The Helpfulness of Trolling (and other things that don’t exist)

Recently, Joey and I have been debating whether or not this man will lead the free world:

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While neither of us enjoy the possibility that our nation will be run by a man famous for gold-plated toilets and publicly shaming people of all nations, creeds, races, you-name-its, Joey thinks that he stands more of a chance than I am willing to admit.  But it is not Trump’s many merits (read as: upsettingly popular bigotry) that draws my beloved into this opinion, it is Joey’s firm belief that Trump is successfully trolling the American public into believing he is serious.

For my older readers out there (Hi, Mom!), I will give my definition of trolling:

Trolling (v.) – 1) To intentionally provoke emotional action through a careful means of baiting and patronizing mockery.  Often used in a forum type setting to trick someone with an unpopular opinion into saying something more outrageous and therefore feeding the fires of humiliation. 2) To lead a group of people into a false sense of consensus by misconstruing one’s own belief, for the purpose of manipulating that group.

I fully admit and understand that these may not be the most accurate or inclusive definitions of the practice but I find them the most applicable and the most readily apparent uses of the word.

Joey believes that Donald Trump is trolling the American public into electing him so he can then do what he pleases with the US Government.  This does seem all well and plausible to me but the thing that keeps me up at night is that if Trumps campaign is built on lies (dangerous ones at that) and he is just saying whatever he can to get elected, WHAT THE HELL IS HE GOING TO DO AS PRESIDENT?!?!?!

He could be completely reasonable and follow the not very radical politics of his past (lol yea he was a Democrat when it suited him too) OR HE COULD ANNEX MEXICO FOR ALL WE KNOW.  If he does all these things “to get elected” what will he do to “get re-elected” or to “pass his budget” or to accomplish any number of political goals.  We have no knowledge of his actual political or moral limits.  This level of uncertainty is something that the American public should be wary of.  When pandering to people’s most deeply held prejudices becomes a political tactic, then what will his policy as president lay out?  What group will he throw into the fire for the support of the “powerful” as defined by him next?  This is a man who will do business with his partners in Dubai while spouting anti-Islamic hate speech at home to win the loyalty of the 30% of GOP voters who believe that Agrabah is a credible threat.

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I don’t believe that our collective future should be in the hands of people who are essentially waiting to deliver the punch line.  It is not funny, it is not helpful, and it is not the first time that a movement has been founded in this way.

I recently read a very illuminating article about another person who gained a lot of fame in the early 2000’s for reality TV antics and being glamorously out of touch with the American public at large: Paris Hilton.

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Fun Fact: Paris got her start in business when she signed to Donald Trump’s modelling agency when she was a teenager.

While the article did bolster my affection for her as a business-person and an independent woman (yea, I know right, read the Vice piece), it did also bring to light in my opinion, one of the biggest cons of the 21st century so far:

that’s not her real voice

ThAt’S nOt HeR ReAl VoIcE

THAT’S NOT HER REAL FUCKING VOICE

That voice made her iconic, it made her a household name, it made her even richer than her family could, and she made it all up.  She played the American public like the fame hungry, celebrity-obsessed, holier-than-thou, gawkers that we are.  We loved that she was out of touch, we loved that she wore crazy clothes and partied all the time, we loved to hate her and we made her brand work.

This is what happens when we allow the prescribed system of beliefs and people’s natural instinct to take advantage of it run amuck.  Paris Hilton was able to use the tropes of the young, hot, heiress, the leggy blonde, the bimbo to make herself famous for a reason other than her last name.  When women hate-watched her reality show, counter culture made her attention-seeking single a one hit wonder, and all people gawked at her in the Hardee’s commercials we all proved that these tropes have power.  Some people espouse her the title of Feminist because she used the sexist power dynamic of show-business (read as: all business) to her own advantage.  I understand the argument that if you own your image as an embodiment of a trope and use it to get what you want, you can reclaim that archetype into something no longer a synonym for weakness and subjugation.  But did Paris Hilton actually do that?

What happens when you step out of the room?  I was raised in the “me” generation who were taught to never worry about what other people think, but I was also taught to speak my mind and try to get others to hear my words.  Paris may not care what other people think and she may have made something powerful and female-driven out of a sexist image but if that is not the message the American public received, then her trolling backfired.

If the subversive message is not understood, then the troll is not manipulating anyone but themselves.  Some may say that they are making people react to their actions and therefore using them.  But when you use established ethos and tropes to elicit the reaction a society is conditioned to produce, that is not manipulation.  If anything, this is a manipulation of the troll’s own actions.  The troll, in order to pull of the self-serving plot they have devised, have chosen their actions based on a set of known reactions and associations.  The troll is shaping their actions around the public response desired not the other way around.  The trope is the only one who get stronger, and the trope is the only one who gets credit.

The message is lost in these cases and only the dangerous associations are left.  If Donald isn’t trying to bait the bigots to expose their prejudice and Paris isn’t trying to flip the power dynamic, then aren’t they only perpetuating the disgusting, wrong parts of our society for personal profit?  When trolling doesn’t have a punch line other than selfish gain, it’s not mockery and it’s not proving a point, it’s feeding the system that people claim it alleviates.

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