"investigative report" by Gabriel Wainio-Théberge
Barely days after a brief and disastrous “war with 4chan” died down, Tumblr user lil-purrfect-femme was calling for a “Feminist War on 4chan”.
Apart from frankly understandable support from a few real feminist blogs, most of the responses have been along the lines of “don’t bother”. “4chan can’t be shut down”, “4chan can’t be raided”, “4chan will/ought to destroy you”, “4chan will always win”. Many of these things would have been true in, say, 2007. But in 2014, Tumblr users seem to be forgetting that they are speaking as members of a site that has successfully raided 4chan. The last big “4chan-Tumblr war”, Operation Overlord, ended, to everyone’s surprise, with an unofficial draw. 4chan momentarily brought down Tumblr’s homepage after spamming tags with their usual shock bullshit; Tumblr in turn spammed /b/ with kittens (a sight once familiar there), to the point that 4chan mods had to block all posting on /b/ - an almost exact mirror of 4chan’s accomplishment.
I’m not advocating another raid or counter-raid right now. 4chan’s last raid was in retaliation for “our” perceived one, and yet another act of “aggression”, unlike “Operation Overkitten”, would not be met with a truce and a shipping meme. I don’t think the intangible glory points earned by “winning” a “fight” on the internet are worth seeing people get triggered by unwanted posts in their tags and safe spaces.
I am suggesting, however, that the relative “failure” of the much-publicized “#ShutDown4chan” was not necessarily due to Tumblr’s weakness or 4chan’s invincibility. It may have more to do with the possibility that it was never meant to succeed in the first place. This may also be true of lil-purrfect-femme’s “War”, if it ever happens.
lil-purrfect-femme (“Queen of Feminism”)’s account has existed for three months, and for most of those three months has put out a nonstop barrage of bait posts (just about every possible TW): “if you’re not a feminist you’re as bad as a rapist”, “Reasons why women are more oppressed than death row inmates”, comparing the lives of women to the Holocaust (without a Holocaust TW), encouraging people to send hate mail to other bloggers, comparing herself to Gandhi, defending an ancient 4chan hoax as legit, saying the Elliot Rodgers shooting was “positive” because it let feminists educate people. Their very first post claims that their “other account” got hacked “by the patriarchy”. Depicting “the patriarchy” as some sort of secret organization or conspiracy is a common deliberate misconception among “anti-SJ’s”. But perhaps this troll’s most blatant giveaway is their readfemmy claim that “men are only useful for sperm”, on a blog whose description condemns “cis MRA scum”.
This kind of anti-SJ-posing-as-SJ trolling has been a thing since white bros discovered their own strawmen cracked them up, but lately it’s been taking on a more purposeful and malevolent aspect thanks to, in fact, none other than 4chan – specifically /pol/. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, /pol/ is 4chan’s ostensibly “politically incorrect” board – about 30% shitposters, 30% Reddit and /v/ kids butthurt about Anita Sarkeesian and “Tumblr”, 30% real neo-Nazis, and 10% libertarian bitcoin-bugs. The neo-Nazi faction dominates the board’s culture by convincing the rest that its ideas are just an ironic “meme”. Recently /pol/ has started a series of hoaxes on Twitter, ranging from #WhitesCan’tBeRaped to #EndFather’sDay, to the point that social justice-oriented Twitter users have started an unprecedented hashtag devoted to identifying and calling out fake /pol/ accounts - #YourSlipIsShowing. Thus far nothing similar has been extensively used on Tumblr, due to the perception that Tumblr’s many fake SJ blogs – and there are many – have not yet been marshaled to any real, movement-damaging purpose. The “war with 4chan”, however, may change that.
