The Art of Trolling

 

One of the key themes that jumped out from Milner and Phillips work was the indistinguishability between trolling as a commentary on social norms or as an earnest expression of one’s own views. The convergence of a space inhabited by anonymous people, as well as others who are in control of creating their own identity through the use of what Milner and Phillips refer to as “masks” foments a sense of suspicion online. I know that I assume the worst of anybody who is on some online forum, especially when I read their comments through my individual lens. It would be so much easier if it was internet decorum for things to be prefaced with “read as: satire” or “read as: bigotry”, but alas we can’t make our things nice and easy. Milner and Phillips define trolling as something that, “tends to imply deliberate, playful subterfuge, and the infliction of emotional distress on unwitting or unwilling audiences” (7). And I think that this is where the real satisfaction for people who troll online comes from. They can hide behind the statement “oh it was just a joke, don’t be such a killjoy,” as well as their anonymity.

Sure it does not make sense to condemn a whole group of people, whose intentions we do not know, but at the same time, the act of trolling preys on victims. Whether it be an unknowing user who is not part of an in-group, or it is a user who feels as if they are being targeted by an online interaction, there are people who get hurt. One does not blurt out some potentially misconstrued saying in class, so why does this behavior translate into acceptable online? I would classify the internet troll (as well as the one under most bridges) as a killjoy. Their words and actions are used to divert someone from their intentioned path. Their words are used to make  the reader think about something new, and most of the time it is not some constructive thought.

 

The Perfect Mask

Phillips and Milner write about the lack of a distinction between the internet and embodied space. As Phillips and Milner state, social media is an example of how these boundaries break down in many ways, or how these boundaries don’t exist at all. People are required to create online identities or “masks” that exist compatibly alongside their IRL or embodied space masks. When we are online, we are communicating simultaneously with groups that we might normally use different masks for in embodied spaces. Our friends from high school, a future employee, our grandparents are all people we connect with all at once through social media. Social media can be a nexus place for different parts of our identity, for better or for worse.

Anyone who looks at my social media knows that I put a lot of effort into it (especially my Instagram). But previous to my current Instagram, I had another account that I made early in middle school. Eventually, I had such a hard time posting on it because I felt suffocated by the knowledge that my real life peers that I went to school with would judge the things that I posted and create an image of me in their head that I could not control. For me it was not the online space that was scary, but how the online space connected to my embodied space. So, in high school, I created a new Instagram with the ideal of complete freedom. With the goal of posting whatever I wanted and only following strangers or people that I really liked/felt safe with so that I would not feel so daunted by the pressure of how my online life connects to my embodied life. I think I only have had mediocre results at feeling less stifled by the idea that I don’t have control of how others perceive the mask that I put on Instagram. I still feel moderate anxiety with how others will perceive my social media, but certainly less than when I was younger. In the end, I think I combat this anxiety by creating a mask that I like so much, that I care less about how others perceive it. 

Curating Your Online Experience

One of the primary tenets I’ve adopted in my time on the internet is “You curate your own experience.” This means finding the circle of users whose opinions and humor I share and sticking with them, branching out by following the accounts that those users follow and avoiding accounts that clearly have associated drama. This method protects me (to a point) from the misogyny that many women face on the internet but also from any content I don’t enjoy, like the flower-crown-Columbine-shooter edits that Phillips and Milner reference.
The problem with this method is that it can create an echo chamber. When I create an account that’s just meant to connect me with other people who like a certain TV show or video game, I’m not so concerned about isolating myself; isolation provides protection from the more obvious trolls. Places like Facebook, however, which have begun branching into news and are hotbeds for political debate, have become so divided that one side doesn’t always even know what the other is talking about. For instance, when my Republican grandfather and I talk politics, we have such different evidence and perspectives on the issues that I don’t even know how to counter his points.
Phillips’ Quartz article discusses how no one method of dealing with trolls is universally applicable. An effective method in one case might be outright dangerous in another. Does avoiding content I find distasteful contribute to the divided nature of the internet? Do I have a responsibility to engage in online discourse because I exist in that world, as I feel I have a responsibility to engage in national politics? When does curating my experience become a form of willful ignorance?

