If Something Awful was completely without merit, there would be no problem. Shit is shit and let’s run this shit into the ground as they say in one of the hundreds of memes that pass for conversation on SA. But SA can be charitable, as when it raises tens of thousands of dollars for the poor in the USA and elsewhere, it can be justified as when it took on the child pornographers that infest Reddit and drove them out for least a while. It can be an effective critic of far worse entities such as 4chan, TV Tropes and other deserts of the mind. It can even be strangely beautiful – I was one of the many people preparing a Photoshop for a ‘make a ghost picture’ thread, when up popped the very first image of Slenderman, a nonsense monster that spread over the world in a flash and recently drove two teenage girls to try murder another to appease this instant-meal myth. I know that’s a particularly remorseful kind of beautiful, but I still prefer it to most art.
At the moment they are coming to the end of a revolution of sorts, it’s petering out in spasms, but still you’re likely to come across entire threads of people saying:
“I’m Gay.” at each other like some kind of demented bird call. Which in anyone’s terms is pathetic or infuriating or both. I’m not here to defend it, but to try to sum up what’s been going on in this virtual town of 189,064 or so.
Just before Halloween 2013, the main board, General Bullshit (or ‘GBS’), was in trouble. SA is actually one of the most highly moderated websites around, with probations and bans constantly raining down on the worst of the worst. Probations come for racism, gender slights, tedious trolling, sock puppeting, all the usual sins of online society – if YouTube was run like SA, their comments would be empty. But in this case the effort had been too successful, and the grotesque ball had stopped dead. The punters were unnerved – what was funny? What ribaldry was OK? What insults would be tolerated, and if this was a party – the beer had gone flat.
Halloween evening, new ‘spooky rules’ for ‘GBS 2.0.’ were posted by Zack Parsons, science fiction novelist and admin. No NSFW images, no personal fights, that’s it.
By the time I saw the board a few hours later, a few timid starts had turned into an outpouring of the most disgusting, hateful, childish garbage that anonymous fat young men could pull out of their trousers. To be clear, there was no redeeming quality to it at all. I learned that probably the worst swearword in the United States is ‘nigger’, and they were going to mount that on a flag and march it down main street. Everything had to be burned and everyone had to be smeared with ashes and shit and god knows. I stopped visiting GBS for a while, basically because there was no community to visit.
Other sections of the community carried on as before, a bit like the white flight suburbs circling Detroit. Every now and then somebody would come wandering out of the maelstrom and start the noise in the pet discussion area or such like. They would instantly get banned, without understanding why the rules were different.
I thought it might go for weeks. It went for months, although after a while the tone was like the Dawn of the Dead – the zombies were beginning to assemble some parody of order, while angrily refusing it. The moderators came back in, allowed themselves to be mocked and be probated by others, sometimes with humour, mostly not. I’ll make a big stretch and compare it to the cultural revolution, when Mao had students attack the professors to keep himself up the top of the power structure.
I am an imperfect witness, I’m too old, I just wandered around the desolation not knowing why. Some of it was another discussion board, FYAD, leaking out of its pink cartoon cesspit. They do not speak their name but ‘Fuck You And Die’ is probably it. What you see in there is something between a diaper fetish, people who cut themselves for attention and those that think they are Oscar Wilde and aren’t. Everything is ironic, especially typing ‘nigger’. Perhaps the plan was to draw them out? Was it a death wish? Did Zack Parsons want to prove a point? The moderators only know.
Some time near the new year, softly, the rules were expanded and it became ‘GBS 1.3′. Probations followed. There was grumbling, but maybe everyone was too exhausted to rebel. August 2014, nearly a year later came the message from Lowtax, king of this domain: “Can we PLEASE get rid of all the racist garbage getting posted around here? As we’ve always said, unless it’s extremely remarkably wonderfully humorous, you’re going to get banned for making racist comments. For your health.”
The revolution lasted just over 11 months.
The proudly worst have discovered that while ‘tranny’ is now banned, ‘gay’ is still allowed, not specific to the sexual orientation although that’s in there, but in the school yard sense of ‘weak’. It’s highly offensive, it’s supposed to be. It tests exactly the same water as being ‘punk’ in 1976. But because the punks were at least glamorous, they now have a museum history, where once being ‘punk’ was just as awful as the ‘ironic homophobia’ that’s being thrown about now.
But who will record the revolt of the ugly fat dorks? I will. I was there for the punks, I was there for the dorks, what difference really?