Episode 106: 4channic Discourse

The Overthinkers tackle both hegemonic and 4channic discourse.

Matthew Wrather hosts with Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and John Perich, discussing their own failure to see Toy Story 3, Wrather’s next move (he won’t be playing for Cleveland any more), Emmy nominations, the World Cup Final, some old posts, why 4chan is powerful and scary and kind of heroic, and the meaning of internet memes.

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15 Comments on “Episode 106: 4channic Discourse”

  1. cat #


    My heart goes out to Pete. I’m sending love and good thoughts and positive energy for your sister, your home, and your waterlogged books.

    @wrather Please tell me you’re serious. Flawed as they might be I am infatuated with Disney animated films, particularly those of the Disney Renaissance.

    I can’t prove this but I would say it isn’t mainly for ironic effect that Glee pulls the guest stars that they do. Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Neil Patrick Harris, Josh Groban are all performers who have done work in musical theater. Olivia Newton John? She comes from one of the most-beloved movie musicals.


  2. Timothy J Swann #

    Dah!!!!!!!!!!! I just ran upstairs to write first. Stupid BST.

    Oh, can I make a suggestion for the Mulan post, since I can’t be bothered to write it as a guest?

    Thoughts and prayers with you and your family, Mr. Fenzel…

    I wouldn’t let 4chan know that you’re the anti4chan, that might a) mark you all out as secret Scientologists or b) get you their attention. Though I’d happily see a meme based on you guys sweep the web.


  3. fenzel #

    @Timothy Swann

    I’m not necessarily anti-4chan, even though I might come off that way. I think they’re dangerous if you cross them or they decide to mess with you, but I think they’d agree that they’re dangerous when you cross them or they decide to mess with you.

    I think what 4chan does is actually kind of heroic. If it weren’t for them and the discourse they advance on the Internet, it probably would have been swallowed whole by corporate interests a long time go.

    The truth is, the human mind at any age above, say, 7, is a lot nastier and less censored than politically and professionally acceptable discourse (or Victorian or post-Victorian or any other set of “family values”) than most of us have the freedom, guts or desire to admit. Small children say awful, awful things to each other. Senior citizens spread STDs at nursing homes at alarming rates. The world is a dirty place.

    One of the ways hegemonic discourse gains power is by scrubbing that dirtiness clean and controlling it, making people feel guilty for it, forcing people to hide it, shaming people and destroying their careers or families for lapsing into what we all secretly know is, if not our “true nature,” then an indefatigable aspect of humanity.

    The beginnings of the Public, Democratized Internet, by offering anonymity that gave people freedom to step outside the hegemonic discourse without fear of reprisal, were tremendously liberating. What we’re seeing in the Facebook privacy wars and whatnot is the attempt to snuff out that culture by corporate interests who have finally figured out the technology to monitor, control and punish so they can use the same social mechanisms to control people on the Internet as they do in meatspace.

    As Matt said, 4chan are in that gray area between terrorists and freedom fighters — in that we know what they do and the fight they fight, and we know it is neither as noble as they might be praised for it nor as hideous as they might be decried for it. Whether they are good or bad is framed in the hegemonic discourse as a question of whether they’re on your side or not.

    Which is, of course, silly, if you aren’t sure whether or not you’re on the good side yourself.

    So I admire the courage to slap the establishment in the face in a meaningful way that reflects a more robust picture of who we are. I’m not generally in favor of intimidating people outside of churches by showing up in mobs and wearing masks, but that more recalls scary things from our past than is a scary thing in itself.

    That’s more of a question of, once you have a place like 4chan (and of course I speak to a larger discursive group that extends well beyond that one site, but it’s as good a fulcrum to discuss as any), then there are people who fight for the soul of it, and what is it going to become?

    That fight is worthwhile, which is a sign that 4chan in itself isn’t bad at all. It’s dangerous because it’s powerful, and all power is dangerous, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want electricity in my house — start hating on everything that is powerful and you become a Nietzschean lamb taking on the birds of prey on principle, and nobody wants to be that guy giving angry proto-intellectual 16 year olds that much satisfaction.

