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Oh say can we see?

Perusing the Internet between students Tuesday, I see this: “Christina Slammed over Performance.” And I think “But, of course.”

It was about Christina Aguilera flubbing a few lines in the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl on Sunday. Horrible woman that she is, Aguilera, singing one of the toughest songs there is to sing before about 111 million people, became the 110th million person to make a mistake.

Naturally, she had to apologize. Come on. Before she sang the last note, on-line chat rooms and twitter followers were already exchanging frantic messages as if they were the first to discover that the word “reaming” is not in the actual national anthem. In the days that followed, those who took notice gave way to those reaming her for it.

Did she not practice? Was she not aware how important and sacred this song is? Is she not American? Or, in the words of moral barometer Joan Rivers, was she just “stupid?”

“Christina must have been thinking about food, that’s why she forgot the words,” Rivers said in a PopEater exclusive because apparently, TV cameras made Aguilera looked heavier than 90 pounds.

It would be easy to write off the scary Rivers, experiencing a career renaissance that rivals “Jersey Shore” in the “I-weep-for-our society” department, if she was the only one. After all, Aguilera is an internationally known entertainer. She is not immune to criticism and by accepting the invitation to perform at one of the most widely watched events in the world, she was leaving herself open to scrutiny.

In her statement of apology, she begged for forgiveness. In America, we love when people beg for forgiveness. Sometimes we even forgive them.

“I got so caught up in the moment of the song that I lost my place,” she said. “I can only hope that everyone could feel my love for this country and that the true spirit of its anthem still came through.”

What got me going on the Aguilera flub, however, was really not the moment or the apology or the singer at all. Before reading about her, I found myself lost in one of the typical Internet swamplands that passes for modern-day dialogue. It was the typical — anonymous, of course — comment boards that followed a column composed by a writer I like and respect.

There was nothing extraordinary about either the comments or the column. The opinions expressed were actually fairly benign. But, like most columns — which are, by definition, opinion pieces — it unleashed a torrent of hate-filled, personal attacks on the writer. It doesn’t matter that most of these type responses are misspelled and appear to originate from a lonely, unproductive cubicle or worse, a darkened basement. It is that these public forums have become so common and that each day, they seem to become scarier.

I’m not sure why I read this particular one. I had stopped reading the comments that follow my own work on the website for which I work, not just because many were so sick in nature, but because, like so much else on the Internet these days, there is no accountability.

In the 26 years I worked for newspapers, I received plenty of negative mail and later e-mail. Some were demented in nature — I’m a female sportswriter — and plenty were critical. But even the worst of it usually came with a signature. And even with the worst of it, I usually always replied. Sometimes, if it was particularly nasty, I would thank them profusely for writing, tell them how flattered any writer is when a reader takes the time and the thought to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, maybe even address the criticism directly and seriously.

You would be surprised how many times even the authors of the meanest letters would write back with nice replies, thanking me for answering, saying they never expected me to actually read their letters, often even apologizing for being too harsh. But weird as it was, there was a civility to it all. A conversation. Accountability.

The culture now is largely ignorant, frightening and is only getting worse.

Among the most civil discussion about the Aguilera “incident” questioned whether this might be career-threatening. And those who saw the singer after her performance Sunday, said she was devastated.

Yep, it’s devastating all right.

 
 

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