Mere LULZ Is Loosed Upon the World


[NOTE:  In case there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen it yet, know that this essay does not contain any Dark Knight spoilers...  Also, why haven’t you seen it yet?]

Order iz FAIL MEME...

The opening sequence of Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight — the current #1 movie in the Universe and inarguably the greatest superhero movie ever — ends with the Joker, the new face on the underworld scene, being asked, by a criminal from the old school, What do you believe in?

It’s a question that echoes throughout the rest of the film, relevant not only to the Joker but, by extension, to every other major character and, finally, to the audience.  Traditionally, evil has goals.  When someone has goals, their actions will be designed to achieve them.  And it is really only by virtue of these conceits that we are able to define evil as evil, or ourselves as good in relation to it.  If your enemy does not want anything, it is impossible to define your enemy.  And if it is impossible to define your enemy, it is impossible to define yourself.

To follow up on the last essay, I’d been planning a series of pieces on things that think-they’re-conservative-but-aren’t, or don’t-realize-they’re-conservative-but-are, or something like that.  Sub-political impulses masquerading as politics.  And I knew that one piece in this series would have to concern LULZ, but I didn’t know how to go about it… until I saw The Dark Knight. 

Since, if you’re reading this, you’re on a computer, odds are you already know what LULZ means.  It’s the internet practice of saying/designing something that’s offensive-for-the-sake-of-offensive, usually with a strong non-sequitur element, bringing it to the attention of people likely to get mad about it, and then sitting back and watching them get mad about it:  e.g., start with a photo of concentration-camp victims, photoshop in Papa Smurf and some lyrics from “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” add the caption “HALOKAWST SMURF IZ A FAN OF TEH WHAM!”, and then post the finished product in a forum thread on a dating site for senior citizens.

Why do this?  Excellent question.  I wish there were an answer that didn’t involve defining a term by reference to itself, but there isn’t.  LULZ means laughing at something you’re not supposed to laugh at, and as far as why it’s funny — well, it’s funny by virtue of the fact that you’re not supposed to laugh at it.  I realize it’s natural for the fact that it’s inappropriate to laugh at something to make you laugh harder — that’s why, as a kid, something could be uproarious if it happened in school (or church, as I’m told by people who went to church) that would barely have merited a chuckle if it’d happened elsewhere.  But this only involved the augmentation of funny.  Being in school or church didn’t make a fundamentally unfunny thing — a dead puppy, for example — suddenly funny.  LULZ is about training yourself to find the unfunny funny; to laugh at the fact that other people aren’t laughing…  To become omnipotent not by making yourself any better, but by rendering everything else inconsequential.  It is the textual equivalent of the Joker’s relationship to the world of actions.

You know what’s “funny?”  When I typed the phrase dead puppy just now, all I could think of was LULZ.  All I could picture was a bunch of faceless teenagers posting pictures of dead puppies in some chatroom and then laughing at everyone who got sad.  And that made me feel like the fact that dead puppies make me sad makes me weak.  And that made me want to train myself not to be saddened by dead puppies, so that I couldn’t be laughed at.

But you know what?  You’re supposed to be saddened by dead puppies.    

Now, this isn’t going to be about how it’s “mean” to make fun of people — this site does its share of making fun of people, so clearly we don’t think it’s wrong in all cases.  And despite how much everyone’s been using these terms to discuss The Dark Knight, it isn’t going to be about “order” and “chaos” either.  I don’t really subscribe to neat-and-tidy distinctions between order and chaos.  I think putting too many eggs in that basket is what turns people conservative:  they worry more about order vs. chaos than they do about true vs. false (plus, the conservatives usually aren’t even defining order or chaos very well anyway — like everything else that’s potentially interesting, accurate, or beneficial about conservatism, they’ve just turned it into reductive bullshit about not having sex).

All I want to do here is figure out what LULZ is.  How can I have a position on it if I don’t know what it is?  (If you’re not already familiar with the LULZ subculture, the best place to start is a site called Encyclopedia Dramatica, known around the web as ED — clicking around on there for a while will also bring you up to speed on Ebaumsworld, the *chans, SomethingAwful, etc.)

