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Comedy Bronze

Hey, remember The Webmaster? Good, because I…basically forgot about him. Per that last entry, we left off with me deciding I’d wait a week before asking him to remove all my content, plus my login/password, and then I’d post them all here. That was on May 2nd, and I haven’t posted any of that stuff here. Why? I…basically forgot. That, I guess, illustrates how much that crappy film-review site means to me in the here and now.

Thankfully, my friend Mark decided to jog my memory by e-mailing me a Craigslist posting featuring the following hi-larious “job posting,” written by The Webmaster:

[Website name redacted] is looking for interns to review films and TV shows on DVD then write reviews. There also exists opportunities to attend press screenings and perform interviews with filmmakers and celebrities via telephone or one-on-one.

This is part-time work which typically only takes up roughly three to four hours of your time per project.

This is a non-paying internship.

Anyone who tells you they can make money off the web is either lying to you or does not understand how the web works. Only a handful of sites make any real money. We have been in business online for 13 years and have yet to make a profit. We do this because we love what we do, and you should, too.

If you’re interested, send writing sample and level of interest. Be honest; if you cannot meet deadlines then you probably should not try this – deadlines are a part of any writing job.

Bitter? Nah…

Mark sent me the posting because it gave him a good laugh, and he thought it’d do the same for me. It did, but it also reminded me that I had yet to write The Webmaster back and make my demands. In fact, The Webmaster sent me one final (apparently) e-mail on May 27th that I ignored, then forgot about. It’s similar in tone to the previous e-mails, but it sort of maintains the passive-aggressive pseudo-guilt trip while heightening the defensiveness. Check it:

To: Stan

From: The Webmaster

Subject: [Blank]

Hey, Stan,

Just checking in to see what’s up. That last email from you was really a surprise and honestly out of left field. I had not heard from you in some months then tried reaching you for several months and was wondering what happened to you and was a little bit concerned. I apologize for calling the old phone number I found on some class papers from that class, but you weren’t answering emails or your phone messages. In all fairness, how am I to know who you want me to call or not call if you don’t tell me before hand? Seems a little unreasonable. And you seemed more upset at me than it just being about that. If you’ve been upset at having agreed to do the work on the site but did not share that with me, then how am I to know what you’re thinking or how you’re feeling.

I appreciate all you’ve done. It’s a huge improvement. But to suddenly disappear and then respond with such negativity really surprised me, because you hadn’t voiced anything about being upset before. I’m sorry if you resent me or what you’ve done, but I did not cause it. You volunteered to do this because you were interested in doing something with your time. I did not coerce or force you to do any of this.

I’m open to discussing any of this.

All the best,

The Webmaster

If you go back and read the post I linked above, you’ll note that most of the first paragraph is a heady combo of bullshit and revising history. If you change “several months” to “several days,” it’s a little more believable, but then, I think, it makes my reaction a little less “unreasonable” and “out of left field.”

However, “in all fairness,” he does make a semi-decent point in the second paragraph. I did volunteer because I was interested in doing something with my time. Now, as I explained to him in my last correspondence, I am working two jobs that pay actual money. Why would I continue to make something that I’ve always been aware has never paid and will never pay a high priority?

As I’ve said, I never ignored him—in fact, with the exception of the Twitter debacle, I handled most of his requests pretty quickly, because they were mostly easy tweaks. But I did stop volunteering to review things, and I did stop writing my column. I could blame it on my increasing wrist pain, but the honest truth is that I grew disillusioned with it. I’d worked on it for over a year without hearing any feedback from anyone except Mark and my mom, so I felt safe in assuming nobody was reading. This was reinforced by the total lack of reaction when I stopped working on it, unannounced. Not even The Webmaster noticed this until about three months after I’d stopped.

Admittedly, this was irresponsible, but I did intend to get back to writing it. It turned into a low priority, but it didn’t cross my mind that I’d never write another column until I had to see a doctor about my wrist, couldn’t type for a month, and then had to deal with a massive influx of scripts throughout April and May, during which time all sorts of shit went down with The Webmaster. But even if I were still writing for the site, I would have looked at the ~18 columns I’d need to power through in order to catch up and said, “Fuck it. It’s over.” At which time I would have likely e-mailed The Webmaster to tell him someone else can take over the column for me, or we can just archive it. And if that doesn’t sound like professional behavior, you’re right, it’s not. But it’s amazing how professional I can be when somebody’s handing me a paycheck.

