Trolls are people who want to get caught.
I'm driving a stolen car
Down on Eldridge Avenue
Each night I wait to get caught
But I never do
Down on Eldridge Avenue
Each night I wait to get caught
But I never do
-Stolen Car, Bruce Springsteen
The rapid rise and fall of one-man boy-band Yanni Yapalapalopalous wasn't hard to see, at least in retrospect. He was a troll, first on the Internet and then in real life. By saying provocative and outrageous things, often tongue-in-cheek, he sought attention. But like Icarus, another famous Greek, he flew too close to the sun and got burnt.
But it begs the question - why do trolls troll as they do and what do they hope to accomplish? It is an interesting question, and one that merits discussion since trolling has turned professional in recent years - used as a means of marketing as well as swaying political opinions.
Trolling has been around for eons, of course, in the pre-internet era. Back in the day, anonymous pamphlets or leaflets were often distributed with outrageous political opinions or scandalous rumors. Indeed, the founders of our Country were arguably trolls, as they used anonymous pamphleteering to advance their cause, at least initially. Of course, the reason stated in the history books was that the British would persecute those who published treasonous thoughts. But I think the idea was more to test the waters and prime the pump of public opinion, so that later on, these founders of our country could come out as leaders of a ready-made movement.
And maybe not much has changed since then.
But there are other kinds of trolls, including our friend Yanni, who seem to be more loose cannons, saying outlandish things in order to get attention. I think they want, deep down, a good spanking, or at least to be called out on their outrageous statements. But when they are ignored, they tend to get more and more outrageous in response. They want feedback and aren't getting it, so they use a larger and larger megaphone.
In a way, it is like the proverbial kid at the checkout counter. He whines to his Momma that he wants candy. She tries the tactic of ignoring him. It doesn't work. He whines louder and louder until it morphs into a full-blown tantrum - which again Mom ignores, thinking this strategy of pretending not to notice will work. It doesn't. Pretty soon the kid is overturning magazine racks and throwing things and finally Mom hauls off and smacks him one good, to the applause of onlookers. She ends up doing, too late, what she should have done at the first whine.
But today, the back-of-the-hand is viewed as child abuse and not merely correcting behavior. And the real cruelty to the child is not a slap upside the head, but allowing him to carry on for so long. Worse yet, the parent, feeling hemmed in by these restrictions, either resorts to yelling at the child (which is just a reverse tantrum) or giving in by buying them the candy.
We see the same thing today. We let the Yannis of the world whine and whine and pretend not to notice as we feel this only validates them. Finally, when they are fully out of control - advocating pedophilia, for example, we smack them down. Of course, we had to wait for Dad to come home to give Yanni his well-deserved spanking, didn't we?
Worse yet, many times we merely gave in and let Yanni and his ilk have their way, as we felt it was easier and "everyone has a right to an opinion" even if their "opinion" is merely harassing some poor actress for being born Black and a woman and having the audacity to accept a job offer to appear in a major motion picture.
Attention is what trolls want. And this attention is not necessarily in the form of feedback, but rather in just being noticed. For example, when Hillary gave a speech castigating Breitbart and the odious articles that Yanni wrote, Yanni nearly had an orgasm. Hillary noticed him! Mommy put down her copy of The Enquirer and listened to his temper tantrum! Of course, once Daddy got home, Yanni got a good spanking, so maybe he didn't "win" after all.
But just being noticed made him so happy - for a brief moment. This goes back to learned helplessness. He was pulling the levers in his Skinner box cage and nothing was happening in his life. So he yanks harder and harder - saying more and more outrageous things, to get noticed. And eventually, it works.
Trolls like to think they are being subtle or clever, when they are really neither. They try to plant what they think are subtle postings or queries to get people to earnestly respond. The entire point of the thing is to get them to respond to get noticed because in real life, they don't get noticed much at all - as if they were made of cellophane.
"Mr. Cellophane, coulda been my name, but it was Yanni instead!"
But trolling goes beyond being just noticed, trolls also want to be caught, and this is again, another facet of human nature. They want to be punished and shown where the limits are, just as the boy whining for candy secretly desires punishment, not because he is a masochist, but because he wants the comfort and security of limits. If he realizes he can control Mommy, then Mommy is no longer a powerful authority figure. And if Mommy doesn't run the world, then who does? Children seek and want limits and bounds, which is why not correcting bad behavior is more cruel than the occasional spanking or back-slap.
Sadly, today, there are folks who equate traditional corporal punishment with real child abuse. And that is just sick, particularly to those who have experienced real abuse. I've met young people who were so beaten by their parents that they were hospitalized. To put that on the same plane as a spanking is an horrific insult to their real suffering. We need to stop equating trivial things to serious ones. We need to understand there is a difference between an "unwanted sexual advance" and brutal rape. But that is a subject for another discussion.
But getting back to wanting to get caught, we see this behavior in people, particularly people in positions of power, all the time. Famous politicians caught in sexual trysts that in retrospect, seem like cries for help more than a desire to get laid. It is almost as if they wanted to be caught leading a double-life so they could stop living a lie. Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Bill Clinton - the list goes on and on - all wanted to be caught, otherwise they would not have been so indiscreet.
I've met, for example, closeted married men who often behave outrageously gay in public, cheating on their wives in a manner that is very reckless, to say the least. I think in part they want to get caught and stop living a lie, or be forced to change their behavior. When they aren't caught, they act in a more and more reckless manner, just as the small child at the checkout counter escalates his tantrum until it is impossible anymore to pretend it isn't happening.
Trolls are sad people. I doubt Yanni Yapalapalous is a happy guy, despite his smiling countenance. I suspect that these days, he might be quite depressed. If you read about his background, it really isn't much to speak of - a college dropout like myself, but who never went back to finish his degree. One of those guys who became briefly popular and made a few dollars, mostly because they were in the right place at the right time more than they had any real talent. He and Bill Gates are in the same company. Gates was also a dropout - but Gates made a ton more money when IBM dumped that lucrative license agreement in his lap.
Sadly, the media seems to think that lucky people have some special insight into life and living or whatever. People routinely ask Gates for his opinion on technology and the future, forgetting that his entire career is nothing more than an accident. A lucky contract with IBM and taking the idea for Windows from Xerox PARC. This is, after all, the guy who once said the Internet was a fad and would go away. The guy who blew it with the Zune - and pretty much every other product Microsoft sells, other than Windows. Talked on a Windows phone lately? How could they miss that boat?
Never confuse being lucky with being brilliant - and that applies to all of us. We often think, after making a few dollars in a real estate deal or an advantageous stock trade that somehow we too, have an insight into how the world works. But the reality is, we just got lucky. The real insight, if there is one to be had, is to realize this and not let hubris take over.
Is there a future for Yanni? Well, conservative columnist Andriania Huffington used to appear on the Bill Maher show and ended up becoming even more famous as a liberal commentator. So maybe Yanni will have a road-to-Damascus kind of moment and re-emerge in the media.
But I kind of doubt it. He was a lucky kid who had no real insight, other than to be clever at trolling. He wanted to be caught, be exposed, and be chastised - to put an end to the merry-go-round life of a troll. And in the end he got what he wanted.
And I think he did this because he realized that being a troll was no way to live - trolls are miserable and unhappy people who have nothing original or new to say. They don't create, but try to tear down. And that never makes anyone happy deep inside.
So, if there is a moral here is it this: Don't be a troll. Trolls never win in the end, and you'll just be an unhappy person in the long run. Creating and building things is always a far more profitable venture than tearing down.