The first instinct, of course — as indicated back at the beginning — is to try and establish whether LULZ is liberal or conservative.  Since LULZ is fundamentally anti-P.C. — indeed, the first thing one notices after surfing ED for only a short while is its supersaturation with racial slurs — one is immediately tempted to say conservative…  but this doesn’t exactly hold up.  While its true that a site that thinks the Last Word in Comedy is working the phrase “teh nigra cock causes teh AIDZ” into every paragraph is clearly not liberal, a site that thinks at least one in three essays calls for a picture of Green Lantern blowing the Pope while Abe Lincoln looks on with a beard made of vaginas can probably not accurately be described as conservative either.

So on the liberal or conservative? front, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that the LULZ crowd basically have no use for the information that there is a thing called politics that exists.  And strangely, this is why it’s impossible to hate them all the time — every once in a while, they decide to fuck with someone who actually deserves it.  A prominent cadre of web-ninja from 4chan, for example, known fittingly enough only as Anonymous, one day just up and decided to start fucking with Scientology, and have done, to my knowledge, a far better and more hilarious job than anyone else so far of fucking with Scientology.  They’ve also hacked Fox News in retaliation for a biased anti-video-game panel show and a segment about, well… them and how they hack stuff.  And then there was the time they abruptly started a war with this one dipshit white-supremacist talk-radio host and completely ruined his life in a manner worthy of Bugs Bunny, obtaining his home address and phone and posting them all over the web and so forth (1585 is against hacking on principle, but it should be mentioned that this radio host had several times done the same shit himself to liberal judges).

One or two coups like that and you are more than ready to overlook the 10,000 or so times they lifted photos from the blog of some little kid with a horrible rare disease, used them to make flash animations of him getting buttfucked by Chewbacca, and sent them to his mom.  But which do they prefer doing?  Do they even see the difference?  Does the fact that the LULZ crowd’s biggest capers are against legitimate assholes mean that if we ever truly needed them they would do the right thing, or is it just that, so far, legitimate assholes are the most fun to fuck with because they get the most angry?

Sure, it’s possible for something to be liberal sometimes and conservative sometimes.  South Park, the Godfather of LULZ, prides itself on being officially neither — as, in some senses, does 1585.  But South Park still interacts with a recognizable political framework most of the time, and on more episodes than not (at least, so far), it is possible to tell whether the show’s take on any one given issue leans more towards one side or the other.  And at 1585, I try my best to specify which liberal or conservative things I am for or against.  LULZers, however, are the x-factor in the world of internet opinionating:  unpredictable, uncontrollable, unappeasable.  They’re like the aliens from that one thing where all of a sudden there were aliens and the good guys and bad guys had to form an uneasy alliance to fight the aliens.

LULZ exists — or, at least, aspires to exist — outside of the framework in which contradictions are identifiable as contradictions.  But unlike Walt Whitman, who did this so he could love everything, LULZ does this so it can hate everything.  P and ~P are both retarded.  And this begs the question:  Is it really possible to be against everything?  How does this play out in situations where there are only two choices?  Is someone who makes fun of racists and makes fun of Black people racist or not?  Does someone who is against atheism and against religion believe in God or not?  Is someone who considers it a waste of time to do anything besides have sex but also seems to hate everyone who ever has sex a perv or a prude?  Their favorite target is nerds, but isn’t someone who spends all their time on the internet declaring “Worst [blank] Ever” about obscure pop-culture stuff the very definition of a nerd?  How can a form of superiority exist if it admits no definition of good?  Is this craziness, or some ultramodern, experimental, nouveau sanity?  Is all contradiction necessarily confusion?  Is it Art?  Is it Rock and Roll?  Is it soup yet?  Are they the opposite of me, or only an alternate version of me with a smaller vocabulary and fewer illusions?  But all I do is tell the truth about stuff; is it possible to have fewer illusions than the truth?  Only if the idea that truth is preferable to falsehood is itself an illusion.  But if the truth is not worth the effort it takes to obtain it, then what is?  Some would say happiness — and yet the only perceivable goal of LULZ is making people unhappy merely for the sake of doing so.


Laughter and joking have been associated with the path to enlightenment by many geniuses — witness Joyce’s conflation of the imperatives Jest on and Know thyself in the masturbatory punfest that is Ulysses’s “Scylla and Charybdis” chapter, which pointedly takes place in a library, another place where one is not supposed to laugh — but the greatest satire has always made decisions; eschewed certain targets in favor of others.  It aimed at the destruction of pointless restrictions, superstitions, empty politenesses and false pieties, tradition for its own sake.  Its goal has never been the annihilation of all meaning.  The most honorable satire, like all great Art, involves training one’s psyche to exist in a state that involves as much receptivity as it does will; to become the most accurate possible filter for separating the beliefs that should not survive from the beliefs that should.  If a school of satire wills itself into the position that no beliefs should survive, then is it any longer satire?

