Shitposting – The Defense Mechanism of Lonely Geeks (And Corporation Co-opting)

Shitposting, it’s hard to define, and we shrug it off by “You’ll know it when you see it,” a form of communication that is becoming inescapable around message boards, Twitter, and chat-rooms. It’s basically memes responding to memes, which have been fermented in the noxious gases of Twitch chat. But are they a form of communication? Are they a form of humor? What are they there for, and how are they misused? I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of shitposting and memes, and never have been, so I’ve spent quite some time from my perch, looking at everyone running amuck in the communities I frequent, trying to understand why people do it, and what purpose it serves.

Jessica Jones Episode 8 - Kilgrave on worthless trash

Well, as Hajime of Gatchaman Crowds had so aptly put it, people won’t stop doing what they’re doing if they’re having fun, but there must be some specific need this addresses, and that’s what I’m going to think over, and also how it’s being co-opted by outside forces.

(Note, the post’s previous title was “Shitposting Lonely Geeks, and The Corporations That Take Advantage of Them”, but corporations aren’t the focus of this piece, but how shitposting is closely-related to loneliness and in-jokes. So it was changed to reflect that better.)

First and foremost, I feel shitposting and memes serve as “non-humor humor,” or specifically “humor by reference,” which is often used in “Geeky Comedies,” which I use to mean “Any comedy focusing on one particular topic,” which could be baseball or stamp collection. What matters is that there are inside jokes and references only the initiated will “get”. “Look, I’m gonna mention something you know, but others do not, a shibboleth, and you will laugh.”

Is it funny? Well, it makes some people laugh, so it must be, but it feels like a reflex laughter. What purpose does it serve? It makes us feel as if we’re in on something, as if we’re in on something together with the person making said reference, and with everyone else who laughs, unlike the outsiders who look on in confusion. Humor and self-references are a way to not feel alone.

So, we meet new people, we use these code-words and messages to let them know we’re part of the same tribe. Yes, we all not only watch A Game of Thrones, but have actually read A Song of Ice and Fire. Yes, we know all about Ironman Magic: the Gathering tournaments, and it’s a pity, all those Black Lotuses who got torn to bits. So, why do we keep using them later? The social context still matters. Twitter feeds constantly have to face people who come along and read discussions between strangers, and these little signs help to decide whether to follow them or not. We must constantly push out and re-educate newcomers on Twitch channels, hammer at them with the Kappas until they become the all-memeing, all-shitposting crap of the world (that’s a literary reference, but memefied). We are constantly beset by strangers and thus must keep signaling our “belonging” to the uncaring world, and to one another.

Mr. Robot Episode 1 - Elliot Alderson can't handle the loneliness.

And on that front, “signalling to the uncaring world and one another,” I hold that it goes much further than that. Why do people shitpost at one another on closed chats where they know everyone present “already belongs”, once we assume it’s not just to constantly reaffirm our allegiance to our favourite fandom/medium/religion/sport/strike out as relevant? Because we’re lonely and uncomfortable. Well, not me, shitposters. Though if I’m actually being honest, I’m talking about “humans” here. You know how it actually takes a long time until you can spend time with someone you know in comfortable silence? Not feeling the need to strike up a conversation, and let it flow as it would? Shitposting is the result of people not being there, not just with one another, but with the internet as a whole.

Shitposting steps into the void and shouts out, “Look at me! I’m here! I’m human!” Yes, you could actually post “non-shitposts” there, but that’s hard, and you might attract the wrong people, and memes, paradoxically, aside from being in constant flux are also codified, so when a friend shitposts at you, you shitpost right back, and it keeps going on and on (and on, sadly enough), and you never have to navigate the silence. Shitposting is a socially accepted method where you keep broadcasting to the world your request for affirmation, and where you can reply to others’, without actually engaging with them.

Have you noticed that corporations are trying to cash in on your loneliness? I mean, besides trying to sell you crap you don’t need in the hopes that it’d make you less lonely, and the aforementioned sitcoms, which are a corporate product, designed to make you feel as if you belong, belong to the sitcom’s community, as if it were made by actual people? Well, I guess it is actually made by people, but this is the point where it’s starting to muddle. “Professionalism,” what is it if not a mask that separates the one who is performing a task from the person they are underneath? They are not going to make a comment on their personal tastes, they are not going to be a person to you. We expect professionalism from those who are acting as the mouth-pieces for corporations, which while composed of people, aren’t actually people. As much as they’d like to be people under American laws to benefit, that is.

