"Go to bed, Tao Lin."

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I thought we could either gchat, then edit later, or meet in person and transcribe whatever happens w/o editing (including things like ["long pause"] and "[nervously laughs]." I think I kind of prefer the 2nd.

So began my interaction with author Tao Lin, a young author known as much for his self-promotional antics as for his several published novels. I wanted to interview Lin about his experiences with a popular image board called 4chan, known for being a playground for internet trolls and the birthplace of the "hacktivist" collective known as Anonymous. 4chan is a place where thousands of people gather for cheap thrills: porn, gore, and spontaneous collaborative pranks that range from harmlessly goofy to insidiously dangerous. 4chan trolls go after religious cults, white supremacists, scam artists, pedophiles, and animal abusers. They also seem to hate Tao Lin. I wanted to know why.

4chan is a collection of image boards that allows users to anonymously post messages that disappear quickly unless they contain content that inspires others to respond. It is marked by the presence of a geeky, insular cultural currency of internet-borne ephemera which we've now decided to collectively call "memes." For the most part, 4chan's users just want to kill time shooting the shit with other geeks. They talk about anime, mecha, papercraft and other mostly-geeky topics. I've been hanging out on 4chan pretty regularly since 2007—it's a fascinating Darwinian "meme-pool," from which much of internet culture derives. I wrote a book about 4chan last fall. 

Two years ago, 4chan's administrator added a literature board, or, /lit/, to the fifty or so extant forums. It was an immediate personal thrill to see the often puerile tone of 4chan's boards used to describe Dostoyevsky, for instance. The content on the ...

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General Web Content: Pronunciation Book vs Pronunciation Manual

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[Pronunciation Book]

Pronunciation Book is a youtube channel that was registered on April 14, 2010, intended as a resource for "correct" pronunciations of a variety of words that were complex, foreign, or otherwise difficult to pronounce. Each video had a distinct aesthetic, consisting of a still frame with the word being pronounced spelled in a simple, black, sans-serif font on a white background with a copyright date and the channel's URL. Each word was repeated three times with different emphasis, and videos lasted no longer than 15 seconds. The videos are simple, even artistic in their presentation, reminiscent of On Kawara's date paintings from his Today series, each word concrete yet abstracted from its context. Early traffic was no doubt driven by sincere users looking for the proper pronunciation of various words. Indeed there exist a number of youtube channels that serve precisely that purpose, many of which are geared toward ESL viewers; but for whatever reason, Pronunciation Book rubbed many the wrong way, and soon the videos became a popular destination for trolling, spam, and rage. The comments section of each video range from angry corrections of the given pronunciation to outright mockery in the form of re-spellings, dislikes, sarcasm, and a strong undercurrent of racism and xenophobia. Commenters often defended regional pronunciations and accents, or simply mocked the need for such a guide in the first place.

Pronunciation Book would seem to have tapped into an essential truth of the Web and all it's presumed meritocracy: act like you know more or are better than people, and be prepared to drown in a sea of rage. Perhaps the most sophisticated response to the channel came exactly one year later in the form of a separate parody channel titled Pronunciation Manual. Pronunciation Manual adopts the visual ...

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Cole Stryker, Author of "Epic Win for Anonymous" on Interior Semiotics, Context Collapse, and "You Rage You Lose"

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Still from Natacha Stolz's Interior Semiotics

Last year, an anonymous Rhizome contributer interviewed Natacha Stolz regarding her performance Interior Semiotics, the video documentation of which eventually found its way on 4Chan:

What is it that made, and is still making, [4chan users] so angry about Stolz’s performance? The video contains graphic material, but in the age of Goatse, and Tubgirl, explicitness alone cannot shock or offend most people—especially internet trolls. Rather, it was the label on it—art—and the work’s perceived demographic—hipsters—that crawled under people’s skin. Many on the internet seem as angry with the audience—for sitting there, for clapping—as they are with the performance itself. Whether or not you like Stolz’s piece may be a matter of personal taste, but taste is never strictly personal. It stands at a nexus of hot-blooded issues; issues relating to class, status, accessibility, belonging and not belonging. Taste necessarily begs the question not just of how we assign value to things, but also of who should be doing the assigning. The hipster has come to epitomize for many what’s seen to be the ridiculousness of taste; and so it struck people who hated Interior Semiotics as no mere coincidence that many audience members in the video were punked out, or gothed up, or otherwise retrofitted.

A lot of the comments on the video fall into two categories: comments addressing the definition, or ideal definition, of art, and comments addressing the nature of hipsters. The latter tend to be violent expressions of a kind of inchoate rage.

Recently I asked my friend Cole Stryker, author of Epic Win for Anonymous: How 4chan’s Army Conquered the Web for his take on the trolling of the artist:

 

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