Friday, August 16, 2013

Oh that Orson, what a card

As a long time troll myself, I can only lean back in my chair and applaud as a master of the genre delivers a virtuoso performance. This Orson Scott Card piece is not just inflammatory, it is Red Wedding level of bastardry.
This is the column where I predict how American democracy ends.
No, no, it's just a silly thought experiment! I'm not serious about this! Nobody can predict the future! It's just a game. The game of Unlikely Events.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world he didn't exist. The greatest trick a troll can pull is to convince the world he isn't trolling. Card is mostly in full on slavering hellmouth beast troll mode, but at key points he breaks the fourth wall to reassure us he is just trolling. The flow of this technique is fascinating. The following section appears about 80% of the way through the essay:
All right, the game is over. We don't seriously think any such thing will happen.
But if we learn anything from history, it's this: Anything can happen. American democracy, already a pale shadow of what it once was, is only a couple of centuries old.
But right after it, Card goes right back into Unabomber/Breivik territory, the contents of which are irrelevant to the point of the essay which is to lampoon the quality of the current debate in American politics, and the Pavlovian aspect of much media commentary. He has taken us into the depths of depravity, then jolts us back out of it to what he coos lovingly is the real world, and THEN hits us with his real message of evil, which is just as insane as what he told us was just the thought experiment.

The denouement is similarly manipulative, down to the very last sentence.
Will these things happen? Of course not. This was an experiment in fictional thinking.
But it sure sounds plausible, doesn't it? Because, like a good fiction writer, I made sure this scenario fit the facts we already have -- the way Obama already acts, the way his supporters act, and the way dictators have come to power in republics in the past.
Just keep your head down, and you'll be OK. Unless your children repeat at school things you said in the privacy of your home. Unless an Obama crony wants your house or your job. Unless you tell the wrong joke to the wrong people. Unless you have already written or said dangerous things that will come back to get you shot trying to avoid arrest ...
Just kidding. Because if I really believed this stuff, would I actually write this essay?
This gives him plausible deniability, but allows him to revel in saying things that Serious People can't normally say. Is he trolling, or isn't he? Of course he is. But does he believe the terrible things he said or not? The reaction from the blogosphere has generally been to assume he is being serious and just playing word games to pretend he isn't, as in this Slate piece. Of course Slate, as a left wing site, finds it convenient to demonise Card as a "smart kook" due to his previous history. Does that simplification of the essay say more about Slate or Card? As The New Civil Rights Movement puts it:
Orson Scott Card has taken a few moments out of his busy anti-gay agenda to get his name back in the news, and we are only too happy to oblige.
Both sides are getting what they wanted out of this trollery. The left gets to blindly bash Card for his homophobia and racism for an audience that probably won't examine the source material closely enough to realise that it's not that simple this time, and Card gets to whistle Dixie for his audience and strengthen his position among those who understand the point of his piece.

As with much post modern art, trolling is as much about the reaction in the media that springs up around the piece rather than the piece itself. Card groks that, and is using it for his own political purposes. Applying a moral judgement to such playful tomfoolery seems old fashioned, to say the least.

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