Living without a safe-space

As Ahmed’s progression of killjoy narratives become increasingly personal, I found myself reflecting on a specific concept which she described. The idea that Feminism needs feminists and feminists need feminism. She spoke of feminism as the safe space for Killjoys, the place where what they say means more than just killing joy. This idea of the “safe-space” is the very reason killjoys exists. As Ahmed says “A killjoy manifesto thus begins by recognizing inequalities as existing.” The presence of killjoys is the recognition that there is no safe-space for racism, sexism, etc. It is bringing discomfort to the people who chose not to be uncomfortable.
This whole concept really made me think about the huge nationwide issues that white feminism has brought to the whole movement. “Feminism needs feminists.” Toxic white feminism has allowed for the solidarity and community of feminism to be turned into a personal attack. Toxic white feminists are allowed to have a safe space because as white women they are still privileged. Any form of security is the privilege that millions of people in our country will never have. Feminism needs feminists because it needs the people on the ground, working together, being uncomfortable together, and learning from one another. The whole white savior complex also greatly relates to this concept because it is keeping the white person still within the confines of their safe space because their privilege is being used to reward them for simple acts of humanity. Rebellion from these structures that have defined our society for so long seems to be what true Killjoy is.

Though the term safe space, many of the times, is used in places of confession or emotional outpours it is still important to recognize this idea of a space that is safe from all judgment and all backlash to be troublesome. The security of a “safe-space” though can be incredibly supportive and help people really trust, it also brings implications of bystanders simply having to sake in what anyone says. Killjoys represent the truth in the most difficult times. Breaking someone’s belief is not a characteristic of a safe space, but it is so crucial to bring truth when someone isn’t looking for it.

The Bravery to Enjoy Life as a Killjoy

Throughout Sara Ahmed’s analysis of the Feminist Killjoy, I have found ways to connect her calls to action to my personal pedagogy and habits. I am far more comfortable disrupting the social order of supposed happiness in my close circles when it is necessary, and I’ve developed methods of doing so that lead to productive discussion. It makes me feel like the misery I feel the more I learn about oppression and social identity worth it, because I’ve worked fighting against it into my life’s purpose.

 

For this reason, the portion of the survival kit talking about Life struck me the most, and reminded me of all the ways I’ve had to actively live life and seek out pleasure within life’s intrinsic beauty in order to mitigate the pain I feel living out the Killjoy manifesto. Particularly, the line: “Being a killjoy is too occupying, if it takes you away from the worlds you are in; the rise and fall of the sun, the way the trees are angled like that, the smile of a friend when you share a joke, the cold fresh water; the feel of the sea as immersion; the familiar smells of spices cooking.” All of this hit me more emotionally than anticipated. We are all vessels, and the way we treat our vessels has tangible bearing on the strength of our fight. And it will be a long fight. The priorities I’ve put in place for myself include consistent expressions of gratitude, presence of moment, and maintaining balance. Maybe I didn’t realize until I read this section from Ahmed how connected those priorities are to taking care of myself so that I can continue to fight with integrity. To not do so would be to let the exhaustion take over, to let the helplessness overpower the values I am driven by. It is very easy to consume and embody trauma in a world that is oversaturated by social media once you have been made aware of all the trauma that exists. But it is a completely new task to reinvigorate yourself within the fight when you may easily feel like nothing you do is enough. Yet, it is the most important element to sustaining the life we’ve chosen to live. So I will continue to do so.

My Experience As a Killjoy

My story resembles that of Sara Ahmed. Growing up in an upper-middle, but yet conservative and traditionally Muslim Turkish family helped me recognize that the exploitation of women during a dinner table is one of the fundamental problems of institutional happiness. My lately limited experiences with my family and my memories point to the times that my mom hesitated speaking up for herself under the threat that my dad would call her a keyif kaçıran – the Turkish word for killjoy. As a college student, my short-dated travels to home and my evolving world view have made me realize the well-rooted problems in my household. Whenever I travel back home, I would always see my mom depressed, unwilling to talk to my dad, friends, and sometimes even me, and that’s where my journey to become a feminist killjoy began.

In A Killjoy Manifesto, Ahmed gives her own definition of “being a killjoy is to transform a judgement to a project.” In my entire life, I have never liked submitting to injustices, and that directly affected my childhood experience, during which I got bullied for pointing the problems between me and my friends and called a naughty child for creating problems. In Feminist Killjoys, Ahmed defines a feminist as a person who is “not easy to get along with.” In some sense, I was that feminist in my family. In her manifesto, Ahmed describes her third principle of being a killjoy, which requires the person to support others who are willing to cause unhappiness. Following this principle, I have been the intermediary between my dad and my mom, telling my dad to ask my mom for an opinion when he is making a decision. My dad didn’t take it personal, but he could have, and that’s why the Killjoy Survival Kit exists whenever you feel rejected and about to lose the drive to pursue your project.

