Blog Post

privilege checking as trolling

If you have ever gone down that internet k-hole that is wedding blogs (DONE IT! NO SHAME IN MY GAME!), or Mommy blogs (DITTO!), you probably know about Offbeat Bride, a web site where you can read about people who have gamer/hobbit/rockabilly weddings or whatever, and Offbeat Mama, for Y B Normal folk who chose to reproduce. Ariel Stallings, the owner/editor of these web sites writes, in a blog post, that in all this Offbeat stuff, the privilege checking is driving her nuts:

I've started recognizing this kind of behavior for what it is: privilege-checking as a form of internet sport. It's a kind of trolling, with all the politics I agree with, but motivations and execution that turns my stomach. It's well-intended (SO well-intended), but when the motivations seem to be less about opening dialogue about the issues, and more about performance, righteousness, and intolerance for those who don't agree with you… well, I'm not on-board.

I think that maybe we might reconsider this. There are some aspects of privilege checking that are hilarious! And cathartic, and provocative. Perhaps it is not the easiest job to earnestly manage an internet community, but could we distance ourselves a bit? Comedian Julie Klausner routinely has professional bloggers on her podcast for the purposes of discussing internet fracas for the sake of humor. (e.g. Salon editor Jessica Grose came on to "discuss a few nutty posts from lady blogs".) It's usually great.

As I said yesterday, I think there is a clear but largely unspoken relationship between trolling and infrastructural/moderation work. The right to troll, it may be argued, is won by investment and entrenchment in community. I'd like to consider priviliege checking not as some sort of failed attempt at activism, but rather as what Halberstam calls "anti-social feminism". While "liberal bullying",  as Stallings calls it, can be seen as one-sided grandstanding, could we also see it as it as performance for iterative purposes? (Not to mention a spur to page views and registered users and other numbers used to make a rationale for capital and profit?)

Despite the lack of constraints we usually assign to internet communities, we still hold rather parochial views about what people should do in them. Conversing nicely is to narrow of a norm. Let's leave some room for shouting, spectacle, and absurdity. There's a lot to learn from it!


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