Though Reddit claims to be "the front page of the internet," it usually hits the news because of its nurturing attitude toward the asinine or the evil. Be it white power, radicalized sexism, or advocacy on behalf of gamers (a.k.a. radicalized white power sexism), it's hard to find a group Reddit's mods won't drag their feet about banning.
Reddit users correctly complain that focus on controversial subreddits, like the now-defunct Coontown or fatpeoplehate, ignores the real Reddit experience. That real experience is a millions-strong audition to be that day's avatar of Reddit's ideal user, best personified as a generically masculine college bro who worships video games, cops, and acoustic covers of pop songs with equal blank ferocity.
Reddit thrives on the obliteration of nuance, sacrificing everything for convenience. Memes make humor about reassurance rather than surprise. The only measure of worth in the Reddit abyss is based solely on whether something confirms a user's narrow set of biases. This is further warped by a kind of contrived condescension—20-year-olds calling kids "little ones" or "little shits"—that feels like a relic of an older internet.
And then, dear God, there are the photos of food.
A perfect summary of the site's ethos, a large subreddit network called sfwpornnetwork contains a multitude of sub-boards of "cool" images: "knifeporn," "megalightporn," and "humanporn." Everything posted within there to provoke an "awesome" from whoever's looking at it.
The more mundane the page, the more startling the toll this culture is taking on the the innocents trapped within. Take food: how has Reddit changed the eating habits of its users?
Reddit's food section has the usual internet food tropes of pig-corpse excess and recipe-book photography. However, many of the users' own cookery attempts have developed an aesthetic all of their own—one that surpasses guys with handles like "gimmedemboobs" presenting what looks like an improvised prison lasagne as their take on food-blog staple cast-iron pizza (though there's plenty of that, too). An embodiment of Reddit's baby-man spirit has emerged through the medium of photos of their weird food.
Reddit's communal, studied, folksy laziness is exemplified on r/food, where the indulgent, greasy lifestyles hinted at by cookery photo galleries invert the carefully-honed, horn-rimmed Stepford aesthetic to which most food blogs aspire.
The first thing you notice about Reddit's amateur cookery, even before the general wetness of all the food, is the background presence of alcohol. Somehow alcohol and cookery have fused together in Reddit chefs' minds as some facsimile of adulthood, and the results are never subtle—like this "cheesy taco soup," for instance. Several of the posts I've linked here are from the r/drunkencookery sub-board, not because alcohol is more prevalent there but because that is purely about presenting your own food, away from all the restaurant Instagrams and Serious Eats hasselback potatoes.
Aside from booze, the ubiquity of which I cannot stress enough, my favorite background trope is awful Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 soundtrack-core being played on giant flatscreen TVs. Though being grown up is clearly important to these men, they are doing adulthood on their own warped terms.
Because Reddit is where context goes to die, it's also interest seeing how the never-flagging trend of re-contextualizing fast food is interchangeable with just piling one junk food on top of another. There are two basic ideas of re-contextualizing food here: what their parents made but bigger, and what they can get in a fast food place but more gross.
Traditional gender roles also emerge as a theme amid all this bleak cheese melting. Be it a man treating himself to some dude-food 'cause the "little lady" is away, directing "his woman" to make food that will kill them, or one lamenting that he is still single despite managing to not cremate a salad. Seeing "why am I still single" hints underneath images like this tells you everything you need to know about life in this cathedral of diminished expectations.
Some intersection of the access to the Food Network, over-generous parents, and the aforementioned diminished expectations means that many users present copious photographs of the making (and often burning) of a basic meal as a tutorial, complete with the writing style of a parent who has logged onto their child's Facebook to vet their friends.
Want to read about food that's actually edible? Try our food site, Munchies.
The confidence with which sweaty, charred food is billed as having a "nice crust," and TV-chef staples like shocking in ice are combined with brazen, bizarre mistakes, speaks to how completely food media's mission to make everyone feel like experts regardless of skill locks in with Reddit's priorities.
Some posts go above and beyond this aesthetic and, indeed, the limits of human reality. This post, even if you disregard the coffee tequila and winking blunt ashing, seems to feature pictures of an alien landscape instead of food. Meanwhile, the accumulated cosmic doom in this post, where a guy actually has a machine to check his blood alcohol level to prove how drunk he is to you, totally eclipses an episode of True Detective or a Thomas Ligotti book.
There are many different kinds of hell in Reddit's amateur cookery; it's difficult to find one post to summarize it all. After all of my studying, though, if I assembled a 20 person team of set-dressers, writers, and sociologists I still couldn't come up with this post. It is a perfect piece of machinery wherein every one of the interlocking gears of sweatiness, confidence, self-pity, conspicuous alcohol, and every other trope one might come across while trawling these posts interlock and work in unholy motion.
The crucial element here is that all of this is presented with the expectation of praise. Every single image you've see linked here was earnestly created for the express purpose of seeking congratulation. This is what happens when you potentially gamify every waking moment: reality can't take it any more. So next time you hear about how Reddit is basically good aside from the prominent hate groups, take it with a pinch of salt.
Follow Sean McTiernan on Twitter.