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We hate Paul

This video has been around for maybe a day and a half, tops—in Internet Time, it’s already months old—but I really enjoyed its not-too-malicious dramatic reenactment of the dumbest, most interesting Holiday Shopping Nightmare human interest story ever told in 2011.

Also, Revision3’s Anthony Carboni is nowhere near jacked enough to play Paul, the villain in this melodrama, and this bit of miscasting is charming all on its own. (Kotaku and Escapist have the full deets, but the video might be enough.)

There are a lot of things about this I don’t understand. I don’t quite understand why “Dave,” the unhappy customer, forwarded his ongoing, charged email exchange to Mike Krahulik (“Gabe” of Penny Arcade, AKA the hotheaded one), except that Dave needed some muscle on his side. Mike tried his best to mediate, which is weird enough anyway, but there was little reasoning with “Paul,” the erstwhile giant of PR (whether he is even a PR guy is up for debate) who until recently had mishandled the marketing for some weird video game peripheral. Which, if you are wondering, did not ship in time for the holidays, and how dare you email Paul about this, Dave.

In a way I do feel bad for Paul. When a shipment is trapped in customs, you might feel helpless, especially when the holdup is not your fault. You can’t get frustrated with other people, though. Like, you just can’t.

So it turns out Paul might be a little bit of a nutjob; unsurprisingly, Paul no longer has a job.

And yet, and yet. There is so much pleasure—so much schadenfreude!—to be derived from this entire Greek tragedy, and I’m trying to wrap my head around why I’m getting off on it, along with the rest of the mob. It’s just so much fun to see a juiced-up marketing guy finally get peed on, isn’t it?

But why do we even feel that way?

Er. Most games journalists have such a distaste for PR people—please, stop me if this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule—maybe because we often get stuck rewriting press releases as pretend-news. Sure, I’ve had misunderstandings; I’ve had tiffs. Ugh, marketing. Ugh.

Why the disdain, though? Most PR people are authentically very nice! Obsequious sometimes, sure, if they’re doing their job. Pesky? All right. And it does seem like some of the girls exercise and drink vodka-sodas and wear tight pants and go clubbing after work (sorry!). But no PR person has ever really made my life miserable. In fact, PR people have split cabs with me, asked me about my job and my life, and taken me to dance clubs. Like I’m a swan-in-waiting! Or the ugly sorority sister, I’m not sure which. So there’s this palpable cultural divide, but PR people do go out of their way to not be jerks. I think back on the inventive ways I’ve maligned PR people—they try to be so nice, and you can get away with murder, hilarious murder—and in retrospect I know who the real jerk is.

I am struggling, in fact, to think of even one marketing person I’ve ever sincerely disliked as a human being, and the answer is, Me, Just Me, Anytime I Ever Did Anything that Felt Like Marketing, Even in Passing. God, can I be passive-aggressive. (The other ugly reality is, a lot of professional games journos, the married ones [which is impressive in itself; I think very few journalists manage to stay married], when suddenly faced with unemployment—and I am describing people for whom the financial dangerousness of freelancing is not an option, because there is a house and all these mouths to feed—will move swiftly and directly and invariably into the arms of PR, or marketing, or community-management, or whatever can crush a writer’s dignity readily and wholly.)

For my own part, I can only think of one industry email exchange that ever even approached rudeness. Long ago, a famous video game developer, in keeping with the spirit of his ‘pose’, contacted me to “get the ball rolling” in an email that was flip and obnoxious. I was actually kind of giddy when I received this email—certainly not offended, because I myself have hammered out some peevish emails to bosses—but I also didn’t know where to begin with my reply. So I… didn’t… write… back. I didn’t write this famous important dude back! The next morning, I received a second email, and this one was apologetic, deferential, and over-polite. And I was giggling as I wrote a very professional reply, but I was also very “Oh, no! This guy thinks I’m mad at him! That’s awful!”