    Speaking of which, I have electricity in my office — and a computer that works. And a floor that isn’t just concrete, but has a nice soft carpet, and a bathroom that isn’t full of leaves. And that’s all pretty awesome.


  4. petrlesy #

    great, whole 4channic discourse is even more than i hoped for

    just a tiny “well, actually”
    there in fact is 4chan archive ( http://4chanarchive.org/ ) and the threads with enough votes/requests get their eternal glory


  5. fenzel #

    Also, by way of correcting Mark Lee (which of course I always enjoy doing), the puff piece the New York Times published vociferously praising the Jezebel blog is not in fact a NYTimes Blog and does not in fact allow reader comments.

    You’ll also note that the New York Times discloses that it pays somewhere between $8 and $12 per thousand impressions to advertise on Jezebel, so of course they want to defend their business partnership there from 4channic discourse.

    The article is kind of a gross joke of the sort the New York Times runs all the time — it’s a “wow, isn’t this thing I like and make money off of totally awesome” piece that belongs on a blog, not a newspaper. It includes a totally hot picture of a plucky blogger and a front-page that gives way more credit than deserved (I mean, I love Jezebel, but “picking fights” isn’t exactly something rare on the Internet).

    Again, I like and respect Jezebel, but I really resent the quote the New York Times included in the article, from Advertising Age about Jezebel: “one of the few genuinely intelligent repositories of media/marketing/fashion commentary/celebrity deflation.”

    If by “one of the few genuinely intelligent” you mean “one of the hundred or so widely successful and oft-read blogs that is genuinely intelligent” etc. it would be closer to the mark.

    But yeah, the New York Times doesn’t allow commenting on this story, because they know it wouldn’t hold up, because it’s a load of bullshit that ought to be subjected to online creative destruction. They know it will just devolve into a pro/anti Jon Stewart / feminism in general flamewar, and their institutional mindset can’t handle that such things exist and that people care about that more than their puff pieces.

    And yet Mark’s coworkers would be really interested in this piece, because they have never heard of Jezebel — even though the underpinning flamewar, driven by more 4channic sort of discourse, is why Jezebel is in the New York Times in the first place. If Jezebel just writes it and the Internet doesn’t erupt in rage, then sure, Jezebel readers care — but if the Internet erupts in rage, it eventually reverberates all the way to the New York Times, which takes what it wants and makes money off of and leaves the rest.


  6. fenzel #

    Oh, if you have a registration and want to see/read the Jezebel article, here it is:


    The irony is that Jezebel itself welcomes the flamewars, and that’s a big reason why it is successful, even if the New York Times won’t allow them to visit its own story about them.

    Furthermore, the fact that, as a business, it characterizes itself as the only blog that does this is proof of the massive self-deception businesses and other hegemonically aligned institutions engage in when they operate on the Internet.


  7. Gab #

    @cat: It would have been funnier if you said, “frist1!” or had misspelled it some other way, but I still totally give you props, m’dear. I would have done the same, had I actually *been* able to justly say I was first or “frist” or whatever.

    The following are all _TS3_ related:

    @Mark- Are you the kind of person that doesn’t go to restaurants on their own, too? I’m not asking as an implied negative judgment- I’m curious as to why going to the movies by yourself is not something you do, given your love of movies and pop culture in general.

    @Perich- Funny you mention Slinky Dog, for they did, actually, write out a number of characters because of Andy’s getting older and abandoning some of his toys, including RC and Etch, so I was wondering why they hadn’t used that story mechanic as a convenient way of not dealing with replacing the actor. But, I suppose the character’s physical traits are convenient for plot advancement because of his stretch capabilities: as with the first two movies, a number of plans and dramatic moments in this one depend on his utilizing that slinkiness.

    @Wrather: Ditto Lee. Seriously. Ditto. But Overthinking Disney to compensate, though? Oh my GOD. YES, PLEASE! And yes, there’s a Siamese cat in _The Aristocats_, too. He sings, “Shang Hai, Hong Kong, egg fu yung! Fortune cookie always wrong!” in a minor key while banging (with chopsticks) on a piano in the middle of “Everybody Wants to be a Cat.” (Of course I remember that detail… I need a life.)