One of the challenges of being a killjoy is the “invention” of different kinds of killjoys. As the killjoy society, rather than defining different types of killjoys, we need to unite, but the implementation of this is really complicated. As a Middle Eastern male, when I have the chance to be a killjoy and support other killjoys on gender and racial injustice, I usually get shutdown because I am not being part of that “group”. I believe that as killjoys, we should drive a radical change from being exclusive to inclusive, where we support every killjoy that would like to support one another. If I were given a chance to change a sentence in Ahmed’s Killjoy Survival Kit, I would have changed feminism needs feminists to a more general, inclusive statement of killjoyism needs killjoys because I believe that as we get more inclusive as killjoys, we will have more chances to pursue our projects.

A Feminist Manifesto’s Take on Happiness

Throughout our studies of killjoys, it is curious to me how feminists equate being a killjoy to being a feminist. In her survival kit, Ahmed writes that “feminism needs feminists to survive”, claims that statement to be a feminist statement, and also claims that her killjoy survival guide is written around that statement. In her manifesto, Ahmed writes that “it is because of what she reveals that a killjoy becomes a killjoy in the first place”. This sentence seems to explain to me why being a killjoy is so closely linked to being a feminist. Like Ahmed describes, being a killjoy is when “the negative feeling that is not revealed when the family is working becomes deposited in the one who reveals the family is not working”. Like being a killjoy, being a feminist is, to put it metaphorically, calling out how horribly wrong the family has been working for almost all of time; people are bound to have trouble with this notion and believe feminists to have killed their happiness by disturbing the false sense of happiness they have created for themselves. By putting the “hap back into happiness”, feminists can begin to destigmatize the notion that happiness is universal. Instead, happiness is conditional and can, in fact, coexist with feminism.

Why should feminists take it upon themselves to be killjoys? Is a feminist calling oneself a killjoy some kind of way to reclaim the word and thus their narrative? What does this say about people who aren’t feminists? About anti-feminists? Is being a feminist in and of itself being a killjoy?

Crafting Your Kill-Joyhood on a Small, Southern PWI Campus

When I first read this piece last semester for my Feminist & Queer Theories course, Ahmed’s term “killjoy” seemed pretty self-explanatory to me; the desire and goal to kill the “joy” or happiness of the privileged which came at the expense and harm of the marginalized seemed to make sense for anyone who may care about justice for a given social issue. And, in that way, the term was something with which I thought I and many others must obviously identify and practice since we know our values–and, sometimes, our mere existence–is something with which people take fault, or exploit, or make into the punchline of a joke. After all, “to be involved in political activism is thus to be involved in a struggle against happiness,” as Ahmed says. But no matter how many on this campus may wish to perceive themselves and the community at large as good-natured, those of us who experience such violence know firsthand that our campus is certainly not immune to it, even if masked by others’ “happiness.”

Examples that kept returning to my mind during today’s class pertained to situations which the Green Dot Bystander Intervention Program seeks to address. While I’m sure many of us would like to think we would step up to the occasion when faced with the opportunity to prevent or deescalate violence, there are definitely more complex layers to the groups we circulate within a small campus–and more complex and dangerous dynamics to how we perceive ourselves versus others considering our respective privileges and marginalizations, our social capital or lack thereof. How many of us are willing to be “‘read’ as ‘not easy to get along with'”? Especially in our day-to-day lives, within our social scenes and organizations and friend groups? How many of us can afford to without potentially facing harm ourselves?

With Green Dot, it was revealed in anonymous polling that 100% of training attendees could recall a situation in which they could have intervened in a potentially dangerous or violent situation but had not. By fearing kill-joyhood and its potential social repercussions, we should consider how we are also enabling sexual assault and dating violence and perpetuating the larger cultures of oppressive violence on our campus.

Feminist Killjoys: Should we become one? 

Before this class I had never come across the word killjoy. Thinking about it, there are so many moments in my life that I could/should have been one; online gaming, interactions in school or even sportsAll those thoughts raised some questions on my mind. Why didn’t I react? Why do people usually avoid standing against what they think is wrong?  

