Thursday, August 16, 2012
Feeding the Trolls (Or Why Fame Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be)
Let me tell you a long-winded story that will be relevant eventually. Bear with me.
I've tended to attract weirdos all throughout my life. I'm not really certain why this is, beside the fact I'm fairly odd myself, but that's neither here nor there. The point is, I've always been a magnet for the weirdos no one else would talk to. If there was a kid in class who never showered and played with Star Wars toys instead of interacting with any other human being, you can bet they would just go ahead and consider me their best friend. While this used to really bother me as a kid (even the weird kids want to be cool), as I grew up, I realized it was generally either fun (I have got to meet a lot of interesting people I'm assuming most people never bother to talk to) or, at worst, kind of annoying.
But then in college I started getting heavily into politics. I had always been somewhat involved, but around 19 I became your stereotypical college activist, with the requisite loud mouth and, eventually, even the long smelly dreadlocks (though I used a mint-scented soap to wash them, so my dreads actually smelled minty fresh most of the time). So now, in addition to attracting all the odd folks I used to, I started attracting the political weirdos, which, for the uninformed, are way, way worse than normal weirdos. Some were weirdos who agreed with my politics, but many were weirdos who greatly disapproved of my politics. These are the weirdos who would shout shit at me as I walked around town, send me death threats (anonymously, of course, because people who send death threats are invariably cowards), or even occasionally, tail my car (though, again, they would never actually do anything, because again, these people are cowards. Though funny story: once a guy in an over-grown hotwheels truck tailed my car around town for the better part of 20 minutes and when I eventually stopped, he wedged his car behind me so I couldn't go anywhere. When I got out he said he was going to kick my ass because of my bumperstickers. So I asked him to make it quick because I was trying to run errands, and he just called me a faggot and drove away. See? Cowards. All of them).
Now some of these weirdos are just temporary, but some of them take an odd, bordering on the pathological, obsession with me. In college it was this guy named Trevor (shit. Or was it Tyler? Yeah, that's it. Or is it? Fuck, I can't believe I can't remember dude's name. Man, I am getting really old). Anyway, Trevor/Tyler was head of the College Republicans and wrote a regular column for the alternative conservative (yup, oxymoron) paper on campus. So obviously we didn't see eye-to-eye on much. And while for me Trevor/Tyler was just some dude I didn't agree with, for Trevor/Tyler I was the epitome of everything that was wrong with the world, and apparently some sort of personal white whale that he had to slay to prove...well, I'm never really certain what these people are trying to prove.
So Trevor/Tyler started a one-man crusade against me. During a several month period my senior year in college, every editorial he wrote for that paper was about me and what I was up to. In the beginning it was cute, but it started to get creepy when he began writing things that made it clear he was either spying on me regularly or had access to some weird case file about me I'm not aware of. For instance, one week I was having car trouble so I was in my backyard working on my car, and he mentioned this is in one of his anti-me screeds. Not sure how he would have known any of this unless he was casing my house, or some such thing. Creepy, right?
At first, this was all somewhat flattering. It's fun to feel so important someone becomes maniacally obsessed with you. But then it just starts to get creepy and sad. Because there's nothing more sad than someone who thinks they're engaged in a fierce war of ideology with a person who doesn't care and is only vaguely aware of this supposed battle.
But beyond the creepy factor and how sad it made Trevor/Tyler look, it got really embarrassing for me after awhile. Not because of anything he wrote (what was true I was fine with, what was made up was so obviously made up I didn't care), but because it made it look like I was part of all this. I barely knew the kid and to this day still don't know why I was the object of his ire. Sure, I was a very outgoing and outspoken radical activist, but so were most of my friends, many of them more so. I actually only spoke to Trevor/Tyler in person two or three times as far as I can recall. Yet nonetheless, he chose me to continually write about. What made it embarrassing is having to repeatedly explain to people that I neither knew this dude nor knew what his problem with me was. Because when a crazy person repeatedly talks about you in public forums, people start to think you have something to do with that crazy person. But I didn't. I don't even remember his damn name.
But really the overwhelming feeling from the whole process was just pity for Trevor/Tyler. He had somehow built in his head a world in which not only was I apparently incredibly important, but that I somehow cared about his opinion of me or what he wrote in his wildly odd/entertaining editorials about me. I guess he sat there typing away, filling with glee over how angry this would make me and how it would shatter my fragile world and...shit, I don't know. I honestly don't get it.