    Now, the actual podcast itself:

    _Arrested Development_- The ability of those writers to cram so many jokes in each frame is why I think a movie, even without Michael Cera, would totally be possible. They could make fun of him for not being a part of it every single time he gets referenced as not being present. There is tons of meta-humor in the series, some meta-mockery of an actor and former cast member that’s too big for his britches now would fit right in.

    Overthinkingit Commenters: I’d postulate part of why y’all have avoided the internet idiots is the nature of your posts and how they require a person to sit and *read* for a few minutes. 4Chan is prolific in blurbs or videos, not words that formulate actual sentences and genuine thoughts (not even OVERthoughts, by the way). The pleasure one derives from finishing a post is earned, it isn’t instant or effortless gratification from a short blurb or image or video. The fact that your commenters are as awesome as you say is exactly why I personally feel comfortable enough to comment at all in the first place- I avoid 4Chan because of the visceral malignancy and utter lack of decorum one can so easily encounter there. Even if I wouldn’t participate, I don’t want to see people treat each other that way, so I don’t bother with it.

    Huffington Post w/regards to 4Chan, though: This actually totally contradicts what I just said about your site because a person can comment on anything on Huffington Post, but the level of discourse often descends to something not all that far off from 4Chanic discourse, even though comments do get moderated somewhat. By this, I mean some pretty nasty direct and personal insults, bigotry, and closed-minded statements directed at and about other commenters show up on Huffington Post. I therefore avoid reading the comments as much as I can by not scrolling down that far whenever I read an article there.


  8. cat #

    @Gab (first) I’m ridiculously susceptible to the power of suggestion when sleep deprived.

    (absorbing pop culture alone) Only because you’re continuing the dialogue, I’ll turn the question back on you. Well, also because you seem to be a pretty big lover of movies and pop culture as well. Are you the kind of person who won’t go to movies/restaurants alone? I suppose I think that if I’m going to venture outside to observe something I’m not directly involved in (i.e. performing in), it’s nicer to bring someone else unless I’m writing up a review. I don’t think it’s even about having a shared experience. Being with someone else makes you want to go out and do something. And of course you avoid unnecessary awkwardness…


  9. Chris #

    As to the most pressing and important thing mentioned on this podcast, because it was about sports, yes LeBron could have signed for more money with the Cavaliers. The NBA has what they call “Bird Rights” which are named after Larry Bird. It allows a team to exceed the salary cap in order to re-sign a player that qualifies for Bird Rights, but I won’t get into what constitutes a player with Bird Rights. I also know that a team is allowed to re-sign a player for more money per year and for an extra year (six as opposed to five if you sign with another team) and I think that is part of Bird Rights, but I can’t say for sure.

    Either way, LeBron, and Bosh, both left a year and $30 million on the table simply by not signing with their old team for a max deal, although that takes into account that sixth year they didn’t get which, barring injury, they can get in their next deal. Additionally, all three players took less than the max to leave room for them to sign free agents that simply aren’t on the veteran minimum. Otherwise, it would have been those three, Mario Chalmers, their three second round picks, and a bunch of guys on minimum deals. Also, I still think the Lakers are the favorites for next season.

    As for Cleveland’s economy, their per capita income is actually lower than Detroit’s, though by only about $500. Of course, Detroit has a lot more people in their city and a much bigger city area wise as well which means a greater quantity of impoverished people, which leads to it being the epitome of poverty to many people.

    Overthinking It is the only website I’ve ever come across where I can even tolerate reading the comments, let alone participate in them. Even websites I like have comments sections that after only a few minutes of perusing would leave me with anger that quickly turned into untenable despair, so I try to avoid them like the plague. Which is to say I try to avoid them via religious iconography as opposed to practicing proper hygiene.


