Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, which is an ancient way of saying ‘Don’t feed the trolls.’—Anonymous
Somewhere, well back into the mid-1960s, my parents gave me a paperback book with a yellow cover. I still remember the event clearly. We were on our way to visit one of my aunts and, presumably, they gave me the book to keep me quiet and out of the way. The trick worked. I can only assume now that we were visiting my aunt for rather serious reasons. She was the single mother of five, her husband having abandoned her when the youngest was but a few months old. Single moms were rare back then, and the challenges she faced were significant. We visited often, and I would assume now that those visits were not necessarily social, but more to help with various issues. Therefore, keeping me quiet and out of the way was beneficial.
The short title of the book is Goops and How To Be Them by Gelett Burgess. The complete title, though, is: Goops and How To Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants Inculcating Many Juvenile Virtues Both By Precept and Example, With Ninety Drawings. Yes, the title is almost as long as the book itself. First published in 1900, there can be an occasional challenge in how some words are defined. For example, when he uses the term “infants,” he’s referring to any child not yet in school. The book is meant to be humorous, to be sure. After all, this is the same person who gave us that poem about a purple cow. Yet, the manners he prescribes are timeless. The book starts like this:
Let me introduce a Race
Void of Beauty and of Grace,
With a Paucity of Features.
Though their Forms are fashioned ill,
They have Manners stranger still;
For in Rudeness they’re Precocious,
They’re Atrocious, they’re Ferocious
Yet you’ll learn, if you are Bright
Politeness from the Impolite.
When you’ve finished with the Book,
At your Conduct take a Look;
Ask yourself, upon the Spot,
Are you Goopy or are you Not?
For, although it’s Fun to See them
It is Terrible to Be them!
The book was out of print for several years, so I was not able to give a copy to my own boys. Thankfully, a 2014 reprint is now for sale and I’m thinking of a certain seven-year-old who might well benefit from having a personal copy of this particular volume. The lessons truly are well worth the effort.
Yet, as I look back over the title now, considering where and what we are as a society so deeply embedded in digital content and social media, I wonder if Burgess, were he alive today, might re-work the title as Trolls and How To Be Them. After all, or so it would seem, Internet trolls and Goops would have a great deal in common. In fact, it may well be that the infantile Goops grow up to be the adolescent trolls and, no matter their age, never seem to grow beyond that stage of development. While their adult-sized bodies may be large and misshaped, trolls never really grow up. They never assume responsibility, they don’t take care of their own business because they’re too concerned about everyone else’s, and they never socialize with friends because even trolls don’t like being around other trolls. They’re Goops, to be sure, just in larger bodies.
I apologize for not writing this next section in verse, something at which Burgess was especially talented, but let’s consider for a moment some of the ways Goops and trolls are alike.
- They are aggressive and rude. Goops pull on little girls curls, and trolls enjoy making fun of women’s features in general, body shaming every aspect bust especially focusing on faces, breasts, and hips.
- Goops and trolls go out of their way to create trouble. Goops might trip someone walking or push them in the mud. Trolls hurl verbal mud at the nicest of people and then berate them for being “dirty.”
- Both Goops and trolls enjoy their ignorance. Goops tear up books and pay no attention to teachers. Trolls delight in spreading rumor and innuendo without bothering to check their facts and are consistently unable to provide a reliable source to back up their comments.
- Neither are respectful of authority. Goops are disobedient and don’t listen to their parents. Trolls don’t care about community standards and challenge administrators and managers charged with moderating comments. Trolls also enjoy attacking anyone in a position of authority, from the President or Prime Minister to the manager of the local burger joint.
- They think only of themselves and the things that bring them pleasure. Goops are lazy, never helpful, and want everything done for them. Trolls provide no benefit and tear people down rather than build them up. Trolls never have anything positive to say.
Trolls are nasty creatures and I am constantly astonished at how they are tolerated in places they don’t belong. You may or may not have noticed that I don’t provide for commenting on any of my articles. Goops and trolls are a large part of why that feature is not present here. I struggle to understand why it is present on things such as news stories or magazine articles. Why are comments necessary at all? If one has a legitimate disagreement, then make appropriate contact through appropriate channels. Trolling comments serve no beneficial purpose at all.
Burgess created Goops as an object lesson. He featured them in a comic strip for about a year and I do desperately wish that those would make a renewed appearance. I think we might learn a lot about how we should behave. Perhaps, just maybe, they might teach us how to not be trolls.