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In Defence of 4chan

There’s a message being conveyed by mainstream journalists and clickbait sites alike that 4chan hates women. This is true to the extent that 4chan hates everybody. 4chan hates 9GAG and Reddit, which are in many ways its direct descendants. It hates My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic culture, even though it has an entire “containment board” dedicated to it. 4chan will most likely hate me for writing this post. 4chan, as one local Fox News station stated, is “an Internet hate machine.” And you’re just going to have to deal with that.

I started visiting 4chan after reading Parmy Olson’s excellent book We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency. At first I didn’t know what to make of it. User friendliness and design function were not priorities for founder Christopher Poole when he created the site as a 15 year old. Nor are 4channers welcoming of newcomers. When there’s an influx of new users, which happens every summer, or after a big media event like the fappening, the /b/ros get busy posting beheadings, coprophagiac gifs, and all manner of hair-raising content.

While there are many similar Chan sites (7Chan, 420Chan, etc.) 4chan is the grand-daddy of them all. Poole’s English-language answer to an anime image board called 2Chan spawned the hacker group Anonymous, generates many of the memes you (eventually) enjoy on Facebook, and is peerless in its ability to rustle jimmies. From a literary perspective, I’d argue the average greentext story (personal stories told in point form) is more engaging than 90% of what I see from aspiring writers. Tao Lin references it in his work, and is believed to post on the /lit/ board.

In the past, 4chan users have acted as white knights in their fight against Scientology. They arranged a birthday party for a lonely old man. They invented the bikini bridge out of thin air and then laughed when it became a real thing reported on by The Daily Mail. They have cheerily ruined the lives of people who made the mistake of posting their real names or trying to use the /b/ random board as their “personal army.” They have sent a frog tied to balloons into space.

Outside of /b/ and the wildly-offensive /pol/, the rest of 4chan is pretty mundane. The denizens of /co/ like comic books and cartoons. /out/ discusses outdoor activities. /mlp/ is for My Little Pony worship. Okay, that last one is kind of abnormal.

It would be kind to say that media outlets struggle to report on 4chan. A Bill O’Reilly segment once called it a “far left website disseminating child pornography to Internet pedophiles.” A CNN tech analyst recently thought 4chan was one person. I’ve worked in newsrooms, and I can just imagine some poor hack being assigned a story on the Chan, dipping his or her toe into its murky depths, baffled by the interface, trying in vain to make sense of it, and then eventually just regurgitating something vaguely incorrect written about the site five years ago.

In the wake of the fappening, I saw coverage so inaccurate I’d have torn up my journalism degree if I’d ever bothered to collect it. So first let’s clarify 4chan’s role in it. It’s been falsely reported time and again that “4chan hackers,” or worse, “A hacker known as 4chan,” released the nude celebrity photos and videos. A more accurate sentence would be: An individual chose 4chan as his venue for disseminating these photos. He wanted cash. Someone browsing /b/ at the time ponied up. This was the ideal place for the transaction due to poster anonymity and a user base comfortable with crypto-currencies like Bitcoin. 4chan, which is nothing but code written by Christopher Poole, didn’t release a single photo. 4chan is not an autonomous entity. An unknown individual released the photos to 4chan. The same photos were on Reddit moments later, yet that site has received relatively little criticism.

Then the “Emma You Are Next” website popped up, threatening, in the name of 4chan, to release Emma Watson nudes in response to a feminist speech she gave at the UN. This was intriguing on a couple of level. 4chan has fetishized Watson for years, long before it was appropriate to do so. And many self-styled /pol/iticians, bitter enemies of what they consider “Tumblr-tard misandry,” considered Watson’s message a moderate, bridge-building one that that they didn’t take issue with.

It wasn’t long before 4chan users identified EYAN as a false flag. The website’s suspicious use of the 4chan logo left little doubt. The “news” site FoxWeekly was the first to report on the threat to Hermione. Some 4chan sleuths found proof that both FoxWeekly and the EYAN site were operated by Rantic media, and Redditors amplified the message. On Wednesday, the jig was up, and Rantic claimed they were hired by celebrity publicists to censor 4chan, even posting a letter to Obama on their website. Soon after, Rantic Media was itself exposed as a hoax perpetrated by a group of Internet trolls calling themselves Social Vevo. Rantic Media is an anagram for “incite drama.”

