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Was Johnathan Swift a troll?

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Offenheim
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Was Johnathan Swift a troll?

Postby Offenheim » Sun Aug 14, 2011 7:30 pm

Wikipedia defines as a troll as: "someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages... with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response..."

This definition can likewise be found at dictionary.reference.com (though you have to search for it). So, on this criteria, I have to wonder, was Jonathan Swift a troll?

If you've never read it, Swift's A Modest Proposal (full text there) simply states that the Irish should eat their own children, rather than starve. Swift obviously meant this as satire, but it caused (and continues to cause) a lot of trouble among those people who just don't get that it's satire. And therein lies the problem.

Swift's satirical essay is as dead on the page as any forum post (meaning you can't figure out from the tone of voice/speaker's face what the emotional context is); and was likewise just as anonymous. Now, certainly, you can't quite call it "off-topic" and whether it's "extraneous" is debatable. But it's definitely "inflammatory" and has the primary intention of provoking of an emotional response.

To give a more modern example, Stephen Colbert mocked conservative congressman Bill Posey who introduced a bill requiring candidates for president to provide their birth certificates by claiming there were rumors that Posey's grandmother had had sex with an alligator, and thus Posey was part alligator. Posey thus responded, saying such comments were hurtful and there was no need to claim such things. But Posey failed to get that it was satire. He just understood that Colbert was attacking him. Colbert's "alligator rumors" were inflammatory, extraneous, and off-topic to central debate of whether Obama was Kenyan-born, and they certainly got a rise out of Posey.

I write this as someone who's written somewhat satirical posts before and I haven't been reported to the mods (as far as I'm aware of).

So the question is, where's the line between satire and trolling? Is it no longer trolling if you do it at a national level (i.e. the context matters)? Or is it when it devolves into baiting that it's trolling? Or is there something else that constitutes trolling?
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Postby The House of Petain » Sun Aug 14, 2011 7:33 pm

No, but Voltaire was.
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Postby Offenheim » Sun Aug 14, 2011 7:37 pm

The House of Petain wrote:No, but Voltaire was.

Gah, I'm just not familiar with his works, otherwise, he definitely would've been up there.
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Postby Nanatsu no Tsuki » Sun Aug 14, 2011 7:38 pm

The House of Petain wrote:No, but Voltaire was.


Agreed. And boy did he pay for his trolling, especially of the Church and of the king and his family.

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Postby Siorafrica » Sun Aug 14, 2011 7:55 pm

Most certainly. Voltaire and Shaw aswell. Possibly Belloc.
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Postby Terra Agora » Sun Aug 14, 2011 7:59 pm

No he was a satirist. There are themes behind what he wrote.
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Postby The House of Petain » Sun Aug 14, 2011 8:13 pm

Nanatsu no Tsuki wrote:
The House of Petain wrote:No, but Voltaire was.


Agreed. And boy did he pay for his trolling, especially of the Church and of the king and his family.


His ability to alienate everybody, regardless of where he was at, is something that is both comical and admirable. ^^
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Postby Nanatsu no Tsuki » Sun Aug 14, 2011 8:18 pm

The House of Petain wrote:
Nanatsu no Tsuki wrote:
Agreed. And boy did he pay for his trolling, especially of the Church and of the king and his family.


His ability to alienate everybody, regardless of where he was at, is something that is both comical and admirable. ^^


I know. He did it a lot with Emilie la Tonneliere de Breteuil, Marquise Du Chatelet, who was his lover for several years. If it wasn't for her and her husband's (the marquis Du Chatelet) intervention, Voltaire would have been incarcerated, and maybe executed. Instead, he was exiled to London, and some time later to both Lorraine and then to the court of Frederick of Prussia.

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Postby Lackadaisical2 » Sun Aug 14, 2011 8:22 pm

Terra Agora wrote:No he was a satirist. There are themes behind what he wrote.

^this.

Satire isn't classed as trolling.
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Postby The Black Forrest » Sun Aug 14, 2011 8:26 pm

No. A master of satire may appear to be a troll.....
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Postby Olthar » Sun Aug 14, 2011 8:27 pm

When Wikipedia says "an emotional response," they are using pretentious talk to say "anger." A troll's goal is to piss people off to feed his/her own ego. A satirist's goal is to provoke thought and inquiry about the state of modern culture. They really couldn't be more different.