Anyway, while The Webmaster did not “coerce” or “force” anything upon me, he did—as I pointed out previously—make certain promises that convinced me to participate in something I would have otherwise turned down, like that he’d use his elaborate network of contacts to help me find a decent, well-paying writing job. He also sort of misrepresented the site, leading me to assume it was a semi-professional endeavor. It was not, at all. I’m still wondering how he got so many actual PR firms to send real press packets and screeners to himself and his staff. The only conclusion I can draw is that it’s really, really easy to make a shammy film-review website legitimate in the eyes of soulless publicists.

Point being, he can deny responsibility all he wants, and at the end of the day, he’s not responsible. I found out pretty quickly that I’d been handed a lemon, and I stupidly wasted a couple of years trying to turn it into lemonade. So yeah, that’s my problem. Now I’m making up for it. Still, I think I have the right to resent someone, at least a little bit, who more than once made promises involving big fat dollar signs that actually amounted to big fat steaming turds.

So I had my laugh, but then I realized I should shit or get off the pot in terms of getting all my old articles. I was very angry when I wrote my last post, and I wanted to be pseudo-confrontational in demanding he remove them, but it’s been nearly two months. I’m still pissed, but I’ve regained enough of my trademark cold, calculated rationality to realize that a mini-confrontation like that just isn’t worth it. I figured I’d just go to the site, load up my writer page, and copy/paste all the text.

I figured wrong.

The reviews? They were fine. I actually grabbed the HTML source so it’d retain all the formatting, so that was cool. But the column? They showed nothing but blank HTML files…

Why? Well, it goes back to one of the ways I had to design around the CMS. Like most CMSes, it allows for multiple categories. However, it doesn’t strictly allow for different templates for each category. I developed a workaround, using a plugin that tells the system to use X template for Y category and sticking that code into the basic template. My column had its own category, but I discovered as I clicked back to the main page that The Webmaster had replaced my column with another…

I looked at the new version of my column—which, as of my discovery last night, had no posts—with horror and disgust. It’s not that The Webmaster’s new web monkey—don’t think for a second I believed The Webmaster decided to take an interest in HTML or graphic design—did anything offensive to the web design; in fact, it displayed a test page that looked exactly the same as my design, with two key differences. First, it had none of my columns, instead listing test posts. Second, the new web monkey had altered my header image.

Look, I don’t have a background in web or graphic design, either. I redesigned the film-review site largely by the seat of my pants, rolling the site’s old, ugly layout into a new, more aesthetically pleasing package. The only real creative input I had was in differentiating what I considered different “main sections.” Each of these sections—reviews, interviews/features, and TV—had different color schemes to separate them aesthetically. For another holdover from the old design, the image of a film reel shoved into one corner of the web page, I added an image of a TV screen to differentiate the TV stuff from the film stuff. It’s pretty elementary.

So the header images were pretty simple: either a film reel or a TV set in the corner, the name of the section in big block letters, and the section’s color scheme highlighted in the background. I had always intended to send the Photoshop files with the templates for each header to The Webmaster, in case he ever needed to change them. Some of them—including the one for my column—specifically mention the writer’s name or mention a particular sort of mission statement for the section that may end up changing. However, The Webmaster never took much of an interest in the redesign, so I never took the time to send him those files.

As a result, I guess theoretically one could argue the new web monkey did the best he could. He took a portion of the original header image that did not contain any text, enlarged it to cover the full area of the header, and added new text describing the new version of the column. The new typeface doesn’t match the one I used for graphics—Futura, one of the most well-known and easy-to-get fonts in the history of time—and the web monkey made the mistake of also keeping the non-enlarged TV in the corner. The result? A jarring, somewhat comical change in color and background-pattern sizes, with no attempt to feather it or anything else to make it look the tiniest bit professional.

You know what I would’ve done if I had to come in and clean up after somebody else’s design? I’d just find new graphics and start from scratch, to give the overall site coherence. But hey, maybe I’m just anal. And for those of you thinking that’s a lot of work to change one aspect of the site, you’re wrong: it’s nothing more than one background pattern in three different hues, with different text for each section and a different “icon” in the corner. I used one .psd file for the entire thing, simply hiding and unhiding layers to create the appropriate combinations. Like I said, I have no background in graphic design, I barely have an idea of what I’m doing, yet to me this is just common sense.

