This is Why We Cant Have Nice Things

Phillips, W. (2015). This is why we can’t have nice things: Mapping the relationship between online trolling and mainstream culture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Chapter 3

Just as certain cities are said to be supporting characters in television shows, novels, and films for which they serve as backdrop ... online platforms impart a similar flavor. Indeed, far from being empty, value-neutral spaces, platforms have a profound effect on how communities form and what community members are able to accomplish while online. Given this complicated interplay, I was forced to adapt my research methods not just to the particular group I was studying, and not just the particular platform the frequented, but to the evolving interaction(s) between community, platform, and behavior. (p. 39)

Part II is simply not possible, or even advisable, to provide an overarching, universal answer to any question that attempts to sort trolls into either this or that. A better and more fruitful question is the question I posed at the outset of this study. Specifically, how do trolls fit into mainstream culture? ... the answer to this question is "quite well." Not only to trolls scavenge, repurpose, and weaponize myriad aspects of mainstream culture (all the better to troll you with), mainstream culture normalizes and at times actively celebrates precisely those attitudes and behaviours that in trolling contxts are said to be aberrant, antisocial, and cruel. It is at this point that trolls and trickster are most closely aligned. Much like mythological trickster figures, whose refusal to editorialize compels onlookers to make sense of what has happened, trolls' actions highlight the more ambivalent aspects of the dominant culture. Participating trolls might not be consciously aware of the ways in which their actions replicate mainstream tropes and behaviours, but they don't need to be. The important thing ... is that trolls reveal. (p. 49-50)

Chapter 4

... the interplay between mainstream media outlets and the trolls who troll them highlights the striking overlap between trolls and their most vociferous opponents. ... trolls and sensationalist media outlets are in fact locked in a cybernetic feedback loop predicated on spectacle; each camp amplifies and builds upon the other's reactions, resulting in a relationship that can only be described as symbiotic. (p. 52)

The qualification that trolls might not actually be white but certainly act white harkens to Richard Dyer's analysis of the construction of whiteness in Western visual culture. As Dyer explains, "actual" whiteness--that is to say, skin color--is a visible site of whiteness. But it is not the ultimate site of whiteness. The true power of whiteness resides in its symbolic power--specifically the power to automatically other (literally mark, make less white) anything that falls outside the norms of the dominant group. ... Even when engaging in racially neutral humor, anons on /b/ take whiteness, and the whiteness of their audience, for granted; on the rare occasion that an onon presents himself as a person of color (whether of not he is telling the truth), he must self-identify as such, that is, flag himself as being fundamentally different from the presumed norm. In this way, discourse on /b/ favors what Ryan Milner describes as a "white centrality" that is "premised on repressions of diverse voice(s)."(p. 54)

Milner, R. M. (2013). Hacking the Social: Internet Memes, Identity Antagonism, and the Logic of Lulz. The Fibreculture Journal, (22). Retrieved from might be tempting to conclude that corporate media are vast institutions of trolling, or at least that individual media personalities are themselves trolls. This however would be a stretch, and furthermore, isn't the issue. The issue is that, while trolls' exploitative behaviours are condemned as aberrational, journalists' similarly exploitative behaviours are accepted as being par for the capitalist course. Condemning one while giving the other a free pass doesn't just obscure the cultural conditions out of which trolling emerges, it almost guarantees that the most problematic behaviours will persist--and not just in the darkest corners of the internet, but under the false flag of moral superiority... (p. 69)