Like a dull knife: just ain’t cuttin
Just talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothin’
Never mind what’s been selling
It’s what you’re buying
For the uninitiated (that blessed populace), 4chan‘s /b/ is, at a minimum, two things: the source of most of the memes that have dominated social media sites over the previous several years, and it is also the sweaty butthole of the internet. Anonymous is the name assigned to all participants on 4chan that do not enter a name in the field. And they are legion.
The internet is many things to many people, right. On the one side there is the internet that lays golden eggs and is the amniotic fluid that facilitates and nourishes the unencumbered transmission of multinational capitalism (dress it up with all the “Do No Evil” you want, Google). But the internet is also the realization of the libertarian dream: complete anonymity, I can respect your rights 99% of the time by ignoring you.
At least they are consistent in their talking. We can be thankful for the shit talkers and their consistent talking of shit and don’t need to feel threatened by it, to quote Lester Bangs as portrayed in Almost Famous, “Don’t worry: you’ll meet them again on the long road to the middle.”
Yeah, talkin’ trash is largely offensive. But how do we explain the joy of talking smack? Like Dave Attell put it, “you ever make fun of somebody so much it you wanna thank them for all the fun you had at their expense?” Humor has an emancipatory effect on us (read Cynthia Willett’s book on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report), it can show us parts of ourselves that we usually could not see, we can be momentarily disarmed and reconsider what we were so upset about.
If you listen to what the top academics of the day are saying, with the collapse of the Cold War dichotomy, the implosion of capitalism, the explosion of identity politics into a thousand shards, and the equivalent rise of fundamentalism in response to all this ambiguity; there is no plan that will save us (a utopian dream that the avant-garde tried to promote until the 70s) there’s not even “a” movement. It’s tempting to talk about an antiglobalization movement or an anticapitalist movement but there is no central tenet to the groups necessarily and the whole is not sustained by a core group of leaders. Contingency is the new organizing standard. This, too, is emancipatory in some respects – perhaps this contingency will mean that there won’t be Stalinist purges of the unfaithful (a problem for all revolutionary avant-garde groups of the last century).
Anonymous, to be called a movement would suggest a certain structure that those participating just don’t really have or want. Anonymous is a tendency among netizens to collaborate, loosely, toward a fuzzy goal. Their war against Scientology (Project Chanology) gave Anonymous a certain gravity. But how does a highly rationalized and bureaucratized organization like the Church of Scientology fight against a contingent tendency whose only rule is to “do it for the lulz” (for the humor of it all)?
Previously I’ve suggested here that the dominant mode of political action today is simply pornographic: a ritual performance that is performed so as to inculcate in the viewer a sense that something has been satisfied. Arguably ritual is very much a central need within humanity, rituals promote solidarity among those involved in the community, rituals reinforce and reinvigorate community. Ritual action does not have to be solemn or based on any metaphysical truth, but ritual does require appropriation and at times re-envisioning in light of the contemporary context; this is called propriety, being proper to our circumstances. Ritual divorced from propriety is pornography.
While there may be an emancipatory tendency within the kind of political action taken by Anonymous, aren’t we really only seeing the latest manifestation of the terror of that project that began in the Enlightenment called Liberalism (which encompasses both sides of that ridiculous bifurcation called liberal and conservative)? There is an excellent response to this question on Encyclopedia Dramatica, your source for all things lulz, and it begins with that great John Donne poem, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” To this the response seems to be:
I will tell you Anonymous’ motives.
Anonymous does because Anonymous can. It is neither the inherent dark side of every man, nor is it the glorious white knight of the will of the people. Anonymous does because they can. And they feel like it.
So do not shame yourself any longer, if you are at all confused. Put on the mask. Lose yourself. Welcome to the collective.
You are Anonymous.
You are Legion.
You do not forgive.
You do not forget.
And You do not matter.
This summer, Giorgio Agamben said something really interesting in relation to the Tarnac 9 in France. He’d been asked by a fellow classmate what he thought about The Coming Insurrection – should we receive it as a manifesto? He told us that he couldn’t speak of them directly because they are friends, but what we must really consider seriously is that today any political action undertaken outside of a parliamentary organization is considered to be terroristic action.
Anonymous is, so far, not seen as a terrorist organization and it’s probably because ultimately, shit talkers are really only good at only that, flapping their gums.