Hibike! Euphonium anime Episode 10 - Tanaka Asuka rejects personal comments

But recently, especially on Twitter, you see official accounts that are not only “unprofessional”, but they actively meme. They try to cozy up to you as if they’re your friends. We all know the commercials who ask you to trust a conglomerate, to believe they’re giving charity out of the goodness of their (nonexisting, they’re not actual living entities, remember?) hearts, etc. But no, now corporations are trying to make us laugh, they’re posting shitposts, and replying to our own. They’re telling us, “When you howl into the void, we hear it, and we’ll affirm your existence. We’re your pals.” This behaviour is predatory, in that it preys on people’s insecurities, and wanting to have someone to listen, to have an easy accord with.

Shit-posting has been co-opted. It’s there for us to interact with people by not interacting with them, because it’s better than nothing. It’s there to help us identify who belongs and who doesn’t. But now, those who certainly don’t belong, as they’re not actually people, are going to use it to not-interact with us, and the behaviour is all rote, which is part of the charm of shitposting, so both our responses and theirs are predetermined. And pure shitposting accounts aren’t people either, they don’t understand you either, they’re acting out a role where all the lines are given to them, along with the keys to your fragile hearts. Ain’t it grand?

P.S. “Get off my lawn!” is one of the oldest memes. Shitposting had been around longer than you whipper-nappers give it credit. It’s all about style.

So, how do you feel about shitposting, and about the anthropomorphic direction corporations are taking?

16 comments on “Shitposting – The Defense Mechanism of Lonely Geeks (And Corporation Co-opting)

  1. Anon says:

    Would you consider this an example of “corporate shitpost”? This has probably been the most memorable “shittweet” for me this year:

    • Guy says:

      Not really. I’m actually a bit sad about the focus on corporations in this post’s title, as the focus should’ve been more on “Shitposting arises from loneliness”, I’ll probably change the title to reflect it better.

      Anyway, there’s a whole bunch of stuff going on here. Yes, it’s a corporation posting a “person-like message,” but it’s not trying to be your friend, as Crunchyroll. There’s also the fact there is an individual behind it posting this. There’s also the fact that stance regarding same-sex rights in the states has been made into “corporation business,” since corporations can oppose or support it (which is sort of ridiculous in itself), and there’s also marketing here – they’re drawing attention not to themselves as Crunchyroll, but to a show.

      And even if it were to try and be more personable, is this a shit-tweet? I’m not sure. I don’t think the aim was to make some sort of joke.

  2. Frog-kun says:

    The bit about corporate shitweeting reminds me of the CIA’s Twitter account, which John Oliver made fun of here:

    It is kinda concerning how corporations try so hard to buddy up with you nowadays, but then again, perhaps it’s a natural evolution of capitalism in the information era. These days, our online platforms have become so personalised, so it’s no surprise that advertising has become personalised as well. In an endless sea of advertising, the personalised ads are the ones more likely to speak to you (generic you).

    I don’t know what’s supposed to be done about this, or even whether it’s necessarily bad. As you say, the desire to be affirmed by others is a quintessentially human, and that’s what shitweeting comes down to in the end. Is it a good way to connect with others without exposing one’s own vulnerabilities? Perhaps. Perhaps not. And I think that on the internet, people are particularly vulnerable to predators of all kinds, because there’s no such thing as privacy despite that veneer of anonymity. Relationships are complicated, and the internet makes them even more complicated.

    Should we strive to be more genuine (whatever that means)? Talk with less memes and in-jokes, and speak more earnestly about the things that are close to us? Well, I don’t know. Although I know some things about your life because of the stuff you’ve told me and written on your blog, I’ll only ever know one side of you. I certainly can’t treat you like my best friend, and I definitely can’t treat everyone else on the internet like that either. I mean, why should I? It’s not like I speak earnestly about my feelings to everyone I know offline.

    But there’s still a good message in this post, because it reminds me once again that there’s a human being behind every keyboard, and that’s the most important thing to remember in any kind of relationship. We dehumanise others at our peril.

    We shitpost because we want to belong and reach out to other people, and we also do it to maintain barriers around us, because we are afraid of being hurt.

    Bah, it’s the hedgehog’s dilemma all over again!

    • Guy says:

      I think you’re presenting exactly the false dichotomy that leads to shitposting in your comment, “Either we are genuine and reveal stuff, or we shitpost.” But there’s that other option, which is a good option for those you don’t want to reveal stuff to, and don’t feel close to. And as I tried to say in my post, even better when talking to your friends – sometimes it’s best to say nothing.

      When you act in a manner that shows “distance” and “distrust”, or “I can’t handle just being around you,” as a way to communicate closeness, you’re doing the opposite. And why should you communicate closeness to strangers? Are you a corporation trying to sell them things?

