"a new aesthetic of digital decay has started to emerge"
December 17, 2014 10:05 AM   Subscribe

But if you look at a Shitpic, you can instantly tell the level of virality by how worn it looks, how legible its text is, how many watermarks adorn it. You can count them much like you would rings on a tree. A pristine-looking meme engenders skepticism—“This can’t be that funny, it hasn’t been imperfectly replicated enough.”
The Awl on the rise of the shitpic.
posted by prize bull octorok (60 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was not what I thought it would be from the link. That's probably for the best.
posted by tocts at 10:07 AM on December 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


yes, same. I read all the tags very carefully beforehand to make sure no actual poops were referenced.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:09 AM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


I disagree that shitpic'd images demonstrate any sort of quality; it's more like an indicator of mass appeal. However, I'm still totally fascinated by the amazing amount of digital battering these images take on their journey through social media spaces, so this Awl article fills my need to see the phenomenon officially noted.
posted by redsparkler at 10:12 AM on December 17, 2014 [8 favorites]


The universe is a lossy image compression algorithm.
posted by furtive at 10:13 AM on December 17, 2014 [21 favorites]


Some time ago while IMing with a buddy a situation arose where the success kid image would be relevant. I didn't want any meme text with it, so did a quick gis to find a clean copy. Might have been this one. Friend responded with shock and awe, having never seen the full image before, having never seen it un-memed, and having never seen it high res. He said something like "I never knew a non-shitty copy of that pic ever existed!" sent it to everyone he knew, and continued to talk about how amazed he was the rest of the afternoon.

(Yes, he's kind of an idiot.)
posted by phunniemee at 10:13 AM on December 17, 2014 [27 favorites]


The universe is a lossy image compression algorithm.

Conservation of Memes: The law implies that a meme can neither be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, or the entities associated with it may be changed in form.
posted by ...possums at 10:16 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seeing a dumb macro made out of the clear copy would be really weird and out of place, and I guess I like it that way.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:17 AM on December 17, 2014


furtive: "The universe is a lossy image compression algorithm."

Woah - what is the representation of a multiply compressed JPEG in the 3D surface of our holographic universe? MIND = BLOWN!?
posted by symbioid at 10:18 AM on December 17, 2014


Well, "shitpic" is undeniably a catchy term for these degraded, secondhand digital images, but the basic points here were made far more incisively by Hito Steyerl in her famous essay "In Defense of the Poor Image". As she puts it:
The poor image is an illicit fifth-generation bastard of an original image. Its genealogy is dubious. Its filenames are deliberately misspelled. It often defies patrimony, national culture, or indeed copyright. It is passed on as a lure, a decoy, an index, or as a reminder of its former visual self. It mocks the promises of digital technology. Not only is it often degraded to the point of being just a hurried blur, one even doubts whether it could be called an image at all. Only digital technology could produce such a dilapidated image in the first place.

Poor images are the contemporary Wretched of the Screen, the debris of audiovisual production, the trash that washes up on the digital economies’ shores.
Worth reading Steyerl for more trenchant visual, semiotic, economic, and political analysis of shitpics as a kind of alternative digital currency.
posted by informavore at 10:18 AM on December 17, 2014 [16 favorites]


My friend and I are big fans of digital decay and "glitch" aesthetics (the more authentic, non-forced, the better -- i.e. a REAL glitch, not just something made to look like glitches) so this is right up our alley.

Also - I am a firm believe in bitrot. Entropy is king.
posted by symbioid at 10:21 AM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is definitely A Thing, to the point of having memes (of varying popularity) evolve in response. See "Do I look like I know what a 'jay peg' is?", or anything derisively tagged 'needs more jpeg,' which is a relatively recent phrase.
posted by cjelli at 10:24 AM on December 17, 2014 [9 favorites]


There are a few clues that this is probably the original. The text is centered and sharper, and the emoji is more than a smudge of dirty yellow gibberish. The picture of the monkey is clear (and cute!!!). All of the text in the watermark is legible.

