Zeugma Podcast Interview with Eric Detweiler

March 5, 2013 § 4 Comments


Last December I had a conversation with Eric Detweiler from UT Austin about my research on trolls. That conversation is now available via podcast –specifically the rhetoric and technology-focused Zeugma podcast, which is housed out of UT Austin. It’s a good interview (minus my cold), but I am struck by one question in particular — Detweiler asked whether or not I’d encountered any resistance to my project on the grounds that trolling is too lowbrow/unproductive to bother studying. I explained that no, I had not encountered that specific line of criticism, since while trolling is certainly lowbrow at times, it is anything but unproductive. I then explained just how productive it was, with the memeculture and the over 9000 lolcats and the jenkem what have you.

And I still maintain that basic answer — no one has ever said (to my face) that trolling is “unproductive,” and no one has ever told me that lowbrow culture is unworthy of serious study (I have read about this breed in history books, but have never experienced any of their pop cultural pearl-clutching for myself). But several months on, and with a fairly brutal round of job applications under my belt, I have to amend my answer slightly. I still haven’t had anyone accuse my work of *precisely* what Detweiler describes, but I have experienced much more resistance to internet culture/research generally. This was surprising, since in the circles I run in, even the circles that don’t fully understand trolls, that question –“you guys does the internet even matter?”– is pretty much a non-starter. So, please accept my footnote, and let’s move on.

So! The podcast! I talk about the history of trolling, Violentacrez, changes in the use/definition of the term (and how Violentacrez fits within that conversation) and media trolls trolling trolls trolling media trolls trolling trolls trolling trolls. The following is (the following are?) my closing thoughts on the subject of trolling generally:

One of the roadblocks to doing something significant about trolling is framing trolls as aberrational. Because when you frame trolls as aberrational, you’re not making yourself responsible, you’re basically repudiating any role that you might be playing in the propagation of these kinds of behaviors. “Oh, it’s all the trolls. They’re the monsters. They’re they sociopaths. They’re the bad guys.” –by doing that, by creating that kind of distance, it means that you’re no longer in a position to be self-reflective about what am I doing? how are mainstream behaviors feeding into and amplifying these behaviors? So I think that until people –particularly people in the media– are will to just drop this us/them rhetoric, until they’re really willing to think about the ways that their behaviors are reflected in trolling behaviors and vice-versa, you’re always going to have trolling, and you’re always going to have a place for the trolls to go…trolls essentially live, and are most comfortable, where people are the least self-reflective. And that’s kind of the state we find ourselves in now. 

Here is the link to the full interview!


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