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Like Mean Girls With 401(k)s
Being on Facebook means high school cliquishness never has to end.
There exists this myth of stranger–danger on the internet—the faceless, child–molesting folk devil that drives the sanest of social networkers (and their moms) into an anxious moral panic. But the invisible lurker, the Dateline NBC predator who hides behind a screen name in an anonymous chat room or message board, is not the most threatening menace of online socialization. The biggest danger on the Internet is your pre–existing circle of acquaintances, those relationships you’ve established in schools and bars and workplaces, with whom regular interactions occur outside of instant messaging and shared items on your Google Reader.
The scariest online interactions take place not with buylling strangers, but with your very own friends. Because your friends are terrifying people, and online interactions replicate existing patterns of behavior than deviate from them.
How do I know your friends are horrible people? Because we all are. Call me Ms. Anthrope, but—regardless of any inherent sweetness, kindness or benevolence—we’re all lazy narcissists prone to fits of jealousy and passive aggressive cattiness. And the internet—Facebook in particular—provides the perfect forum in which to exercise that nasty passive aggression.
There is overt online aggression (homophobia, misogyny, racism, threats of violence, etc.), and there is creepy, crawly passive aggression, which is so much harder to diagnose and reconcile than the kind that’s clearly meant to harm. But it’s a threat that any girl who has weathered the terrains of high school will surely recognize.
What do I mean by passive aggressive Facebook behavior? Let me give you some examples from my life and the lives of some forthcoming friends.
• S. complained recently of being made to feel more like a wannabe than a queen bee, a position she hasn’t been relegated to since her cliquey pre–teen years. College acquaintances she had thought were true blue friends visited Philly for the weekend, stayed with another supposed true blue friend a block away from her apartment, and did not bother to call her up and invite her to join the revelry. How did she found out about this exclusive weekend of S.–less fun? Facebook photos, of course. An entire album labeled ”Philadelphia,” tagged with each of her ”friends” smiling, drinking, shopping, all without her. ”I know they posted them so I’d see them and know I wasn’t invited,” she says. Sound like paranoia? A bit. But that’s the thing about Facebook passive aggression. It can never be proven. The victim must entirely deduce the meaning, which the cruel enactors rely on and expect.
• Another friend, M., freely admits to engaging in Facebook passive aggression. Her act was a slight attempt at ex vindication, therefore forgivable and even commendable. A long–distance boyfriend cheated on her with another girl. M. found that girl on Facebook, informed her of her sweetheart’s straying ways, and that girl got rid of the dirty charlatan, too. Eventually M. and the mistress became Facebook friends, and then when M. had a work thing in the mistress’s hometown, they met up and became real–life friends. They documented the event with a photo, which they posted to Facebook, in hopes the long–distance cheater would see it. He did. Passive aggressive Facebook retribution? So much more satisfying than keying his car.
Other friends tell stories of being de–friended and of friend requests going ignored; of mean–spirited hometown frenemies (the kind who made adolescence unbearable) friending them only to judge accomplishments and profile pics rather than to respond to messages of, ”Hi, how are you?”; of exes posting smug photos with their new partners too soon after the split.
My woes of Facebook passive aggression could fill an entire column. My own experience includes one individual who decided she could no longer be friends with me because—despite her long–term relationship with a man she’s all but set to marry—she is in love with my boyfriend.
This sort of girl–on–girl passive aggression that flourishes on Facebook is unfamiliar to most of our adult ways—a behavior I’d thought would vanish once we became old enough gossip about 401(k)s and bosses and babies rather than one another. But Facebook seems to be bringing high school behaviors back in the most hurtful of ways.
Cliquishness, exclusionary social engagements, alienation, silent treatments, ”de–friending,” scheming to make other girls question their intelligence, beauty, boyfriends and girlfriends—these are not adult behaviors. These are behaviors of children, of the cast of Mean Girls, of the teenagers in studies by Mary Pipher , Rosalind Wiseman and Rachel Simmons. Are women regressing to that teenage state of silent and indirect aggression? Are we too afraid to speak out, and directly address and resolve the issues we have with our friends, those most important of people? Does Facebook make it too easy to opt out of maturity?
Social networking throws us into this constant state of high school reunionness. Every second of the day we are finding and being found by people from our past. We are holding ourselves up against others, and we are reverting to our former allegiances and abhorrences, and to the kind of behaviors that accompany that frame of mind.
These sorts of destructive online acts of passive aggression need to stop. But like I said, online behaviors replicate rather than deviate from real–life behaviors. So we’ve got a lot of work set out for us.
In other news…
I’m keeping this short because I’m super busy baking and digesting pies, but here goes. Thanks to a tip from Whitney over at Pop Candy, I picked up the complete series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Amazon.com for $69.99, which is unheard of, as it usually retails for closer to $200. Sorry, folks, the box set’s back up to its usual wallet–busting price, but still makes an excellent, if fairly un–frugal, gift for the ass–kicking girl in your life. Now I own the complete My So–Called Life and the complete Buffy. Dearest MTV, where are you going to release Daria on DVD, and not just the special, movie–length episodes? Speaking of Buffy, its creator Joss Whedon did an interview with Mother Jones that made me realize why I adore (almost) everything he’s ever touched. ”Womb envy.” Take that, Freud. Hey, did you know that straight men love Rachel Maddow as much as you do? Now you know. Also, watch the clip just to see Rachel explain the best part about coming out: ”Nobody can insult you by telling you what you just told them.” I’d say that’s a decent rule for life. Another woman I admire, Laura Bush, is working on her memoirs. Meanwhile, Jodie Sweetin—the annoying middle child from Full House—is working on hiring a ghostwriter to pen her tell–all. Hey, if Marcia Brady can come out a New York Times best–selling autobiography, Stephanie Tanner and the soon–to–be–former First Lady oughta be able to, too. Perhaps in an attempt to make amends for getting rid of its lesbian character, Grey’s Anatomy is bringing in Jennifer Westfedltfor a patient story arc later this season. Jennifer, of course, co–wrote, co–produced and co–starred in Kissing Jessica Stein, the most adorable of bi–curious comedies (yes, that is the original, Jill Sobule ”I Kiss a Girl” in the trailer; screw you, Katy Perry). Even if you’re not the slightest bit queer, go see Gus Van Sant’s Milk this weekend. It’s got to be better than any of the cartoons, pandering clichés or Australia, which stars the world’s worst actress and the world’s sexiest man. Final note: Thanksgiving was yesterday, so I’m sharing what I’m thankful for: Puppies, pedestrian safety and dental hygiene. Also, plates of expensive cheese and bottles of cheap wine, and people to share them with.
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