Glancing at TechCrunch late on Thursday evening, I immediately realised there was trouble afoot.
A few hours earlier, Sarah Lacy had published a post about the difficulties she’d had receiving her visa to Brazil to research her book and report on start-ups for TechCrunch. I’d read the post and sympathized with Sarah’s frustration. The problem, apparently, had been caused by an ‘upgrade’ of Brazilian embassy computer systems and the resulting havoc had affected everyone from journalists to business people to the coach of a national football – sorry, ‘soccer’ – team.
As Sarah wrote, it also meant that she would now not be able to meet any of the scores of startups who had hoped to speak to a visiting TechCrunch reporter. If I were one of those startups, I’d be pissed. I’d be pissed at my government for not getting their technology together, and I’d be pissed generally that I’d missed an opportunity to showcase my business on a foreign stage. I might even post a comment saying as much.
Glancing at TechCrunch on Thursday evening, then, I half-expected to see maybe a couple of dozen comments on the post. But no. There were hundreds. Almost 500 in fact, and just about every one of them was attacking Sarah specifically, and American visa policy, generally.
How dare you insult Brazil!” they cried, “You stupid Americans demand that Brazilians have visas to visit your country; why shouldn’t we do the same?” Some of them used words like “reciprocity” and “pay back”. One even called Sarah a ‘gringa’, which was cute and in no way played to a stereotype. Many – who clearly knew all about the months of planning Sarah had done for her trip – angrily suggested that she should have started applying from the visa earlier. A vocal minority was additionally livid that the post was illustrated by a mashup – culled from Google images – of the Brazilian flag and the ‘EPIC FAIL’ meme. Some demanded criminal penalties for the outrage. It was whatever the Portuguese is for a train wreck.
Puzzled, I read the post again. Clearly I’d missed something on my first reading. Obviously Sarah – who, let’s remember, has been TC’s most vocal advocate for relaxing US visa laws for foreign entrepreneurs – had called for Brazil to be bombed back to the stone age, or suggested its womenfolk were unclean. But no, she really had just complained that a computer upgrade had inconvenienced her and thousands of other travelers who already had been approved for visas but who hadn’t been delivered them on the day they were promised.
As a foreigner on these shores, the subject is one close to my heart, which is why I’d read – and sympathised with – the post in the first place. Not long ago, I went through the visa process to relocate to the US from the UK. I had a far smoother experience than many of my European friends who are still flailing around in H1B or O1 hell, but I still had to struggle through a dull process of bureaucracy, money, police checks, paperwork, money, waiting, interviews, money and bullshit. And money.
In fact, the only truly smooth aspect came right at the end, once I’d been approved for the visa and was told my passport would be returned three days later. With that, I booked my flight and, sure enough, at exactly 9am on the third day, a courier arrived on my doorstep clutching my newly visa-d passport. Had there been an unexpected delay after being told I could make travel plans, I’d have been furious: there’s no excuse for missing deadlines when you’ve promised they’ll be met. Reciprocity and forward planning have nothing to do with it; it’s just bureaucratic sloppiness. On that front, the Brazilian embassy had failed. Epically.
And what about this flag business? I mean, seriously. If I understand you correctly, Brazilians, Photoshopping your national symbol with a joke meme is an unforgivable affront to your nationhood, and yet painting it across your girlfriend’s breasts at a soccer game or screen-printing it on a tiny g-string is a wonderful celebration of national identity? Maybe we Brits are just under-sensitive, but frankly you could Photoshop a defaced picture of the queen onto our flag and you wouldn’t hear a peep of complaint. Except perhaps that you stole our idea.
So if it wasn’t the visa issue, or the flag, really the only justification I could find for the Brazilian commenters’ rage was Sarah’s remark that her husband was worried about her traveling to the country due its reputation for violence.
This is of course typical American paranoia of all points foreign. “The natives are savages! We won’t be able to walk the streets in safety!” they whine, in a hideously unfair characterisation of a gentle, welcoming people. No wonder some Brazilians were upset with Sarah, to the point where they posted comments threatening to spit in her face and rape her.
