Signs of trou­ble

Mel­lish Mo­tors con­tro­versy brings out the worst in so­cial me­dia

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - THE PROVINCE - BY COLIN MA­CLEAN

The calls have been com­ing fast and fu­ri­ous to John Mel­lish all week.

Mel­lish has lost track of how many in­ter­views he’s given, how many mes­sages of sup­port he’s re­ceived, how many times he’s been told off and that one woman who phoned to say she’d gladly shoot him. It all started with a sign. “Women are like snowflakes — they can’t drive.”

That sen­tence adorned the bill­board out­side Mel­lish’s busi­ness, Mel­lish Mo­tors, in New An­nan for about a week re­cently.

For the past nine years, John and his wife, Ur­sula, have used one side of their sign to pe­ri­od­i­cally post short say­ings or puns. The con­tent of­ten lam­poons lo­cal news or pol­i­tics.

But when pic­tures of this par­tic­u­lar sign were posted to the In­ter­net by an un­a­mused ob­server ear­lier this week they touched a chord on so­cial me­dia and set off a heated de­bate that’s spread to news or­ga­ni­za­tions in sev­eral coun­tries.

Some say the sign is sex­ist, misog­y­nis­tic and painfully un­funny.

“Gee, I won­der how lit­tle boys get the idea in their head it’s okay to be sex­ist and that the fault of ‘ not get­ting the joke’ re­mains on the shoul­ders of women. It’s a mys­tery,” posted Gail Rhyno to Face­book.

Oth­ers did not see the sign as some­thing worth get­ting up­set about.

Co­lette Cole, post­ing on a Toronto Star ar­ti­cle about the sign, said, “(Of) all the things some­one could be of­fended over. Sheesh. Just stop be­ing so thin-skinned, peo­ple.”

Mel­lish isn’t apol­o­giz­ing and says he’s glad it started a dis­cus­sion.

“Do I be­lieve women are bad driv­ers? No, I don’t be­lieve that. I saw that ex­act quote on a blog site, thought it was stupid, thought it was cute and it went up on my sign,” he said, adding this is usu­ally his cri­te­ria/process for most of his post­ings.

Shortly af­ter putting up a new mes­sage he got a heads up about the heated de­bate on­line.

He and Ur­sula dis­cussed the sit­u­a­tion, he said, and won­dered if they should just leave well enough alone and move on.

They de­cided to do the op­po­site.

They posted an­other sign, “Sen­si­tive women don’t read to­mor­row’s sign. You know who you are.”

They both wanted to prove a point and draw some at­ten­tion to what they see as a so­ci­etal prob­lem in so­cial me­dia, said Mel­lish, namely that it can be a toxic place where peo­ple can anony­mously ruin rep­u­ta­tions, busi­ness and lives in gen­eral with a few but­ton clicks.

He’s been us­ing a print-out ver­sion of an on­line com­ment thread to make his point, not­ing it’s full of vul­gar and vi­o­lent com­ments di­rected at him­self and the peo­ple who’ve ex­pressed of­fence at the sign.

But even though he ex­pected back­lash, he wasn’t pre­pared for just how bad it’s got­ten, he said.

He es­pe­cially feels sorry for the young woman, Chelsea Ling, whose post­ings about the sign helped draw me­dia at­ten­tion to it.

“It didn’t get near as bad for me as I thought it was go­ing to be. But I think for the per­son who brought this up, it got a whole lot worse for her than it did for me. I only got one death threat, she got lots. It’s a real shame,” said Mel­lish.

Of­fended by the sign or not, there’s no ex­cuse for that kind of be­hav­iour, he added.

“I’m never go­ing to talk to any­body or about any­body like that — there’s ab­so­lutely no place in our so­ci­ety for that.”

COLIN MA­CLEAN/TC ME­DIA

John Mel­lish, owner of Mel­lish Mo­tors in New An­nan, is shown with the lat­est bill­board sign out­side his busi­ness. One such re­cent sign, stat­ing that “women can’t drive” has re­sulted in death threats to both him­self and those who’ve raised con­cerns about his sign

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