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On Trolls: "It’s Not a Game if You Can’t Lose"

Just stumbled on this really interesting short essay on trolls, real life implications, comedy, and discourse. Author Robert Brockway starts by explaining where he's coming from—he's a comedian, and he gets a lot of shit from people who, if he calls them out for taking something too far or being a jerk, say something along the lines of Lighten up, just be funny, eg:

Once comedy is involved in a scenario, literally everything is appropriate in that scenario forever onward. "LOL this guy spent a lot of time carefully constructing a humorous observation, therefore I can spit in his face and he'll think it's funny!"

I think this attitude, or at least its prevalence online, started with internet trolls. And that's a shame, because trolling used to be pretty funny and almost entirely harmless. Trolling, despite the modern usage, does not mean "the act of pissing somebody off and laughing about their anger." It is "the act of pissing somebody off BASED ON SOMETHING COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS and laughing about their MISPLACED anger." It isn't considered trolling to leave a comment full of racial epithets and laugh when people "don't get it." It is trolling if you leave a comment insisting on the wrong information about something irrelevant – how many runes are on a Stargate, for example (everybody knows its 12) – and wait for the ONE guy that just can't let the transgression pass. If you start a fake fight with Prof. Stargate, dragging him deeper and deeper until hopefully, finally, even he has to stop and think "wait a minute, this is ridiculous," that is trolling. That's the difference: No actual harm is caused, and even the victim can eventually get in on the joke. "Trolling" isn't referring to hiding behind a fortification and trying to hurt people like the mythical creature. It's referring to the style of fishing – you drag bait across the bottom hoping to get a rare bite. It's not 'bait' if you're earnestly spouting your misogynistic beliefs and somebody gets upset. There's nothing funny about entirely justified anger.


Emphasis mine.

Now I know around here there is cyclical talk of trolls and a lot of different opinions about what a troll is. Personally, I tend to fall back on older internet definitions of troll, but even I don't really think of trolls as the fun-loving pranksters of yore that Brockway describes. It doesn't really matter, it's the second part that, and where it leads, that is really interesting—an "ironic" safety blanket:

This 'ha ha, you got mad, so you lose' attitude is the exact same reason we all collectively decided not to like hipsters very much: It's because they were hiding behind a rigged game. Everything was ironic. You can say they look good, and they take the compliment. But you can't say they look like shit, because they're TRYING to look like shit. You can say you love their band, and you get a "thanks bro!" But you can't say their band sucks, because it's SUPPOSED to suck. They were so afraid of judgment that they only did things under the protective cloak of irony, so that if you didn't like it, you could be accused of not getting it. There was no losing condition. Same with people saying shitty things to each other on the internet under the guise of "humor."

I think we've all observed this. Here in the Jez and GT universes, we mostly observe it as sexism being pawned off as lazy humor. Only it's not lazy humor, it's something else. It's a humor facade—more a humor trojan horse, really—built to say something genuine behind the guise of something else, and get away with it.

If this kind of thing was still confined to YouTube comments – then fuck it, who cares? But it's not. It spills out. It's everywhere now, even seeping into reality: There are people walking the Earth today who genuinely think, in all aspects of their lives, that somebody getting pissed off at them for valid reasons means they win something. If some asshole says something in assholish to you, and you respond to him as you would an asshole, he wins, because you're mad. If you don't respond, then clearly he's just saying what we're all thinking, so he wins again. There's no losing condition to this 'game,' and that makes it not a game. Being a dick isn't funny, because you're not making jokes. It isn't clever, because you're not outsmarting anybody. It isn't winning; it's cowardice. You have no excuse not to treat people with a basic level of respect, whether they make jokes or coffee for a living, whether they're online or in line in front of you at the movie theater.


I was going to add some bold for emphasis to this last paragraph, but damn if the whole thing wouldn't just be bold (and if everything is bold, nothing is bold). THIS IS SO ON THE MONEY. I want to show this to every self-proclaimed jokester ever.

I copy-pasted a lot of it, but click this link anyway... Brockway's header image alone is worth checking out.

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