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Mar 14, 2015

The Art of the Complaint

written by Hannah

Twice over the Alps before ever I was born, my name is Hannah but when online I tend to go by Lunaed, or Eluned Francis. I like to live in the past or in other peoples' present. I live to travel and love to see the world from the perspective of others. I chew slowly, and absorb the world in much the same way: savouring it.

There seems to be a lot of naysayers about at the moment and for the life of me I can’t believe that it is doing us any favours. From dawn until dusk we are being bombarded with a never ending deluge of negativity that is often sensationalist in its nature, not clever and satirical. Our memories and attention spans have shortened accordingly since the demise of the great works of analogy in the late 17th century. We are lucky to live in an age where we no longer need to conceal our distaste or our dissent behind elaborate conceits and wit, and need only be profane and use block capitals for emphasis. Sadly it hasn’t done a great deal for our intellect.

The trouble is that in generations past the voice of the people has always been relayed by an artful mouthpiece. You can persuade by sheer force of numbers, cards at the polling station or names to a petition but sometimes force is not as efficacious; movements spearheaded by an articulate orator often do better than a dull scroll of names and it is small wonder. We like the novelty that attached to satirical complaints and movements but this kind of frontage serves a deeper purpose in so much that it is more memorable. I can’t help but think that we are entering a post post-critical period in which artistry has been abandoned but artifice remains, the truth is not bare faced but there aren’t characters enough on twitter to proliferate wit.

Perhaps it seems a very strange thing to find so troubling but I do wish the filing of complains was considered to be more of an art form. Although I am saddened by the death of letter writing in this digital age, the role that the Internet has had to play in this cannot be overstated; the ease with which we can take to the Internet and launch into a tirade of self-righteous dissatisfaction, seemingly without consequence, about the most trifling misgivings is a phenomenon that eMarketer has termed ‘cyberdisinhibition’ in a recent study. It isn’t enough that we open our mouths before we engage our brains, nowadays we feel the need to post it publicly.

It has made complainers lazy and unimaginative, not merely because we don’t believe there is a responsive and responsible human on the other end of the line or sat at the desk. They’re probably just a low paid admin worker, right? Why waste any effort or finesse on a letter that won’t really be ‘appreciated’, as it were? We can bemoan things across a plethora of social media channels, address people anonymously via Email whereby we send them a stinging complaint without any ‘real’ human interaction, and engage with our fellow miser in the comments beneath online article with immediacy that seemingly belies the need to proof read our efforts. This serves only to whip us into further furore, because other people deign to hold a viewpoint contrary to our own and necessitates our repeating our initial points in no less disorganised and ineloquent a fashion.

What we all ought to do is take a leaf out of Anthony Matthews book. Starting small before we progress to the loftier heights of the likes of Pope and Swift, both of whom top the bill as some of our finest complainers amongst their other accolades, Matthews has become something of a living legend due to his preposterous complaints letters. He opts for humour and uses farce to great effect and he has had a very impressive success rate. Since complaining in 1989 about a recently purchased an ex-demonstration Rover 820e that had more faults than it did miles on the clock, his well wielded words have resulted in many small personal victories. Indeed they practically rebuilt the vehicle from the chassis up, demonstrating that sometimes it really does pay to complain with a little more flair and a lot fewer hollow threats and profanities.

It is bizarrely reassuring to know that, much as the world has moved on since Horation and Juvenalian satires were the order of the day, erudite people still command respect. If only more of us were ready and willing to take instruction, or think about whatever it is we are about to commit to the Internet for questionable eternity. The notion that the Internet has a short memory might be true in the sense that the commonplace individual is liable to forget what they have read, but it is an indelible mark in many respects; you don’t know who has taken note, or worse.

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