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 Everett True

PhD research issue #1. Trolling

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This is week 2 of my final 15 weeks of my PhD candidature. For the next 10 weeks or so while I’m writing up the final draft of my thesis, I’m going to be throwing up semi-random quotes and findings from my research here. They are here for commentary, so please feel free to contribute. 

The first is a quote from Daphne Carr around the issue of trolling:

Trolling is a rhetorical strategy that attempts to discredit the conversation or speaker as absurd/obvious or otherwise shift the topic towards some other element of an argument than the one being addressed. Most of the time it stops conversation dead, or promotes the type of discussion where only combative or ironic statements can be made. It’s less a conversation and more an argument. At its highest, it can be a form of sharp-witted verbal play that exposes the bullshit of purple prose or group think, at its lowest it is mean spirited personal attack and written shout downs so brutal they silence the voices of others.

I do think trolling is useful. One of the biggest things I wonder about with critics is how their desire to be liked plays into their attitudes about how they approach a subject. You have to have a really strong sense of self to go against the grain of everyone and upset beliefs, arguments, darlings, etc. And you have to like to argue. A lot of critics do, a lot don’t. I like to have a good argument, but I will never yell at someone or tell them they are stupid for their opinions. For me, this is a very important part of feminism: to allow someone who loves art the dignity of their aesthetic, to seek to appreciate and understand it. And, if I am able, to help expand or engage that.

Have you seen these “your favorite band sucks” t-shirts? First, they’re so 90s. Second, that is something I would never say.

I am not of the school that believes that one should attack the critic her or himself, but rather their accuracy, ideas, arguments, their style. See my Bookforum piece on Simon Reynold’s Retromania for example. I walked the line there since I do talk about nationalism as it relates to the shaping of ideas, but I tried really hard not to make it about him but rather, for lack of a better word, his worldview and the potential lack of perspective that it would entail. Not to say that all British writers still wish for the authenticity of the Gang Of Four (!!!), but with Simon, it is a self-confessed modernist attitude that shapes his values for listening, and I feel that makes it possible to objectify and analyze his taste without it becoming a troll situation.

4 Responses to PhD research issue #1. Trolling

  1. Princess Stomper February 20, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    One of the biggest things I wonder about with critics is how their desire to be liked plays into their attitudes about how they approach a subject. You have to have a really strong sense of self to go against the grain of everyone and upset beliefs, arguments, darlings, etc. And you have to like to argue.

    Very true. I think there’s a fine line between discursive writing and trolling. For example, I wouldn’t describe some of my own posts as trolling because I’m not just lighting a fuse and standing back – more sort of needling or teasing where I perceive a sort of nodding feminist hive mind emerging that I genuinely think needs to be challenged before it becomes an unthinking dogmatic orthodoxy. (If after debating it, you’re still of the same opinion, fair enough.)

    That said, I tend to then panic in the wake of negative feedback – you need a really thick skin that most people just don’t have. More than liking to argue, you need a real sense of conviction where the pursuit of truth outweighs self-concern.

  2. Ruth February 20, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    If you’re interested, this article by David Mitchell was published in today’s Guardian:

    “An internet troll’s opinion should carry no more weight than graffiti”

  3. Helen McCookerybook February 21, 2012 at 8:22 am

    I got trolled by some anonymous posters a few months ago. I thought they were incredibly cowardly: their comments were detailed and had obviously taken some time to write. It was tempting to post a lengthy reply, but I decided not to because they could have changed the direction of my blog if I’d ‘fallen for’ their provocation. It did make me more careful about what I write: I realised there is a different forum for each different piece of information you decide to share. They have become part of my research project, and I’ve ‘lightened up’ what I write on my blog. They alerted me to the fact that people where I work (including the ones who manage me) are probably stalking me, with my permission!

  4. Erika February 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    I do not think that trolling, as I understand it, is really a rhetorical strategy at all. But then, the definition of “troll” has changed, I guess, over the last decade. And grown complex. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29 To me, a real “troll” is a post or comment that is designed to derail meaningful communication, and I think it’s more a simple expression of hostility, and desire for sabotage. I don’t think anonymous comments are necessarily “trolls” even if the views expressed are controversial. And I don’t think fallacious posts are necessarily trolls, though some (esp ad hominem attacks) are. This writer seems to be equating the expression of a contradictory or unpopular idea as “trolling.” Well, I guess if that *is* trolling, than trolling can be “useful,” but to me, it’s not trolling, it’s debate. She also writes “Most of the time it stops conversation dead” – I think this is (no longer) true. I think savvy users (and Internet users are increasingly savvy now) know enough to ignore the true “trolls” or in moderated discussions, moderators know enough to keep certain comments and users in check using non-inflammatory techniques. My experience is that it is the poorly moderated or naive communities which are prone to trouble from trolls. As for my own blog (website) I’ve had obvious (and anonymous) troll comments before, and I just don’t bother publishing them. They are attempts at sabotage, and I have found that any kind of acknowledgement just encourages them to continue.

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