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Shitposting in the Time of Corona

Hi! How’s your 2020 going? Are you completely unstressed because your life is going exactly how you thought it would?

Yeah, me neither.

This whole global pandemic thing is just really fucking weird. Like, okay, sure, it’s also super scary and depressing and disruptive and stressful and all of that. But it’s also just weird. Life is weird right now and nothing feels the same as it did a week ago. Because nothing is the same. We can keep telling ourselves that everything will go back to normal, but deep down we all have a feeling that at least some parts of our lives are going to be substantially different, right? Even if they are those minute, extraneous details that we can mostly just overlook or move past?

It’s weird. This all feels weird.

Being someone who is currently on a writing fellowship for the next 15 months, I’m one of the lucky ones whose day-to-day hasn’t changed too drastically. Instead, I’ve just been working through the existential crisis associated with that comfort. My “job” at the moment is to sit around and work on a dissertation about the noise scene. But a global pandemic means that this scene looks and feels totally different than it did a month ago. Tours are cancelled, venues are temporarily shut down, and that chosen family feels farther away then ever. Subsequently, everything I’m working on feels off at best and wrong at worst.

Also, a global pandemic makes writing about music feel so insignificant and downright worthless. I don’t really know what music is going to be on the other end, but I’m betting it’s going to be at least a little different. Again, writing about anything related to music at the moment feels almost instantly out of date.

So what do we do in the wake? I guess the best I can do (besides caring for the people around me the best I can, which we all should be doing) is write about what’s happening now. Maybe it’s meaningless, but it’s something to fill the void.

So let’s do that. Here are my thoughts on shitposting in a global pandemic.

First, let’s define terms. ‘Shitposting’ means a lot of things to a lot of people, but the way I like to frame it is when someone posts something completely devoid of any meaningful content that looks and sounds like something you would see on social media. The following twitter post from Sunny D is a great example:

In the context that a corporation posted this, it’s totally meaningless. It’s pointing to nothing. They aren’t going to stop doing anything. And they haven’t stopped being a company. But this is something you would see a depressed teenager post on Twitter (if teenagers still use Twitter? I don’t know what the kids are doing now). Because of posts like these, people have often connected shitposting to building an online identity (especially for brands) and also straight up trolling.

And I’ll give that to the shitpost critics out there: brands use shitposts to build their brand and assholes use shitposts to troll people (side note: fuck you, alt-right Nazi cosplay fuck bois, for stealing trash doves from people who aren’t pieces of shit). But that’s not the only way that people use shitposts. Sometimes they’re just weird things online that make you laugh and feel weird at the same time (dril comes to mind).

So let’s talk about what shitposts are and what they do. To do that, I want to draw a connection to another idea: Michel Serres’ notion of The Parasite.

For Serres, the parasite acts as an interloper, something that sits in between two bodies or a subject and an object. The parasite is always there, often unseen, but when the parasite makes a noise the relationship between the subject and object change. Consider a phone conversation. One person talking, another listening, and everything is going fine. But then a self-playing video pops up on someone’s phone and plays really loudly and totally overpowers a conversation (does this happen on smart phones? I don’t actually have one- I know, right?). Suddenly the relationship between speaker and listener is interrupted as both people try to figure out what is happening. Both look at their phones and both stop talking about whatever it was they were talking about. The phone itself is therefore a parasite, creating a noisy disturbance that undermines the conversation.

There’s another important player in this interaction though: the milieu or medium of the phone system. When we have these phone conversations, we might forget exactly what is happening. Someone’s voice gets transformed into an electrical signal in the phone which is then shot up to a satellite and then beamed out into someone else’s phone where it is transformed back into a soundwave. The parasite, when it makes noise, draw attention to this milieu. It makes everyone aware that they are not just two people talking but they are two people talking on phones. The parasite does this by aggressively inserting that milieu into the relationship. It’s no longer just a medium, but a player in the game as well.

So that’s a parasite. Cool? Cool.

What I want to propose here is that shitposts are a form of noise made by parasites. Not intrinsically good or intrinsically bad, but a parasitic noise nonetheless. Think about the usual interaction between a person and social media: someone endlessly scrolling through a feed and reading the thoughts of colleagues or seeing pictures of people from around the world. There’s a certain thoughtlessness to this activity as people consider the content their reading while often forgetting about the medium that houses this content. A shitpost, a contentless piece of media inserted into the feed, breaks that thoughtlessness and draws people’s attention back to the fact that everything they are scrolling through is mediated by social media. In a sense, a shitpost is the controlling frame of social media inserted into the conversation itself.

Sure, people can use the mechanisms of shitposting to shitty ends, but it’s also worth drawing attention to how social media is constantly shaping our lived experiences. It’s worth thinking about the medium beyond the content every once and a while. Shitposting can do that.

And in this strange moment, one we are experiencing in an even stranger world amidst the absolute worst timeline, I wonder what any of those thoughts really mean. On the one hand, there’s a waaaaaay bigger parasite that is doing a much more effective job of forcing the milieu back into our daily lives than a measly shitpost can ever do. Some glimmers of hope do exist (the clear canals of Venice come to mind as they draw attention to the milieu of transportation). But in many ways, this virus has done nothing but remind the world that the political and economic milieu is a painful, uncaring, and dangerous place for most.

But we are also going to be living online for a while. The tangible, social world is largely out of reach for everyone and the milieu of social media will largely dictate how we interact with most other people in the world. So maybe a shitpost every once and a while can help. It can remind us of how social media shapes us, creates imperfect digital clones, and constructs us as ill equipped cyborgs. A shitpost can force us to remember that we have other ways of forming relationships, that social media isn’t the only medium available to connect with the people we love. Maybe it is for the time being, but it won’t always be.

All this to say: I’ll see you on the other side. But in the meantime, don’t let Facebook get in the way of being a real human. Stay weird, compassionate, and resilient. We got this.

Unabashedly pretentious musings on noise, shitposting, and other cultural forces.

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