Existentialism and the Paradigm of Trolls, Musicians and Union Labor


fry-trollAs regular readers might know, I am an avid follower of internet culture, especially meme humor. What I find most fascinating is how some meme-based concepts evolve and take root into the broader, popular culture.

Internet trolling (or just trolling) is one such phenomena. While there is nothing new or novel about playing pranks, trolling has evolved into a viable means for any person – rightly or wrongly – to play out a big joke and gain wide public attention in the process.

Like it or not, it is a behavior that will most likely increase over time; in tandem with population growth, faster bandwidths and greater connectivity.

What, you mad?

The art of trolling begins with an online work — a video, graphic or article, as examples — that uses hyperbole in a way to elicit a strong reaction. The joke and its public reaction perpetuate through random people sharing it on blogs, personal web sites, forums and social media outlets.


The catch-phrase “what, you mad?” is often associated with the troll meme (pictured at right).

It has more-or-less taken on the same meaning as a quotation from MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, dating from the 1950’s:

What, me worry?

While it cannot be said that one phrase might be rooted in the other, the resemblance is notable. The general sentiment is virtually the same.

Trolls and sunlight

American symphony orchestras and union labor have had a rough few years in terms of contract negotiations, work stoppages and settlements. There is no shortage of bad news to be found online and now, we seem to have trolls getting into the mix.

Examples in varying degrees can be seen hereover here and also here, and even some of the more well-known commentators will engage in trollish behavior as a means to agitate, garner attention and increase readership.

The normal response to troll behavior involves logic and a systematic dissection of their trolled-out facts. The assumption is that if enough light is focused on the troll, it will turn to stone and crumble to dust.

The more common response however, is anger and outrage.

“Welcome,” says the spider to the fly

The problem with responses like these, however well-intended, is that they play directly into the trolling mindset and its pursuit of confrontation and mayhem for pure entertainment value.


In other words, taking a troll seriously perpetuates the joke that:

  • People are easily provoked into outrage
  • Conflict is darkly entertaining
  • People love to hear juicy gossip
  • Facts and truth are irrelevant
  • It’s the game that counts

Root questions

Perhaps then, a more productive course would be to look inward into why this is happening, and why it is happening now.

Perhaps there is an existential cause to be rooted out. Perhaps the vitriol against unions and classical music is an indicator of a deeper problem. Deeper questions may need to be asked and perhaps, these questions need to be framed within our contemporary society and its current climate.

Questions such as:

  • What is at the root of this vitriol being hurled towards musicians and union labor?
  • Is there a connection between this sentiment and the rapid decline of school music programs?
  • Do symphony musicians have a public relations problem?
  • Why are trolls taken seriously? What nerve is being hit?
  • Is there a way to turn this trend into an opportunity?

What a troll says or does is really not so important. More noteworthy and interesting is the sentiment boiling beneath the surface.

University of Horn Matters