Christopher Haworth, Robert Landwirth, Mylène Ly, Matteo Banal, Emilie K. Sunde.
If we take /ourguy/ as a genre of subcultural communication then we can say it involves a prompt posted by an original user (usually ’is X our guy?’), an image representing ‘ourguy’. The intention is to ignite a collective process of deliberation, wherein the participants debate whether the suggested person is, in fact, ‘our guy’. For this project we focused on the images. Using image sorting software we sought to gain an insight into the subcultures that use 4chan/pol by analysing which figures recurred over time, and whether there were any identifiable image practices (modification, remixing, citation) that could be discerned.
A working comparison for us was memes. Using 4cat and imagej, we were interested in discovering whether the image practices associated with /ourguy/ would be similar to memes, or whether they would be different. We were also interested in understanding why the figures that recur over time do so. Could these be understood in relation to political events, which might reconfigure associations and allow a particular figure to persist? Do they reflect the implicit politics of /pol, which can be outlined as far-right, libertarian, social conservative, and/or ethno-national? Finally, how can we understand this recurrence in relation to 4-chan as a socio-technical environment, where the transience of the medium means conversations need to be continually re-initiated in order to maintain some subcultural continuity and identity?
Step 1: Creating Image maps and identifying people
Search for posts for each year 2013 to 2019 on 4CAT
Using the following search terms:
"/ourguy/" | ourguy | "our guy" | "/our guy/"
Create an Image map by similarity image sorter
Look at the image sorter image of each year subsequently
For each year:
identify people that appear in clusters [add 1/15: or that we find interesting / just expect to have relevancy over multiple years]
Write down their names
Step 2: Selecting interesting people and map them to a timeline:
Select people that appear repeatedly across years
Curate images of these people across years
Map them on a timeline
Step 3: Select a subset of people on the timeline and analyze signifying practices:
Find /ourguy/ threads about them
We looked at 4plebs, search term “ourguy” (without parentheses)
Searched for post title
First hits we found were from 2016 (133 datapoints)
We were interested in wider interpretations related to 4chan as a social and technical environment and created categories that would allow us to identify comparative themes. The first category was ‘consensus’, which essentially meant figures that corresponded unambiguously with the implicit politics of the platform. The second ‘contested’, which included public figures who were not obvious representations of ourguy. Finally we also included a list of historical figures who recurred over the years, either alone of superimposed on other ourguy characters.
Contested: Bernie, Soros, Andrew Yang,
Obvious: Trump, PewDiePie, Kanye,
Historical characters: Hitler, Stalin, Marx.
From this we were left with two main considerations. We set out to find images of ‘ourguy’ in order to analyse the transformation/evolution of the image as a meme, however, we began to consider after initial findings that we might show the lack of transformation/evolution of the image of ourguy instead.
He’s a MAGA (Make America Great Again ?) man.
/ourguy/ is white (or at least half-white)
* our guy:
- Israel doesn't like him / wants to cut funding to israel
- pro (white) working class
- (free healthcare, education)
- against the 1% / billionaires
* not our guy:
- he’s jewish
- he’s pro gender equality / non binary sexuality
- triggers a conversation on appropriate policies and political means to achieve a benefit to the white working class (liberalism, communism, protectionism asf.)
* our guy:
- supposedly served in the SS and said this time was "the best time in his life"
- is against israel / got denounced by israel
- claims he was a nazi collaborator / "sold out the Jews"
* not our guy:
- he's jewish
- is a "traitor to his own people"
- just money / power hungry
- 2017 a lot of the Soros discussion happens in long threads. These threads continuously trigger the creation of 'conspiracy theories' such as "i looked at these 3 pieces of information and concluded that Soros is the one sponsoring the Antifa".
Communication in the /ourguy/ form is started by creating an original post containing a picture, a tweet or another representation of a person and offering a sort of 'opening statement' of why this person should be considered as 'our guy'. The arguments in the opening statement often include a link to a youtube video or a news article and thus are in some form related to current media events. The following discussion is handled mainly in yes or no statements as a vote of confidence (with harsh language) but different types of discussions can ensue. As discussed, in the Bernie threads there was a lot of discussion on the question if his policies and political stances actually benefit the "white working class" -- if open borders or protectionism is preferable and so on. In threads on Soros a lot of people offered conspiracy theories trying to figure out what his "master plan" is and where to put him in a net of fictionalized power relations.