Excuse me SIR, but that is in fact an APE, and not a monkey.
posted by clockzero at 10:36 AM on December 17, 2014 [12 favorites]


baby monkey baby monkey

shitty compressed image baby monkey
posted by poffin boffin at 10:40 AM on December 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


He said something like "I never knew a non-shitty copy of that pic ever existed!" sent it to everyone he knew, and continued to talk about how amazed he was the rest of the afternoon.

(Yes, he's kind of an idiot.)


In college, I astounded someone by dipping a cookie in milk. Seriously, a young lady who I thought was pretty sharp and had not been sheltered from the tastier things in life was astonished about this magical combination. The world is amazing in different ways for different people.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:41 AM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Back in the day your crappy degraded nth-generation meme images were generated by a photocopier or fax machine and taped to the office refrigerator.
posted by usonian at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2014 [22 favorites]


I love the idea that digital images are showing reproduction infidelity. Like a bad photocopy. It's interesting how this is happening organically, because the mobile tools are so limited.

I get most of my memeflow from Reddit and the aesthetic there is the exact opposite of this. Pure original source precisely composited text on image. And at least on AdviceAnimals, it's the same set of 10 images over and over again. This month Awkward Seal and Minor Mistake Marvin are in fashion; Unpopular Opinion Puffin has been banned. They've stopped being photographs and have become icons, it's kind of fascinating.
posted by Nelson at 10:43 AM on December 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


That JPG's been passed around more than your mother

[kermit.jpg]

but that's none of my business.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:47 AM on December 17, 2014




It seems like a lot of this is driven by Instagram's lack of useful resharing tools which further establish Instragram as a platform that has probably never been used the way it was meant to be used.

Also, I have MP3s and files that have been stored, archived, and passed along to various disks for more than a decade now and some of them have in fact developed errors making them unusable. Digital Archaeology is going to increasingly become a thing, and not just in relation to forgotten but otherwise pristine data.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 10:57 AM on December 17, 2014


Pure original source precisely composited text on image...They've stopped being photographs and have become icons, it's kind of fascinating.

To the point that imgur's meme generator has a set of 'default memes' to choose from. I think this represents a real shift in language, at least with some internet groups, from 'meme' meaning something oft repeated (an image, a quote, a behavior) to meaning the image format itself: blocky text on top and bottom (but not middle!) + photo background. And now, per the Awl article, perhaps now shifting to also cover screencapped descriptive title on top + image below.
posted by cjelli at 11:01 AM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Interesting trend and observation -- horrible name. SFW is a thing even in vocabulary (and damn, around my wife).
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:08 AM on December 17, 2014


I think this represents a real shift in language...

Back in my day we called them "image macros".
posted by charred husk at 11:08 AM on December 17, 2014 [12 favorites]


But ... I was specifically promised in 1992 that "digital" = "forever."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:16 AM on December 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


There was one nugget of pure, 24 carat truth buried in this shit article about shitpics:

jfc “classic memes” what are we doing

Indeed. What are we doing.
posted by GuyZero at 11:17 AM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is what every ad in three years will look like, because, to advertisers, it will read as "authentic."
posted by maxsparber at 11:18 AM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


Back in my day we called them "image macros".

I KNOW RITE? KIDZ TODAY, GET OFF MY LAWN, etc, et al.

(but seriously, I spend all day correcting people about this and still no one cares)
posted by GuyZero at 11:18 AM on December 17, 2014


This is a good analysis.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 11:31 AM on December 17, 2014


See also: cassette culture.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:33 AM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


ZenMasterThis: "But ... I was specifically promised in 1992 that "digital" = "forever.""

You shoulda realized something was amiss when Compaq bought Digital in '98.
posted by symbioid at 11:39 AM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of when someone took the first episode of cortex's Larp Trek webcomic and "improved" the punchline.

Can ASCII versions of images be considered shitpics? [insert ascii goatse here]
posted by infinitewindow at 11:40 AM on December 17, 2014


charred husk: "I think this represents a real shift in language...

