Aug 25, 2016

The Against Leslie Jones Club

Either white fan boy fragility didn't get its daily dosage of privilege or green-eyed monsters just don't like seeing a woman of color flourish, but actress and SNL comedienne Leslie Jones was attacked online yet again. This time it was pretty serious. Nude photos. Hacked. Big ol' mess.

From the outset, there are several obvious reasons why Leslie Jones has become the Internet's punching bag: She's black. She's a female. She's not conventionally beautiful. She's a SNL comedienne ("she should be able to take a joke!"/"women aren't funny!"). She starred in the Ghostbusters remake that 'ruined' a million childhoods.

Those are easy, expected reasons as to why Jones gets heckled the way she does. I guess I want her to be found the mastermind behind an underground fight club for vampire corgis where they fight to the death, winners get to savor their kills with a side of fava beans and Chianti-flavored bones. Something that would be concrete, something legit that would be apropos to call a meeting of The Against Leslie Jones Club. But I've got nothing, absolutely nothing about Leslie Jones that would lead people to be so incredibly vile towards her, except that this is 2016 and being an asshole on the Internet is in vogue.

By coincidence, the night before this incident happened I read Joel Stein's TIME piece about the rise of trolling culture. The online version has some tweaks differing from the print version (the one I read), but its essentially a run-down of how we can't have nice things anymore due to the uptick of trolling and how trolling has leaked out of our computer screens into our daily lives. It's a good read, a little late in admitting such an attitude (there have been trolls since chatrooms were invented, just sayin'), but I liked how Stein described the Internet as once "a geek with lofty ideals about the free flow of information" but has now morphed into "a sociopath with Asperger's".

Um, can we say accurate?

What was a little --- I don't know --- ironic (?), is that Stein mentions Jones in his piece, and the previous Twitter assault of racist slurs and memes she received back in July. Now here we are a month later, and trolls are back at tearing Jones down. Obviously a month ago nothing has changed, nothing was learned, nothing was prevented, all the vitriol did was just get hiked to a rolling boil.

In the piece, Stein never truly finds the core answer as to why there are those that do it (the words: unchecked assholery comes to mind...), because we've entered into thorny territory when it comes to censorship and the Internet. Personally, some of these 'net trolls sound like sociopaths the way they feed and thrive off of pushing people's buttons. What they do is far from teasing, mocking or making jokes. This isn't like an insult comic taking jabs or a nice slice of shade from your favorite drag queen on RuPaul's Drag Race. It's a little bigger than that. There is a psychological flaw with those who find normalcy in taking the teases and jokes beyond their punchlines, molding them into direct threats that provoke criminal activity.

Stein relays a story towards the end of the piece where he meets his own personal troll, a fellow journalist who for the past two years has sent him numerous e-mails and threats. At some point, his troll agrees to meet with him for lunch and Stein describes the encounter as almost friendly. His troll turns out to be a young, short woman, who from the outset looks normal, looks harmless, average even. Still the way she evokes this normalcy about her behavior towards him when she's behind the safety of a computer screen isn't on the levels of someone who is playing with a full deck. She legitimately thinks nothing is wrong with what she is doing. She's just too damn chill about it. But she's not mentally detached, she's sane, especially when she tells Stein: "The things I hate about you are the things I hate about myself." This is why she 'trolls' him, it's cause she hates herself --- or rather thinks of mighty high of herself in order to dish out the hate to begin with.

Everybody has moments of jealousy, moments where we dislike seeing others win while we struggle to tie our shoes at the starting line. We also are not wired to like every person we come across, but what gets me about this particular brand of online trolling, this kind of hacking, such as leaking nude photos, is how much of it is allowed and accepted and how we've let the abusive and bigoted language bleed into our everyday lives away from the anonymity of the avatar. One look at how Donald Trump has rallied his racist brigade of fools is enough to see that the behavior has become acceptable, acceptable to the point where it can get you to run for a presidential office. Another look is how we tell the trolled victims (who are largely women) how to 'fix'  their behavior to where stuff like this won't happen ("don't sync photos to your Cloud, you dumb bitch"/ "for God sakes don't take nude pictures, you nasty whore!"). It lays responsibility and blame at the feet of the afflicted, not the person doing the afflicting. It's why social media programs like Twitter and online servers for personal domains like Jones' website need to up their game and start well, calling the authorities. Stop issuing condolences and blocks.

Calling such troll action as some form of "character flaw" is more apt than saying these people are "mentally ill" or simply "crazy" or "mean", but since I'm looking at Leslie Jones' incident from a sistahood stance, the attacks give me a whiff of unchecked white privilege and bigotry, and its on steroids. Black women are always the least protected of the human species, we're thought of as not being equal, not capable of being loved, and if you're living in darker skin, you're even more invisible than those of the lighter skin spectrum. This foam-at-the-mouth obsession or hatred over us is plain as day racism, "trolling" isn't even the word for it, in fact calling it "trolling" is distracting and makes it sound "cute".

The psychology behind such acts is still kind of beyond my grasp. If I dislike someone or something I tend to avoid it, put it on mute, not even entertain it. Yet for some leaving well enough alone isn't, they have to go the extra mile and that extra mile includes honing their hate on a target.

So why Leslie Jones? Well, why anybody, really? I think we all can attest to coming in contact with a troll. I'll never forget the time, eons ago, I was on LiveJournal. I think I had written a comment or something on another LJ and a day or two later I got this long-winded rant where I was called "cunt", "dumb" and "bitch". Thank goodness they didn't know my race cause the "n-word" would've been tossed in there too. I pretty much laughed at it cause this crazy as catshit troll spent gobs of time trying to craft this "I Hate You So Much Right Now" novella over a dumb one-lined comment I made.

Still I'm not as made of Teflon as I'm sounding right now. I did remember the insulting letter, not my comment or what I commented on.

It hurts when someone doesn't think you're awesome, hurts when someone devalues you without really knowing you. Some of this showing out is why I found myself doubting being in the business of writing professionally. Maybe it was safer being a ghostwriter, safer editing others people's works, safer just shutting up. But that's the fear talking, the troll rubbing there hands and cackling because they have won. I never want the trolls to win, I want them to stay under their bridge, catch pneumonia and die a slow painful death. Or just get some subpoena clamping on their nuts. These are hate crimes, point blank, and I believe that if we started treating them as such, and stop being silent or acting as if its under the umbrella of "freedom of speech" then we can at least stop the spread of such vile attitude. Just because we have the choice of anonymity on Internet doesn't mean we have to abuse the privacy of others.

Though I've never been much of a fan of Leslie Jones' comedy act, I stand with her. I feel for her and wish her well. I see she's back on Twitter, not allowing her dissenters to win. That's a good sign. It's also a good sign how many of us on social media are combating gross Internet behavior with support hashtags. Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Gabby Douglas received an out-pouring of love and support after people (once again) were getting on her case about her hair. Leslie Jones has received some digital hugs, I was extremely impressed with Black men coming together on Twitter and starting the #BlackMenSupportLeslieJones hashtag. Even though it's a tinge sad that we even have to do this, that people have to be reminded to be nice, but it's better if we start somewhere and focus on healing --- not hurting.

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