Almost two years ago, the feminist writer Irin Carmon wrote an insightful piece for Jezebel titled "The Daily Show's Woman Problem." She soon paid a price.
For having the audacity to call out liberal Shibboleth Jon Stewart about “The Daily Show’s” “Mad Men”-era gender hiring practices, Carmon became the target of an all-out Internet flame war. As often is the case with these things, the ad hominem attacks went way beyond her theme or even her writing ability, and straight to her viability as a human life form breathing precious air. You know how the Interwebz do.
So when Carmon notes that Internet flame wars aren’t necessarily a bad thing, you can bet she’s given it some thought.
Some writers drop flame bait, others just constantly "troll." Either way, there's a deliberate pushing of buttons for the purpose of causing outrage and attracting attention. Though construed as useless, time-consuming and distracting, in the not-so-humble opinions of many, this behavior can also be a force for good, Carmon argues.
First and foremost, they sometimes open up a space for a conversation that might not have occurred otherwise.
In Carmon's “Daily Show” piece, she noted that the Comedy Central showcase has a nearly all-male, on-air staff. With the exception of Samantha Bee, the then-recent hire of Olivia Munn was the first new female correspondent in seven years. “As fiercely liberal and sharp-eyed an observer as Jon Stewart can be, getting women on the air may be his major blind spot,” she wrote.
At South by Southwest Interactive, Carmon led a panel extolling the virtues of Internet rage, while noting the downsides. Titled “Curing a Rage Headache: Internet Drama & Activism,” Carmon and other media members, each of whom has been involved in their own popcorn-passing drama in virtual space, discussed how the attention generated by thousands of angry, irrational and completely engaged Internet users posting vicious comments can lead not just to indigestion, but also to positive change.
“I am tired of watching racism, sexism, patriarchism and religious bigotry” going unchecked, Carmon said. Then she brought up Rush Limbaugh.
There was a recent story in Gawker by John Cook titled, “Only You Can End the Tragic Cycle of Rush Limbaugh’s Trolling.” Cook’s story described the advertiser boycott of Limbaugh after he called Sandra Fluke — the Georgetown grad student who was denied the right to testify at the House Oversight Committee's hearing on contraceptives — a “slut.” Cook's point was that by ignoring Limbaugh, non-trolls can take away his power.
Carmon, however, says that while the sudden surprise over Limbaugh’s typical brand of ugly rhetoric (one that he's been shilling for years) may seem hypocritical and ridiculous, it forces a discussion on a topic — overt sexism — that goes largely ignored.
In the cacophony arising from the Limbaugh "slut" scandal, “we learn something behind the public policies of women that have been going on for a long time," says Carmon. Though it was clearly not his intention, Limbaugh has brought awareness to little-known state laws about abortion that are now receiving fresh scrutiny. Thanks, Rush — keep a-trollin'!
More stories about life on the Internet from msnbc.com:
- Occupy SXSW? A highspeed connection to Austin's class divide
- Ambient apps are the 'Highlight' of SXSW Interactive
- Rainn Wilson smashes guitars, blows your mind
- Porcine abomination and other things I fear at SXSW, the nerd's Woodstock
- Nerd king Joss Whedon loves you, too