Back in my day we called them "image macros".
"

Back in my day, memes were those shitty quizzes everyone took on LJ...
posted by symbioid at 11:41 AM on December 17, 2014 [7 favorites]


Is there a filter I could use in Photoshop to get my images to look like this, without recompressing them a zillion times?
posted by monospace at 11:47 AM on December 17, 2014


You just have to take a photo of your images with your oldest cellphone and then email it to a networked printer and then fax it back to yourself and then take another phone photo of it.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:51 AM on December 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


If possible, also make sure that you upload a super lossy version of it after you've taken the picture so you can get that nice blue cloud around the words.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:55 AM on December 17, 2014


In college, I astounded someone by dipping a cookie in milk. Seriously, a young lady who I thought was pretty sharp and had not been sheltered from the tastier things in life was astonished about this magical combination. The world is amazing in different ways for different people.

So she was one of that day's lucky 10,000!
posted by TedW at 11:59 AM on December 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


Phonecam photos of images on screen are popular too. See also: Youtube copies of Simpsons clips that are someone pointing their phone at the TV screen while it's playing dubbed in Spanish. It does work to evade copyright detection, I'll give it that.
posted by Nelson at 12:00 PM on December 17, 2014




I never understood why some subreddits had a huge NO SCREENCAPS on their posting page. That cleared things up a bit.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:00 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I get most of my memeflow from Reddit and the aesthetic there is the exact opposite of this.

I get mine from Imgur and I agree. "Needs more jpeg" is a common top comment on shitpics there (though not the term shitpic). I also see comments like "This is a screenshot of a Facebook post that was uploaded to Instagram and shared on Imgur. We must go deeper".
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:17 PM on December 17, 2014


I am not on Instagram. Now I know why.
posted by egypturnash at 12:38 PM on December 17, 2014


I once rented a holiday cottage and the owners sent the directions in the form of:
A Word doc containing
a scanned image of
a print out of
a screenshot of
Google Maps.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:42 PM on December 17, 2014 [18 favorites]


I just got a PDF that is a scanned copy of a printout of a policy that I drafted that the person finalizing it never gave back to me as a Word Doc. It will be all fun and games unless someone later asks me to edit the document...
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:55 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


The left out the coup de grace of shitpic creation...When someone takes a tiny, umpteenth-generation, artifacted-to-hell 100k jpeg, copies it once again, and re-saves it as a damned .bmp. Now, you have a tiny image that looks like seven layers of shit but weighs in at 3-4MB.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:06 PM on December 17, 2014 [9 favorites]


phunniemee: "Some time ago while IMing with a buddy a situation arose where the success kid image would be relevant. I didn't want any meme text with it, so did a quick gis to find a clean copy. Might have been this one. Friend responded with shock and awe, having never seen the full image before, having never seen it un-memed, and having never seen it high res. He said something like "I never knew a non-shitty copy of that pic ever existed!" sent it to everyone he knew, and continued to talk about how amazed he was the rest of the afternoon."

I suspect that image degradation is part of what enabled success kid to become so popular, which is something that I realized when I did a similar search and it became pretty obvious to me that the kid is actually on the verge of tears. It kind of kills the illusion.

On that note, an image I've been searching for in vain for years after seeing it a while ago is the one of the little boy on the front of a whitewater-raft-type thing, and he has his fist up in victory and is just clearly fucking enthralled with the whole scenario. I wish I could find it. It's probably been shitpicced into unrecognizability by now.
posted by invitapriore at 1:35 PM on December 17, 2014


Some time ago while IMing with a buddy a situation arose where the success kid image would be relevant. I didn't want any meme text with it, so did a quick gis to find a clean copy. Might have been this one.

Wow, I've never seen a hi-res version before, either. I never realized that that kid is just straight-up eating sand.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 2:20 PM on December 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


To usonian's point, this seems to be a digital version of the old xeroxed punk flyer, an aesthetic born of DIY necessity.
posted by Existential Dread at 2:26 PM on December 17, 2014


I never realized that that kid is just straight-up eating sand.

I guess there was no crawdad to be found.
posted by The Bellman at 2:27 PM on December 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


I never realized that that kid is just straight-up eating sand.

