Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Horrible Allegation

After battling the cold and spending over three grand on a new furnace, Amy and I received a very disturbing email on Saturday. The message was sent by a former acquaintance who is not a friend of ours any longer (in fact, the email stated "We're not friends and I don't wish to be, however I can't allow this to happen to anyone I know"). The Good Samaritan told us to check out our Feast of Flesh page on the IMDb and told us that we should "do something about it".

I was sitting with my back to the door and a cyber terrorist came up behind me and shot me in the back of the head. Someone had taken it upon themselves to steal the review from—which is a legitimately negative (and scathing) review—and add a single line, hidden several paragraphs down, accusing me of being a "true life" criminal, guilty, it alleges of a particularly heinous crime. It was all of six words, but it was the most damaging accusation I've ever received and it was—I hope it goes without saying—completely untrue.

I've been accused of being a lot of things, many of them justifiable and fairly accurate. I'm belligerent, egotistical, sarcastic, insulting, unnecessarily cruel to family and friends—I'm not proud of (most of) these things. But I can't deny they're true. But I'm not a criminal of any sort and I'm not a danger to anyone. And I didn't appreciate being accused of such. At all.

(This blog is going to be vague for a variety of necessary reasons. For one thing, I don't want to come right out and state the accusation because one of the things we killed ourselves to achieve over the past few days was getting that accusation expunged from the IMDb in the first place. I'd rather not have this allegation anywhere on the web. So let your imagination roam—what could possibly be the one accusation that would send me over the edge? Secondly, I'm not going to name names here, either. The party responsible would like to have the attention, even the negative attention, and I'm not going to give him the satisfaction.)

The post was signed with the title of a movie I recognized. So as to not cause the producers of this film undue harm, I'm going to make up a title, let's say Hellnukkah (don't steal it—that one's ours!). I was familiar with the project and knew a couple of folks involved with the film, including one who I'd never met but had caused a lot of problems for a very good friend of ours. We'll call this problematic person "Asshole 1". Because of recent horror stories about "Asshole 1" and our good friend (we'll call her "Gloria" for no particular reason), I was convinced very quickly that "Asshole 1" was the one who plagiarized the CHUD review and added the Horrible Allegation. I know a little bit about psychology and came to the conclusion that "Asshole 1" did this to a) prove to "Gloria" that she couldn't get away with leaving him and hurt her obliquely; b) attack me for being a friend of "Gloria"'s. The fact that he buried the Horrible Allegation in the body of the review proved that he wasn't very confrontational and the only people who would see it would be people searching for it (like, say, the FBI). Using a previously-published negative review, he was hoping I'd go after the author. Since I was familiar with the review in its original form, and since it didn't originally have the Horrible Allegation, I contacted CHUD and told them about the plagiarism, while, at the same time, sent half a dozen complaints to the IMDb to have them remove the comment.

Now, I actually had no problem with the review being on the page. I don't mind negative reviews at all, even scathing ones. There are a couple of funny lines in the piece, it's well thought-out and he backs up his opinions, rather than just spewing insults. He didn't like the movie; that's his right and it's fine. I just wanted the Horrible Allegation removed.

I was sinking deeper and deeper into a rage, however, and wanted to enact vengeance on Asshole 1. Violent vengeance. But I couldn't prove, yet, that Asshole 1 was indeed the author of the post. The breadcrumbs were leading to him though. Particularly signing the post with the "Hellnukkah" screen name. I attributed that mis-step to ego. Like the Zodiac Killer taunting the police and the newspapers.

When you work in any community or industry for a long enough period of time, you make enemies. Not as many as you do friends, provided you're not a complete wretch of a human being. So we have them. I have more than Amy does because, frankly… well, see above. I can be a bit of a bastard. I have people who dislike me in the publishing industry, people who dislike me because of reviews I'd written or general dealings I'd had in the past. Or they don't like me because their friends don't like me or… pick a reason. But the most "dangerous one", the ones who have been the most outspoken of my enemies, make up a very small group.

We went through the short list of people who would be most likely to pull something like this and came up with… bagel. None of the current persona-non-gratas of the Happy Cloud Clan would stoop that low. Not all of my enemies are classy, but the bulk of them would prefer to vilify me and vindicate themselves at the same time. The majority would be more apt to post "This is what he did and this is how it affected me!" And very few of them—again, as near to zero as I can calculate—would ever be this oblique. They'd want me to know what they said about me and how they felt. Because the fact of the matter is, most of my enemies used to be my friends. We're no longer friends because of a disagreement or falling out and there are more hurt feelings than there are thoughts of vengeance or ruining my life. And the same goes for how I feel about them. There are rifts that can't be mended. I'll draw your attention to the person who alerted us to this situation in the first place, the Good Samaritan. We're not friends any more and there's very little chance we ever will be. I can't think of anyone who hates me more than he does.

But even he had my back when it came to something like this.

Amy took the reins from there. She called Pop Cinema to see if anything could be done on their end. Paige Davis logged on and found a name associated with the account. A guy named Steve. A guy we know named Steve. A guy we know named Steve who lives in Pittsburgh and has been to our shows, we've been to dinner with him, we've worked with friends of his and, indeed, are friends with his friends. So my theory—my assurance—that it was "Asshole 1" went completely down the drain. And so did my rage.

