Well, that was pretty frisky. I wrote a perhaps-ill-advised entry about having fun with myspace and hotlinking images and got visited by 78,000 individuals in less than 12 hours. The lesson is clear: talk more about goatse. My staff will get right on that.
I can always tell when this weblog gets outside of the “regular” audience when folks start complaining about the color scheme. White on black! How dare he!
But let’s go further than that. I can start to figure out that one of these stories has “broken wide” when I start seeing people who are falling all across a spectrum of opinion, including meta-opinion regarding issues not even brought up in the original story.
For example, browsing the hundreds of comments I’ve read here and elsewhere about my prank, I’ve found some of the following responses:
- I am horrified that Jason would do something this evil and terrible.
- I am utterly delighted that Jason would do something this evil and terrible.
- This is absolutely great, I hope he keeps doing it until the entire universal contingency of stupid people are forced to see Goatse until the end of their days.
- Let me take this time to tell you a story in which I, myself, am the star.
- Goatse is old. This trick is old. This discussion is old. I’ve been online since 1998.
- I believe, possibly, that Jason will go to jail because of this. Somehow.
- OH GOD WHY DIDN’T YOU WARN ME ABOUT CLICKING THAT
There’s almost a Brownian Motion aspect, where all these people who would normally not come into contact with each other end up doing so and there’s nothing dependable you can rely on as a base premise. Nothing is assumed, nothing is accepted. Fan mail sits next to hate mail. Disgust mingles with chortles, non sequitur blathering jostles with measured smiles from kindred spirits. That’s the biggest reward of these little flashes of relative fame.
The value system regarding “shock” photographs is worth noting too. For some people, Goatse is the most mundane, uninteresting of that family of images. There are much worse, people rise to say, and then they link to them and yes, they’re quite worse. I’ve done work on and off for a few years at rotten.com. I can assure you, there are things much worse, stuff that makes your left eyeball shout “take the controls” to your right eyeball and run back into the john to throw up.
Others, however, find Goatse at the tip-top or beyond what would be acceptable in this situation. Why couldn’t I be more clever about it, involve a gentle prodding or an advertisement for one of my websites or projects? Couldn’t a kind word have sufficed in contrast to a manually prolapsed rectum?
Oh, sure. I’m sure this could have been done a dozen different ways. I got into a big fight with some folks about watermarking images a ways back, and there were excellent formulas and suggestions involving htaccess and imagemagick and the rest. You know, nerd tools. And this whole issue had been on the backburner for some time, right up there with “Man, I really oughta finish describing this pile of files” and “Perhaps that e-mail from a month ago should get an answer”. It just happened that the roulette wheel fell on goatse that day, so I put it up. What was always more interesting to me was the issues that the whole situation represents, so I wrote a lengthy weblog entry about it, for the amusement of my readers. I just didn’t expect that many readers.
And make no mistake, I myself have been at the recieving end of unexpected shock images on many an occasion, so I’ve definitely had some of my own medicine. In fact, I can actually recall my very first time!
This would have been circa 1996, and I was browsing some porn newsgroup using a program called “Forte Free Agent”. This was basically a Usenet news reader that was geared towards pulling down images from a news server and serving them up in a browser. You’d aim it at, say, alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.golf and then it would put up the first photo it downloaded, then wait for you to arrow or click to the next. While by now this might seem mundane, at the time it was a breathtakingly simple process rising out of what was previously as much fun as changing a spark plug.
So there I am, without a care in a world, happily seeing that other people have been having much more fun than I have, when I’m face-to-face with a corpse.
I mean BAM! We’re talking a young lady that got knocked around quite a bit, and had been photographed from the neck up to show just exactly how knocked around she’d gotten. It was, as they say, “graphic”. And the eyes… oh, you don’t forget those eyes.
Suffice to say the part of the brain that is all into looking at porn is in a much different place than the one that is steeled for incoming harsh images. I never knew what hit me. I can still remember the feeling, like a cold iron rod got shoved into my gut and turned. I was totally open, totally floored, totally taken. I was a wreck.
For extra laughs, it was 2am and I was at work, since work at the time had the good net connection. There was no way I was in shape to leave my cubicle, much less go into the hallway and walk home in darkness. I was stuck, shaking, completely undergoing a panic attack.
The way I got myself out of this fine mess was to go onto the MUSH I was running, find someone not idle, and have me call him and talk on the phone for an hour. We talked about life, people, stuff.. just anything for me to hear a person’s voice, normally modulated, discussing anything but the truly horrible thing I’d seen. His name was Justin, and we still hang out every once in a while, ten years on.
So I know the effect this sort of shenanigan can have. Does that make it even worse? Maybe. I know that one of the arguments is that I don’t know what effect putting a “shock” image has on people, and then when they find out I do, the argument then becomes that my knowing the full effect of my actions makes me responsible.
Except one thing. I’m not on trial here. I’ve been on trial. This isn’t it.
A side-effect of the ease of browsing is that it can quickly lead to an ease of caring, too. Hit-and-run judgementalism. Drive-by sympathy. Love and compassion in a flimsy cup that dissipates as soon as you hit the “back” button. News stories are especially prone to this: you read how a guy did something horrible and then got caught, and this is the nearly-insignificant grit a group of people will use to form a stunning pearl of opinion to admire and show off between them. The guy is quickly forgotten, the circumstances never really explored. It’s about the idea of the moment, soon to be crumpled up and replaced with another target.
It’s fun to second-guess, backseat drive, armchair quarterback. It’s fun to throw out some speculative nib-nob in a one-line jest in between sips of coffee after having scanned the first 5 sentences of an essay or news story. But that’s not really conversation in the classic sense, that’s just having a nice time. And I am all for having a nice time, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t expect that a barrage of Opinion Tourists is going to make me go crazy over the deep meaning inherent in those claims of legal liability and moral fortitude. It’s background music playing in the soundtrack of my life. Treating it otherwise makes me into the sort of lightweight personality, constantly hitting “reload” to find his world worthiness, that I hope I never become.
But saying that…
At the end of a pulse wave of internet attention, that’s usually when you get a few nerd-come-latelys who take advantage of the slowdown to browse in, check if everyone’s eaten all the donuts, and then drop a little “meh” into the mix before moving on. After 5,000 “diggs” and tens of thousands of users, I saw this review go by:
“God this guy loves to hear himself type.”
And I have to say: Yes. Yes I do.
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