This is a slight exaggeration, but this is more or less a summation of my experience over the last couple days. Let me catch you up. On Sunday, I collected some of the more brainless and vile comments reacting to the announcement of Jodie Whittaker in the role of Doctor Who. Here's a refresher of the (very real, very common) kinds of comments on Facebook and Twitter that day.
I shouldn't have to say that losing your shit over a fictional 1000 year-old alien timelord taking on the appearance of a woman is going hilariously overboard. In posting a bunch of comments from across the web (with any indentifying information removed), my goal was to highlight and shame this kind of backwards behavior without getting specific or personal. And I apparently failed miserably.
Not long after the article went up, I started getting all sorts of messages on Twitter. These lil' love notes were just about as coherent and rational as you'd expect.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around this. What makes someone want to leap to the defense of someone called a "pissboy"? Does the word itself invoke empathy in some people? All I did was post some shitty excerpts from various comments sections -- up to this point, the entire internet agreed that was where you could find the worst parts of humanity. But something about the word "pissboy" struck a nerve with a certain portion of social media. If you had a vocabulary limited to dogwhistle buzzwords, you might even say they were triggered.
Things really escalated when this image started going around:
Gotta admit, it's pretty funny when you put them all together like that. But seeing these headlines (which are attached to posts published weeks, or sometimes months apart) all in a row like this had a real effect on some people. You know how saying "Beetlejuice" three times summons a smelly Michael Keaton? Now imagine that with "pissboy, Pissboy, PISSBOY" and you might have an idea what happened.
Mobilized by popular trolls with big followings, I got dozens of tweets and DMs from people were mad that I said the word "pissboy" a few times in four months. Nobody really mentioned the content of those articles or even refuted the idea that the sentiments lampooned therein were in fact shitty. All it took was one word to set them off, a word they took as a personal attack just because it was merely uttered by someone they didn't know, somewhere online. Even though I never named anyone specifically, these furious tweeters acted as though I had personally driven to their door and slipped a note under their door with "pissboy" scrawled on it. And so I got plenty of messages like these:
You probably noticed a few patterns here. They're all pretty telling. Tons of people tacked on the word "journalist" to their insults, implying that I work for some kind of reputable outlet instead of the website that published "Disney Princess Sex Moves." The logic they used to get there is pretty hilarious, though. I guess that since they don't like journalists, and they don't like me, that must mean I'm a journalist? Brilliant detective work, my dudes.
One of the most popular methods of derision was to accuse me of having a urine kink, or god forbid, a GAY urine kink. Again, following what I assume must be their logic here: Some people on the internet complained about women existing in the media that they enjoy, I call them "pissboys" because said complainers are obviously little babies who can't change their own dipeys, and in return they stuttered "Nuh uh! You! You're the piss. You're a pissboy. You... LIKE the piss, you love it so much!" And then, presumably, the bell rang and they went inside from recess.
The funniest part of all this is the most common comeback these folks have is also the absolute laziest retort imaginable. I'll concede that calling someone a pissboy sets the bar pretty low for discourse, but firing back with "No you're a pissboy" is about as uncreative as you can get. Aren't these the same people accusing me of having a pee fetish for using the word pissboy? I feel like I'm getting mixed messages here.
Maybe a more important question: Why go through all this? Why would I poke this foul, thin-skinned water balloon yet again by recapping two days of internet drama? Well, it's sort of the same reason I wrote those pissboy posts in the first place. People are fond of saying "Don't read the comments" or "Just ignore the trolls," but I don't think that's the right way to go. If you let this kind of sentiment boil and fester with your back turned, it just grows bigger, more prominent and more seductive to the young by the day. Just because you don't read the comments or you only sort by "top voted" doesn't mean there isn't a series of wretched screeds just under "sort by new."
We have to stare into this putrid abyss, if only to keep an eye on it. When we can, we should laugh. Pissboys might deal mostly in venom and rage, but if their gut reaction to the term "pissboy" means anything, they also know shame.