  10. Gab #

    @Cat: I used to avoid doing *anything* all by me onesee, but I have recently sort of… well… grown as a person (I guess meaning more confidence in myself?), so in I’d say the past two years or so (since graduating college), I have ventured out by myself a lot more. I walk around town alone and sit in my favorite coffee shop by myself, am a known haunt and on a first-name-basis with most of the staff at a particular bookstore, have a favorite “regular” sammich at a nice little mom-and-pop place, all that kinda jazz. I haven’t gone to the movies by myself yet, but I think I would. My lack of having done so has more to do with convenience than how I feel about doing things by myself, though- no car of my own, confusing bus system, and no bike rack at the theater, so I’d either need to walk a helluva long time or figure out some convoluted bus route that I’m not smart enough for. Now, none of this means I’m anti-social and don’t like doing things with other people- it just means I don’t like waiting around for others to do what I want to do, and I have the confidence I used to lack that allows me to assert myself and do it on my own now. I love doing stuff with other people, especially watching movies/TV or listening to music, and I find the social interaction one can get through the medium of pop culture is great for bonding with people. I made some of my best college friends by watching a _Firefly_ marathon, and my then-boyfriend told me he knew I was special when I plopped down in a TV lounge and watched Sunday night football with him and some other guys and wound up swearing more than he did at the refs (you probably didn’t need the anecdotes, but that’s how I roll); and music, I love sitting with people and going back and forth, “Oh my gosh, you need to listen to this song/artist.” And when it comes to movies in public, as long as there’s a chance to decompress together and talk, they’re great to do with other people (although I think I’ve said before, I don’t think a movie on its own is good for a date *for me* because I want to pay attention to what I’m watching and would not want to suck face OR talk while in a theater) (although if we’ve both seen the movie and he was really hot, I may do one of the two) (ZING!). I totally enjoyed the, “BAD SCIENCE!” talk after _Iron Man 2_ because I saw it with a bunch of about-to-graduate-at-the-time people that were all science majors, even though I had hardly anything to contribute other than, “Really? You’re kidding! No bloody way!” The way movies and the like excite people, bring up their passions, I love it. I just don’t mind seeing and doing things by myself, too.

    Probably more info than you wanted, but meh, you asked. And my verbosity and circumlocution skillz are notorious, eh? Rar.


  11. Timothy J Swann #

    ‘I like have comments sections that after only a few minutes of perusing would leave me with anger that quickly turned into untenable despair, so I try to avoid them like the plague.’ It can make me feel ill – stuff on say The Guardian, which is one of the papers I read, by commentators I like, but there’s something a bit wrong about the comments, something off in their inhumanity.

    @Fenzel – I think I was more talking to Mr. Wrather’s suggestion that Overthinking It is by its nature, from articles to comments to ethos, the inverse of 4chan, because it’s not about quick-thrills, it’s about people who are connected in real life, it has decorum, respect, attention etc. Not to undermine the work of 4chans – I think of it as a Chaotic/Lawful distinction rather than a Evil/Good one. I love some of the memes, for sure, and to have a sort of twistedly moral force (though of course not on a par with say wikileaks) out there ought to spook corporate forces that desire total control…


  12. lee OTI Staff #

    @Fenzel: I stand corrected, once again. So it seems like you can categorize NY TImes articles into 3 types based on their relation with comments: 1) none allowed 2) allowed but on a page separate from the article and 3) on the article itself–I think these area always part of a blog.

    I can’t really figure out what separates 1 and 2. It’s not always subject matter or approach; their site is chock full of far more comment-baiting material that inexplicably has no invitation to comment to be found.

    @Gab: I don’t go to sit-down restaurants by myself; if I’m solo dining it’s typically at a place like Chipotle where it’s more than socially acceptable to sit at the bar and wolf down your food. I guess the only real answer I can give is that I grew up without a lot of friends with whom I could go see movies and feared the social stigma of being seen at the movie theater by other kids from my high school who would mock me for being alone. Now that I’m in the big city this of course makes no sense, but that’s the best explanation I can give.

    @Chris: thanks for breaking out the economic stats on Cleveland. I think one of the reasons why the show is “Hot in Cleveland” and not “Hot in Detroit” and why Drew Carey is from Cleveland is race: Cleveland is much whiter than Detroit (38% vs 12%), has less racial baggage than Detroit in the American psyche, and therefore is a safer choice for middle-American sitcoms.


