Destinations Magazine

Can You Please Offend Me Politely?

By Thehedonista @the_hedonista
I love a rant.
All bloggers do. In fact, it's quite possible that over half what I read on blogs is a rant of some form. I don't want to read about kittens and sailboats - it's just plain boring. We love to complain, but why do we do it in such a public way? And why do our readers enjoy it? And how far is too far? There have been a couple of posts recently that have sparked something in me, and made me reflect on my own writing, and my experience with criticism.
One is Mark's at twofortyeightam on Benihana Kuwait. Mark is a very popular blogger in Kuwait, and he reviewed a restaurant with a thumbs down. Although it's not completely scathing, it definitely doesn't make you want to eat there. But he's a just a blogger.... I mean bloggers write this kind of stuff all the time, don't they? I'm guilty of it, and got my carving knife stuck into both Verre and Stay recently. But Benihana Kuwait decided to sue him. The funny thing is, nobody else really took a much notice of the post until it became famous through Benihana's retiliatory action. Most restaurants would contact the blogger, ask him to come back and try again in the hope they would be able to get him to remove his ugly post and pop up something a little less harsh. But Benihana Kuwait felt so strongly about it, they are taking him to court. What pushed them over the line?
The second is a Vanity Fair post in the Culture Section. It's written by A A Gill, who has a bit of a reputation for scandalous ranting, and a history of upsetting people so much they tend to take him to court quite a bit. And after reading his wikipedia bio, for the sake of baboons all over the world, I'm going to try as hard as I can to avoid his work for the rest of my life. This particular article is called Dubai on Empty, and it attacks almost every side of Dubai - the weather, the culture, the architecture, the population, the financials, the events and the style. And as a lover of Dubai it got me pretty miffed. So why does this particular post get me so annoyed?
A few years back, my husband had a friend called Adrian Leicestershire (not his real name). Adrian was a very witty bloke - he's probably a bit like A A Gill. He was also the unheralded Earl of St Kilda, and for a time, it seemed that whenever we were out in the area, he would turn up at our table with a glass of red in hand, and impart some topical quip or tale that would have us amused by his intelligence or laughing at his perspective... But he was quite opinionated, and several times, he discomposed a friend or two of mine. I didn't realize what a complete arse he was until he attacked me one day. He had been married to a winemaker (now divorced), and had gone on to say that - despite the fact that his expertise was in finance - he taught her everything she knows, and that without male guidance, women would get nowhere in the wine industry, "because physically they were incapable of consistantly telling a good wine from a bad." Now I had just studied wine for 4 years, so as you can imagine, I was a tad upset. The conversation bloomed like a mushroom cloud, and unfortunately I lost all composure and had to leave the wine dinner wailing like a big hormonal baby. We are no longer in contact with Adrian.
So. Offense. Is it funny? What is the difference between a harmless rant and genuine offense?
As for the first blog post (Mark and Benihana), I think this is a harmless rant - well, not entirely harmless, I must admit.  But the greater damage has been caused by the restaurant management - it's a PR disaster, because somebody took something too personally, and put feelings in the way of critique. And it is critique - he points out both the good and the bad, and the way he writes suggests a perspective, not a cold hard fact.
The second example (Gill and Dubai) is blatantly offensive. It is written as a statement of fact. There is only condemnation, no suggestion that a silver lining - however small - could lie undiscovered by him. His statements are sweeping generalizations, and because they generalise, they can be read as quite racist. He has not backed up his statements with solid facts - but here in the back-up, an inappropriate position, we see his opinions - his theories on why "these people" behave the way he says they all do. A A Gill often writes in this way. It is a shame, because his writing has a flow that is admirable, and possibly if the subject matter did not so offend me, I would enjoy the piece. But that's what happens with writers like Gill - everything's fine and dandy until it touches a nerve.
And Adrian Leicestershire is the same. It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and then you see the speaker for what they are - a bitter, twisted little soul, who can think of little to speak about but the faults of others.
So for me, the rant/offense balance is tipped thus:
  1. Make sure everyone knows it's your opinion that this group is a bunch of clowns - not fact.
  2. Back up your perspective with fact, and relate it to personal experience.
  3. Talk about how it affects you - if it doesn't hurt you in some way, what is the point of complaining?
  4. Make things specific rather than using sweeping statements - these come of as racist, sexist etc.
  5. Make it constructive criticism - if the accused has no way of knowing how to improve, again the rant is pointless (unless your main objective is indeed to cause pain, which could get you sued)
And in my personal opinion, make it funny, or at least write it well - otherwise I'm going to tune out. Here's a lovely example - Seebee's been having some issues with HSBC...
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