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Dickweeds, Trolls and Creeps —

May 22, 2013

Those of us with a pre-internet memory can remember a simpler time when assholes were easily identifiable and their behavior had real-world consequences. Either they were the kind of assholes who had no friends or they were the kind of assholes who other assholes flocked to like assholes in rut.

Lone assholes could be frustrating, but since nobody liked them, they were fairly easy to dismiss and ignore. It’s the other group that made the world miserable, but once I got to college, I found that flocks of assholes are somewhat easier to avoid. Sure, they were out there, but I wasn’t forced to spend eight hours a day trapped in the same building as those flocks of assholes-in-training.

I was kind of looking forward to the day when I could completely ignore roving bands of assholes, which I anticipated would come from age and experience. But at 34, I’ve found that the internet has become a virtual savannah for these flocks of assholes to roam free without consequence.

And it sucks.

Gypsies Tramps and Thieves

Cher hates assholes.

It sucks because it used to be possible to avoid the assholes, up to and including becoming a recluse. Of course, the information age also gave the recluse a way to interact with the world in a way that didn’t exist pre-internet. The advantage of the internet for the recluse is a fairly decent control over what kind of environment you surround yourself with, such that you could, in theory, live the rest of your life without meeting another asshole.

It’s true.

Yes, you would have to restrict yourself to a select number of websites with adequate comment control, but as a result you wouldn’t ever have to hear from another mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, club-wielding hate monkey.

And I can’t blame anyone who does just that.

The internet is simultaneously social and sociopathic. The internet brings out the best and worst in people. This is why I absolutely love and hate the internet.

Part of me wishes we could go back to the pre-internet days when people didn’t seem to get such unmitigated delight in the humiliation and degradation of others. It feels like our culture admires people who can have the cruelest, most biting wit at the expense of those deemed mock-worthy. And sadly, the mock-worthy list seems to grow longer every day. But one thing that has been consistent both before and after the internet is that fatties have always been treated as mock-worthy.

It’s weird, because few physical traits have been quite as universally mocked as fat. Assholes cite this as proof that there’s something inherently mock-worthy about being fat. But considering that most fat people before the 1970s were part of the wealthy and powerful classes, it’s more likely that it was an easy outlet to vent frustration against the elites.

But as I wrote in this piece on the archetype of the corporate fat cat, the average Wall Street big shot isn’t fat any more. So, why is fat still mock-worthy? Simple: it’s an easy target.

Like most forms of bigotry, it’s easiest for assholes to pick some easily observable trait for mockery. Since fat is one of the easiest traits to identify, and it already comes prepackaged with a whole host of assumptions, assholes can leverage that hatred without wasting their precious few brain cells. Mocking fat people is easy, and now that obesity rates are higher than at any point in history, assholes can hone their monosyllabic tradecraft on half the population behind firewalls.

Sadly, I think this means that there will never come a day when assholes won’t be there in the background saying stupid, hurtful shit in order to validate their desperate need to feel superior.

But here’s the thing: assholes generally don’t care who their target is. Yeah, there are segments of the internet where assholes specialize in mocking fatties, but I find it hard to believe that anyone who frequents those corners of the web aren’t complete assholes in real life as well. Of course, they’ll say they’re not. They’ll claim that they are completely justified in treating fat people like shit, while in reality they’re super-nice guys.

But think about it: who the fuck spends all their fucking free time talking about how much they hate one particular group of people because of what they look like or what they do in their personal life? Who spends all their fucking free time hating fatties? Assholes, that’s who.

I’ve had assholes on the brain since I started dabbling in reddit. After I created a subreddit for questions about Health at Every Size®, it became immediately flooded with assholes who would say shit like this:

Being obese is unhealthy. Quite frankly this is the saddest argument ever, and stupid. Get off the couch stop making excuses, you aren’t pretty, or attractive or curvy if your fat. Your fat and it looks bad.

I’d ban them and they’d complain about their First Amendment rights and proceed to downvote everything I posted because they didn’t get their way (like this comment which got 54 downvotes despite answering the exact question that was asked).

What made me want to write about assholes today is that I recently posted a link to Golda’s excellent TedX Talk on reddit, and the assholes flocked to the video almost immediately. If you haven’t seen it, go here and watch. And if  you’ve got a sick fascination with assholes, check out the YouTube comments.

While it’s awesome that Golda is getting tons of hits from these assholes, they’re also shitting all over her because she has dared to speak publicly about how it’s okay to be fat. Any message that fat people don’t have a moral or social obligation hate themselves and get thin is met with blunt and brutal attacks by anonymous assholes. Their cliched comments frequently insist they know better than the thousands of researchers who have downgraded the definition of “successful weight loss” over the years with the accumulation of long-term evidence.