What could I do, after discovering I could no longer access the text of my columns because (a) I lacked access to the backend, and (b) this new/horrible design for a new/horrible TV column had decimated my column’s HTML files? For all The Webmaster’s goofy paranoia in stripping me of said backend access, he’s made no effort to change any of the passwords for FTP access or the MySQL database (it’s entirely likely he doesn’t even know what the latter is). He also never deleted my CMS account. I guess he realized doing so would permanently erase all of my reviews, as well, so he merely unchecked every available preference to lock me out. Funny thing about that, though: the MySQL database stores all the username preferences, which one can easily toggle by replacing a “0” (no permission) with a “1” (permission!).

With my “superuser” access restored, I logged in to the database and saved every one of my columns into one large text file. I took a few moments to snoop around and confirmed my suspicion that he’d brought in another web monkey: the activity log was flooded with this user deleting templates, creating templates, creating test posts, altering templates, etc., etc. I snooped around to look at the other new templates, but I only found one—a test template for a new version of the index page, which retains my design but adds horrible/unnecessary ClipArt to each of the sections. Again, it doesn’t fit with the aesthetic at all, and… Seriously? ClipArt? This shit is so generic, it might actually have been taken from MS Office’s stockpile of ClipArt. Or maybe a free GIF site. To each his own, I guess, but it’s fucking ugly.

At first, it pissed me off: some douchenozzle is soiling my design. My mind combines three unfortunate personality traits: intense anger manifested through elaborate pranks concocted with the maturity and wit of a 12-year-old pothead. I had the following thought, and even though I’ve tried to push past it, committing to this prank is so fucking tempting: rather than allowing them to sully my design, I should rewrite all the templates to reflect The Webmaster’s old, rickety, crap design. Fine, keep the CMS backend. Who cares? But all my graphics and spiffy Web 2.0-ification can go. He can return to his GIFs and his GoLive default templates, and the new web monkey can try to concoct his own redesign.

The only thing holding me back—other than the vague, nagging realization that it’s not worth my time (not just the time required for redoing the design, but the time required dealing with the fallout)—is that this isn’t really my design. The Webmaster was very hesitant about the prospect of a redesign, so I didn’t do much more than make his version of the site look a little spiffier. Once he’d dipped his toe in the water, I’d start springing more advanced features like horizontal menus, non-Verdana fonts, and redundancy elimination. Of course, we never got to that point. I didn’t even last six months after launching the redesign.

Let’s talk about the redundancy, though, because it’ll become important in a minute…

I’ve always felt the site suffered because of The Webmaster’s odd choice to repeat information all over the site. Right off the bat, we have two main pages: index.html and main.html. The index is the first thing you see, and there’s a link to the main from there. Although they have different layouts, both pages contain pretty much the same information, listing the latest reviews. There’s an archive page that also lists every review on the site—this, at least, is necessary because the reviews fall off the main pages once they get too old. But because the archives page—as mandated by The Webmaster—is divided into full lists of each category, is it really necessary to include separate archive pages of these categories? (To make that clearer: you have an “Interviews” portion of the archives page, and then a separate archive page listing just the interviews. Necessary?)

Well, I discovered this morning—now that the reinvention of my old column has officially “launched”—that The Webmaster has mandated still more redundancy: they have a TV section that lists all TV reviews—except my former column. Now they have the new version of my column, which…lists all TV reviews. They’ve also added new sections for “theatrical releases” and “DVD releases,” despite the fact that these categories already exist. You might ask why, but merely asking yourself that question means you’ve officially put more thought into the website than The Webmaster has.

Does this rambling collection of thoughts have a moral, or any kind of point? If it’s not “never do free work for people,” it’s this: people aren’t worth it. I’m an angry and spiteful kind of guy, but I’ve reached a point of spiritual awareness where I can—for the most part—avoid making horrible snap decisions as a result of anger. When I calm down, I always realize that it’s not worth the time, energy, and/or expense. I could completely decimate The Webmaster’s site—do much worse damage than merely rewriting templates to give the site that vintage 1999 look it had when I started writing for it (in 2006)—but life’s too short.

I guess where I’m at is: will The Webmaster learn a lesson? He’s already justified his side of things to such a degree that, in his mind, he bears no responsibility. Although, if you parse those e-mails again, it’s clear to me that most of his defensiveness comes from guilt. Despite that, he’s justifying and spinning so he doesn’t have to consider that maybe he doesn’t know how to run a website or a business or interact with other humans respectfully. If I fuck with him, it’ll only reenforce his conclusions and wash away what little guilt he feels. Other than briefly amusing me, how will that help? He’s not worth it.

Oh, and here’s the happy-ending postscript: since I had to hack the database and log back in anyway, I just quietly deleted all my old posts myself, without interacting with The Webmaster at all. No muss, no fuss.

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