The 4chan “Hipster”

As with most poorly thought out blog post that I make on a semi regular basis, this one comes from a conversation at the very heart of Reddit. Posted to the /r/funny section, “The Rantings of What I’d call a 4chan Hipster” is a facebook conversation about the nature of using material that at some point was conceived on 4chan [or for the purposes of this ‘article’ any of the *chan’s (7chan, 420chan, etc)]. The basics of which can be summarized by someone complaining that the individual doesn’t understand what the big deal about using such material is as well as a response from a friend that can be adequately summed up as defending this attitude by stating that it is a sort of cultural invasion.

I would like to start off by saying that in order to get into the mood for writing this post, I have decided to keep the following open in another window. I feel that the constant annoyance of that in my ear will not only keep me focused, but turn an otherwise bland and bitchy post into something that should hopefully prove more amusing. Let me also start of by stating that to some degree I happen to agree with the man who is defending the cultural death of 4chan. As such you may sling whatever bows and arrows my way about being a Hipster for liking something before it was popular or whatever else actually classifies one as a hipster these days.

A bit of History

4chan was born out of Something Awful by a poster known as Moot. It was based of the Japanese based image board known as 2chan which allowed a massive amount of traffic and content to be generated. Moot created 4chan as a sort of American mimic to what was traditionally a very Japanese website. As 2chan had taken off in Japan so to did 4chan in the United States and most of the rest of the world. It was originally simply a site that was much like the traditional message boards and Bulletin Board systems at the time but instead focusing on image content. You can read a full and disturbingly detailed description of 4chan’s history here.

Not Legion

But do you have a flag?

I’d like to get to the average user and where they factor into the whole history of 4chan. If you have heard of the chan’s or even Something Awful for that matter than you have likely heard of the internet user group Anonymous. They gained a reasonable amount of fame globally when the name anonymous was used to describe the collaborative efforts of a number of sites to take down the Church of Scientology in mid January of 2008 in response to the take down of an otherwise silly video of Tom Cruise by the Church of Scientology [1]. The group had of course been around for a fair number of years before that event, famous on the internet for attacks on sites like Habbo hotel and the likes and having been born out of the enforced username of every user on 4chan[and subsequent chans].

Moot would go on to claim at roflCon that things like the attacks on the Church of Scientology had gone to show him that perhaps the userbase of 4chan was a bit more than what he had originally envisioned. He also stated that 4chan did have some motivation beyond simply posting things form Japan and getting  all manner of Weaboo about it. There was clearly some thought put into the nature of anonymous conversation, and in many respects this would go on to shape the userbase that would inhabit 4chan.

The core convention of that anonymous username allows the users to post and all be on equal footing. In an internet culture where usernames have weight (Moot, Lotax, XKCD, Tom Fulp, Kevin Rose, etc.), and even a small user can build a reputation simply by posting with an identifiable ID, it gave people a completely new way to express themselves.  Or more so people could express exactly what they were thinking and feel free of any “consequences”. There were of course those who abused this power, or those didn’t actually make use of it, but the key is that the options were there.

This allowed the development of not only a community of memes, but it also served as a form of attraction to a great many users. The attraction was generally  to those users who were about the age to begin their college career [or late high school]. This created an entire generation of users somewhere between 2004 and early to late 2007 who spent their time creating what I will refer to as the culture of 4chan.

So what is the culture of 4chan anyway?

There is some degree of debate over the nature of internet based culture, but as someone who would like to go into that particular field of study, I am of coursed biased towards its success. In fact, I would go so far as to say that of all the areas that I feel qualified to speak about this one is perhaps the only one where I feel confident in proclaiming myself some manner of expert. The humor there of course being that there really aren’t experts in the field of Internet Culture and dynamics because anyone capable of studying them is my age and they haven’t made a degree for that yet.

The language, not the meme

I’d like to start off with this notion of what a meme is. To most people, a meme is simply a repeated phrase or inside joke amongst a group of people. For instance, most Americans would likely be privy to “America: Fuck Yeah” which was a line said in the movie America: World Police. It refers to an internal monologue that occurs within America of believing we are the single best nation in the world while at the same time realizing the absolute stupidity of such a statement. Now of course, not every American happens to be in on that joke, but the point remains that it is a cultural  meme or idea.

In much the same way, 4chan developed it’s own forms of memes, taking on everything from don’t mess with football [2] which was a polite way of saying “Don’t do anything illegal or something that might get you in trouble with the FBI, etc”. The point of the matter here is that the memes on 4chan served as more than simply some kind of inside joke, it was almost a method of communication.

