Skip to main content

Creepy Clowns and Trolls: Technology of Masking


The recent scary clown mask craze has a retro-whiff about it.  Rather than people being hounded by trolls on the information super-highway, they are being menaced by clowns on the streets of their neighbourhood. 

Although an ancient art, clowning has a great deal in common with trolling in particular the use of the mask.  All clowns put on a mask, of course, as a method of distancing themselves from their day to day personality, and also as a licence to behave on the edges of acceptability. 

Trolling too is a form of mask-making.  While it is hard to define precisely what trolling is, my millennial students reliably inform me it is not so much bullying on line as taking on an exaggerated persona to get the most effect: being excessively insulted by something, being overly violent in your online responses, taking up exaggerated positions on topics and so on.  When you toll someone you use the anonymity of digital masking to create a mask for yourself that is more impactful, violent and share-friendly.

Indeed both trolls and clowns share in the use of the mask to distance themselves, from their real selves, and to also distance themselves from their effect on others.  But more than this trolling and clowning share a symbiotic i-relationship.  The recent proposed Clowns Lives Matter March was organised through, what else, social media.  Facebook and Twitter have been sources for organising attacks and sharing imagery inciting further attacks. 

So it would appear that clowning adds a new physicality to online bullying.  While trolling can have tangible real-world effects in extreme cases, mostly the cost is virtual.  With clowning the disaffected of the world are closing their laptops, coming out of their bedrooms and taking back the streets. 

It was only a matter of time before the currency of the web, likes and shares, until recently the crack cocaine of contemporary social life, would lose its edge.  In the run up to Halloween there is a new drug in town, dopamine, the fight or flight drug that you can only score on the street when you are mask to face with your victim. 

Does this mark a decline in virtual violence, as I said a retro-shift back to a kind of Clockwork Orange world of ultra-violence?  Or does it draw a new frontier where the social drug of sharing is cut with the brain-drug of scaring to produce a new high for bullies around the globe? Whatever the answer it is clear, as Victor Hugo once said, “Virtue has a veil, vice a mask”.


Popular posts from this blog

John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (Manchester: Carcanet, 1977) First Published (New York: Viking, 1975) Close Readings and annotations of every poem in the collection March-April 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001) Introduction: · Shoptaw notes that this return to poetry is dominated by images of waiting, that narrative (especially fairy-tale) returns, as do the musically based titles, there are no prose poems and no fixed forms such as sonnets of pantoums, most are free verse paragraphs, also bring forward a new American speech, more direct and inclusive. “As One Put Drunk into a Packet-Boat”, 1-2 · Shoptaw notes this was the original title for the collection, marking a self-consciously Romantic return to poetry, recording the thoughts of “I” from afternoon to night, just outside a childhood country home. Has a pastoral crisis narrative in that a summer storm gathers but passes leaving the

Frank O'Hara, Collected Poems pp.201-300 Annotated

Frank O’Hara, Collected Poems (Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, 1995) Pages 201-300 Close Readings and annotations of every poem in the collection September 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001) Frank O’Hara “In the Movies”, 206-209 · interesting that this poem has not been picked up by the critics for it is an easy point to indicate the importance of films in O'Hara’s aesthetic indicating the dissolves, cuts and montage effects he has been credited with and whilst I do not like to appropriate analogous terms in this fashion the montage of O'Hara is easily distinguishable form the collage of Ashbery in that here it is the movement from image to image in an attempt at seamlessness, a basic synaesthesia of subject in the now of consciousness. · in addition to the basic aesthetic implications of this use of films there are also certain other issues that he raises here but does

Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

For a long time I have felt that poetics has not taken into consideration a great deal written about issues pertaining to difference and repetition to be found in contemporary philosophy. As poetry's whole energy and dynamic is based on a fundamental relation to differential versus repeated units of sense (sense both in terms of meaning and the sensible), any work on difference and repetition would be welcome. That some of the greatest thinkers of the age, notably Deleuze and Derrida, have made both issues core to their whole philosophical systems is so remarkable that poetics is impoverished if it does not fully acknowledge this. Not that I am one to talk. Although I am aware of the centrality of Deleuze's work to postmodern poetry, I have as yet not been able to really address this but in Poetry Machines I began that work at least. In preparation for the few hundred words I wrote there, here are the 10,000 words I annotated in preparation. Deleuze, Gilles. Differe