Let’s say it was 1970, and you asked me if I wanted to hear a story about trolls and snowflakes. I would have thought of “The Hobbit,” or some dark fantasy from the Brothers Grimm, and I would have said “Yes! Please!”
But it is not 1970, it is now, and if you were to ask the same question, I would say “No! No!” and perhaps add a cry of alarm.
“Troll” and “snowflake,” are two terms, among others, that have been co-opted for today’s Culture Wars, stripped of their original meanings and used to blast one’s enemies.
Used to be that a troll was some form of mythical, cave-dwelling being — ugly, and generally hostile to humanity.
My theory is that our ancient ancestral memories dimly recall when we shared the earth with several other species of humans — Neanderthals, for instance (now we are the only species left). Though evidence shows people like the Neanderthals were much more sophisticated than we give them credit for, these other species of humans were our enemies, no doubt, and back in the day they were the hated other. And so, we’ve incorporated these other people into our mythologies and folklores as brutish subterraneans, made of dirt, and out to get us, like the troll under the bridge who did battle with Billy Goat Gruff, or the three yobbos in “The Hobbit” who turned to stone when the sun hit them.
But lo, thanks to the internet, trolls have emerged as something even nastier than our folklore could imagine. A troll is now an anonymous presence on the internet, who spreads venom and hostility, fake news and slander, by posting provocative, often abusive statements on social media or websites to cause maximum disruption and opprobrium.
With all the advances and enlightenment the communications revolution of the past 20 years has brought, dark forces like the trolls have also been unleashed.
But wait, there’s more! In this new age — let’s call it the Age of Trump, just for shorthand — trolls have really come into their own. They have become weaponized, and are used in the everyday dealings of types like Vladimir Putin and Milos Yiannopoulos, to further their agendas online — to the detriment of someone else. Trolling is a zero sum game, you see. For the troll to win, someone else has to lose.
Though trolls still lurk under bridges; that is, hide in their anonymity, trolling has become a professional thing. Someone will pay you to be an online operative, spreading lies and slander that people will believe.
And there is a term for this new career option — Sock Puppet! A troll who is working to spread someone’s agenda is known as a sock puppet.
And then there is the term “snowflake,” which like “troll,” has become part of the new language of the Culture Wars.
Used to be, a snowflake was that six-sided unit of precipitation that brought such joy to children’s hearts on the night before Christmas. But now, it is a term of great scorn, generally aimed at who you consider a naïve liberal — perhaps someone who is interested in identity politics, or believes in “safe spaces” at schools.
[I don’t know — when I was in junior high school my safe space was the detention room. If I was feeling especially sensitive, I would actually try to get in trouble in class, so I would get sent to detention over noon hour. This would be preferable to risking the combat of the school yard or hallway. And one can’t go to the library every noon hour. That would have become too suspect. One needs a little bit of bad boy cachet in the detention room, to leaven that library nerdiness. But I digress.]
Astonishingly, “snowflake” has become a deadly insult. We had different insults when I was in Grade 8, but “snowflake” is a whole new way of getting under someone’s skin. Makes questioning someone’s parentage seem quaint.
The research is still pending, but I would make the rough generalization that in today’s Culture Wars, “Troll” is an insult used against the right, “snowflake” against the left. The ruthless versus the naïve. That’s the fairytale we’re living in these days.