Letting Off Steam

Creative Web sites provide angry surfers with forums to complain about anything they want

September 03, 2001|By Matt Weitz | Matt Weitz,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

"Commie pinko [expletive] Democrat."

"What's your problem?"

"Get a life for yourself, and let your children have a childhood!"

If spoken aloud at a sporting event, phrases such as these might spark one of those nasty, not-in-front-of-the-kids imbroglios that are the mainstays of TV talk shows.

Instead, this and other zippy rejoinders are being exchanged in between calmer doses of actual information at an online chat room and forum popular with soccer parents. The site is hosted by GOTSoc cer.com (www.gotsoccer.com).

Experts online and off say that the ability to express anger anonymously is one of the Internet's biggest attractions.

But what is it about the Web that attracts anger so resolutely?

Chat rooms - which have long facilitated exchanges of ire - are by no means the angriest things online. Today, there are entire Web sites devoted to our peeves. The workplace, the drive there and back, rock bands, even tofu - no aspect of the general culture seems too small for complaint.

From the waitress kvetching about the regular patron whose wife takes half of his tip, to the tech-support guy in his cubicle trying to figure out what a customer means by his computer's "lenbox," more people are using the Web to vent.

"What the Internet has done is open up a new channel of communication," says Marshall Fishwick, professor of Humanities and American Studies at Virginia Tech.

"I call it free public communication, and it's turned every man into an open book.

"For years, ordinary people had no outlet for their inner emotions. To expose yourself was improper. Now, when you go online, even a slight action could have enormous ramifications, like the `I Love You' bug. You can spill your guts, and why not? It's a free ride."

"It's amazing how little information is actually involved sometimes," says Steve Myers, who counts himself as an "observer rather than participant" in discontentment sites.

George Duncan can vouch for the rising trend in Internet truculence. Three years ago, the Boston-based Duncan started Customers Suck! (www.customerssuck.com), a site devoted to providing store employees an avenue for expressing their side of the retail relationship.

"It started out as a joke," says Duncan, who still works in retail.

Soon, it was clear that he had tapped into a babbling brook of resentment.

"Within three months, I knew that it was going to work," Duncan says. Now he has separate domain names for bosses, medical patients and co-workers, as well as a catch-all category for idiots.

Not surprisingly, another family of Web sites involves drivers. The Atlanta Roadways Digest (www.tardsite.com) and Shameful Drivers of Southern Ontario (http://psquirk.tripod.com/shameful) are definitive examples.

Paul Quirk of Oshawa, Ontario, created the Shameful Drivers site a year ago. He regards it as much more than a litany of funny stories and revenge.

"When I'd be driving and notice stupid or dangerous behavior on the road, instead of getting angry, I decided to take a picture," Quirk says.

"That strips some of the anonymity from these drivers, and I think that belief - that nobody knows who you are - is what makes a lot of people drive badly."

"Instructive" and "entertaining" are the words that best describe discontentment Web sites. But every now and then, Web surfers will come across a site that is downright inspiring.

One such a site is Flame Broiled: The Disgruntled Ex-Burger King Employee Page (www.Geocities.com/bk_bites), whose homepage message starts out with: "My pain runs deep. My acne has never left my face. My memories of adolescence are riddled with the smell of chicken tenders and vanilla shakes. I have seen the creatures that live at the bottom of the Dumpster."

"It's kind of a joke, but it's also serious," says Mike, the site's creator who prefers anonymity to meeting with Burger King lawyers.

Although very much the usual compendium of anecdotes and excoriation, Flame Broiled also draws on a near-mythical dark power: Boovin - a dronelike, yes-man character based on the experiences of a college-age Mike and his buddy.

The pair funded their education by laboring in the halls of the ground-meat monarch.

"We'd been worked, burned out and used by the system," Mike says. "We wanted to let corporate America know how what they do affects the little guy. We wanted to get our message out there."

Some say that these sites are kernels around which a community can form. Fishwick isn't so sure.

"Mouthing discontent does not necessarily relieve it," he says, "and sometimes it makes it worse.

"Real community exists in the flesh, eyeball-to-eyeball. This is a pseudo-community, like when you go to a movie theater and everybody's crying because of the death of Little Nell. No one really knows her, and she's not dying anyway."

Lee Weddall, head soccer coach at DeSoto High School near Dallas and skipper of two boys Coca-Cola Classic League teams, laughs when asked if he thought venting helped hotheads cool down.

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