America, You Keep Using That Word (I don’t think it means what you think it means) has gone viral.As many of you probably know, this post:
I am both flattered and a bit puzzled by this event.
I started Stonekettle Station the day my retirement from the US military was final, when I could speak freely about anything I pleased without violating my oath. Originally, Stonekettle Station was an experiment. I had things I wanted to say, but I didn’t know if others would be interested.
I didn’t know if I could write.
Rather I knew I could write, but I didn’t know if I could write well enough, distinctly enough, to rise above the noise floor of the Internet.
Oh sure, you can always create a site that becomes popular, that gets tens of thousands of hits a day, that even makes money, if that’s your goal. I used to be one of the country’s top experts in Information Warfare, I certainly knew how to attract attention on the Internet, LOLcats, tech reviews, movie critiques, de-motivational posters, 9/11 birther conspiracy theories, hate, or pictures of frolicking naked people along with aggressively encouraging trollage and flame wars in the comments section – but I wanted to write. Over the last few years I have endeavored to write well about the things that interest me. Readership has grown slowly but steadily, expanding beyond the original core group of UCFers (if you don’t know what the UCF is, don’t worry about it. But if you like what you find here on Stonekettle Station, you should definitely check out the UCF blogs linked down the right side of this page). I’ve worked hard to cultivate an intelligent and interesting bunch of regulars, mostly by aggressively weeding out the trolls, banning the deliberately stupid and the willfully ignorant, and banging together the heads of people who just don’t seem to get that you can disagree without being an asshole about it. It seems to work, I’m extremely happy with Stonekettle Station and its readership – though of late I’ve had much less time than I’d like to devote to it.
A number of my posts have found widespread interest, the most recent being this post, which followed the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. Upon occasion famous writers have linked to the site and sent hordes of their readers my way. Some stuck. Posts regularly get picked up and reposted here and there across the web and bring in a few more regular readers each week. Slowly and surely Stonekettle Station has grown based solely on the strength of the writing and word of mouth instead of gimmicks and I find this encouraging.
Previously, the highest number of hits on a single post was about 18K when the Scifi writer, John Scalzi, linked to this post from his very popular Whatever blog. And while I certainly appreciated that particular boon, the spike in pageviews was because Scalzi found that post amusing, and not because my writing struck a chord with tens of thousands of people.
And then there was America, You Keep Using That Word...
Over the last week, the America post has, so far, pulled in over 150 thousand pageviews – and still counting – here on Stonekettle Station and a rather large number on other sites where it was reposted with permission (If you reposted the article in full and you didn’t ask me first, you need to send me an email). It’s been linked to 2000+ times from Facebook alone, along with numerous links from Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, and various forums. And I have received several hundred emails in response to the post which I’m still gamely trying to answer – be patient, I’ll probably get to you sooner or later, maybe. Overwhelmingly, the response has been positive and it’s apparent that the post struck a resonant chord with a large number of folks and it continues to spread across the internet.
I find this immensely gratifying for a number of reasons, not the least of which is knowing that there are a very, very large number of Americans who truly do understand what their country really stands for, who really do understand what America means to a significant fraction of the world, and who are people I’d be proud to call friends and countrymen. The fact that I’ve gotten positive comments from a General Officer, a handful of senior military officers (both retired and active duty), a large number of senior enlisted, a slew of city councilmen and public officials, and Americans from all walks of life and from every state in the union gives me hope for the future of this country – indeed, for the world.
And in fact, I did get more than a few letters from Conservatives that said essentially, “I don’t agree with everything you wrote but you made me examine my own position, thanks. Keep writing.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the hell out of those more than all the rest.
However, as those of you who are familiar with Stonekettle Station might expect, not all of the reactions have been positive.
Yes, I know, you’re shocked. Shocked.
Oddly, I haven’t yet received any death threats – and I’ve gotten death threats for posts much less pointed than America. But I have gotten a number of emails that stop just, barely, short of threats. I’ve gotten the usual screeds questioning my manhood, my patriotism, my military background, my morals, my integrity, my agenda, my affiliation with the New World Order, and whether or not my parents were ever married. I’ve gotten an even dozen that are in the format I’ve come to call TEA Party Tourette's, i.e. incoherent froth and spittle, random capitalization, punctuated with serial ellipsis and exclamation points, full of fierce damnation and God’s wrath – I’m tempted to post those here for ridicule, but it would be like taunting the class spaz. Amusing, yes, but more than a little mean. I’m not saying I won’t, mind you, you know me after all, but that’s another post entirely.