      Is it perhaps the equivalent of making random jokes/sports references when you happen to exchange a couple of sentences with someone at the bus station? That’s fine, right? But how would a close friend or a relative feel if you speak to them like that, in a way that shouts “fake closeness”? Sometimes it’s better to say nothing. Much closer than fake-closeness.

      • Frog-kun says:

        Out of curiosity, how would “saying nothing” work on the internet? Isn’t that lurking? I can totally understand how silence can work as a part of communication in a setting where people can see your physical body, not so much in a context where you communicate solely through the written word.

        Of course, it’s accurate to say that lots of people lurk more often than they comment (myself included), so perhaps it’s a matter of choosing when to make yourself visible. If you don’t have anything valuable to say, then don’t say it. That sort of thing.

        • Guy says:

          Lurking is more appropriate for blogs/fora. But if you tweet, and people see you’re there, you’re not lurking. If you like a post now and then, you’re not lurking. Lurking is when you don’t make your presence known in any way.

          Here’s the thing. It’s fine to react to some messages, when you have something to say/want to (it’s fine to react all the time, but I’m making a point here, so bear with me). Shitposting comes from a “pathological” need to make your presence known, all the time. Shitposting comes from having the need for others to validate your presence all the time.

          If you know I read some of your tweets cause I’m active when you are, or reply to them now and then, that’s one thing. In real life, you still have people who keep vocalizing non-stop and don’t rely on body language. It’s not really the difference-causer. I mean, you can still talk to people for hours on end on the internet, right? Shitposting is a button that says, “See me!” because of the other half of it, it’s also a button that says “I see you!” Because it’s easy, and codified. It’s, I” have nothing to say, but I still want to make it known I’m here.”

  3. draggle says:

    I want to shitpost in reply to this post but I still haven’t even figured out what shitposting is

  4. lifesongsoa says:

    First I’ll say I’m still not 100% sure what you mean by “shitposting”. You are one of the few people I follow who use the term. I don’t post memes myself and on the rare occasion I’ll joke about one it’s usually with close friends and not on twitter. Maybe I don’t shitpost?

    I know what you mean when you talk about corporations getting all buddy buddy with their customers. Personally, I don’t see a problem with it. Are they trying to take advantage of my loneliness? I don’t know. If they are I feel like it isn’t very effective. I’m not a particularly lonely person. I don’t enjoy most social situations, but it’s usually not because I feel uncomfortable and more because I have something else I want to be doing. Even if I do feel uncomfortable I’m not necessarily going to view that as a bad thing that I need to fix.

    I think you might be overestimating how much people care about solidarity and maybe even need solidarity. It’s a big deal for some people, but not everyone has it high up on their priority list. I don’t. You quoted Hajime earlier. She is the epitome of a character who doesn’t prioritize solidarity.

    I’ll laugh at in-jokes, but I don’t really care that they are in-jokes. I’ll also laugh at in-jokes I don’t really get. The presentation of a joke and the passion behind it are usually more amusing than knowing specifically what a joke is about. Most of the time the person can’t tell if I get a joke or not unless they know me pretty well. I can usually make a close guess about what it means, but it’s not like I really care to know silly references for the sake of knowing silly references. If I have a reason to care what the joke is about I can figure that out after the fact. I can usually make another joke out of it.

    I follow Peter Payne. I’m often amused by his tweets and blog posts. I rarely buy anything from Jlist. I was on the fence about importing DOA3X before the whole drama with it broke out. I am one of play-asia’s new twitter followers. I realized I don’t have any special desire to play the game because I stopped to think it through. I get a free service out of both. I don’t think they are taking advantage of my loneliness. If they are, my wallet isn’t effected, at least not directly.

    I think I see the buddy buddy attitude at cons the strongest. I do wonder how many people realize they could buy the same things cheaper online. My friends and I are all aware of it and we buy stuff anyway. It’s part of the fun. I don’t feel like any of are taken advantage of in that type of situation either.

    Maybe I just don’t understand what this whole shitposting thing is about? Maybe I have a hard time feeling invested in the problem because it’s something I don’t do? /shrug

    • Guy says:

      Peter Payne is an interesting situation, are we following a site’s account that sometimes tweets personal details and opinions, or a personal account that sometimes (ok, all the time) posts marketing spiel?

      At the very least, it’s a marketing strategy, it’s the same sort of deal of “Buy this, it’d make you cool.” It makes you think of those twitter accounts as more personable, as if you’re buying from a person and not a faceless entity.

      I also think you’re misapplying the term solidarity, and don’t understand Hajime. This isn’t about “solidarity,” this is about being together with others. And Hajime puts utmost importance on it – everything she does is all about reaching out to the people beside her in an immediate and umediated manner, and going to and organizing social events. That’s what the corporations are doing. Hajime is the epitome of “fighting against loneliness,” not someone who doesn’t care.

