“I was thinking of using the internet to flame people I don’t agree with. Any advice?” —Travis the Troll
When the internet was first invented, did they ever have a sense of what it was truly meant to be for? Probably not. They probably thought they could just share knowledge with each others. I feel sorry for those first internet users. How silly they were, sharing knowledge. Or feeling the wonder of connecting with people all over the globe instantaneously. What became clear over trillions of internet interactions over the last 25 years that it was a great place to tell people off from a great distance.
In person, I am a pretty easy-going guy. There’s very little you can say to me that will upset me in any way, except possibly that you love me and want to date me. That will make me nuts. Otherwise I take all the little sleights I receive during the day and I will hold them inside me until I am home on Twitter. Then I will select some obscure poet with questionable manners and take it all out on them from the distance and safety of my dumb computer. Or at least I used to—it seems a little rough to pick on poets in the Age of Trump. And we’re all feeling pretty miserable as it is, so being ‘satirized’ by some loud jerk is really just the cherry on top.
I’m not sure that satire can serve a function going forward other than to make people feel bad. And some people should definitely feel bad, especially if they have bad opinions. Especially now that practically everybody feels bad all the time, making fun of someone on the internet has become kind of an overkill thing. Our government is filled with Nazi sympathizers and KKK apologists. Think making a few bad jokes at their expense is going to make any damned difference? Maybe it will. Nobody likes being made fun of.
There’s an odd connection between the ridiculer and the ridiculed. One must understand something meaningful about someone else to make fun of them. Or else you just project the worst impulses of yourself onto them and make fun of those. And the ways that other people make fun of you will definitely illuminate how they’d least like to be made fun of by you. The useful effects of ridicule, also, are only limited to people who can feel shame and want to change. If someone makes fun of you, you generally feel like retorting. So be prepared.
The key to having a great internet fight is to have a great target. Someone truly unlikable, whose motives and agenda are totally suspect is best. But, also, somehow, famous enough so everyone can enjoy all the jokes. I’m doing some great new stuff about former Jersey City mayor and convicted felon Gerry McCann, who uses his Twitter account usually to threaten people with littering tickets. But does anyone get how funny my McCann stuff is? Maybe some people in Jersey City. But, sadly, not enough. You’d have to follow me and a bunch of other people on twitter, read Gerry’s wikipedia article. It’s just too much work.
You also should take things much further than you ever would normally. We’re desensitized to sex and violence in this society. And also verbal abuse. We get it from every direction all the time, so you really have to pile on mightily to make a dent in some crazy dude’s ego now. If they tweet one stupid thing, you should tweet 20 stupid things back on them. Relentlessly. Sometimes you gotta outcrazy the crazy people. And crazy people only speak the language of crazy. Even the darkest-hearted internet troll will recognize the strength and power of your crazy, and possibly respect you for it. And words simply are not enough. There’s something about images that cuts through all the bullshit. And gets right to the throbbing vein in our foreheads. Anybody can blah blah with words. But when they defile a photo of you on top of that, it’s extra devastating. I used to do terrible drawings of people to accompany my critiques of everything that’s wrong with them. Those work the best.
You will have to gird yourself from the eventual blowback. And the cycle never stops. So you will probably have to live your life forever looking over your shoulder, wondering when, sooner or later, some person you made fun of is going to reemerge in your life. I generally forget the people I’ve made fun of completely once I’m done making funny drawings of them and snide comments about them. But then suddenly you’re at a Chik-fil-A and there they are, like Robert De Niro in “Cape Fear” covered in tattoos of just your face crossed-out. Making fun of people eventually makes you feel tired and miserable, like the world is a horrible place. But temporarily it will make you feel alive and superior and I guess that’s why we all do it. The simple rewards of a life spent wrongly.
While human laughter may be the sign that an emotion inside you has died, it also can be cathartic. My advice is to displace as much nonsense as you can get away with at Trump and his Trumpets, for as long as he lasts. Possibly never before and perhaps never again will we have so uncomplicated a target to make fun of than The Donald. Whoever has wronged you, send all of that Donald Trump’s way. It’s the only thing he truly understands.
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City and works at a bookstore.