Be Careful What You Wish For

December 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

As I mentioned in a previous post, First Monday just published my RIP trolling article. This was exciting, but also weird (I’m always shocked to see my name on things that aren’t mail or parking tickets — this here blog is pretty much the only place I live online, and come to think of it I’m not even sure my full name is posted). The next day I was contacted by Scott McLemee  from Inside Higher Ed, who profiled my article on his blog Intellectual Affairs. This was also exciting, and also weird. Then today Adrian Chen at Gawker published his own take on my piece, which was doubly exciting and doubly weird.

I doubt I need to clarify the “exciting” part. But “weird” probably warrants further explanation. In a nutshell, I have always occupied a very fraught relationship to my object of study (not just talking RIP trolls, here, but trolling and internet culture generally). At times this has been an asset, since understanding the thing makes it easier to talk about the thing. At other times, understanding the thing makes it more difficult to speak objectively about the thing. It might seem counter-intuitive, but cultural literacy (to use a somewhat annoying term) is my Achilles heel. I take certain behaviors for granted. I forget to unpack all kinds of assumptions. And although I try very hard not to justify trolling behaviors as much as provide an explanation (to gesture towards and maybe push back against Chen’s final argument), I am painfully aware of the fact that my approach often scans quite sympathetic, perhaps more sympathetic than would be expected of  (or appropriate for?) an academic. This is especially true of RIP stuff, which is so beyond the cultural pale that even just writing about it opens me up to attack. I accept this risk when the only person reading my work is my advisor. Make the audience a little bigger, though, and suddenly I’m chewing off my fingers.

Because I want to get it right. I want to make sense of trolling, and to the extent that I have access, want to make sense of individual trolls. I can’t do this as an outsider. But I also can’t do this as an insider. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle, and the middle is often very confusing. Someday I will write more about this. For now, it’ll have to be enough to say —— it’s complicated, I don’t know.


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