From: (Sean Barrett)
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: The Art of the Flame
Date: 17 Feb 1994 20:44:37 GMT
Organization: Fraternity of Avian Deists
Summary: apologies if the title's been used before
Keywords: actually it's the only joke I know
A young grad student at a major mideastern university was one day introduced to the net by a friend of his. It was not long before he discovered Usenet. His interests in hockey, sex, and politics dictated his choice of newsgroups-- although he did carefully read all the information for new users.

He had been using the net for some time when some net friends of his told him about this really cool group, "talk.bizarre". They told him he should read it as there was, if you read carefully, a lot of really interesting material.

He subscribed to the group that day. After his many months of reading Usenet, though, he didn't really hesitate to plunge in, and within a few days he posted something quite bizarre, in his eyes.

With some excitement the next day, he scanned the group for responses to his post. There were several. Anxiously, he skipped forwards to them.

The first was something he didn't really understand--it seemed kind of tangential to what he was saying. It sounded sarcastic, but he couldn't quite figure it out.

The second, though, was an out-and-out flame. From someone who signed himself "chevyn". chevyn had posted a long diatribe tearing into the worthlessness of his post, of his life, of his mother, and of his posting site, and encouraged him to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

He was confused; surely his post had been bizarre. Well, he had noticed that chevyn didn't seem particularly well-liked amongst the other readers; perhaps this was why. Perhaps chevyn's post didn't reflect the opinion of the group in general.

He read the rest of the responses with some dismay. A few more people posted negative comments about his post, but none so acidic as chevyn's. And then he started seeing replies to chevyn's post itself. Replies from apparent talk.bizarre regulars commenting on how impressed they were with chevyn, that he was right on the ball for once.

He sent mail to a few of his net-friends, trying to figure out what the deal was. One of them sent back, "You fucked up bad."

He unsubscribed from talk.bizarre and returned to his regular haunts.

But over the next few days he noticed that things weren't quite normal there either. The people who had encouraged him to talk.bizarre didn't seem quite so friendly with him. A few other people who apparently read talk.bizarre started responding to his posts using a "nickname" for him that was selected from his post, one which they apparently found humorous.

Posts started appearing with signatures containing quotes from chevyn's flame of him (including his name).

It became clear that nobody was taking him seriously anymore. He unsubscribed from his regular groups and looked for new places to hang out.

But everywhere he went, it seemed like someone knew about the talk.bizarre incident.

He was dismayed. What people remembered was not his post (even if they thought it was bad), but the fact that chevyn had flamed him well and hard.

Slowly, the idea formed in his mind. Even if it wouldn't help his reputation, he had to get chevyn back. He'd pay him back in kind, and in spades.

First, he got a new account (he was a friend of a friend of a local sysadmin). He returned to his old groups, but merely lurked, and did not post.

And he set out on a quest to learn how to flame.

He started by reading alt.flame. For months, he would study the posts, learning which flames were good and bad in others' opinions, and trying to learn to recognize them for himself.

Once he had mastered this skill, he began analyzing each good flame, taking it apart, outlining it, describing its sentence structure and its dynamic flow. He began brushing up on his literary and criticism theories to help in this endeavor.

He even took an extra class or two to help him in his pursuit; his thesis was long since forgotten.

Then he resubscribed talk.bizarre to study other approaches to flaming. To start with, he killfiled chevyn so he could save him for last. In talk.bizarre, he found that people had a different opinion of what made a good flame. He had to work harder than he had at alt.flame, deconstructing posts and diligently working out just what made them good.

He discovered there were a number of flavors, and they were not all universally liked, but he found trends and commonnesses between them. He began the grand effort of synthesizing these traits, forging a unique style which would have a wider acceptability amongst the reading population. And as this work progressed, he removed chevyn from his killfile.

He laughed when he read the first flame from chevyn that he found. It was so childish! It was no match for the best flames in alt.flame, even. He watched closely to the responses to it, making sure that he was not misjudging how the denizens of talk.bizarre felt--but no, they clearly had no fondness for chevyn's style either.

It would have been so easy to take chevyn apart right then--but he resisted. Even if it was overkill, he was going to complete his grand project, the most incredible flaming style ever created.

He had it mostly put together now, and was ready to give it a road test. He went back to alt.flame. He carefully tailored his style slightly more in the alt.flame direction, but still primarily aimed at talk.bizarre readers. He posted a few flames here and there at random targets. He received widespread critical success; the few flames he received in return came in wide of the mark, hopelessly outmatched. He didn't even bother to return fire. Many of the population didn't seem to quite "get" his flames, but that was expected, given the style.

And soon he had completed his overall synthesis of the talk.bizarre and alt.flame approaches, and was sure he had worked out an approach that could be touched by nobody. For he had been driven passionately to develop this style, whereas others merely flamed for fun. For him, this was destiny.

He decided that the time was right. He was ready. He almost hesitated, but he knew with the confidence of long study that he was capable.

He composed a "bizarre" post for talk.bizarre, right along the lines of his old post. Similar enough that people who remembered the previous would see a similarity of content, but different enough that they would simply believe him to be another newbie making the same "mistake".

He couldn't imagine chevyn would resist this bait.

He posted it, and went home to begin working on his thesis again, at last.

But once home he found he was too excited to work, and he started anticipating how he might construct his flame of chevyn, depending on what chevyn's flame would be.

Finally, he forced himself to sleep.

The next day, he hurriedly went to log in to the computer. He searched through talk.bizarre for any responses to his post. The first one was from chevyn.

He smiled wickedly. He pressed the space bar to begin reading chevyn's content.

He giggled. He laughed aloud, ignoring the the stares of the others in the terminal room.

chevyn had posted a flame of him, alright. It seemed identical in content to the first one he had received, if not identical in wording.

He thought carefully, not even bothering to pull out his notes, and carefully prepared his followup to chevyn. Yes, he was sure he wanted to do this. Have to delete misc.test from the newsgroup lines. Trim down chevyn's article to the briefest bit possible that still captured the flavor of it.

And then the exciting part.

Hands shaking, he typed in his flame.

He proofread it twice. Ran it through a spell checker (which didn't like "chevyn", but that's ok, nobody else seemed to either, he thought to himself), and finally nodded to himself.

He exited the editor and with no hesitation instructed his newsreader to send the post.

Behind the scenes, circuits clocked, wires hummed silently, as his flame circulated slowly (relative to the speed of light) onto the net, reading, "fuck you, chevyn, fuck you".