October 27, 2008
Trolling for success, and the paradox of "outrage"
I think I've figured out what may be going on with the Philadelphia Inquirer writer whose recent column argued that white people should not be allowed to vote, and because it touches on a longstanding paradox, I thought it merited a post.
This is not about the merits of the deliberately inflammatory argument that white people should not be allowed to vote. (More on that in M. Simon's post and in this one from Newsbusters.) Rather, I think it touches on one of the paradoxes of the nature of success.
I suspect that the author (Jonathan Valania) seeks success as a writer, and that he hopes that his inflammatory editorial will become an important stepping stone in his career. If this is any indication, the author may well realize that his music column is not doing well, so he's seeking to be fired for a sexy reason:
"OUTTA THERE! Taking my shit to the Inquirer. More coming... standby," he said today in an email. Inky arts desk, we do not envy you today. And if we may address our prodigal son directly for a moment: Like we said before, Jonathan -- it?s not that we wanted you to get fired, it?s just that, well, you deserved to.As I speculated in a comment to M. Simon's post, he seems to have moved up from music reviews like this. Might the Inky staffers have been getting tired of him, so now he's seeking "martyrdom"?
If they fire him now, he "wins." (Beats being a washed up music reviewer, eh?)Certainly, the author is smart enough to know that Inquirer publisher Brian Tierney won't be taking kindly to his editorial, which has drawn angry comments like these:
Posted by fgomarty 11:18 AM, 10/26/2008And
Posted by Xi Jah 11:26 AM, 10/26/2008And,
Posted by BlairW 11:49 AM, 10/26/2008And,
Posted by Casca 09:43 AM, 10/27/2008It's quite predictable that people will be canceling their subscriptions and I think it's quite possible that Valania hopes he'll go out with a bang. On the other hand, his piece has probably brought a much larger share of traffic to the Inquirer web site, and it will be widely linked. (By discussing it, I am of course helping give the guy what he wants. Another paradox.)
IMHO, the man is a troll. (I'd compare him to Ann Coulter, but the latter is a better writer.)
This touches on a larger issue though. Why do trolls so often succeed? Is it because appeals to reason, logic, or common sense are seen as more boring than red meat?
As someone who aspires to be a voice of reason, I have to say that what I just wrote is depressing to contemplate. The fact is, I've seen countless trolls succeed. Many of the big leftie blogs are written by them (although there are of course the Ann Coulters on the right.)
And there is no arguing with success. It speaks for itself.
Perhaps the concept of "troll" is a bit like "thief." On a small scale, being either is pathetic. But on a large scale, it represents something else. Caesar Augustus observed that the larger the theft, the more it tends to become legitimate -- a point which can be illustrated by comparing someone who steals a small amount of water to someone who manages to divert an entire river. Perhaps being a troll on a grand scale is similar.
Does this mean that if I wanted to become a big time successful troll, I should endorse, say, the Ayers plan to murder 25 million Americans, then later claim it was "satire"?
Nah. No one would believe for a moment that I meant it.
I guess I'm stuck. I wouldn't even be taken seriously if I offered (as the ultimate form of "red meat") a proposal that all Communists be rounded up, tortured, and then executed, would I? Well, considering that a lot of leftists already think that's what's being done to them, a few people might think I was serious, but I doubt regular readers would be fooled. (Considering I can't even go along with the more conventional red meat conspiracy theories, I don't think I could do it and keep a straight face. As it is, I even get into trouble with commenters for simply trying to debunk such conspiracy theories -- or for that matter even trying to debunk Andrew Sullivan's assertions.)
I'm so locked into this stupid "logical and reasonable" mode, I couldn't be outrageous if I tried.
I don't think I could even start an outrageous and inflammatory anonymous blog. I'd be bored to death.
What do you do if you find deliberate outrageousness boring?
The answer in my case lies in the recognition that boredom is itself an emotional reaction. And because I dislike emotional reactions -- especially my own -- then the boredom that accompanies outrageousness must not be as boring as I think.
An outrageous paradox, if you think about it. So why am I not more outraged?
UPDATE: Sean Kinsell hails from the cultural background Valania sneers at, and in a post titled "Hold a chicken in the air / Stick a deck chair up your nose" he explains why Valania's hateful screed is a "masterwork of scintillating ninnyism."
You've got to read it all!
(My thanks to Sean for the link. Someone should hire him as a speechwriter...)
posted by Eric on 10.27.08 at 11:42 AM
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