Brendan Gauthier

A Tragic Tale of Tools

#lulz | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of frame from FLCL episode 2, 'Firestarter'.

Trying to explain #pizzagate reminds of an old lyricα: “Baring your soul was the in thing to do. It’s fun and it’s easy for an empty-headed fool.” And it’s true, those recalling the period closely―and thus painfully―enough, yes, the line works well enough. Indeed, we might cringe recalling Iron John and the mythic Fire in the Belly, but the vinyl memory also brings to mind a trend of men exploring their feelings, shedding fear about shedding tears, and, of course, reinforcing the stereotypes they would ostensibly otherwise break by pursuing their feminine sides. It is then, merely coincidental―or, you know, not, given how the interconnectedness of all things is most affecting of our lives when asserting through the historical record―that scattershot assertions of traditional masculinity find themselves so close to an invented scandal asserting child sexual exploitation by one group while relying on an opposing group wallowing in child rape fantasies.

Never mind. Andrew Breiner takes his turn for Salon:

But a small number of people on message boards like 4chan and Reddit were more interested in seemingly mundane emails about small social gatherings and parties hosted by Podesta and his friends. Specifically, they noticed that these emails mentioned pizza a few times.

Boldly disregarding the simple explanation that the emailers, like most Americans, eat pizza regularly and find it to be an easy food to serve and eat while socializing, self-appointed Internet detectives decided that “pizza” was a complex code for pedophilia. Using this code, Pizzagaters claim, Podesta and his well-heeled pals could brazenly discuss their plans for throwing disgusting sex parties exploiting enslaved children, in between exchanges about Clinton’s campaign strategy and setting up conference calls.

It’s important to note that since the theories that would become Pizzagate began on 4chan and Reddit, sites known for trolling people with cruel, complicated pranks, it’s likely that many of the conspiracy theory’s originators were joking―coming up with absurdities to entertain themselves.

But it took a very short time for /r/Pizzagate, the now-closed Pizzagate-focused Reddit subforum, or subreddit, to fill with people who appeared to be true believers. The theory also became popular on Reddit’s “The Donald,” a hub for Trump supporters. From there, Pizzagate caught the attention of conservative fake news sites, minor white supremacist celebrities, and supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It’s been amplified for unknown reasons by Twitter bots traced to the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Vietnam.

To the one, we can only reiterate the question of whether or not Trump supporters are complaisant assets to the machinations of international interests, but perhaps more importantly we should note, to the other, the question of lulz.

That is to say, we might recall Brendan Gauthier’s report for Salon in September:

Perhaps the most noteworthy admission came from a 4chan user who openly acknowledged the big scary alt-right’s satirical (and inflammatory) edge: “CTR shills still not realising that pol is a board of satire and our only mission is to meme the retarded manchild to the white house for the lulz.”

This is one of those weird facets we might wish to pay some attention to. Overseas twitterbots are sufficient to move a soft-headed religious fanatic to terrorize a pizzeria as a means of taking up arms against Hillary Clinton; the lulzaholics ought to be proud, but what about the rest of Donald Trump’s supporters?

In the end, it’s all the same. They get played by Russian trolls, international misinformation bloggers, and botnets around the world because they want to.

It is easy enough to remind that it always has been about supremacism and lulz; as the excuses fall away, what else will be left?

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α Memory insists it comes from a Seattle band from the late eighties into the early nineties called Chemistry Set, but that vinyl echo is really dusty.

Image note: Naota gets screwed. (Detail of frame from FLCL episode 2, “Fire Starter”.)

Breiner, Andrew. “Pizzagate, explained: Everything you want to know about the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria conspiracy theory but are too afraid to search for on Reddit”. Salon. 10 Deceember 2016.

Gauthier, Brendan. “Pepe’s post-debate identity crisis: Online alt-right turns on Donald Trump after his presidential debate fiasco”. Salon. 27 September 2016.

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The Donald Trump Show (Piling On)

Melania Trump discusses her husband, Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, during an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, 17 October 2016.