Most parents would be relieved if that was the worst thing their kid put in his/her mouth.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:31 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's even a Needs More Jpeg webapp, for all your jpegging needs.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:05 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


To usonian's point, this seems to be a digital version of the old xeroxed punk flyer, an aesthetic born of DIY necessity.

There were lots of artists who chose to work in xerox media, me included, and long before Punk. Lots of those flyers weren't xeroxed, just cheap offset printing. It's not the print media, it was the simplicity of production (which I assure you was not so simple with chartpak rub-on lettering and other crappy typesetting) and cartoonish illustrations or collages that looked like ransom notes. This was an aesthetic choice.

I don't think that's what usonian was talking about it. I was thinking more like the n-th generation photocopies of stuff like this You Want It When? cartoon. Memes have been around for a long time.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:21 PM on December 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Hank Hill weighs in.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:26 PM on December 17, 2014 [2 favorites]




There were lots of artists who chose to work in xerox media, me included, and long before Punk. Lots of those flyers weren't xeroxed, just cheap offset printing. It's not the print media, it was the simplicity of production (which I assure you was not so simple with chartpak rub-on lettering and other crappy typesetting) and cartoonish illustrations or collages that looked like ransom notes. This was an aesthetic choice.
My cousin Daif does this, only with online media. His tools of choice are MS Paint and the aesthetics of My Space and Instagram. His impressive website embodies this aesthetic on an almost visceral level. (As visceral as you can get when dealing with born-digital art works, anyway.)
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:14 AM on December 18, 2014


There were lots of artists who chose to work in xerox media, me included, and long before Punk.

And then there were guys like me working on high school and college newspapers in the 80s, before the desktop publishing stuff came out. I guess that's why I can't get as excited as some about "the bad layout that Microsoft Publisher does..."
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:37 AM on December 18, 2014


This is so interesting to me, but more from the angle of the way it disappears authorship and makes it impossible to credit something to a creator. Someone first made all of these little memes, and then they go out into the world, moving from site to site, where they have what are essentially entirely separate lives. I think I first started thinking about this when I found out that the amazing Birds Are The Best side-barred comment from 2011 had been picked up on Tumblr- to the tune now of 30,000 notes.

I also often see images of Tweets on Tumblr, where the tweet itself (at the time of the image) has 27 likes- and the tumblr post (not made by the original author, usually, although sometimes people will post an image set with the caption, "I just tweeted about [topic]") has 15,000. It's not that I think people are losing money or something, but it's weird that your content can go and have this other life on another site and you will never know. It's like the moment when Tim Allen realizes the aliens are the universe's biggest Galaxy Quest fans.

Part of the joy of putting stuff on the internet for me is knowing that other people looked at it or read it. I don't want to be famous, just acknowledged, and people can be into your stuff now and you will have NO FREAKING CLUE. That is so weird to me.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:28 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


And the fact that this second life often happens in the form of image means that there's no machine readable data so you can't search and find out that it's gone crazy in some corner of the internet you've never seen.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:30 AM on December 18, 2014


Snarl Furillo: "It's not that I think people are losing money or something, but it's weird that your content can go and have this other life on another site and you will never know. "

If we'd have all listened to Ted Nelson this never would have been an issue!
posted by symbioid at 9:33 AM on December 18, 2014


Sonny Jim: "My cousin Daif does this, only with online media. His tools of choice are MS Paint and the aesthetics of My Space and Instagram. His impressive website embodies this aesthetic on an almost visceral level. (As visceral as you can get when dealing with born-digital art works, anyway.)"

Goes over to look to see if it's the style I think it is. Vaporwave/Seapunk...
Close, but still unique enough to be its own thing... That added fuzziness makes it a little different than a lot of the vaporwave/seapunk aesthetic.
posted by symbioid at 9:35 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of these "broken gif" images.
posted by orme at 7:12 AM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am somewhat amused that the "crave that mineral" meme currently going nuts on tumblr is actually a meme, in that there is a core idea, but it's expressed in all sorts of different ways, not just variations on the original picture.

And a lot of them have made me lol.
posted by flaterik at 2:50 PM on December 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


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