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Postby Norstal » Sun Aug 14, 2011 8:29 pm

Yes mate, he's really calling for us to eat children. Why, I cannot see the satire in it at all good sir.

See that? That's a (bad) sarcasm. Which is what Jonathan Swift did. Well, except his satires are brilliant.
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Postby Offenheim » Sun Aug 14, 2011 8:54 pm

Olthar wrote:When Wikipedia says "an emotional response," they are using pretentious talk to say "anger." A troll's goal is to piss people off to feed his/her own ego. A satirist's goal is to provoke thought and inquiry about the state of modern culture. They really couldn't be more different.


So no one who misunderstood Swift ever jumped up and said "that jerk is proposing the Irish eat people!" Aren't many famous satirists egoists? Especially in Swift's time, where his fame definitely allowed him to make a living. Trolls, on the other hand, really can't feed their egos very much. It's not like they gain notoriety as trolls, since they're very quickly banned. At best, it's that they get to pull a fast one on others, in very much the same way satirists do.

Also, how can we know the goal of a troll vs. the goal of a satirist?

Norstal wrote:Yes mate, he's really calling for us to eat children. Why, I cannot see the satire in it at all good sir.

See that? That's a (bad) sarcasm. Which is what Jonathan Swift did. Well, except his satires are brilliant.

Well, except that people really took Swift literally:

"many readers failed to understand the irony, putting Swift's patronage in jeopardy." Yes, he's a brilliant satirist, but he stilled failed to come through. Sarcasm is one of the hardest things to pull of in text.
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Postby Acadzia » Sun Aug 14, 2011 9:50 pm

I've got no problem with satire... but I think it is poor form to respond to someone who is being genuine and serious about the topic at hand with satire.
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Postby Galla- » Sun Aug 14, 2011 10:21 pm

Terra Agora wrote:No he was a satirist. There are themes behind what he wrote.


A good troll is satirical...

However, this is not Usenet.
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Postby Dagnia » Sun Aug 14, 2011 10:24 pm

Maybe all satirists are trolls. Though their work is usually intended to provoke hopefully intelligent debate rather than negative emotion, the fact remains, they still want to provoke.
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Postby Galla- » Sun Aug 14, 2011 10:25 pm

Dagnia wrote:Maybe all satirists are trolls. Though their work is usually intended to provoke hopefully intelligent debate rather than negative emotion, the fact remains, they still want to provoke.


All satirists are trolls, but not all trolls are satirists.

Obv.
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Postby Caninope » Sun Aug 14, 2011 10:44 pm

There's a fine line between a satirist and a troll. But Swift was trying to provoke thought, not anger.
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Postby Offenheim » Mon Aug 15, 2011 12:02 am

Galla- wrote:
Dagnia wrote:Maybe all satirists are trolls. Though their work is usually intended to provoke hopefully intelligent debate rather than negative emotion, the fact remains, they still want to provoke.


All satirists are trolls, but not all trolls are satirists.

Obv.


I guess that kind of sums it up.
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Postby The House of Petain » Mon Aug 15, 2011 12:03 am

Did Adolf Hitler have a mustache?
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Postby Indeos » Mon Aug 15, 2011 12:07 am

By that definition, yes, but that definition is broad enough that even positive emotional responses are included. (Even with the inflammatory thing, that's only one kind of troll post.)
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Postby Sorratsin » Mon Aug 15, 2011 12:12 am

He was a troll with intelligence and a respectable goal.

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Postby The Parkus Empire » Mon Aug 15, 2011 12:14 am

No, a troll is someone who fully intends their words to be taken seriously. Borat = troll. Jonathan Swift = no.
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Postby The Parkus Empire » Mon Aug 15, 2011 12:16 am

Terra Agora wrote:No he was a satirist. There are themes behind what he wrote.

Trolling and satire are not mutually exclusive, especially when the person being trolled is the one who's the target of the satire. Borat at the rodeo is a prime example.
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Postby Norstal » Mon Aug 15, 2011 12:30 am

Galla- wrote:
Dagnia wrote:Maybe all satirists are trolls. Though their work is usually intended to provoke hopefully intelligent debate rather than negative emotion, the fact remains, they still want to provoke.


All satirists are trolls, but not all trolls are satirists.

Obv.

...

Mark Twain was not a "troll". He did not wrote "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and all of his other books to troll Southerners.
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