Just a heads up. This is a post that will be filled with a good heaping of politically incorrect language. Its also a post about something that I am extraordinarily biased about. Its internet culture, and I need to explain a little bit about my history with the internet before I continue.
You see, I was never really a popular kid until I went off to college and learned how to be self confident. My parents were very conservative when I was younger; they let up eventually but far too late for me to avoid the weird kid label that inevitably is stuck on someone in school. Combine this with my woeful lack of self-confidence and general disdain for that self-esteem thing (which pesters me to this day) and you've got a good breeding ground for a loner kid who grows up to become the weird old guy who goes to high school basketball games.
But I had a secret weapon; internet forums. First was a bioncle forum, the old lego toys, but I was about 10 or 11 then and knew nothing of what I was doing. Following that was Neopets, something I was idly involved in for a few years. And then I found thebestpageintheuniverse.com and things took a turn for the net-culture.
If you're not familiar with the page, do so, if only because at some point Maddox was still a relevant internet figure back when there was such a thing. But more importantly, I found him funny, and wanted to find other people that were. So I stumbled on to the forum, thebestfanpageintheuniverse.com, and found myself, at 13, the target of jokes that I didn't get and harassment to improve my grammar.
My first username of significance was "Soldier Boy" from the Metallica song that 13 year old me was listening too. I introduced myself and the first words thrown at me were "You like soulja boy or something faggot?" The rest of my introduction went pretty much down that line; and I was sort of miffed. So I lashed back, and over the course of about a year I grew in to a better and better debater and a better and better writer. Why? Because I was among the youngest people there.
Ever since then I've been heavily entrenched in internet culture; I'm still mildly active on 4chan, active on reddit, and hubski. I'm not quite down in the nitty-gritty internet forums because of their much more drama-prone environments, but I still remember the 5 years I spent as a dedicated member of quite a few fan forums (modding one of them and even starting my own, which failed miserably.)
I've read bloodninja, Fashion SWAT, seen the flashes at Albino Black Sheep (remember when youtube wasn't around for funny videos?), saw the shock porn as it hit everywhere, and watched Myspace crumble.
I more closely identify with the culture of the internet than I do with American culture.
So when I first saw a kid bring that out in to real life, I was angry. Fucking angry. And I couldn't figure out why; his shirt wasn't too out there, it wasn't offensive. It was just a shirt that had that 4chan logo with a pedobear on the back. So what? Its just an image.
And yesterday I figured it out. Its because you just don't do that. Its like showing people a secret hand-shake, or telling them where you're going to have a gang meet-up. You just don't do that. And when you do, its because you don't understand the culture.
The internet is an obsessively private place, despite the public information floating around. You do not talk about it outside of the sites you go on. Those are the unwritten rules; you don't bring internet in to real life. Why? Because you'll spoil it. People will print t-shirts and make videos and posters and they'll all laugh, and the news will cover it and you'll sit back and swear because these fucking people who didn't have to grow up like you did, didn't watch it develop like you did, come in and act like they can just do that. Like they can just take it all and put it on a t-shirt.
A meme isn't a meme because you say it is. Its a meme because everyone starts using it, everyone on any site recognizes it and spreads it around. Its natural. Take dolan. The duck says some weird shit. That's the surface. Below that? Its poking fun at lots of things; its wordplay, its references, its pop-culture icons being twisted in to your world and seeing them overcome. Yeah I'm explaining the joke a bit, but that's not really the end of it. Its what everyone brings to the comics, what makes anyone laugh at it.
Now put that on a shirt. Put that on a 13 year old like me so many years ago, and then you suddenly understand. This kid doesn't understand what dolan means any more than his parents do. He's wearing the shirt as fashion, like he's wearing his hat to the side and skinny jeans and a hoodie a size too big, because its fashionable.
Well, I don't like being reduced to fashion. And back in high school, when I saw the 4chan shirt, that's what it was all reduced to. I'm sure a guy in the middle of the city back when hip-hop was exploding on pop-culture had these thoughts too. What the fuck are you wearing that hat that way for? When did you earn that? Where were you when we thought of that? What gives you the right to do that?
That's the end of it I suppose. There's not much to say. I just figured out why I was angry, and hopefully helped other people figure it out.
I've spent more than half my life on the internet and that isn't going to change. The amount its shaped my personality is insane. I think differently, talk differently, and learn differently. I say "mate" because of my Australian friends who liked to act stereo-typically Australian. I am bored by "original" images people find because I saw them 7 years ago. I earned the right to use the words, put up the images. So when I see shit like "Shoot ALL the rockets!" in World of Warcraft, I get pissed. Not because someone's fucking with my secret clubhouse.
Because they're fucking with my identity.
So, okay, there has been something that has been bothering me for a while as well that is related to this, but I want to say upfront I'm not directing this at you. I'm more or less going to be ranting about a mesh of people I have interacted with on the internet, with whom I once closely identified with.
There is a word for what geek/nerd/internet culture is, but I'm not sure exactly what it is. I also thought it was something it became, but I now realize it has always been that way.
I hear so many stories of people who grew up social outcasts, bullied because they were different. Somehow they didn't meet societal norms or the expectations of their peers and found themselves on the wrong side of exclusionary culture. However, they found solace in something nerdy/geeky and they flourished to become productive/creative people.
Inevitably these stories always end in, "and that's why I have declared myself arbiter of geek/nerdiness and reject those who would dare wear the mantle of geek/nerd without my explicit permission". Recently it's rejecting the 'legitimacy' of women being gamers/geeks/nerds because someone can know an entire person's history by looking at them and know they are not true gamers/geeks/nerds.
Some of these people grow up to live the dreams they had while playing video games instead of having friends and work in the game industry. Then they put their heart and soul into these games and are rewarded by their geeky/nerdy peers with anger because they would dare reference anything that has so completely defined their life.
I found it so odd that those who suffered merely because they were different would be so keen to outcast and exclude those who are different from them. You'd think that those who saw the dark side of exclusionary culture would not go on to become that which they hated.
I now realize that it has always been that way. There was always someone else to make fun of, to look down on. There was always a social normality that was enforced by the crowd. Geek/nerd culture has not been a rejection of the systems which outcast us but merely a reimplementation of it.
I've spent almost my entire life online or on the computer. I taught myself chess, started a pokemon webring, learned to type by playing MUDs and using IRC. I don't think I would change a thing about that, but I don't want to embrace it as I once did. As they say, "When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things." I'm not sure what I would call geek/nerd/internet culture, but either it has changed over the years and that's alright, or it has always been the same and should be reformed.