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Richard ([personal profile] richard) wrote on February 28th, 2009 at 04:00 pm
The Conservatism of Internet ‘Bastard Culture’
For a subculture concentrated in a medium associated with social liberalism, the Internet ‘snark’ or ‘bastard’ culture (that is, the culture exemplified in Internet communities like Something Awful, Portal of Evil, Stupid_Free at Livejournal and Encyclopaedia Dramatica), is surprisingly conservative. Members of offline social minorities continue to find themselves on the wrong end of criticism, even though the anonymity of the Internet is often interpreted as a liberating medium for those who do not conform to social sexual, political, perceptual or philosophical norms. The idea that being heterosexual, stereotypically American, white, cisgender and neurotypical is inculcated just as fiercely. There is often little difference between what the 'snarkers' say and what offline pundits and humourists like Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity say. (I am using American pundits as an example because the snark culture is primarily American, and seems to draw much of its inspiration from American entertainers.)

Those who identify strongly with a culture that doesn’t correspond with their ‘culture of origin’ are ridiculed, particularly European-descended people who feel a strong affinity to Japanese culture. Whilst some people do engage in superficial cultural appropriation, many people do genuinely appreciate Japanese culture, and should not be ostracized for it. There are many who were exposed to one particular culture at a young age, but as they reached adulthood, found that another set of traditions was more amenable to them. It is also unreasonable to expect that any youthful Westerner adopt extreme cultural isolation, especially in this age of globalization and the Internet. The isolationist, cultural-purist attitude that many of these snarkers adopt is nothing short of xenophobic.

The subculture is also suffused with homophobia: gays and lesbians are mocked for not adhering to cultural norms of masculinity and femininity, and transgender people are routinely referred to with pronouns and names corresponding to those assigned them at birth, rather than the ones that resonate with their souls. Gay men become foppish, ineffectual ‘fags’. Lesbians are always overweight, unattractive and desperate. Transgender people are depicted as poor sods who cannot succeed as their birth gender, or extreme versions of homosexuals. Even those who are associated with stereotypically ‘homosexual’ activities, like male artists, are singled out for the snarkers’ criticism. Their hatred for those who do not subscribe to Western gender norms is akin to those of the religious fundamentalists, although they would not admit it. I see little difference between the Internet snarkers who claim that ‘all fags should die’, or ‘transgender people are all pathetic’ and the preachers who teach hate of sexual minorities from the pulpits. After all, they are liberated practitioners of free speech, and the fundamentalists seek to suppress it, do they not?

Bastard culture has an ‘ableist’ bias as well: those who cannot work are all spongers; all people on the autistic spectrum – particularly those who have Asperger Syndrome –are self-diagnosed drama-queens or drooling idiots; and intellectual disability is a moral failure. People cannot genuinely have conditions with which they struggle: all disability is evidence of a moral failing on the person’s part, and can be countered with a Protestant work ethic and sufficient mockery of the person’s condition. It is far too much like Republican politicians who wish to cut funding for initiatives for the disabled—both they and the snarkers justify their discrimination using the same criteria. I find that sort of behaviour unnecessarily cruel, and rather similar to ‘kicking the puppy’: that is, those who already have difficulty adapting to certain aspects of society experience even more hardship via these people’s uncouth behaviour.

Entertainment-related subcultures become targets for criticism as well; those who have deep interests in certain media become pariahs. Some people enjoy dressing up in fur costumes and drawing anthropomorphic animals. Why this is suddenly a target for derision, I do not know. Fantasy literature enthusiasts are transmogrified into eternal children who will never grow up and face reality--only gritty realism escapes these people's criticism. People who enjoy obscure 'fandoms' are mocked just as viciously as they would be offline, although the Internet criticism often sounds more vicious because the attackers feel that they will not be confronted for their actions in any tangible way. It is far too much like the conservative commentators who believe that all fantasy literature is of Satan, and only realism and religious devotionals are worth looking at.

Were people to realize this and adopt philosophies more amenable to social differences. It is bad enough that we must contend with this offline, but online as well? The Internet provides so many opportunities for those who cannot find like-minded people offline.
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