Thursday, January 17, 2013


A lot of folks -- Raw Story, Libby Spencer, Anne Laurie, Mediaite -- are linking to a segment from last night's Rachel Maddow Show in which Maddow dismisses a lot of provocative right-wing rhetoric as trolling. (Video of the segment is below.)

From Raw Story:
"Trolling is a key part of the conservative-entertainment/media business model," [Maddow] said. "These guys say stuff all the time that they do not intend to be persuasive. They're not trying to explain something, or bring people along to their way of thinking, they're just doing something to attract attention, and hopefully condemnation and outrage from the mainstream, and particularly from liberals. They want to offend you. They seek to offend you. That is the point."
I agree that that's one point of making provocative statements -- to induce liberal outrage, and thus attain hero status among right-wingers by boasting of liberal attacks on yourself.

But it's not the whole point. Provocative statements are also meant to rally mobs. The implicit message of these provocations is: if what I just said offended you, chew on the fact that, outside your comfy little elitist enclave, there are millions of people who agree with what I just said 100% -- now what are you going to do about that?

Consider a part of Maddow's segment, in which she presents clips from four prominent wingnut provocateurs:
ANN COULTER: "Okay, explain to me why 'retard' is inappropriate."
MICHAEL SAVAGE: "You want my health care? I'll give you the Savage health care -- take the chocolate out of that fat woman's mouth!"
RUSH LIMBAUGH: "There is a movement on to normalize pedophilia."
MARK LEVIN: "Since when the hell do we Americans believe in separation of church and state?"
I think the wingnut audience literally agrees with every one of these statements. I think that audience sees Coulter as a brave fighter against "political correctness" in language, sees Savage as a guy telling the truth about how our so-called health crisis is sick people's own damn fault, and agrees with Levin that America is a Judeo-Christian nation, dammit. As for Limbaugh, he had sources when he made this pronouncement, though not a particularly exhaustive list -- one Guardian article, the story of Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash -- but he probably didn't need those, because the wingnuts in his audience firmly believe academia and the entertainment business are cesspits of deviant fornication and pro-immorality brainwashing.

If you're offended by all this, Coulter will never stop pointing out the large, adoring crowds that greet her wherever she speaks; Savage and Levin and (especially) Limbaugh won't let you forget that their radio audiences are in the millions; and they'll all tell you they've written #1 New York Times bestsellers. Maybe the book sales are partly bulk buys, maybe the radio ratings are slipping -- but these people actually have had big audiences. At the peak of their popularity, that's what made Coulter and Limbaugh, in particular, so dangerous: they said all that awful stuff and yet they were untouchable. The more appalling their pronouncements, the bigger their audiences seemed to get.

Which brings us to the NRA. Maddow sees the group as a troll organization. She looks at recent inflammatory NRA videos and says,
"If you have to troll for it, if you're going for purposeful outrage and nothing more serious than that, it is also pretty good evidence that you are really not all that relevant to the discussion the adults are having."
But that's not true if the NRA is still powerful. It's not true if outrageous NRA statements attract more members, sell more guns, and empower the NRA to threaten more elected officials. The NRA isn't being tone-deaf -- it's deliberately trying to offend us to show that it has the power not to give a crap about what we think, because every time it offends our sensibilities, more people pay NRA dues, and more pols cower in fear.

The key question is whether that's still true. Maddow makes the point the NRA spent a lot of money this year backing candidates who lost. I agree with her that pointing out the NRA's diminished political power is important (but I sure hope that power is still diminished in 2014, when the electorate is likely to be whiter and more right-wing).

The point is, the NRA doesn't troll because it's weak -- the NRA trolls because trolling has always kept it strong. When the NRA sent out a fund-raising letter referring to "jack-booted government thugs" less than a month after the Oklahoma City bombings, that was "trolling" to rally supporters and demonstrate power. When Charlton Heston said "From my cold, dead hands" while brandishing a rifle at the NRA convention in Colorado less than two weeks after the Columbine massacre, that was "trolling" to rally supporters and demonstrate power. The NRA did this when the NRA clearly was powerful.

