Friday, August 19, 2011

Post-Kanye Kanye: How He Learned to Stop Trolling & Love the Haters

My friend Ben at his blog Uninterpretative! wrote a recent lengthy response to my short commentary on Cher Lloyd’s hit UK single, “Swagger Jagger.” He states:

"I'm really interested in this song as an extension of the claim I was trying to make about a Post-Kanye aesthetic in rap, defined by a structural shift from the hater as antagonist to the hater as primary site of value production. This song seems to possess that shift as an already complete ideological imprint - it is, as it were, the 'common sense' of the song that the ephemeral 'hater' is a source of value. 
"These two points - that of the 'hater' as primary creator of value, and swagger as (might I go so far as to say fetishized?) labour - seem to me to be indispensable to an understanding of this song, and the milieu out of which it rises."

I wanted to do him the courtesy of writing an even lengthier response which further develops his theory of a Post-Kanye aesthetic in hip hop, and how that relates to our broader contemporary ideological paradigm.


In my view, the labor of the hater, and by extension the bourgeois of the "troll," translates into the libidinal economy of “schadenfreude,” a German word translated into English as “the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.” 

It is an economy of desire whose basis of “production” is predicated on the perpetuation of negative externalities (the suffering of others) and speculative short-term value (doing it for the “lulz”.)

Cher Lloyd is merely the corporate manifestation of the bourgeois “troll,” who uses the labor of the hater to generate temporary fame and market value via notoriety. This is evidenced by the fact that “Swagger Jagger” reached #1 on the UK’s Singles Chart, despite the overwhelming amount of “dislikes” (121,837) compared to “likes” (63,616) on the song’s YouTube page.


"To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish." - Arthur Schopenhauer

When I think of a hater, a few essential characteristics come to mind.

The hater is powerless in everyday life; he is resentful due to his own lack of political efficacy; he is uncritical in his critique, and is a sophist as opposed to a philosopher; and he has ultimately been wronged in the past, and is eager to project his insecurities in the form of envy.

In an era where the majority of youth are jobless, socially disenfranchized, and politically powerless (see:  London rioters), it doesn't surprise me that the primary site of value production comes from haters.

Thus, in my perspective, the hater’s work is always-already proletarianized by the "swagger" trolls who condition their envy. Not only does the hater wield the instruments of hate, he himself becomes an instrument of hate---and in the case of Cher Lloyd, one that is used in the service of corporate marketing.

The hater does a type of "work" that does nothing to benefit himself or society, other than to function as a scapegoat and a producer of negative affection.  It is not a kind of work that produces “savoir-faire” (ways of knowing) and “savor-vivre” (ways of living)---in fact, it is just the opposite, in that it disinvests the one doing the hating of any work towards self-knowledge/self-improvement.

I should mention that by no means am I intending to "naturalize" the hater's work.  Haters often have a reason to hate, and a "troll" who baits them into their haterdom---precisely in order to generate value via short-term notoriety for a self-serving agenda which only further destroys the livelihood of the hater-laborer, perpetuating his hatred.

Just think of Republicans, FOX News, and the British conservatives condemning the London rioters as barbarians, and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

With that said, trolling haters is neither a craft, a skill, nor a trade. It does not create, it only destroys. It is the antithesis to art---it is death.



1. I would like to argue that the internet provides the perfect outlet for this libidinal economy of schadenfreude to thrive. This is in that the web, with its default recourse to anonymity, precludes personal responsibility for one’s actions, making it an abundant playground for trolls and their subsequent haters to thrive in. The hacker group “Anonymous” is one manifestation of this tendency, in that their primary motivation is not to benefit people or society, but to “do it for the lulz.” They are essentially trolls in hiding who “Profit!!!” from the suffering of others.  (Their move towards hacktivism and political protest, while commendable and valuable, appears only to be a secondary phenomenon to the trolling which they spawned from.)

2. The libidinal economy of schadenfreude---based on envy, anger, and general negativity---is the equivalent of trying to cash in on thousands of bad checks. Perhaps an even better analogy in light of recent events is to compare it to deficit spending, and the raising of a debt ceiling so that one can continue to invest with toxic assets.  Eventually that bullshit has to bounce. It is unsustainable, and destroys the social base on which all production is founded.

3. To illustrate how the libidinal economy of haterdom/trolling is unsustainable, think of those figures who benefit from the liquidation of a “real economy” of production, such as repo-men and pawn brokers. What happens when no one has stuff left to repossess or to pawn? When the bank and/or pawn shop owns all of the assets, what happens to the basis of the economy (exchange?). 

When envy and schadenfreude destroy the broader libidinal economy whose basis is the exchange of desires, what happens?---stratification into self-doubt, self-loathing, and paradoxical self-obsession, in which personal insecurities disinvest the social strata of their ability to "build" in a trans-individual manner.


Kanye and the Dharma

I believe what is needed now more than ever is a libidinal economy of “metta,” or loving-kindness---that is, of beatitude, OMs, blessings, good-will and understanding---essentially, the foundation for an economy of contribution “in which to economize means ‘to take care’” of both the world and the people in it (Bernard Stiegler).

Along with “karuna,” (compassion: “the hope that a person's sufferings will diminish”), “mudita” (empathetic joy: "the wholesome attitude of rejoicing in the happiness and virtues of all sentient beings."), and “upekkha” (equnamity: "not to distinguish between friend, enemy or stranger, but regard every sentient being as equal”)---these “Four Immeasurable Virtues” form the basis of a prefigurative politics, whose infinite objects of desire are capable of producing trans-individual “hopes for the future,” in the Husserlian sense of protentions. These are powerful and ancient ideational strctures that have the capability of restoring momentum to a libidinal economy on which “real” economies of (industrial, social, and psychic) production depend upon.

With that said, I am not a Buddhist.  But certainly, I believe there is something life-affirming and libidinally productive about the Four Immeasurables. Oddly enough, insight into these virtues is also the reason why I’m beginning to like Kanye more as both an artist and a person.

Despite Kanye’s lack of tact, moral deficiencies, and personal blunders, he has always made a point to publicly apologize for his actions and to take responsibility for his past indiscretions.

For example, in the song “New Day” on Watch the Throne, he describes the life of his unborn son via the trope of “the sins of the father” as a thinly veiled conceit for acknowledging his insecurities and admitting regret towards his unscrupulous deeds---in particular, declaring that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” on a national telethon:

And I’ll never let my son have an ego
He’ll be nice to everyone, wherever we go
I mean I might even make him be Republican
So everybody know he love white people
And I’ll never let him leave his college girlfriend
And get caught up with the groupies in the whirlwind
And I’ll never let him ever hit the telethon
I mean even if people dyin’ and the world ends
See, I just want him to have an easy life
Not like Yeezy life, just want him to be someone people like
Don’t want him to be hated all the time judged
Don’t be like your daddy that would never budge (“New Day,” Kanye West)

I admit, when Kanye says “I <3 Haters,” it can definitely be read as a method of trolling that utilizes the envy of haters to produce a kind of notoriety that he can profit from. But taken in another context, couldn’t it just as well be a sincere and almost Christ-like manner of speaking?

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44, King James Bible)

To end, I quote from a friend of mine on Facebook, whose recent status update puts what I’m preaching into applicable practice, and which may help (us) proletarianized haters into reclaiming the means to (libidinal) production:

"So often we spend time acknowledging the presence of 'haters' and all the negativity they send our way but we don’t take the time to acknowledge and appreciate all the ones who love and support us and supply us with the positive energy we need to overcome."

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