Some readers may now wish to point out that I admire Nietzsche, and bring up nihilism, but here’s the thing:  nihilism doesn’t mean what you think it means, and Nietzsche wasn’t a nihilist anyway.  In fact, nobody was a nihilist.  The term nihilism was invented by religious thinkers to describe ultra-rationalists like Kant, and later used by Nietzsche to describe philosophies that ignore the world as it is (which, for him, included religion), thereby leading to the collapse of meaning.  He saw this as necessary, but only as a stage humanity had to go through before things could get better, not substantially different from Cartesian doubt or Kierkegaard’s despair.  Nietzsche never described nihilism as an end goal in itself, and nobody has ever described themself as a nihilist except dipshits who are trying to impress teenagers.  The term is used exclusively in a pejorative sense by everyone who knows anything about philosophy.  And don’t bring up the Dadaists, because the Dadaists were kidding.  How do I know?  Because they were the fucking Dadaists.

So now I guess someone could ask why it’s okay for the Dadaists to pretend to value nothing and not okay for ED to pretend to value nothing.  My first attempt at an answer would be to say that the Dadaists were pretending to believe nothing in order to oppose War (opposition to the powerful), whereas ED is pretending to believe nothing in order to hurt the feelings of the most vulnerable people they can find (opposition to the powerless).  We could attempt to distinguish between liberal absurdity and conservative absurdity, but if something is to any extent liberal or conservative, then it cannot strictly speaking also be absurd.  And besides, aligning this distinction too closely with good and bad themselves would be in error according to my own worldview, since I have admitted many times that it is eminently possible for someone powerful to be good or for someone powerless to be a dick.  Leaving for another day the question of whether anyone with the means to be a dick is truly powerless, we arrive at the following:  Does the manner in which the pose of valuing nothing is conducted encourage further thought, or discourage further thought?

We may say that if further thought is encouraged, then the satire is functional and therefore benevolent, and that if further thought is discouraged, then the satire is non-functional and therefore maleficent.  But is there any utterance which truly discourages further thought?  Not exactly.  Even fascist propaganda and religious dogma encourage thought — they simply encourage thought that agrees, and discourage thought that disagrees.  But don’t all positive assertions do that to one degree or another?  Perhaps examination is a better term here than thought.  Fascist propaganda and religious dogma discourage examination of the alleged support for the assertions they contain, whereas valid assertions encourage such examination.  But this just brings us back to the fact that the LULZ phenomenon by definition does not assert anything.  Is it possible to have a fascist absence of meaning?

And yet it is impossible to call ED fascist.  Far from it, in fact — because, although ED is belligerently dictatorial in tone, structurally it is a bizarre experiment in democracy.  Authorial control is collective — and while this may seem at first blush less pretentious, even more American, than what I do, it also ends up demonstrating why Art and Truth can never be democracies.  The structure ensures that the very worst traits of the Common Man will rise to the surface.  If no one person can control a given page enough to subtly set up, build up, and execute a single joke themselves over the course of, say, a whole paragraph, then this simultaneously keeps the humor from getting to any degree complex and ensures its adherence to the so-called lowest common denominator.  If every laugh has to be executed in a self-contained sentence, then your best bet is always going to be “show us your tits or GTFO.”  Hey, if you don’t type it, someone else will.

It is a legitimately fascinating sociological experiment:  what happens when the whole human race in microcosm all try to tell the most offensive joke they can think of at the same time?  It’s Lord of the Flies meets The Aristocrats. 

I realize that the extent to which ED is an “organization” is not great.  There are core members who are frequently mentioned by their handles but, since the site is a wiki after all, the authorship is ostensibly infinite.  And yet there must be some locking and policing going on — since such a huge percentage of the content is devoted to making fun of specific people (often, whom EDiots seem to know in real life), there must be something stopping those people from changing or deleting those pages.  Still, the authorship must be diffuse enough to account for the fact that nothing resembling distinct authorial voices have emerged — but then, the level of discourse is so low that how would anyone be able to tell?  If all you’re going on is the fact that the phrase “she is a fan of teh cock” appears on 500 different pages, then this could just as easily have been written by 500 different authors as by one single author. 

