A Reaction to the Defense of the James Holmes Tribute Page
July 27, 2012 § 4 Comments
Yesterday, Fruzsina Eördögh posted a piece to Read Write Web defending one of several James Holmes Facebook (and obviously troll-made) tribute pages. I’m quoted in the piece, and for once was framed as LESS permissive than the interviewer (typically when I give interviews the dynamic is reversed — I’m the one attempting to contextualize or offer a more measured account of whatever behavior). As Eördögh writes:
It doesn’t matter where the dozen or so Facebook users behind the joking spend most of their time – 4chan’s notorious /b/ board, an Encyclopedia Dramatica IRC channel or a Something Awful forum. After the Colorado shooting, they came to this digital place, hung out, told jokes and laughed. Phillips advised against framing the page as “an emotional or coping mechanism” because “trolls motives may vary,” but, when you imagine the amount of time the Facebook creators spent making their pages, it’s hard not to think the trolls were grieving in their own way.
Of course, that doesn’t make the jokes polite or tasteful. “It’s important to place these sorts of transgressive behaviors in context, but it’s also important not to sugarcoat the behaviors,” Phillips wrote in an email. “They troll because it upsets people, and because they derive amusement from their targets’ distress. National tragedies are a perfect opportunity to capitalize on heightened sensitivities, and so that’s precisely what they do.”
But free speech covers impolite and distasteful statements. And on Facebook – if the site will allow – we can all grieve together.
As is probably obvious just by reading the above quotes, I’m quite wary of this explanation. Which isn’t to say that I think Eördögh is wrong to challenge the accepted narrative regarding RIP trolling (i.e. “it’s bad”). Rather, I take issue with the idea that RIP trolling is equivalent to or indicative of “legitimate” forms of mourning. To reiterate an earlier statement, trolls are, above all else, trolls — whether or not the act of trolling allows them to work through their own grief (which by the way isn’t how any of the trolls I’ve worked with have framed their behaviors, in fact I can imagine most of them lolling mightily at such a suggestion), their aggressions are primarily, and definitionally, externally focused. Trolling first, in other words, and feelings –however complicated they might be– later.
My basic argument is that, while there’s much more to say about RIP trolling than simply “it’s bad,” it’s also important to call it what it is, and furthermore to acknowledge the behavioral and emotional variation even within this relatively niche troll space. In other words, making the blanket statement that RIP trolling is good/healthy flattens the individual behaviors into one monolithic category just as quickly as making the blanket statement that RIP trolling is bad/sociopathic. As always, the truth falls somewhere in the middle, where the waters are deeper, muddier, and are as overrun by sharks as they are with plastic floaty toys.