  13. RiderIon #

    I’d like to comment on the whole perception of 4chan especially what was talked about on the podcast as I am an avid 4channer. There’s really 2 subcultures of users on 4chan. The first is the hacker, racist, homophobic stereotype that lurks in on the more…volatile boards like /b/ (random) and /v/ (video games). These types of users also tend to try and invade other boards and stir up trouble even on the other 4chan boards. To those users, the whole /b/tard behavior is a combination of stress outlet and finding out exactly what the boundaries on the internet are. Some of them have ended up with jail time as a result.

    There is a lot of rational and good discussion but you have to go to the less populated boards such as /m/ (Mecha) and /toy/ (Toys) both of which I frequent. Hell, people on /toy/ frequently swap personal information to trade or giveaway toys to one another which I have done frequently.

    As a result of the former being much more noteworthy and newsworthy, the sane and reasonable people on 4chan are forgotten behind the face of Anonymous.


  14. Tulse #



    Anywho, loved the show as always — OT rocks. That said, I honestly am not sure you guys are any better at adding value to sports stories than you are to tech stories. There wasn’t much actual “overthinking” done, just the kind of stuff any group of fellas in a bar might say. It kinda felt like you all were trying to revive your masculine cred after getting all geeky last week. (And speaking of masculinity, where are the ladies of OT? How about some more estrogenic Overthinkers?)

    As far as 4chan, fenzel, I’m not sure how the whole discourse of hegemony works on the internet, as that kind of terminology suggests there is only one “hegemony”, which I don’t think works for internet communities. Yes, there is dominant culture in which we are all embeded, but certainly within the domain of 4chan there is a type of hegemony enforced on the boards themselves. The 4chan participants impose their own view of what counts as unacceptable by, as you said, “controlling it, making people feel guilty for it, forcing people to hide it, shaming people and destroying their careers or families for lapsing into [it]”. Sure, 4chan has objectively less power than the traditional hegemony, but their methodologies are arguably far more coercive and less tolerant (after all, 4chan exists in the culture of the traditional hegemony, whereas the attitudes of the traditional hegemony are not tolerated inside 4chan).

    And in any case, is it heroic to be intolerant of tolerance? Is it fighting the dominant conformity to demand a different type of conformity?

    Don’t get me wrong, I kind of like that there is a spot for, as was so elegantly put, “primordial ooze of the internet”. But I’m not sure that it bears the analytical weight provided, at least not this particular type of analysis.


  15. fenzel #


    Yeah, our sports conversation was kind of a joke. We were deliberately trying to reconjure some of the ambivalence that came with our conversation about Apple for laughs. I know I was being a bit more boring than usual on purpose.

    That was the plan, anyway — thankfully, we digressed from it pretty quickly.

    “Is it heroic to be intolerant of tolerance?”

    Yes it is, but I’m pretty old school as to how I feel and what I think about heroes.

    Contemporary marketing and political propoganda have changed the word “heroes” to refer to somebody you admire, somebody you think is virtuous, somebody who is a good role model. But this really isn’t and never has been how heroes have functioned, as is evidenced every. single. time. a “hero” for millions turns out to actually not be admirable or virtuous at all, which seems these days to happen on a weekly basis.

    We call victims “heroes” because they died, which is nonsense. We elevate work that few people would identify as heroic in their everyday lives and which doesn’t create the impression of heroism at all into “heroic” because we want to praise it.

    But who was a hero for more people, a random first-grade teacher, or Michael Vick? _Clearly_ it’s Michael Vick. He’s the hero. The first-grade teacher is admirable and virtuous and deserves praise, but the word is a lie, given how people really feel about teachers and treat them in everyday life.

    Politicians scapegoat teachers for most social problems — you’d think we’d live in a utoptia if they fired all the teachers after taking away all their pay. Parents hate teachers and treat them like garbage, because they see a rival for their child or a political enemy. Kids disrespect teachers _constantly_. Clearly, while, when we step back and stop being huge douchebags, all of us, teachers are pretty awesome and deserve our praise and respect. But calling them heroes seems to me like a taunt — an insult — an assurance of respect they don’t get and status they are not afforded.

