March 30, 2011

Why I Love (Internet) Trolls

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What is the issue?

Up until very recently, I was unaware of the word “troll” as it applies to the internet. Now that I’m familiar with it and its various uses, I find it to be a wonderful term that gets to the heart of what many blog commentators do.

The word actually has a long history; the noun form, of course, we’re all aware of, but as a verb it originated as a French hunting term, “troller,” which is no longer in use. In modern English, it refers to a baiting technique used in fishing. It makes perfect sense that it has entered the blogging/internet lexicon, because as fishermen and women lure fish by “trolling” their bait in hopes of getting a bite, so do internet commentators provoke a metaphorical bite by saying things that are insulting, inflammatory, off-color, irrelevant, or otherwise provocative.

Of course blog commentators fall into different categories and some aren’t trolls at all; some comment in a respectful, appropriate way, whether what they are saying is negative or positive. But by definition, trolls are going to say something pejorative, stupid, critical, mean-spirited, irrelevant…etc.

As an author, I quickly grew to love the fact that I can see what others are thinking about my work. Commentators provide what literary theorists call “para-text” or “meta-text” – texts that surround and comment on the original text. In the print world, the terms refers to things like reviews, interviews with the author/creator, advertisements, etc. Para/meta-texts give us a sense of a text’s place in its culture – how was it received? Who is its audience?

Commentators provide an immediate form of para/meta-text. In textual analysis, whether it be literature, film, television, or any other media, a huge factor is audience reception. A critic can endlessly interpret a given text, but how do we know that his or her reading is at all representative of what the public is thinking? Blogs provide us an immediate answer; all we have to do is scroll down and read the comments. The comments become an integral part of the experience. Some commentators, many of them trolls, add a whole new level of entertainment to the original post.

I love trolls because they do just this to my posts. At first, sometimes I was annoyed by mean-spirited commentators shit-talking my posts and even, in some cases, attacking me as a person. For example, the following comment was left on an article written under a pen name that I use occasionally:

you and that dan hoffman mutherfucker are the same stupid asshole. there is no way that convergent personality evolution can account for the presence of two IDENTICALLY INSUFFERABLE narcissistic shitloaves on the same webshite. turmoil in your fucking loins… good god.

What hate! What outrage! But the truth is I love every word of it. Trolls – you validate me. You add extra verve to my posts, and sometimes you say things that are more amusing than what I wrote to begin with.

Trolls have become an integral part of the blogosphere. Some trolls are legendary; Perfectcircles, for example, comments on nearly every Thought Catalog post with something that makes me LOL a little bit. So, trolls, here’s what I have to say to you: keep trollin’. TC mark

image – erik solheim

Dan Hoffman

Dan grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He went to college in western Massachusetts. He maintains the literary blog

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