It’s sad how many media outlets, respected and otherwise, regurgitated the dubious FoxWeekly story on Tuesday without asking any of the obvious questions. As one 4chan poster put it after the smoke had cleared on Wednesday night, “It’s funny how random browsers on 4chan are better investigators than those whose job it is to do investigative reporting.”

Give credit to Jezebel (whose parent-site Gawker was one of the few to report on the 4chan-Tumblr war of summer 2014) for clearing 4chan of blame once the case against Rantic/Social Vevo became apparent. Do not give credit for the final paragraph of this article however, which is a triumph of clumsy phrasing, and makes a last ditch effort to implicate 4chan on shaky grounds.

So, at the end of the day, it turns out that 4chan was framed by a person pretending to threaten to do what 4chan has in the past followed through on threatening to do. The wolf who cried boy.

But the message was out: 4chan users hate women, and they really hate feminism. If your social media feeds look like mine, you saw #ShutDown4chan statuses calling for hacker castration and what would amount to the suppression of opposing viewpoints. These people feel justified because some 4chan posts are offensive to their sensibilities. Yet 4chan is anything but one unified set of beliefs. The primary characteristic of its every board is internal discord. 4chan is nothing but the diverse group of weirdos who use it, and I am one of those weirdos, so unthinking requests for its censorship offend my sensibilities.

As a writer, 4chan keeps me in touch with zany neologisms, alerts me to weird shit I’d never hear of otherwise, and gives me insight into the dark thought processes of those on the fringes of society. But I won’t use research as a shield. I browse /lit/ and /x/ because they are effective aggregators of the literary and the paranormal. It’s a falsehood that 4chan is made up entirely of hate-filled troglodytes. On any given day you can find informed discussions about Tesla or Proust. I browse ‘feels’ threads in which kissless virgins give each other the virtual equivalent of consolatory hugs. I check /b/ to see what the hive mind will come up with next. And indeed, I’m quite often offended, alarmed or depressed by what I see.

Right now, for example, there’s a popular meme of a cute anime Ebola-Chan goddess that members of /pol/ pretend to worship with the phrase, “Good luck Ebola-Chan!” These fellows have formed an Ebola-centric death cult and root for Ebola. It’s unquestionably vile, and could never gain traction outside of a completely anonymous medium. Sometimes while browsing a thread of innocent, comical pictures I’ll see a gif of a dog being killed. I prefer animals to most people, and this upsets me. If something upsets you, dear Facebook friend, to the extent that you never look at the site again, then that’s good, you’re a healthier person than me, I bet. But that doesn’t mean you can sanctimoniously call for 4chan’s eradication, which is the equivalent of saying, “People shouldn’t be allowed to post anonymously on the Internet because they might say something I don’t like.”

The last time I checked, the right to offend whoever the hell you want (within legal bounds) is one of the basic tenets of living in a free and open society. In the 80s, porn impresario Larry Flynt took this fight all the way to the United States Supreme Court. His opponents were Reverend Jerry Falwell and the religious right. Now, it seems 4chan and its basement-dwelling trolls must wage the same battle to be as gross as they please, except without access to money or lawyers or anything but their “hacking abilities.” They face different enemies: the progressive left and the so-called social justice warrior movement.

In the D.A. Pennebaker film Town Bloody Hall, Norman Mailer, a lion of left-wing rhetoric, said, “A left totalitarianism—I think there’s something in the human spirit that can somehow bare the notion of a fascist or right-wing totalitarianism because it offers us at least the romantic dream that we can all form into underground cadres and have an adventurous life at the end where all of us men and women are equal and comrades. But if we get a left-wing totalitarianism, that means the end of all of us because we’ll have nothing but scrambled minds trying to overcome the incredible shock that the destruction of human liberty came from the left and not the right.”

