I stood bagging groceries, trying to Tetris things into an arrangement that would leave the goat feta un-spilled, peppers un-squashed. As she scanned my last item, the cashier’s till beeped insistently. “Shut UP” she spat, angrily tapping on the screen. It was such a sharp, quick, venomous response that I glanced up, startled, and we locked eyes.
She was tired and frustrated and I realized that I had almost forgotten what it was like to work in retail, with customers who are so far divorced from the concepts of kind and reasonable that it’s mind boggling.
Human beings who are normal as people, become horrible as customers.
It’s a lot like Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment; the instant a dichotomy of power is created (us/them, prisoners/inmates, servers/the serviced) all hell breaks loose.
- I have had saliva fly at my face as an irate man asked if I was “fucking retarded” for being unable to find an order filed under his WIFE’s last name, which was different than HIS last name (the only name he provided). When I asked if it could be filed under anything else, he helpfully repeated his own last name at least seven times in an increasingly rage-filled voice (presumably to get it through my thick skull) before screaming at me.
- I have had customers swear at me, call me incompetent, and threaten me due to my inability to IMMEDIATELY satisfy their demands.
- And although I don’t work in retail/service anymore I do still work with people. Teenagers in fact. While as a whole I have found teens to be less cynical, more honest and far more thoughtful in their interactions with others than their adult counterparts, there were always the one-off shit shows who threw chairs at me while screaming “FUCKING CUNT, FUCKING CUNT” over and over again. The ones who kicked garbage cans into walls, scared their friends and themselves and all but rioted when told that our coke machine was being removed.
All of the interactions described above left me flushed with adrenalin, shaking, and close to hot, angry tears.
Last week there was a bit of a dust-up in bloggyland. One blogger publicly criticized another, attacks were launched, lines were drawn and many took sides.
It was as though otherwise intelligent adults were all 13 again, throwing chairs and angrily scrawling graffiti on bathroom walls. I am so much less than even a tiny blip on the radar of this so-called blogosphere, but as I watched it unfold I thought to myself, “If I become known, I will never do this. I will never complain about hate mail.”
This is, of course, one of THOSE statement. You know, the ones that are easy to make whilst standing on the sidelines, never truly knowing what it’s like to be in the game. But still, my overwhelming feeling was one of utter disbelief, these are people being paid a lot, I mean a LOT to blog. Like, six digits worth of a lot. And for that, isn’t it worth installing a filter that removes all messages where someone is calling you an idiot bitch who doesn’t deserve to live? Isn’t it worth blocking those on twitter who are constantly, consistently harassing you?
(And yes, the fact that this war of words took place on twitter was the cherry on top)
It must be said that I, along with millions of others, adore the bloggers who were on the receiving end of these attacks. I admire their writing and am in awe of their business acumen. And it’s not, as some have argued, a matter of “rising above” the criticism and the attacks, or even “taking the high road”.
It’s because when you’re a big blogger, you are in the service industry and that makes all of the tens of thousands of people clicking onto your site every day and earning you advertising dollars, your customers. And as we learned above, becoming a customer makes people fucking nuts. And because they are the customer you somehow now owe them something. The reality of you being paid to perform a task (like ringing through groceries, or writing entertaining stories) turns into the asinine assumption that you are also being paid to take shit and abuse from people who are deeply, heartrendingly unhappy in their own lives.
This obviously shouldn’t happen and it’s appalling that it does, especially on the scale and frequency that it does.
BUT, (and here’s the crux of the matter and the reason I will never complain about hate mail) the difference between bloggers and busboys is that along with the money they earn, bloggers have the luxury of turning it off. Bloggers don’t have to come face to face with a screaming nut job and continue to serve them and take the abuse lest they lose their jobs. Bloggers are being paid to do something they love, somethings that millions of others do willingly for free.
Dealing with the unhinged is a hazard in any type of service job, but if you’re successful enough to garner huge amounts of hate mail, you’re probably being well compensated for a job that you love and can do in your favorite mustard stained sweatpants (what?).
I have dealt with verbal abuse while being paid minimum wage and I will certainly deal with it if I am ever lucky enough to command a six-figure salary.
This doesn’t excuse the behaviour, it doesn’t mean I understand for one moment how people morph into irascible, implacable douche-bags the moment they’re on the receiving end of a transaction. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that bloggers, cashiers, youth workers or beleaguered flight attendants DESERVE to become human punching bags (regardless of salary earned) but as anyone in the service industry can attest, we ARE.
I believe we will continue to function as such until a fundamental shift occurs in the way we view power, status, and societal roles. (So, never)
HENCEFORTH and FORTHWITH: Let it be know, if I am ever fortunate enough to be paid for blogging (something that I love to do and derive great pleasure from doing) I will install a kick-ass email filter, make liberal use of the “block” button and laugh all the way to the bank.
(Am I campaigning? It sounds like I’m campaigning…Vote MADELEINE for millionaire bloggess of the year!)