Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The "Other" on the Internet

In “The Spectral Jew”, Steven Kruger explores the role of Jews in English literature and why they continue to appear even after their expulsion from England in 1290. In medieval English literature the Jews had a role to play in the consolidation of Christian identity and the support of Christian hegemony. This is accomplished by creating a binary relationship; there is Christianity, and there is the “other”. In the online community, on image boards particularly, there is again this use of the “other” for a similar purpose.
Image boards are a type of online forum in which anonymous discussion is held through messages posted with attached images. It’s the equivalent of an electronic bulletin board, with users carrying out discussions by “posting” new material to it. Originating in Japan, these boards tend to be heavily influenced by Japanese culture, but have taken on a variety of other cultural perspectives. Particularly unique is the development of contained subcultures, which exist only online in particular subsections of image boards.
Image boards borrow heavily from one another, and all possess the same system of subsections, which delineate where particular subjects of discussion are to be held. There has been an emerging trend in which image board subsections that focus on politics and news related subject matter have been heavily mixed with racist content and discussion. The anonymous communication system of image boards has been notorious for creating intentionally offensive content purely for the purpose of causing upset (trolling). The content is often horrifying to the target audience, but members of these communities find it amusing because they know it has no basis in true belief on the side of its creators.
However, in the politically focused subsections on these sites is a strange dialogue between people who pretend to be racist for the purpose of amusement and genuine members of white nationalist websites. The result is a bizarre discussion of political and racist subject matter that is a mixture of the fraudulent and the genuine. Though the racism extends to many different peoples, the overwhelming focus in is anti-Semitism. The discussions, whether they are broadly political or focused on particular news stories, have an anti-Semitic charge.
As in medieval English literature, Jews function here as the “other”. Their otherness is used to consolidate identity by defining what is not a part of that identity. In medieval literature there is Christianity and there is the “other”. On these image boards, there is the white race/white community and there is the “other”. Though the antisemitic content is usually posted in an off hand manner or in a context of humor, there are instances in which it can be extremely aggressive and at times even macabre.
Though the Jews most frequently function as the "other" in these communities, they are not the only race suffering horrible slander. The ethos of these image boards is adapted to contextualize current events in a manner that promotes white power by subverting nonwhite peoples. A current event that has been used in this manner is the outbreak of ebola in western Africa. Ebola has been anthropomorphized as young girl, in the style of an anime character; she has been dubbed "ebola-chan" (chan is a Japanese suffix used to describe a young person or a child and has a connotation of cuteness). People will create posts attached to pictures of her with comments directed at character of ebola-chan herself: "We love you ebola-chan, destroy them all!", "Good luck ebola-chan", "Keep up the good work!", etc. The death of nonwhites in Africa is a strengthening of the white race; the subversion of the "other" strengths the white community and the character of ebola-chan is its icon of this process. Though the context may have changed, the use of the "other" has continued.

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