shutdown4chan.tumblr.com, the blog that fired the first shots of the original “war”, appears to have been a much more convincing ruse than most, suggesting a higher level of organization. They have even pointed out a parallel /pol/ hoax themselves – which should not be taken as /pol/ having the unlikely foresight to win people’s trust by creating a hoax within a hoax, so much as different /pol/ users starting different hoaxes with opposing goals. 4chan boards, after all, are not totally cohesive entities. Some /pol/ users would probably have been satisfied with watching a few Tumblr kids wreck their computers, “for the lulz”; others intended to do long-term damage to online feminism, and for that needed a long-term presence that wouldn’t be outed with one immature prank. Evidence that the original blog’s “#slip” was nonetheless “showing” includes their their combination of extreme familiarity with 4chan (this guide, one of the most accurate on the web*) and claims to have been lurking with (invariably comic) failure to identify even the most obvious 4chan troll messages (Baneposting, a letter written via dubs thread); their heavy use of swastikas and “cancer” references; and, most noticeably, their tendency to act out well-known /pol/ fantasies. For example:
>trying to “divide and conquer” 4chan
The various 4chan boards have hated each other since the site’s inception, but /pol/ newfriends from Reddit and Stormfront, who imagine 4chan as a united right-wing “bastion of free speech” like to blame this on the workings of external enemies, such as shutdown4chan.tumblr.com.
/pol/ sees “SJW’s” as allied with those who want more governmental and corporate control of the internet, to the point of total transparency/surveillance à la Dave Eggers’ The Circle - despite the fact that Tumblr allows its users a good deal of anonymity, which is actually a draw for many users whose political stances or gender/sexual identities might alienate employers, family members etc. If there’s a reason Facebook doesn’t allow anonymity, there’s also a reason radical discourses have taken off on Tumblr/Twitter more than on Facebook.
/pol/ and /lgbt/ have a weird relationship. While the hardliners of /pol/ hate /lgbt/ for being what it is, a lot of /lgbt/ users – many of whom are truscum, many more of whom have just had bad experiences in the SJ community – see /pol/ as allies against “Tumblr” (taking, one assumes, the Nazi stuff as mere trolling). /pol/ probably isn’t ashamed to deliberately galvanize and use this support base.
Nice job choosing a theme that shows when you posted. lol
It didn’t take that much, though, for Twitter users affiliated with the #YourSlipIsShowing campaign to get their account briefly suspended. Their response – to claim that /pol/ is using #YourSlipIsShowing to silence genuine activists – is backed up by screencaps, and worth addressing. Hell, that certainly calls my own trustworthiness – as a white male local “expert” on 4chan memes and neofolk, who has critiqued the social justice memeplex before – into doubt.
The best argument that #shutdown4chan’s opponents are less likely to be /pol/ than the blog itself, IMO, is that it is simply too unlikely that /pol/ would view #shutdown4chan as a threat. Although the board’s delusions of grandeur and persecution complex complicate this, we know what /pol/ thinks a legitimate, dangerous campaign to “#shutdown4chan” would look like: they’ve imagined it for us. In spring of 2013, a sustained wave of straw-feminist shitposting, along with calls on 4chan’s /q/ (Questions & Complaints) to get /pol/ removed (it’s happened before), were blamed on a secret campaign by /r/ShitRedditSays. Fake screencaps quickly started circulating of SRS mods chatting with Moot on IRC (how these could have been obtained was never explained), trying to get moderating positions on /pol/. A private subreddit, /r/polraids, was “found” (or simply planted by another troll). It got to the point where mods on /q/ even believed the rumours, and Moot parodied the drama by creating [s4s] – Shit 4chan Says – on April Fools’ Day.
Like #shutdown4chan, this was not supposed to be a mere prank like Operation Overkitten – SRS’s plan was to change the culture of 4chan for good. Crucially unlike #shutdown4chan, this imaginary movement was supposedly sustained, and organized outside of publicly readable web spaces – both features that would be necessary to have any kind of effect on 4chan beyond provoking raids and pissing in the proverbial ocean of piss.
However, like #shutdown4chan, it wasn’t about us. SRS paranoia served to legitimize resentment not only against /pol/ mods, but against the mods on other boards whose actual job it was to enforce 4chan’s Global Rules, including #3: “….keep /pol/ in /pol/”. #shutdown4chan, similarly, judging by its own posts, seems to be only secondarily about provoking raids and drama, and primarily about 4chan’s own internal politics and its struggle, in a post-Reddit, post-commercialization of memes, Web 2.0 age, for its own identity. For the past two or three years, /pol/ has been trying to replace a decrepit /b/ as 4chan’s spiritual centre. The ludicrous premise of #shuttingdown 4chan by trying to talk it nicely out of its own bigotry makes sense only from the POV of /pol/ users looking for an excuse to shut down differing opinions from 4chan users, as well as to make their own fake “feminist” trolling on 4chan look marginally convincing again.
