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Conversation about trolls at the New Yorker Movie Facebook Group

We're all praising how there aren't any trolls here... even as perhaps it shouldn't have been expected, given Kit Hellman's point that trolls don't read the New Yorker. Still, I think it's worth pointing out that our brilliant critic and lead "sharer" in this group, Richard Brody, has written over and over again for, in a sense, releasing trolls from out under the bridge, and for thinking on how much perhaps anything that is heroically valuable for our enjoyment of life is due in our age to share the same encysted quarantine as alt-right trolls. In an article on Berkeley, he laments how the institution "suppresses, diverts, or coverts" the very energy it depends upon for its survival, in one on Melissa McCarthy, on how nastiness, which in his opinion is the essence of comedy, is "constrained and sweetened," in one on Linsay Lohan, on how simply because she engages in a thrilling risk that we--valuing nothing more than "prudence and responsible professionalism, the supreme value of [our] age"--don't like, has trouble sustaining a career. 

Given Brody's criticism and prominent role in the group, in my mind the introductory post to this group should have included more a sense of "take risks, go for broke" than it did, to help play against our taught stifling tendencies. Do you agree or disagree?

Patrick McEvoy-Halston Here's the link to Richard's Lindsay Lohan article, by the way:

A.S. Mentira!! Aca HAY trolos!

Patrick McEvoy-Halston What came first? Trolls, or the desire to evacuate from most of the human race, by imposing this defamation upon people you were previously, not only ready to receive, but truthfully sometimes benefiting from, from receiving? I know there's a lot of disturbed people out there, but in my judgment, it's about a simultaneous tie.

P.H. With your last point I agree.

Richard Brody Thanks for the very kind words; you bring up some good points that are worth addressing. I've never thought of my criticism as having anything to do with trolls or trolling, which involves intentional antagonism. I'd never want to do any of those things, and I don't enjoy reading the work of writers who do so. Taking risks and going for broke isn't something to do casually; taking a stand on a movie that's controversial or heated is also a responsibility—to be detailed and clear—and a little bit of that heat goes a long way. This isn't a matter of being constrained or stifled, but of being part of a community, whether on-line or in person, where people aren't shouting at each other but discussing, and where, even when it gets excited, it remains respectful. It doesn't mean that one respects every movie--far from it--but it's worth remembering, and I do try to remember this when I write, that making a movie is difficult--that it takes two years to make a movie, two hours to watch a movie, and two minutes to demolish it--or, with social media, two seconds. I've written about this intrinsic disproportion between filmmaking and criticism; awareness of it, I think, is part of the distinction between taking a strong stand sincerely and trolling.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston Thanks for the response, Richard. Your work has offered great and exciting challenges for me. What motivated my post is that I remember introductions to discussion groups which I thought served to let participants know they were thought of us as people who aren't always heard from, but who could rock your world. once introduced their comment sections like this, when Joan Walsh and Talbot were around, and for awhile it and Gawker were places to go to meet the mad genius of the world... I felt it was what the world wide web was supposed to be about, meeting the tumult of genius everywhere, not just from out of refined families and cultured neighbourhoods. Then came a time when you felt more, let's remember to play nice (the Dayden era at Salon), and I felt a world that had once been interested, really interested -- you felt it... the audience could change them! -- had been requited to playing out a social role of supervisor/superego, who delight in interesting discussions, but who had allergies to good ideas... that didn't belong properly to them. Managers and staff sergeants, took charge; their (genuine) betters looked only to themselves, and got wierded out when nobodies talk to them on their twitter feeds. Everybody operating out of masochism, out of pleasure derived from playing out a social role that registered your ultimate deference to an age's call for frustration and unrealized lives... for a Depression decade, for everyone started losing out.  

Absolutely about manners. Absolutely about respect. But I think people need cues to be reminded that, once, a broad culture could ask for these things and not also be hoping to keep up a pleasant hum of mannerliness and actually perhaps not so challenging ideas (for, since we've reached the apex of thought and are morally right about everything, this is not only all that is to be expected but further evidence of our fully extended reach). I think unless care is taken to prompt people to take huge risk, everybody understands what is understood of them, now, in engaging in civil discussions where trolls aren't tolerated. We align into place.

A.S. Trolls are not original thinkers or misunderstood outsiders; they are people (or bots) whose purpose is tp insult, harass , and intimidate commenters whose views they disagree with or who have qualities/characteristics they dislike.. They seek to intimidate and distract from real discussion by instigating schoolyard level volleys of insults.

Patrick McEvoy-Halston A.S. But I think that people have come to have far too ranging an idea of those who are engaged in "schoolyard" behaviour, and have become increasingly unaware of how much input they're bent on classifying as merely disruptive. A number of us felt that it was like last days of disco when the site Gawker died, but we noticed that many of our peers were glad to see the ostensible "bullies" finally off the internet. These people, the ostensibly decent, scared us. 

Your way of describing trolls is how a recent terrifying NRA ad described how, ostensibly, university students are preying on "regular America" -- the ostensibly fundamentally decent being besieged by tactics of intimidation from students on the loose. The university students themselves believe that they won't be waylaid from where the genuine intimidation lies, and strike mercilessly at every incursion of the normalization of a vile agenda that'll go under guise of decency and civility, for sure. 

I believe I've very sensitive to people being hurt as well. I don't downgrade the damage speech can do, or want to see people cowed from feeling free to have their say. I want to create a safe zone -- a concept I have absolute respect for -- too. Thanks for your input.


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