebook with your private info.

The cornerstone of any civilized society, though, is trust. Although it’s called a “free”way, we trust other drivers not to use the roads as bumper-car courses. We trust, when we type in our credit card number and security code to purchase an Ahh Bra, that we won’t get charged for a Wurlitzer jukebox shipped from Germany to New Zealand. We trust that the man dressed like a security officer is not going to start shooting young children or blow up buildings. Although there are always bad apples, we also trust that there will be someone to protect us, in the end. And sometimes, we err on the side of “benefit of the doubt.”

In Facebook we trust. The omniprescent.

The chosen one: Mark Zuckerberg

Still. Mark Zuckerberg is not my shepherd. And though I walk into the valley of Farmville, I fear Facebook’s evil.

So whose side am I on? It’s complicated, as is my relationship to Facebook.

If it turns out, on Nov. 5, that the new social order we’ve come to know as Facebook — my friends and I even talk about Facebook when we get together face to face! — should bow to anarchy and destruction, maybe I’d have time enough, at last, to read all of those books I never get a chance to read.

Just like the socially disconnected Burgess Meredith, below, in the conclusion of this three-part Twilight Zone episode (have we drained enough of your time yet?):

What IS Anonymous’ beef with Facebook?

“Question Authority” is a catchy mantra for someone in college. With the perspective of age, though, I wonder about the difference between questioning and challenging authority. Where do we draw the line, and where does it become illegal, i.e. harmful to society?

A 1960 picture book etched into my brain, written and illustrated by Jo Ann Stover.

favorite childhood book of mineIf Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover — which, I realize now, formed the basis of my morality education at age 2 — posits a variation of the “jump off a cliff” refrain of parents: “What if everybody did?”

In other words, it might not hurt for me to litter my gum wrapper, but on the next page it would say, “What if everybody did?” and there would be a sea of gum wrappers, choking out all life and loveliness. Or, whom would it hurt if I spilled some tacks? Next page: This is what would happen if everybody did, and there would be people crying out in pain stepping barefoot on all the tacks. (Bonus lesson: It taught me the value of individuality, to not mindlessly follow the crowd. A bargain for a picture book priced today at $7.99.)

In my last post on Anonymous’ Nov. 5 threat against Facebook (not really a book), it wasn’t my intention to credit or blame the website as the sole driver of either social networking or flash mobs. Facebook simply gives a face to the phenom of society moving online. And The Social Network helped cement its marketing brand, although Facebook creators themselves staged a protest over that Oscar-winning spin.

More and more, as Facebook becomes the portal for Americans’ online experience — how many of you have it set as your “home” page? — the idea of any disruption of service starts to feel like a home invasion by people in freaky V for Vendetta-inspired Guy Fawkes masks.

So, what is Anonymous’ beef with Facebook?

Anonymity in the age of the Internet seems an oxymoron. Yet this loosely knit group of hacktivists thinks it knows enough to cover its tracks while it punishes the rest of us for being victims of sketchy privacy policies — for being naive or ignorant or, worse, too trusting.

It seems Anonymous considers Facebook fascist. 

Although I don’t condone hacking or theft, if you bother to read the available manifestos on Anonymous’ “OpFacebook,” the group’s ends, if not their means, do border on noble-sounding: A sampling:

  1. Expose Facebook’s crimes to as many people as possible.
  2. Scorn Facebook as much as possible in as many ways as we can scheme up.

For me, the jury’s still out on whether Anonymous is composed of freedom fighters or terrorists. Maybe Netflixing V for Vendetta would provide insight; alas I fear it, like this blog, offers more questions than answers.

In terms of cyberterrorism, though, I see little difference between Anonymous using our personal info without our knowledge to stage protests and the “evil empire” Facebook using our personal info in ways we user-sheep wouldn’t dream of. The real battle at hand may be as basic as geek vs. user. 

A Guy Fawkes mask. Guy Fawkes Day celebrates the day a British zealot was arrested, after his plot to blow up Parliament in 1605 was thwarted.

If I were Anonymous — and I’m far from it, just an overexposed blogger chick — I wouldn’t use as my default (profile picture) the face of a religious nut who sought to decimate the so-called reasonable representatives of the masses.

Is Anonymous’ true goal to get us to leave Facebook, to force positive change in its boardroom, or to destroy it — and online society — as we know it?

And, more important, what can I do to protect myself and my family? Even if I deactivated my account, it would be too late — my Facebook footprint is permanent and owned by a corporation. Hmm. Maybe it would be in my best interests if all that were destroyed.

Just don’t wanna lose my SCRABBLE stats and wry comments.

(In Part 2, we revisit our hero, Burgess Meredith, after the dastardly, senseless hydrogen bomb attack in Twilight Zone.)

Like Facebook sheep to the slaughter (LIKE!)

Sheep

On the bleat beat: Hackltivism BAAAAAAAAAD! (Image by James Good via Flickr)

Trembling, I type, joining a herd of quivering bloggers discussing Anonymous’ revolving threat to “kill” Facebook on Nov. 5. That would be Guy Fawkes Day, which honors a British zealot who in 1605 was thwarted in a plot to blow up Westminster Palace and the politicians meeting within.

Bleat the sheep: Hacktivism baaaaaaad. Facebook LIKE!

Still, I’m having trouble sorting out the “sides” in what seems a battle for cyberspace dominance lately. As a journalist, I thought “free speech” was always the good guy. Yet online, the idea seems in test mode, as social-media conflagrations blur lines of good and evil. 

Egypt sets off a chain reaction.

Take the increasingly popular “flash mob.” Once a vehicle for creativity and building community — e.g. stopping time in Times Square — it logically morphed into a tool of protest, e.g. Operation Hey Mackey, which took root in September 2009 at an Oakland Whole Foods to spotlight the “green” giant’s CEO’s seemingly hypocritical stance on health care.

Then from protest to revolution: Facebook famously provided the grid for the Mideast uprisings sown in Egypt in January, spreading democracy … we think. Taken to the extreme, flash mobs are becoming synonymous with crime — enter the looting gangs in Philadelphia and suburban D.C.

Can anarchy be far behind?

This past week, it looked like anarchy in San Francisco. Good vs. evil got blurrier as outrage over the July killing of a homeless man by Bay Area Rapid Transit system police escalated into scuffling protests that were, interestingly, incited by Anonymous and fueled by Facebook (on the same side?). In response, police shut down wireless access, clamping free speech — a blanket punishment to avert a blanket attack, confusing all of us about whose side the “authorities” are even on, and prompting compounded protests.

Confounding matters: Each “side” tries to blame the media for distorting its message … but who can even tell where media begin and end anymore? The “spin” on the Web is running rampant. I like to think of the news media as on the sidelines, as not having a side … but perhaps that exposes my naivete.

Here are two video messages representing two sides in the BART conflict. First, from “BART TV” — who knew? everyone has a channel! — with its “safety first” and “we’re doing this for your own good,” Brave New World feel:

Compare that to this creepy message from Anonymous:

Here’s hoping Nov. 5 proves a case of Bloggers Cry Wolf … as we bloggers feel especially vulnerable.

Privately, what makes me laugh is: At some level, we are all on the same side — wanting to be safe, free in speech and will, and at times just left alone in peace and anonymity.

(For your sidebar entertainment, here is a man terrorized both at work and in his own home for exercising his free speech right to read: Burgess Meredith, in Part I of a classic Twilight Zone episode.)