To the one, there was no particular (ahem!) “Gary Hart moment” by which Donald Trump explicitly dared the press to do anything … or, you know, maybe there was and … and … I mean, come on, really, it would be easy to miss. After all, the Republican nominee has pretty much declared war against the press. As proverbial shows go, it would seem someone finallyα, took away Trump’s Twitter, which is probably for the best when we pause to consider the idea of a man who “privately muses about all the ways he will punish his enemies after Election Day”, as the New York Times explains, “including a threat to fund a ‘super PAC’ with vengeance as its core mission”.

Setting aside the thought that, “Of course he would”, it always occurs to wonder just how often, within whatever schematic or flow chart or whatever else by which they define their expectations, any given bully so utterly fails to account for the idea that maybe the objects of belligerence might occasionally fight back. That is to say, what does he expect the press will do?

To wit, it’s not like they didn’t have any warning; Associated Press made clear they were onto the story of Melania Trump’s immigration and work history months ago; Alicia A. Caldwell, Chad Day, and Jake Pearson delivered the confirmation of what everyone already kind of suspected:

Melania Trump was paid for 10 modeling jobs in the United States worth $20,056 that occurred in the seven weeks before she had legal permission to work in the country, according to detailed accounting ledgers, contracts and related documents from 20 years ago provided to The Associated Press.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers a question at a news conference before a campaign rally in Hampton, New Hampshire, 14 August 2015. (Detail of photo by Reuters/Brian Snyder)The details of Mrs. Trump’s early paid modeling work in the U.S. emerged in the final days of a bitter presidential campaign in which her husband, Donald Trump, has taken a hard line on immigration laws and those who violate them. Trump has proposed broader use of the government’s E-verify system allowing employers to check whether job applicants are authorized to work. He has noted that federal law prohibits illegally paying immigrants.

Mrs. Trump, who received a green card in March 2001 and became a U.S. citizen in 2006, has always maintained that she arrived in the country legally and never violated the terms of her immigration status. During the presidential campaign, she has cited her story to defend her husband’s hard line on immigration.

This is what I don’t get: Why? To the one, is it at all possible for any realistic person capable of running a business scheme like Donald Trump’s to expect that the press somehow would not or could not find this? To the other, in fairness, it is entirely possible that the GOP nominee didn’t know; it is entirely possible he is surrounded by so many yea-sayers that he has no idea what is going on, even with his own wife. To the beeblebrox, neither does the other preclude the one.

Honestly, only American conservatives could accomplish … well, this. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Donald Trump Show.

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α GOP strategist Mike Murphy, on msnbc last month after the vice presidential debate:

“Trump is a genius at stepping on his own messaging, and I don’t think there’s a force on Earth, at least without heavy weaponry, that can ever separate Trump from his ability to tweet. I think everybody in that campaign is trying to pry the smartphone away from him, and it’ll never happen.”

Image note: Top ― Melania Trump discusses her husband, Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, during an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN, 17 October 2016. Right ― U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump answers a question at a news conference before a campaign rally in Hampton, New Hampshire, 14 August 2015. (Detail of photo by Reuters/Brian Snyder)

Caldwell, Alicia A., Chad Day, and Jake Pearson. “Melania Trump modeled in US prior to getting work visa”. The Big Story. 4 November 2016.

Day, Chad, Jeff Horwitz, and Alicia A. Caldwell. “Former modeling agent says he got Melania Trump’s visa”. The Big Story. 4 August 2016.

Gauthier, Brendan. “WATCH: Journalist Katy Tur responds after Donald Trump bullies her in front of 4,000 people”. Salon. 3 November 2016.

Haberman, Maggie, et al. “Inside Donald Trump’s Last Stand: An Anxious Nominee Seeks Assurance”. The New York Times. 7 November 2016.

Sheehy, Gail. “The Road To Bimini”. Vanity Fair. 1 September 1987.

An Unfinished Sketch (Trumping the Polls)

[An unfinished sketch of a post; the text file says 13 October. This is just how it goes sometimes; it’s exhausting trying to keep up―you might have noticed we haven’t. Still, herein we find a glimpse of the moment, recorded for the sake of the historical record, and, you know, not really so much my ego, since this could have afforded some better planning and writing.] (more…)

The Donald Trump Show (Blood & Cannon)

Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listen to a question during the town hall debate at Washington University, 9 October 2016, in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Saul Loeb/Pool/Getty Images)

It is not entirely certain just how we ought to take James Oliphant’s headline for Reuters, “Trump may have stopped the bleeding, but not the worrying”. The lede is one of those double-takes, not because it is unbelievable but because it seems worth checking to make certain you read it correctly:

Donald Trump may have done just enough in Sunday’s presidential debate to keep his leaky presidential campaign afloat―and that may have put Republicans considering abandoning him in an even tougher position.

