2.2
April 9, 2010

Waylon Lewis is a prick. Discuss. (Or, How not to blog + comment.)

How Waylon got his Ass Kicked by George Carlin (and elephant’s readers)

…and Lived to Learn Something From it.

~

Why don’t I just come out and say it? Waylon Lewis is a prick.

Ooh, but that’s not a very nice thing to say. After all, elephant’s main man is many good things: an environmentalist, a socially conscious entrepreneur, a Buddhist, a supporter and creator of things that benefit our world and its many beings. How dare I call him a prick?

Well, for a second there, last week, I thought he might just have become one. And, if you too had seen his recent post about George Carlin’s “Saving the Planet” routine, you might have thought the same. Certainly, many of the readers who commented there and on Facebook were surprised and disappointed by Way’s diatribe (and later, comments) against George. All in all, people responded that Waylon was being humorless, too politically correct, and overall, missing G.C.’s points. I agree, and even think Way went a bit off the reservation: not only did he directly compare the late comedian to Rush Limbaugh—seriously, Waylon: were you out of your mind when you wrote that?—but he got a bit weird with his readers. He even called Carlin a jerk, and yes, a prick.

George Carlin was a fearless provocateur, sure. But he was no prick.

But then, in reality, neither is Waylon Lewis. If he was, he wouldn’t let me publish this on elephant, would he? I mean, I called him a prick, right there at the top of this page. And what’s worse, I’m about to detail how Waylon went wrong with his anti-Carlin rant.

Why is this cool with Waylon? Because he’s not afraid to admit that he did go wrong. And that, I say, goes a long way to negate any allegations of prick-ness. Accountability is God in my book, and so I think that Waylon, by clicking “publish” on this post, has redeemed himself on this one.

So let’s have a little fun now, pulling Way apart, bit by bit. Don’t worry. He can take it (mostly).

The main thing is this: Waylon lost his cool. Now, while he might say otherwise, I think he just didn’t get Carlin’s humor. That’s not the issue here, though. I mean, I personally consider Carlin a hero, but I’m cool with Waylon disagreeing with me. (People do all the time!) Where Way did go wrong is in his name-calling, and his getting snarky with readers in comments.

That’s especially tricky because the elephant readership (i.e., you) is a bright one: educated, opinionated, and for the most part driven by the same compassion and altruism that drives Way himself. So when he wrote the things that he did about Carlin, it was cognitive dissonance; many, like me, thought, Are you kidding me? Some expressed dismay, writing things like: We expect more from you, and, Makes me wonder why I’m following. No one wants to alienate readers—but alienating smart readers is a worst-case scenario for a smart publisher. That, I can tell you, Waylon is, as surely as I can tell you that George Carlin was one of the most envelope-pushing, good-for-us comedians who ever walked on what he called “this beautiful little blue-green ball that’s just a’floatin’ around the sun.”

But, as I said, Waylon lost his cool. Well, guess what? Losing your cool is cool—as long as you own up to it, and you learn from it. And Waylon did that. As he told me in an email after I called him on it:

Frankly, I knew I was being emotional, I just work day in day out to try and, in my way, be of benefit. Normally I try and be a bit more removed, breathe in and out… I got my ass kicked on this one, and was lost emotionally.

In other words: he was frustrated by the response to the Carlin video and post, and it got the best of him.

That’s very easy to do, especially online.

Why? For starters, there’s the relative anonymity of the web: you’re not looking someone in the eye (or even hearing their voice) when you respond to them, and that can make it hard to communicate with optimal skillfulness. But then, there’s the business-end of working with words in the virtual world. Unless you’re very lucky, you may not be able to pay the bills, much less “get rich” on the web—or even comfortable. Working in a medium where people are hesitant to pay for content, when content is what you do, can be harrowing. Look how many posts go up on Elephant per day. Content IS what this site does.

It may be surprising to some that Facebook is part of the problem. Great for building what some call “social capital” (i.e., online goodwill; see Tara Hunt’s brilliant The Whuffie Factor), Facebook doesn’t help websites in other crucial areas: when you leave a comment on a site’s Facebook page, your engaged time isn’t reflected in the actual site’s stats, which are very important to advertisers. So elephant, like so many other sites, is walking a weird line: Readers love to comment, but too often not in the place where it matters most for a site’s longevity.

If you’re a frequent visitor to elephant, you probably know that the site is trying new approaches to making up for lost revenue and attractiveness to advertisers. That’s good. But the most important thing, for a while, at least, will be keeping readers coming back to actual sites themselves. It’s not yet a science, and yes, it’s frustrating. Add that to the pressures of keeping that content coming despite low funds, and it’s only more frustrating. You’re bound to mess up sometimes, and you’re bound to bum some people out when you do.

In that way, Waylon has more in common with good ol’ George Carlin then he might have realized: in speaking from the heart, he came across in a way that at least a couple of people might have found unskillful. But also as with George, I rest assured that what’s in Way’s heart is essentially good, and that he works hard to channel it into the kind of work that supports and sustains us.

In our increasingly challenging world—whether we encounter it online, or off—that’s invaluable. So I for one am going to cut Waylon a little slack, even though I remain convinced that he was very, very, very, very wrong about my hero George.

It’s okay. I’m often wrong. Though I’m pretty confident, this one time, that I’m not.

I hope you agree. If you do, support elephant.

You can start by leaving a comment here.

Rod Meade Sperry is the editor of ShambhalaSun.com, Shambhala SunSpace, and the Buddhism-and-pop-culture site, TheWorstHorse. Some people think his coverage of the “Brit Hume/Tiger Woods affair” makes him a tabloidy hack. You can’t win them all.

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