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4chan boarders weigh in on the state of memes in 2015

We’re living in ‘ironic hell.’


Molly McArdle

Internet Culture

My brother is on 4chan. Or rather, for the past two years, he has produced, directed, and edited the annual 4chan /v/ (i.e., video game) board’s “Vidya Gaem Awards.” 

“It’s weird to talk about,” he told me. “I’m involved in this big project that isn’t like really actually associated with the website. I wouldn’t necessarily ever consider myself a part of the community because it makes me mad.” 

He condemns the websites of his teenage years, and 4chan by extension, as “a corner of the internet that uses ‘irony’ and ‘free speech’ to hide behind actual racism/sexism/homophobia/etc.” It’s possible that he says this to me because he knows it’s what I need to hear, but I believe him. He is in it for the weird shit, not the oppressive shit, and he knows the difference between the two.

I’ve benefited, at least somewhat, from the connection. I know about memes maybe a little bit earlier than the rest of the world—maybe a lot. I see lots of weird funny stuff that never makes it big, which is to say to your grandmother’s Facebook feed. (While all memes eventually burn out, their conflagrations vary in size.) He is also a great source of skeleton GIFs

I talked to him and two of his internet friends—recent college graduate James Wilson and graphic designer Ryan Dell—about how they experience the Internet today, and about the weird stuff they read online.

It sounds like you are embarrassed of some of the places online where you used to spend time.

Eamon McArdle: We all have things we feel embarrassed about liking. For some people it’s a movie, band, or TV show. For me it’s a website that makes jokes about 9/11.

James Wilson: It is embarrassing, and it’s reflective to me at least of a time where I was deeply unhappy (weren’t we all deeply unhappy as teenagers though) and I did a lot of lashing out online that I couldn’t do in public or school or wherever.

Ryan Dell: I’m not really embarrassed of the boards, I’m just embarrassed I lacked the self-control to stop myself from browsing them for as much as I did. It’s a lot of time I can’t get back.

How would you describe your current corner of the Internet?

Eamon McArdle: Ironic hell.

James Wilson: It’s for people who spent most of their childhoods online, and it shows. You can easily set up a persona to hide behind on Twitter, and it’s the easiest to communicate with people outside of Facebook (look at all the Sonic the Hedgehog roleplaying accounts, for example).

Ryan Dell: I don’t feel like that’s really my experience. James and Eamon probably have very different feeds because they’re both actively seeking out meta-meta nightmare content like the Sonic RPs.

Tell me a little bit about the Sonic the Hedgehog roleplaying accounts.

James Wilson: Christ.

Eamon McArdle: There are a bunch of people who use Twitter to role-play with each other as Sonic characters, mostly OCs [original characters]. It’s popular with anime/Sonic/My Little Pony fans.

James Wilson: Just read down this thread. You won’t see this on Facebook, that’s for sure

Eamon McArdle: Jesus Christ. God now I’m too invested. 

So do you think these things are jokes? Or sincere? Or a mixture of the two? 

Eamon McArdle: Absolutely sincere.

James Wilson: It depends on the group, really. These people are totally sincere, but there are also many people who play along just for shits and giggles, or try to disrupt them.

Eamon McArdle: I mean there are many hints you can find, the biggest hint to show it’s sincere is when they break character to talk about things like how they are depressed or how school is going.

Ryan Dell: I don’t think there’s any difference between someone spending 12 hours pretending to be Sonic as a joke and someone doing the same thing sincerely. You still spent 12 hours pretending to be Sonic.

Is this the strangest thing you’ve seen on the Internet recently?

James Wilson: Not really. It’s just emblematic.

Ryan Dell: [One person I follow] is a nonstop train-wreck mess. The nightmare of a life she’s dragging herself through is a surreal, never-ending hellscape, and she’s posting about pretty much every second of it online. I absolutely cannot believe it.

Eamon McArdle: I mean like I follow people who are very into the armpits and sweat of anime characters. I think the strangest thing I’ve seen are people who are sexually attracted to like skeletons or suits of armor but not like people. I believe it’s because the characters they are attracted to have personality, but that’s my theory.

James Wilson: Not necessarily true, I’ve seen people be attracted to Hatsune Miku [an anthropomorphized voice from a singing synthesizer program], which inherently does not have a personality.

Eamon McArdle: Yeah but that’s like an anime character. I think being attracted to a skeleton is a lot stranger because everything has a skeleton, the only thing different from a skeleton and a person are layers of muscle and flesh.

James Wilson: I don’t know about recently, but this is the most incomprehensible thing I have ever seen online. It’s not even funny. The creators would upload videos about changing April to “Trepril” or “Treypril” for Trey Parker & Tre Cool. They’re badly made on purpose, and the origins and creator(s) are very murky. [James later emailed me this video as a better example of a strange YouTube video. “It’s perfect,” he said.]

Eamon McArdle: Oh, you know what’s pretty weird? The guy who is madly in love with Brian Griffin from Family Guy and the beavers from Angry Beavers. It’s gonna be NSFW. I think he even got a tattoo of him.