Of the rest, the negative responses seem to fall into a couple of distinct categories:
Attention Deficit Disorder
It’s too long! You could have just said ‘You hate everybody’ and let it go at that! I lost interest after the second “you hate…” In fact, all of your stuff is too long. You could have summed the whole thing up in one line.
(I picture a small child at this point, arms all stiff, doing that impatient dance four year olds do. It’s tooooo loooong, toooo loooong)
Hell even folks who liked America, warned readers “It’s really long, but worth the read…”
I hear you. I do. And if I ever want to write witty de-motivational posters or greeting cards, I’ll be sure to remember this.
Look, folks, I spent most of my life writing short, succinct military fare. But, I’m longwinded. I know this. It’s part of my charm, as anybody who knows me personally will tell you. I’m a wordy bastard and I know it, I do it on purpose, l like it that way. I like to explore ideas in detail. What’s the point of having the bandwidth if you don’t use it? That’s one of the reasons I’m a blogger and not a journalist or a columnist, I don’t like to color inside the lines and here on my own blog I don’t have to. Something I’d point out to you: wordy as America was, it went viral and has been read by hundreds of thousands of people. I think I can confidently say that if I’d wrote “Saw a truck and I thought of Americans who hate everything. The End” it probably wouldn’t have been read by very many people. I realize you hate that, but there it is.
Start your own blog and write what you like.
But in order to heed your own admonishment, you should probably stick to Twitter – and if you’re Charlie Sheen, mayhap you’ll get a hundred thousand folks to read your 140 character post.
Me, I’ll just keep doing what I do, it seems to be working for me.
Oh Noes! Liberalism!
I saw this response mostly on forums, though I got some email that said essentially the same thing. To paraphrase, “Obviously written by a [liberal, socialist, communist, Nazi, America hater]. I hate people like that. Dismiss!”
All I can say is, thanks for proving my point.
I got a number of letters explaining why the Confederate Battle Flag is really a symbol of patriotism, of rugged individualism, of true American spirit. How it symbolizes a real American’s fight against tyranny and the federal government of the United States. How it’s got nothing to do with North and South and a war long over.
You keep telling yourself that little fairly tale, Bubba, and again, thanks for proving my point.
I saw one forum where the entire America post was dismissed because, “Diesels don’t emit white smoke. The whole article is suspect.” (I guess the commenter has never seen a diesel truck with a high performance chip and twin stack exhaust on the Palmer Hay Flats at -10F. And yes, I do know that it’s actually a condensation trail and not smoke – note the “contrail” description in the original post. I claim poetic license. Also, I know a thing or two about diesel engines, just saying). Note that he dismissed the entire article based on what he perceives as a single flaw in a bit of window dressing. I will bet you even money this guy is either a global climate change denier or a creationist, or both, and that America describes him to a Tee. I’d be happy to be proved wrong.
A commenter on another forum called me an “obvious liar.” The commenter declared that the driver of the truck in America must have been a liberal because, and stay with me here, the post identified the vehicle in question as a “RAM,” i.e. a Dodge. Not getting the logic? Yeah it took me some reading too, but apparently the gist of the reasoning goes like this: GM and Chrysler took Obama’s bailout money and are owned by the government, therefore only liberals would drive one because they are now socialist machines. Ford, which didn’t take bailout money, is a Conservative’s truck.
You win. I have no retort for this.
Can I be honest? I don’t actually remember what make the truck was, I just thought “RAM” sounded funnier when I penned the Old Spice Guy paragraph.
As always, a rather large number of folks read what I wrote and then decided that I must be a) a very angry man, who b) hates America.
I don’t suppose there is anything I can do to convince these people otherwise, even if I were to bake them a plate of cookies and sing You Are My Sunshine accompanied by flying bunnies on kazoo and banjo while giving them a baby oil neck massage as they watched Glenn Beck.