When the walls fell

Look Familiar?

It has been posted in the past that 4chan’s method of communication mirrors the type of communication that is displayed in Star Trek The Next Generation’s Darmok, in which a race of aliens communicated entirely through the use of cultural references.

4chan does seem to suffer or perhaps benefit from a similar approach in that the memes took on more than simply a funny cat picture, but rather served as en entire level of communication beyond English. I’m not quite sure that I’d be willing to establish it as it’s own language, but perhaps it could easily be placed on the same level as American Ebonics in that it is a dialect of English that is born and driven by internet based culture.

My premise for this revolves around the idea that again 4chan is a great deal more than simply the memes, it also goes to represent an entire sect or group within the population at the time.

In the Reddit thread, I mentioned that I believed the average 4chan user to be far and above the intellectual level that most perceive them for. I do this for a myriad of reasons, with the primary one of course being that if I didn’t call 4chan users smart I’d be calling myself stupid and god knows I do enough of that already. But beyond my simple self indulgence, I believe there are elements of truth to the notion that 4chan users are a lot smarter than the appearance that they tend to give off.

Take for example, Lithursday [3] an event that was hosted on a weekly basis to allow anonymous to embed .pdf files in various images, upload them to the site, and exchange them. These books weren’t simply mother goose or Dr. Seuss either [see I rhymed there]; they were often times composed of classical literature and practical guides to a number of subjects [Dante’s Inferno, The Anarachist Cookbook, etc]. These kind of discussions are not on the same level as those that you might expect someone who just broke into a 2000 line chorus of the word nigger.

I’m not saying that reading classical literature inherently makes you intelligent, or that by doing so will make a group more intelligent, but there is something to be said about attempting to gauge the actual intelligence level of 4chan’s users [or users at that time].  I do; however, think there are enough signs to show between demographics, anecdotal evidence, and the likes that 4chan’s userbase is genuinely intelligent.

I suppose I insinuate that the levels of hatred, bigotry, and racism serve a dual purpose of not only keeping those a larger population out of the culture as a whole and a secondary purpose of allowing the members of the message board a true range of freedom of speech and expression. The actual users of 4chan could in fact care less for that ideology and instead simply use it as a type of cultural taboo chicken in which one user attempts to be more outrageously offensive than another.

In doing so you create an isolated area where these users can communicate about whatever they wish without fear of any kind of judgment or association with their purpose. As such you have a group of teenagers who are growing philosophically, sexually, etc. into adults congregating on a site with complete freedom to converse with their peers. I think this sets the precedent for at the very least a culture of sorts.

So… what’s the whole tirade about old and new 4chan users?

4chan has had it’s splits in the past, in fact it has had quite a few. Early on a large group of users would go on to create 7chan, a fairly similar group split off to the various other chans, etc. The most decisive (I believe) split among the group actually came because of the Scientology Protest. The *chans united on one of the few occasions and decided to actually commit a reasonable amount of resources to bringing down Scientology. This likely was fueled because of the intervention of existing anti-Scientology spokespeople and advocates like Mark Bunker who effectively hijacked the Anonymous movement away from it’s choice to use convention attack methods (DDoS, Black Faxes, etc).

This change in attack method made the attack several times more effective but caused some amount of distress in the community. It had taken what was going to simply be a retaliation for a silly video being taken down to a movement actually attempting to do legitimate damage to the church of Scientology; this would cause some rather large divisions. So much so that the anonymous logo has to some degree been separated from 4chan and become it’s own sort of entity organized primarily through the use of IRC.

The separation of the community had many of Anonymous older members who I believe to have been more intelligent than they chose to reveal were attracted by the idea of applying that knowledge to genuinely good projects [like the shutdown of Scientology]. I further suggest that you had a lot of members that thought that the memes were the important thing, that they weren’t simply words in a more complex culture. All of these members, as I have discussed this with colleagues, simply didn’t get the joke. They thought that the gore, the porn, the generally chaotic nature of 4chan was an actual representation of the culture, when it truth it simply served as a barrier to keep people out.

The result of this was thousands of millions of new users getting caught in this net and much like 4chan’s original userbase, wanting to be a part of something, they got tied up in the net of memes and protection built up to keep the community isolated.

