Yesterday, Barack Obama took time out of his busy schedule re-applying for his job as the President of the United States to do an AMA over at Reddit. For those of you who are unfamiliar, AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything,” and you can literally ask the person anything. Seven zillion people ended up asking him stuff. He talked about the prospect of young peoples' futures in the economy, the specter of Super PACs, his continued commitment to NASA, and even threw in a “NOT BAD!” at the end to prove he was aware that he was a meme. He also answered a question about internet neutrality, saying, “We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody.” I don’t know about the internet habits of the president, but it is unlikely that Obama is familiar with the subreddit /r/spacedicks. He should be, because spacedicks takes the “open forum” aspect of the internet and uses it to smoke crack.
Reddit was founded in 2005 by two UVA graduates as an internet forum much in the vein of 4chan and Digg. Their creation ended up splitting the difference between the über-gross nerdbro image board that is 4chan and the link-dump land of Digg, eventually becoming so enormous that Conde Nast bought the fucking thing in 2006. It works basically as a message board: People post links, images, and statements that other people then comment on. What allowed it to surpass its competitors was its open-community mindset. Reddit has a main page, but beyond that there are countless subreddits on any topic you can think of—trap rap, feminism, atheism (Hey y’all!), yoga pants, whatever. There is even one for poop.
If you are not at work or have any interest in getting fired, take a mosey on down to /r/spacedicks. The banner for the page consists of a flying severed penis with a rainbow trail leading into someone’s prolapsed butthole, and also the RuneScape logo. The page’s background features two men with their fists in each other’s butts. The actual content posted by the sections Redditors is even grosser. It’s basically a forum where people post pictures of mutilated/deformed/dead bodies, and sometimes weird porn. In the comments, people tend to use the word faggot a lot. Usually, the phrase “dive into the asshole of the internet” is a euphemism, but with /r/spacedicks, Dear Lord Jesus Christ, it ain’t. It is an objectively disgusting space.
“I was texted to call you a raging faggot,” Alex tells me over Gchat. Before I can respond, she continues, “You’re quite a nice person though.” Alex is 26 and lives in Arizona. She’s a freelance artist, serves as a caretaker for her grandmother, and seems to enjoy drinking. Oh, and she helps moderate /r/spacedicks. We met after I sent a private message to all of the moderators of the subreddit asking if I could interview them for VICE. They made VICE tweet a verification message in order to prove I was legit, but after that they seemed pretty excited to be interviewed. I ended up talking to four of them—ohgeorge, jdwpom, lattromi, and Alex, who asked us not to reveal her username. Alex and I talked about the board’s community, and the attitude she has toward it. “To me,” she said, “it serves as a barrier between my real life and my real problems. A subreddit like that is just so messed up and ridiculous I’m reminded that there are very real and messed-up things to consider.”
When I admitted to jdwpom that I’ve been looking into spacedicks because of an assignment, he apologized that I had to look at it. He lives in New Zealand, and his Gchat icon is a picture of him dressed up as Luigi. He explained to me that /r/spacedicks originated because the tastefully named user I_RAPE_CATS kept posting really gross stuff in other subreddits that wouldn’t get any upvotes. So, as many great thinkers have done, he went rogue. And thus, spacedicks was born. “It’s basically CATS’s internet persona, forced on other people,” jdwpom said. (CATS and I emailed a bit but we couldn’t chat due to time constraints.)
As a way of trying to get in touch with some /r/spacedicks users proper, I created a post with a dummy link and a headline that read, “HEY CAN I INTERVIEW SOME OF Y’ALL? FOR AN ARTICLE THING? LINK IS A DUMMY, JUST RESPOND IF YOU’RE INTERESTED.” (The all-caps thing, jdwpom told me, was CATS’s idea and is reinforced by the CSS.) I then posted an email address as a comment. At first, I got a couple upvotes—known on /r/spacedicks as “fagets”—but things quickly went sour. The first response I got was, “VICE MAGAZINE IS THE WORST. GO DO AN ARTICLE ON 4CHAN OR SOMETHING.” The second was simply, “FAGET.” The downvotes—called “feminists”—ended up coming in. Right now, I’m sitting at four fagets and ten feminists, and zero emails from the users. The use of those terms was troubling to me, and when interviewing the mods I brought this up. In addition to Alex, /r/spacedicks has another female moderater named ohgeorge. She is 26 and married. When asked about the “faget/feminist” binary, she replied, “Oh man, I use the word ‘faget’ all the time. I think it’s a hilarious word. Alex and I aren’t bothered by the whole ‘feminist’ thing. I’m all for women’s rights, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve never felt, as a woman, disrespected by spacedicks.”