And that’s where I realized that something was terribly awry. Sarah writes a story about bureaucratic ineptitude and broken promises, illustrated by a mildly clichéd Photoshop, and her safety is threatened by a mob of lunatic Brazilians. Arrington disses a few start-ups over the years and a mental German spits in his face at DLD. Erick writes a controversial headline about a multinational music service and the threats get so serious that TechCrunch has to call in the cops to protect its staff.
And that’s just the foreigners. The Americans are just as bad: last week Vivek Wadhwa received hundreds upon hundreds of furiously xenophobic responses to his guest post – many suggesting that the Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Executive in Residence at Duke University was unwelcome on American soil. His crime? Suggesting that it should be easier for skilled foreign workers to get H1B visas. A suggestion, by the way, which was later linked to and supported by Newt Fucking Gingrich.
I don’t get it. Where am I going so wrong?
I was hired by TechCrunch specifically to be the controversial one. Unlike the rest of the writers here, who have actual reporting credentials, my whole shtick is saying inflammatory things and inciting furious debate among morons. To that end, in my very first column I declared war on anonymous commenters, making it absolutely clear how much I hate every last one of them, and even threatening to bludgeon the little basement-dwellers to death with their own Wil Wheaton action figures.
Since then I’ve tried to up my game. I’ve promoted scientifically dubious fad cleanses, I’ve called out lying company spokespeople and threatened to name and shame them, I’ve applauded Google for its anti-trust activities and suggested that Microsoft would commit genocide if it was commercially expedient. I’ve written an entire column attacking Drudge-reading Republican ditto heads who object to Obama’s attempts to control the Internet. Hell, I’ve even admitted to once being a magician.
But still nothing.
How is it possible I’ve attacked Republicans and not received my own death threats? What’s the point in them deliberately misinterpreting the spirit of the Second Amendment if they’re not going to use the handguns strapped to their thighs to intimidate a foreigner? Where are my globules of Teutonic sputum or my sickening threats of violence? What does a man have to do around here to get threatened with rape by a Brazilian?
Frankly, I’m starting to get worried for my job. Every week Arrington gets off on threatening to fire me – but so far I’ve clung on to the gig, mainly because I keep convincing him that I’ll be a source of controversy and excitement. And yet week in, week out I’m getting my ass handed to me by just about everyone else on TechCrunch. And they’re not even trying.
Clearly I have to up my game. Over the coming weeks the gloves are going to have to come off. I’m going to have to go all-out with deliberately provocative headlines and racist ledes in the hope of prompting a mob of moronically illiterate textually-violent misogynist dickweeds to abuse me. Only then will my controversy crown be restored and my survival here assured.
From next week then, you can look forward to column titles like…
“Did the state of Israel just pass data to the RIAA?”
“CBS’s acquisition of Last.fm: smartest American deal with a German since Werner von Braun?”
“US education hasn’t produced a decent one since Oklahoma: so why is it so hard for foreign bombers to get H1B visas?”
“The Fanboys from Brazil: why Latin American Mac users are even more insufferably smug than those in the rest of the world”
“The French are Lazy, Americans are fat, Brits have bad teeth, Palestinians are all terrorists and the Swiss got rich on Nazi gold – and it’s all the fault of AT&T”
“Fuck you, Belgium”
…and probably something about South Africans being boorish and ignorant. They’re always good for a fight.
And then, after I write those, I’m imploring the comment idiots amongst you to do your worst. Once you’ve finished skimming my words, misinterpreting my every premise and forming your knee-jerk, nationalistic response – please, please be sure to hack it out in the comments. Don’t worry about accuracy, grammar or even basic literacy: it’s a numbers game and you freaks are my last hope at keeping this gig.
After all, where will I be without my job as Controversialist in Residence at TechCrunch? Destitute, that’s where. A poor, jobless, bitter loser with a strange accent, forced to beg for money from my neighbors to survive.
Oh, God, I’ll be Welsh.