As soon as Patton Oswalt began cleverly trolling Twitter last Wednesday afternoon, it was only a matter of time before Salon had a comment about it. Patton’s little online experiment involved tweeting out apologies for past tweets he claimed to have deleted because they were offensive, only those initial tweets never actually existed. In other words, he was apologizing for things he hadn’t really said, just to see if the usual suspects would come out of the woodwork to express outrage over, literally, nothing. Of course they did, with one person after another trying to shame Patton for words they hadn’t really read so much as crafted in their own minds. One person even created a diagram of one of Patton’s phony apology tweets and dissected why it just wasn’t funny. The whole thing so perfectly made a mockery of the relentless “call-out culture” that now permeates social media that some even wondered aloud, right then and there, when Salon would get involved.
Well, it took all of a few days.
On Saturday, Salon cross-posted a piece from The Daily Dot titled “Why I Unfollowed Patton Oswalt — and You Should Too.” Right off the bat the good news for Salon was that this time it didn’t have to come up with its own comically over-the-top click-bait headline, since the original article had done that for it. But it was still precisely what you would’ve expected to find at Salon: a pretentious screed lamenting how a good comic like Patton has reduced his own stature via “a pathological need to confuse and belittle that ubiquitous Internet specimen, the Easily Outraged Commenter.” According to writer Miles Klee, Patton’s shtick on Twitter has worn thin and it’s apparently left him with little choice but to unfollow Patton and recommend, for some reason, that others do the same.
Is there anything remotely amusing about watching a guy using his considerable talents to simultaneously mock the stupid and needle the allegedly “humorless” online? Far be it from me to judge how anyone spends their free time, but as a spectator sport, shooting fish in a barrel leaves a lot to be desired.
Well, to answer his first question: yes, what Patton Oswalt did last week and what he’s done in the past in the name of exposing social media as a platform which allows self-righteous mobs of people to go from zero-to-furious in three seconds flat is damn amusing. It was entertaining when Patton used his Twitter feed last August to go on a seemingly offensive rant that was only revealed to be benign when you stepped back and looked at everything he was writing as a whole, and it was entertaining when he eviscerated Salon after the site ill-advisedly picked a fight with him in May of last year. Salon drew first blood by essentially accusing Patton of being part of the problem by not being part of the solution to comedy’s promotion of “rape culture.” The decision was pretty much unanimous that Patton won that fight and that Salon came out of it being entirely embarrassed.
But Salon of course can’t leave well-enough alone, and so now it’s once again posting material aimed at drawing Patton into a public battle — because neither Salon nor Miles Klee cares very much about how fucking stupid they look trying to joust against a comic like Patton Oswalt. They care only that the ensuing carnage will draw eyeballs and page-views. In much the same way that Klee accuses Patton of cynically toying with people on Twitter and scolds that it’s become a tired formula, Salon and Klee attempting to engage a hugely popular internet presence who’s already proven he’ll respond — which will of course benefit both of them in terms of traffic and traction — is an equally cynical endeavor. At this point, Salon barely gives a damn what it puts out there anymore as long as it draws numbers. If those numbers come from people who hate-read — and a quick glance over the comments for the Klee piece and really most of what Salon publishes these days shows that’s what they’re going for — then so be it. Traffic is traffic.
Guy who wrote the essay about unfollowing me has, since writing it, mentioned me 20+ times, directly Tweeted me twice & RT'd me 3 times.
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 12, 2014
Late last week, Patton told Craig Ferguson that the goal of his latest troll campaign really was to show that many of the so-called social justice warriors on Twitter are constantly on the lookout for something to be offended by — and in the absence of anything real, they’ll settle for entirely contrived outrage. Salon has basically made these people its bread and butter, giving them a platform and even exploiting their various grievances in the name of the almighty page-view. With very few exceptions — even fewer than before now that Alex Pareene and Brian Beutler have left for First Look and The New Republic, respectively — the site isn’t even about journalism anymore. It’s about spinning impotent outrage into revenue by putting people like Miles Klee in a dunk tank and letting anyone not interested in being told what to be angry about throw things at him. As I said once before, Salon is now basically Thought Catalog for people without thoughts, only knee-jerk reactions.
Patton Oswalt has gotten pretty good at showing you where the most extreme of those people are on the internet. And I’m not sure that kind of thing is in danger of getting old just yet.