This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Whitney Phillips

It wasn't the book I was expecting, but retrospectively, I didn't know what to expect. Phillips is like an alternate-universe Artemesia: a doctoral thesis studied and written as an ethnography of people within a virtual, online space. ... only instead of a happy and inclusive group of very smart and sensitive people on a semi-mystical journey to restore their fallen homeland, it's now 4chan and Anonymous trying to burn the whole damn world to the ground. So alike, yet so far apart.

The book was only published earlier in 02015 and is already dated; too early for mention of GamerGate or the rise of the political “Alt-Right,” which would've helped to further delineate the political split between Big-A and Little-A Anonymous described later in the book. I would define what she lists here as the definitive history of early trolling from 02003 to 02014, but the book is not really so much about trolling itself as exploring the conditions for how trolling becomes possible.

If I were at her PhD defense, the only criticism I could lob is that she assumes the power of “mainstream” media to be self-evident, but that alone may be an unquestioned assumption that proves difficult to back up. When Fox News is your only stable and reliable example of how the dynamic completes, is that not something of a straw man? I may understand what is meant by the “corporate media,” but for how much longer? If there is ever a failure of commercial advertising to provide broadcast media with a funding model, and mass audiences break down into smaller sets, at what point does reliance on the larger system of “the media” fail to hold? How would the dynamics of trolling change? Would it cease to be as acerbic as a cultural scavenger, or would it become wholly political in nature?

Since this book's publication, things have taken a turn. Phillips has since wrote several other books on this same topic, and each book is written in a way of being an apology for the previous book. As the years pass, the social conditions by which we understand “trolling” keeps changing and updating. ... not least because since this book, actual state actors and political partisans have adopted these once-anonymous tactics for themselves. Spam now pretends to political power. Phillips has remarkable dedication to the topic in the changing times, between her efforts and her oft-co-author Ryan M. Milner, but I've found her newer books to be less helpful when compared against this original one. (Of the ones I've read, anyway.)

Previous Book
A Theory of Fun

Book Metadata

Connected Books

Book Topics

Return to Library Index