Minimalist ASCII Genitalia

by Megan M. on March 20, 2009 (Blog) |

All right. I have to try and qualify exactly why this was so funny. (I am not going to even suggest that it’s NSFW, because that would make this whole situation just that much funnier.)

First of all, you should know that I think sex is awesome.

I think sexuality is a wonderful thing to express, to explore, and to share with other people. (What is sex, after all, but a sort of sharing—even when it’s with yourself?) I think pornography, for all its many flaws, is a grand institution that should be protected, not destroyed.

Second of all, you should know that I greatly disapprove of spam.

Not so much that it continually makes me angry, but enough that I root it out wherever I can. I have developed a certain zen approach to dealing with it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I dislike it (like everyone else).

Furthermore, I get IM spam rather a lot. I’m not sure where I dropped my IM name, but I must have somewhere, because I get random bot IMs fairly consistently. I just block ‘em and close ‘em, and don’t worry about it. But this… this, I didn’t close. (In fact, I took a screenshot and I still haven’t closed it, because it delighted me.)

Let’s examine the situation.

Normally when we’re talking about porn spam, we’re talking about words, right? Larger / tighter genitalia, willing sex kittens, confused animals, etc. It’s always the stuff you don’t go looking for, the stuff that shocks you. It’s a horrible tactic, but I’m willing to bet it shocks some folks into looking, and many folks into getting turned on. And since arousal = cold hard cash, that’s good for the porn spammers. Why else would they keep doing it, after all? This is all speculation; I know pretty much nothing about porn spam. So take my appraisals with a grain of salt.

Since I typically keep HTML in my email turned off, I’ve never had to deal with image spam. The advertising director in a company I worked with once used to regale us with stories of the filth in his inbox. (His HTML was not turned off.) They were entertaining, but I doubt I’d be as entertained if the moaning gushing extracurricular randiness was being pushed to my inbox. I’m incredibly pro-sex, but I choose when and where—spam is, as usual, out of the question.

So why is it, this morning, when I received that IM, that I laughed so hard? Why is it that I left it up, and showed it to my friends? Why did I upload it to Flickr, and why am I writing about it now?

Well, it’s not commercial spam, for one thing. It’s not making anybody any money. It’s not shuffling anyone to a website, and the fact that I SAW it did not somehow suck my credit card digits through my optic nerve. (Wow. I don’t THINK it did…) Maybe if I’d responded to the IM, that might not be so great—and I guess I’d better be sure I did block the IM name, because it would be silly not to cover my bases. I don’t actually know the facts behind IM bots and why they do what they do, or whether they’re capable of doing something bad to my system.

But just having SEEN it, to me, was harmless. Neutral.

So here’s the really great part: Why was it AWESOME, instead of just neutral?

MINIMALIST ASCII GENITALIA, people! Don’t TELL me that’s not the funniest thing you’ve ever come across in your LIFE. I was NEVER one of the sniggering kids—I didn’t cackle when someone said “fart” or “sphincter” or “rod” or any of the other words that 8-year-olds go apeshit over. So why do I think minimalist ASCII genitalia is so brilliantly fantastic? Why did it make my day?

It’s just… adorable.

And it’s weirdly like art.

It’s a thing that makes you feel a thing. Even if it pisses you off, it makes you feel a thing. What does it mean to SEE something and then FEEL something? Isn’t that a fascinating reaction? Have you ever really thought about it? The way someone smiling at you makes you FEEL something? Have you ever looked at one of Marty’s nifty zombie-fighting illustrations and felt a swell of heroism? (Wait! Not that… THAT.)

I looked at that dumb little ASCII doodle and I saw a part of a person—a part that people take for granted, and get offended by, but a part that happens to be important for all kinds of great reasons. The spammer probably doesn’t care that it’s important, and wasn’t trying to SAY anything to me by sending it along. This particular part (whatever part you think it happens to be) is often used in exactly this manner to shock or take advantage of people. Except in this case, it was so basic—so minimal—that its existence was nebulous in purpose. So I could take from it whatever I wanted. It didn’t matter what the spammer wanted. All that mattered was how I felt about it. And it just so happened that it made me laugh. (Uproarously. It was awesome.)

Then it occured to me that many people take away something else entirely. They get angry. They feel violated. Offended. Because someone made them look at something they didn’t want to think about just then. So I thought about that—uncomfortable, I understand that. There’s a time and place, folks. Porn good, spam bad. And the fact that at first I wondered if I should share—sex is so demonized in our culture in so many ways that I wondered if people would be offended by the screenshot in Flickr—doesn’t that suggest that our typical reactions to sex and porn and all manner of other things is just getting to be absurd? Especially if a spambot thinks it can bug us by IMing us a little thing like that?

Hell, I understand the need to avoid invasive spam. Sharing sexuality is excellent, but privacy is extremely important, too. I am totally with you there. But this… how could this ever upset anyone?

And what I took away from it, instead of anything else, was joy. Art. A bizarre, childlike glee. Out of that dumb little interruption. Six characters in 11 point Arial.

So what do you make of that?

[Edit: More is surfacing, like this link (this is the best kind of punk’d, where I write a long involved post about sexuality), plus a few more thoughts of my own, like for instance, “Why didn’t I think it was a kissy face instead of something else?” and “Would it have been nearly as introspective and entertaining if I had?” and “If there’s a real person on the other end of that bot, what did THEY mean it to be?” I may or may not follow up on this later, but you have to admit, it says a lot about me and the way my brain works that I went straight to the explicit conclusion. Very Rorschach!]

[Additional Edit: Wouldn’t it be awesome if the person who sent that message showed up to tell us what they meant by it? Because that would be a great complement to the way my brain has been whirring a thousand cycles a second over what could reasonably be called “nothing”. What a fantastic process.]


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