So Godspeed 4chan. You Mein Kampf-quoters of /pol/, politically incorrect. You neck-bearded masturbators of /b/, random. You paper crane folders of /po/, papercrafts and origami. You I.T. geeks of /g/, technology. You well-armed mercenaries of /k/, weapons. You tulpa conjurers of /x/, paranormal. You literal shit-eaters, of, again, /b/, random. Godspeed.

***

Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, Variety, and Exclaim! Magazine.  His online fiction has appeared in Pif Magazine, Monkeybicycle, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and university journals of moderate renown.  Stories have appeared in print in M-Brane, Feathertale, Filling Station, and elsewhere.

Random / 8 Comments
September 29th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Rachel Jensen’s Free Junk: The ghost of a flea

FREEJUNKFree Junk
by Rachel Jensen
Snoot Books
$10 / Buy from Snoot Books

 

 

 

 

Perhaps the most recent tie between humor and gloom is the suicide of Robin Williams. Yet, the examples are plenty: comedian Mitch Hedburg—”My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them,” was reported dead due to drug overdose; addiction invariably traces to depression. Sarah Silverman jokes about her ups and downs, “I am diagnosed with not having enough insanely-addictive drugs coursing through my body.” Maria Bamford, Google her. And Shakespeare, that guy, he divided his mojo between comedy and tragedy. I think of this waltz of contrasting sentiments when I read Rachael Jensen’s chapbook, Free Junk. Jensen’s poems can be comically-surrealand bearers of realistic insight. She provides details that make me want to laugh-weep. Ironic, romantic, yucky, naive, searching—she’s got as many voices as a self-help hotline on Valentine’s Day night.

For starters, Free Junk allows itself the liberty to be bizarre. Despite whatever “junk” the poems begin with, they have confidence that they will end up somewhere meaningful or at least where they need to go. Here is a list of first lines:

In the dark park I saw them gleaming / in a bush: Levi’s classic fit denim,

Once, a stranger sent me a message on the Internet
to tell me she dreamed I gave birth to a kitten. I responded,

I like marshmallows over an open flame.

I heard ‘toaster dream’

We begin with found, odd and banal things, sometimes misunderstandings. Whatever the particular point of entry, the peculiarity is fetching. I am intrigued to see where the poem could go, and Jensen manages to find her way: classic fit Levi’s washed and dried throughout the night become a drunken loneliness, self-satisfied and clad in “victim shorts”; an internet message about cat-birthing yields cat-water-holding which funnels into an inquiry regarding the nature of a priori knowledge. I think of another recently-dead person, Russell Edson, his surreal miniature fables. I also remember what a classmate told me once during a workshop: “It’s hip to include whatever you can in a poem.” That lady was right; it is hip to include gallbladder stuffed animals in poems, but as Mitch Hedburg once postulated, “Is a hippopotamus a hippopotamus, or just a really cool Opotamus?” Free Junk has the opotamus, too. The chapbook engages with the trend, but the poems are grounded by their odd specificity and drift into profundity.

Free Junk plays with romance, too. It romances, playfully. There is a brunette lament: READ MORE >

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September 29th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sunday Service

Stella Corso

PERFECT PERSON

and when I laid my hands upon his person
I thought this is the perfect person
and so was stricken
and became nauseous

then he asked me for money
and I was honored
I felt flattered

and when his freedom finally leaked
I thought how terrifying
how torturous
and was touched again

everyone around us grew disgusted

I leaned over
and threw up into their milk

Bio: Stella Corso lives in the Pioneer Valley where she runs a vintage clothing shop called Pale Circus and teaches at Western New England University. Some of her poems can be found in Coconut Magazine, jubilat, Caketrain, notnostrums and Everyday Genius. She is a founding member of the Connecticut River Valley Poet’s Theater, also known as CRVPT.

Reviews

I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer

I_Loved_You_More_244_400_80I Loved You More
by Tom Spanbauer
Hawthorne Books, April 2014
468 pages / $18.95  Buy from Amazon or Hawthorne Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer starts with a slow burn, like an acid trip, of which there are a few in the book:  There’s a preliminary period of seemingly aimless hanging out, and just when you start thinking nothing is going to happen, the room lights up, your heart lurches, and everything begins to glow.

