“What’s unique about [4chan] is that it’s anonymous, and it has no memory.”
“We do not forget.”
For the generation who grew up with the internet, born around 1990, 4chan forms part of adolescence in the 00s, alongside MySpace pages and instant messaging. After the rise of web 2.0’s “real-name culture”, 4chan is an archaic (and anarchic) hold-out of an earlier form of online community, offering a ludic escape from identity as liberation from the intersections of real world power relationships. In a space of completely un(self)censored speech, the only things left unsaid are the unsayable. Freeing users from any repercussions in their social lives, from the policing tactics of stigma or shame, anonymity on 4chan solicits total confession (and absolute obscenity) whilst making its veracity irrelevant. As in confessional poetry, disclosure becomes a dramatic quality, a performed challenge to the limits of fiction; unlike confessional poetry, anonymous disclosure can only be dramatic, and identity can only be an implication of the text.
A series named after the boards on the website, Rachael Allen’s 4chan Poems revisit the tradition of confessional poetry via the model of the internet’s anonymous confessions, its games with subjectivity, power, and truth. The poems, bar one, have been published in magazines and anthologies, but not together. They are mostly reflections on the end of childhood, and the pre-existing frameworks of meaning within and through which children orientate themselves into the adult social world.
The poem ‘Rapidshares /r/’ runs:
Gina G was the pathway to enlightenment and adulthood
another of the pathways was my pink faux-snake-skin halter
neck top that came free with a magazine and I shimmied it
on it was skinny and violently pink like someone
embarrassed, feeling older, I thought thirty, and drinking
too much Sprite when someone shouted from across the
beery carpets that ‘that top looks like something you’d get
free from a magazine’ and for some reason I was insulted
and girls that strutted and gathered like pigeons patter my
back and we puffed out our flat chests for the rest of the
evening skittering on our low heels playing at adulthood
and anger and all around me was ooh aah and de de da da
da and a tacky smell of sweets that could have been lipgloss
or just as easily the encroaching ledge of age.
There are no feelings but in things: the pink top is “like someone/embarrassed,” the heels enable a performance of “anger,” and the final thought is inseparable from sweets or lipgloss. The music of Gina G and the “halter/neck top” are “pathways” to adulthood in that they imply the identity of someone older (“I thought thirty”), as the girls play at adulthood in heels by recognising and performing, however naively, the identities created by these objects within a social system. All the boundaries and potentials of the speaker’s experience reside in the commodities with which she identifies and which identify her. The speaker feels insulted “for some reason” because the “shouted” remark is not so much a personal insult as a challenge to the authenticity of an identity she quotes.
In the 4chan Poems, commodities link into the narratives that form our identities, as self-fashioning appropriates meaning from the mythic landscape of advertising. In ‘Random /b/’, for instance, “teenage summers” smell of “a scented diary from the garden centre or an/Impulse set from Safeways”, like Proust’s Madeleines™. Uniquely meaningful for innumerable people, these objects are also points of connection into a shared narrative, a contiguous horizontal landscape that stretches “all around” us.
‘Cute/Male /cm/’ begins:
When we play The Simpsons game where I find an episode
of The Simpsons that is like real life, I think about the
presence of that squeeze of our shared childhood spent
however many miles apart[…]
The “squeeze” of common experience is the shared experience of cultural items that structure how we understand reality, as suggested by the openness of “our shared childhood,” the “our” reaching beyond the speaker and the addressee. And the nostalgia of these poems is best understood in relation to the recirculation of the commodities of shared narratives through our prosthetic memory: ‘The Simpsons game’ can only be played when episodes can be found on demand, and, as the title of ‘Rapidshares /r/’ suggests, the music of one’s childhood is only a click away. As mass media fractures into the endless, individualised consumption enabled by broadband, drawing from an ever-accumulating, always-on archive of the ghostly, recirculating past, a shared cultural progressive ‘now’ is harder to locate, making categories like retro increasingly meaningless. The internet allows us to plug back into these narratives at will, foreclosing on their ability to progress. The internet is a nostalgia machine.