One of the things that the internet has enabled is the rise of the troll, the person who gains temporary fame by making some outrageous statement that lots of people pounce on in order to denounce it, such as the pastor of a New York City church who called for the stoning of ‘homos’.
Some people are very good at this method of drawing attention to themselves, though it seems to be easier to do if you are someone with hateful conservative politics. Then all you have to do is say something outrageous against the marginalized such as the poor, minorities, women, gays, and the like and not only will the media flock to cover you, you could even increase your support among the base. I try to avoid responding to such obviously trolling items, except on occasions like this where I am analyzing the phenomenon itself.
If you are left-wing or progressive or liberal, it is hard to think of something outrageous to say that would draw media attention to you while at the same time not cause your colleagues on the left to turn on you, while if you are a conservative, especially one who has once been in the public eye, this seems much easier to do.
Phyllis Schlafly is a good example. Some may not recall who she is. She became famous for vigorously opposing the Equal Rights Amendment during the 1970s and saying that the proper place for a woman was in the home, something that she herself did not practice. She has long been gone from the public eye but she recently managed to gain some attention by saying that women should not seek pay equality since that makes them less eligible for marriage.
Stephen Colbert discussed her remarks.
(This clip aired on April 24, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)
David Horowitz, another long-forgotten conservative, has also recently managed to get himself back in the news by saying that despite being an “dangerous, evil” man, president Obama gets treated easy because he’s black and “today if you are black you do get a free ride”.
Sarah Palin, whose fifteen minutes of fame should have expired long ago, manages to stay in the public eye because she has discovered this trick and exploits it heavily, every so often saying something absurd in what she thinks is a clever way. Her latest is to say that waterboarding is the way that the US should ‘baptize terrorists’. Ha, ha! So funny!
She has received some pushback from the right and the religious on this one. (See here, here, and here for some reactions.) But tellingly they are not objecting to her flippant and enthusiastic endorsement of torture, which is the real abomination, but that she equated it to baptism, considered a sacred sacrament for Christians.
As we see, Palin got her wish as The Daily Show demonstrates.
(This clip aired on April 29, 2014.)
But Palin likely does not care about such criticisms. What she seeks is attention and she got it. The catch with being a compulsive media seeker with nothing useful to contribute in the form of ideas is that you have to keep raising the level of outrageousness, and that usually does not end well especially if you are on the left. But the bar for getting denounced by your own side is much higher when you are a right-wing extremist.