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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Everyone's a Troll

"Sigmund Freud was a half baked Viennese quack. Our literature, culture, and the the films of Woody Allen would be better today if Freud had never written a word." - Ian Shoales

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Was Johnathan Swift a troll?

A: Wikipedia defines as a troll as: "someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages... with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response..."...

If you've never read it, Swift's A Modest Proposal (full text there) simply states that the Irish should eat their own children, rather than starve. Swift obviously meant this as satire, but it caused (and continues to cause) a lot of trouble among those people who just don't get that it's satire. And therein lies the problem.

Swift's satirical essay is as dead on the page as any forum post (meaning you can't figure out from the tone of voice/speaker's face what the emotional context is); and was likewise just as anonymous. Now, certainly, you can't quite call it "off-topic" and whether it's "extraneous" is debatable. But it's definitely "inflammatory" and has the primary intention of provoking of an emotional response.

To give a more modern example, Stephen Colbert mocked conservative congressman Bill Posey who introduced a bill requiring candidates for president to provide their birth certificates by claiming there were rumors that Posey's grandmother had had sex with an alligator, and thus Posey was part alligator. Posey thus responded, saying such comments were hurtful and there was no need to claim such things. But Posey failed to get that it was satire. He just understood that Colbert was attacking him. Colbert's "alligator rumors" were inflammatory, extraneous, and off-topic to central debate of whether Obama was Kenyan-born, and they certainly got a rise out of Posey.

I write this as someone who's written somewhat satirical posts before and I haven't been reported to the mods (as far as I'm aware of).

So the question is, where's the line between satire and trolling? Is it no longer trolling if you do it at a national level (i.e. the context matters)? Or is it when it devolves into baiting that it's trolling? Or is there something else that constitutes trolling?

B: No, but Voltaire was.

C: Most certainly. Voltaire and Shaw aswell. Possibly Belloc.

D: No he was a satirist. There are themes behind what he wrote.

B: [Voltaire's] ability to alienate everybody, regardless of where he was at, is something that is both comical and admirable. ^^

E: When Wikipedia says "an emotional response," they are using pretentious talk to say "anger." A troll's goal is to piss people off to feed his/her own ego. A satirist's goal is to provoke thought and inquiry about the state of modern culture. They really couldn't be more different.

A: So no one who misunderstood Swift ever jumped up and said "that jerk is proposing the Irish eat people!" Aren't many famous satirists egoists? Especially in Swift's time, where his fame definitely allowed him to make a living. Trolls, on the other hand, really can't feed their egos very much. It's not like they gain notoriety as trolls, since they're very quickly banned. At best, it's that they get to pull a fast one on others, in very much the same way satirists do.

Also, how can we know the goal of a troll vs. the goal of a satirist?

people really took Swift literally:

"many readers failed to understand the irony, putting Swift's patronage in jeopardy." Yes, he's a brilliant satirist, but he stilled failed to come through. Sarcasm is one of the hardest things to pull of in text.

F: Maybe all satirists are trolls. Though their work is usually intended to provoke hopefully intelligent debate rather than negative emotion, the fact remains, they still want to provoke.

F: Maybe all satirists are trolls. Though their work is usually intended to provoke hopefully intelligent debate rather than negative emotion, the fact remains, they still want to provoke.

G: He was a troll with intelligence and a respectable goal.

H: Trolling and satire are not mutually exclusive, especially when the person being trolled is the one who's the target of the satire. Borat at the rodeo is a prime example.

A: Proposal is remembered precisely because people failed to realize it was satire. If people had realized it was satire immediately, it wouldn't be a classic, it'd be some lesser-known work.

Congratulating yourself for getting it's satire a few hundred years after the fact doesn't mean anything. In its day and age, could it have been considered trolling?

I: Wouldn't this mean that anyone who takes a devil's advocate position is also trolling, if that position creates an emotional response?

J: Swift was the Einstein of trolls!
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