The internet was once a place of wonder. When it was first cooked up in a military bunker way back in the 1980s as a sophisticated armed forces network, little did its creators know what era they would initiate by the public introduction of the World Wide Web. While many granola-munching, wooly bearded and Carl Sagan revering Jim Henson impersonators would claim the internet to be a revolution in global communication and open source information sharing, the fact is that nowadays everyone uses the internet for pornography and illegal music downloads.
But the tarnishing of what was once deemed a golden age of communication networks hasn’t been undocumented, nor the fact that as millions of people toss their personal info on MySpaces and Facebooks, more than a few of those sad sacks of shit are going to be worth a king’s ransom in off-key hilarity. One of the earliest sites to catalogue such inanity was Something Awful, a humor website started as a personal stomping ground for founder Rich “Lowtax” Kyanka’s particular brand of acerbic comedy, until later evolving into an almost journalistic compendium of all the worst the web has to offer. From creepy tribute pages for fictional video game characters to forums a little too dedicated at sexualizing the Simpsons, SA defined the battle lines of what is weird and funny in bad taste and harassment for years. After stepping into the whole Web 2.0 business, community forums were formed and centered not only around harassing all the creeps hiding in the dark corners of the web, but also for generating an audience of like-minded individuals who flock to the utterly bizarre in humor as much as they do in their own interest groups. The SA Forums would eventually eclipse the popularity of its founding website, with current forum registrants exceeding 100,000 users, but the spirit of grief and humiliation would live on as the various subforums would not only fuel debates on what’s good and what’s crap in music, film and television, but also provide more personal examples of embarrassing behavior (such as crafting homemade Wendys Baconators or running Legend of Zelda themed weddings). The front end content of the site would also draw acclaim as one of Something Awful’s prized contributors, David Thorpe, would later go on to write for alternative Boston newspapers like the Weekly Dig and the Boston Phoenix.
Nevertheless, SA wouldn’t be the end-all of crude internet humor, as its influence coupled with that of similar sites such as comedy aggregator Fark or gore album Rotten.com would spark even more locations for IT drones to waste away their work hours on company dime. Of the many websites to spawn from these virile wombs, none have achieved the level of infamy as 4chan, an image-based message board founded in homage to Japanese counterpart 2chan. Despite its humble beginnings as just another place online to discuss various nerd-related topics, 4chan quickly burgeoned into another subculture of in-jokes and offensive humor with an addiction to the internet’s more unstable contributors. Dozens of memetic sayings and images burst forth from the ‘chans, including YouTube sensation Chocolate Rain and the entire Rickrolling phenomenon, while users of the site, not fettered down with registered accounts or easy ISP tracking, launched humorous raids on everything from social networks such as Habbo Hotel and SecondLife to the online activity of individuals such as controversial talkshow host Hal Turner or web entrepreneur Adam Goldstein. Clearly, 4chan presented an evolution in internet pranking, in that while its predecessor Something Awful would regularly track down offensive pages for its Awful Link of the Day segments, 4chan would unite users from around the world to harass Scientologists while wearing Guy Fawkes masks and blasting mind-numbing techno outside their churches.
The halcyon glory of an internet never to be, a place where a rather more sane audience could talk about programming languages and bad sci-fi novels, faded further away with the advent of these sites and their proclamation of entertainment through vicarious annoyance. And as sites such as 4chan and Something Awful march on in popularity, wikis like Encyclopedia Dramatica emerge to document the fetid annals of shock content, obscene hacker raids, stupid amateur videos and mindless catchphrases that have been slowly taking over the innocence of the World Wide Web. Already this encyclopedia has become a sort of rogue authority on the perceived nature of other established online sources, with defamatory articles on Wikipedia as well as any number of other wikis or popular websites being the highlight of ED, whom seem to place more racial epithets in their work in jest than any other news source I have ever come across. Perhaps the highlight of ED and the bad comedy trend in general would be their continued chronicling of a man-boy named Christian Weston Chandler, a mentally disabled Sonic the Hedgehog fanatic whose abysmal living situation and painfully awkward romantic exploits are documented with Library of Congress precision by anonymous net-goers more than eager to encourage his uncomfortable YouTube video-blogs and perennial real life fuck-ups. One will have to wonder, when they peruse these archives in the future, exactly what kind of generation allowed the degree of humiliation and grief demanded by the aforementioned sites to exist, and even worse, how the internet could give way to the morons and neckbearded basement dwellers who fueled them in the first place.