Maybe it's not going to work anymore. But it's worked in the past. In any case, it's not a sign of weakness.

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aimai said...

I disagree that its a slam dunk and I think Maddow is a lot closer to right with her "trolling" concept than I would have thought. I belong to a women's board of women from all over the country. A whole lot of those women are gun toting, right wing, christian/evangelical nutcases and to a woman the word "retard" is considered hate speech--that's right: its banned. People who are raising special needs children, children they are fighting for every day, would recoil in absolute horror from Coulter over something like this.

The thing about Coulter is that she's a fake and a fraud--she doesn't take her shtick to the heartland, she peddles it precisely in places where she can get a rise out of liberals. And selective hearing enables right wingers as a class to hear some of what she is saying, but not all of it.

Which is by way of saying that Coulter is Trolling us, but the proper response is to insist that she is, in fact, speaking for the entire right wing community because there will eventually be a backlash against her by the few remaining right thinking right wingers.

And you can see it happening over the NRA's ad about the Obama girls. There will always be 27 percent of this country who are utter and complete assholes and who rejoice in having their special awfulness recognized and enshrined by Rush or Savage or Coulter. But that's a very small number, ultimately.

Steve M. said...

There will always be 27 percent of this country who are utter and complete assholes and who rejoice in having their special awfulness recognized and enshrined by Rush or Savage or Coulter. But that's a very small number, ultimately.

But if (as I noted in the previous post) 41% (not 27%) of Americans see the NRA in a positive light, and if among Republicans that rises to a clear majority, and if every GOP district is gerrymandered and (as Barney Frank puts it) half the Republicans in the House are Michele Bachmann and the other half are afraid to be primaried by Michele Bachmann, then the NRA doesn't need majority support, or anything close to it, to have real power. Especially when (as I noted in the last post) the vast majority of Americans don't hate the NRA no matter how hateful it is.

Ten Bears said...

Trolls are true Rogues. Outside of the Matrix, they have no counterpart. Which is why it's so difficult to turn their ... offerings ... back into their faces.

I'm not popular, not widely read, but that's what I've trying to do lo these many years... turn it back in their faces. Play the game by their rules (except for the take my ball and go home part), wallowing in their fracking gutter. Because that's how you win these fights: by fighting by their rules.

No fear...

boba said...

What should we be worried about? What Roger Schank worries about. And yes, this is relevant to the post.

TheFritoPundito said...

The other thing trolling accomplishes is moving the acceptable terms of the debate further towards your side. One you have said "The government is going to take all our guns" saying "Gun control laws go too far" suddenly seems a lot more reasonable.

Victor said...

The NRA is not a trolling organization, and it's no longer an organization advocating for gun safety - it is an organization that helps the manufacturers of guns, ammo, and peripheral gear, effectively market their products (many of which, are potential WMD's).

If we had a National Dairy Association that was as effective at marketing through paranoia, we'd have a large percentage of this country walking around buttered, sleeping in dairy baths, and demanding the right to eat ice-cream, and drink milk and eat chesse every second of every day, for their own health and safety.

They'd force schools to have nothing but "all-dairy" diets.

And, they'd have long ago lobbied Congress to stop the CDC, or the FDA from studying, let alone releasing, any studies that show that being buttered, sleeping in dairy baths, and drinking and eating dairy 24X7, isn't healthy.

The NRA arent's troll, they are an effective marketing organizaion.
Except, unlike Coke, or Mickey D's, they use fear and paranoia to sell, instead of status, thirst, and hunger.

aimai said...

Ridicule and trolling both work the same way--they drive people apart and harden people's identifications. If you identify yourself with a ridiculed/shamed group you can move more strongly into your own group in order to deflect the embarrassment or you can end up moving away from it and distancing yourself from it and its goals.

