A Quick (lol not really) Thought Before Adventures
September 30, 2011 § 6 Comments
…brought to you by a certain HE KNOWS WHO who’s constantly reminding me of what else I could be thinking about, or ways I’m not being careful enough. Which I greatly appreciate, as always THANKS MYSTERIO (no seriously, you’re the best). But still, now my brow’s all furrowed and that shit ain’t cute.
So — the question of identity. Aren’t there spaces where RL identity/the “authentic self” is completely severed from online behaviors, thereby suggesting that –what I’ve claimed is a kind of basic & necessary– osmosis between RL you and internet you actually has some airtight compartments? Trolls take this sort of robust compartmentalization for granted, arguing that what they do as trolls is completely separate from, or at least has very little to do with, what they do or think as people. In other words, trolling might be puppet-mastered by actual people but is carried out by fictional (or semi-fictional) characters.
It took me ages to make sense of this idea, and is why my early work was so…well, shitty. I simply didn’t know what to do with what one of my earliest participants casually (and at the time incomprehensibly) described as “the people behind the trolls.” At first I wondered if this was just one person’s perspective, but as I continued with my research I realized that this is something of a default position (to the extent that any position can ever truly be the universal default). Caveats aside, every single person I’ve worked with, from /b/tards to griefer-types to RIP trolls, have distanced themselves from their online exploits. Not out of shame or embarrassment, but because in their minds, which is to say, in their experiences, there’s a very clear separation between them and the trolls they perform (as). So, although offered without any forethought, just as an off-the-cuff explanation made by a 22 year-old /b/tard, the phrase “the people behind the trolls” remains the clearest and most succinct characterization of the troll/person relationship I have ever encountered, and has profoundly influenced my approach, and even my basic attitude towards, trolls and trolling behaviors.
(Perhaps?) ironically, “the people behind the trolls” has also been the most frequently and most ferociously challenged claim in my theoretical arsenal. It’s a cop-out, the counterargument goes; trolls may indeed affect distance from what they say and do, but only because they’re too cowardly to take responsibility for their own actions, and/or they really are racist, sexist and homophobic assholes. Which in turn puts me in a very weird rhetorical position. But that’s a different subject for a different post. For now, suffice it to say that trolls recognize and embrace a fundamental break between the “them” of real life and the “them” of trolling; the latter is simply not the same thing as the former.
Some pretty major qualifications aside, I’m inclined not to disagree (lol talk about a different subject for a different post), but would say that one informs the other, thus blurring even this seemingly airtight (and/or more airtight) line between the “real” and “online” self/selves. But not in the way detractors might think; just because a troll says something racist does not mean the person behind the troll is secretly (or explicitly) racist. But– the person behind the troll is acting upon his or her trolling personae in ways that gesture towards RL experiences — not just in terms of what counts as lulzy to whom (the ultimate in trollish punctum), but due to the seemingly obvious fact that, to this particular person, trolling has any appeal to begin with. The fact that they’re (virtually) standing there (actually) trolling suggests as much.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that trolling is the function of some grand pathos; most trolls I’ve worked with are perfectly “normal,” whatever that means. In fact some of my very favorite people are trolls. But trolls are in the minority; most people just don’t get it. In the most basic sense, then, the “getting” of trolling links the people behind the trolls together irl; there is a direct (well, directly indirect) connection between who a person is (what they’ve been through, which at the very least influences their respective senses of humor) and why they choose to wear this particular mask.
Even here, then, which initially may seem like the textbook example of the real/virtual split, suggests a kind of mutual runoff, and further challenges the efficacy of asking “where does the real end and the virtual begin?” My basic position is that there is no discrete end, and that instead of asking where to pencil in that impossible line (which wouldn’t tell us much anyway, even if it were there) we should start from a point of having-been-blurred. That’s where we’ll find all the interesting shit.
(great and now I’m running a bit late, no time for editing OH WELL)