To put it simpler: my self-acceptance brings all the trolls to the yard.

As a result, Golda’s beautiful talk that delves into her own personal weight struggles has been shat upon by ignorant assholes. That’s the reality and until TEDx moderates the comments or turns them off, that’s what will remain. But this ugly, modern reality raises two questions: why does it happen and how do we respond?

The “why” is simple. It’s about control and domination. When you read the comments on stories about fat celebrities, you’ll notice that the hostility is largely directed at fat women. Although I get mocked by reddit goons, I don’t receive hate mail or death threats or get followed around the internet by them in the same way that Golda or Ragen do. And I think the main reason is that although they call me a liar and literally Hitler, I’m not personally violating one of the most important rules: fat women must always strive to become thin women.

Lesley Kinzel said it best when she brilliantly (and sarcastically) explained how self-accepting fat women are a direct threat to men’s boners:

The sight of fat women is a heavy cross said men must bear every moment they step out into the public spaces where people congregate, be they city streets or shopping malls or public transportation or the dentist’s office. Their eyes burning as though filled with searing acid, their inability to control their speech — the inescapable, uncontrollable need to instruct the offending woman on the pain she is selfishly causing them — is hardly their fault!

Fat-hating assholes are primarily men because they are angry that their pool of potential mates is being drained by women who refuse to spend every waking hour focused on becoming as thin and attractive as they should be. That’s it. Strip away their weak concern trolling and you’re left with men who feels powerless to stop women from being stubbornly fat, so they resort to the only weapon available to them on the internet: verbal abuse.

But here’s the thing: that weapon only works if the asshole knows that his attack has hit its mark and inflicted the desired damage. Which brings us to “How do we respond?”

Ideally, you don’t.

Fierce Fatties has operated for a while on the Asshole Rule, whereby we welcome dissent, but if five people tag your comment as an asshole comment, it’s removed. Then we moved to the Clear and Present Asshole Rule, where I would automatically delete clearly assholian comments. Now, because of the flood of asshole redditors, I’ve put up a moderation wall to screen all comments as they come in. Since putting up the moderation wall, the hate has slowed to a trickle. Why? Because verbal abuse doesn’t work as a weapon if nobody sees it.

Beyond enacting tight commenting controls, you shouldn’t even respond to assholes on other forums. They aren’t worth your time. Once the assholes identify a post or a video as an easy target, they flood in like a scene from The Birds.

And like the eponymous birds, there is nothing you can do about assholes.

Yeah, I know, that’s not the answer you were hoping for. It’s not the answer I was hoping for either. But realistically, what are our options? We can either ignore them, avoid them, fight them or rise above them. The first two work fairly well, in my opinion. Once assholes get bored with you, they leave you alone. And if you choose to fight them, you may find it cathartic to verbally shredding assholes (as I have in the past), but it only encourages them to return with more of their buddies. Like zombies, it’s not a single asshole that wears you down, it’s the shuffling hordes that ultimately overwhelm you.

All of this advice is coming from a guy who is widely regarded the asshole of the Fat Acceptance movement. I have asshole tendencies, but am more of the lone asshole variety. I try to only use my asshole skills to combat nastier, hateful assholes, but as anyone who has been around the fatosphere for the the past four years can attest to, my greatest skill is in arguing endlessly until the other person becomes either frustrated or exhausted and they proceed to ignore/avoid me.

And yet, even though I have the endurance of an Olympic asshole, I find myself quickly out-assholed by the fat-hating variety of trolls that we’ve all had to endure. It’s like their fat hatred is some kind of super-fuel that drives their endless quest to make fat people feel as shitty as they feel about themselves. As an amateur asshole, they’ve given me quite a few lessons on what it means to be truly dedicated to assholery.

Which brings me to the last and best option: rise above.

You don’t have to outwit the asshole. You don’t have to put them in their place. You don’t have to change their minds. You don’t have to make them like you. You don’t have to stop their bullshit. And you certainly don’t have to listen to it.

Fat hatred is there, and the internet will ensure that it will always be there. But if you understand the motivations that drive assholes to attack fatties, it can help you identify who has the real problem (Hint: It’s not you).

How do you know that assholes are the ones who have the real problem and not you? Well, let’s say that their underlying motivation (as many of them claim) is that they’re angry at fat people for being unhealthy and at fat activists for advocating unhealthy behavior. If this is about health, then why don’t they spend as much time lecturing drinkers about the health risks of alcohol? And if it’s about advocating unhealthy behavior, then why don’t they go after the many, many, MANY people on the internet who glorify getting shit-faced every weekend?