If /pol/ obtains the total control over 4chan’s discourse that it wants, though – i.e., if it obtains the mobilizational capacities of /b/ pre-Reddit - things could get “about us”, and a lot uglier. By “us” in this case I don’t mean Tumblr, I mean anyone oppressed groups and anyone who chooses to speak and fight alongside them.
That’s a distant possibility, and in the meantime, we need to address the real and present possibility that thanks to /pol/’s appropriation of it, a #YourSlipIsShowing on Tumblr could do more harm than good. I’m not convinced that will happen for two reasons: 1) I don’t think /pol/ understands the “SJ” movements well enough to become indistinguishable from legitimate activists, let alone paint a legitimate activist as a troll. (I’m not sure they even have the self-awareness to notice the telltale signs of their own presence.) 2) As much as they may relish the thought of a "SJW circular firing squad", the truth is they’re already… firing into a circular firing squad, so to speak. If mutual/internal drama was enough to bring down hashtag activism, it would have already - ask anyone (several contributors to this blog, for instance) who’s been extensively involved. That said, a non-self-destructive #YourSlipIsShowing would probably do better to focus on individual accounts only in relation to specific campaigns, like #shutdown4chan or #WhitesCan’tBeRaped, that could serve specific ends. Tumblr SJ (perhaps unlike Twitter SJ?) has been infested with hundreds of trolls like lil-purrfect-femme from the very get-go, and shown that it can get along just fine.
In the meantime, if anyone wants to fight /pol/’s growing web influence and had the stomach to participate in the original #shutdown4chan, I have only this advice: LURK MOAR. Until you know exactly what you’re dealing with – and how much it’s already dealing with you.
(For those less inclined towards monitoring the skeeziest parts of the internet, a really useful post can be found here: http://brigidkeely.tumblr.com/post/89016349251/heres-how-a-fake-feminist-hashtag-like-endfathersday)
*With one exception: the mention of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd on the /b/ page seems like a test of readers’ gullibility. Neither suicide had anything to do with /b/. Anonymous, a group at least nominally affiliated with 4chan, was even active in demanding justice for Rehtaeh. Their campaign-starting poster contains similar outright lies that should be cause for suspicion (“Elliot Rodgers and George Zimmerman were 4chan users”)
**I still can’t say this constitutes absolute proof, sadly. The very earliest use of #shutdown4chan I can find is on Twitter, and not from the original @ShutDown4chan Twitter account but from another user seeming to reference a pre-existing campaign of which I can find no evidence. The Twitter user who posted it, @MauryKonigsberg, looks like a /pol/ account though. (Scroll through it a bit - they seem to have cleaned up their act after #ShutDown4chan got big, but their early posts are very troll-y, and include #WhitesCan’tBeRaped posts.)
ALT LIT SLOWPOKE THIS TIME IS EVEN LATE FOR HIS OWN CANADA DAY DOUBLE WHAMMY/CELEBRATION OF ALT CANLIT, IN WHICH HE REVIEWS:
ASHLEY OPHEIM - I AM HERE
I don’t know how many of you will ever get the opportunity to read this book, but if you have any chance of doing so you should. The reason it might be hard to get your hands on this book is that it’s an IRL book you have to get your IRL hands on. Also it’s a fairly limited release because unless you’re Vintage Books and publishing Tao Lin, people who publish alt lit writers IRL don’t tend to make that much money off of it.
The fact that Ashley Opheim chose to release her book IRL seems to correspond to the most notable aspect of this book that sets it apart from a lot of alt lit: its connection, or attempt at a connection, to the physical world. The title “I Am Here” suggests as much; many alt lit writers, esp. of Tao’s generation, would question the existence and nature of “I”, and locate themselves not “here” but in a perpetual, ethereal internet flux. This isn’t to say that Opheim’s relationship with reality isn’t fraught. Her struggle to connect with it is the main psychic drama of this book – but she does struggle, rather than resign herself to life in the “virtual plaza” and wonder “what next”?
