When I was living in China, the internet was my primary tool for keeping up with life in the Western world. Internet censorship (or “harmonization” as the Chinese call it) limited my access to the Internet Movie Database, Facebook, and a number of other sites, but I was able to regularly access of a number of sites that might expect to be censored like one of my favorite art sites or this awesome oracle for insight into the lives of Chinese people. Living with such restrictions on my internet taught me to exercise caution on the net. One peculiar symptom is my resistance to engage in internet argument, a side effect that may be silencing my voice, but doing so in my best interest. I’m also not sure if credit belongs with the restrictive policies of the Chinese government or with the rise in general awareness of the consequences of web presence. Either way, I fucking hate censorship and that point will come into play further along in this report.
I found a cure for homesickness in the site 9gag which, while an international site, is primarily in English and dominated by Americans. This site introduced me to meme culture and kept me abreast of the stupid jokes Americans were telling to each other. Similarly my wife uses a Chinese site Qiu Shi Bai Ke to reconnect with the stupid humor of her homeland. Globalization enthusiasts will not be surprised to find out that the same material can often be found on both sites. I see a gif of somebody hitting their nuts on a Tuesday and my wife sees it on a Wednesday- one world, one dream. We can’t spread basic health education to all corners of the Earth with all the resources of the developed world, but fart jokes and nip slips travel at the speed of light. As is the case in most instances of intercultural exchange, the information can change meaning from culture to culture.
I kept following 9gag for a while. It served as a stupid enough distraction from whatever I was supposed to be doing, but like other sites in the same vein, it became overwhelmed by reposts, pictures of pets, products people bought or desired, and depressed people bragging about their infinite sadness. I eventually made the shift to HugeLOL, a site created by people from the 9gag community who were fed up with humor-lacking material and reposts clogging up the streets of 9gag. While HugeLOL definitely featured more joke-related images, the frequency of racist, misogynistic, and anti-gay imagery noticeably increased. This material wasn’t topical either- über-misguided patriotism condemning Islam or immigrants, but that kind of racism that’s almost too stupid to take seriously like “Black people love fried chicken” or “Women shouldn’t be allowed to drive because of their menses.” There was complaint from the HugeLOL community and the moderators made efforts to purge all racist content with minimal success until they hardened their community standard guidelines and policies and created an alternate site that would be free from moderation called HiddenLOL. At HiddenLOL, a person could post anything and the only thing (except perhaps a child porn post) that could cause the removal of content was the downvoting of the community.
As a free speech enthusiast, I eagerly explored the contents of HiddenLOL and followed it closely in the early days of its inception. I found some of the sexually graphic material disturbing, but mostly I found it pretty funny and some of it quite innovative. The flood and popularity of racist material shocked me. The site quickly became overrun with slavery and Holocaust humor. Hitler became a mascot, giving rise the unfortunate title for fans of HiddenLOL- “HidLers.”
As much as the appearance of desktop Klansmen-rapists-Nazis in my online community surprised me, I was much more taken aback at how these vulgar advocates for free speech often took positions staunchly against material that was sexual in nature. A web democracy of sorts was giving freedom to choose their content and with that freedom, they consciously chose and actively worked to make the platform about hate and then with equal enthusiasm, worked to remove sexual content. I won’t lie and say the sexual content can be equated with love. Some of it featured pretty violent imagery, usually towards women because the some of the community equated rape violence with slapstick. The objective of the sexual material was humor, not romance, but I would say the material was predominantly motivated by a love-driven laughter rather than spite (except in the cases of rape violence I mentioned early).
I’m pretty open-minded about content. I have a discerning taste to be certain, but I approach most content as an artifact of its time, given its the benefit of the doubt that it is has social value. Largely I feel pity for those whose opinions I oppose and I admittedly do feel anger towards them, but I cherish freedom of expression above most things and wouldn’t want to deny someone an outlet for their ideas. The idiotic memes of American rednecks or the “GAAAAAAAAAAAY!” comments on every youtube video and news article don’t scare me nearly as much as the consolidation of major media outlets, encroachments on net neutrality, or the influence of religious groups on education and public policy. The most alarming conclusion I’ve drawn is that some people prefer Hitler to pornography. I like sex. I like sex in art, in movies, in literature, in real life. The truth is I like sex more than Batman and I like Batman a lot. I can’t imagine thinking about hating any race of people more than I think about sex. Every single citizen of France could take turns pooping on my doorstep for the rest of my life and I would still think about sex more than hating the French, so how much do these people hate? Is there an equivalent to the orgasm in this depravity?
Should I really be surprised? Kids see a lot more guns than genitals and that’s how somebody (a wicked cabal? the silent majority? everybody) wants it. For a species so obsessed with both sex and violence, we’re incredibly resistant to understanding their consequences.
As someone who prefers pornography to Hitler, I struggle to understand the mindset of people for whom the opposite is true.