Cats and Penises All the Way Down
October 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
As some of you may know (ahem jwp) I’m somewhat maybe a bit pathologically neurotic about my writing. Many of you in the audience have experienced the comedy routine that is me sharing essay drafts — by the time you receive whatever email I’ll have sent fifteen slightly line-edited versions with the decree that you are NOT TO OPEN THE PREVIOUS ABOMINATION, due to I fixed a dangling modifier or whatever. I don’t know where this comes from, but whatever it is I’m sure it’s a recognized medical condition so GET OFF MY NUTS. Many of you also know that I don’t type out a single word until I know exactly how the particular story (and/or argument) will end — my process is hugely systematic and, again, probably
In other words, and at least for those of you who have seen me in academic hyperdrive, the following will seem completely out of character. For the rest of you, it’ll be business as usual, and anyway why would you care. Either way, the thing is. Instead of keeping my next project under wraps (at least until I’m confidant I’ve got it right), I’m going to liveblog that shit (note the new sidebar category!) — in part because the circles I find myself traveling in are filled with people who know so much more about internet culture than I do, and therefore are very intimidating, and therefore are precisely the people I want looking over my shoulder.
So. Kittens and homophobia, what I’m calling the catfag dialectic. Except um ABOUT THAT — online, at least in certain circles, the word “fag” performs a number of seemingly contradictory linguistic and cultural functions. On one hand it serves as a blanket suffix for all sorts of self-designations. Anons on /b/, for example, describe themselves as “newfags” or “oldfags” or whatever other “[x]fags,” immediately undermining the kneejerk assumption that this is straightforward homophobic expression — it’s framed as a sort of self-reflexive predicate nominative that, in this particular space at least, has very little to do with sexual orientation. On the other hand, and simultaneously, “fag” is also –and frequently– used pejoratively, or at the very least is deployed as an epithet. It’s both what anons are (although not really, because the designation isn’t about sexual preference….except when it is…) and what anons distance themselves from. By gesturing towards the prevalence of cute content within this same highly masculinized (if not explicitly heterosexual or at least male-gazey) space, the “cat” in “catfag” thus calls attention to a very weird sort of gender/ed polysemy. Call it genderfuck, call it queer/ing, call it who knows — as I said yesterday, whatever it is, it’s something.
TL;DR the juxtaposition I’m considering is that of very, very cute content paired with very, very offensive content — which is one of the things that internet culture, and trolling culture in particular (like I said, the relationship between the two is more of a Goatse Venn diagram) does particularly well (“well?”). My question is what one (cuteness) does to the other (offensiveness). Does the cute mitigate the offensive? Does the offensive warp the cute? How does gender factor into this discussion?
THIS IS WHERE WE START. And yes, there will be bronies.