And is it worthwhile to discuss differences in intent here?  Out of the 500 instances just mentioned, it may well be the case that in 200 of them the author is unironically calling someone a slut, in another 200 the author is making fun of people who unironically call people sluts, and in another 100 the author genuinely has no idea any longer which he is doing.  The idea of the LULZ crowd losing the ability to tell when they are joking — like Gollum forgetting the taste of bread — is legitimately disturbing.  And yet, what does it matter if the reader has no way to tell the difference anyway?

When a page making fun of some pop musician suddenly contains the assertion that the reason she sucks is because “she has no songs about killing niggers,” what are we to make of this?  Did a genuine member of the KKK write this sentence?  An easily pressured fourteen-year old on a dare?  Someone who simply dislikes in real life the person who wrote the original article and is trying to make him or her look bad?  What?

Even if an author asserts that a text is meaningless, said text still has an effect on a reader, and can be discussed independently of intent.  The novel produced by the thousandth monkey at the thousandth typewriter still has meaning, as does the box of magnetic poetry tiles spilled onto the floor.  Even if no single phrase on the entire site was typed in genuine malice, and every word is ironic, what is it ironicizing?  Even if nobody “really meant” to be racist, how can you not call a site racist that says stuff about “killing niggers” everywhere you look?  How can you not call a site misogynist where no page about any female can exist for five minutes before degenerating into jokes about how she is a “slut” who is “asking to get raped?”  And suppose the veil of anonymity were lifted and we found that a majority of such comments had been written by girls?  What then?  Would we be able even to continue insisting that things should bother to make sense?  Is this in fact the goal:  wearing down to defeat sincerity itself, like the human tracker outlasting the antelope?  There is so much deliberate, senseless cruelty, so far removed from anything that could be construed as a legitimate attempt at comedy, that after a while ED begins to seem like it functions primarily as a pit-trap for people like me who feel the need to point out what makes no sense about stuff, designed to highlight the uselessness of doing so.

"Criminals are a supersti-- ah, fuck it."
                 1. Point out what is illogical about things.
2. ????                                            
3. PROFIT!!                                     

For example, some of you may have observed that, in the course of writing this essay about how these guys should not use certain words, I myself am using those same words.  But what choice did I have?  If I don’t use the words, they can say I’m “scared,” and if I do use them, they can call me a hypocrite.  This is what the LULZ spirit is designed to do:  put those who would oppose it in impossible positions.  Either way I lose, because I’m the one who’s trying to say something, whereas they can’t possibly lose, because if you don’t have any goals, how can you lose?

So what is someone to do who feels the need to get back at the LULZ crowd?  Some might think “well, that’s easy — people who don’t like them can just find out what they like, or what’s important to them, and make fun of that.”  But they’ve thought of that.  That’s why they don’t like anything.  I’ve searched the site pretty thoroughly, and was unable to find a positive comment about anything.  Every movie, every band, every TV show, totally sucks and is for “fags.”  And, in a way, this is power.  This is how you rattle people.  How can someone who values nothing be insulted?  The only thing that insults them is when they fail to upset you — and if they fail to upset you the first time, they will keep trying until they do. 

If that is even what they’re trying to do, which it might not be.  Take another diabolical villain, and you understand what his goal is — the fact that Keyser Söze, for example, mowed down his own family is how you know that Keyser Söze is someone you do not wish to fuck with — but in the Joker’s case, you are dealing with someone who may or may not even comprehend that mowing down one’s own family is something that would surprise people.  Or he might.  He might not even be crazy, and that’s even worse.  The only thing scarier than someone who values nothing is someone who understands nothing, and the only thing scarier than someone who understands nothing is someone who might only be pretending not to understand anything.  Because if that’s the case, then you constantly have to worry that however you’re choosing to react is not only exactly how they wanted you to react, but that getting you to react that way is in fact the entire point of doing what they do to begin with.  Your only other option, of course, is not to react at all — which would, presumably, also be just fine with them, since they’d have succeeded in getting you to just sit there and not do anything about something that obviously bothers you.