In general, during these discussions it is assumed that there are a set of ideological alt-right ends that are shared by participants during the discussion (not explicitly stated). The arguments offered by OP and other information that might be inferred or brought into discussion is read against these merits.
Next to statements that just react in a harsh form of agreement or disagreement, many aspects that could be brought up in a discussion are left out: (1) discussion is mainly related to the information brought up by OP. There is no attempt to paint a 'full' picture of how a person has to be perceived. It is rather assumed that an idea of the person under discussion is shared by all participants. (2) as stated, the specific values a candidate is read against are also assumed to be shared between participants not spelled out.Both of these 'selective blind spots' keep the complexity of the discussion low, in the sense that they circumvent in depth discussion of character judgements and attribution,which diverse and dispersed group of communicators would probably not agree on fully. Measures like these might be necessary for a form like /ourguy/ to work.
Hypothesis: The rise and fall of the popularity of /ourguy/ threads seems to be connected to the popularity of a person (in this communicative circle) and the propagation of media events that can suitably be discussed in the forms that /ourguy/ threads produce. As such you can see strong discussion on Soros, when there was suitable information being propagated in 2017 but it tapers off 2018 and the last thread in 2019, where someone asks if Soros is our guy only has one reply that "Soros is evil". Other characters with a strong media appearance through the years, like Trump, Kanye or PewDiePie stay in the discussion.
Besides trying to complete the picture by offering a more complete qualitative description of the inner workings of the /ourguy/ form further research should verify the hypothesis proposed above by (a) looking specifically at how /ourguy/ threads of a specific person start and end (b) if there are any requisites outside these threads that are relevant for them to start appearing and (c) how threads relate to specific media events.
The /ourguy/ threads are full of conspiracy theories. Knowledge seems malleable and the creation of suitable conspiracy theories have currency. Varied conspiracy theories are constantly produced and also commented by other users. This practice is enabled by a couple aspects of the alt-right ideology and discursive situation:
As such the conspiration theory is a medium that can afford the constantly reproducing communication while also affording alt right ideology.
We did a close reading of two 'ourguys' commonly proposed on 4chan/pol: Bernie Sanders and George Soros; enriched by non-systematically looking at some other examples. The method can be best described as an ethnographic reading of practice that, while it exhausted all cases of the two 'ourguys' mentioned, couldn't be carried out systematically or in-depth because of time restraints. Interpretation focused on understanding the general practice of proposing and 'voting' for an 'ourguy' and typical forms of communication that go with it. Through this research we could come to a number of insights regarding creating an ourguy-thread and possibilities for further inquiry.
We think that the above collected observations, offer ways to build upon our foray into ourguy threads on 4chan in a productive and informed manner.
Discuss and interpret the implications of your findings and make recommendations for future research and application, be it societal, academic or technical (or some combination).
We initially expected to see practices of image transformation as one would see with memes. Instead the majority of images we have observed are unmodified images. While there were variations to the images, it could be that their relevance was predominantly because of the medium specificity - 4chan is an imageboard making the image a prerequisite to start a new threat.
Instead of an image transformation there appears to be a contextual transformation. E.g. Marx becomes a better icon of American citizenship than Reagan becomes of two out of context comments about gun ownership. An interesting point of research could be the relationship could be to follow up on this indication.
/pol/ is an subculture which is supported and maintained through anonymous participation. The practice of /ourguy/ appears to be a way to discuss what constitutes the group mentality. Without visible identity, each time a new thread is begun on the topic the conversation seemingly starts anew. A practice like /ourguy/ serves the purpose of allowing to demonstrate a form of group identity by constantly renegotiating the values of the group through posing a vote of confidence through the representation of a public figure. Future research could investigate how this practice allows for culture to accumulate without being fixed to identities. What is the incentive for the user to start the conversation when the person cannot gain cultural capital? Research could attempt to understand how subcultural communities sustain without standard capital accumulation. How does subcapital accumulate in anonymous communities? What is ‘gained’ if with every post you start from zero?
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