Post 103

Angry Birds: How it Looks When
a Canadian Criticizes a Blogger Criticizing a Sign

Oh my. I can’t believe that Mr. Westen dislikes the hostile or demeaning letter. They can be really very fascinating, and even unintendedly hilarious. They are usually so full of energy and scrambled thinking that my average reader would find them quite interesting, kind of like watching a mouse on vodka try to make sense of a maze. Where’s the cheese? Where’s the cheese? What am I looking for? Oh yes, the cheese!

Oh my.

Yesterday I was laughing so hard that I was weeping. Actual tears. The emotion, the vigorous defence of anything and everything. The disorderly attacking of anything and everything. Oh my. I read sections aloud to others, and they were in spasms of laughter too.

It seems that the Muffin-Top post has reached a certain segment of people, and so I’m getting a bit of mail. [Note added April 1, 2016 11:54 MST – I have just received a note that “it was posted on the companies Facebook sight.”]

I do receive notes that praise my writing and these can feel wonderful, but they’re not the kind of thing that you would publish on your blog, for the simple reason that they’re not supposed to be for outsiders, and, truth be told, they can be rather dull reading for those who aren’t on the receiving end of them.

(That’s why you need a ‘thank-tank.’ It would make the entire process of gratitude into a highly entertaining spectacle.)

Thanking is a funny thing isn’t it? Sometimes I receive such nice thank-you cards that I want to send a thank you card to express gratitude for the card. I know I’m not the only one.

Early on, I decided not to have comments on my blog. But these Muffin Defence Letters are such interesting specimens of Canadians Getting Really Angry that they actually merit display. I briefly considered posting them in their (incoherent, in some cases) entirety without further comment just for the entertainment value.

But now I revert to my earlier position. My reason is, I can’t bring myself – at least, not yet – to run a full-frontal counter-attack on a reader, no matter how angry they are at me.

It would be too easy, and really, they haven’t done me any harm. They aren’t a “friend” who I’ve helped for many years in many different ways who has now treated me poorly, or who has now betrayed me. And they aren’t mismanaging TurboTax, LifeSiteNews, the city, the local police station, the religious clutter store, the Basilica or the church RCIA. Why would I go after them?

They’ve written me one angry letter. That’s no crime. I write when I’m angry too. We’re in the Write Stuff When You’re Angry Club. Besides, they’re readers (at least for the moment.) They’ve read my stuff (at least one post). They’ve even understood some of it. That’s pretty good!

So instead of printing and replying to each letter, I thought I’d review them as a group. I’ll entitle this:

How a Canadian Writes a Complaint Letter About a Blog Post About a Sign

1. Establish that the complainer is emotionally or intellectually over-wrought.

The first step seems to be to show me that they are so angry that they cannot think straight. It’s not the actual ‘meat’ or ‘main course’ – it’s more like setting the mood, the lights and candles aspect.

It is sometimes marred by exaggeration and hyperbole, which itself tends to veer away from truth, but we can let that slide as being simply an artistic effect. For example, people will sometimes say that they have never been angrier, or something to that effect, but they probably have. They probably, as a matter of fact, use the phrase regularly, which would mean that they are getting progressively angrier throughout their life span, which means that they may literally explode one day. (You will hear a faint ‘pop’ because by then most of the hot air will already have been dissipated.) Anyway, here are some real-life illustrations of the first step.

“I am stunned by this post. I’m almost at a loss for words.”

So that’s not bad. Do you picture it? In this case, we’re going for the look of someone who needs resuscitation. The crowds could gather around and say, “Are you okay?” “Is he breathing?” “Does anybody feel a pulse?” “Zechariah cannot speak! He cannot talk!” It’s the stun-gun effect.

And you’ll notice that he has used the word “almost” which is a nice homage to truthfulness. You can’t just say, “I’m at a loss for words” and then write 1000 words. With such an opener, you would naturally need to write a shorter letter: “I’m at a loss for words. The End.” But if you were really, really angry, you wouldn’t even be able to write that much. You’d just be like I was with that Faithful Insight (“FI,”as in Sci-Fi) magazine, chucking it here and there around in your home. Anyway, here’s another way that someone set the mood, before settling in to address the issues at hand:

“I have never felt so offended in my entire life.”

That’s not quite as interesting as the first one. It’s a little bit less original (the word “offended” is highly and wrongly overused these days, as I have written) and I suspect suffers from problems of exaggeration.

2. Vigorously defend the sign itself.

The point of the Muffin-Top post was to challenge the sign.

So, naturally, the main thing is to, in fact, defend the sign. Here are some defences of the sign itself:

(version based on hypothetical, variation 1:)
“Maybe that sign has helped many to choose their services to become more healthy!”

(version based on hypothetical, variation 2 – requiring research on my part)
Educate yourself on why that term has any merit in the first place before you …

… the sign (which quite frankly, is a dose of reality for most people – me included).