Now, if the point of LULZ is that certain people will see it and get mad, it must be asserting something, because it is impossible for someone to be enraged by senselessness.  It then appears that we’re dealing with two questions:  Who is supposed to get mad, and What are they supposed to get mad about?  But these two questions have one answer:  Who is supposed to get mad is anyone who ends up getting mad, and what they are supposed to get mad about is the fact that they are mad.

Dammit.  Now I sound like Polonius.  Fucking LULZ.

Anyway, that’s the point:  It’s not funny, but if you don’t find it funny, you’re a loser.  The subculture is constructed around the tautological failsafe that if you don’t like it, it means you are “the P.C. Police” (although they wouldn’t put it that way, because that would mean betraying the fact that they actually know something about politics — a good number of LULZpeak terms have been invented to simultaneously refer to and mock the state of being offended, the most common of which are:  being butthurt, calling the WAAAmbulance, and thinking that something is serious business), and that there’s no reason not to like it, because it doesn’t mean anything.  The thing about that is, it is harder than people think to actually not assert anything.  Even if there is no “thesis statement,” there are a number of definite positive assertions that can be extrapolated from the collected work on ED and sites like it.  True, people usually don’t notice this, because the assertions are all stupid.  But in any case, here they are:

1.  Nothing means anything.  Anyone who tries to assert that anything means something is “teh fail.”

2.  No-one cares about anything.  People who do care about things do not count, and the remainder constitutes “everyone.”

3.  Sex is both good and bad at the same time.  People who don’t have sex are “faggots,” and people who do are “pervs/sluts.”  This is because, while it may be obvious that people who can’t get laid are “teh fail,” paradoxically, people who can get laid usually do so as a result of leaving their houses and trying to get laid, and are thus also “teh fail,” because they have expended effort at something.  The only non-tehfail stance is theoretically being able to do things, but then choosing not to.

4.  If you say as many bigoted things as you possibly can about every group you can think of 24 hours a day, then magically it all cancels out and it is the same thing as not being bigoted at all. 

5.  Only things that are designed to hurt or upset people, in the easiest and most obvious possible ways, are funny.  Other methods of being funny would have to involve being insightful or crafting something well-constructed, which would involve trying, which means you must care about something, which would make you “teh fail.”  (see #2)

6.  The truth is whatever would annoy someone the most at any given moment.  For example, if you are around a religious person, you should pretend to be a skeptic, but if you are around a skeptic, you should pretend to be religious.  This should be done because all people who believe in things deserve to be rebuked in equal proportion, simply as payback for believing in things, indiscriminately of whether the things they believe are true or false.  Try not to be bothered by the fact that this is exactly what post-structuralist P.C. relativists do, even though you think you are the opposite of those people.

Wait, okay, hold up…  Here’s the problem at this point.  Once you begin trying to pin down what LULZ means, you inevitably start to sound like you’re against it.  Well, you might ask, why is this a problem, if it’s all actually this stupid?  Why not be against it?  The problem is that, paradoxically, even though the case for being “officially against” LULZ looks good on paper, when you try to actually put being against LULZ into practice, you end up looking like this kid:

How does that happen?  If LULZ is actually so terrible, then why does being against it look so lame?  How does LULZ do that?

The principal error in such attacks might be to harp too much on the diction.  While it is definitely the case that the constant use of racist, misogynist, homophobic and anti-Semitic language is one of the first things you notice about the site, the impact that this has on you declines swiftly the more time you spend on it:  Not, as some might think, because you become “inured” to it in a “dangerous” way, but rather because you begin to see that the prevalence of that stuff is inversely proportional to how important a page is — that the pages with the most of that stuff are the least funny, the least visited, the least prized; the web equivalent of the utilities in Monopoly.  The marquee pages, the Boardwalks and Park Places of ED (like the page ripping on Aspergers Nerds, or the one ripping on MySpace, or the one about That Girl Who Killed Herself Because the Other Girl’s Mom Did the Stuff on MySpace) have next to none of it, and it’s obvious that what little of it is there was inserted later by low-level EDiots desperate for a byline on a big-boy page.  After a few days of clicking around aimlessly on ED, I began reacting to pages composed entirely of assertions that their subject is “controlled by the Jews” and so forth as simple “under construction” signs.  Oh well, I’d think, someone hasn’t gotten around to making this one funny yet — I’ll try back later.

