Hanging out at the school bus stop one morning in 6th grade, I was introduced to the concept of the slam book. Hand made out of notebook paper strung together with yarn, the slam book was a book of opinions. Each page had a person’s name at the top, with each book containing 20 or 30 pages with names. The book was passed around classmates, and each person was to write their opinion on the named person, but instead of signing your name, you were assigned a number. So a page might have “Jane Doe” at the top, and then several comments below ranging from “quiet, but sweet” to “stuck up!” and “conceited!” signed by #12, #7, and #14.
Slam books were popular because as you were filling it out, you could concurrently see the opinions of everyone who’d signed before you. You’d learn everyone’s true feelings about each other. But, if your name was on one of the pages, the anticipation of seeing what was said about you was nerve wracking, and the fallout could be devastating. Girls who had been to your birthday party only a month before were now saying (in print!) that they think you’re “weird” or “she thinks she’s so special but she’s not!” Girls who didn’t know you at all suddenly had nasty things to say about you. And, the numbers-as-signatures were useless because page 1 of the book was the list of signers and their assigned numbers, so you very easily could check to see just who #12, #7, and #14 were.
Teachers did not tolerate slam books, and with good reason. They were nothing more than horrible collections of meanness used to humiliate others. The creators of the slam books were often the more outspoken girls who had the ability to attract a following out of intimidation. That type of girl would create the slam book and make half of the names her own circle of friends—who of course would have nothing but praise for each other--and the other half would be the quiet, chubby, poor, or otherwise easily threatened girls who didn’t have a group of their own to stick up for them. Those girls were then ripped to shreds in this makeshift Who’s Who of the schoolyard.
I can remember one slam book being passed around, the creator of which let me read the book but didn’t want me to sign in it. It was as if the book was a meant as a warning to me, a “see what I can do if you don’t stick to my side” kind of thing. Morbid curiosity got the best of me; I read it, and found out who she and her friends had decided to hold under their collective thumb and harass that month. You bet I didn’t want to be next on their list. These opinionators huddled in groups in the cafeteria and bus stop, well aware that their strength lay in their numbers. At those times, they were powerful.
I was never a member of the controlling crowd, and I was lucky enough to escape being one of the perpetual punching bags. I was carefully balancing the line between the two, always well aware that one bad move on my part could destroy my social standing, modest though it may have been. Methods of self preservation in middle school fluctuated. Some days you had to speak up and out, other days lying under the radar was imperative. Friendship circles changed weekly and you often found yourself straddling two competing circles, forced to choose between them. And the slam book was the social register of middle school.
It occurred to me recently that some folks never outgrew the habit of pseudo-anonymous print bullying. But now, instead of crudely fabricated paper books they utilize the internet and leave disparaging comments on personal blogs or social networking web boards, and none of these are intelligent or useful remarks.
“You’re obviously miserable!” was a recent commentary on this blog. This judgment was then repeated by several cohorts of the original poster, all delivered under the cloak of the anonymous comment option (which has since been disabled). Their medium has changed but their sentiments have not. In person these opinionators still huddle in groups at social events, still well aware that their strength lies in their numbers. They still tell each other who to like and who not to like. Their power, however, is questionable.
Much to my dismay I came across a website that is an online slam book. According to the site’s homepage, “You can SLAM, bitch, moan, complain, vent, whine, inform, protest, post funny pictures or videos, make fun of or prank ANYONE OR ANYTHING here AND we will index it for the world to see.”
How is this not libel? Full names and pictures are printed with disparaging remarks against people both famous and not. I won’t give the name or address of it because I refuse to promote such a useless waste of bandwidth. But its existence and popularity prove that public humiliation is a marketable domain, revolting though it may be.
The writers at both ages and of both media are cowardly, afraid to attach their names to their opinions and publicly own them. They are doing no one any favors by voicing them, and so often their insults are unfounded, untrue, and utterly undeserved. What motivates them…jealousy, rage, a need for revenge?
No one ever said we had to be friends with everyone we ever meet. But for everyone’s sake, we all need to realize that choosing friends is a personal decision, and everyone has something to offer to someone. Public teasing is juvenile, hurtful, and tactless.
This is true whether you’re 11 or 38 or 60.