Jdwpom shares a similar viewpoint and said, “There was a discussion on 4chan that gets posted around a fair bit explaining that on the internet, ‘faggot’ can no longer be associated with its original meaning. There were a few logical hoops being jumped through, but basically, it’s used so often as a minor insult that people know it exactly as that—a generic insult, right up there with ‘fuckwad.’” The problem with his argument is that the internet functions as a part of larger culture, one where language steers the way we think and act. What’s more, the web itself is only language—visual, aural, and verbal. Hell, the internet exists because someone wrote its code using a language. If “faggot” is being used to associate something with incorrectness, we’re just perpetuating a culture that denaturalizes queerness and causes 15-year-old gay kids to stay in the closet, terrified that if they do, some asshole is just going to bully them at school. Arguments like jdwpom’s—that using faggot is OK as long as it’s deployed as an insult against gay people—are super common all over the web, and are usually delivered by heterosexual men. In the same way that it’s not OK for white kids to reclaim the n-word to throw around among their white friends, it’s not OK to call a non-gay person faggot. If anything, saying stuff like that on the internet is even more violent than saying it out loud, because when you say something it falls out of the air. On the internet, it’s just there. Forever. When I offer a version of this argument to jdwpom he says, “No worries, I’m glad to see we’ve still got something to offend everyone, right? We’ve got a reputation to uphold, you know. People shouldn't be going to that place in a serious mood. That’s trouble.”
Funcionally, /r/spacedicks is something of a concentrated continuation of 4chan’s legendary /b/ board, which in probably every bit of media about it gets referred to as “the bathroom wall of the internet.” 4chan, however, was more expansive, a collection of offensive jokes, personal stories from users, with an occasional spacedicksian picture thrown in just to fuck with everyone else. Because of Reddit’s hyper-specific board system, however, all the gross stuff got moved into a single space. For those in the know, it can be used as an effective weapon in the time-tested tradition of trolling your friends, tricking them into going to stuff like Lemon Party or 2 Girls 1 Cup. “People see the word 'spacedicks' and get curious,” said lattromi. It’s a funny name that suggests it could plausibly be an absurd board about self-centered astronauts or something, and so you see "spacedicks,” click the link, and have your eyes summarily assaulted.
Lattromi fits right in with the board's offensiveness. He's legendary in certain seedy sectors of the internet. He lives in Ohio, acts in low-budget horror movies, is often drunk for weeks straight, and has done “every drug the average person can name.” On top of that, he’s been arrested 12 times, mostly for drinking and drug stuff. When his father, a fellow Redditor, found out he was a /r/spacedicks mod he came up to him and said, “Son, I am disappoint,” a reference to a famous Reddit meme. Lattromi looks at the space as a cathartic one: “You can’t see how cute a kitten is until you’ve seen a picture of a guy injecting feces into his penis and then jacking it out.” I tell him I haven’t seen that picture before, and he offers to be a pal and find it for me. I decline.
Talking to the moderators, I start to see a common narrative thread. They all drink a lot. They’ve all got a certain viewpoint about the internet that you might describe as libertarian. The mods all seem to care about each other as well as the community. In interviews, they were nothing but cordial to me even as I confronted them with the terribleness of the space they curate. In short, they “get it,” and they don’t care if you do. In fact, it seems like they prefer that you don't like it. “There is literally no way you can make us look bad,” Alex said to me. It’s almost as if all of the gross shit that gets posted on /r/spacedicks is a red herring deployed to keep outsiders away, so that the community can just be left alone with themselves. My friend Malika, an active Redditor who stays the goddamn hell away from /r/spacedicks, described it as such. “It’s a place where people post fucked-up shit as part of an in-club, for people who traditionally haven’t been ‘in’ anything. It’s this gigantic quasi-surrealist inside joke.”
Indeed, spending time on the board has something of a desensitizing effect, the mutilated flying rainbow penis losing its connotations and taking on a weird cheer as I kept clicking 'refresh' on my post, waiting for a legit response to my interview request. The flippancy with which the board treats severe damage to the human body is alarming, but it’s not like it’s anything new. For as long as we’ve existed, humanity has had a history of deviancy, taking perverse pleasure in watching the human body get altered in exceedingly painful ways. The Romans fucking loved violence; they used to pay money to watch people fight to the death. Even better was when people fought animals—if the guy killed the animal, cool, if the animal killed the dude in the ring, that was fucking awesome. Carnage. Flesh. Bones. Cheering. Public executions were the biggest thing around in the pre-electricity era, and that impulse hasn’t died with modern society. Consider when Saddam Hussein was executed and a video of the hanging leaked to the internet. People went HAM on that like it was the Paris Hilton sex tape. Even the new Swans record sounds like the soundtrack to an uncommitted murder. “Put your hand in my mouth?” Yeah, Gira? What are you gonna do with it, friendo? We’re about one gigantic natural disaster away from being an IRL version of The Road Warrior, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Places like /r/spacedicks aren’t necessarily 'sensitive' or 'healthy' or 'good for society,' but they reflect an impulse within the human condition that no amount of socialization can squelch. It’s just there. Always has been. Always will be. And frankly, I’m terrified to see what we come up with next.
All of the images in this post were originally posted on /r/spacedicks. They are merely the tip of the disgusting iceberg.
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