    Meanwhile, a guy like Michael Vick at least was a hero for millions of little kids. People would wear clothes made to look like his clothes just to feel better about themselves. They’d find courage in his remembrance. They were inspired by him.

    Did he deserve it? On one hand, from a standpoint of justice, of course not. He’s a huge toolbag who does cruel, illegal stuff in his spare time and plays a sport for a living. But from a standpoint of how heroism actually functions, definitely.

    A hero is somebody who, in perception and storytelling, comes to embody something conceptual, transcending the limits of humanity and becoming more like a force of nature — a hero is about what he or she does, about the impact he or she has, the path he or she tears through the world.

    Most memorable heroes are jerks in one way or another — people you would not want to associate with in real life. If Han Solo were alive today, he’d be a drug runner on the Mexican Border (complete with sidekick named Chewie). Same with guys like Malcolm Reynolds. As Kingdom Come and Watchmen show, superheroes are fascistic, they aren’t really compatible with a reasonable, prosperous or just social order. Buffy the Vampire Slayer walks around suburban neighborhoods carrying all sorts of gruesome weapons and killing people who used to be kids at the school — if she were on the news, you’d want her in prison. Most cowboys are transient herdsmen with no successful personal relationships who spend their time gambling, visiting prostitutes or shooting people — even the white hats flout the law all the time. Hercules killed his wife.

    A lot of people see this and thing think we need different heroes, we need heroes who reflect our values, heroes who do the right thing. And this is partially true, and demonstrable.

    But our heroes will reflect us, whether we want them to or not — heroes who are too whitewashed don’t function as such.

    And if we draw heroes from the real world rather than fiction, they will definitely reflect us, and they will never achieve this role of reflecting “our values” (whatever that means) unambiguously. Never.

    What they will do is rise in our estimation to this trans-human representation, where they remind us of the relationship between human action and ideas — that people can actually _do_ things that seem to make other things true, or that embody things that are greater than individual human beings. We tend to not believe such things are possible, and heroes remind us that they are. Being a war or football hero definitely falls along these lines, while a teacher generally does not.

    Thus, even though, say, Barack Obama is a fairly moderate President who was a state senator and then a U.S. Senator and engages in the same political machinations as everybody else, and who, god forbid it, SMOKES, he’s still a hero to millions of people — the former does not refute the latter. This is true of many political leaders — talk to somebody from Providence, RI about Buddy Cianci.

    “Tolerance” is not some holy law passed down from Mount Sinai. It’s a good thing, sure. It’s nice. It’s courteous. It’s one of the aims of a social movement that generally does at least as much good as harm. But there is some part of it that chafes against our natures, there are a lot of inconsistencies in what it expects of people (both over time and across populations), there are times it is abused by authority, and there are times when people sincerely feel it needs a chin-check. This might make them not live up to “our values,” but nobody lives up to “our values,” whatever group we come from. Being against Tolerance doesn’t make anybody unheroic by necessity any more than being against, say, the King of England or a railroad company.

    And this of course, isn’t a dialectic of authority and freedom, it’s a dialectic of authority and a different sort of authority undermining that authority. But I think there is a disruptive element, that, especially at the point of intersection, is interesting and worth the analysis.

    I also do not post on 4chan myself, and, as has been pointed out, my knowledge of it is limited; I don’t have a good total sense of what is going on; I only know its reputation. Here is the difference between finding the heroism in something and agreeing it is a good thing and working to support it. These are not the same at all.

    It’s not that /b/ board posters are all heroes — it’s that something about what they do is heroic. It transcends what a lot of people think it is possible for a person to do in the current age. And that’s something.

    As for the hegemony on 4chan itself, yeah, I think I added in the pocast “the hegemonic discourse of which we are all a part,” referring to the podcasters. There are of course different centers of influence that have their own semiotics and ways of communicating, and it is very different to be outside of one of them than to be inside it.

    But perhaps taking 4chan (and the /b/ board specifically) only on its own terms and not seeing it in a larger context perhaps gives it too much credit. That would require some embedded research, which, of course, I can’t do from anywhere around people, because you when you go down there, you never know what you’ll find.


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