In 1993, The New York Times published a cartoon claiming that, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The sentiment remains as relevant as ever. As we navigate online, we benefit from various affordances — things like design features and functionalities — that allow us a distinct level of anonymity. Because of this, we’re granted quite a bit of agency as we mediate and manipulate various forms of the virtual.
Twitter, Facebook, the whole bunch, these mediums are asynchronous: Interaction doesn’t happen in real time on these platforms. Accordingly, we, as users, have more time to be strategic about what we post.
Many of these posts are on message boards. There’s one forum, however, that stands out to me at least. The Domain? Reddit (sorry). Kingdom? r/NBA.
I obsessively browse this weird, amazing, stupid, silly, inspiring, spiritual corner of the Internet. It’s a message board about basketball, but it’s really received as pure comedy. It’s pages and pages of seemingly infinite user-generated brilliance, and I’ve long opined that most of popular culture’s humor exists as some derivative of r/NBA content.
For a sports league that entertains more through soap opera storylines than actual on-court substance, Twitter too provides an ideal mouthpiece for users to refine, and perfect, self-presentation through engagement. With r/NBA and Twitter, we’re arteries for rich “copypastas,” blocks of text that get copied and pasted constantly on across platforms. Nevermind if this term is two years uncool and/or ruined with the publishing of this column — copypastas catalyze humor that enriches our souls.
Consider a copypasta from the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals: LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers had just defeated the Boston Celtics in seven games, but Boston’s Jayson Tatum dunked all over James during the game, which birthed this tweet quoting James in the locker room post-game.
That snapshot of the inner workings of an NBA locker room absolutely exploded the next day on r/NBA. Within days it appeared on every type of subreddit, from r/thanosdidnothingwrong (“That f***ing Thanos boomed me”) to r/freefolk (“He got me. That f***ing boar boomed me. He's so big. I want to add it to the list of things you eat this summer”). The bit seemed to show up everywhere. It still does. It’s a giggle-inducing regenerative monster.
Buying into — and participating in this — community is healthy for the giggles. On these digital grounds, our identity becomes malleable by creating the content we so desperately seek. So: Dominate message boards.
If you feel a jolt of creative energy but don’t know how to channel it effectively, create a mutable copypasta. Write something like this. It might catch on, and if it does, you’ll feel gratified. Not a potentially-damaging kind of gratification, but the feeling that, somewhere, maybe on the other side of the country, someone read what you wrote. And laughed.
Alternatively, maybe you feel lonely. You may not have friends in a real space. You may have friends in a real space that you don’t feel like being around. Online, however, they wait for you. Maybe you don’t know it, but they’re typing too. On r/NBA. On a tweet thread from @sheaserrano. Ripe to be dunked on within a @benshapiro thread.
It happens that certain subreddits, Twitter and especially (and tragically) Vine derive much of their fanfare from the millennial crowd on the basis of the content’s implicitly nihilistic tone. There’s a really indescribable subtext to the humor on these platforms, best approximated by a resolution that the joke is soaring over your head. I feel like I’m late to arrive at each joke I see, which is likely true. For my own sanity, though, I’ve concluded that this supposed complexity stems from meaninglessness. If you’re thinking about it too much, the joke’s probably under your nose. Content in this realm is rendered suitable by its arbitrary imperfections. The challenge (and sneaky liberation) lies in mastering how such imperfection when you’re otherwise conditioned toward perfection.
My own social indulgences haven’t even scraped the surface of subreddit wizardy or narrative Twitter excellence. While the portfolio is bare beyond eighth-grade-era pleas for fantasy football advice and some half-assed Tweets about the very best of life’s inconsequentialities, a dream contribution would certainly follow a formula that includes Chicago Cubs baseball, Mediterranean food and the “and they were roomates” vine. The combination doesn’t make any cohesive sense. It would likely confuse everyone — in whichever final form it takes — who reads or sees it. Even I struggle to accept this comedic threshold.
When nobody knows you’re a dog, you might want to consider being the most scroll-happy, content-filled Newfoundland-Rottweiler mix you can be. I’m not super knowledgeable when it comes to dogs, so I had to Google those terms to make sure they existed. But I do know that Internet therapy is free. So in this sometimes non-wag-happy world, be meme’s best friend.