Friday, June 10, 2011

Artifact from the History of Trolling, 1970

I've been spending a bunch of time poking around the wonderful site,, which curates longer works of journalism and creative non-fiction from around the internet - including some pre-internet era pieces that are available online. Recently in their archive I came across Ellen Willis' review from the NYRB of Alice's Restaurant and Easy Rider. It was fascinating to read that, watching Easy Rider at the time it came out, someone immersed in the counterculture reacted to so many things in the same way my friends and I did when I saw it for the first time in a frat house in the midwest, inexplicably going through a Phish-inspired tye-die revival in the mid-nineties. (I know, I know.) But what really made me smile was the exchange of letters between Willis and one Thomas M. Kando, of Sacramento State College. True, a few of the touches are very 1970, like addressing her as "Miss (Mrs.?) Willis" and the reference to "Momism," but by and large the whole thing could come straight out of the moderation queue of your favorite feminist blog, with a quick pause to use the search and replace function and put in "feminazi" for "women's lib" and "child support" for "alimony."

Using "females" as a pejorative noun? Check. Calling Willis emotional? Check. Saying that
because she's in "women's lib" she's not objective? Check. Heightened gestures designed to make his argument seem logical, a la a bad term paper? Double Check ("While I have not seen Alice’s Restaurant, I have gone back to see Easy Rider a second time. Therefore, although my observations will be restricted to the latter film, they will reflect thorough knowledge and deep preoccupation with the issues it raises." Yes, our Mr. Kando is more grammatically equipped than today's trolls, but is it really correct to call him a better writer? The sloppiness of today's trolls is at least less dishonest.) Mentioning that she is an "active member" of a feminist group as an accusation? Check. Accusing women of "wanting it both ways"? Check. Complaining that men have been emasculated on the basis of a comic figure from pop culture? Check (Dagwood, no less.)

Not having the option of a delete button and and IP ban, Willis responds: beautifully, of course. She even takes on Dagwood: "Who is really taking it out of Dagwood—Blondie, or his boss?" So to Willis, then, the last word:
I’m all for abolishing alimony—which is far more oppressive to second wives than to men—so long as we simultaneously abolish all job discrimination and guarantee housewives a minimum wage, higher pay for overtime, unemployment and retirement benefits, paid vacations, maternity leaves, and the right to strike. How about it, Mr. K.?
How about it, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting aside there, since she WAS a second wife. ;)

    Loved the link, thanks.