And since the easy jokes are really just the same easy joke over and over, that joke quickly fades into a kind of background white noise, against which the sharp observations become even more impressive.  Sure, the page about Tila Tequila calls her a whore 500 times, but there’s also a slam about how she reinforces negative bisexual stereotypes.  I have to admit, I didn’t expect to see that — and I went away more happy about the second thing than mad about the first.  After all, how many separate times can you get mad about the word whore?  It would be like getting mad at every individual grain of sand when you have to walk across a hot beach.

And as for funny Hitler stuff, is it actually ethically necessary for me to get mad, or even to not find it funny?  After all, as a proud member of the educated liberal elite, I naturally laughed my ass off when John Cleese did the Hitler impression on Fawlty Towers.  If I take umbrage at a dancing Hitler flash animation, is there really a difference I can point to, or am I just a hypocrite who’s faulting the latter for being  a) on the web, and  b) not British?

We can try suggesting that it’s why one laughs that matters — that if you laugh at the dancing Hitler simply because it’s incongruous, then that’s okay, but if you laugh because you’re imagining Jewish people being upset, then that’s not okay — but how would we know?  Do we ever really know why we laugh at something?  If we did, would we even laugh? 

This is why attempts to oppose LULZ are so risky.  One automatically looks foolish by responding to a joke as if the person were serious, and it’s impossible to know what is or isn’t a joke.  Everything on sites like this is imbued with the ability to pass itself off as a joke — and yet, at the same time, it’s clear that not everything is.  Any page remotely related to science, for example, is sure to contain scattered anti-evolution statements — but were these inserted by actual Creationists?  People who just like pissing off science fanboys*?  Someone trying to start a fight between religious and scientific readers for amusement?  Or even someone trying to fuck with ED itself, since by ED’s own admission, the pages that degenerate into genuine arguments between people who actually believe things cease to be funny?  Even among the people who write for the site, there is no way to tell.  It must feel sometimes like a caper movie where everyone’s trying to figure out who the rat is, or a sci-fi flick where there’s no way to tell the aliens from the humans:  Who on this page is just doing it for the LULZ, and who in here actually believes something?  If such-and-such was written by someone who actually believes it, we should get rid of it, but if it was written by someone who was just trying to piss off people who don’t believe it, then getting rid of it is the last thing we should do  These are dizzying permutations of reverse psychology for a subculture allegedly devoid of creed or agenda.

    *(This is how the site would phrase it — anyone who believes something, even a scientific theory, is referred to as merely a "fanboy" of that thing, and indeed this is one of the site’s subtler and more interesting implications:  figuring all belief in something as fandom of that thing, as if it were no different from a sports team or a band.  As always, it is not what you believe that is the issue; it is how much you care about the fact that you believe that thing.)

Though political incorrectness is its very lifeblood, in one way sites like ED are actually the inheritors of the P.C. worldview as embodied in 1990s academic identity politics:  both systems avow the impossibility of discussing an idea solely in its capacity as an idea.  There are no ideas, said P.C., only the personalities and group affiliations of the people who espouse them.  And here in the 21st Century, LULZ couldn’t agree more.  No matter how true, an idea can still be summarily dispensed with if the person who believes in it is a fag — and, according to LULZ, anyone who believes in something is by definition a fag.

"That's some nice vicious circle, boys..."

As a satirist and a skeptic, I understand this impulse — or, at this point, should I say, this imperative — to “make fun of both sides,” or whatever.  Broadly, such impulses could end up doing more good than harm, and in any case I’m glad to live in a society where “making fun of everybody” is an option.  The danger is, the “make fun of everybody” schematic is apparently inextricably wrapped up in the “offensiveness for the sake of offensiveness” argument.  And after a while, this makes it seem as if mere aggregate offensiveness is the yardstick of satirical worth.  Why bother with a finely-pointed tweaking of society’s foibles if you can make just as many buzzers go off by simply typing “fag, cunt, nigger, Jew, show us your tits, nigger, Jew, Jew, tits, rape?”

This is usually where someone brings up the whole “make these words lose their power by saying them a lot” angle.  A few problems there, though.  1) The people on these sites aren’t trying to make these words lose their power; they are trying to use them to piss people off, which is their normal, unironic purpose.  2) Even if they were trying to do the former (which they’re not), it’s not their place.  Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock are the ones who get to decide how to make the word nigger lose its power — not a bunch of 15-year-old white kids from the suburbs.  3) The only way these guys will ever stop using these words is if they stop being funny (to them) — and the only way they will stop being funny is… well, the same way anything else stops being funny:  it stops being funny when everyone does it.  When it becomes, in their terminology, old meme.

