#TheColumnist II: On the Beauty of Trolling
All creatives know: it’s a tricky thing, this courting exposure - especially now that the courts of public opinion extend spectrally from limb-like smart-phones rather than languishing politely down the pub or in the papers as in times of yore. The digital age has brought more ways to share work and find audiences than ever before, but it’s a double-edged sword to all but the most pathologically self-assured: you want recognition, you crave an audience, but it’s invariably the case that the most vocal responses come not in the form of breathless praise, but from that special breed of digital human we call The Troll.
Anyone willing to put themselves on the internet in this day and age will be trolled. At some point. About something. Especially if you’re a woman.
Especially if you’re a women daring to talk about something other than shoes and lipstick. If you want to intellectualise it, read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. The consequences can be hilarious, and irreverent and hopeful but mostly, they fall somewhere between the inane, the grotesque, and the criminal. For the thin-skinned, this can be daunting. I was so in thrall to my inner troll that it took me 10 years to share any writing at all. So it was a special thrill to receive my first ever comment on my first ever Huff Post piece - ‘Bex Felton. U R shit.’ - swiftly followed by someone pointing out a typo and asking if I ‘woz [sic] on the rag’.
But this is what I’ve come to realise.Trolls suck if you’re David Cameron and there’s a pig in play, but for any sort of creative they’re a gift. Not least because, as that exponentially-more-articulately-barbed-of-tongue Jonathan Swift reminds us: ‘flattery's the food of fools’. Secondly, and more importantly: Trolling offers us a limitless anthropological, philosophic, epistemic rabbit-hole to fall down at our leisure.
To plumb the depths of humanity our greatest artists have had to make do with centuries of beady-eyed voyeurism; salivating over scraps of gossip extricated from thin-doored whorehouses and dark-cornered dens of iniquity; licking the dirt from Gordon’s damp cave walls as fleet-street hacks spill secrets like claret; putting their person at considerable risk and discomfort to finesse the most richly flawed characters of our great canon. Now we just need a working index finger.
And if it’s the writer’s duty to practice empathy as a matter of craft, falling down the Troll Hole - lingering, for a time, in their insulated world of anonymised abuse and painfully confused politics, until some new level of understanding is reached (or, at the very least, material nabbed) - is an essential tool in our creative arsenal. It won’t be pleasant. But once you’ve clambered out of that unsavoury mind, and showered, you may, like Swift himself - clearly no victim of his inner-troll - come a little closer to finding that, whatever the reader, whatever the topic, you can “fit [your] pen to the genius and advantage of each”.
So rejoice in The Troll: you’ll be a better writer, and maybe human, because of it.