4. Fake Geek Girls
Nerds struggle with being more inclusive. All hobbyists do, really. You want your weird little pastimes to gain mainstream acceptance, but at the same time it feels like you've lost something special if the whole world is doing it. You've obsessed over comic books or video games or anime body pillows for years and are ostracised for your devotion, but then all of a sudden they become chic. You're finally cool - but no cooler than the people who picked up your hobby last week and are stealing your thunder. You think you're hot shit for snuggling up with a giant stuffed Sailor Moon? Where was my parade when I was sleeping with Motoko Kusanagi all this time?
I'd like to think that's how the complaints against "fake geek girls" started, but whatever the cause it didn't take long for them to descend into a spiral of ugly misogyny. It's an issue that predates 2013, but this is the year when it came to an embarrassing climax by reaching the mainstream media and making everyone involved look dumb.
Keith Gow And then just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, the meme generator images appeared.
For those of you who are blissfully ignorant, a fake geek girl is supposedly an attractive woman who claims to be interested in nerdy hobbies for the benefit of getting attention lavished on them by awkward guys. They're especially prominent at conventions, we're told, where they prance around in skimpy Princess Zelda costumes despite having the audacity to not even know where in the timeline A Link to the Past is situated. Those attention seeking whores.
Whether or not these women actually exist is irrelevant, and also, I think, a false question. Nerdiness is relative - I know more about video games than any healthy human being should, yet my comic book knowledge is almost non-existent. So if I rip off my shirt to reveal my chiseled physique, put on a Bane mask and talk about how totally cool he was in The Dark Knight Rises, am I a fake? Am I taking advantage of my rugged good looks to attract hordes of desperate Bane fangirls?
Twicsy Here's a self-portrait. Ladies.
Smarter people than me have explained why these accusations are both ignorant and damaging, so I just want to emphasize that the longer they're made, the stupider we all look. In an era where the word "geek" had almost lost all meaning, it's growing increasingly ridiculous for people to anoint themselves gatekeepers so they can protect the supposed integrity of their hobby for the benefit of no one, including themselves. If I meet someone who shares my interests but knows less about them than I do, I'm excited for the chance to help them expand their horizons. I would hope that anyone who talks to me about Batman would feel the same way. If you don't, you're perpetuating a problem that needs to end if we ever want our hobbies to finally and truly gain mainstream acceptance, and if you ever want yourself to stop being a bitter, unlikeable person.
3. Reddit Accuses Innocent People of Terrorism
It would be simplistic to say that a community as massive as Reddit had a bad year. But any site of its size is going to run into controversy sooner or later, and Reddit had more than its fair share in 2013. It may not have reached the nadir of 2012 when users passionately argued for their constitutional right to view child pornography, but it came close.
Reddit users bullied the suicidal, harassed women with rape threats and traded racist and misogynistic beliefs, but that's business as usual. It was in a moment of crisis where Reddit really shone. In the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombing, a subreddit dedicated to analysing videos and photos of the crime was established. Users leapt into action and heroically identified innocent people as potential perpetrators, subjecting them and their families to harassment. Some users did call for restraint, but I imagine that provided little comfort to the guy who was afraid to leave his house or the family whose Facebook page that was meant to help them locate their missing son was bombarded with awful messages.
International Business Times "Notice how he doesn't look white in either photo. Totally our guy."
You can call it crowdsourcing gone wrong or simply a bunch of overenthusiastic idiots ruining innocent people's lives with their ham-handed, painfully misguided attempts at heroism - either way, Reddit learned its lesson and quickly shut down a subreddit that was "investigating" the Washington Navy Yard shooting. It's tempting to write the whole thing off as an isolated incident.
But we can't, because just when you think Reddit has gotten over its controversy something new pops up. We recently learned that CarlH, a popular user in charge of a programming subreddit, was arrested for allegedly torturing and raping his 9 year old son as part of a child pornography ring. While we can't judge the entire site by the actions of one user - after all, I post anti-Semitic rants in the comments section of this site under another name, but otherwise the community is great - it makes you wonder what sort of people lurk behind the names you interact with on the Internet's front page.