Other writers have tried to quantify the transformation that occurs reading Spanbauer’s writing, the feeling of truth as opposed to artifice, the sense that now we’re really talking. The closest I can come is that it felt like letting air and light into a dark room. The book’s narrator, Ben Gruneberg says it much better, “When you get close to the vein that’s pulsing truth, when you open that vein, you can scrub your soul clean with the blood.”

Spanbauer is known for his truth-telling and open veins. He’s a gay writer and creative-writing teacher in Portland, Oregon, one of the gang of Portland writers of whom Cheryl Strayed and Chuck Palahniuk are the most famous, and Lidia Yuknavitch is the most beloved to me, personally. (Though, I don’t know if all these people are really a gang, or if that’s an outsider’s perception; I’m calling a Portland School, and assuming Spanbauer is a founder.) His Wikipedia entry says that he’s been living with AIDS since the 90s, and his AIDS book, In the City of Shy Hunters is a literary classic.

This latest novel, I Loved You More, published by Hawthorne Press in April 2014, is also a gay coming-of-age story, a living-with-AIDS story, and a story about male friendship, which seems to be mostly autobiographical. In it, Spanbauer’s alter ego, Ben Gruneberg—like Spanbauer, a writer and writing teacher with the same basic points of biography—chronicles his lifelong friendship with a straight male writer, Hank Christian, and the explosive end of that relationship. A bit of Google-digging will reveal a possible candidate for the real-life model of Hank.

On one level, it’s not a particularly dramatic story—a love triangle! featuring three writers! in Portland! and a pot of kale!—and how it all ends is mostly revealed on the first page. Moreover friendship is usually a side-story, not a main event, and devoting a book to the demise of one feels odd. The first section takes place in New York in the late 80s, when Ben and Hank are young writers at Columbia, studying under a fictionalized version of Gordon Lish, and their hanging-out, and the importance Spanbauer imbued it with, took a while to seize hold of me. And then it did.

Part of the alienation and then the magic is Spanbauer’s prose style, which is beatnik-ish in an old-fashioned way, using slang and refrains, a lot of fucking this or fucking that, man. His sentences are unconventional and fragmentary: “That old litany in this strange new place, how it made my heart stop.” Or this description of a leather bar: “In front of us, three men deep. Beyond, the bar is dark. Smoky dark. A foggy night, an ocean of men, dark waves. They have a sound, the waves, here and there bursts of pirate laughter, then no laughter.”

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September 26th, 2014 / 10:00 am

JUDSON HAMILTON: Why Shld I Read YOUR Book ??

judson with colorsx

ok, Judson, so why should we read YOUR book ???

Let me answer your question by way of analogy, I had a dream recently, in which I asked Ashbery to look after my two kids and when I came back they were parked in front of the TV in the living room, seemingly unharmed. I looked around and found Ashbery clad only in a pair of tidy whities rolling around laughing on the bed, deep in conversation with a woman in her 70s, an old friend apparently. They were lost in reminiscence, they’re faces lit up with the joy of nostalgia, and I didn’t have the heart to be angry with him.

sugar numbers

The Sugar Numbers (by Judson Hamilton)

Then he jumped up and joyfully began to pop lock, like in some shitty kid’s video,with electric cutout arms blinking blue, red, yellow and that pretty much sums up how I feel about this book. It’s surprising, delightful and absurd.

To answer your question by way of digression, about 6/7 years ago I started receiving emails that looked as though somebody had fed the better portion of the western canon through a shredder and then affixed it to emails, I assume to bypass the spam filter. I liked some of the initial juxtapositions that turned up and began playing around with the text, and while I was doing that, a narrative emerged from the depths in the form of: a Speed-hearing Judge, his brother the Duke of Marmalade and, Morel and Valentine, the two servants trying to overthrow them.

Look, I know Syria’s been forgotten and the Congo’s a mess and let’s be honest who needs another book-length absurdist narrative on their bookshelf, am I right? But we’re all doing what we can and together we can right this ship…. that and the e-book version shouldn’t cost you more than a trip to the taco truck, so what’ve you got to lose?