Depression quickly replaced my fury. Instead of having an enemy out to destroy my life, I was now faced with the prospect of having a jokester plaguing me. The Horrible Allegation was, suddenly, a very unfunny joke at my expense. We called friends of Steve and told them that he should contact us immediately, or I was going to have his ass thrown in jail.

Again, the Horrible Allegation, particularly in this political climate, is something that could have gotten me arrested "for my own good and the good of the community" pending an investigation. Which, possibly, could mean my being thrown into general population of any number of judicial facilities until such a time as an investigation could be set underway. In which case, my good friends would be called upon to 25th Hour my ass so I didn't wind up a subplot on the OZ reunion movie.

I was expecting Steve to email us or call us with denials, and he did. And in my paranoid state, I was ready to judge any denial as a lie or a CYA, but then, midway through the email, he dropped a name that I recognized. We'll call this person "Asshole 3" because he's just not cool enough to be the next asshole on the list. Actually, I think we'll bump him down to "Asshole 11" because that's what kind of nobody he is.

"Asshole 11" is one of those people who wants attention and wants to be noticed by people he admires. But he fixates on these people early and comes out on the offensive even before he introduces himself. It's an insecurity, a social dysfunction. He wants so much to be the badass in the room, the guy who knows everything and knows how to do it better than everyone else and wants everyone to look up to him for his badassedness. The problem is, he's not much of a badass and is more of a jerk than anything else. After a very annoying first encounter with him—through the internet, never in person—I started to ignore him. There was no sense in responding to him because I'd always be met with more abuse, more insults. He didn't weigh very heavily on my thoughts as I find flame wars to be very boring, so I stopped giving in. And, after a while, I stopped hearing from him. Everyone has one of these dipshits in their lives. They don't go by their real names on the web, you only have a vague idea of who they are, and you suffer them until they find someone else to annoy.

Message boards are filled with these people.

Apparently, Steve ran afoul of "Asshole 11" on a couple of boards and the guy started using Steve's name to flame other people. For fun. To discredit any opinion Steve would have. To make trouble, etc. Because of one particular board they both frequented, one from which "Asshole 11" was banned, I found the connection between him, Steve and the Hellnukkah people. "Asshole 11" had no idea that we had any connection with "Asshole 1"; the Hellnukkah thing was just to make them look even worse. As it turns out, he'd been using Hellnukkah in addition to Steve's name to flame other people. The Hellnukkah people even posted that on their official site—that the flames were not coming from them.

The vengeance returned, but not in the religious sense. I was suddenly very tired. I called a lawyer friend of mine and asked about my options. Most people recommended that I nail the motherfucker to the legal wall. My lawyer friend replied that there isn't a lot to be gained from it, that I'd spend more on legal fees than I'd get from suing him. Libel isn't a crime in PA, it's a civil matter, and the statutes might be different in the state that "Asshole 11" calls home. My lawyer friend asked me, point blank, "What do you want to get from all of this? Revenge, or the Horrible Allegation removed?" If it's the latter, then taking "Asshole 11" to court would just shine the light back on the Horrible Allegation, and then it would never go away. The Horrible Allegation and my name would be forever linked. And that's what would ruin my life. My own actions.

At this point, holes in the ground were starting to look really comfortable. As enraged as Amy was herself, however, she helped me try and get through all of this.

I don't insult easily. I'm not quick to get offended. But this Horrible Allegation fucking hurt. And when "Asshole 11" was revealed, I wondered what the hell I'd ever done to him to deserve it. The answer was: I'd ignored him. You don't ignore a psychopath—have horror movies taught me nothing?

But here I was again, with the only course of action available to me: ignoring it.

At this point, other people started coming to my aid. JimmyO, my parents, Pop Cinema, multiple other friends and family—thank you to everyone who helped out and sent in emails and phone calls of support! Seriously, thank you one and all!—all contacted the IMDb to report the libelous Horrible Allegation. Other people too including, again, someone who does not consider me a friend any longer, someone with whom I'd had a horrible falling out where terrible things were said on both sides. They went to the IMDb and demanded that the Horrible Allegation be removed because it was Just Not True. My enemies, people I'd hurt or had hurt me, had my back.

By Six O'Clock yesterday evening, the IMDb gave in to the countless complaints and took down the entire post. The plagiarized review was gone, the Horrible Allegation was gone, even my former colleague went back and deleted the Horrible Allegation from her quoted demand so that it could be expunged from all records. The Hellnukkah account had been deleted, along with any connection to Steve—whether by the IMDb or by "Asshole 11", I have no idea.

The only thing not gone at this point is the depression and the rage. I don't know how to box shadows. There's nothing saying that "Asshole 11" won't resurface again. Or that Assholes 12 through Infinity won't come with him or follow his lead. The Internet is an endless root knot of computers and there are Assholes all over the world, hiding behind their screen names and Second Life identities. They delight in being the bullies in the digital world because they're powerless in their analog life. There is truly nothing that can be done. I have to remain diligent, alert, and rely on my friends to keep me safe. And marvel that the people I deemed against me really aren't.

There are a lot of Assholes out there. But I have to remember what I learned through all of this: that there are a lot of Really Good People, too. Even if we don't like each other.

And to all a good night.

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