Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The 4chan Report

I’ll be honest, I have just not thought about politics since the state of the union. I published some old posts I had written but never put up, I made some half-hearted comments, but all in all… I have just not given a fuck about politics. Yeah, Egypt is falling… but that’s so 4th century BCE.

So while I have largely let anything remotely political pass in one ear and out the other this week while I immerse myself in some movies I wanted to watch, music I wanted to listen to, and a sweet video game or two… I have basically nothing to say on here. Except…

I have always frequented a site called 4chan that has both amused and mentally scarred me. There are things on there I can never unsee, but I brave the ever dangerous waters because interesting stuff comes out of it.

Rather than simply dump a bunch of content to SE, I thought I’d give it a go at explaining the cultural impact in non-visual terms. If that doesn’t work, I’ll just copy and paste over images that will make you laugh or question humanity, or both.

The biggest news story covering 4chan is arguably the loose affiliation it holds to the cyber attacks on WikiLeaks detractors. By no means are all, most, or even a lot of people on 4chan taking part in this, though it would be interesting if they did. However, 4chan was one place (along with Twitter, other hacking-related boards, word of mouth, etc.) that disseminated links to download the DDoS software which flooded sites with traffic.

I read an article the other day where the creator of a comic got a huge boost in sales when his entire comic was scanned and posted (i.e. “pirated”) on 4chan. The author saw his comic was being pirated, he went to the website, and instead of acting butt-hurt and whining about how they’re stealing from him… he turned it into a virtual meet-and-greet. He talked with the community, answered questions, thanked them for getting the word out… and sales spiked.

Why? Because in the real world (not the virtual world of economists and executives), the biggest problem facing an artist is not ownership rights or licensing, it’s obscurity. Tell me about it, right bloggers? I sometimes think I have to light myself on fire just to get noticed.

A lot of artists already acknowledge this. One of my favorite recording artists, Beck, releases entire albums to be listened to on his website without commercials (his YouTube videos, oddly enough, do have commercials). Radiohead released “In Rainbows” electronically on their own website at a name-your-own-rate price. You could download the album for free or pay any amount you wish, from 1 peso to a gajillion Euros. The album was a critical and commercial success.

Getting back to 4chan… it’s basically a global geek’s table in high school. While all the cool kids are sitting together, the dorks and nerds are reading comics and telling dirty jokes in the dark corner of the cafeteria. In real high schools, those people sometimes grow up to use that material when they write TV shows or music or pursue some other artistic outlet. On 4chan, it’s shared for all to see, alter, improve, and ultimately perfect.

Of course, none of this is possible if just anyone can go on there. In fact, the quality of the board noticeably dips when word gets out that it exists. Then, 4chan is overrun by “newfags,” as opposed to the “oldfags” who make it great. Newfags are quickly weeded out through harsh criticism or (more often) by being outright ignored. It’s easy to spot a newfag, because they don’t speak the language properly.

I’m not going to blow 4chan’s cover and produce a glossary or something, if only because I shouldn’t need to (the shorthand is usually not that difficult to ascertain). But if you go running in there using proper capitalization, grammar, and neglect to use words like “nigger” or “faggot” when appropriate, you will give yourself away. Most people come to the conclusion that there’s no point in anonymously attacking anonymous people, so those who don’t just go with the flow find the exit pretty quick.

Well, I’ve already said too much. Whatever you do, don’t go over there. Just let me filter everything you need to know to you. I can’t be held responsible for what you see or read there, so I won’t even link it. I know some of you have jobs, and I think opening 4chan at work is grounds for deportation to Tazmania. If it’s something for you, you’re already there.

So until next time, when I promise a shocking (though work-safe) cavalcade of stolen intellectual property, I’m off to blow more time building my town in Minecraft.


  1. Well played by that guy to see sales spike. But, in cases where that doesn't happen it is theft and it's not "whiny" to complain about it.

    I know quite a few artists and it's tough for them. They know there are opportunities out there on the net, and they're also aware of the reality of pirating and sharing on the internet but they also feel they deserve to be compensated.

    An artist should be paid everytime uses their work. A lawyer gets paid. A doctor gets pain. A contratctor gets paid. Only difference is their stuff is not on the internet. Lucky them.

    Just the way I see it.

  2. T.C., sorry, but that's just bullshit. The doctor, lawyer analogy won't work. An artist gets paid when they actually perform, too. What they and no one else can demand is that they get paid forever for when someone copies their idea. Copying is NOT theft. Besides, it's not artists being compensated in most cases, it's the giant corporations that control those copyrights.

    Here's the irony in your position. Suppose I'm a singer and I go and make my living doing cover versions of songs I like. Legally I can't earn a living doing that in public without "permission" from the copyright owner, so I can't get paid for my work.

    There is no such thing as intellectual "property". You can not own a series of notes, words, images. It's a statist fiction. Get over it!

  3. Actually doctors and lawyers are losing business to the internet (WebMD probably prevents millions of pointless trips to the doctor every year, and numerous legal documents can now be acquired online for free). The reason doctors and lawyers get paid is because the market is limited by barriers of entry. If you had to go to school for 9 years to get an artist's license to sell your work, they would all be making good money as well.

  4. Bret, I completely agree with your comment! A point I didn't bring up, but you're right, the market is limited by artificial barriers.

    Now, what if you had to get a degree and then be licensed before you could blog?


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