Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Trolling Observed

Being a full analysis of my conversation with Anna Snow, erotic novelist

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."
                       Charles Darwin

What follows is a full transcription of a recent online “conversation” between Anna Snow, an erotic novelist, and Yours Truly. Some would describe the following exchange as a beautiful illustration of how much reading comprehension—and communication in general—has declined in this post-literate generation of ours. Others would simply describe my responses as good, old fashioned internet “trolling”.

You be the judge.

If you’d like to sidestep my commentary and just read the back-and-forth exchange, please feel free to scroll down to the bottom, where I’ve pasted all the links in chronological order.

Enter at your own risk.

Act 1: My initial article

It all began with an article I wrote for a website, “Reader’s Entertainment”, back in March 2013. I was promoting my book, “Pirates of the Danube”, a light-hearted satire of romance, erotica, and bad writing in general.

The gist of my satirical article, in a nutshell, is:

A.) I am disturbed that books like “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have normalized abusive relationship dynamics. These stories set a poor example for the young ladies who are reading them.

B.) I am even more offended, however, that these books have normalized bad writing.

I published the sarcastic little essay and left the country for a couple months. Upon returning, I checked up on my article to see if anybody had actually read it. I was surprised to find the following comment:

“I read this post and am quite frankly disgusted. There’s so much I’d like to address that it won’t all fit in a comment. Therefore, a rebuttal written by me will be posted tomorrow morning.”

This confused me. What could there possibly be in this essay that would “disgust” someone? Why would anyone be offended by this harmless little rant? And why would she use the active voice in most of her comments, but suddenly switch to the passive voice for the last sentence?

I was criticizing bad writing, using Twilight and Fifty Shades as examples. And I was criticizing the powerless depictions of women in these stories. Who would be offended by that?

Furthermore, I frankly couldn’t see where my farcical article was making any concrete arguments or statements, per se—other than the general argument that “bad writing and bad relationships are, well, bad”. So how could a “rebuttal” be written to an essay which does not contain arguments in the first place?

My curiosity piqued, I looked up Anna Snow—a self-proclaimed erotica-romance novelist, also known by her nom-de-plume “Chastity Bush”—and found the following essay…

Act 2: Anna Snow’s “Rebuttal”

I won’t go to the trouble of dissecting the “rebuttal”—I think it is quite self-explanatory, in and of itself. The most ironic thing about Anna Snow’s response, in my opinion, is that it fully proved the point I was trying to make—literacy and reading comprehension are at an all-time low.  

I don’t mean “lack of reading comprehension” in the sense that Ms. Snow merely misunderstood some point that I was trying to make, or was not able to grasp the overall tongue-in-cheek tone of the essay. I mean a basic inability to comprehend a sentence, if it contains more than one clause. Ms. Snow apparently misunderstood basic sentences in my satirical article, clinging to individual phrases and surgically removing them from their context—and then writing outraged responses to these free-floating phrases.

Now, my inner curmudgeon would like to blame all of this on new technology: on institutions like “Twitter”, which are teaching people to think in short, 140 character blips, decreasing the ability to digest complex thoughts. Indeed, youth today appear to be fully losing the capacity to comprehend and analyze longer passages of text. Orwell’s creators of the “Newspeak” language would be proud.

But I can’t blame it all on Facebook and Twitter. Fact is, this sort of thinking has been around a lot longer than the internet has. In fact, Anna Snow’s angry response to my light-hearted article reminded me of a religious Fundamentalist. Fundamentalists have long made a habit out of taking short fragments of verses from the Torah, Bible or Koran, and creating entire doctrines out of them, with no regard for the context in which the verses were written.

The content of her “rebuttal” is evidence enough of this, so there is no need to reproduce the text here.

Act 3: My Re-Rebuttal

Once I stumbled upon this “rebuttal”, I realized—after enjoying a healthy laugh, then eating a nice sandwich—that I could do one of three things:

a.) Write a serious response to Anna Snow’s essay, pointing out the obvious: that she is responding to points I never made, that she is taking a satirical essay seriously, that she simply failed to understand the meaning of several sentences.

This option bored me, so I tabled it.

b.) Ignore the issue entirely, and get on with my life.

This would have probably been the most adult, mature response. So I ruled that one out right away.

c.) Rather than state the obvious and explain why Ms. Snow’s “rebuttal” makes no sense, I could illustrate this point by writing an equally ridiculous rebuttal—a “re-rebuttal”—chock full of irony and sarcasm.  

This is the option I chose.

I endeavored to write an article so obviously sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek, I felt sure that Ms. Snow would understand that this is all a big joke. I wrote as a person indignant and outraged—and fully clueless. I responded to Ms. Snow’s bizarre claim that I am a “prude” by saying that I have campaigned to outlaw nocturnal emissions, but I can’t see how that makes me a prude. I responded to her claim that I am “ungentlemanly” by explaining that I have been on a total of four dates in my life, all of which took place at KFC. And so forth. I claimed that I was a “licensed phrenologist”, for God’s sake.

I felt sure that Ms. Snow would either (a) realize that I was being ironic, and laugh it off, or (b) realize I was being ironic, not find my particular sense of humor to be funny, and walk away from it.

Nothing could have prepared me for Option (c): She took it seriously.