And lately, the only strongly-worded email I’ve sent was to a company that sells and ships dog ornaments. Dog ornaments. These were sculpted ceramic dogs, intended to be looped onto little paperclip-hooks. I was writing on my mother’s behalf, of course. I did not receive a strongly-worded email in kind; I fixed that ish right up. (No, my mother did not owe money for a dog ornament. How dare they.)

What I am saying is, Paul is anomalous. He is nothing like the average PR person, as the average PR person tends to be very nice. Or indie developers, who have to do their own PR, they tend to be very nice also. I don’t think Paul is representative of games culture at all?

Oh, some people are willfully bombastic—even twerpy—and yeah, I’ve emailed threats that I cowrote with my legal person up in corporate, but even those were, I don’t know, nice? They were nice, measured, understanding, compassionate legal threats. (Of course I would think I’m “nice,” but seriously, now. Nothing good has ever come of an email sent in a hurry.)

I am trying to wrap my noggin around my own schadenfreude, and I think the word I’m looking for is “horror.”

Many writers, for instance, are horrified at the very thought of PR—it’s the machine that kills artisticalness! or whatever—and they project that horror as a type of disdain. But PR people are paid to be nice. If you have ever been a CM or worked retail, you know how difficult it is to be paid to be nice. You will kill yourself trying to stay nice. This weirdo, Paul? He’s gaily breaking every marketing rule. That is horrifying. Why is it so horrifying?

And it’s great fun, almost always, to crucify every socially aberrant behavior.

Which is not to say that “Paul” is in the right—he isn’t, and for the love of God, he should maybe pursue a course other than marketing, some course that won’t tax his writing skills, say—but again, why do I hate Paul so much?

Why do we all hate Paul?

As Mike Krahulik tells it, it’s because Paul is a “bully.” Oooh. We hate bullies. I really hate bullies. I, too, wish bullies would lose their jobs, exactly the way Paul has lost his job, publicly and cruelly. But bullying is not aberrant in certain professions; rather, bullying can be the hatter of success. Few people have gotten far on “nice.”

But we are sitting here on the Internet at all because we believe in the Internet’s ability, when speaking in one chorus, to invert the social hierarchy, whether to recognize RAW TALENT that otherwise wouldn’t be acknowledged, or to topple bullies and give them what-for. That hope is why I boarded the Internet in 1993, as a miserable preteen, and I bet that is part of the reason you are here now. We champion underdogs.

But when I was briefly a CM I discovered how easy it is to suddenly become the “bully” in any given narrative—this is to say, to become the person at whom the rest of the Internet is angry. It is a surprising position to find oneself in. And while it feels interminable and is forever googleable, it thankfully does not last.

I think I’m talking about this because Dave, in the Kotaku comments, became so apologetic. (This might be due, in part, to Paul’s apology.) Dave never intended his customer-service complaint to explode the way it did, now that we all hate Paul. Has Dave ruined Paul’s life? Dave wonders; Dave worries. Dave worries about becoming our champion. Dave worries about the way we have all seized on Paul.

Paul isn’t a nice guy. Paul shouldn’t even be in marketing. The world is full of not-nice guys; less so, marketing has some not-nice people, people I myself have never chanced to meet.

Still, maybe Dave is right to worry about us.

Update: Owen Good of Kotaku took the same stance as I did, only stronger, and the backlash in the comments—-calling for his op/ed to be “unpublished”!—-is so extreme, I cannot even.

3 responses to “We hate Paul” »

  1. Scott says:

    “Geek tradgedy”, lol!

  2. Brinstar says:

    As much as Paul did act unprofessionally, I do agree with that Kotaku article.

    The Penny Arcade duo wield a lot of cultural power and influence in various videogame communities. This isn’t the first or last time that they’ll sic their fans on someone, deserving or un-deserving, explicitly or not, as they have done in the past.

    It’s great that customers won, but this whole thing was ugly.

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