Tag Archives: social media

A Ventriloquist’s Dummy


As a very early member of Generation X – so early I almost qualify as a Boomer – I had the good fortune to grow up without the Internet. I always had access to computers. Anybody who went to Rutgers in the 1980s will remember the fifty or so original Macs, each in its own cubicle, in the Owls Roost study hall. But that instant community you can get these days simply by opening your laptop and logging into social media would have to wait until AOL in the mid-1990s. I was in my late 20s before I ever posted a thought online. Back in the 1980s, unless you got involved in a college newspaper or literary magazine, you largely wrote for yourself.

During my troll attack last week, one of the ring leaders kept repeating that she couldn’t believe I had twice as many followers as she did. I have about 1200 followers on Twitter. It’s a respectable number for a nobody, I suppose, but it’s also highly misleading. Even though I cull my followers list of sock puppets and spambots, I rarely interact on a regular basis with more than nine or ten people. Social media provides the illusion of an intellectual community more than the reality of an intellectual community. If you spend enough time tweeting you will get followers. That doesn’t mean you’ll get readers. The vast majority of “hits” I get on this blog come from Google searches, not social media, and even here, I doubt the ratio of people who actually read the posts compared to the people who just look at the first few sentences and then go onto the next search result is very high. I have trivial 1200 word film reviews that have gotten over 10,000 “hits.” Four people read my undergraduate thesis on Joseph Conrad, a committee of three professors, and myself.

To acquire “followers” on Twitter or “friends” on Facebook is not so much to get readers, but to enter the corporate “hive mind.” Indeed, on Twitter, if more people actually comment on the tweet than simply like or retweet it, that’s considered a “bad ratio,” and evidence you’re an idiot or a troll. It’s easy to feel popular and smart on social media, especially on the Twitter left. Just find some establishment boob with a blue check mark, wait until he says something stupid, and retweet him with a snarky comment. If your comment taps into the hive mind, you’ll get hundreds of likes and retweets. Or just say something like “smash the state” or “fuck the police” or “that’s racist,” and you can almost imagine that you’ve just written the Communist Manifesto. Argue that people should read the actual Communist Manifesto, on the other hand, or, God forbid, Capital, and you’re just as likely to be accused of being a “privileged” college educated, “ableist” white male.

Twitter and Facebook are both based on a clever lie. You imagine you’re expressing yourself through the software. In reality, the software is expressing itself through you. The more your thinking conforms to a narrow range of acceptable opinion, the more popular you become. The more complex and informed your thought, the more you will be ignored, or even “dragged.” Just about the worst thing you can do on the Twitter left is to start a sentence with the word “actually” – to basically say “I disagree” – or to point out that “not every member of this group fits your description,” the infamous “not all men” cliché. On the Twitter left, you can be more radical than Lenin, but you must never say something like “we should judge people as individuals, not as members of their gender or ethnic group,” and it makes sense. Twitter is not the megaphone of the people. It’s a corporate advertising platform designed to break people down into demographic profiles that can then be sold to advertisers. The more I act as a “white male” or an “American” or a “college graduate from the northeast” and the less I act as “Stanley Rogouski” the more useful I am to lords of Silicon Valley. If I spend enough time on the Internet, I may eventually get more readers than Herman Melville ever got for Moby Dick during his lifetime, but I will in no way be a great, a good, or even a mediocre writer and thinker. I will be the perfect ventriloquist’s dummy.

On Leftist Twitter Mobs


Stop reading Confucius you ableist. Get out in the fields and pick some rice.

Last Thursday night, I was attacked by a leftist mob on Twitter, “dragged” to use the commonly accepted parlance. First they went for the resume I have posted on this website. After they realized that it’s a satirical resume with no real information, useless for “doxing” me, they turned to my review of Wonder Woman. My observation that Gal Gadot is a very attractive woman offended them deeply. I was “sexualizing” and “objectifying” a “badass heroine.” Surely, they seemed to believe, this revealed me as a creepy old white man, and would inevitably lead to my losing all 1200 of my followers on Twitter. When that didn’t happen – I lost about 30 – they began to insult me. I was a shitty writer. I was bald. I was ugly. I was sexually frustrated. I was an ugly old, bald, sexually frustrated failed writer with a raging hard on for a Zionist war criminal (the above mentioned Gal Gadot), all of which of course is perfectly true, and none of which had the desired effect, that I “delete my account” on Twitter. Finally, they wheeled out the leftist weapon of mass destruction. One of my trolls, who had a female screen name and a physical appearance as feminine as mine I masculine, was a self-identified “gender queer,” and my use of the pronouns “she” and “her” had revealed me as a “transphobe” and almost certainly a “Gamergater,” which, they declared, was obvious after a more careful examination of the above mentioned satirical resume. So they spent the next two days filling my “mentions” with scatological memes, Photoshopping corncobs onto my eyebrows, and congratulating themselves that they had “dunked” on me real good.


I guess the Photoshopped corncob over the eyebrow is the leftist Twitter troll’s version of the dunce cap.

