From the Heartland: Masked Avenger

April 26, 2011 Updated: April 26, 2011

Commentary

“I like being famous when it's convenient for me and completely anonymous when it's not.”—Catherine Deneuve, actress

I’m a big fan of consumer reviews. Though they’re typically found among the least sophisticated content on the Internet, the amateur commentary contributes a significant influence to the choices I make. To think that billions are spent on persuasive ad campaigns, while many of my purchasing decisions are guided by the complaints or praise of complete strangers pushing nothing but a point of view.

For example, I wouldn’t consider buying an album without first consulting testimonials from people with no connection to the work other than having previously heard and assessed the music. Is it an overlooked gem or unknown for good reason? The honest critiques of anonymous commentators can help set me straight.

While I certainly don’t see value in every review I read (some are clearly designed just to ignite drama and controversy), I have to admit that sincere and well-reasoned examples carry a credibility that you just can’t buy.

In fact, I find the candid opinions of nameless individuals to be a refreshing alternative to the slick sales pitch or celebrity endorsement. However, the validity of any anonymous comment can only be as good as the person who posts it.

Take the case of Scott Adams, for instance. Though you may not recognize his name, it’s very likely you’re familiar with his work. He’s the creator of the long-running Dilbert comic strip.

The Dilbert comic is loved by millions, but of course not everyone’s a fan of Mr. Adams. Not long ago, a series of attacks against the cartoonist began filling a Metafilter message board—critical remarks panning Adams' controversial blog posts, his Wall Street Journal op-ed, and even his much beloved comic.

This series of anonymous remarks would have largely remained unknown to the world—just another rambling thread found among millions in the vast universe of cyberspace — until the story developed a curious turn.

An impossibly devoted Adams fan materialized on the message board to counter the critics, defending the Dilbert creator as “a certified genius.” The ardent supporter scolded his hero’s detractors with statements like “you can't rule out the hypothesis that you're too dumb to understand what he's saying.”

It may have been a lovely gesture—the sincere support of a longtime admirer—except that it wasn’t. After several months defending Adams’s reputation on the anonymous message board, the fan revealed himself as a phony. The determined soul standing up for the artist he believed in turned out to be the artist himself.

Adams may be the most recent impersonator of his own biggest fan, but he certainly isn’t the first. I recall a similar story from a few years back when John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, pulled a comparable stunt on a Yahoo message board. Hiding behind a false I’m-just-some-random-individual front, Mackey used the masquerade to promote his company, criticize the competition, and compliment his own “cute” haircut.

Why would those with such distinct advantages at their disposal choose to defend their reputations in such a devious way? Has public cynicism become so great that the famous and powerful remain unable to argue their sides in an open and dignified manner?

Some think so. Responding to the media attention from his message board scandal in a blog post last week, Adams claimed he “recently learned that there is an unwritten rule to the effect that celebrities should not defend themselves in the media, even against unfair, false, libelous, and career-ending claims.”

I’m not aware of such a rule, but I do know that an attempt to sway public perception based on fraud and deceit will do far more damage to credibility than any random snarky remark.

conan.milner@epochtimes.com

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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