Annoying the World: In Defence of Trolls

A paper by William Merrin, at Glasgow University, 13th November, 6-8pm, for information click HERE


"And yet and yet, it is a nice feeling to have annoyed the world. Speaking from experience, I might say that it’s the only feeling for which one can stake one’s life nowadays". Richard Huelsenbeck (1958)

On 15th September 2011 the British tabloid The Sun launched their new ‘Target a Troll Campaign’, a response to recent incidents including the case of Sean Duffy who’d recently been found guilty of malicious communications after posting videos online mocking the deaths of teenagers. Over the following years this attack on ‘trolls’ became more widespread, leading to more police arrests, the jailing of particular offenders and considerable media and public outrage at online behaviour. Except most of the targets weren’t actually ‘trolls’: at some point the meaning of ‘troll’ had changed to become a general term for anything offensive online. But even the more precise definition of trolling – as an activity attempting to provoke a reaction for pleasure – is itself inadequate, in treating trolling as an individual, psychological, and implicitly pathological, phenomenon. This paper instead treats trolling as a vital cultural phenomena with its own rich history. It builds its case from a variety of historical examples from trickster mythology and festivals such as the Feast of Fools, through Alfred Jarry, Futurism, Dadaism, Johannes Baader, Arthur Cravan, Boudu, Laurel and Hardy, Situationism, King Mob, Discordianism, Andy Kaufman, Marshall McLuhan, Jean Baudrillard, Chris Morris, Banksy and the Northampton Clown, to contemporary online manifestations such as Bloodninja, 4Chan, Anoymous, Lulzsec and pointless memes such as Lolcats. It defends trolling as a cultural reaction and art, arguing that it incarnates a spirit of disruption and challenge and play and humour aiming at the transformation of everyday life and the exposure, overturning and ridicule of its values, assumptions and authority structures. It is a reversive phenomena, simultaneously real and fake; a game and a serious assault; a political philosophy and a joke. The paper explores the politics of lulz and the lulz of a political activity that takes as its target the reality principle itself and all the systems of power that balance upon it.