2. Everybody's Heard of These Sites. But You'll Be Surprised By How Much They Suck.
You may not be familiar with Upworthy, but you've probably seen their headlines. Emotionally manipulative linkbait titles like "I Dare You To Sit Through This Whole Video. It's Short. But I Hope You'll Learn Something New" beg and guilt you into clicking on them without even telling you what they're about. Headlines like "If You're Living In A Developed Country But You're Not Happy, What Are You Doing Wrong?" give you a condescending promise about a life changing experience that can't possibly be delivered in a three and a half minute video. If the entry on fake geek girls had been written by Upworthy it would be called "Some Geek Boys Called These Geek Girls 'Fake.' They Certainly Won't Be Making That Mistake Again," and I'm not making that up.
Upworthy isn't the only site to use this strategy - they're just the latest and most annoying. They are of course inspired by BuzzFeed, a site that feels the need to restore our faith in humanity and remind us that the '90s existed so frequently they seem to believe that their audience is made up entirely of amnesiac misanthropes.
Splice Today This is the new "Who, What, When and Where."
BuzzFeed has been around for a while, but they reached a new low in 2013 with "The Story Of Egypt's Revolution In "Jurassic Park" Gifs." Not only was this "article" an insulting, condescending simplification of a country's painful struggle for human rights, it made absolutely no fucking sense. The only thing BuzzFeed and the Egyptian political crisis have in common is that they both involve crimes against humanity - in Egypt unarmed protestors have been shot, while at BuzzFeed someone wrote "They found a democracy DNA strand frozen in amber" and was given money instead of a pink slip. If you don't see the problem, imagine how people would react if a Middle Eastern website ran "The Story of 9/11 In Aladdin Clips."
This is end result of the word "viral" losing all meaning. This is the end result of an Internet that encourages clicks over content and nostalgia over knowledge. BuzzFeed and Upworthy are the first two horsemen of the Internet apocalypse, spreading OMGs and FAILs from atop their feline steeds. And we need to stop them before our social media feeds become nothing more than pictures of puppies and comments about tamagotchis being a thing.
1. Grumpy Cat
Pope Francis was Time Magazine's 2013 Person of the Year, but with all due respect to His Holiness, I believe that title belongs to Grumpy Cat. No person, no being, cast a wider shadow on the Internet, and possibly human civilization, than Tardar Sauce, a cat with feline dwarfism.
If BuzzFeed and Upworthy are Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Grumpy Cat is the Antichrist. She's been on the cover of New York Magazine and the Wallstreet Journal. MSNBC named her 2012's Most Influential Cat, BuzzFeed named her 2013's Meme of the Year and she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Friskies, the most prestigious award Friskies gives out.
Friskies, incidentally, also gave Grumpy Cat and her owners a first class flight, a private hotel room, a personal assistant, a chauffeur and free food during her trip to New York to take part in their promotional YouTube videos. That may sound excessive, and that's because it very much is, but you'd give a star that kind of treatment too if her parent company were worth over a million dollars.
Ryan Seacrest Here's a major star pictured with some random mammal you probably don't recognize.
Her owners themselves have made a "low six-figure" amount, which means that simply by cleaning the litter box of their feline master they're making more money than I and many of you do from slaving away at the office. In fairness they seem like good people, limiting media exposure and handling by strangers so Grumpy Cat can have a normal youth and not grow up to be one of those former kitten stars that overdoses on catnip like you read about on TMZ. Believe me, she needs the time to herself. Grumpy Cat's New York car? It had tinted windows because dozens of people swarmed it.
And let's be honest - if my cat got famous I'd milk that for every penny it was worth, and so would you. That's not what this is about. This is about the fact that we've given a cat a media empire complete with endless merchandise, a New York Time Bestseller, an agent and a movie deal that will no doubt produce a film on par with the classic Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, the Casablanca of movies about cats with a single personality trait. You can even buy a "Grumpuccino," because when you think cats the next words to pop into your head are inevitably "iced coffee."
The Internet has always had a thing for cats, and I get that. I've loved the cats that have been in my life as much as I've loved the people. But it's gone too far. 2013 was the year we took the Internet, with its near infinite content and potential, and decided to declare a frowning cat its God. When Grumpy Cat appeared at SXSW this year she drew a bigger crowd than some of the finest creative minds of our age. Does that worry you? Because it damn well should.
Previously by Mark Hill: