It’s Not a Game if You Can’t Lose

Internet and/or comedy vent incoming! People with normal priorities, lives and jobs feel free to click away. I hear there is free pornography out there to be had, if you believe the prophecies.

This isn’t in response to anything in particular, but here’s something I generally see a lot:

“What do you mean, you don’t appreciate me being a fuckin’ dickhead to everybody?! You’re supposed to be a comedian, lighten UP.”

At least once a week, I get a shitty PM, email, or Facebook message insulting me, my work, my coworkers, or my friends. Often these come couched as compliments: “I love your work, dude! Not like that PIECE OF SHIT [OTHER COLUMNIST] FUCK THAT GUY/GIRL.” It takes a little something away from the compliment when, in the same sentence, you hate-spooge all over people I respect and admire. Does anybody seriously not understand how I might not appreciate that? I try to correct this behavior as politely as I can, and I invariably get something like that first quote in response, regarding the ‘lightening up’ I need to do. It’s emblematic of an attitude you can see on display everywhere, and I just don’t understand it. People think that, once comedy is involved in a scenario, literally everything is appropriate in that scenario forever onward. “LOL this guy spent a lot of time carefully constructing a humorous observation, therefore I can spit in his face and he’ll think it’s funny!”

It doesn’t matter that the people messaging me are very earnestly insulting and disrespecting my friends without a trace of humor – I made a joke once, so clearly I should take everything anybody does for the rest of my life to be a joke.

Listen: You can’t walk into a comedy club and start shooting people in the face just because chuckles are in the air. The “what’s the problem, I thought this was a COMEDY club” defense is not going to save you from the death penalty.

I think this attitude, or at least its prevalence online, started with internet trolls. And that’s a shame, because trolling used to be pretty funny and almost entirely harmless. Trolling, despite the modern usage, does not mean “the act of pissing somebody off and laughing about their anger.” It is “the act of pissing somebody off BASED ON SOMETHING COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS and laughing about their MISPLACED anger.” It isn’t considered trolling to leave a comment full of racial epithets and laugh when people “don’t get it.” It is trolling if you leave a comment insisting on the wrong information about something irrelevant – how many runes are on a Stargate, for example (everybody knows its 12) – and wait for the ONE guy that just can’t let the transgression pass. If you start a fake fight with Prof. Stargate, dragging him deeper and deeper until hopefully, finally, even he has to stop and think “wait a minute, this is ridiculous,” that is trolling. That’s the difference: No actual harm is caused, and even the victim can eventually get in on the joke. “Trolling” isn’t referring to hiding behind a fortification and trying to hurt people like the mythical creature. It’s referring to the style of fishing – you drag bait across the bottom hoping to get a rare bite. It’s not ‘bait’ if you’re earnestly spouting your misogynistic beliefs and somebody gets upset. There’s nothing funny about entirely justified anger.

This ‘ha ha, you got mad, so you lose’ attitude is the exact same reason we all collectively decided not to like hipsters very much: It’s because they were hiding behind a rigged game. Everything was ironic. You can say they look good, and they take the compliment. But you can’t say they look like shit, because they’re TRYING to look like shit. You can say you love their band, and you get a “thanks bro!” But you can’t say their band sucks, because it’s SUPPOSED to suck. They were so afraid of judgment that they only did things under the protective cloak of irony, so that if you didn’t like it, you could be accused of not getting it. There was no losing condition. Same with people saying shitty things to each other on the internet under the guise of “humor.”

If this kind of thing was still confined to YouTube comments – then fuck it, who cares? But it’s not. It spills out. It’s everywhere now, even seeping into reality: There are people walking the Earth today who genuinely think, in all aspects of their lives, that somebody getting pissed off at them for valid reasons means they win something. If some asshole says something in assholish to you, and you respond to him as you would an asshole, he wins, because you’re mad. If you don’t respond, then clearly he’s just saying what we’re all thinking, so he wins again. There’s no losing condition to this ‘game,’ and that makes it not a game. Being a dick isn’t funny, because you’re not making jokes. It isn’t clever, because you’re not outsmarting anybody. It isn’t winning; it’s cowardice. You have no excuse not to treat people with a basic level of respect, whether they make jokes or coffee for a living, whether they’re online or in line in front of you at the movie theater.

In short: If you wouldn’t say it to The Rock in a dark alley, don’t say it to another human being on the internet.

18 thoughts on “It’s Not a Game if You Can’t Lose

  1. Chrissy

    I do happen to make coffee for a living, and my immediate response to this is “yes! Yes! A million times yes!” The day a customer told me he wished he could put his tip in my bra instead of in the tip jar was the day I realized the entire world has become a YouTube comment section.

  2. Metacognition

    As I’m sure you’re aware, the term trolling actually comes from the fishing definition; not the mythical creature who likes bridges definition.

