How does the image to the left make you feel?
Certainly not good, correct?
Does it “make you sick”?
Well, good. That’s what it’s meant to do.
Now, how about these next three sentences, minus any images?
Smoking is bad for you. Smoking can cause cancer. You shouldn’t smoke.
Are you moved? Did your stomach lurch as you read those words? My guess is probably not. In fact, I bet you spent more timing looking at, or away from, the nauseating sight of cancerous lungs than you did reading those factual statements about smoking. The image of lung cancer alone conveys the gist of the three sentences far more efficiently than their text could, and its ghastly appearance holds a person’s focus stronger than a string of text does. When you add some text to the image, you wind up with an effective, reinforced message. A message that makes for a powerful one-two punch to have in one’s arsenal, whether as a less mundane way to disseminate information, or as a means of trolling.
Actually, the lung cancer image is in itself a good example of a combination of those two uses.
The intent to transfer information is fairly obvious; it says “Smoking makes you sick.” right on it. BAM,information successfully transferred, objective one accomplished. The trolling aspect, however, is a bit more involved and requires some information on how trolls work. While I’ve covered this territory in a few previousarticles, I recently became aware of a study on the subject and have decided that I’d rather use their easily quotable material than go back and dig through mine. ….What? It’s 6:30 in the morning and I’m lazy. Plus, the study comes from a university, and everyone knows that academics are master trolls.
Anyway, here’s the pertinent quote from “The Seven Deadly Trolling Sins“:
5: Shocking others by being insensitive about sensitive topics, explicit about taboo topics, etc.
This appears to succeed mainly due to the strength of feeling provoked by the deeply personal and extraordinarily hurtful nature of the troll’s insensitivity. It triggers a desire to retaliate that is stronger than the desire to deny the troll the satisfaction of a response.
Things don’t get much taboo-er than sickness and death, both of which are conjured up by the image of diseased lungs. It brings to the fore both your own mortality, and the possibility of a painful, agonizing death, something that most people really don’t enjoy thinking about. It also presents a shockingly gross visual of viscera that most people just don’t see everyday. A person thinking about their death, or even just being grossed out by the picture, is exactly the kind of response the creators of the image wanted, as well as the goal of trolls everywhere: gaining the satisfaction that they made you uncomfortable and caused you to react. But it’s not just anti-smoking groups and internet trolls that use these “shock and ugh” tactics. Commercials for both the ASPCA (the ones with the injured animals and Sarah McLachlan music) and the numerous class action lawsuit firms (Have you or a family member DIED due to x?!) operate under the same premise. This tactic is so effective, literally millions of groups and individuals use it.
And so do I.
I use it a lot, particularly when it comes to countertrolling for the Pro-Life cause. And when I use it, I use it with intent to disturb, dissuade, and dishearten those who advocate for abortion. I’m not proud to admit it, but I have a file specifically for those circumstances, a file that contains numerous gut-wrenching images of aborted babies, images that are effective in making all but the most desensitized people cringe. When I encounter an acolyte of the baby murder cult, I will often add a visual reminder of what horrors their cause facilitates in addition to trolling them through traditional means. But a lot of the time, the image is enough. People aren’t prepared to see those kinds of images, and your run-of-the-mill abortion supporter is no different. In fact, because their movement has so sterilized the concept of infanticide, I’ve found that average kool-aid drinking “pro-choicers” are incredibly susceptible to the kind of psychological attack that such pictures provide.
And so I use those pictures. And they are awful. And they hurt.
But then again, there were at least 784,507 American victims of abortion in 2009, I think their lives are worth hurting some feelings over.