(Rhetorical and undecided version:)
Do I agree with the sign? Maybe not.

(The accidentally-agreeing version:)
So instead of bitching about a stupid sign, take a minute to think about…

The amazing thing about these “defences” of the sign was that they were quite weak, in the context of the anger of the letters. It was, as a matter of fact, difficult to find defences of the sign once you waded through all the drama. Some of the sentences drifted off to do other jobs, instead of sticking with the task of defending the sign, and that’s why I have cut them short. I have saved the defence portions of the sign from the letters I received, and these sentences, or portions of sentences, were as close as they came.

As for the defence which asks me to go educate myself, I protest. Instead of telling me why the phrase is good and useful, the writer asks me to go and ‘educate’ myself on how the term might have merit. (I am not sure how I could do that in any case.) I have already chosen which side I’m on. I’m on the “Against” side. If you want me to cross over to the “In Favour” side, then that would be your job to prove to me that the phrase has merit.

The sign is almost indefensible, it seems.

I’d give the prize to the one I’ve marked truthfulness. That author is saying that the phrase is a good wake-up call, pointing out to people about the truth of their own bodies. Hmm. My post is entitled “The body is not a bakery product” and I think I’m closer to the truth about the human body than he is, but let’s just leave it be as being the best defence we’ve got out of this bunch.

(Mind you, if I wanted to defend this phrase, I could. I would say that the word “muffin” is fun to say. Another thing is that if it were okay to compare the human body to baked goods, then it is rather creative to see this shape in our form. If we’re going to go with Chesterton’s approach – he often joked about his own weight – then you could say this is humorous. I definitely could have given a defence of the sign; I’d lean on Chesterton quotations about how the Romans contributed to their own demise because they couldn’t laugh at their own bodies and idolized it instead. It could be done – a defence of the sign, that is. But I’ve already taken a side, and I’ll stick with it. The thing is, I’d rather people joke about their own bodies rather than put up signs which make other people feel worse in this age of extreme sensitivity about weight. But if you wanted to defend the phrase, you’d point out that it’s even thematically connected, because the idea is that if you eat muffins and other ‘junk’ food, then you’ll look like the food. Kind of a ‘you-are-what-you-eat’ theme.)

In any case, I have criticized the sign and I didn’t get the defences I would have given. Instead I got what I have shown you here.

I could just close the case here. That’s what Turbo Tax would have done. Or wait – they would have said, “I’m at a loss for words. The end.” No, they don’t do that much. They just closed the case. (Truly at a loss for words.)

But anyway, why stop here?

I haven’t shown you some of the interesting parts from the letters I’ve received.

3. Vigorous attack of me, for criticizing a sign.

This is not actually a defence of the sign, which, as I said, is what is needed. Here we go:

“Do you seriously have that much time on your hands to stop in at this place and complain about a sign that references a muffin top?”
(Apparently, yes.)

“You are completely off the wall on your comments regarding ‘the sign’.”

“Next time you see a sign that bothers you, choose to look away.”
(She tells me what to do, i.e., giving me no choice, and tells me that it is what I will choose.)

So before you get mad at someone for their “judgemental” sign, maybe you need to look in a mirror first.
(The use of quotation marks is problematic, because the word in quotation marks does not come from my post, but from the writer of this complaint.)

“Here’s the thing, stop judging and start bitching about things that matter!”
(Where does a person start with such a sentence? I leave this one in your hands, reader, because I need to leave now in order to go and “start bitching about things that matter!” That would be a funny subtitle hey? I can see it now: “ Bitching about things that matter.”)

4. Vigorously defend the lady in the store.

The strange thing is that most people who complained entirely misunderstood my issue with the lady in the store. I guess that’s why they wrote in the first place, and my regular readers did not.

As a matter of fact, I went back to the post to clarify, at the bottom, that though I dislike both suits and makeup, this lady’s suit and make-up were as good as it gets. For those who wrote to me earlier, perhaps my clarification helped, but for those who wrote later, it apparently did not.

My issue with the lady in the store was her method of handling my complaint.

But in any case, let’s look at the vigorous defences of the lady in the store.

Everyone has a choice to how they want to live their lives, whether they want to be skinny, fat, look like a clown or look like a wall flower.  There is no right or wrong.  What is wrong is YOU judging this woman . .

I personally know the people with “clown makeup and the “ugly monotone suits” you’re glad you don’t have to wear.
(Extreme example of misquoting, and extreme example of the Defence You Don’t Want)

No one is perfect and before you judge that “slim clown eyed person” at the shop maybe you should learn more about her life.
(Ditto, but perhaps even more extreme example of misquoting. But I disagree here. Since my complaint is relating to the handling of my complaint, and very little else, there is no need for me to learn anything more about the life of the person receiving my complaint.)

Educate yourself on why that term has any merit in the first place before you start bashing a person that is one of the most realistic, caring and helpful people I have ever met.

