I couldn’t make ROFLCon this year, but frequent resident of this comments section Saul Tannenbaum filed a report on the proceedings that I wanted to make sure everyone saw, particularly for its discussion of how to elevate some of the silliest, most fun parts of internet culture, and to take a more sophisticated approach to misogyny:
As part of a panel discussing academic study of Internet culture, Whitney Phillips of the University of Oregon talks about her work understanding troll culture. Trolls are people who post inflammatory messages in an online community for the purposes of disrupting them or provoking extreme emotional responses. Phillips is careful to say that the trolls she’s studies “perform misogyny,” as discerning their actual motivation is difficult. And she describes the personal struggle that comes from being a woman studying an overwhelmingly male subculture in which rape jokes are common. Yet, as she’s interviewed individual trolls via Facebook, she’s been treated respectfully. She notes that transgressive behavior has a long history and that, except that there wasn’t a defined subculture with which he could identify, Socrates was a troll. Or, as Christopher Poole, creator of 4chan, the web board that’s ground zero of trolling, said in an interview: “People have always been assholes.”
Saturday night, the crowd is entertained by Memefactory, a performance group that consists of 3 guys, 3 projectors and 5 computers. They deconstruct memes using multimedia techniques all leavened with not a little bit of humor. But they turn serious for a discussion of misogyny and rape culture on Reddit…Reddit’s influence comes from the perception of the site as one that organizes random acts of kindness, a massive “Secret Santa” effort and, most recently, as the core force that defeated legislation they felt would harm the Internet. And, of course, Reddit is fountain of memes. But there are portions of Reddit that revel in misogyny, that viciously mock concerns about rape culture, and that assert that men are the oppressed gender. Memefactory suggests it’s time for the Internet to grow up. But their greatest scorn is reserved for Reddit itself. Since self-policing is a core Reddit value, it had no acceptable content policies until, just recently, it was forced to consider what to do about child pornography. Reddit, after long deliberation, decided to ban it, but not because it’s despicably evil, but because its criminality would threaten Reddit’s existence. If that’s your reason for banning child pornography, says Memefactory, you’re doing something wrong.
Sessions like this are encouraging because they suggest a certain geeky self-confidence that’s a necessary basis for growth. If nerds can stop thinking of themselves as an oppressed minority instead of the drivers of some of the most profitable cultural phenomena on the planet, maybe we can do self-examination and self-critique that will open up nerddom to even more people. You don’t have to stop having fun when you start growing up, and evolving beyond stupid default biases can only mean reaching a more sophisticated, more clever level of humor.