Is that the logical conclusion?  In order to rob hurtful words of their power, everyone has to start saying the most hurtful words they can think of every ten seconds, regardless of whether they have jackshit to do with what’s going on?  And do we even want them to lose their power, necessarily?  Do we want to reach the point where we don’t even bat an eyelash at needling about lynchings or the Holocaust?

A Casual Observer:  So, based on all the racism, I'm assuming you guys are a bunch of racists.

LULZ:  Not at all!  We’re just kidding!

A Casual Observer:  You mean, you’re making fun of racism, rather than using those words to try and hurt the people they refer to?

LULZ:  No, actually.  Now that you mention it, we most definitely are trying to hurt the people they refer to.

A Casual Observer:  Then by what conceivable standard of “kidding” are you “just kidding?”

LULZ:  What we meant is that we’re using those words ironically.

A Casual Observer:  You just admitted that you are using them for the purpose of hurting the people they were designed to hurt.  That’s just the normal, original, racist way of using them.  What’s “ironic” about it?

LULZ:  Well…  We say them a lot.  Doesn’t the fact that we use those words over and over make it ironic?

A Casual Observer:  No, it makes it racist over and over.  Racism is not like the odometer on an old car — there’s not a point where if you’re racist enough it rolls back to zero.

Now, this is where someone usually pops up and says “Using a word doesn’t make you racist!  Your beliefs make you racist!”  Okay, fine.  Technically, you’re right.  Yes, it is logically possible for someone who isn’t racist to decide to spend all their time on the internet, inserting the phrase “kill niggers” into as many articles as possible…  Just like it is logically possible for, say, someone who doesn’t like opera to listen to opera all day.  But you know what?  If I knew someone who talked about opera constantly, owned hundreds of opera CDs, blasted opera every waking second, and got really defensive whenever someone asked him what the deal was with all the opera, I would tend not to assume that this person disliked opera.  That would truly be an epic amount of time and energy to devote to irony for the sake of irony.

…And yet, despite everything I’ve said so far, I am actually completely unsure whether these people are in fact at all racist.

You see, there was something off about ED from the very beginning… something I couldn’t put my finger on… and after a few days of immersion in it, I realized what it was:  the grammar and spelling are essentially flawless, across the entire site.  There are far more spelling errors on the average person’s blog, or on Wikipedia, or even on legitimate news sites.  Even the deliberate internet misspellings on ED are standardized to an immaculate degree.  Doesn’t this prove that many honest-to-goodness smart people are heavily involved?  Does it provide a definitive answer to the “are they actually racist?” debate, seeing as how actual racists have the worst grammar and spelling in the English-speaking world?  It is ostensibly a bunch of disaffected pizzafaces executing pointless little rebellions while slamming limitless Mountain Dews, but somehow every single one of them knows the difference between compliment and complement?!  What gives?

Just as no comedy can ever flow from perfect order, it is equally true that no comedy can ever be purely anarchic, at least without ceasing to be comedy.  No matter what type of joke you are telling, it needs to be communicated smoothly, and is proportionately less funny to the degree that it is not.  So, is it a contradiction for a site that supposedly doesn’t care about anything to be devoid of spelling errors?

No, because the secret at the heart of LULZ is as follows:  LULZ does not care about function, but cares deeply about form.  There are rules that must be followed, but the rules must not be derived from or refer to anything that has significance outside of the closed circuit they comprise.  And once I figured that out, I knew what LULZ is.

LULZ is High School. 

Make no mistake:  LULZ is not just enjoyed by people who are in high school…  LULZ is High School.  It is the disembodied animus of High School — mob mentality itself, without the physical constraints that come with being an actual mob.  Simultaneously rebellious and conformist, hunter and hunted, murderously vindictive and mortally terrified. 

This is why LULZ cannot be successfully opposed, engaged, or even analyzed, and why all who tried have failed — epically, if you will.  High School cannot be successfully criticized from a standpoint external to High School.  Whenever a parent, or teacher, or even someone just a few years out of high school tries to talk about High School to people who are in High School, it is inherently the lamest thing that could possibly happen, even if what they say is 100% self-evidently true.  High School can only be engaged on its own terms — but this poses a problem for people who oppose High School, because it is impossible to engage High School on its own terms without becoming High School.



