There Aren’t Any White Hats on the Internet

Everybody is somebody’s villain

Tony Russo

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If there’s anything difficult about nonfiction writing, it’s closing the gap between the story and the reader. It’s easy enough to tell what happened and why it matters, but that doesn’t bring people along for the ride. Managing a reader’s reaction means tapping into their point of view.

If you read through to the end of one of my stories and don’t get it, that means I failed. Maybe I didn’t convince you with the premise or didn’t provide sufficient evidence. Sometimes I try too hard to sound clever and leave breadcrumbs for ideas that would be better served by explicit signage. Sometimes I’m just unintentionally oblique.

Social media is the place I’m most likely to miss the mark because I assume everyone occupies the same headspace, mine. I forget that I’m only the hero of my own story. Maybe we should amend “There are two sides to every story,” to add, “and every story needs a bad guy.”

No matter how many Rashomons or Wickeds make it into pop culture, it’s still an easy observation to overlook: If we’re the good guy in our story, we’re the bad guy in the alternate version. That means that sometimes we’re the bad guy and don’t notice. Sometimes we’re the bad guy and don’t care.

I Am Legend

With enough moral certainty in their heart, a person can do a shocking amount of evil whether or not that is their goal. The doctor seeing a cure in I Am Legend is a barbaric monster among the test subjects.

On a much lower-stakes level, one person’s cultural critic is another person’s insufferable troll. Intent has very little to do with what we say or write if we’re unclear or just flat-dead mistaken.

By those lights, I shouldn’t have been surprised that a recent (overly snarky) Facebook post of mine drew as much hate as it did.

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Tony Russo

Pencil-sharpening enthusiast, journalist, author of “Dragged Into the Light” https://amzn.to/3bLQ0Wi