    I really don’t have anything to add, as this is perfectly spot on. I just wanted to say thank you for this.

  3. Luke Haines

    Hey, other human beings on the internet, I think you’re awesome but god damn, that Mummy sequel was terrible. (I stand by any criteria for this…)

  4. Matt Armstrong

    Internet trolling has changed yet again. It is currently about saying something as stupid as possible to try and get people to correct you. I have no idea why making yourself look stupid gives a sense of accomplishment, but it is rampant now, especially in the MMO community. Prime example of a common place troll statement from world of warcraft: “If the lich king’s horse is named invincible, how come I can see him?” or the ever popular “WoW was the first MMO”

    Now you would think tagging yourself as brain dead might be a detriment, but todays trolls think it is great. Keep in mind these are the idiots that brought us Swag and YOLO, the battle cries of the mentally handicapped.

  5. SteveySteve

    When they eventually have to teach Not Being A Dick On The Internet in schools, I would hope this piece makes the text book.

  6. Giles Towers

    Actually the correct number of- Dammit! I think we all know people who from time to time will say what seem like deliberately hurtful or awful things then fill the silence with their own laughter.

  7. Jarenth

    If you wouldn’t say it to The Rock in a dark alley, don’t say it to another human being on the internet.

    The logical inverse of this is that everything I do say to other human beings on the internet, I should say to The Rock in a dark alley.

    Which means I hope The Rock has some time to spare, and maybe a folding chair or something, because man, have I got a lot to tell him.

  8. Kyle

    The only thing I would say to the Rock in an alley is…”you gotta light?”. I don’t smoke…but do I have to?

  9. Travis Lujan

    Robert, yet again you nailed it. Thank you, I have felt like an idiot for not understand what the hell a hipster was, or what Yolo was, etc. I used to be a part of the “bleeding edge” of internet humor before the term “viral” went viral… now I understand it is not I who is the idiot, it is the “they”, the “them”. The net has always just been a gateway to porn and video games for me, with a dash of communication and a few sprinkles of worth while information. Now I understand though; my theory that the internet has become a cesspool of underage children with nothing but time on their hands to grief others, because mommy and daddy do not know how to be parents; is true.

    Thank you for confirming my thoughts.

  10. Ian Buck

    You dummy, there are 39 symbols on Stargates from the Milky Way and 36 on Stargates from the Pegasus galaxy and in the Stargates that the seed ships left behind ahead of the Destiny.

    Had to do that, sorry.

  11. Luke McKinney

    The worst part of protecting themselves from criticism is that they’re protecting themselves from learning and improvement. Shielding yourself from criticism is like using a noclip code to just stroll through a videogame – nothing can hurt you, but you’re not gaining any experience, are you look stupid waving your level 1 shit-smeared stick at amazingly talented foes.

    As for the “you’re much better than that coworker of yours who sucks”, it’s the tragedy of wanting to be better than other people, instead of wanting to better than yourself five minutes ago.

    1. Robert Brockway Post author

      Wait, I’m confused. I didn’t mean that came from columnists – I’ve never heard another columnist say shit like that. It’s unrelated strangers telling the columnists they’re great…and then going on to say that all of their friends and coworkers are hacks. We’ve talked it about in the office. It’s not just me – people tell Soren he’s great, unlike that Brockway piece of shit, and so on. Surely you get this, too? Or are all of your fans empathetic and magnanimous?

      1. Luke McKinney

        Nope, I was getting comments exactly what you were talking about – fans telling you that you’re great but that your coworkers (aka other columnists) suck balls. Excuse any unclear parsing.

        It’s a tragedy. You’re left thinking “Damn, I really like getting compliments, but they don’t mean much coming from assholes.”

      2. Travis J. Lujan

        No, I understand exactly what you mean. I am not a columnist but I work in a coffee shop with my wife and kid and we make drinks by recipe so they’re all the same drink; consistently. and I hear all the damn time “wow you make this caramel mocha delight so much better than that chick or that younger kid who work here, god whats their problem?”, and I just respond with “oh you mean my wife/kid? yeah I don’t know what their deal is, maybe they were having a bad day”. Trolling doesn’t just happen online it’s bleeding through to real life, it fucking sucks.

  12. teru

    Sadly enough, I have a friend who spent so long on 4chan and reddit and some other rather questionable humor sites, that his entire sense of humor has become “the more insensitive and messed-up it is, the funnier it is.” Listening to him talk is like reading youtube comments sometimes.
    He doesn’t understand that saying racist things doesn’t automatically become funny because “I’m not racist”. The same goes for sexist things. It’s gotten to the point where he gets offended at you if you call him out on it. “It was just a joke,” he says, “don’t take things so seriously.”
    When I finally couldn’t take it anymore and told him “you have become the living personification of the internet and it’s not funny” he got so offended he stopped speaking to me.


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