The fact is, this isn’t about health and it isn’t even about you. It’s about a group of people who wallow in self-loathing and their only outlet, their only relief comes from lashing out at others who they perceive to be inferior.

They need you to be upset by their words. They need you to fight back. They need you to get sad and angry because it confirms that they have found someone more pathetic than themselves.

Forget what the anonymous assholes of the internet have to say. They don’t know you. They don’t know your lifestyle choices. And even if you give them detailed information about your healthy lifestyle, they’ll accuse you of lying.

The best way to combat assholes is to embrace the most famous maxim from the Oracle of Delphi: know thyself.

When you “know thyself,” you don’t need to answer every critic and you don’t need to believe every asshole. When you “know thyself,” you see what others cannot see and know what others cannot know. Confident in that knowledge, the words of strangers mean next to nothing when they conflict with your self-knowledge.

And that is the ultimate goal of self-acceptance: know thyself.

Until then, until you can rise above, you can protect yourself by avoiding and ignoring. When you get a solid footing on “know theyself” you can begin to fight back and put assholes in their place. But it’s only when you become truly confident in who you are, when you become secure in self-knowledge, that you can rise above the hatred and embrace life, assholes and all.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 22, 2013 1:09 pm

    Thank you for this! I needed it on a level I didn’t realize. You’ve given me tools I didn’t realize I needed to deal with the hordes of zombie trolling assholes. 🙂

    • May 22, 2013 1:28 pm

      You’re welcome, lusciouswords. I’m glad I could help. 🙂

      Peace,
      Shannon

  2. Vaecordia permalink
    May 22, 2013 1:16 pm

    That Golda’s moving and eloquent video has given a place for the slime to focus makes me heartsick, and tired.

    Sometimes, I just get so fatigued by the neverending onslaught of hate floating around the internet that even the fat-acceptance sites just serve to reinforce how much my body is reviled. This shit gets old fast.

    • May 22, 2013 1:18 pm

      And as much as I hate to say “This,” I do agree with your comment. *sigh* It’s so sad that so many feel the need to focus their hate on fat people – for no reason other than they see us as easy pickings.

    • May 22, 2013 1:34 pm

      You are absolutely right. It is mentally and spiritually exhausting to fee like the world is just one big hatefest, but think of it like this. Let’s say that 5% of the population are assholes through some genetic trigger. In olden days when we lived in villages, the assholes were easy to spot. If there were 100 people in the village, 5 would be assholes. So each town had assholes and knew who they were and how to deal with them.

      As the population increased, so do the assholes, but they are still confined to their village or city. So with 1,000 people, suddenly there are 50 assholes that you have to deal with. Now, fast forward to today, where there are 1,000,000 people and 50,000 assholes running around, but they aren’t confined to their own village or city. They can all congregate online and pat each other on the back for their excellent assholing skills. In this environment, the number of assholes is still the same, but their impact can be felt on a broader scale because they aren’t limited by the borders of their town. One truly dedicated asshole can make life miserable for hundreds, if not thousands, of people each day if they choose the right forum and know how to push your buttons. Their behavior hasn’t become more prevalent that at any other time in history, but their footprint is much bigger thanks to the virtual world they can operate in.

      Try not to get overwhelmed. It can often feel like you’re standing against a tidal wave, but it’s just an illusion. Behind the firewall, these are sad, lonely little men who want the world to suffer as much as they do. And why do they suffer? Because they’re assholes.

      Peace,
      Shannon

      • Elizabeth permalink
        May 23, 2013 4:21 pm

        Shannon, I’ve been saying this for years about SOCIOPATHS. When we lived in small societies, we could control them (often by setting them outside the group and ignoring them), but when you live in a country with 300 million people, you cannot control them and they become your leaders.

  3. Harry Minot permalink
    May 22, 2013 1:32 pm

    Yep. The anonymity thing is an open door for those who seem to lack a conscience. And they’re a supreme test of the forgiveness muscle. I never expected to be thin. As a fat guy I faced nothing as horrible as what fat women face every day. My change of circumstance, though it’s truly nothing I wanted, has been a sort of gift in those real-life situations where anti-fat bigotry is spoken in my presence, unguardedly. I do love that!

    • Harry Minot permalink
      May 22, 2013 1:44 pm

      Oh, and having “before and after” pictures, which so intrigue the media and the haters, is fun, too. They can be used to draw folks into a place where they’re forced to hear my sermon. It’s a way to “play” the internet and the Media Big Boys. http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-968195

  4. May 22, 2013 5:48 pm

    When I was first getting the hang of Twitter, I read a comment by the comic, Craig Ferguson, that resonated with me. He said that anytime someone wrote negative stuff to him, he blocked them. He said something along the lines of “Life’s too short.” I use the same tactic with all the haters that I encounter online: no second chances. On my blog I control the comments, and all fat hatred and antiSemitic stuff goes straight in the trash. On twitter: blocked. Haven’t done any YouTube yet.

