News from Mars

I saw the news about Umpqua a few hours ago. I did a quick search for news reports and posted one on Facebook. One of the first few comments I received linked to the 4chan thread on the channel /r9k/ that the shooter had allegedly been posting on just minutes before the shooting. Activity on the thread was high, with some commenters egging the OP on (OP: original poster) to follow through on his plan. The Daily Mail’s report on the thread in question highlights some representative posts, and provides some broader context on 4chan and its community (if you can call it that; anonymity is the norm) of users.

Something that isn’t as easily presented through representative posts, however, is the discursive frame1 that many of the participants in the thread adopt2 (or at least acknowledge). I was trying to get a sense of it while reading through the thread (an unpleasant experience), so I figured I might as well write down what I’ve figured out so far. Also it’s almost completely new to me (something I’m somewhat glad to be able to say).

1. ‘so long, space robots’

The OP signs off his initial post this way. This is a reference to the 4chan channel (/r9k/ stands for ROBOT9001).

Another prominent term in the thread is ‘normie’, which UD defines thus:

‘1. A person who does not have a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, mood disorders, PTSD, depression or any similar mental disability. “Normie” is a reference to those who are a part of the mainstream culture; the 97% of the population who do not have a mental illness.’

I think the above is a rather narrow definition, and that the sense of it probably expands, in the context of /r9k/, to all non-participants in the /r9k/ subculture. It would also serve as a term to exclude, for instance, commenters who do not demonstrate that they subscribe to the ‘right’ set of norms, including communicative norms (e.g. familiarity with certain memes and fluency in employing them).

But overall we see that the identity that the ‘space robots’ are attempting to normalize, is to be the antithesis of the ‘normies’. It’s about experiencing solidarity by being non-normal (a familiar enough pattern in fandom culture), but in this context it seems ramping it up from non-normal to anti-normal is imagined to demonstrate one’s credentials as a member of the in-group more emphatically.

2. ‘beta’, ‘beta uprising’

While the alien-normie dichotomy probably isn’t going to be picked up on in the ensuing media commentary, the beta-alpha one probably is, because of the existing popular interest in MRA stuff (Wiki).

The basic idea is that alpha-males get the lion’s share of society’s rewards (e.g. female attention, most often; but also social rewards more generally like economic rewards), at the expense of beta-males who, by virtue of being less aggressive and less willing to exploit others, get a lesser share, but who nevertheless continue to participate in society and keep it going, by passively accepting those unfair terms.

The solidarity project here is advanced by self-identifying ‘betas’.

So I read a term like ‘beta uprising’ and there are echoes of, say, Marxist rhetoric, but overall it’s a rather twisted reinterpretation of the critique of power more generally (which we see in Marxist ideology, but is also part of feminism, anarchism, etc.).

3.  ‘Chad’, ‘Chads and Stacies’ 

Basically the antagonists. The generic male/female names stand for generic, ‘normie’ people. ‘Chad’ (rather than ‘Chads and Stacies’) is referred to much more often in the thread, because Chads (‘asshole jocks’) are basically the bane of beta experience. I’m inferring, but I would say Chads need not necessarily be alphas; they just happen to behave in ways that self-identifying betas find antogonizing.

4. ‘edgy’, ‘edgelord’

There is a popular sense of ‘edgy’ that means something like ‘challenging to societal norms, in a somewhat dark way’ (paraphrasing the top UD definition). The sense of ‘edgy’ is somewhat more specific in this subculture, however. The UD definitions for ‘edgelord‘ capture this quite well:

1: ‘A poster on an Internet forum, (particularly 4chan) who expresses opinions which are either strongly nihilistic, (“life has no meaning,” or Tyler Durden’s special snowflake speech from the film Fight Club being probably the two main examples) or contain references to Hitler, Nazism, fascism, or other taboo topics which are deliberately intended to shock or offend readers.’
2: ‘Fedora tipping, fat fuck that spends his life on anime cartoon message boards being a worthless pile of shit. Nobody likes this guy but he acts like he doesn’t care. He’s a pathetic, lost kissless virgin that should just kill himself.’

So the higher-voted definition is a lot less inflammatory (quite successfully provides a veneer of academic objectivity on this interpretation of the employment of the term in the discourse), and the second definition is a lot closer to the tone of the thread I was reading – but more importantly I think there’s a layer of irony that the person supplying the second definition is aware of. I read it as a space robot speaking with the voice of a Chad – so basically as much self-hate as hate.


I’m just going to list some quick thoughts.

  1. In this discursive community, we see solidarity can be expressed by performing alienation. This does not mean we should assume all speakers think of themselves as alienated (though some certainly appear to).
  2. The dark side of this interpretation? Like the example of a group of dudes acting rowdy even when there are no chicks around, it’s like practising for the real performance. I see /r9k/ as the virtual space where the playing-out of the character of the space robot happens. For most users a basic premise is that this is a virtual performance (indeed necessarily a virtual performance, otherwise how could one be alienated?) and not a real performance. Yet the edges of these realities do bleed.
  3. In all this, there is irony – but irony with a manic, involuted quality.

1. By ‘discursive frame’, I mean something like ‘cognitive schemas or structures shape the way individuals perceive and represent reality’ (article in the Encyclopedia of Case Study Research).
2. I say ‘adopt’ because there is an extent to which we can think of frames as being selected by a speaker on a particular communicative occasion.


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