Post Aesthetics (PA) is a "secret" Facebook group of 40,000 meme-fiends united by nothing more than an appreciation for web-related weirdness. And like most microcosms of the contemporary net, it's a space that's pretty familiar with extended discourse and internal debate on #content et al.
However, the term "discourse" was taken to its logical extreme early last week when the tired, Animation Factory-born frog gif dubbed "dat boi" decided to unicycle into the boards and say "o shit waddup!". Subsequently, it set off a pretty salient conversation in the group about white privilege and the Internet's casual appropriation of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), as well as adjacent conversations concerning blatant rip-offs of content from, typically, black teens. Granted, within every meaningful conversation comes a bit of back-and-forth -- some productive and some not-so-productive. In PA's dat boi disaster, that meant a few days of heated chatter.
It all started out innocently enough, with PA members posting various iterations of the dat boi meme -- posts that have since been (mostly) deleted by moderators.
However, with the influx of dat boi memes, many people of color in PA began questioning whether it was actually anti-black to be posting these memes, especially since the group and most of the posters are overwhelmingly white.
And as any discussion of race on the Internet tends to go, the group then saw pushback from the "anti-PC police" contingent, which took this "talk" to a whole new level...
After what felt like an eon in Internet time (three calendar days), the moderators of the group put their collective foot down with a blanket ban on dat boi -- but not before several people were either kicked out or announced they were leaving over dat boi-gate. A mass exodus of followers from the page it wasn't, but still the dust-up was enough to leave an impact among followers, many of whom felt that dat boi -- a meme that the Internet as a whole has been collectively puzzled by -- was way more than just a dumb meme of a frog on a bike.
We contacted PA moderator Tamia Thompson to discuss the fallout. Below is our conversation about the debacle and what came from it all.
How did you get involved with PA? Like how long have you been a member and when did you became a mod and whatnot?
PA [was actually an off-shoot of an older group called Aesthetics]. That group was founded by people at the University of Chicago who I became acquainted/friends with, and it was supposed to be a group about nothing...When Aesthetics hit 1000 members, it was irreversibly cut off from being found by new members through Facebook's group privacy settings by an intrusive admin so everyone jumped ship...[and PA was founded]. I was re-added and modded shortly after. Aesthetics has since collected dust and PA grew exponentially -- because weird Facebook did -- and I guess since PA has no theme anyone was permitted to join and the content was ever-changing which gained interest very quickly. It was all really coincidental...I've been here for about a year now. Curating and watching it grow to has been pretty wild.
From a mod's perspective can you give me a rundown of what happened with dat boi? It seemed like it dominated a good part of the group's discussion for a couple of days and it was getting pretty heated.
At first, dat boi was nowhere near as prevalent in the group as it recently became. From a mod's perspective, it was just really annoying and we'd considered banning dat boi memes numerous times -- gradually it [went from] us getting rid of unoriginal content/screenshots to wiping all of it, because it'd get way too repetitive. The problem with organizing a group of 40,000 members and no point is that trends occur really quickly when people don't know what to post, but want to engage. We'd get tons of comments and @s for not reacting quickly enough. Sometimes [we'd also] not see, like, 80% of [the dat boi content] because newer members would immediately jump the gun and flood the feed with dat boi memes anyway. This was as brutal as it sounds.
As most Internet forum discussion goes, there was a lot of repetition and circling back of ideas, but what were the two sort of big arguments that arose to counter each other in the discussion?
The [original anti-dat boi] argument that arose was that dat boi was racist in its origin -- mocking AAVE and using it as a meme instead of validating it as any other dialect [would be readily accepted]. The argument in response was mainly that dat boi was not racist inherently and [even if] the meme does take after AAVE, AAVE should not be understood as being only ever spoken by black Americans. [Therefore] this meme exists to offend nothing by its sheer randomness.
Was there a lot of internal debate amongst the mods about how to deal with it?
The mods were generally trying to allow discourse to happen, remain transparent in every thread that we were called upon for help and keep the group's regular rules/posting on track, all at the same time. It all happened quite quickly! The mods are pretty [good at spotting] things usually before or right as they become a problem in the group, but dat boi was really different. It sort of came out of nowhere, but I wouldn't say I'm surprised the discussion happened at all.
What were your personal thoughts on the matter? About how it went down and how it was handled?
