Elan Gale, a reality television producer, had a high-profile Thanksgiving weekend. Mr. Gale live-tweeted a purported confrontation with a woman named "Diane" during a busy holiday flight. The intended message of Mr. Gale's presentation — whether it was "reality," or pure fiction — was that "Diane" was rude to airline staff and unpleasantly entitled, and that Mr. Gale is witty and righteous.
Not everyone took it that way. Some people found Mr. Gale to be an insufferable douchebag who enjoys telling complete strangers "eat my dick" and then crowing about it on Twitter. On the other hand, some people defend Mr. Gale and celebrate him as an honest comic or as a champion of manners.
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.
Being human, I've probably been guilty of both. Despite my best efforts I've been rude to people in service jobs (remember what Dave Barry says: someone who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person), and I've probably written about bad behavior here as a vehicle for one-liners on more than one occasion. It's good to be honest about that before throwing the first stone, but because it's not a zero-sum game, recognizing that doesn't diminish any else's responsibility for their own actions.
Lesson Two: You Control Your Behavior, Not The World's Reaction To It
Elan Gale also taught us another lesson over the weekend: you control your own words and your own behavior, but you don't get to control how the world reacts to you. If you try — if you act like you are entitled to control how people react to you — you'll come off like a fool. Mr. Gale did.
When some people online failed to recognize his righteous genius, Mr. Gale reacted with increasing resentment and petulance.
Faced with unverified claims that "Diane" might have been acting that way because she has Stage IV lung cancer and is dying — which could be true and could explain the face mask Gale claims she was wearing, or could be completely made up — Mr. Gale responded with more ridicule:
That one's not going to seem very funny if "Diane" is real and actually has cancer. (Well, Maybe Elan Gale would still think it's funny.)
Elan Gale can control what he says or does. He can decide whether or not to use a complete stranger for a comedy routine and whether to solicit praise from his followers by telling women to eat his dick. If the whole thing is made up, it's up to him whether or not to make such things up.
What's not in his control, and not up to him, is how others react.
You can do two things with that truth: you can own your words and live with the reaction to them, or you can react with wounded outrage when folks don't think you're as special as mommy always said you were. Elan Gale is has chosen the later option, erupting like a moody tween at people not embracing his awesomeness. I'm always at risk of blasting someone here who doesn't "deserve" it, but I hope at least I'm not in danger of proclaiming that I have a right to do so without being criticized. Do you want to be edgy? Do you want to crusade against boors? Do you want to use strangers in your comedy routines? Knock yourself out. But if you do so, and then whine when someone tells you that you've acted like an asshole, you're a ridiculous and pathetic figure.
Or perhaps Elan Gale's self-righteous reaction to criticism is scripted as well, and the whole thing is a satire of a culture of narcissistic entitlement on all sides — in which case, well played.
Edited to add: Mr. Gale continues to see himself as a victim, and to have nothing resembling self-awareness:
Edited again: Gale now seems to be suggesting that the whole thing was made up. Is he suggesting that his entitled response was part of the joke? I suspect he will.
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