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Would you say that this guy is pretty notorious, or do only a few people know about him?

Eamon McArdle: Not notorious at all. I mean, the most notorious person is probably Chris Chan, who has a whole Wiki that people have made that chronicles her life just because of how insane she is.

James Wilson: The Chris Chan thing is one of the most interesting things to ever happen on the Internet, I’d say. I’m honestly surprised more hasn’t been written about her, but it’s understandable considering the whole thing is kind of disturbing.

Eamon McArdle: On face value you look at Chris Chan and you “Oh I feel bad for this autistic kid,” but you really have to dig up stuff on how truly awful of a person she is.

James Wilson: She has autism. That’s why people messed with her at first. It’s despicable, but Chris Chan quickly proved herself to somehow be even more vile of a person than the people trolling her. Like it’s a moral morass in which no one emerges unscathed.

What is the latest story involving Chris Chan?

Eamon McArdle: Last year, she [allegedly] maced a GameStop employee after they called security because she was messing with the displays for the latest Sonic game, Sonic Boom, which Chris Chan is very upset about because they changed the color of Sonic’s arms.

James Wilson: I’m going to reiterate, Chris Chan maced a guy because she didn’t like Sonic’s new arm color.

Eamon McArdle: That isn’t the first time she has harmed somebody; she once [allegedly] hit someone with her car.

Ryan Dell: A lot of the Chris Chan stuff specifically grosses me out and disturbs me. For example, people have been for years calling her under aliases or hacking into her email for new info. That’s not only insanely cruel, it’s also psychological abuse. But even then… 90 percent of the stuff we know about Chris Chan is because she eagerly and willingly posted about it online for a worldwide audience. It’s a weird codependency.

James Wilson: The Chris Chan saga is bizarre because literally every detail of this person’s life for years has been chronicled. This isn’t even an important person. There are just a bunch of internet people who find this person interesting and who cobbled together her whole life story through pretty much everything she’s ever put online.

Ryan Dell: It’s simultaneously fascination and a cautionary tale. Going through someone’s Tumblr history or keeping up with their weird Twitter feed is an alluring siren’s call, because you’re engaging with someone in a way that’s simultaneously incredibly intimate and personal while being completely removed from the situation.

But why is this interesting to you? Or what about it is interesting?

Eamon McArdle: For me it’s because it’s such a weird and specific story that has tons of twists. It’s also interesting because of how invested people are in it.

James Wilson: I’ve always found the funniest jokes for me were the ones I could pick the most out from. There are a lot of details with this story, weird little details that work as great stories in their own right. Many of the people who messed with Chris were revealed to be just as pathetic. Chris had a whole comic book series she wrote that counts as funny in its own right. It’s just a perfect storm of multi-layered, fundamentally disturbing material. It gets under your skin, and it’s funny, but it’s also sickening.

James Wilson: People bullied this poor schlub horribly, but she just kept egging them on to do worse. It’s a train wreck.

Do you feel like stories like Chris Chan’s are more or less common than they were when he was first mentioned on the internet?

Ryan Dell: More and more, sadly.

Eamon McArdle: I would say that we will never see somebody take a person like Chris Chan out on a date only to be stolen away from a man in a pickle suit at a mall.

James Wilson: I don’t think something as extensive as Chris Chan will happen again for a long time. The Internet to me feels like a different place now. I don’t know if there are more unspoken “rules” these days or if it’s just me realizing I wasn’t aware of them as a younger lad. I think it generally is for the better that these rules exist. I would not want to come across someone like who I was as a teen. I’d probably block my younger self to be honest, lol.

How do you feel meme culture has changed since you were younger?

Eamon McArdle: Meme culture is constantly changing. Remember Pepe? Remember how everybody joked about Rare Pepes? Now look, nobody is talking about that anymore.

James Wilson: All memes are born to die.

Ryan Dell: The cycle is way quicker. I see them go from being used mostly sincerely to mostly ironically in a matter of hours.

James Wilson: Not to mention that companies have gotten really good at creating memes on purpose these days. I still to this day am convinced that Left Shark was told to dance badly on purpose. It took mere hours for Left Shark merch to show up. Walter Benjamin’s lesser known essay, “Memes in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

How do you integrate this part of your life (weird stuff on the Internet) with the rest of your life?

Eamon McArdle: I don’t. I keep it separate for the most part, because I know people won’t care, or at the very least I know if I talk about some of these things I’ll sound like an absolute madman.

Ryan Dell: I talk to people in real life or at work all the time about a funny Vine I saw or something that was trending on Facebook. Balance is everything.

James Wilson: I’ve learned that trying to explain Internet shit to people who aren’t as deep in as me usually doesn’t go down that well. But I’ve also learned you can integrate the Internet sensibilities into your real life and people think you’re hilarious and great. Someone once told me “your existence requires context,” and I’m so down with that. Even when I’m offline I’m not fully logged off.

Photo via THERKD/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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