Now, there are probably members who joined 4chan early on who could have cared less for the intellectual diatribe and could easily accuse me of painting the situation with rose tinted glasses. I do believe though that to a certain extent an amount of truth exist in the idea that the so called cancer killing 4chan [the Scientology raids] were a misunderstanding by new users uniformed as to what was a joke. They seemed to think that people actually believed the ridiculous “Anonymous Is Legion”, not realizing it too was simply a meme, a retooling of the English Language to say quite simply “On this objective we are surprisingly united”.

They had taken the culture that had been developed and seen it only at face value, thinking that caturday and the likes were  just about the memes, and didn’t have any meaning past that [alright, to some extent they were].This created serious divisions in the userbase and you began to see the older members of anonymous moving on to find sites that filled a similar roll.

As I have said several times before, sites like Reddit filled that need quite well and you ended up with a lot of users from 4chan making use of Reddit, Meta Filter, Returning to Something Awful, etc, creating a massive void of people to say things like “Lurk Moar”, letting users think that if they just spout out Habeeb it they were part of the crowd. It’d be a lot like going into a crowded Mexican Market and just shouting out “Cree” not knowing what the hell it means; you’d end up getting a lot of strange looks. Now imagine if the majority of the market was filled with people like yourself, knowing the words but not the context, the meaning, etc.

Timeline of Memes


This is what 4chan has now become, a void devoid of people who can go back and say “Lurk Moar” or at the very least point them to current repositories of well known memes and the like [Encyclopedia Dramatica, etc]. Instead it became a group of people who knew what the language sounded like, but didn’t actually know how to assemble it into coherent thought. Again, this is likely romanticizing the nature of 4chan quite a bit, and there of course are things like “/b/ was never good” which holds a huge element of truth to it.

About the Hipster?

So, assuming I have made the case that a culture exist to you, I suppose it now becomes my objective to defend said Hipster? I guess I should point out that I feel like some kind of Anti Hipster and that by doing so I am in fact somehow a Hipster. Really the issue here is much like most people who read this wouldn’t understood what I mean if I asked if you had stairs in your house, so too do I not actually understand what a Hipster is.

My loose definition of Hipster is anyone who claims to have liked something before it became “Mainstream”, and using such a loose definition really makes the world a bit pointless. As such, I’ll work within the bounds that for my sake a Hipster is someone who wears strange clothing, hangs out at Star Bucks, and listens to independent music bands and than pretends they are unphased when I say that I’ve never heard of them [To be fair, I don’t even know what the Beetles sung other than Yellow Submarine and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds].

Now, the idea that somehow it’s strange for someone to be angry when their culture [digital or not] is trampled on isn’t all that surprising, which is why I said I happen to agree with the young man.  4chan’s userbase was generally composed of societal outcast, misfits, and generally disagreeable individuals that would be harassed and bullied for being nerdy. There are of course exceptions to that rule, but I find that in this case it’s generally true. Now, they developed for all intents and purposes the culture of the *chans and had something where they could finally be a part of the in crowd.

What has happened is you have all these generally normal people [bro gamers, jocks, your common high school stereotype here] who have come in, found this treasure trove of culture and begin to market it. The very same people who drove the hatred which fueled this culture are now the ones who are making a profit. Now, in a capitalistic [generally] society, making money off something isn’t inherently evil, but it can disheartening to see something you felt like you were a part of be homogenized packed and sold to the public like a toy Tomahawk or plastic Tee-Pee at McDonald.

Everybody likes to think they are unique [for most Western culture], it establishes us as a person separate from others. When you take away that culture, you make a person less unique and I think on a fundamental level it bothers them. We’re talking about stripping someone of their friends [again digital or not] and replacing them with an entire group of people who only know words like Taco and Burrito when your friends all spoke fluent Spanish.

Based on this analysis, I really don’t find it all that hard to believe that you have a lot of former 4chan users who are a bit sensitive about what is and what was not theirs. It is a little difficult to look at sites like “IcanHazCheeseBurger” or the likes and know that someone is raking in a profit a bit of your culture.

As always, feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts about it, feel free to call me a moron, hell you can even tell me how your day went, but just don’t try to hawk Viagra, that gets caught in the spam filter. And if you want to subscribe via RSS, Email, whatever else I’m not that annoying and I only blog in spurts

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2 Responses to The 4chan “Hipster”

  1. dondesupatch says:

    I am making a presentation on the problems 4chan caused (even though i am a frequent user.)
    and i would enjoy Discussing it with you.

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