I personally think dat boi does borrow from AAVE, but as was mentioned in one of the final threads concerning dat boi: "This meme exists in a vacuum". It is a frog on a unicycle. In general, tons of memes that go viral quickly and easily are made by black people, affiliated with black culture, and/or utilize AAVE -- and this is well known. It's terrible to think about in that sense, but then again what is this meme even saying? Not very much, so why overthink this one, especially when there are others that are actually intended to call out [something and facilitate a] bigger discussion. Also, PA is, quite visibly, mostly white people and I think the days of backlash it got wasn't even from discourse, but iterations of white guilt from realizing this meme uses AAVE for no reason.
As you said, this situation ties into a lot of other discussions happening right now that center around the fact that many memes and viral sensations are appropriations of AAVE or ideas that were born on black Twitter -- so why do you think dat boi was the meme to spark this conversation in your group?
I feel as though this was very coincidental with PA's rise to popularity, actually. Dat boi is not the first thing to go viral and use AAVE in its context arbitrarily. We try to quell instances of appropriation in the group, but towards the beginning dat boi was just another annoying meme that the mods felt needed to be deleted, because we were becoming such a large group around the same time dat boi was gaining traction. As mentioned before, it is a common phenomena for new members who come to PA to lurk before they post and then post things similar to what they see if they want attention and interaction...but have no ideas for original content. It was a lot to be told our group was trash repeatedly, but we didn't want to dismiss it because we low-key knew it was true. The mods are always trying to make the group reflect our thoughts and it's really hard at such a high [membership] number. We're vulnerable to toxic mods stepping forward if we aren't careful and great mods feeling overwhelmed by their duties to keeping this group together at all. No one really considers this.
Are you guys still seeing repercussions from the discussion?
We were getting, like, three days of backlash for this. Some people messaged us asking why we deleted their memes and the group was very divided between people who were tired of dat boi because they'd seen it on Tumblr already versus people who just joined the group and/or just found out about dat boi and insisted there was nothing wrong with it. Just last week, [the mods] announced that we'd be deleting all dat boi memes. It had gotten to the point where none of it was funny and everyone was either uncomfortable by its pervasiveness in the group or taking it too far in one way or another.
We're also both members a Facebook group where a lot of people of color (who are also part of PA) are active and discussing the implications of the dat boi meme. As a member of both and a mod of one, you're in a pretty unique position. What do you think of the dichotomy?
Honestly, I feel as though everyone in PA was missing the point [of a lot of the dat boi discussion]. This isn't even about dat boi inherently, but a concerning increase in the commodification of black culture on the Internet as one of many mass media platforms that does this. The mod panel of PA has gone through lots of changes over the past few months, as we've lost many great people who have resigned. We've even had to de-mod people on the basis of them trying to [enact a] coup d'état. We totally understand if people dislike the group, but we really don't like to feel like we are responsible for random content we haven't even seen, while still trying to be transparent, curate, and not police what people have to say. This group was in many ways a mistake and is now a weirdly degenerate corner of the Internet. It is also an incredible project, piece, platform and an experience for myself and the other mods.The dichotomy can be unsettling, but then again I don't think I'd trade my current position -- I love modding PA as much as I hate it. We had no intention for it to get this big or to gain the audience it did, but at this point it has certainly given the mods mixed feelings about its state. We have a lot of plans for the near future to totally transform its structure and we've already started, though some changes are yet to come. Also, we'd like the mod panel to be diverse and for the group [itself] to showcase that as well. We hope these changes will help everything come together soon.
Do you think this was overall a good or negative thing for the community to engage in? Obviously discourse is important but a lot of the conversation also led to dead-end "fuck the PC police" type hate.
I think in any case discourse is important, but watching PA's discussion could be characterized, surprisingly, by neutrality in its occurrence because memes like this happen literally all the time so this one exploding seemed almost futile and PA members just took it out of hand as they do with lots of memes. It's not that dat boi doesn't borrow from AAVE, but it does seem nonsensical to pick at this one unicycling frog meme in particular. It helped us weed out a lot of the lurkers on the fringes of the group who waited to pounce on this as an opportunity to be bad in the comments [though]. We've regularly addressed [the points that have] been discussed in [the other group for people of color], concerning overall instances of racism. But the whole anti-PC debate does not blow over well in PA, as it is well understood that 'political correctness' as a term doesn't even make sense and essentially just means to stop using slurs/wishing it were the 1950s again. This isn't the first meme we've had to announce deletion for and I highly doubt it will it be the last.