Take a Joke: Comedy in the Era of the Alt-Right

While I agree with Emily Nussbaum’s analysis of the nature of jokes in the modern era, I cannot agree with her assertions about the degree to which the nature of contemporary jokes contributed to Trump’s election.

The rise of the anonymous Internet commentator truly has changed the nature of jokes. While carrying a political connotation more often than not, comments from “trolls” can be found under nearly every kind of Youtube video from instructional cooking videos to video game trailers. This is indicative of the broader desire by these trolls to start arguments and rile people up on the internet.

While it is often talked about in a political context, much of this trolling is less specifically political and more to just insult people in general and hopefully get some kind of “amusing” emotional response out of them. This form of joking existed years before Trump was even remotely thought of as a presidential candidate. The anonymity of the internet is what encouraged people to engage in more offensive or politically controversial comedy because there were virtually no consequences for their actions. This “comedic” form did not emerge as a result of Trump’s political rise, as Nussbaum asserts.

This is not to say that Trump had no impact on these internet trolls. Once he became a prominent political figure, trolling comments became more politically focused, racial, and sex-oriented to a degree but trolling still isn’t mostly political.

Trolling as a comedic form has existed for a relatively long time. It existed and was political in the same way that it is now but to a lesser degree. While Trump’s rise may have led to an increase in political trolling, trolling is still used mostly to merely elicit an emotional response from people about anything rather than be specifically political.

4 comments

  1. Your video is interesting when watched in the context of your article because it presents the internet ‘trolling’ that you mention, as something that is quite politically driven. The characters in the skit are only white men, which showcases the demographic of these kinds of online ‘trolls’, and is subsequently an example of the political nature/drive behind a lot of these online interactions.

  2. In this context, can we see ‘trolling’ as a form of weaponized comedy? Not only are you trying to joke about something or someone with the intention of offense but you are trying to position yourself over those that you troll. Especially with the rise of meme culture in the alt-right, how far can we say that comedy affected how people related to Trump and how comedy was used to villainize others?

  3. While I strongly agree with you on the impact of internet trolls, do you not also think Trump’s relaxed attitude about political correctness has allowed for many to voice their same opinions even if they are harmful? Do you think people would still feel the same type of entitlement if the political climate of today wasn’t ruled by bullying and belittling?

  4. To use a more specific example, which I think is very relevant to what you discuss here, one might look to forums such as 4chan’s /pol/ to see the ‘alt-right’ humour that you mention here. While I agree that a joke alone is not harmful, the jokes that surrounded the political election all revolved around controversial topics which fed into election topics. Race, immigration, transgender rights, and criticisms of ‘liberals’ in general were a focus for /pol/ and the jokes which circulated would definitely be considered socially unacceptable if told outside of an anonymous forum. However, as Nussbaum argues, once these topics are freely discussed in the manner that they were online – they’re alt-right stances become more justifiable. Someone leaning to the right sees this and perhaps feels that this is the way people’s opinions are turning. through jokes, a public opinion, and a public sensibility is formed which played hand in hand into Trump’s rhetoric. While this wasn’t an organised movement, it was certainly influential.

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