The Spirit-of-High-School analogy — figuring LULZ as the event horizon at which the impulse to rebel, absent the real-world framework necessary for rebellion to define itself, collapses into the impulse to conform in the guise of rebellion — continues to be illuminating.  The impulse in people mired in this stage is as follows:  “I want to establish that I am someone who says whatever he wants even if people don’t like it, but since I don’t know anything yet, there is nothing that I particularly want to say.  All I know about are things that I am ‘not supposed to’ say, like racial slurs, rape jokes, etc.  I am not particularly moved to say these things for their own sake, but I do not have a better idea re how to establish that I am, in general, not afraid to say things that upset people.”  And so they say that stuff until they have a better idea, like when the title of “Yesterday” was “Scrambled Eggs,” so Paul could remember the melody.

The problem is, you don’t just suddenly have a better idea.  You have to work to make yourself have a better idea.  And the pre-better-idea stuff can get in the way of that.  Arguments about who the biggest whore on LiveJournal is or which of two hockey teams is admired by the greater percentage of faggots can take up more of your time than you think.  And do you really care?  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to argue, or even with wanting to make fun of people, but if you are actually funny, there are better things you could be doing with that skill.  And if you’re not actually funny, then… well, there you have it.

And it is as important, in the spirit of fairness and honesty, for me to say this as it is for me to have said anything else in this essay:  Some of the people who write or have written for ED are actually funny.  Some of the more prominent pages, as I’ve said, are well done, and even on some of the stupid ones it’s possible to detect the ruins of what was once a well-constructed piece of satire in the five minutes before 200 morons “improved” it by inserting the phrases Jew gold and Baby rape into every other sentence.  To those actually funny people I say:  Do something else.  Make fun of stuff that deserves to get made fun of.  Start your own websites, and don’t let your dumb friends post on them.  I know people act like your friends are just as funny as you or funnier, but they’re not.  People only act like this because they are jealous of you and afraid of getting called “teh fail” by the others.  But if you are really so bold, you should not fear this.  And your peers may not be as fearless as they seem.

We’ve been operating on the assumption that people who don’t care about anything aren’t afraid of anything.  But that’s not true.  People who don’t care — or pretend not to care — about anything are actually afraid of one thing:  They’re afraid to try and be right.  Fucking with people is one thing.  Trying indiscriminately to annoy as many people as possible is one thing.  But to put yourself out there — to say “I believe that XYZ is true, and I think it’s important that others do as well” — means instantly that you can be hurt.  I talk tough on this site, and I make fun of people on this site, but I’ve never claimed that I can’t be hurt.  You can’t believe in something and claim that at the same time.  It’s like Falcone says to Bruce in Batman Begins: “People from your world always got something to lose.”

The Global Warming, ahem, “debate” works on this same principle:  Someone who believes in Global Warming has all the evidence on their side, but is worried, and so can be laughed at by someone who doesn’t.  The fellow who doesn’t believe in it may be less likely to be vindicated, but will get to laugh his ass off if it does turn out he was right, which to his thinking is worth the risk.  And what about the fact that if he is wrong, and is listened to, we are all doomed?  It doesn’t concern him.  Why not?  Simple:  he knows perfectly well that he will not be listened to.  The smart people will ignore him and save his ass in the process, and on the off chance the smart people turn out to be wrong, he gets to make fun of them.  It’s juvenile, but it’s win-win.  And it’s funnier than being right.

It is possible, however, to be funny and right at the same time.  In fact, I think it is inherent in the nature of comedy — in the fact that, evolutionarily speaking, there is such a thing as laughter — that more funny things are true than false.  I realize that all funny things can’t be true, and that all true things can’t be funny.  If that were the case, then there would be no difference between comedy and logic — and clearly there is, and probably we need there to be.  But it is possible, sometimes — maybe more of the time than we think — to be funny and right at the same time.

Yes, it means putting yourself out there.  It means other people can make fun of you.  And usually, the fact that other people can make fun of you means that they will.  They might even be funnier than you.  And there might be a lot more of them.  But they won’t be right.  And no matter what they say, no matter what they write, no matter what they claim not to care about, people who aren’t right, know it.

    …I think.


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