Time for some more Real Talk.
I feel a bit like a wilted puppy–a phrase that sounds like a mixed metaphor unless you have ever had a dog and scolded it. Their whole body melts down, tail drooping, eyes sad, ears tucked back. That’s how I feel right now.
I read a lot of blogs. Book blogs, personal blogs, even the occasional dance blog. There aren’t many dance professionals who have generously-updated archives, but I found one today. It’s a professional site for a West Coast Swing couple I’ve sort-of met, and they regularly update with content about learning, teaching, and performing. I found a recent article regarding fashion faux pas in WCS, do’s and don’ts for what to pick and how to wear it–and there was a picture of me.
As a ‘don’t’.
In a way I understand what they are trying to do, to help newbies avoid embarrassing mistakes. They even went so far as to make the image partially anonymous–but for the fact that I know my own body and clothing. What’s worse, the main comment on my appearance is something I can’t change, couldn’t fix at the time the picture was taken, and their assumption given in the text as to why I look that way is erroneous and a little unkind.
I know this is vague, but I have no interest in drawing attention to the pros involved nor sharing the image more broadly than it already is. I’ve spent the morning debating if I wanted to write about it at all, but I have come to the conclusion it may make me feel better. We shall see if that comes to fruition.
There’s a concept power-house bloggers Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, and Wil Wheaton have mentioned, usually the context of comedy: punching down. The idea is that if one is a small-fry in some field, and they rip on/make fun of/otherwise critique the bigger fish in the pond, that’s ‘punching up’. Reverse who is commenting on who, and we have ‘punching down.’
The power differential inherent in fame and renown makes ‘punching down’ problematic and not fair critique. An example–if professional critics were to rip into a newbie comic artist or film student with the same ferocity that they have eviscerated the recent Batman Vs Superman, is that helpful, or just cruel? Director Snyder and the actors are established and have power, the student or amateur does not.
Despite the attempted anonymity, today’s discovery is punching down. The authors are well-established, world champions in WCS. I’m…well, nobody. Maybe that’s hyperbole, seeing as I have a few minor accomplishments on my resume–but that’s how I feel right now. Nobody important in the dance world. Nobody worth talking to privately about my supposed faux pas.
Because I’m, well, ME, there is a nasty little voice in my head berating me for being upset about this. To be in the world, particularly on the internet, is to invite criticism, not all of it constructive. And I’m fortunate, really, that my name and face are left off the offending image. My name is not being dragged through the mud, I’ve not been caught with my proverbial pants down in front of thousands.
But it still hurts.
As is par for the course with these Real Talk sessions, I don’t have a tidy closing moral. Don’t use people’s images without permission? That happens all the time, especially if you put yourself out for scrutiny in a performing context. I myself don’t always tell people before I post their pictures, though I ALWAYS give credit if I’m not the photographer.
Really I think we should remember that if you have platform on the internet, anyone can be in the audience. For the same reasons many big, best-selling authors refuse to post negative book reviews of peers, the dance community should remember not to roast its members, excepting cases of true scandal or egregious crime. Those new writers have no way to defend themselves. New dancers don’t either.
This is not malice, but carelessness.
And now one small, new member of the community feels like she would rather not show her face on the competition floor again.
The feeling will pass. The world turns on. But I’ll remember.