YouTube comments ain’t what they used to be—and that’s no accident.
Let your eyes wander below a popular video, and you’ll see her: Berta Lovejoy, Feminist, Promoter of Peace, Love, and Equality.
The militia’s recruits are mostly self-proclaimed Good Guy Gregs, astute intellectuals (minimum IQ 150), katana experts, meme connoisseurs, atheists, fedora aficionados, and gilded redditors. They are proud to moderate some of the most esteemed subreddits.
Le Reddit Armie is probably best described as a collection of meta-ironic parody accounts.
Despite dismissals and suggestions to the contrary, these commenters are not from 4chan or 9gag; they are active members of the Reddit community.
Le Reddit Armie is probably best described as a collection of meta-ironic parody accounts. They simultaneously lampoon both what they suspect a non-redditor’s perception of the Reddit community to be (neckbeard atheist intellectuals with a penchant for fedoras) and the idiosyncratic expressions, running gags, neologisms, or cultural references that actually thrive on the site. They screengrab their YouTube victories—the comments that receive the most attention—and collate their activities on the r/RedditArmie sub, rarely breaking character in the process.
The signifiers of Reddit’s culture are recursively regurgitated until reduced to mere absurdity.
And as with any online crew, Le Reddit Armie can attract those of varying comedic ability or ethics, with some capitalizing on a perceived carte blanche to mock minorities under the mask of a particularized humor. Such posts range from ill-informed attempts at shock comedy to manifestations of genuine bigotry. And while content of his sort is criticized by other Reddit Armie members as violating the social code—and the mods take seriously any calls to action, deleting posts which encourage brigading—Le Reddit Armie faces the same challenges as other Reddit subcultures, and therefore reflects the wider difficulties that come along as a result of a laissez-faire, if well-intentioned, administrative structure.
Are they trolls?
So: Are Armie members trolls? Trolling is a word that has taken on a wide, nebulous meaning, but at a very basic level it implies provocative action undertaken in the hopes of a visceral response. But some of the more successful Reddit Armie contributors can be socially useful, distinguishing their activity from that of nefarious troublemakers.
In the tradition of the masterful Yahoo comment troll Ken M, posts by Berta et al. serve as reminders to those browsing YouTube comments to interpret the chatter and banality there accordingly. By commenting in character, they puncture persistent negative stereotypes, making such characterizations absurd—in Berta’s case, the straw feminist. Likewise, the Armie’s frequent, baseless calls for censorship serve to point out the inherent conservatism in such gauche proclamations.
While causing annoyance to someone who wants to browse YouTube in peace—someone has gone to the trouble of making a browser extension to block the fedoras (reviews of which got trolled, naturally)—there seems to be an growing appreciation for the joke, with some comments regularly attracting hundreds of upvotes. And, whether intentional or not, this is worth consideration, as the social processes involved in these pranks go a long way toward explaining the general function of online wit.
Taking a view that creativity and comedy are context-dependent, incongruous humor is successful when it tests but does not rupture social codes. It’s integral to community building. Comedy therefore matters—in Internet chatter as in oratory—as jointly constructed gags allow for collective experiences. It is no coincidence that wordplay occurs in all languages, as jokes are communication devices that facilitate social interactions. Considered more broadly, jokes perceived as entertainment also provide arenas in which hotly contested issues are negotiated.
Illustration by Jason Reed