So you know, that lady you belittled in your post changed, or should I say, saved my life. I have learned so much about my body and what goes in to it after spending 6 months with this “slim” lady. I learned how I was on a path of destruction, but more importantly, how I could change it. Speaking of slim, did you know that this lady probably eats as much as I do but makes good, healthy choices and also is super active. She chooses to be healthy, not that it was luck that fell from the genetic skies which allows her to be fit.

(You are right: I have no idea as to the quantity of food this woman consumes. It seems that you don’t know either. However, you are willing to speculate. You speculate that she consumes the same amount that you do. Perhaps she does.

You are right: I do not know what she eats.

As for what is good or healthy, there seems to be considerable debate about that. The people at the Weston A Price Foundation quibble with much of what is considered ‘food science.’ Perhaps they are right. Nowadays I don’t worry at all about what I eat, though previously I did and chose very carefully.

As for being on a “path of destruction,” I am not sure that you were on such a thing, and I am not sure who would have used such an extreme phrase about you and your choices. Such a phrase is appropriate with moral issues, but not secular concerns. I hope you’re not saying that anyone at that clinic would have given you such a message. It sounds over-the-top and ominous.

As for the saving of your life, I am glad it was saved. Did someone tell you that you were in danger of dying? In any case, I think it is gentlemanly of you to rise to the defence of the woman who saved it. I like that about your letter. Our world needs more of that kind of thing. If every man defended the honour of every woman whose honour or name was under attack – as he perceived it – what a changed world this would be! You yourself are attempting to defend this woman, and by stopping in at this location to complain about this sign, I am attempting to defend those whose bodies are being scorned and derided. So shoot me.

Ah yes – I forgot – that’s what you’re trying to do.)

The tricky thing with defences is that sometimes the defence is worse than the original criticism. I know – I’ve been ‘defended’ myself in the past.

That was why I hesitated before using these excerpts, because they describe this woman’s diet and lifestyle choices, but a closer review of the letters and the timing of the arrival suggests to me that it is in fact her friends or relations who are writing in on her behalf. Furthermore, this woman earns her income promoting diet and exercise, so I allow myself to print at least excerpts of such well-intentioned defences. [Note April 1, 2016 – see my note above: the replies that I have received have probably reached me because the company itself decided to post my post on their Facebook site; I had asked one of the writers to tell me how he happened to find this blog post but he did not reply. Today however, someone else has given me this surprising information.]

Such were the defences on behalf of the lady in the store. She was defended about everything except what I complained about: her handling of my complaint. My other descriptors of her were just descriptions of her outward appearance. I described her height, her weight and so on as I set the scene. Her appearance was about as good as you’ll find these days. I wasn’t attacking that or expressing any opinion about how she came to have that height, weight or make-up or clothing. How much was choice and how much was genetic, nobody knows. Nobody needs to know. An argument can be made about a sign by anyone of any weight or size. I don’t need skinny-person credentials to do it.

5. Vigorously defend slim people (i.e.: they’ve ‘earned’ it) and run a counter-attack on people who are not.

It was taken as obvious that I was envious of this woman’s weight. The idea was that I had not ‘paid the price’ for a slim body and therefore I was complaining without doing the work. To make an analogy, it was like a person who scored 25% on a math test complaining about someone who had scored 95%. The teacher points out, “Hush Jennie: it is only fair that she scored 95% and you didn’t. She studied, you didn’t.”

I attempted to clarify (by returning to my post and writing a comment) that I didn’t mind her weight. I don’t mind people being slim. As a matter of fact, I recently wrote a post in defence of the very tiny (2lb, 3 oz). Perhaps my recent clarification calmed those who had written to me earlier, but perhaps it didn’t.

In any case, here were the comments in that vein:

Did you know that obesity (and obesity related health problems) are a serious problem in our society and a major drain on our health care system and ultimately taxpayers?

I personally am a slim 110lb lady.. Do you know my life? If I’ve been through eating disorders or work my ass off to be that way? No you don’t. So before you get mad at someone for their “judgemental” sign, maybe you need to look in a mirror first.

I hate my muffin-top because it’s a sign that I need to healthier and feel better about myself. Acceptance of an unhealthy lifestyle is a problem in today’s society. It is also a sign of being lazy.

6. Argue ‘Who cares what you think?’

For good measure, sometimes people like to throw in a few ‘bonus’ moves, in a sort of ‘freestyle’ fashion. One of the most common is the who-do-you-think-you-are-to-have-an-opinion-anyway theme:

You go on as if EVERYONE should live your lifestyle, no make-up, no suits etc.

Oh ya, and if you want to post this crap on your blog, quit hiding behind your dam computer and provide some transparency into who you are and why you think your opinion matters. Also, turn on your dam comments so people can actually voice their opinions as well, rather than having your one sided slander taint their thoughts.