Obama and the gun "safety" lobby are successfully splitting the gun people into two groups while the NRA and its crazy in house advertisement people are also splitting their own group. You see Zero people saying "I voted for Obama but I don't like his policies on guns" while you see quite a few people saying privately and publicly "I am a gun owner but I see the reason for what Obama is doing and I'm embarrassed by the NRA."

That's a win, however you slice it. If you cut a small percentage of the NRA's former supporters off with every move you make and they can't add to their followers they will end up, like the Republican party, in big trouble. Its a slow process but its the direction of the process that matters.

Trolling shifts the "overton window" towards the trollers for a while but in this case I see it shifting the discussion back towards the sane party, slowly but surely.

Sure, a certain number of crazy people go nuts and never come back but the shooting this time seems to have had some positive effects on people who were complaisantly pro gun or pro republican language about guns. There have been quite a few Kos diaries up where diarists have discussed how their elderly pro gun pro republican parents have suddenly revolted against the Obama ad or the demonization of gun concerns or just the new sandy hook truther movement.

In my family I've seen my Sister in law go from one of those Rush listeners to "rush is just an entertainer" to "what an asshole."

Steve M. said...

you see quite a few people saying privately and publicly "I am a gun owner but I see the reason for what Obama is doing and I'm embarrassed by the NRA."

I'm still waiting for the big wave of cancellations of NRA memberships. Hell, I'm still waiting for a trickle. What will it take?

Kathy said...

Steve and Aimai, if there are cancellations of memberships, how will we know? Seems like the NRA would want to sit on that information.

BH said...

Excellent point, Kathy. And I'd have zero confidence in anything the NRA said about it, ever.

Examinator said...

I think you are missing the point a bit.
If one looks carefully at the numbers of their membership what you have is what Millions members? Either way they are a very small minority. Most of who might be more Limbic system orientated than most (notwithstanding the effects of Genetics and epigenetics etc).
are more motivated by the negative, including fear etc. are unlikely to change their minds.
NB this doesn't necessitate that they are stupid per se as in dumb as cheese.

Keep in mind that behavioral research has shown that sociopathic tendencies are abnormally higher in business executives. The have huge egos and a often have the view they are nigh on infallible, well far less than others ; they lack empathy ; will readilyy blame others for their failings but claim their victories/successes are uniquely because of their genius, they are often dogmatic, and believe that their wants are more important than those of others.clearly they have a high degree of tyrant etc.
In short they are often power oriented.
The NRA is a convenient means to that power etc.
Look at it from his perspective. If the NRA were to disappear he would lose his power!standing and self image would be damaged. He probably fears that others might blame him hence his chances for replicating the same self gratifying/conformational power else where would be unlikely.
Now from the NRA and the Limbic system hyper members they fear they will lose their 'power' to dominate conversations.
Given the NRA's abominable results in the last election election fears must be fever pitch ...therefore The NRA pres is shoring up his own future and stoking their support through fear.
Victor is correct in that the real worry for their pres is the pending wavering support from the fire arm manufacturers. His job as far as they're concerned is to keep the troops in line and high visibility. He doesn't want any firearm control to be blamed on him.
All these ARE TROLLING a bit like mining corporations are there to make a profit and if the world is destroyed in the process too F**** bad. At least I did my job and my self image is intact.
They are there for their own reasons and that 's it.

Coke doesn't sell thirst it sells being cool and fun.All their ads confirm perception that fun and coke are like salt and pepper.
Sell the emotion and logic (twisted /influenced) will concoct the justification/rationalisation.

Ten Bears said...

I've had some success slapping the tea baggers: when confronted today with the accussation the O is behind all these school shootings, that he somehow cooked up some kind of scheme to use doped out freaks to Bushwhack the schools soas to make people so afraid they'll outlaw guns... to which I could only reply it's just a marketing scheme. It's far the more likely the NRA, in colusion with the bimbo bottle blonde bobble-heads of the multi-millionaire mainstream (lamestream) media and the fracking drug corporations cooked up some kind of scheme to trigger (doctor) doped out freaks to shoot up schoolyards soas to make people so afraid they'll Buy More Guns