Donald Glover’s Atlanta hasn’t stopped breaking boundaries since it’s double debut a few weeks ago. Now in its fourth episode, the writers have fittingly chosen to attack the ‘fourth wall,’ as they introduce Zan aka #Zansexual, a character with a real life Instagram account who makes Vine videos with real life child social media star, Bankroll PJ. Not only does this give Atlanta a whole new dimension, one which quite literally crawls out of our TV screens like Samara and into our hand-held social media trackers, but it also introduces the show's first villain who of course, keeping up current trends, is an A-grade internet Troll.
Zan, a.k.a #Zansexual, aka @ZanLivesMatter, embodies everything we love to hate about social media, and then some. Introduced at the very beginning of the episode, he worms his way into Paperboi’s inner sanctum and from that point on trolls him —hard. Insufferable, tactless and completely real, Zan demonstrates that the real threat to humanity in 2016 is not global warming, terrorism or disease, it’s the annihilation of our digital identity’s reputation, and of course our bruised post-troll feelings. So, giving him exactly what he wants, lets take a closer look at exactly how Zan gave us a masterclass in internet trolling, because it’s always better to keep your friends close and your enemies closer…right?
Step 1: Get To Know Your Victim
- Introduce Yourself
Wasting absolutely no time introducing us to our villainous troll master, Zan appears (literally) right at the start of the show - and his entrance tells us everything. Creepily sidling up to Alfred and Earn from the shadows as they share a smoke outside a small concert venue, Zan makes himself known by laughing along with them to a joke they shared, that he didn’t hear.
Now, in my experience, is this or is this not essentially the definition of a Retweet? After telling the bemused cousins his name, he reveals that he knows Paperboi’s (Alfred’s) work — and likes it. This is closely followed by a failed attempt to give Alfred and Earn one of his customized beanies, adorned with wonderfully personalized hashtags such as #Zansexual, #Zanlife and #Zanstan. Cue all of the alarm bells.
- Soften Your Victims Up
Reluctant to give up on his prey, Zan attempts to soften up his potential victims by showing them a rather on-point Arthur Meme (which the producers changed from this image in the original episode’s promo), and inadvertently reveals to the viewers his real-life Insta handle, the incredibly insensitive @ZanLivesMatter.
Hear that? That’s the cacophony of a crumbling fourth wall. Or at least, the frantic sounds of my fingertips hammering the Instagram search bar. Conclusion: Zan is real, you know him, and you can comment on this 'dank meme' in real life.
- Utilize The Weak
After Alfred and Earn refuse to wear one of his hats, Zan opens his offer up to the more susceptible of the group, lovable stoner-turned-philosopher, Darius, who immediately dons a particularly becoming mint green #Zanstan hat. Finally achieving his aim, Zan immediately says ‘let me get one for the Gram…and one more for Snapchat’ and takes a handful of pictures before Alfred shuts him down.
Feigning dismay that his social media rampage has been prematurely halted, Zan tells Alfred that he’s a ‘real photographer’ and points to his T-shirt which, as Darius so eloquently sums up, depicts Zan’s face ’next to a butt.’ Hello, comment on how social media has opened the digital hell mouth to an infinite number of talentless demonic egoists referring to themselves ‘artists.’
Having infiltrated Alfred’s inner circle, letting him know he knows exactly who he is, taking a photo of him affiliated with his merchandise before hovering away on a hover-board (of course), Zan successfully completes a flawless first step into a masterfully constructed online trolling campaign. But step one is nothing without step two.
Step 2: Let The Trolling Commence
- The Bait
Eager to get his teeth into his victim, the day after their parking lot meeting Zan starts laying in to Alfred by taking to his social media to state:
Even though as Earn points out, this is hardly a particularly eloquent troll, without skipping a beat, Alfred falls straight into the troll trap, feverishly replying with lightning quick typing speed and letting himself become infuriated at his online tormentor.