Her struggle seems to be mainly with herself. Like Steve Roggenbuck, she doesn’t see the internet and IRL as mutually exclusive – as titles like “Aura Pixels” and “Love Like Wifi” make clear. But in both she “worries about her karma” (a clever double entendre in the age of Reddit) and observes that “Life is about sacrifice”. It’s through this personal tug-of-war that she reaches her unique compromise between the authoritative, declarative voice that’s become oddly common in alt lit (see Jackson Nieuwland’s recent Pop Serial feature “The moon has nothing to do with snow”) – a voice which usually cannot help but come off as at least partly ironic, given the vast remove between the persona of nearly any alt lit writer and any genuine claim to superior wisdom or authority - and the non-committal questioning and second-guessing pioneered by Tao Lin. For every “Consuming is an act of faith”, Opheim has an “I’m smoking again”. It makes her pronouncements seem believable – earned, albeit, through an experience of doing nothing not much different from anybody else’s.
It’s interesting that while doing all this, she also takes alt lit’s rejection of the physical and sensory aspects of poetry itself farther than almost anyone before by abandoning most line breaks – one of the main ways of shaping the sound of a poem – in favour of unadorned sentences, each sentence usually constituting a whole stanza. (She is perfectly capable of using line breaks when she wants to, as demonstrated in the Gerald Stern-pwning psalm “exISt”.) A more abstract use of structure dominates the book, with stanzas themselves replacing lines as basic units. I feel these represent something that has almost come to replace, or partially replace, the bodily and seasonal rhythms once evoked by the textures and rhythms of lines. They are, in fact, “aura pixels” – convergences of events or thoughts, existing initially as mere information, that release a sort of photon of genuineness or hope, particles which in turn become the base units of a poem – or a life - on a spiritual level. That sounds hella New Age but Opheim herself, like fellow Canadian Andrea Coates, seems to be interested in revitalizing much-maligned New Age clichés not only as a personal brand but as an alternative to cynicism.
Chad Redden, in the latest Pop Serial, seems to provide an unconscious critique of Opheim’s New Age vision with his short story “The Crystal Plague”, which shows that a spirituality attempting to accommodate the digital by making do without the elements virtual reality have removed from our lives and poetry will only have to offer a distorted, uncanny energy. For Opheim, however, imagining spirituality in terms of self-discipline allows her to accept the element of forgiveness that any healthy struggle requires, without the risk of self-deception. It even requires the disciplined honesty of basing your spirituality on your surroundings - typically online as those may be. Generally in alt lit, self-consciousness has been something merely inescapable, like the internet. Ashley Opheim uses self-consciousness as a positive force – a way of reminding herself that “I Am Here”.
ANDREA COATES - SUMMERTIME SADNESS
When the first chapters of Andrea Coates’ magnum opus S.i./S. started appearing online, it was easy to identify the many things that set it apart from the rest of alt lit: its weird capitalizations, its political earnestness, its monumental structure. But one thing Coates had set up as a key difference between her and the alt lit scene seemed to be missing: “maximalism”, a writing style that explored, exploded and reveled in language rather than seeming to keep it at several arms’ length and second-guessing it at every turn. Sure, the sentences and paragraphs were three times as long as Tao Lin’s; but they too often felt like three Tao Lin sentences/paragraphs strung together. There wasn’t the flow of a Faulkner, the imagery of a Fitzgerald, the manic invention of a Burroughs.
