If you’re unfamiliar with 4chan – specifically the /b/ imageboard – it’s basically the asshole of the internet. An anonymous imageboard allowing anyone to post anything at any time, /b/ is a source of a lot of bile. It’s rife with racist, sexist and otherwise pretty disgusting content. And as a hangout of various hacker groups, including Anonymous, it has spawned a string of subversive stunts (voting in Kim Jong-un as Time magazine’s Person of the Year) and high-brow cyberattacks (e.g., attacks on US government websites in response to the shutting down of Megaupload).
So, /b/ screams chaos. Yet it’s also massively community-driven. Some of the strongest evidence for this comes from the collaborative evolution of popular memes – some of the most famous in the last decade have originated and developed within its threads, including Lolcats, creepypasta and rickrolling.
I see /b/ as an insane experiment in collaboration in which ideas and imagery are sourced, posted, reworked, riffed and evolved – all at lightning speed and without any clear sense of direction or moral code. Cutting through the offence, weird and wonderful things can be found. Dare I say it, art can be found.
And why not art? Outsider art is a term used to describe art created outside of the boundaries of official culture and art education. Art created by the mentally ill, prisoners and children are standard examples. And in my view, so are the anonymous users of /b/ (this comparison might tell you a lot about the kind of content that’s posted). What might start as a crude reference and undoctored image pilfered from the depths of the internet can very quickly become something much, much more.
In celebration of this virtual Mos Eisley, I’ll be scouring /b/ for interesting art each week (so you don’t have to). To kick off…
This is a recurring image within 4chan: ‘I Know That Feel Bro’. Surprisingly for a place like /b/, it’s used to convey empathy towards or agree with someone else’s feeling or opinion.