It is, in fact, a reasonable thesis but not exactly reflective of the headline. Indeed, the most curious thing about bleeding is just how the Trump campaign is bleeding, or not, might well be the section header, “Red Meat for the Base”, describing the last third of the article, and here Oliphant brings the point home:

Against this backdrop of panic and condemnation, Trump on Sunday sought to rally the party’s base with a fresh barrage of provocative attacks on Clinton that will give the media something other than the tape to talk about.

He offered a blistering critique of her handling of foreign policy while the country’s chief diplomat and brought his rally cry for her to be jailed to the debate stage. He also carried out a threat to make an issue of her husband’s sexual history.

In doing so, Trump may have stopped the bleeding, but he did nothing to stop the worrying.

The base. Donald Trump stopped the bleeding, but not the worrying, among his base? Suddenly the lede, with Mr. Trump having “done just enough” to “keep his leaky presidential campaign afloat”, seems nearly an overstatement. That is to say: What counts as afloat?

(more…)

The Donald Trump Show (Troll Dumb)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a rally in Fredricksburg, Virginia, 20 August 2016. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)

Sometimes we think we notice something. Sometimes we know we see something. But even that setup is a bit overdone, because the truth is that proving the point often requires a lot of effort, and many of us live in a modern, twenty-first century America in which such effort is considered suspect. To the other, right now Donald Trump is making it easy.

Trump framed his campaign as a serious White House bid, one that could be his only shot at the presidency, while dismissing Clinton’s run as the most “unserious” campaign in American history.

The detail from Nolan McCaskill of Politico is just one small paragraph amid a litany of trumptastic absurdity, but it does remind that Donald Trump is the candidate of internet trolls.

Basic rubber-glue retort is a bizarre tactic in any allegedly adult conversation, but one that has been around pretty much the whole time, and the only really strange thing about the internet version is that it is so straightforward. There is a variation where one pretends to not understand the difference, for instance, and then there is straightforward rubber-glue; both require the retort to ignore the accuracy of the perceived insult such that if you catch one in a lie and call it out, whether the retort is to call you a liar or an asshole, the justification will be the same, that you insulted someone by calling them a liar, therefore they are returning the favor. That is to say, that you caught someone in a lie makes no difference; as far as this behavior is concerned, if one is offended by an accurate description of behavior―e.g., racist, sexist, bigoted, dishonest, &c.―the perception of offense is the only relevant aspect.

We’ve been seeing bits of the trolldom percolating up the discourse, and especially from the right wing.

Think of it this way, if the question was white supremacism, and the white supremacist retorted, “Yeah? Well … well, you’re just … just … just racist!” it wouldn’t be the familiar canard about how refusing racism is itself bigoted, or refusing racism is racist against the white race. This would be a racist calling you a racist because you called out racism. This isn’t calling you an asshole because you’re an asshole, per se. This is about calling you an asshole because calling white supremacism racist isn’t nice, and since you said something not nice the white supremacist gets to say something not nice in return.

Yes, it really is this … this … well, that’s the thing. We might say “infantile” but what did infants ever do to deserve the insult?

This is Donald Trump, and he expresses traditional American values. And I’m not joking about that; this is what the bullies always were, and it’s all they ever had, and now that they are losing their traditional privileges under law and custom, now that nobody else is nodding and winking along with them this is all they have left.

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Image note: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a rally in Fredricksburg, Virginia, 20 August 2016. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)

Gauthier, Brendan. “Pepe’s post-debate identity crisis: Online alt-right turns on Donald Trump after his presidential debate fiasco”. Salon. 27 September 2016.

McCaskill, Nolan D. “Trump calls out Clinton’s ‘unserious’ campaign”. Politico. 29 September 2016.