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Psychiatry 5 Cents

09-01-2015 | By Roger Skoff | Issue 81


Roger Skoff writes about some people he encounters on the internet...

Although I use the internet daily, I'm not all that familiar with a lot of the lingo and the current culture that has developed from and around it. Oh, I know (after having asked someone) what IMHO means, and LOL, and even ROFLMAO, but it wasn't until just a few years ago, when I started writing about HiFi again and started having to deal with them on a regular basis that I found out what a "troll" is in any other than the fairy tale sense. Now that I know, I'm still blown away by how brilliantly and how appropriately that particular term came to be chosen from all of popular literature, and how perfectly it applies to a certain type of person.

Another thing I've learned about in recent years as an internet term is "tar baby". Before then, although I had known the story of the tar baby, I had never seen it as any kind of descriptor of contemporary human behavior, or understood, like the term "troll," how well it applies to some people. Little did I know…

For those of you who have never seen or heard of it, the story of the tar baby was one of the folkloric tales of Uncle Remus published by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881 and popularized by Walt Disney in the (for PC reasons, never likely to be released again) 1946 mixed live action and animation (wildly daring at the time) film, Song of the South. In that truly wonderful film, Uncle Remus, a kindly old black man, reminisces to a young boy about the antics of some of the local animals, notably Br'er Fox, Br'er Bear, and Br'er Rabbit ― Br'er Rabbit being the then-equivalent of the Road Runner in later animated films with both Br'ers Fox and Bear playing the part of Wile E. Coyote.

In the Tar Baby story,  Br'er Fox (the smarter of Br'er Rabbits two antagonists) makes a (very sticky) doll out of tar and turpentine, dresses it, and sets out in the road,  where Br'er Rabbit is sure to find it.

Sure enough, Br'er Rabbit comes along, sees it, and gives it a cheerful greeting. When the Tar Baby doesn't reply, Br'er Rabbit says something again, and again the Tar Baby says nothing. When this has repeated however many times, Br'er Rabbit, to teach the Tar Baby the perils of bad manners, no doubt, punches the Tar Baby and finds his fist stuck where it landed. So, naturally, he hits the Tar Baby again. And again, and again, until, finally he is completely stuck in the mass of tar and Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear come out to do him in.

If you're interested, you can find out the ending of the story HERE or, I'm sure, in any number of other places, as well, including a complete presentation on YouTube. For the purposes of this story, however, all that's necessary for you to know is that a/the "tar baby" is something that somebody puts out there for somebody else to get stuck in, and, to me, THAT'S the interesting part!

Trolls, like the people who write computer viruses, seem to do so for no reason other than whatever vicious pleasure they may derive from hurting other people, ruining their day, or destroying their work. I can understand that. Although I would never do it, I can sort of warp my mind around to the point where I can comprehend the thrill that a particular kind of a**hole—like those who go to boxing matches to see blood or to NASCAR events to see the crashes―might derive from watching or even making people suffer. What I will never understand is how they—especially the virus developers—can go to all that work to be hurtful without ever being able to know exactly how well (or even if ever) they've actually achieved their goal.

Tar babies are different, though. I don't think that internet babies—the people who set themselves out there with no apparent purpose other than to pick a fight with you—are like that. Instead, I think that, in a weird and truly perverted way, what they're really trying to do is to establish a personal relationship.

Among the people who regularly write-in to comment on my audio writings, there's one guy (who I think must still be supported by his wife or mother or something) who—perhaps from some desperate need for attention or personal validation—seems to attack and to try to draw a response, not only from me, but from just about anyone else on the internet who makes practically any kind of a declarative statement. There's another one who, as far as I know, confines himself to audio, but does the same thing while hiding behind the name of an angel, and still another who, undoubtedly recognizing himself as a blowhard, has taken a large puff of wind as his "handle", and regularly issues pronunciamentos about audio subjects that he plainly knows nothing about, and then goes on to fight without limit to prove himself right and me wrong.  All of these people and many more make it plain that what they want is not just to hit and run, as the trolls and virus writers do, but to establish some kind—even if it's a negative kind—of ongoing personal interchange of dialogue.

"Ongoing" is the key, with the Tar Baby trying quite obviously to keep the dialogue going as long as possible by always insisting on having "the last word", and always making sure it's provocative.  Frankly, I find myself complimented by that. It's gratifying to me that others should think enough of me or of what I write or know that they will, apparently without fail, read all of my posts and comment on them—even if many of their comments indicate that they may neither have completely read nor fully understood what I have written.

Even so, I can't help feeling sorry for anyone who thinks so little of his own personal worth that the only way he knows to seek out human contact is in the negative. It sort of makes me feel like a movie star who has a stalker:  Most likely the stalker is doing it out of admiration or a desire to establish some more satisfactory form of relationship, even if it's only (as I said once before, in a Facebook comment) to seek out the equivalent of a private intellectual lap dance from the celebrity "stalkee". But wouldn't it be nicer if the person seeking the relationship were to use a positive rather than negative approach? Isn't it pretty well obvious that saying "Hi there, I'm a HiFi Crazy, too. Let's talk and be friends" is more likely to produce the desired result than "I read your article, and you're completely wrong. Let's fight about it". If friendship really IS the goal, wouldn't it also be helpful to let your desired new friend know your real name than just some snappy handle or moniker? Certainly anonymity is a good protection against rejection ("He wasn't rejecting me, just my alias"), but, if you're not rejected, won't you eventually have to give your real name, anyway?

Just saying…