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.
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.
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.
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?