Look! I was in a magazine! FAME AT LAST!
I once wrote a book. Well, actually, I wrote three. In fact, if you want me to be an enormous pedant (and I'm sure you do), you could argue that I've written quite a few more than that; but to date, only three have been published.
A funny thing happens when you publish something, whether it's a book or an online blog. People read it and they say what they think about it. Suddenly, that thing that you slaved over and which you were convinced was good, might be picked apart by someone who disagrees.
I was really lucky. I never had a negative review for The ABC Animals. In fact, in many ways, you could argue that the biggest critic of the books was me. Three years after publication, when I read them I am inclined to nitpick. "Why did I use that word? This sentence is far too long for a children's book. Did I really have that character speak twice in such quick succession, or is this an editing error?" And so on.
Yes, I admit, I am very self-critical when it comes to these things. But whilst I sometimes get cross with myself for picking holes in my own achievements, I am at least glad that I'm able to take a step back and try to be objective. Because it seems to be something that too many people are either unwilling or unable to do.
Nobody likes to hear people criticise them. I certainly don't (in fact, I'm oversensitive about this stuff; criticise me too badly and you'll see a grown woman cry). But a very important part of becoming a fully functional adult is accepting that you can and will make mistakes and that when you do, you really ought to be learning from them. And however self-analytical we may or may not be, sometimes we need another person to point those mistakes out.
But not like this.
Being told that we've done something badly, or that our firmly held opinions might be wrong is never nice. But being able to look objectively at our work or our own behaviour is the difference between maturity and... Well, not so much maturity. And I can objectively tell myself that that sentence, which was meant to be witty, is in fact shit. But it stays, because damnit, I love to prove a point.
The thing is, more and more, I'm seeing people point blank refusing to be objective about themselves or their work, or even their likes and dislikes. Over the last week, this has been brought into pretty sharp focus.
Last week, I blogged about celebrity obsessions and unhealthy fan behaviour. I had a whole heap of comments about it on Twitter; largely positive ones from people agreeing with the points I had made. But I also had some tweets from someone mentioned in the blog. Now, this person wasn't named (because, duh) and I won't be naming them today, either, but they recognised their behaviour as being one example I had given in the blog and they contacted me to tell me that I simply don't understand their relationship with the celebrity in question. We had some back and forth discussion and eventually, the fan sent me a blog about her "love" for the celebrity and I told her I wished her luck in her life and hoped she would someday find someone in reality, who'd love her the way she wants to be loved.
What stayed with me, following the conversation, was the realisation that most obsessive fans are either unable or unwilling to see anything concerning in their own behaviour. There's a whole discussion to be had about the implications of that, but now isn't the time to have it. It did, however, prompt me to look at the issue of looking objectively at our likes, dislikes and indeed, ourselves as people. Because, had I been faced with someone asking me to look at my own behaviour and assess why some had concerns about it, I like to think that - however hurt or angry I might be - I could do it.
To put that comment into context, I'll level with you. It's honesty time.
My blog last weekend was inspired by obsessive fan behaviour seen online, largely through Twitter. But it's something I wanted to talk about, because I couldn't understand the fans' inability to look at their own behaviour objectively. And I felt that way because I once had to look at my own fan behaviour. Now, let me preface the next paragraph by saying that at no point have I (or would I) EVER tweet a famous person, saying I was in love with them. I've never sent endless presents, or tweeted that I'm outside a theatre/recording studio etc and demanded that the celebrity come out to see me. And I'd never dream of tweeting the girlfriend of a celebrity crush, in order to threaten or abuse her.
But I did once allow a crush to mess with my head for a brief while. I had a thing for a now quite famous comedian. At the time, he was still travelling the country, playing relatively small clubs. Being a lover of live comedy, I went to see him and thought he was brilliant (in fact, I thought he was better then than he is now, but hey, that's just my opinion). Anyway, I met him a few times and a pretty major crush developed. I remember going to the toilet after one comedy gig and when I came out, he was waiting outside the ladies' loos to chat to me. Then a few weeks later, on my birthday, he dedicated a love song to me on the radio and well, yes, I admit that I thought "oh bloody hell, imagine if this was mutual?!" A totally and utterly ludicrous thought with hindsight, but it's very easy to convince yourself of something if you'd rather like it to be true. And so I decided to give him my number when I next saw him. Long story short, he never called and this is where I differ from obsessive fans, because I reacted by looking at my own behaviour. I admonished myself for mistaking his friendliness for something else (however briefly) and I told myself that perhaps it would be wise to avoid comedy nights where he was on the bill, at least until my crush had subsided and I felt less embarrassed about it all. I reminded myself that I had loved live comedy before I knew who this guy was and I criticised myself for having become less interested in gigs where he wasn't on the bill. In short, I looked at myself objectively and had a bloody major word with myself. Truthfully, in the grand scheme of things it was something and nothing and I was overly hard on myself really - it's not like I was screaming "I LOVE YOU" from the front row or anything, after all - but I'm making a point here and like I said, I bloody love to make a point.