I’ve been known to tilt at windmills, true, but I’m going to just let this one go past – you, on the other hand, can live with that charming homoerotic mental image. You’re welcome.
And finally, Strawman!
Ah yes. At last, something with a grain of constructive criticism.
The gist of the objection being that the driver of the truck in America is a strawman.
Well duh, Captain Obvious, of course he is.
Folks. I’m not a reporter. I’m not a journalist. I don’t pretend objectivity. I’m a blogger. I’m a writer. A storyteller. A raconteur. I have spent the better part of four years developing the particular voice of Stonekettle Station, a gruffly humorous descriptive style influenced by more than two decades of leading and teaching military people, of telling entertaining sea stories as any good Sailor should, and by some of my favorite writers, from the gonzo Hunter S. Thompson to the libertarian Robert Heinlein to the conservative military fiction of Jerry Pournelle to my personal favorite curmudgeon-at-large, Fred Reed.
Go back and read some of the posts here. Please. Note that that they all have a similar format, I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out what that is exactly, but if you look carefully you’ll see that there are many layers underneath the surface, note the use of particular words and descriptions, the digressions are dead giveaways – I’m looking for readers with whom that sort of thing resonates, because that’s the sort of thing I enjoy reading. America uses that well established format – the truck, and its supposed driver, are simply foils. Something to get your attention, something you could identify with, to set the mood, to establish the scene, to place you into the world as I saw it at the moment I wrote the story. Hint: The Old Spice Guy paragraph should have tipped you off immediately.
In the story, you never saw the driver, did you? The driver, the strawman, represents an idea, a generic political viewpoint, nothing more.
You, the reader, filled in the details based on your own bias. You fleshed him out (and it was a him, wasn’t it? With a southern drawl maybe? And a mullet?)
Look, a strawman is not always a bad thing.
Think of Star Trek. The original series. Remember Spock? He was the foil. The Strawman – especially in the pilot episode. His supposed cold stoic emotionless machine-like logic was used by the writers to emphasize the larger than life human elements – that was the character’s entire purpose. What? You thought it was just so McCoy could make humorous quips at the end of each episode? The gimmick worked so well that it has been copied endlessly ever since. I was once a military war planner, a guy who wrote weapons and combat doctrine. We used strawmen all of the time. Stand him up, knock him down, learn along the way until you have something that works. The term itself comes from this practice, a target made of grass that you hone your skill against, that you use to make a specific point or teach a specific lesson. A strawman is only bad if you allow it to become a logical fallacy. Such is not the case here. The driver of the truck, the strawman of America, could be any one of a dozen real world people. It’s somebody you know, isn’t it? Of course it is, otherwise so many people wouldn’t have identified with the post, it would not have gone viral.
Don’t believe me?
Ask yourself this, when was the last time you heard Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, or Glenn Beck spend an entire show talking about the things they love about America? When was the last time Sean Hannity, Karl Rove, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachman, or Sharon Angle went an entire hour on the air without describing something about America that they hate? When was the last time you read any article on FoxNews, Yahoo, or a Tea Party forum that didn’t include a comment section full of descriptions of things conservative commenters hate? Be honest. Every single one of those hates I listed in America were taken directly, directly, from Yahoo, from TEA party chat rooms, from transcriptions of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter – and I could have made that list a lot longer. A lot longer.
Still don’t believe me?
Still want to tell me that certain conservatives don’t think this way?
Folks, every single thing that I listed in America, this guy hates.
And, unfortunately, because his opinions and those of people just like him often go viral, his viewpoint has become increasingly common here in these United States.
Sure, liberals do the same thing, and I touched on that in my other bumper sticker inspired post (which has also gone viral, thank you very much), the difference is that liberals rarely display the same shallow fair-weather knee-jerk “patriotism” displayed by the driver of the truck that inspired America.
And that hypocrisy is what America was actually all about.
If the questions made you uncomfortable, if the various hates described struck just a little too close to home, if the article made you angry, if it made you think about your own hates and bigotry and viewpoint even just a little bit – well, you know, that was the whole point.
People keep asking me what I love about America. The answer is here: Part 3 – America: Land That I Love
Comments on this post are now closed: If you feel the need to comment, read part 3 and comment there.
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