Basically, Trevor/Tyler was an internet troll before that was a big thing (this was awhile ago folks, I'm getting old). Internet trolls are people who throw out insulting contrarian views in the hopes that this will provoke some big reaction from people or destroy their ideals or some such thing. But that never happens. All it succeeds in doing is make the troll look like a small, sad, and petty person. Which would describe Trevor/Tyler in as far as I knew him.
Right. So that's a shitload of exposition about someone you don't know and don't care about. Here's where it gets relevant...
It looks like I have a new Trevor/Tyler in my life, though I don't know who this person is (again, cowards never use their names). Whoever it is and I disagreed about unionizing grad students. As far as I know, I've never actually met this person, but given that I like to procrastinate, I probably spent a fair amount of time arguing with him (I'm going to assume this person is male for ease of pronoun use) on the internets during the union campaign. Then there was an election, and unfortunately, it didn't turn out how I wanted it to. Then I moved on with my life.
But you see, whoever this is did not move on with his life, as far as I can tell. Because the fact that I disagreed with him about this thing that happened several months ago apparently means he and I are enemies for life. Which is fine by me. I don't spend any time thinking about whoever this person is, so he's free to think about me whatever he wants.
And think about me he seems to do quite a bit. I know this not just because he comments on this blog, but because of where he comments and what he writes about. I think the first comment he left was on a post I wrote about the union election. Fair enough. That makes sense, as it was something the both of us were very invested in (well, I was very invested in it. I'm assuming whoever this is was as well, but again I don't know, because: coward). Sure, he only came to gloat like a child whose daddy bought him a better toy, but again, I don't care what that dude does, so to each their own.
But then it started to get creepy, as it always does. Because I get e-mail alerts every time someone comments on my blogs. So I start to get all these notifications that someone has commented on my posts. But the posts being commented on...well, some of them were from about 5 years ago. Meaning dude is obsessed enough with me that he's read through at least 5 years of my blog's back catalogue. I just wish I had fans that dedicated.
So that's already creepy enough, but hey, he seems like the kind of dude who probably doesn't make many friends, so I assumed he's just got time on his hands to read a bunch of shit online. But then he left a comment the other week about the new job I got, making a dig at both my field and the institution to which I'm going. That's not such a big deal, right? I mean, people make fun of me and sociology all the time, so how is that creepy? Well, I thought about it for a minute and couldn't remember ever writing anything about getting a job or where it was. And the more I thought about it, the more curious I got. So I went back through all my posts and checked. And here's the really creepy thing, friends:
I had never in this space posted about getting a job prior to his saying that, and I've certainly never come close to mentioning where it is. In fact, I've made no public announcements about it at all.
Then I checked a little further. And no info about me getting a job comes up until the fourth page of google results. That means dude is so obsessed with me he's clearly spending inordinate amounts of time searching out information about me. And while it's flattering (don't get me wrong, I am a pretty awesome person to obsess over, given how amazing I am), he's crossed the line from cute crazy to "show up at my door with a shotgun mumbling about the cleansing rain of the Lord" crazy.
And again, I'm left not really understanding it. Sure, he and I had possibly a spirited back and forth online during the election, but that was months ago. And we're adults, who I would think are capable of separating political discussions from the rest of our lives. Also, I don't understand the insults. You can go ahead and read through his illuminating comments if you like, but they all basically boil down to "leftist politics are stupid and you are stupid for being a sociologist. And you smell.'' (In his defense, I usually do smell pretty bad). I'm actually pretty surprised he hasn't left any yo mama jokes in the comments, but maybe those are too clever for him. I don't know.
But I honestly mean it when I say I don't get the point of this. Are these random insults that rarely if ever have anything to do with the subject at hand supposed to affect me in some way? What am I supposed to come away with from reading highly intelligent stuff like "I can't believe how easy it is to get doctorates in sociology nowadays?" What does that mean? Was it more difficult to get a sociology Ph.D. at some point in time? Did he have some misconceptions about sociology that I inadvertently corrected? Am I supposed to be so ashamed of my field I instantly quit academia forever? These aren't rhetorical questions; if someone can actually understand what these comments are supposed to make me feel, please let me know.
