Remember when the internet used to be fun? Ten years ago you could log on for some news, cat memes and a bit of friendly sexting without World War III breaking out. In 2014, every tweet feels a bit like dropping food into boiling oil, your fingers recoiling from the keyboard lest you get splashed. Even wearing the wrong shirt can make you the target of a global campaign. It's made 2014 one of the most interesting years on the internet, and one of the scariest. Here's what we learned.
The Cold War Is Happening Again
Once upon a time the battle between East and West was fought through proxy wars, phallic arrays of nuclear warheads, and 1980s action movies. In 2014 it's all state-sponsored Russian kids leaving really fucking tedious comments on forums and articles under names like "Gay Turtle" and "Ass." They could be found on social media droning on about how unfair it was that Western media criticized the Motherland. "The Crimeans wanted to be invaded! They told us so in the referendum our soldiers ran!"
The weirdest thing about Russian propaganda is that it works pretty well, thanks to a certain breed of European cynic with an almost pathological skepticism of all things American. It doesn't hurt that the Fox News of the East has a fat wad of dollars to spend, though they should probably spend more of it on ESL classes if the comments are anything to go by.
For its part, the world's most insane nation got pissed off when the American capitalist pigs at Sony Pictures decided to release a movie whose plot centered on an attempt to murder their Dear Leader Kim Jong Un. The country promised "merciless countermeasures," and soon hackers from a group calling themselves Guardians of Peace had penetrated Sony's security and caused all kinds of mischief. North Korea has denied being behind the hack, but, I mean, come on. On Tuesday the anonymous hackers threatened attacks on theaters where The Interview will be playing.
Misogyny Is About Ethics in Video Game Journalism
The clash of cultures wasn't just between East and West this year. It turns out that there's one breed of man more annoying than post-Soviet trolls - whiny post-pubescent brats who can't get laid. "GamerGate," a hashtag coined by Adam Baldwin of all people, started when a woman named Zoe Quinn decided to release a game about depression on Steam.
The blue-balled gaming subculture responded by fabricating a story that Quinn had slept with journalists for good reviews, and launched a campaign to drive her off the internet. It was a tried and trusted method that had worked previously for Anita Sarkeesian, another person with a vagina who received death threats and other harassment for making a video examining gender in video games.
Then something amazing happened - people finally noticed that the majority of gamers are women. The bratty young men have found themselves in a minority, and the more they bite and scratch and squeal, the more they lose.
Don't get me wrong - the abuse is worse than ever, and looks likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. But the board seems to have tilted, and as each month passes the GamerGate brigade looks less like an oppressive minority and more like a dwindling band of losers.
The winter 2014 cover of Paper Magazine
Kim Kardashian's Ass Is Frighteningly Powerful
When I was about 16, I had a friend who was into some fairly extreme porn. He showed me some photos on his computer which featured women cramming an assortment of increasingly oversized objects into their vaginas - fruit, a water bottle, even a tennis racket. To me it was the opposite of erotic. It was almost like the porn was making a self-satirising statement about itself. It was extreme for the sake of being extreme, and watching it felt like someone climbing Everest just because it's there.
2014 was the year that Kim Kardashian finally "broke the internet" with her improbably proportioned ass. The image - calling it a photo would probably be unfair to the editing and software involved - makes me feel the same way that porn did all those years ago. It's self-consciously extreme to the point where it's way past erotic, and just kind of exists for its own sake. If an artist had sculpted it, it would be regarded as a work of genius - the ultimate parody of modern American culture's complete fixation on something people shit out of. We think we're looking at Kim Kardashian's butt, but we're really only seeing ourselves. We are the ass.
And perhaps this marks the end of an era - the logical conclusion of the path that Sir Mix-a-Lot took us on 20-odd years ago. He loved big butts and he could not lie, but it feels like there's nowhere left for the butt to go. We've reached the ass end of the ass, the final spasms of a 20-year American addiction. The only thing left is to find a new overly inflated body part to revere.
People Really Want to See Famous People Naked
My naked body looks like someone stuffed a used condom full of sausage meat and rolled it around on the floor of a barbershop. The downside is that I have to masturbate myself into a scotch-induced coma every night to get some sleep. But on the plus side, I never have to worry about hackers stealing all my nude pics from the iCloud.
Celebrities do have to worry, as The Fappening demonstrated, because people actually want to see them without clothes on. Since the public tends to believe that the rich and famous deserve whatever dehumanising brutality is inflicted on them, stealing their photos from Apple's servers and reposting them all over the internet was seen by some as a victimless crime rather than the mass sexual violation of women that it actually was.
People were quick to blame Apple's technology, but the truth is security is a lot harder when people know more about you. As I wrote at the time: "Security questions your bank might ask you, like 'what was your first pet?' or 'what make of car do you drive' or 'what's your date of birth' are fine for the average Jane or John Doe because strangers aren't likely to know. For people who live their lives in public, that kind of personal information could be just a Google away."
The problem is, increasingly we're all living our lives in public. More and more information is going online, and more sophisticated algorithms are being built to analyze it. In the next decade or two, an algorithm could spot a dog in an old photo of you, match that dog to another photo on a family member's album, retrieve the name from that description, and render a security question like "Name of first pet" completely obsolete.
We're still a long way from that kind of privacy clusterfuck, but 2014 warned us that we're maybe not as far from it as we'd like to think.
We Still Need to Bring Back the Girls
The girls! The girls! Do you remember the girls? You wouldn't fucking shut up about them several months ago, but then some woman in a bikini tipped some ice over her head for MS or measles or something and man it's all just too much to keep track of. Wait, where were we again?
2012 used to hold the record for the shallowest, most pathetic instance of internet campaigning with another hashtag you're about to remember for the first time in months, #Kony2012. #BringBackOurGirls started more promisingly, in the sense that the aim of the campaign was actually real. Never mind that the great Twitter mob hadn't given two shits about all the previous abductions of school children in Nigeria. Ignore the celebs weaseling their way into the story. The public turned up, and they were counted.
For about a week.
After that, it turned out that Boko Haram, the extremist Islamic militants who abducted the children and have killed thousands in recent years, didn't actually give a crap about Change.org petitions or hashtags, leaving a generation of young clicktivists utterly bewildered about how to proceed.
Luckily, something easier came along - the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. All you had to do for that was tip some cold water over your head and not give any money for charity. Wet T-Shirts were donned, and "our girls" were forgotten.
The benefits to charity were debatable, but the challenge gave us a moment of vintage Patrick Stewart. Easily the Internet's Man of the Year 2014 after his skewering of David Cameron's "call to Obama" tweet, Jean-Luc Picard showed us how charity should really work.
So that was the internet in 2014. From charity to culture wars to gross acts of nudity, the human race is louder, angrier, shallower, and sometimes funnier than ever before. The stakes are getting higher every day.
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