This got long.
I spent some time recently digging into
shitpost as a concept. My favorite take on it is from this article from Polygon, called “Shitposting is an art, if history is any indication,” and it draws a pretty compelling connection between shitposting today and Dadaist art (you know, Marcel Duchamp and his R. Mutt urinal, and the like).
I read a handful of articles about shitposting. The Independent, TechCrunch, The Daily Dot, the aforementioned Polygon. I read the Wikipedia page (and found all these articles and more referenced), because I’m a huge nerd. I read the Urban Dictionary entry, and the Know Your Meme entry, because I’m 40. They all point to the way shitposting has been used for detriment, specifically in order to derail discourse and sow confusion. And how unfortunately successful this tactic can be online, especially in closed social media groups (i.e., a Facebook group). This is obviously bad.
However, I carry a tendresse for benign shitposts. These are the equivalent of 3am thoughts. They make perfect sense if you just loosen your dependence on reality.
Here are some recent examples from Tumblr (which is the best place to find benign shitposts):
The thing about Tumblr as a site is that it’s what social media should be.* Benign shitposting is part of it, and indeed, much of Tumblr can act as a stream-of-consciousness, with many voices contributing to every imaginable interest. It’s a living version of John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy, but set in the today.
Everyone can curate their feed, seeing exactly the stream-of-consciousness that they want to (or need to!). Tumblr offers users the chance to personalize what they see to a degree that is exceptional. From there, users can imprint the most resonant parts of that stream-of-consciousness onto their own blog. Liking a post lands it on your blog’s likes page. Reblogging a post lands it on your posts page. These actions save the posts that you interact with, so you can revisit them later, and they also build out your blog to be something that is multi-dimensional. The content is not all yours, but it’s all the content that matters to you. Tumblr basically creates a space for collaborative blogging that doesn’t require gates or hoops to jump through. You see something you like, so you save it. Over time, your blog becomes a reflection of your interpretation of the world. Just as your daily life is influenced by local and world events, by others’ thoughts and opinions, by entertainment, Tumblr is the only space that allows you to process and reflect those influences directly into your own blog. Your blog on Tumblr is your memory palace.
Tumblr is not a quiet place. The sheer volume of conversation (this is a very good joke on my part, because it means both noise level and also measure of mass) happening on Tumblr means that there’s always something new. It’s a place of conversation, invitation, and digression. I argue that benign shitposting is an integral part of this dialogue. These are the freest thoughts, unmoored from nearly everything. Some benign shitposts stay true to the poster’s theme – like the wizard and frog examples above. Others have nothing to do with anything, like the homoerotic gas stations example. Their irrelevancy is their relevancy. They’ve got strong “And Now For Something Completely Different” vibes. There’s an allusion to raucousness via these benign shitposts. I appreciate a certain amount of chaos, and Tumblr certainly delivers, because I follow many different people, and I get to see all their reblogs in my feed. There’s a dimensionality that benign shitposts contribute to, that makes the site human, in a sense. 3am thoughts and all.
* Tumblr is not perfect or without it’s problems. We are working on those to keep the site safe for everyone.
I am biased because I am the current COO for Tumblr, but my points about benign shitposts stand.