While none of this is particularly surprising or uncommon, it is notable, if only because, for me, the shoe is usually on the other foot. I’m a leftist myself. I’m an enthusiastic participant in leftist Twitter mobs, and have no intention of giving it up simply because I’ve seen it from the other side. I highly recommend it. Leftist Twitter mobs are a cheap, no risk, enjoyable way of turning the tables on the elite, most, if not all of whom have Twitter account. That Hillary Clinton supporter who insists on using the term “Berniebro” well into 2017? Drag him. That overpaid New York Magazine columnist who whines about “free speech” whenever a group of Nazis is chased off campus, but remains silent about the ongoing suppression of the BDS movement? Drag him. That white actress who insists on taking roles as Asians or Native Americans? Drag her. Of course she has an intern who answers her tweets, doesn’t know you exist, and won’t notice the social media campaign flooding her “mentions” with hate, but drag her anyway. Yesterday, leftist Twitter found a particularly deserving target, Kevin Drum, a so-called “liberal” who writes for Mother Jones magazine, but who seems to have been wrong on every issue since the Iraq War, which he supported. This week he outdid himself, writing a short essay wondering why “people” are disgusted by the homeless. I observed that the homeless of course are people, and my response, perhaps influenced by the way I had been in his place only the day before, was fairly mild. Other people were not so restrained.


My trolls tweeted this image at me repeatedly.

So what did I do to deserve being “dragged?” Did I speculate on why “we” find the homeless “disgusting?” Did I make a racist or homophobic remark? Did I say something genuinely transphobic or genuinely sexist? Of course not. I had, rather, blundered into an ongoing and perennial debate among social media leftists about education, and, by doing so, revealed myself to be “ableist.” Reading Marxist theory, it seems, is occasionally used by white male leftist “gatekeepers” to exclude the mentally disabled, women, the poor, and people of color from the left. It takes time, leisure, and a lot of formal education to make it through the entire three volumes of Capital. Besides, some people argue, since working class people live the reality of class struggle everyday, they don’t have to read about it in a book written 150 years ago. Privileging the written word is, well, privileged. I had meant to say “there should be no hierarchies on the left. Everybody should be an intellectual. Everybody should get an education.” It was interpreted to mean “only educated people should be allowed on the left.”

Twitter being Twitter, a microblogging system with a 144 character limit, I did not have time to sufficiently develop my argument, but if I had, it would have gone something like this. Working class people don’t need to be told not to worry about formal education. In fact, the less “privileged” you are, the more you need books like Capital, Wealth of Nations, Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare. For the genuinely wealthy and privileged, life under capitalism makes sense. It seems rational. You work hard, you get what you want, and even if you don’t work hard, life always seems to turn out okay. For the working-class, on the other hand, life under late capitalism can be a thoroughly baffling experience. Why can’t I pay my bills? Why can’t I afford good health care? Why does it seem that the harder I work the poorer I get? The ruling class doesn’t want us to understand the system that keeps them rich. They want to keep us ignorant. They deluge us with propaganda, TV shows, bad movies, comic books, shitty music, cable TV news, all of which is designed to make us feel that the world we live in is the only possible world. Just read a play by Shakespeare or listen to a piano sonata by Beethoven on the other hand, however, and you instantly realize that that “another world is possible.” The scales fall off your eyes. You feel yourself in touch with the deepest and most humane impulses of humanity. Adam Smith or Karl Marx may take time and study but it’s worth finding a way to learn their major works. Both men made mistakes, but both provide you with a critical perspective that helps you begin to understand why the world is the way it is. Besides, while Wealth of Nations and Capital are both difficult books, they’re both much easier than the Bible, which is a devilishly hard work to master. If the same evangelical Christians we call inbreds and morons can make it through the Book of Deuteronomy, surely even the most disadvantaged leftist can make it through the Communist Manifesto.

Alas, however, it all came across as “this cis gender white man hates transpeople and the disabled.” Perhaps, as Marshall McLuhan argued, “the medium is the message.” What I noticed in my leftist trolls, the virtue signaling instantly turning into ferocious anger when contradicted, the self-congratulatory tribalism, had a startlingly familiar quality to many Republicans I’ve tilted with online. Indeed, much of what my leftist trolls filled my “mentions” with over the past few days, the memes, the sex shaming, the obsession with human excrement, the harsh accusations that I was ‘being too emotional,” was almost indistinguishable from what I used to get from the Trump Train. The democratic, anti-elitist effect of social media, while genuine, is not genuinely socialist, but rather populist. The leveling effect of “dragging” a member of the elite on Twitter works both ways. It does indeed cut the target down to size, but it also puts blinkers on the members of the angry leftist, or right wing populist, mob. If the Trump Train sees everything as a liberal conspiracy funded by George Soros, my leftist trolls seemed to think everybody they didn’t like was somehow a member of “Gamergate.” Indeed, their obsession with a largely online feud that very few people outside of social media enthusiasts have even heard of was startling. Even if I were as sexist, racist, transphobic, sexually frustrated or abelist as my trolls maintained, I’m still a 51-year-old man, far outside the Gamergate demographic, and couldn’t name the five most popular video games if you held a gun to my head. Perhaps I should just take my own advice and read a book, or, better yet, ride my bike. That would be good advice, but it’s advice I doubt I’ll take. Social media for me is as much of an addiction as Diet Coke, and I’ll almost certainly be back on Twitter tomorrow morning. Oh hell, I’ll be there tonight.