Why do people still search for the original 2 girls, 1 cup video? Hasn’t everyone seen that at this point? Isn’t that just a relic, a delightfully disgusting footnote in the history of the internet in its truly Wild, Wild West days in the long-forgotten age of 2007? Not exactly.
Everyone that works in the business of the internet accepts a certain number of blurry hypocrisies and moral gray areas when it comes to the kinds of content that they interact with and/or propagate on a daily basis. Few of us, however, take stock of how the social and vocational decisions we make evolve over time, or our understanding of their various cultural effects beyond the ways that we can exploit our information to make money.
Awl co-founder Choire Sicha started what could be an important conversation on the shift in internet culture with his post on what he called the “death” of Internet Gross-Out Culture. He comes to the same conclusion that most of us nutshot/shock/NSFW aficionados have accepted: there just isn’t much money in it. The broader ramifications of internet culture’s collision with mainstream advertising certainly deserves more attention in other blog posts; however, a thorough autopsy and investigation into web culture’s demise would probably warrant a less severe diagnosis, one closer to the dashing Wesley’s “mostly dead” status in The Princess Bride. (Hopefully, that’s an appropriately nerdy reference.)
The question that Sicha seemed to really be getting at was examined in a broader scope by Adam Gopnik in his recent New Yorker piece “The Information”: what is the changing purpose and promise of the internet? It’s undeniable that one of the fundamentally amazing parts of the internet is how fast it grows, changes, and provides more and more varied conflicts and confluences of information among users. What we perceive, and how other users/advertisers/content creators perceive us change constantly. What doesn’t really change are the emotional and cerebral motivations that shape our technological discourse.
Gopnik eloquently sums up the cycle of our disgust over the ills and pleasure our technological advances can afford us: “Some machine is always showing us Mind; some entertainment derived from the machine is always showing us Non-Mind.” The halcyon days of “One Man, One Jar” and “Shake That Bear” and a ton of other horrible gross out videos that your buddies used to send you are probably over; that kind of entertainment is no longer the focus of the machine from which we first derived them. Now, they’ve simply become another part of our ever-shifting, multivalent inner lives. Our senses of proportion have merely changed, and the greater aspect of web culture that we will eventually have to really question is how much we are willing to stifle our senses of empathy, creativity, and pain as the internet shifts farther and farther into the mainstream.
Besides, if you’re still reading and interested, it’s not that hard to find those videos that tugged at our bile ducts. Trust me.