Act 4: Anna Snow’s Re-Re-Rebuttal

At this point in the conversation, I became seriously confused. Was it really possible that anybody would be able to miss all the sarcasm? Apparently so—Ms. Snow responded to each one of my ludicrous statements as if I were making them in all seriousness. She responded to my tongue-in-cheek description of a “perfect date”, not by saying “ha ha, that’s funny” or by saying “whatever, your jokes aren’t funny”, but rather, by saying:

“I’m not even going to dignify this portion of Mr. Schmidt’s rebuttal with a response as it clearly speaks for itself. Any sane woman or man would see this and run for the hills.”

I didn’t have the heart to contact her and inform her that responding to something does, in fact, constitute “dignifying it with a response”. I was too shocked by the sheer fact that she thought I was being serious.

When I claimed that I had advanced degrees in the defunct pseudosciences of phrenology and eugenics, Anna Snow responded:

“Go ahead Mr. Schmidt, wave your education proudly, you should, but your degrees in Phrenology and Eugenics doesn’t [sic] cover [sic] the fact that you really know nothing about erotica and all it entails. You wrote this “poor me” post without confronting [sic] the original topic.”

I was baffled, punch drunk. Could she still not see that I was joking?

A friend of mine suggested one explanation: “Is it possible, David, that she is the one trolling you here? Maybe this is all an act!” I began to seriously entertain the possibility. Was she taking me for a ride?

If so, her portrayal of the “clueless persona” was spot on, making this an act of genius. Ms. Snow’s essays rang with the tone of authenticity—she really did appear to be taking me seriously, with no sense of sarcasm or irony. Ms. Snow’s articles, however, were not entertaining in a satirical way. If she was playing a fictional role here, it was not for the purpose of humor or entertainment. This would be closer to the work a postmodern performance artist, like Yves Klein or Allan Kaprow, and their famous “happenings”. These artists would depict a mundane action—like washing a car, or standing on a corner—with no commentary or alteration, for the sheer purpose of depicting it.

Or perhaps, if Anna Snow was doing this all for diversion, it was more akin to the dark genius of The Joker from “Batman: the Dark Knight”—one who stirs up chaos, with brilliant skill and attention to detail, for the sheer purpose of creating havoc.

I was prepared to believe this version—but I needed another test run of the experiment. So I put out another feeler.

Act 5: My Conciliatory Letter

I wrote one final letter. In this one—keeping with the character of a clueless, wannabe author—I proposed to Anna Snow that we collaborate on a joint production. I proposed several erotic novels we could write together, each one more ridiculous than the next. Again, I hoped that Ms. Snow would finally realize I was playing a character, that I was being satirical, and would drop the whole thing.

Instead, Anna Snow responded with a vitriolic series of comments, which appear at the bottom of the published article. She felt that I was mocking the entire genre of romance-erotica, and responded with all the fury and rage of an offended religious Fundamentalist. Ms. Snow enlisted the help of her friends to post comment after comment on this webpage, defending the Church of Erotica from my blasphemous irreverence.

The tone of the comments was overtly hostile:

“As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Schmidt doesn’t even exist and my correspondence with him on this blog and anywhere else is at an end.” [Anna Snow]

“…go ahead, continue to make yourself look like the a** you are…” [Anna Snow, after writing four additional comments following the above-cited comment]

“You can take the olive branch that you extended to Anna Snow, and shove it where the sun don’t shine!” [other commentator]

“Whomever [sic] you are, you are a pig! Don’t let that olive branch blind you when you stick it up your nose and into your brainless cavity!” [additional friend of Anna Snow]

In addition, Ms. Snow’s friends appeared to be equally incapable of detecting sarcasm:

“Your photo, BTW, is awful! You look like a sleazy, greasy pimp […] SO NOT SEXY!!!”

“And your bio?…Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – that would mean you died when you were a baby.”

“Mr. Schmidt someone should have told you how unflattering that photo is of you.”

As most online interactions eventually tend to do, this had devolved into a unilateral “flame war”—a cacophony of voices shouting, hurling epithets and personal insults, a pile of sweaty people full of anger and outrage.

At this point, I realized it was time to lay the whole thing to rest. The tone of Ms. Stone and her friends had grown truly hostile and angry, and I have no interest in receiving packages in the mail with dead animals in them, because I don’t know where I would store the dead animals, and the U.S. Postal Service is already overstretched as it is.

So I followed the Beatles’ advice, and let it be.

* * * *

Thus ends one great adventure in online miscommunication.

I wish Anna Snow all the very best in the future, and must move on with my life…still, I am baffled by the entire thing. I want to believe the “evil genius” theory: the idea that Anna Snow has created an online persona—indeed, a series of personae, playing her and her friends—for the sheer purpose of playing the role of the “erotica writer who doesn’t get sarcasm”. Is she a character actor, in the vein of Andy Kaufman, playing a series of personages—with the difference being that hers are played totally straight, not comically?

It’s a stretch, but it’s better than the alternative. I hate to think that we live in a world where reading comprehension is that low—where there are truly dozens, hundreds or thousands of people out there who can read an essay like mine and not catch onto the sarcasm.

It’s a terrifying thought.








1 comment:

  1. I don't see anything wrong with that date idea. Bacardi Breezers in a champagne flute it so romantic! What's her problem? I also found myself fainting at the sight of your totally erotic selfie on your bed.. wow. She and her friends obviously have a skewed view on sexy. I am unsure about this, how in the world could your read your re-re and not see the sarcasm after that? She has to be playing a character, I'm dumbfounded.