Because again, all they make me feel are pity. Pity that a grown man who's intelligent enough to be in a Ph.D. program at a major university has no better use for his time. Or is not mature enough to understand adults can disagree with each other without needing childish insults. Or that he apparently thinks insulting sociology is both original and something I give a shit about.
But what I think is saddest about these people is that they always seem to think they're the first person to come up with stuff -- You mean to tell me some people don't respect the liberal arts?!? HOLY FUCKING SHIT YOU GUYS! WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME THIS BEFORE?!? These people are like that kid in high school who discovers the Beatles and grows a shaggy early-John Lennon mop top and walks around acting like he's the first person to have discovered this crazy underground band out of England. Really? You like the most popular band in the world? How crazy!
Then to push it past sadness to the point of being truly pathetic (in the literal sense of the word, as in inspiring pathos for such a sad, small person) is that they not only express an incredibly common-to-the-point-of-being-cliche viewpoint, they somehow thinks this makes them some awesome rebel, the only one whose not afraid to speak the truth, man. And they clearly think this is accomplishing something, as if a guy (me) who has heard some variation (or these exact words) from roughly several thousand people by this point will, under the weight of his impeccable logic, suddenly collapse and abandon all of my dearly held beliefs, leave my chosen profession, and be emotionally shattered.
(Side note: the insults aren't stinging or even clever, for that matter. And yet, there's so many legitimate reasons to insult me. Make fun of me because my fiance left me. Make fun of me because I'm klutzy and often injure myself doing routine activities. Make fun of me because I'm so broke I've been using shampoo bottles I've collected from hotels over the past year because I can't even afford to buy shampoo. Make fun of me because I've played baseball for years and yet this season I've managed a batting average that make Drew Butera look like a Hall of Famer. Make fun of me because I pretend to be a musician even though I'm talentless and no one wants to hear my music. Hell, I could spend all day listing ways to make fun of me that would actually hurt my feelings, and yet dude's go-to insult is that I'm a sociologist. Weeeeeeaaaaaaaak.)
At this point, I know I've already violated the cardinal rule of dealing with internet trolls by paying attention to whoever this is. While part of this post is to honestly puzzle at what he thinks he's accomplishing, mostly it was just an excuse for me to reminisce about all the insane people that have crossed my path. But now I am going to just ignore him in the vain hope he either finds a hobby or stumbles across an even scarier academic to tilt at windmills against (side note: please don't anyone tell this person about the existence of cultural studies. Because even sociologists make fun of those people).
But given that I can never resist sticking in one more comment, here's my final bit for you, current anonymous cowardly internet stalker:
Please, please find a hobby. Get out of the house and make some friends. Friends who share your interests. Then you can spend time with them and speak like an adult about things you enjoy. It truly is a much more fulfilling way to live your life than spouting random childish insults at people on the internet. I'm flattered by your attention, but now you're just embarrassing the both of us. You do realize that spending time researching what I'm up to in an attempt to insult me is an inherently contradictory and fruitless pursuit, right? Because no matter what you turn up, nothing you find can make me look as sad and useless as someone who spends so much time researching me on the internet. I'm not mad at you; I genuinely feel sorry for you, as something really sad had to happen to you to make you like this. I would suggest some counseling. Seriously. I've used the campus counseling service quite a bit and it's helped me a lot, and I imagine it would do the same for you. Or, failing that, at least take a little time away from the computer. Spend the time you would spend researching your imagined enemies on thinking about yourself; I guarantee you'll come to some realizations that will really help you.
So this is that last I address my anonymous internet adversary. If that past is any indication, he'll probably follow a path very similar to that of Trevor/Tyler: this announcement will be met with some extreme indignation. He'll probably suggest I'm the one who needs counseling (which, hey, true enough) and then make some more comments about my given profession. Then he'll continue to comment on this blog for a few more months before the continued silence finally pushes him to imagine some other holy war he needs to fight and he goes away. All of you faithful readers can help but not responding to his trolling anymore, either.
Because, my anonymous imagined friend, as Mr. Carter puts it so eloquently in the video above, "what you eat don't make me shit." So, please, for both of our sakes, stop trying to make me shit.
Posted by Woz at 12:56 PM