On the Subject of Skin Thickness
I was the subject of some discussion last week in the comments of the site File 770, specifically on the matter of whether my occasional snarking on Twitter at the sad, attention-seeking dudes who regularly try to cut me down online is proof that I have “thin skin” regarding criticism, etc. And while I like anyone am an imperfect observer of my own psychology, I do actually live with me, and have some idea of what actually goes on in my head. So I thought I would take a stab at an answer to this question, as of February 12, 2022.
Which is: I don’t think I’m particularly thin-skinned? Bear in mind I am a person who enjoys vicious one-star reviews of my work, and who also (rather famously) grades hate mail on the effort given to it, and will send it back with a request for revisions if I don’t think it shows sufficient creativity. Less flashily, I do frequently remind people that a) I and my work are not for everyone, b) people are perfectly within their rights to not like or even actively dislike me and/or my work, and c) while by and large I believe in letting people alone when they express their opinion about me, positively or negatively, on the occasions I do engage or comment, no one else should take that as their cue to pile on. “Never be an asshole on my behalf” is my motto.
Most people, I think, are happy to oblige me, and for the few who would still persist in being an asshole on my behalf, well, that’s (one reason) why I usually screencap and anonymize comments, or paraphrase and subtweet. None of which, I would suggest, is the sign of a particularly thin-skinned person.
That said, I sure do screencap/subtweet a lot of people being nasty about me, to mock or snark on them, which is certainly indicative of… something. If not thin-skinnedness, then what?
Mostly, I’m just fascinated that they care, and that they take time to create their fantasy version of me, you know, the bubble universe Scalzi who is an abject, emasculated failure propped up by a conspiracy of publishers for reasons. Bear in mind that for some of these dudes, it’s not even (merely) personal, i.e., they don’t like me. It’s an actual (terrible) business model for them; they think there’s some financial or business advantage in publicly hating on me, a way to community build, as it were. And maybe there is! Although I expect that the audience for that is, how to say this, both exclusive and not especially well-moneyed. But when you’re slogging along at the margins and desperate for attention, I guess you’ll try anything.
I’m not going to get too upset that the He-Man Scalzi Haters Club (No Girls Allowed) exists, since fundamentally it’s not actually even about me. I do, however, reserve the right to laugh at it in public when it amuses me to do so. And I do reserve the right to have an interest in the fantasy versions of me that exist, positive or negative (or anywhere in between) and to comment about them, or on commentary about me in general (hello!). That’s not thin-skinnedness, I think. That’s merely ego, and possibly a little bit of childish glee that fantasy versions of me walk the world at all, and a certain level of entitlement that allows me to believe that when the subject of discussion is me (fictional version or otherwise), I’m allowed to comment about it on my own venues.
“But how do you keep finding these fantasy versions of yourself, Scalzi?” Well, sometimes people point them out to me; I’m sort of famously online a lot and people seem to think I need to be told when someone is talking about me. This is not necessarily true, but that doesn’t stop people. Other times, I find them because I regularly ego search on my name in order to find reviews or interesting bits of commentary about my work, and also because I’m the sort of person who will occasionally ego search just to find out what people are saying about me. I gave it up for Lent one year. It didn’t take.
I will occasionally link to professional reviews of work that I find this way, but don’t tend to link to/retweet/highlight the nice things people say about me on their individual accounts, since that feels a little braggy, especially if they didn’t “@” me about it if they’re social media (I may drop a like, which I think feels more appropriate). But I do screencap or subtweet the negative stuff when the mood hits me, because snarking on it is fun. That being the case, I acknowledge someone might look at that and see thin-skinnedness where I just see an opportunity to amuse myself.
Which is fine! I don’t think I’m thin-skinned but if you want to think I am, it’s not especially a bother to me if you do. You may even be right, because again, I am an imperfect observer of myself. But on the inside of me, you know, I feel pretty good about myself, my work, and my accomplishments, and have a reasonable bead on them all, both for myself and in the context of my genre and profession. I’m occasionally snarky and petty, possibly a bit pugnacious, and I certainly have an ego, and can ramble on about myself rather a bit (hello again!). One thing I don’t think I am is insecure, however, and insecurity to my mind is a primary motivator of thin-skinnedness.
(Plus there’s the fact that even if I am insecure — and ultimately, I might be! — the vector of my insecurity is rather more likely going to be pointed upward, and not at the algae-scrapers who currently potshot at me online. I mean, let me be blunt, these dudes don’t rate the effort. This frustrates and annoys them, which, of course, I find delightful. To be additionally blunt, they can fire away at me all they want, because it doesn’t amount to much; in the real world my books sell fine and I do perfectly fine for myself. If training their ire at me keeps them from bothering others, so much the better.)
So, there you have it, me looking at me, and the current thickness of my hide.