Mr. Gale serves to teach us two lessons about social media and the internet — and more broadly, about life.
Lesson One: Douchebaggery Is Not A Zero-Sum Game
The first lesson is that boorish behavior is not binary. People are complex, life is complex, and despite our hunger to see the world in simple terms of white hats versus black hats, sometimes all participants in a social media melee are assholes.
In this instance, it’s perfectly possible to recognize that (1) that “Diane” — if she exists — was contemptibly rude and entitled towards airline staff who have no control over when a plane leaves and who are simply doing their jobs under trying circumstances, and (2) also recognize that Elan Gale is contemptibly self-involved for seeing Diane’s rudeness as an opportunity to confront and torment her for his own amusement and self-promotion. Recognizing one does not diminish the other, because douchebaggery is not a zero-sum game. “Diane” thought — either out of bad character, or temporary frailty — that she was entitled to vent at some poor bastard working for an airline on a holiday. Mr. Gale thought that the abuse of an airline employee was a swell opportunity to put a woman “in her place” and preen for his followers. You can criticize both without letting either one off the hook.
Now, me, I think Ken exaggerates Diane’s badness there. As I’ve mentioned in comments, all Elan reports her doing in his first tweets is 1) complaining about a bad situation that affects everyone around her, as if it affected her alone, and 2) telling a flight attendant who tried to sympathize or deflect by saying he wanted to get home for Thanksgiving too, “it’s not about you.” I don’t think that does amount to “contemptibly rude and entitled.” Moderately rude, but not contemptibly so.
I think the deal here actually is that she was irritating, much more than she was actively rude. I recognize that distinction, because I find people irritating all the time – especially in airports and on planes. Ohgod ten times more so in airports and on planes. My hatred of both environments causes my irritation-meter to go into hypersensitive mode. A Diane complaining about things that are obvious and shared could be irritating way out of proportion to its real rudeness. On the scale of things flight attendants have to put up with, I doubt it even registers. They work on planes! With people who are squashed in like sardines, breathing horrible air, with some stranger’s head in their lap.
But a lot of people are reading backwards. They hated Diane as soon as Elan started tweeting about her, or as soon as they read his first tweets about her, and then they read awfulness back into her behavior to justify their hatred. It’s very like “guys, don’t do that.” A lot of people read their hatred back into that small, cheerful piece of advice until it became unrecognizable.
Diane was irritating, as self-centered people are irritating, but if they’re strangers to us it’s almost never our jobs to set them straight. Sometimes it is, but not often. On that flight? It really, really was not Elan’s.
He’s doubling his following and becoming more and more popular with every move he makes against the anonymous “Diane”. Eventually, he tells her to ‘suck his d*ck’ and it really derailed from there.
Many people posted the story and called it hilarious, awesome, incredible etc. I felt like I was the only one who found it grotesque and over the line. Elan seemed to me like a gladiator in the pit being cheered as he hacked apart a smaller opponent.
Not the only one at all.
At the end of the saga, Elan tells Diane to ‘look him up online’. Doing so, we see that he is “producer of ABC’s The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, and Bachelor Pad…”
I can’t help but think that Elan has gotten reality TV and actual reality confused. On reality TV, the participants are paid to be humiliated, have their best and worst moments documented, and to be judged by an audience where the biggest smart ass wins.
In actual reality, the players have stories far beyond what we are aware of, their lives are not for entertainment, and their reactions are not scripted to best effect. Elan played to his audience, his crowd, and repeatedly battered a woman who was clearly having a horrible day.
And whether she really has cancer or not, whether the face mask was just because she has a cold or wanted to avoid getting a cold, she didn’t need an Elan Gale straightening her out.