Basketball was always a huge love of mine. College basketball, professional basketball, amateur basketball; you name it, I like it. From scores, teams and players to discussions and ‘hot’ topics around the sport, I followed everything as much as I could. One of the most common discussed topics was the inequality between genders in professional basketball 

Stephen Curry (one of the best NBA players) receives 340 times more money than the best WNBA player Sylvia Fowles (infogram.com). As David Berry presents in his article in Forbes, “Barbosa will be paid nearly five times what the WNBA MVP earned, and Barbosa won’t even play for the Suns.” Being a child who idolized NBA players and loved the sport, I couldn’t believe that such inequalities exist. I would often read comments such as “Yes but WNBA makes no profit so why would they get payed”, “nobody attends the games, there is no revenue”, “WNBA is not fun, they can’t even dunk” and I tried to make myself believe that they were right. I was trying to convince myself that the sport that I loved was fair to both genders and that the ‘gender gap’ in the wage was just a wrong accusation. The question is why. Why was I in such denial? 

Sara Ahmed, in her articleFeminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects)” explains that “feminists do kill joy in a certain sense: they disturb the very fantasy that happiness can be found in certain places.” I think this was the reason I tried to rationalize what was going on. For me, accepting that inequality would automatically take the fun out of the game I loved. Advocating for equality would expose all the aspects of professional basketball I did not want to face. However, I was wrong. 

Fast forward to my Davidson years. Currently I am a women’s basketball scout player and a huge fan of the team. Being part of that team helped me to gain a new perspective. Yes, basketball has inequalities. Yes, the women’s team has a winning record and nobody attends their games while the men’s games are always sold out. However, now I have something real to support.  

Am I a killjoy when I discuss with my friends about basketball? Maybe I amSo why would one want to be a killjoy? The answer is simple; you finally have something real to fight for. For every time my friends discuss on how good the men’s basketball team is this year, I remind them that the women’s team currently has a winning conference record. Before every women’s basketball game, I get as many of my friends to come with me as I can. The very same reason I was afraid to react to what I was reading is the reason why basketball was never that much fun; now basketball represents a purpose that I am passionate about and that is why nobody should be afraid to become a killjoy. Being a killjoy can be fun on its own unique way. 

Unhappiness as the Way Forward?

Sarah Ahmed’s manifesto, while slightly diffuse to me (as manifesto’s tend to be), tackles a lot of moral and philosophical dilemmas regarding feminism. This manifesto covers the idea of pushing against happiness, being willful, and social flow.

One idea that I was particularly transfixed on was the idea of happiness. The argument that Ahmed makes about happiness in feminism seems totally counter to Sam Magg’s “encouraging”, if willingly blind, feminism. Which could be to Ahmed’s credit. The idea that feminist killjoys operate in the world of unhappiness felt jarring. Her argument is that happiness is the normate attitude, and is that which is comfortable, a world that feminist killjoys don’t have the ability to exist in.

To be a killjoy is to disrupt this happiness and to make others aware that their happiness is baseless; but this often leads to false and negative branding of feminists. Ahmed wants to argue that this manifesto is designed to reclaim the concept of a killjoy for feminists. While I do think that she covers a lot more ground than Maggs does, the message seemed lost to me in the wording. The delivery seems pessimistic which I suppose falls in line with the killjoy attitude; at the very least the manifesto is a reminder of the difficulties that come with being willful, with being feminist.

However, the tone seems to fit what I made out of the manifest. One quote that I though captured some of her main points is this: “The figure of the killjoy could be rethought in terms of the politics of willfulness. I suggested earlier that an activist archive is an unhappiness archive, one shaped by the struggles of those who are willing to struggle against happiness. We might redescribe this struggle in terms of those who are willing to be willful. An unhappiness archive is a willfulness archive.”

Despite my difficulty understanding some of the rhetoric, I think that Ahmed makes great points about what it is like to be a feminist, and, therefore, a killjoy. It reminded me of one of the points that Bryan Stevenson made when he spoke a few weeks back: that one must be willing to be uncomfortable in order to enact change. Ahmed talks about the willingfulness to engage in unhappiness, the discomfort, of moving against the social flow; this is where I feel Stevenson’s narrative overlaps with Ahmed’s.