The Rant

Losing It on Facebook

I'd rather see pictures of some dog or cat dancing than read one more blood-vessel-bursting observation about the inane world and its inhabitants

Going crazy in public is pretty common. Why, just yesterday I was on a BART train listening to a guy talking to people real or imagined: "I know what you're doing with that screenplay!" (Maybe they can help with mine?) Thanks to the confluence of civil liberties, a deteriorating mental health system and general apathy, we seem to have more people than ever losing it on the streets. And for the most part, we have made up our collective minds to mind our own business.

Does this rule extend to Facebook and other online forums? Admittedly, my friends (in the Facebook sense) tend to be a crotchety lot. Many are writers, bitterly recalling the day when they were treated with respect and paid to express their opinion about things (instead of having to vent and promote them for free on Facebook). More than a few are editors who have to put up with those same writers and other unpleasant realities of publishing—downsizing, uploading, off-siting, infighting …

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But lots of people seem to lose it on Facebook, regardless of their trade. For some it's a sign of being underemployed—if you "like" things as fast as I can post them, it probably means you are spending too much time in front of the screen and too little of it … walking? Volunteering? Organizing your spice drawer? Though it's possible some people treat the site as an elaborate game of Whack-a-Mole, waiting to click on things as fast as they appear. They could be winning secret points and cash prizes, for all I know.

But if you are constantly posting about people who annoy you, often for doing the same thing over and over (like talking on the train? Really? With photos of the offenders?), I think maybe you could learn from Stuart Smalley: "It's easier to put on slippers than carpet the whole world." (Al Franken, of course, is a U.S. Senator now—a job that calls more for waders than slippers.) Headphones were invented for train rides: The louder the talk, the louder the Coltrane.

There is free entertainment to be had when one intolerant get-off-my-lawn screamer gets into a running battle with another, often unsuspecting commenter. It's all I can do to keep from shouting "Don't go there!" when the most innocent remark leads to an unholy volley from the lone deranger. How was that poor commenter to know you were an expert on pet adoption or Muslim stereotyping or the films of Fritz Lang?

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You might say that venting (or just flat-out freaking out) on Facebook about the Kochs or bike paths or the number of times The Who have sold out since releasing "The Who Sell Out" is a harmless pastime—the Internet equivalent of screaming at the TV (and I have a feeling most FB ranters do that as well). The question is: When should we be concerned rather than just quietly unfriending people? It's the volume (as in number) of posts that gets to me. I would rather scan my wall and see pictures of your cousin's wedding or what you're eating in Italy or some dog or cat dancing than read one more blood-vessel-bursting observation about the inane world and its inhabitants.

I just read that they are making a play based of John Kennedy Toole's "Confederacy of Dunces," starring Nick Offerman ("Parks and Recreation") as Ignatius P. Reilly. That novel famously opened with Reilly, an obstreperous hot dog vendor who lived at home with his mother, screaming at the idiots dancing on "American Bandstand." Maybe the stage version will be updated, with Reilly screaming at a laptop, refusing to dig the beat.

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