Analysing your own behaviour is a really important thing to be able to do. We learn from our mistakes and we grow as people when we're able to look at our flaws and work towards improving them. I know that I still have certain flaws I ought to work on, such as my being a little too sensitive. I'll never be perfect, because there's no such thing as a perfect person, but I'd rather recognise when I say or do something wrong and try to stop myself from saying or doing it again, than blindly refuse to respond to any kind of criticism.
The trouble is, some people seem not only unable to objectively view their own behaviour, but unable (or unwilling) to even accept criticism of their likes/dislikes.
Last week, I was casually declaring my love for the Kaiser Chiefs (in the musical sense; I wasn't sending them tweets asking for some sort of group-marriage or anything), when a couple of friends told me that the band are rubbish (not "I think they're rubbish" but "they ARE rubbish," thus confusing fact and opinion...). Another friend told me that I have exceptionally poor taste. Aside from my general rage at anyone thinking it's okay to lump their ideals on others when it comes to music (or anything else which is entirely subjective), I found myself wondering why I should have to defend the band. I mean, it's my choice who I listen to, right? So I decided to say "well I love them" and leave it at that.
I do wuv them. Especially that one.
Some people, however, don't appear to be able to tolerate criticism of the person, band or thing that they hold in such high esteem. Make a negative comment about the thing they love and they seem to take it as a personal attack and feel compelled to lash out. Never mind the fact that we're all different and it's those very differences that make the world such an interesting place in which to live; some people seem to be unable to participate in a discussion with someone showing anything less than total agreement. Others will defend the thing they love, even in the face of actual evidence that said person/band etc has done something awful. Now, if the Kaiser Chiefs (or the Manics, or Blur, or any other band I love) were to write a song that basically said "All women are shit and should be murdered," not only would I expect people to ask "HOW can you be a fan of this band?!" But I'd be the one saying "WHY was I fan of this band?!" It's a pretty extreme example, but I know that if there was a genuine issue with something or someone I'm a fan of, I'd be able to look objectively at what had happened and not simply leap to the defence of the person/band/TV show/whatever else.
The same can't be said for everyone. Recently, I tweeted about my dislike (and by "dislike," I do of course mean "RAGING DISGUST") of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I mentioned that it's unsafe and inaccurate BDSM and that it romanticises abusive behaviour such as emotional manipulation, isolation from friends/family, stalking and threats of violence. Twitter being such a public space, within seconds, I'd had two responses from fans of the books. I won't bore you by relaying the entire conversations I had with these fans, but I'll tell you that I was very open and honest with both of them and I explained that I recognise abusive behaviour, having been in an abusive relationship myself. Now, I don't know about you, but if someone tells me that they've been in an abusive relationship, I tend to react with empathy (and sympathy) and even if they're referring back to that experience to criticise something I love, I'd like to think I'd listen to what they had to say.
Not these Fifty Shades fans...
No; the first one told me that if I had been in an abusive relationship, I must have wanted it at some point and therefore I should understand women wanting their own Christian Grey, because I'd already had one. So, you know, a nice bit of victim-blaming, there (you must have WANTED to be abused, Emma!). The second one responded to my admission with: "Sorry, but that's an insult to real abuse victims." So they were actually completely denying my experience altogether. Why were they both being such utter dicks? So they didn't have to listen to criticism of a book series they've enjoyed.
Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised at their reaction. EL James herself refuses to listen to those who've questioned the behaviour of the male lead character in her "love story," instead choosing to deploy the "block" button to anyone on Twitter who does anything besides fawn over the books. She seems utterly unwilling to listen objectively to criticism, even when it comes from those who genuinely know what they're talking about (abuse survivors, charities etc).
And that brings me back to my original ponderings... Just how have we gotten ourselves to this point at which so many people are utterly unable or unwilling to listen to an opposing view? Are we really so desperate to protect something as frivolous as the love of a book (or band, or TV show) that we will blindly defend it, no matter how insulting we have to be in order to do so? And if we can't accept criticism of things we love, how are ever going to learn to look at our own work, let alone our behaviour objectively? Because make no mistake, it stems from there. When I went crazy at the tweeter who'd said I was insulting abuse victims (and, speaking objectively, maybe I used the word "fuck" too many times), she responded by being patronising and telling me to block her - adding a smiley face at the end, in case I hadn't quite got the message that she didn't give a shit about what she'd actually said to me or how offensive it really was. That level of arrogance - and that's exactly what it is - isn't helpful to anyone in the long run.
Of course, I say all of this as someone with a very passionate side and fiercely strong opinions. If I think I'm right about something, I will argue until my voice goes hoarse and then I'll write a blog, because... Well, that's what I do. And I'll defend the things I am passionate about - of course I will! If you criticise the Manics, I will defend them. If you mock my love of Doctor Who, so help me, I will quietly seethe at your ignorance. But I'll also listen. I'll listen to why you feel the way you do, even if your words irritate me more than sandpaper knickers. And if I do write an angry blog about it, I'll almost certainly read it back to myself later and find things I'd do differently next time. Because we should all be able to look at ourselves - and everything in our lives - objectively. And if we can't, we need to learn to. Because nobody is perfect.
Not even you.