September 27, 2019

A Thinkers Guide to Internet Trolls

This week a sixteen-year-old, who lives and breathes her message of climate change, addressed the UN and while praised for her conviction in appealing to world leaders to unite behind the science, she has had a healthy dose of ‘trolling’, too. The internet act of trolling has many definitions but we can understand it simply as people using their keyboard strikes to deliver personal attacks on a person when they are unable to debate their point of view. It’s a scar on all of the good that the internet provides.

Yet the modern-day trolling that we have all seen play out on social media saddens me because there is a lost art of insulting someone with finesse and skill, and these trolls, these blunt instruments, just don’t get it. 

So, we are devoting some time to the very niche art of well-articulated insults and paying homage to the man who, near single-handed invented the art form. There is something satisfying, almost delightful, about a thoroughly good insult. When a character on a TV show delivers a pointed and well-timed ‘burn’, there is an involuntary fist pump to the air because words might not be able to break bones…but they can definitely break the tension. No one, and I mean no one, had a greater gift for this than William Shakespeare. 

Even if you’ve never been a fan of Elizabethan plays and sonnets, the reality is that you probably have some of his carefully crafted phrases in your Rolodex of filler words, without even realising it. Calling someone a ‘sorry sight’ is from Macbeth; frustration over a ‘wild goose chase’ is straight out of Romeo and Juliet and finding yourself ‘in a pickle’ puts you in the same place as Trinculo in The Tempest. 

But that is not the good stuff. Shakespeare had a way of articulating a nuanced and intelligent insult that on its face was reasonably timid, yet could bleed you for days. 

Though outward appearance tends to be where a lot of trolls take aim, the reality is that when compared to Shakespeare, they just aren’t as good at it: “The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes,” – Corialanus, and he was particularly spiteful In Henry IV, Part I of how the impacts of a laziness could manifest in physical form when he said: “This sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horseback breaker, this huge hill of flesh?” He was also incredibly direct when he needed to be: “There is not ugly a fiend of hell as thou shalt be…” – King John.

If insults of the flesh are beneath you, and they probably ought to be, Shakespeare had a great way of attacking someone for their thoughts and utterances also, and he was not apologetic about it, “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,” – The Tempest.

These offerings from the bard could almost be standard responses – or at least mantra-like affirmations – in the wake of a troll encounter. “It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” – Macbeth. Or try, “Thou hast no more brain than I have in my elbows,” – Troilus and Cressida. Then “Your wit makes wise things foolish,” – Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Even with his sharp, acidic pen (actually, it was a nib,) Shakespeare detested most of all the behaviour that these modern-day trolls demonstrate from behind their keyboards and their walls of anonymity. “There is no more mercy in him than there is milk in a male tiger,” – Coriolanus. “Idol of idiot-worshippers,” – Troilus and Cressida and the tempered: “Go to hell for an eternal moment or so.” – The Merry Wives of Windsor.

You don’t even have to be trying to change the world to attract the trolls, sometimes they are out and about in the community trolling people who are just trying to do their jobs.

We approach every conversation with the empathy that comes from a deep experience of guiding our community through their property journey and for that I can’t say we have to deal with ‘trolling’, but I think we all see it online and how it impacts (especially younger people,) in our community. So, we can be the anti-trolls and with a few handy hints from Shakespeare, we can do it with style. 

That was fun.