“Summertime Sadness” doesn’t reach those kind of power levels either but it’s the first Coates story that genuinely feels maximalist all the way through. It does this by adopting the techniques that always made her essays and poetry feel maximalist: roller-coaster self-referentiality, spontaneous humour, macros and videos interspersed with the text, changes in font and colour added to the typing quirk, attempts at imitating non-verbal communication. There’s occasionally even, if you read it out loud, the same driving rhythm as in her best poetry. Prose rhythm (as mentioned before) is one of the most ignored devices in alt lit (although a tendency towards natural, speechlike cadences allows many alt writers to avoid awkwardness that can trap even more experienced authors): but “I dunno Lana Del Rey I mean Canada I mean Kayla Hamilton I mean All I know about your Life I got through Tabloids like All you know about mine you got through your Songs and Videos but I can tell you Things weren’t so Bad for me, I have Real Nice Parents and there was always enough Money and we went on Long Travels in Foreign Countries and talked about Culture and Rarely fought” pulsates like it was meant to be performed at a slam. Sometimes –
“I am imMovably Loyal, Lana, that is my Fatal Flaw & Tendon, to Caleb McEwan because he seemed Cool when I was 13 and to the Cause which we displayed in Communist Symbology but I would call Anarky though to ask People I doubt they would guess Loyalty is what makes Hap’E Crimson the Crazy One because what they saw of me was not me and Caleb aLone when he would be Lovely to me what they saw was unControlled drinking and sxing to fill the Confused Gap in my Mate’s Ability to care for me beyond being his Drunk Secret Suggestively SadoMasochistic Fuck Buddy”
- she even rhymes. (Does anyone not want to hear a trap beat under that?) The capitalizations are 100% functional here, indicating the beat for the less rhythmically attuned reader. (If you’re still not picking it up, read it in the full paragraph. Unlike many contemporary writers who will perfect the sound of each sentence only to fit them together into an awkward paragraph, or write in short paragraphs to avoid this problem, Coates’ rhythmic mind – heart? body? – demands several-page paragraphs, and an endurance almost akin to the shamanic storytellers who would recite oral histories for days from memory.)
“Summertime Sadness” is less reader-friendly than her essays or poetry, however, partly this is because of a newer maximalist technique: fucked-up syntax. Sentences run on into each other, punctuation is often completely abandoned and entire phrases’ worth of structural/grammatical words are discarded as filler, on the assumption that the reader will figure them out him/herself. That assumption is more correct than you’d think. Unlike the languagefuckery of say, William Carlos Williams’ “The Great American Novel”, you don’t have to read a sentence like
“If Kayla Hamilton ran away with Hap’E Crimson would deliver her to Future Anarchist Politician will most likely marry her so she canada stay in Country as Intense teenage gangster love affair featured in Lana Del Rey’s songs and videos probably between Hap’E Crimson & her highschool boyfriend from smalltown Canadian North brother of man I would fob Kayla Hamilton off on as Woman who wants to be ‘Gangster First Lady’ so as to slot older bro into position of Canadian Primeministerial Dictator in Grand Amusing Conspiracy to turn Canada to Utopian Anarchism then we could throw Lavish Orgy Parties like in Lana’s National Anthem music video Only Way the Fuck Better”
several times in order to understand it: you breeze through it effortlessly the first time, before your brain decides something doesn’t look right, stops you and makes you read it only to realize you had gotten it right all along. It’s annoying, but even on the level of immediate function, this linguistic difficulty is making a point.
The same is probably true of more lastingly prohibitive elements like the work’s repetitiveness. Coates’ essays can be lengthy and digressive but usually have a single, complete structure without apparent redundancies. This story quickly establishes and structures its main point: the nature of the Coates’ (or “Hap’e Red”’s) former relationship with “Caleb McEwan”, how it mirrors the romanticized but ultimately unhealthy relationships evoked in Del Rey’s songs and videos, and how it is still affecting Coates/Hap’e’s life, creativity, mental health and vicarious relationship with Del Rey. It then repeats this point again and again, with a slowly building intensity you may not notice changing until the very end. There’s a brief respite in which Hap’e goes to one of Lana’s shows (and the prose, perhaps reflecting her emotions, becomes even more musical than what I’ve quoted here). But for a while, one has to listen to (not read –especially here, Coates is nearly unreadable by eye, Quranic as she can be out loud) an increasingly abrasive broken record; a curse, or cursus in the Latin sense of a circular course. One is dragged around the obsessive nature of Hap’e’s character, or the intractable self-perpetuation of failed relationships between men and women under patriarchy, depending on how skeptical of the narrator one is inclined to be, or both, depending on how open one’s mind is. There’s again a sense of a long game being played, as in the sound of her paragraphs or the structure of S.i./S., and a sort of athletic discipline Coates imposes on both herself and her readers, which can look and even feel like self-indulgence - a paradox which seems probably less paradoxical to someone with Coates’ druggie/raver background. “Making a point” or even conveying an experience “directly” are not reasons I usually find sufficient for antagonizing readers. Early, “nihilistic” Tao Lin could convey feels of boredom by writing about the boring lives of boring people in boring sentences, but you could experience the same feels by scrolling through Buzzfeed all afternoon. But there’s something about the way you have to alter your thinking to experience nearly everything Coates does that seems worthwhile in the same way as kung-fu training or sexercise.
