“Privilege Denying Dude” and the Fight for the Right to Snarkby Channing Kennedy
Sites like the massive anonymized bulletin board 4chan and the image-captioning Web utility Memegenerator are popular examples of an online community that’s open to everyone in theory, that’s admirably participatory in many ways, and that’s accomplished some amazing things. 4chan says it draws more than 10 million users globally a month. And in all seriousness, no thinking person should dismiss the community systems that invented LOLcats.
Dig deeper, though, and such sites are bursting with Southparkian “ironic” bigotry, rape humor, and other jokes that are easier to laugh at when you aren’t the butt of them. The humor isn’t entirely without precedent; in many ways, it’s the same targeted offensiveness of now-embraced comedians like Richard Pryor and George Carlin—saying the nastiest thing you can think of, so you can feel relieved that it isn’t true and prove it has no foothold in you. Old-standby jokes—“there are no black people on the Internet [so say whatever you want about them]”—exaggerate real inconsistencies in the medium itself. However, when looking at a hundred black-people-eating-fried-chicken photos on the same page, one wonders if those noble intentions haven’t gotten lost along the path to funny.
Which brings us to last week’s hottest and most hated new image meme, Privilege Denying Dude, and his creator, 20-year-old SoCal Web developer and vegan feminist Diana Lopez.
For the uninitiated, think of a meme (rhymes with gene) as a running joke that cross-pollinates and mutates as it circulates the Web; memes are those things that “go viral” in popular culture. And millions of microbloggers are trying to produce next week’s most retold cyber-gag.
Lopez’s Privilege Denying Dude follows the aesthetic signifiers of the long-popular Advice Dog-style image memes—a photo cutout (in this case, of an iconic hip young white dude) and colorful background, with the joke’s setup at the top and punchline at the bottom. What made PDD, as he’s abbreviated, stand out is that he directly, and strikingly, parodied the frat-boy culture that fuels much Internet comedy in the first place—privileged, incurious, and ready to educate you about what your problem is.
In short, PDD is hilarious. And it hit a nerve.
“I was only trying to create something enjoyable,” says Lopez. “I began realizing I hijacked something when I got my first rude messages. Eventually, I felt like blasting a ‘Whoops, sorry for molding your outlet for rape, ‘retard,’ child molestation, and (men’s) masturbation jokes into something useful, guys.’ That’s a grand frustration, isn’t it?”
“The Internet has carried over the ‘neutral’ we’ve always seen, meaning that if it’s online, it better appeal to straight white men before and above anyone else. A lot of us hate it. We find humor in other memes, but sometimes we see a misogynist or homophobic joke in the bunch… and we just scroll on past it. It’s disappointing how used to that we are.”
Within a week of releasing her image template into the wild, Lopez saw PDD get featured on Jezebel and Tiger Beatdown. Traffic skyrocketed on the Tumblr blog she’d set up to showcase the best submissions, and feedback poured in; people were thrilled and grateful to see a meme of their own. Over 1,500 PDDs were made by folks around the world.
The backlash came swiftly from privilege-denying dudes and dudettes who suspected that they were being mocked by their own Internet.
“I decided to stay away from places where privilege denying dudes spent time discussing Privilege Denying Dude, for my own mind’s safety,” says Lopez. “Some straight white men, on the contrary, did try to do me the favor of validating my work by associating with it, to which I wanted to say, ‘Thanks. (But I got this.)’ Another form of feedback, which was my favorite, was when people asked why PDD saying a certain something was bad, and boom, extensive discussion [followed]. It was great.”
Lopez notes the hypocrisy in the reaction from many of the straight white men who felt burned by PDD. “The result [of a previous feminist pushback against a rape joke] was one of those ‘sorry if you got offended’ mock apologies. That was it. Life went on. What I saw with PDD was straight white men specifically displeased, speaking out about [the joke being on them], and demanding results,” Lopez says. “They felt entitled to their space, the Web.”