October 19, 2011

Book Review: "Epic Win for Anonymous" by Cole Stryker

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Epic Win for Anonymous
By Cole Stryker
Overlook
Reviewed by Oriana Leckert


Okay, let me start by saying that I have never been on 4chan. I know what it is, I know what it does, and I know how it works, I've just never felt compelled to actually slog through it. But that doesn't mean I'm not utterly fascinated by it, and I certainly understand what an awesome (in both senses) cultural force it is, and how it represents everything new and amazing and unpredictable about the times we're living in. So of course I was super psyched to get this book (for a song at the Brooklyn Book Fair). I'm fairly close to the target demographic for it; I know enough about memes and the web and new media that there were a few sections I glossed over, but for the most part I'm outside of the hardcore internetters for whom this book would be like a primer for the lives they already lead. One of the best things that happened as a result of reading this was that I got to have the following conversation four different times:

"I'm reading this really fascinating book about 4chan and learning sooo much."
"What's 4chan?"
"Wait, seriously? You don't know what 4chan is? Where all the memes come from?"
"What's a meme again?"

Whaaa? Only one of those conversations was with someone of my parents' generation; the others were my friends, my peers, people who clearly should know about this stuff. So I got to explain all about easy ones like LOLcats and Rickrolling and the "Hide yo' kids, hide yo' wife" guy, and I got to feel very very in the know, which of course I'm really not.

If you are (and I assume if you're reading a book review on CCLaP you probably are), some parts of this book will bore you--for example, there's a long entire chapter where Stryker describes in specific every different board of 4chan and what you'll find there. Also much of the criticism of the book seems to be that people find the title misleading, because it's really a book about 4chan, with only a bit of discussion of Anonymous. I'd bet money that the paperback edition gets an epilogue about Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous' role therein. But that's the point, isn't it? This is a book, which is fixed and stable, and the world of the internet changes so fast that writing a book about it is almost necessarily a losing endeavor.

Except it's not. Stryker covers a ton of fascinating ground here, which will not become out of date or out of touch. There's a sort of condensed history of hacking, which he dates back to the fifties, when a bunch of blind kids calling themselves Phone Phreaks "hacked" the landline telephone system by whistling into the receiver at a certain pitch to get free long-distance calling. He takes us through the early, "Wild West" days of the internet, covering Usenet and BBSes, and then traces the history of a bunch of sites I'd never heard of, like WELL, Stile Project, and Gaping Maw, plus many I have, like Rotten, Slashdot, Fark, Reddit, etc. He's got a basic meme primer, where he discusses memes as a concept and then runs through many of the most popular. He talks about memes crossing over into the mainstream, like Rick Astley's live Rickrolling at the Macy's Day Parade last year, and into advertising, like the Old Spice Guy doing a thirty-second YouTube spot specifically for 4chan users, riddled with obscure references to their inside jokes. He has scads of interviews with tons of internet people, from execs at all the major sites to random /b/tards. He introduced me to a ton of stuff I never knew about, filled in the gaps on things I knew only vaguely, and gave me a really varied, balanced account of the internet today and how it got like this.

Naturally Stryker is an unabashed fan of 4chan, of /b/, of Anonymous, and of our crazy internet world, and it shows. He loves his subject in all its weird, frightening, and unexplainable glory. Of course he touches on all the racism, homophobia, bullying, and stalking that are made possible by 4chan, and he pokes fun at the "normal" people who are horrified by the morning news' scare tactics used to paint 4chan and Anonymous as a den of sin and iniquity just waiting to prey upon your children. But ultimately he wants us to see how amazing and filled with potential this all is. Here's one of my favorite lines: "The success of 4chan as a meme generator has challenged everything we thought we knew about the way people behave on the web. People are willing to spend shocking amounts of time creating, collaborating, documenting--all with no recognition. The implications are staggering. Give people a place that facilitates creation and sharing, and they will conjure entire civilizations." I love that! It's so true!

Out of 10: 9, unless you are a hacker or a /b/tard, in which case probably don't bother.

Read even more about Epic Win for Anonymous: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari

Filed by Oriana Leckert at 9:08 AM, October 19, 2011. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Nonfiction | Oriana Leckert | Reviews |