It’s funny for me to be using all these vaguely health-y metaphors to describe the spiral of self-destructive emotions that seem to be increasingly driving this work. I can only hope that indulging them to the excesses she seems to be doing here is healthy for her as (plausible as her excesses so rarely seem like pure indulgences), as well as for the society and culture of alt lit and the world at large. I tend (deliberately) buy into Coates’ self-mythologizing wholesale, but the fact that an ex’s horrible behavior stems from widespread misogynistic attitudes does not make stalking him a feminist statement. Nor does the archetypal “hero”’s commitment to forgiveness and changing people for the better make “forgiving” and returning to this person any more a satisfying ending than an abuse victim’s returning to an abuser – not that that is necessarily what “Caleb” is. Sticking uncritically to that goal and subordinating, as she seems/claims to be doing here, the rest of her mission/message to it, might even compromise Coates’ feminist message and “heroic” goal within alt lit. More importantly, it’ll compromise her fucking life. Which is why as exciting as it is to see Coates level up, this time it’s kind of disconcerting. But the “leveling up” analogy I’m using for what’s happening to Coates’ writing here brings to mind another “hero” trope: the need to battle your inner demons before reaching your full power. Maximalist as this is, I don’t think this is Coates at her full power yet – although it may be the power she needs for the fight of her life.
kuro-neko-kun said: I've always wondered at the lack of representation for people with less visible disabilities, such as fibromyalgia or Lyme disease. Barbara Gordon as Oracle was a great representation of visible disabilities, but I have yet to find a good representation of a disability that isn't obvious. Do you have any suggestions of comics to read or comments about the lack of representation for invisible disabilities?
I don’t talk about this much, for a lot of reasons, but I have fibromyalgia, a pretty severe case, and have had it for a long time. Usually, it is an annoyance, but it is occasionally debilitating and a couple of times, a hospital stay has been necessary. Most people I know are not aware of it at all, which I think is part of what makes it invisible, we often tend not to talk about our conditions.
This is probably not the most well-considered answer, but for me, putting in a character who had fibro really does feel like it would come off as Mary Sue-ish. Upon consideration, I think that is probably bad reasoning. I will have to give it some thought.
I don’t know much about Lyme Disease but it would be interesting to have a character who had something like that. Lord knows a lot of readers suffer from invisible conditions.
And yet another reason why Gail Simone is pretty awesome. :)
Anonymous said: i've been trying to write a novel for years now, and i read about your nanowrimo novel thing and i'm not even mad, i'm impressed
good. well sort of. don’t be impressed. the reason people get mad is because they build up novel writing into some epic task that is somehow ‘sacred’ or ‘mystical’, and when I demonstrate that any fucker can copy and paste their way to novelist status it debases that.
the point is — writing a novel isn’t really much harder than reading one, or cooking for yourself, or building a relationship with someone, or taking regular exercise or giving up smoking or anything really. what makes it hard is all the shit that people think makes ‘good writing’ but really only confines you to a very specific kind of writing.
the main thing i hate is writers who elevate themselves to ~*~ tru writer ~*~ status after having written a novel or whatever, and then go about mystifying the process of writing and talking about how psychically challenging it is. check yourself, yr no hero, u just wrote a thing.
i was gonna continue this but basically: all that shit a) makes people think they can’t write, and/or b) makes people think they have to write a certain way. which means we end up with the same people saying the same thing the same way. which apart from being exclusive, is also really, really boring.