Spicing it Up

Posted: 07/16/2010 in Network Culture
Tags: , , , ,

I don’t really know exactly what to say about this whole thing. Taken as a whole, the idea that they’re in a studio somewhere throwing these things together in real time based on live traffic statistics across social media is kind of breathtaking. This is a big move in advertising history here both in terms of the insanely short production interval and their ability to leverage popularity across the network.

At the same time, it’s so bizarre seeing an advertiser specifically target the most notorious internet hooligans in operation today. It’s so surreal to think that five years ago, 4chan was a little known and somewhat secretive enclave of nihilists and hooligans that went on to lead the largest simultaneous protest in human history, become a known quantity to old and new media alike, and are now considered a lucrative enough market to advertise to directly. I think we should all be very grateful for Moot’s long standing forced anonymity principle because I can only imagine what the result of the rise of “4chan celebrities” would have looked like.

I always wonder just how much the media outlets who cover 4chan really understand what the place or the mentality that gave rise to it is. Is the media validation of 4chan done with knowing complicity of what lurks behind Anonymous or if it’s done out of old media ignorance and sloppiness. Even at the height of media coverage of Project Chanology, when it began filtering out into the print media, very few publications managed to capture it’s full scope. I’m pretty sure that to this day no mainstream media piece on 4chan has ever linked them to the NFL bomb threats that Fox News actually blew up a van to explain, the highly publicized vandalizing of the MySpace page of the first Virginia Tech shooting victim, or raid on Habbo Hotel. It’s all Rickrolling, Caturday, and Project Chanology. You don’t have to be Lizbeth Salander to dig deep enough to trace it all to their backyard.

It seems odd that there could be such old media penetration for that side of 4chan and yet no perspectives on the sexist, racist, xenophobic currents. That’s what I find so compelling about Project Chanology; not that the network culture could spawn a globe-spanning flashmob. That was probably a bit of an inevitability given the right tipping point. The really insane part is that the tipping point came when a bunch of hooligans got angry that a video they were making fun of got DMCA’d and yet no one who gets paid a living wage to write has ever explored that angle that I’m aware of.

Every time I see media coverage of 4chan I can practically see the words arranged around a giant white space in the shape of an elephant. Is it that the Baby Boomer lords of Old Media are so hungry for a whiff of the revolutionary spirit they abandoned when Nixon took the Oval Office that they’ll overlook the fact that this time the Hell’s Angels took point or is it the further collapse of ethics and workmanship in journalism? It all comes down to watching All The President’s Men for the tenth time and wondering where the fuck the Bernsteins and Woodwards are. Middle America isn’t ready to face what’s lurking less than a quarter inch below the surface of the network culture, and because of that it doesn’t understand. It hasn’t seen the whole picture. Old media and many factions of new media are studiously keeping up a Potemkin Village pretense of what network culture is; the carefully controlled and administered ecosystems of Facebook and so on with the vague notion that outside of those spaces Here Be Monsters. Except that their children are probably off the map and one of the monsters, who are in one of the biggest ascendancies of an outlaw minority since the late 1960s media storm surrounding Sonny Barger’s Hell’s Angels.

It’s problematic at best and deeply troubling at worst that 4chan is in such an ascendancy because it underwrites their attitudes and behaviors but it’s not at all unprecedented for a media based in a country that has worshiped it’s outlaws since before it was a real country. Not that I know what the way forward is or anything like that.

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