A GUIDE TO BBS FLAMES
It has now become clear that some form of guideline must be
set down on the topic of BBS "flames". The simple question-and-
answer discussion which follows is an attempt to define the term
"flame", to address where its use is appropriate, and to cite
examples of good and poor "flame technique". For those lacking the
I.Q. of a cow-pasture mushroom [notice the word "idiots" was not
used], this effort may still not be enough. It is to the remainder
of polite society -- the BBS elite -- that I dedicate this effort.
[Note to SysOps: Please feel free to quote, reprint, or use this
in any constructive way you see fit.]
Stacy A. Thomas
January 4, 1993
(Q) WHAT IS A "FLAME"?
(A) In the vernacular of the BBS user, a "flame" is a
personal attack directed at another user, most often in
regard to a message left on a BBS. "Flames" are
frequently found as replies to topics of politics, race,
religion, sex, or the weather. These personal attacks
usually have no direct connection with, and make no
contribution to, the topic at hand. "Flames" are often
the expression of a sincere wish that the original
message poster would depart for realms where Ben & Jerry
don't deliver ice cream!
(Q) ARE "FLAMES" REALLY NECESSARY?
(A) In a word, YES! One sometimes encounters an argument so
profound in its position, and so persuasive in its
presentation, that it stands on virtually unshakable
pillars. What alternative is left but a personal attack
on the presenter?
(Q) DON'T MOST BBS SysOps PROHIBIT "FLAMES" ON THEIR BOARDS?
(A) Yes and no. While direct attacks on the persona of other
BBS users is generally prohibited, a particularly
brilliant "strafing run" couched in genteel language
often gets through. It's kind of like wearing a suit and
tie into a place that has a "No shirt, no shoes, no
service!" sign. You could be there to hold a fund-raiser
for Edward Kennedy, but nobody would realize what you're
up to until you're already in.
(Q) WHAT SORT OF "GENTEEL LANGUAGE" IS APPROPRIATE?
(A) There is a "polite" word for every disgusting substance
and perverted act on the planet; one need only do a
proper substitution. Still, this may be a challenge for
the chronic MTV crowd, whose vocabulary is on par with
that of a retarded parrot. [Note the comparative style]
(Q) BUT DOES A POLITE REPLY EVER REALLY "BURN" THE TARGET OF
(A) Oh yes! In fact, a well worded flame is frequently
enough to eclipse the original argument, and impress
everyone else on the BBS with the brilliance of the
reply. This is the best of all possible results, because
it permits one to avoid addressing the original question
in a serious manner. Others on the board of equally
limited mental aptitude will quickly lose sight of
"content", in the scholarship of the "form". [Modern
"Vance Packard" advertising technique]
EXAMPLES OF FLAMES
"I have it on good authority that your wife is a known
This works well in some places, but not in others.
Bible-Belt Bubba's will not recognize the difference
between "thespian" [public speaker] and "lesbian" [female
homosexual], and will immediately think the worst.
Californians, on the other hand, might recognize this as
a "progressive" family, and be favorably impressed. In
Colorado, someone would firebomb the BBS.
"You are one closed-minded chicken-s*** son of a b****!"
Only by placing in the asterisks (those little star-
looking things) [note; "assumption of ignorance" style]
would a SysOp ever let you load it on the BBS. However,
many of your fellow users may then be too ignorant to
figure out what the words should have been! The attack
is also a little too vociferous [the "50 cent word"
technique] for we, the more sensitive users.
"Perhaps a sabbatical at Ding Dong School would improve
your outlook culturally, as well as academically."
Very good. One can never be too educated, and drawing
attention to such a prestigious institution serves to
demonstrate that you were no "Sesame Street lackey".
"I certainly wouldn't insult your intelligence (in fact
I doubt if I could!)."
The "parenthetical blitz" technique consists of saying
what you would have said if seated at the Captain's
table, then placing in parentheses what you would have
said if you were making the b****** walk the plank in
shark-infested waters. Good at the end of a dissertation
because few people ever read that far.
"You're a stinking bigot!"
Though obviously true, this conclusion is unsupported by
the facts. How, for instance, could one tell if the
subject stinks over a BBS? On the other hand, if you
believe the movie "Platoon", "Opinions are like a**-
holes; everybody's got one!" If a bigot is merely a
very-opinionated person, and we know how opinions are, I
suppose its possible to infer that he is a "stinking"
bigot! (Poor example, wasn't it?)
"We post-Neanderthal humans don't quite see it your way.
Could you elaborate further on your position?"
The "us and them" technique works if at least one other
subscriber on the BBS agrees that the message poster is
a turkey. Properly carried to its extreme, he quickly
feels he is fighting the entire BBS.
"Your moving to another board would raise the average
I.Q. of both BBS's!"
Very good. If you can't say something constructive,
don't say anything at all! Isn't self-improvement
"I heard that same silly argument made by someone on
another BBS. You are certainly more articulate than he
The "left-handed complement" technique [no offence
intended to you southpaws]. While making a negative
statement about the argument, one compliments the arguer,
thereby appearing to be completely objective. This style
is the specialty of political campaign "spin doctors",
who can paint even motherhood and apple pie in a negative
If American politics and advertising have taught us nothing
else, they have shown that intelligence and honesty have nothing to
do with being persuasive. Stated another way, personal attacks can
be just as good as facts. In recognition of this universal truth,
it is up to all BBS users to upgrade the quality of their "flames"
so they can take their place as a valid form of BBS communication.