The shitpost is the definitive artistic medium of the twenty-first century. Nothing will even come close to being as revolutionary as shitposting in the next one hundred years. Just as film defined the twentieth-century and painting the century prior, shitposting will be remembered centuries from now for its aesthetic and provocative contributions to the art world.
Most do not understand the history of shitposting or what constitutes a shitpost. The term ‘shitpost’ was coined in late twentieth century Paris by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who in his seminal work L’art du shitpost, defined the shitpost as a “capricious emission of the stream of consciousness into written electronic form.” Derrida continues, stating that the true shitpost is not a mere “brief, nonsensical digital comedic spectacle” but “a successful synthesis of both the high and the low; an ephemeral Taoist parable made flesh and cast before swine.”
The first recorded instances of shitposting date back to Antiquity. Archaeologists have uncovered what many believe to be the first proto-shitposts in the form of bathroom graffiti in ancient Roman villas. While not shitposts in the strictest sense of the term, these discoveries provide us insight into the origins of the most important artistic phenomenon of our current century.
Shitposting first gained traction as an artistic medium with the advent of the World Wide Web in 1989. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and the first web browser, is widely considered the grandfather of shitposting. Though Berners-Lee is not an artist by profession, his contributions towards establishing the technology requisite for shitposting to develop into a formidable part of the artistic canon cannot be understated. Without the World Wide Web, there would be no shitposting.
Web 2.0 marked a watershed moment in the history of shitposting. Formerly, shitposting was confined to the dark annals of esoteric message boards, instant messaging applications, and e-mail. The dawn of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter enabled fledgling artists to reach vast, global audiences. Smartphone technology, furthermore, provided a means to shitpost ‘on the go’. By 2007, it was possible to shitpost in line at the DMV or while stuck in traffic on the freeway.
A history of shitposting would not be complete without reference to 4chan. It is here that shitposting grew from its nascent one-liners and Chuck Norris jokes to the respectable artistic medium enjoyed today by socialites and intellectuals the world over. Two factors inherent to 4chan made this possible: anonymity and ephemerality. Users and their shitposts on 4chan are anonymous, providing artists the freedom to experiment and innovate. Additionally, shitposts on 4chan are temporary and do not remain on the website forever. Like the works once housed in the Library of Alexandria, many of the greatest shitposts of all time have been lost to history.
The ‘greentext’, an early but enduring method of shitposting, first appeared on 4chan sometime in the last decade. Greentext is a method for telling a story, sharing an anecdote, or simply derailing an argument in an effective fashion. Several of the greatest greentexts have been fortunately preserved in screencaps for future generations. While shitposting eventually evolved from the 4chan greentext and now occurs on virtually every website and application, it is important we pay homage to the place where this art form was first developed.
Now that we understand the history of the shitpost, we must understand what makes for a good shitpost. We know what makes a painting good, surely as we know what makes a film bad (Star Wars). But what makes a good shitpost? Comedy is essential for a good shitpost. Shitposts have to be funny. Shitposting will likely replace stand-up comedians in a matter of years. The canned routines, safe humor, and terrible socially relevant jokes of comedians just cannot compete with the dynamism and creativity of the shitposting medium.
Second, a good shitpost must be true and false at the same time. This goes back to Derrida’s definition of a shitpost as the synthesis of the high and the low. A good shitpost must at first appear to be nonsensical. To the veritable aesthete, however, the shitpost contains a grain of truth, an insightful observation into the human condition. By this method, the artist communicates value without being overly dogmatic or ideological. However, this subtle nuance of an effective shitpost is often lost on the average reader.
I have clarified the elements of a good shitpost. Yet, I believe that without diving deeper into the creative process of the medium, much of the beauty of the shitpost would remain inscrutable. One cannot plan or rehearse a shitpost. To shitpost is to act on impulse, to display one’s thoughts unfiltered before the eyes of the world. In this sense, shitposting is akin to a performative art like a ballet or an orchestra. Yes, there is a routine or set of steps you follow. But each performance is different in a discerning way. Shitposting is the animation of the will into writing. It is the purest form of communication, beyond the spoken word and written letter.
The shitpost is emergent and situational, a Newtonian reaction to a registered action. When presented with a blank canvas, the artist shitposts without thinking. Rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation are destroyed in this process. Though I disdain the ‘brain as a computer’ model, cognition operates on language software embedded into the biological system. One’s thoughts and expressions are thus limited to one’s command of a language. You will find your speech, and thus your inner monologue, is restricted by your native tongue. The shitpost transcends this limitation and puts feeling to form.
By now, you should have a solid grasp of the history of the shitpost and its significance to our era. Shitposting cannot be taught like an instrument nor trained like a muscle. The shitpost arises organically from the space between our thoughts and manifests digitally for all to see. The shitpost takes upon a temporary physical form to impart wisdom before departing into the electric ether around us. To shitpost is to be human; to, for a brief moment, intersect the unknowable realm dividing the mental and physical planes.