    If I listen to them, they’ve gotten what they want. If I respond to them, I’m feeding it.

    I’m not talking about genuine conversation – that I welcome! But for the sort of hateful stuff that you’re talking about here I have an absolute no-tolerance policy, and I’ve never regretted it.

  5. R. Alison Thomposn-Ray permalink
    May 22, 2013 8:20 pm

    I needed this post SO MUCH today. I just got finished unpacking fears based on internalized fatphobia in therapy this afternoon, which turned out to be the most intense session I’ve had to date. While walking from my session to the Muni (public transit) station, a random person on the street commented “Ugh, fat white girl. Just ugh.” It took me a moment to process that he was talking to me, and by that time he was ahead of me. He took a moment to look over his shoulder and add “You can loose it if you want to.” This is a good time to mention that I walk with a cane. I was still processing the session, so I just ignored him, but the timing was epic. This site, and others like it help me keep what little is left of my sanity! Keep up the good work!

  6. Duckie permalink
    May 23, 2013 12:01 am

    Brilliant, Shannon. Thank you.

  7. May 23, 2013 2:43 am

    I just started a blog called Modern Fat, only one entry so far. My plan is to focus on creating yet another place for size activism, and have a doctor’s bent to it, as I am a naturopathic physician. I have had two lovely comments and now have one follower. The follower has the feel of a troll already (Opinionated Man is his name), though I am not certain. He also may be against naturopathic medicine, there are certainly many out there who are.

    Anyway, I had wanted to email you to talk to you about trolls, having seen some of your posts on them. This is a great post! I would also still love to have hints on how to deal with any comments personally.

    Check out the blog if you get a chance. I am considering a post about Freakonomics and their handling of the “obesity epidemic”.

    Thanks for all of the excellent writing that you do!

  8. May 23, 2013 2:25 pm

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    What Shannon speaks of is why I’ve had comment moderation on my blogs since 2006, and no amount of whinging from hopeful trolls will make me remove it. Also, these idiots who cry “first amendment violation” show their stupidity in spades. First amendment rights do not apply in personal spaces. Second, the First Amendment was created to protect POLITICAL speech, not any other kind of expression.

  9. lifeonfats permalink
    May 23, 2013 7:10 pm

    Shannon, I’ll have you know I started singing the title of your post to Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and adding my own lyrics. It’s humor like this that helps to alleviate the anger and frustration with these hateful idiots.

  10. Dizzyd permalink
    May 23, 2013 7:35 pm

    Alison – When the ignorant troll turned back around, that’s about the time I’d whack him with my cane. May not be the most forgiving or mature thing to do, but I’D feel better! : )

  11. May 24, 2013 3:28 pm

    THANK YOU!

  12. May 25, 2013 1:00 pm

    I am so happy you wrote this, and that you communicated so perfectly what I really needed to hear after reading the comments on that TEDx video. I was so inspired by her talk, but then, after I saw how many dislikes the video had, and read some of the comments, I felt miserable and depressed. As if the whole world hated me and everyone like me. But reading this, I smiled as I was reminded that I am the person who decides my own worthiness. So, thank you.

    • Dizzyd permalink
      May 25, 2013 4:55 pm

      Ain’t that the truth! Seriously, society nowadays seems to breed these nasty brutes like cockroaches. And it isn’t just fat people they love to tear apart. I remember going on CNN Online where they have blogs you can write comments in, and some of the things these people would say would just about make your hair stand on end. I mean, they seemed to take evil delight in laughing over misfortune. An example: one online story talked about how children in this one country were made to work in the cacao fields under pretty harsh conditions to pick beans to make our Easter candy with (or maybe it was Valentine’s candy, I don’t remember the exact details of the story, to be honest). A story that usually would have normal people saying things like “That’s horrible!” or “I won’t eat candy again if it feeds this kind of abhorrence.” Instead, these idiots are on there saying (and it was more than one!) things like “The tears of these children make my chocolate all the sweeter!” As if they were delighting in these childrens’ terrible circumstances! So, as you can see, trolls and their ilk are not normal people with a shred of decency.

  13. venuspluto67 permalink
    September 18, 2014 11:53 am

    Ah, Reddit.com. If you ever have any use for very stoned college sophomores who take themselves way too seriously and think they know everything while demonstrating exactly why middle-aged adults think of young people as shallow, ignorant narcissists…well then, you know exactly where to look.

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