- Get Inside Your Victims Head
In the next scene we see of Alfred he's at a gas station filling up his car and scrolling through Zan's @ZanLivesMatter Instagram page. While doing so he finds a particularly revealing film post of Zan in a club surrounded by a group of ladies screaming to the camera:
"Woah man the club is so lit, it's so lit up in this club. How you feeling? Litttt yeah!
Not only is this a comment on how social media grants a voice mostly to those who have genuinely nothing to say, it also depicts the frustration of becoming so enraged by an online persona who is quite clearly a bonafide idiot. Case in point: After Alfred watched this Insta-atrocity, Zan Tweets a (terrible) Youtube meme of Alfred carrying his mixtapes to the trash 'where they belong,' and it is this amateur straw which finally breaks Paperboi's otherwise sturdy back.
- Declare All Out War
From here, there's only one thing left to do and that is to declare all out war. Zan takes to his Youtube channel (sadly non-existent in real life) to personally attack Alfred and troll him hard for the following:
- For having a boringly similar name to rappers Paperboy, Da Paper Boi & Papu Boi.
- For making his ears bleed after listening to his 'Paper Boi' track.
- For personifying everything that is wrong with rap right now.
- For not being able to either rap or sell drugs well.
In this moment, Zan becomes the perfect online troll. Not only is his four point insult simple enough for even the most basic of plebs to comprehend, it's that fact that it still manages to hit Alfred where it hurts despite of its simplicity which truly makes him see red. This is personified by Alfred's friend who, after watching the video with him, asks Alfred for Zan's twitter handle because 'it's kind of fun,' failing to register the depths of rage Alfred has by this stage descended too.
Stage 3: The Showdown
- The Impossible Opponent
Upon discovering that Zan works at Cameli's Pizza joint, Alfred and his gradually accumulated rage stake out the place and wait for #Zansexual in the parking lot. As soon as Zan exits the restaurant however, he greets Alfred as though they were friends. Consequently, Alfred knocks Zan's cap off, to which Zan immediately pulls another cap out of his pocket and puts it on his head. This in essence sums up the fight against internet trolling: knock one down and another one crops right back up.
- A Welcome To The Digital Food Chain
Inviting him to come ride with him in his car as he drops off his pizza, Alfred clocks a young boy in the backseat, and knows that his dramatic showdown with Zan isn't going to go to plan. Driving along, Zan asks if Alfred is working on a new mixtape, apparently completely oblivious to the turmoil he's caused him. Alfred responds, somewhat confused telling him that his life isn't a game and that he's tired of being harassed online, to which Zan remarks:
From here, slowly but surely Alfred begins to unravel what Zan is all about. The little boy in the backseat turns out not to be Zan's son, but his Vine-collaborating 'business partner,' known in real life as five-year-old Atlanta based rapper and social media phenomenon, Bankroll PJ. Alfred also discovers that Zan doesn't take his online persona seriously at all, for him internet trolling is a natural phenomena; while Alfred exploits his situation by making rap music, Zan exploits Alfred for exploiting his situation by making rap music. Thus creating a bizarre digital food-chain, where the trolls rule the kingdom.
- Nothing Is Sacred
Having had his head well and truly messed with, Zan then stops the car and sends little Bankroll PJ out to deliver his pizza for him. As the pair sit in the car and watch him fulfill the order, they see the customer take the pizza out of his hands and then rob him on the doorstep. In horror Alfred exclaims:
"Wait hold up - did he just get robbed man!?"
To which a distracted Zan replies:
"...shit is crazy B..."
Which is quickly followed by the sound of Zan's in-phone video recorder turning to record mode. It's here that Alfred realizes he is fighting a losing battle. The dawn of social media has spawned with it an army of soulless trolls for whom nothing is sacred and for whom nothing really has any true meaning. This is why Zan is able to greet Alfred as a friend even though he's publicly attacked him and why he is able to refer to a five-year-old as a business partner and not come to his aid when he's being robbed in broad daylight — and this is why Alfred decides that he's bigger than that, steps out of the car, and out of Zan's disturbingly warped life, at least for now.
Does Zan truly give us a trolling masterclass?