(Judson Hamilton 9/2014, Poland)

Author Spotlight / No Comments
September 25th, 2014 / 5:19 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Mother of a Machine Gun

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Mother of a Machine Gun
by Michael J. Seidlinger
Lazy Fascist Press, 2014
100 pages / $7.95 buy from Amazon

1. When I first read the title, I pondered the possibility of an automatic weapon being successfully birthed from a woman’s vagina. (Pretty sure your genitalia would never be the same.)

2. The writing style of Mother of a Machine Gun reminded me of some strange Dr. Seuss book I read as a child.

3. Michael J. Seidlinger is a fucked up Dr. Seuss.

4. Kind of wonder if Seidlinger’s mother has read Mother of a Machine Gun and whether or not she thought it should be “critically acclaimed.”

5. Pondered the economic and environmental costs of having so many one-line paragraphs.

6. To go along with point #5, probably should’ve put in pictures or something to fill in the vast amount of white space.

7. To go along with points #5 and #6, the vast amount of white space and one-line paragraphs make for a quick read. (Could be a positive or negative thing depending on whether or not you like the book.)

8. Mother of a Machine Gun is a story of denial.

9. Mother sucks at being a mother.

10. Mother probably shouldn’t be left to go on a crusade to find her son.

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1 Comment
September 25th, 2014 / 4:30 pm

Reviews

25 Points: The Road to Emmaus: Poems

roadtoemmaus
The Road to Emmaus: Poems
by Spencer Reece
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
144 pages / $24.00 buy from Amazon

1. I have always had a thing for men of God.

2. Spencer Reece is an Episcopalian minister. Do not let this turn you off. If you do, you will be doing yourself a great disservice.  You will be denying yourself something sight unseen.

3. The priest at my father’s funeral was a radical one. His name was Father Pat, and he was a notorious IRA sympathizer. At the service, Father Pat was treated like a rock star. At his own funeral, my father was upstaged.

4. Reece did not become a minister until he was 48 years old. It took him eleven years to write the poems in The Road to Emmaus. I find this to be strangely reassuring; I always feel like I am rushing, trying to make up for lost time.

5. In 2010, Reece served at the only all-girl orphanage in Honduras, Our Little Roses, in San Pedro Sula. San Pedro Sula is the murder capital of the world. At a reading from this book that I attended last week, Reece told a story of a friend’s attempt to raise money for the orphanage from a wealthy benefactress. The woman agreed to make the donation, saying, “How else will Honduras get its maids and prostitutes?”

6. A year after my father’s death, Father Pat was arrested for laundering money for weapons to the IRA.

7. The Road to Emmaus refers to a story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus makes an appearance to two of his disciples as they leave Jerusalem for the city of Emmaus, two days after Jesus’ crucifixion. The two disciples are leaving Jerusalem, perhaps for good, because of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. A man appears to the disciples on the road; he does not identify himself, and the disciples don’t recognize him. Instead, as he walks with them, the man corrects their misinterpretations about what has transpired; telling them it was all in line with God’s plan. Still not recognizing the man as Jesus, the disciples invite him to eat with them. Later, when they finally recognize him as Jesus, he disappears.

8. Reece describes himself as coming to religion “tentatively.” He told the Poetry Society of America that he feels a connection to T.S Eliot, who was also devout. Like Eliot, many of Reece’s poems mix verse with prose. “When I try to write, his example is never far from my mind. At times, I’d like to think I am in conversation with him,” Reece has said.

9. I have dreamed in lyrics from “Me and Julio Down by the School Yard.”  And when the radical priest comes to get me released...I blame the Berrigan Brothers.

10. The story of Reece’s road to publication is oft-repeated. He wrote for over two decades, mostly alone, sometimes while living in farm house/ bird sanctuary in Minnesota, publishing only a handful of poems over that time. He sent out the manuscript for his first book of poetry, The Clerk’s Tale, to over 250 first- book contests without success. In 2003, he won the Bakeless Poetry Prize, judged that year by Poet Laureate Louise Glück.  The title poem from The Clerk’s Tale was made into a short film by James Franco while Franco was a student at NYU. The poem is a story of the day in the life of Reece, and an older gay co-worker, as they go about their work day at a Brooks Brothers in the Mall of America.

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September 23rd, 2014 / 1:56 pm