Trolls

For something sufficiently toad troll-like
Squats in me, too.
Bastardization of Larkin’s “Toads”

Originating in the dark caverns of the Scandinavian subconscious, trolls have undergone a sort of metamorphosis over the ages. Here’s the OED’s definition:

One of a race of supernatural beings formally conceived as giants, now, in Denmark and Sweden as dwarves or imps, supposed to inhabit caves or subterranean dwellings.

“Or under bridges” the scholars might have added, given the first troll we encounter as children is that creature who confronts the Three Billy Goats Gruff*, protagonists of a Norwegian folk take that appeared in English in 1859.


*”De tre bukkene Bruse

As a child, I associated trolls with the frightening old drunks I’d sometime encounter in Azalea Park in Summerville, those grizzled reeking jug-toting vagrants who might snatch you and eat you alive. (Or, more likely, though I was innocent of such horrors, drag you underneath a bridge and molest you).

 

William Leonard of Jersey City

Of course, now troll has a new denotation as one of those belligerent threadjackers who disrupt internet colloquies with ad hominem attacks that ignore the subject at hand, whether it be Melania Trump’s anti-bullying campaign or Hillary Clinton’s views on cannabis legalization.

Although Rizzuto’s wit may fall short of say, Alexander Pope’s, at least he uses his real name and provides a photo of himself. Given the nature of the Internet, it’s all too easy to troll anonymously under various nom-de-nets like PatriotMom or GodfearingRaptor.

Here anonymity can breed fearsome ad hominem assaults in the worst of taste, sometimes alluding to family tragedies, as if the fact that your late uncle drove off a bridge in the early Seventies killing a passenger undercuts your argument that immigration reform is a pressing legislative priority.

 

Pope illustration by Marianne Goldin

Although I confess that something troll-like squats in me as well, I hope the term provocateur better describes what I sometime do on Facebook and in this blog. The difference is that the insults I sling appear in the context of some sort of argument (regardless of the argument’s validity). In other words, when I insult Tim Scott, for example, by calling him an Uncle Tom, it’s in the context of his political philosophy that favors the rich white super minority over those who can’t make ends meet and rely on food stamps and subsidized school lunches.

In no way am I comparing myself to HL Mencken in wit or writing ability, but he, I think, represents what I mean by being a provocateur rather than a troll. Although what Mencken says below is immoderate, if not downright cruel (especially since it appears in an obituary), he is, in fact, summing up an argument that he had presented in previous paragraphs:

Trump Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not.

I am, I confess, looking forward to the day in the not too distant future when I can let the dog of my discontent off the leash of my contractual obligation to represent my place of employment 24/7 as a sterling representative of discretion and moderation in all things. Now, I dare not confront certain subjects – like the schism in the Episcopal Church; however, when I retire, I’ll be able to pursue my twilight dream to become the Crazy Jane of the Internet.

Crazy Jane Talks With The Bishop

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
‘Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.’

‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart’s pride.

‘A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.’

William Butler Yeats