Cultural theory of 'The Edgelord'?
April 7, 2022 6:55 AM   Subscribe

The figure of 'The Edgelord' has been gaining traction in recent years. But I haven't read anything directed specifically at (theorising) this phenomena. Do you have any recommendations?

Books, essays, YouTube polemics, podcasts etc. are all very welcome. OR The Edgelord's perceived relation to other concepts, frameworks, cultures, or pop notions.
posted by 0bvious to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
See if you can get in touch with Mark Bowker — he's recently written a paper called “Edgelording: Provoking Criticism through Offense.” Get in touch with me if you can't find him.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:27 AM on April 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

I believe he's also got a related paper about edgelording and dogwhistles.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:28 AM on April 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

How is edgelording different to devil's advocating? There may be theories about the latter.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on April 7, 2022

Edgelording is a special case of trolling. Trolls in general seek to feel superior by showing that they can upset people. Edgelords have the additional goal of wanting other people recognize that superiority.

Virtually everything you can find on trolling will cover edgelords as well.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:24 AM on April 7, 2022

A note and a redirection:

How is edgelording different to devil's advocating?

To my mind, "Devil's Advocating" may be more of a serious intent. The person who is playing a Devil's Advocate is being sincere about wanting to use it as a discourse technique - they want to engage in the conversation, and they're doing so by poking at different bits of the topic being discussed to see how the others respond; and they are open to being proved wrong or having their suppositions explained away or disproven -

"I think that if we use lime juice in this recipe instead of lemon juice, it'll still work."

"Yeah, but then you would run into trouble with someone who is allergic to limes."

"Someone who's allergic to limes would probably also be allergic to lemons too, so they wouldn't have been eating this anyway."

"Ah, okay! Good point."

...Whereas the "edgelord" is not interested in furthering the discussion, they just wanna tear shit down because they think it makes them look cool and they get off on seeing how mad people get.

"I think that if we use lime juice in this recipe instead of lemon juice it'll still work."

"LOL limes suck, they look like the Hulk's balls."

Seconding the comment on trolls, for that is exactly what Edgelords are.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:29 AM on April 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

i think:

a devil's advocate is interested in a good-faith exploration of the truth, through attacking weaknesses and highlighting negative aspects of a hypothesis or topic. the goal is truth.

an edgelord is interested in neither good-faith exploration nor truth. the goal is to seem cool and aloof though shock and contrarianism.
posted by glonous keming at 10:48 AM on April 7, 2022

In relation to the edgelord in popular culture/discourse, I would make the case that both the previous US president and the world's richest man have very strong edgelord traits, sadly.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:13 PM on April 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

As I understand it an edgelord is someone who is deliberately provocative because they think it makes them seem "edgy" and cool. I don't think it's a coincidence that "edgelord" redirects to "poseur" in wikipedia. Edgelord behavior can have the effect of stirring up shit, but isn't necessarily designed to do so. A troll, on the other hand, is someone who deliberately provocative for the express purpose of stirring up shit. I suppose the main difference is that edgelords care what people think about them whereas trolls do not.
posted by slkinsey at 1:59 PM on April 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

The RationalWiki stub defines an edgelord as "a participant in an internet forum whose contributions are deliberately designed to be offensive". See 4chan, Encyclopedia Dramatica etc.

RW asserts that the term went mainstream via the 2015 essay I’m Sarah Nyberg, and I Was A Teenage Edgelord.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 3:09 AM on April 8, 2022

I think the most important thing that distinguishes the edgelord from the troll is that the edgelord claims that they are, by some standard you would agree with if you were intellectually honest, moral, whereas you are a hypocrite. The edgelord also tries to claim that they are a truth-teller, while simultaneously demanding that they not be taken in earnest. So they are not purely about the reaction: they purport to be teaching a lesson from a position of superiority. This is why the "edge" part is important, because they take things that step or two too far beyond normal acceptability. Full gore/splatter/horror isn't edgelording IMO, there has to be some bridge to the world of the marginally acceptable. They have this in common with certain kinds of comedian.

They have something in common with Satre's famous description of the antisemite. Unserious, they seek to provoke and confuse, unbound by mundane concerns of consistency or logic, while affecting a lordly disdain.

Their motto is: I'm just saying what you're all thinking (but you're cowards).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:13 AM on April 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Elizabeth Sandifer expanded a Twitter thread on edgelords to a tiny essay:
Two phases of edgelording: the 90s, with its rise of proudly controversial content. Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Preacher, Vampire: The Masquerade, Doom. Columbine is a clear transition point here. Largely pre-Internet—certainly not dependent on the Internet. The 00s: Eminem, South Park, 4chan. The Internet is suddenly a huge part of this. Much more nihilistic.
posted by ectabo at 9:18 AM on April 8, 2022

devil's advocate is interested in a good-faith exploration of the truth
very much not my experience; in practice, equivalent to edgelording.

Definition of devil's advocate, because it may clarify
1 : a Roman Catholic official whose duty is to examine critically the evidence on which a demand for beatification or canonization rests
2 : a person who champions the less accepted cause for the sake of argument
posted by theora55 at 7:21 PM on April 8, 2022

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