      And it’s not really a “problem”, it’s more of a small-scale analysis, and the corporations isn’t, or at least not intended to be, the focus of the piece, but another unfortunate manifestation/outgrowth of it.

      And I’m not going to try and define shitposting, as it changes, like all social interactions.

      • lifesongsoa says:

        Hrmm, I think I get what you mean with marketing. I’ll try to explain my view on Gatchman Crowds. Before I do that I have to admit, I’m not sure why you told me I’m using solidarity wrongly in one sentence and then admit you aren’t talking about solidarity in the next. I’m not suggesting that Hajime is all about solidarity. She clearly isn’t. I’m super confused by how you got that out what I said. Maybe I should have elaborated better?

        I may not understand what you are saying about shitposting, but I think that I am applying the term solidarity correctly and that I do understand Hajime. Yes, she is shown to bring people together, especially early on, but a reason why is also given. She thinks it’s interesting to bring different types of people together and that different perspectives and people with different places in life can get along. That isn’t solidarity, at the very least solidarity isn’t the goal. It’s more like she ignores social class and ideology entirely unless it’s immediately relevant to her. The part of her that “doesn’t care” is an important part of why she scares Katze and why she is immune/able to contain his power. She “doesn’t care” that everyone hates his guts, she thinks he is interesting and because of that she is able to figure him out.

        Hajime can barely stand having her fingers pressed together to symbolize unity. Take a look at how Hajime acts inside the Gatchman community. She doesn’t follow their rules in the least and is always doing her own thing. She acts like she doesn’t care if rules exist or not. In season 2 Hajime’s positive attitude remains, but her optimism takes a hit. By the end of season 2 she is willing to get blown up for a chance to share what she has learned and give Tsubasa the means to save her friend/change the mood.

        Hajime attempts to enlighten the Japanese people for what could accurately be called their sin of believing in feelings of solidarity. I thought it was telling of her growth that she uses Katze’s power of imitation to do it. Katze who is essentially chaos personified. And also the same Katze who admits to being powerless against Gel.

        It seems to me that the thing you are talking about here is corporations getting in on the fun between fans and inviting those fans to buy their stuff because they are also part of the club. Being in the club means being cool and that is leverage to make a purchase. Something like that right? That is solidarity, or at least one form it can take. That is also similar to what Tsubasa’s grandfather describes with the Japanese government feeding the Japanese people propaganda. Again solidarity.

        Going back to Peter Payne, I don’t think his situation is so complex to understand. His account posts both marketing and personal things so we are following both. I don’t know Peter Payne the person, I know Peter Payne the internet personality. That personality posts marketing and personal info. At the end of the day I know that internet personality not the person/people behind it. Who is behind a twitter personality doesn’t matter that much to me unless I do have a personal relationship with the person behind it. If I go about imagining a personal relationship isn’t that my own fault? That is how I look at it.

  5. iblessall says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while and wondering how it applies to me (because I’m selfish I suppose). I don’t really know what I look like from the outside, but I hope I do (and I try!) maintain a relatively good balance between non-shitposting interaction with people and shitposting interaction. While I agree with your basic analysis of shitposting as a sort of substitute for interaction governed by mutually understood references, etc., I do think there exists another layer beneath the surface. Something genuine, perhaps—after all, I don’t shittweet at everyone who comes into my Twitter mentions, you know?

    And while this has been a starting point for some relationships online, it also doesn’t govern all my interactions across the board. There are people that I shitpost with, but also have genuine, real conversations with. I suppose you might say that after establishing the initial connection, the relationship has grown deeper to include further levels of interaction beyond shitposting, while still maintaining that particular mode of communication.

    For me, at that point, shitposting ceases to be about easy connection, and takes the form of a casual conversation that is simply an expression of mutual friendliness.

    Although I suppose you could argue that falls into the same category of relationship maintenance as the shitposting you’re talking about. Hmhm. Just musing here.

    • Guy says:

      Here’s a question, when you shittweet, not at anyone, but in general, on your twitter account, aren’t you reaching out to everyone that way? Aren’t you saying to the world, “Notice me, I’m here!”?

      Because you said:

      after all, I don’t shittweet at everyone who comes into my Twitter mentions, you know?

      But you also shit-tweet at anyone who reads your twitter account, indirectly. And I’m not saying that’s not fine, especially as people usually have to opt into reading that content. And what purpose does it serve? For you? For them? To read shitposting they might not interact with? I have my answers, but something to think of.

      • iblessall says:

        Hm, that’s an interesting question—and one I’ve thought about. Certainly, to some degree it’s performative, but I think, personally, it’s also just a matter of self-amusement. And if people like it, all the better.

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