As I indicated in the last post, I’ve been working on an iPhone version of the 4chan /b/ Image Scrubber. A brief recap: it data-mines 4chan’s /b/ imageboard for images, and displays them one at a time randomly on the screen. The iPhone version does the same, but shows them as taking up the whole screen rather than in collage form, since the resolution is so small. It displays image after image as fast as it can download them, so about every half-second. I learned a decent amount of Obj-C in a couple weeks and I can do a few neat things with it, chiefly among them the porting of the Processing code to Obj-C. It wasn’t that hard, since they’re both object-oriented programming languages. Garbage collection was another neat adventure in programming that I hadn’t really been forced to focus on before, but I believe I did a pretty good job on both the iPhone and Desktop versions of the scrubber.

Undoubtedly the /b/ scrubber will never get through the App Store, especially since there’s always the possibility to see some illegal imagery.

What started as a joke and a neat Processing experiment has turned into an “art project.” The desktop version has been accepted into a gallery exhibition at Emerson College’s Huret and Spector gallery, which will be on display starting May 1st. I’ve also been writing a paper comparing online communities like 4chan and YTMND to 1960s and 70s film collectives like Ant Farm and people like Jack Smith, Ken Jacobs, Ron Rice, etc. The research I’ve done has allowed me to view 4chan and YTMND in a more anthropological sense, as the source of cultural and artistic production. I have always found these underground internet collectives extremely interesting, and have written papers on them before, but never through the lense of sociology and cultural studies. I think that it is increasingly important to examine purely virtual spaces like 4chan in the same way that underground experimental film collectives are, or any other little-known or “hidden” source of intense cultural production. As the scrubber reveals, these spaces are alive in a way that is unimaginable. When showing the scrubber to friends and colleagues, they find themselves completely transfixed on what it produces. Yet it is no different than going to 4chan itself and constantly refreshing the page.

What is especially fun to watch is the knee-jerk reactions that happen when a group of people are huddled around the iPhone version, watching as the next image tops the last in terms of its level of grotesqueness and obscenity. This is not the point of the project, but it’s what gets viewers hooked. However, I’ve found that people are quick to understand the true meaning behind it: these images were posted a few seconds before they saw them, uploaded by hundreds of thousands of people, creating intensely interwoven narratives, artifacts, and memes. And it doesn’t stop. As of this writing, the desktop version is running on a 40-inch plasma screen in 1080p resolution for 2 days (the opening is a day away) and the people setting up the gallery have found it to be a non-stop source of unbelievable and mysteriously confusing imagery. Some people understand a few things they see, but the majority have no idea, and only really see the most obscene and ignore the rest.

Between the genitalia that pops up are amazing glimpses into a subculture that is growing and thriving as the “second most popular forum on the internet” (the first is the japanese version of 4chan which 4chan was based on), and it is the province solely of those who can spend enough time “lurking” before participating. My biggest question, and the true intention of this project, is to wonder how much of this culture will trickle-up into mainstream society. I believe it has been gaining momentum, but as that happens, 4chan’s base of users grows and then complexifies further to prevent its proliferation. Some of my generation already is very familiar with its content, and most likely those of the next generation will be much more immersed. What does this mean for society at large over the next few decades? The last few have seen big shifts in several directions in terms of censorship and cultural norms.