/r/nujabes: An Incidental Memorial

Most of the online memorials we’ve looked at so far explicity self-categorize themselves, either in their titles or some introductory or “About” paragraph. We’ve asked the question of whether a memorial’s meaning must be apparent to its viewers to be considered an effective memorial, and I think a follow-up question that we have yet to tackle concerns the explicit and implicit goals of memorials. That is: to what degree, if it all, does a memorial’s identification as a memorial affect its significance and meaning? Furthermore, how do these factors of intent and self-categorization inform the notion of “proper mourning” that Kim discussed in her own post last week?

Recently it occurred to me that an online space I regularly visit, a small subreddit dedicated to the late Japanese DJ Jun Seba (“Nujabes”), is, in many ways, an online memorial – even though it doesn’t call itself one. Instead, it serves as a memorial entirely in function and in how its visitors elect to use it, not because of some dictating title or mission statement.
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For example, none of the information in the /r/nujabes “sidebar” (a place where subreddits gather information like policies, goals, etc.) makes any mention of hoping to memorialize Jun Seba. Here’s the short subreddit description:

“Welcome to /r/Nujabes!Love listening to Nujabes and other similar artists? Do you want to expand your library with amazing artists like him? Then you’ve come to the right place! In this subreddit, you’ll encounter a myriad of musical genres ranging from jazz, bossa nova, and funk, to instrumentals, hip hop, trip hop, ambient, and many more. Just remember: Give a thorough listen to all the contributions that are being made in this subreddit, and do not downvote links because the music doesn’t suit your taste. Don’t be an asshole troll. This subreddit is for people to have the opportunity to open their ears and perhaps their minds through music. If you have any suggestions, questions, or if your post gets stuck in spam, feel free to PM the moderators and we’ll sort everything out.

Listen and Enjoy!

If you have any pictures, videos, or recordings of Nujabes, Please post them here!”

The sidebar thus pitches the community as a space for fans to share and discuss his music, similar to subreddits for still-living artists, like /r/TaylorSwift or /r/FettyWap. Indeed, just by browsing at the front page of the subreddit, you probably wouldn’t be able to glean that Jun Seba is, in fact, deceased: the top links include a request for sheet music to one Nujabes song, an essay detailing the history of another, and a weekly “What Are You Listening To?”discussion thread.

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Choosing to view the top-voted posts from the subreddit, however, tells a different story. The second highest post is an picture of Jun Seba DJing, with the title “Today makes 4 years. R.I.P.” The seventh highest is another concert photo, with a similarly eulogizing title: “5 years ago today, we lost one of the greats. I could only imagine the things you would kick out today, but your music continues to forever immortalize you. Rest In Beats, Seba Jun.” Posts like these, with a clear intent of memorializing the community’s figurehead, seem to be among the most well-liked by the community, typically garnering over 100 upvotes.
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Are these infrequent “memorial-type” posts enough to classify /r/nujabes as a memorial? Need the community explicitly invite this classification at all? To use the language of consent and permission from our most recent discussions: does a creator have to “consent” to his/her work being labelled as a memorial? If not, then perhaps anything which prevents a person’s name from being lost to time is a memorial. And by that definition, so is this post.
There’s a lot more to say about /r/Nujabes, including questions of how Nujabes’ limited public exposure may affect the content of the subreddit. I’ll probably be choosing it as one of my ‘artifacts’ for the Tumblr assignment, if it’s fair game.

“I Love to Be the Bearer of Bad Jokes, so…”

Last Thursday, I didn’t have much of a chance to reflect on the significance of the date, or the events that gave it that significance. I didn’t have a chance because the first thing I read that morning was this text from my cousin:

Written up here in case the screenshot is ever lost or unviewable:
“Fourteen years ago today towers went down D’: :’( :O but you make mine stand       up 😉 ;P send this to 10 cuties that get your tower up 😉 ;P (eggplant emoji) (disembodied eyes emoji) (fire emoji) (cheering emoji)”

I can’t pretend that I didn’t grin upon reading it – nor can I pretend that I didn’t sigh afterward, as a sort of audible “facepalm”. Even reading it now, I have the same response: an exhaling of breath that starts off as a laugh, but quickly turns into a sigh.

One interesting thing about this joke, I think, is that despite its immaturity, it’s actually pretty complicated. Like some of the ones we came across in the readings, this joke makes fun of several things simulataneously, perhaps to distract from and offset some of the awfulness of poking fun at 9/11. Really, I read it primarily as ridiculing the dreadful chain messages that dominated text and email messages up until a few years ago. Certainly none that I know of actually used tragedy as the butt of their puns or as impetus to “keep the chain alive”, plenty of them were ridiculous enough to make this fake 9/11 one a fair parody.

The chain message format acts as a vessel to deliver a joke – or, if joke is too generous a term, at least a light-hearted statement – about an event that, even in 2015 typically demands only the gravest treatment. Because chain messages have fallen so out of style as to now be considered a joke in and of themselves, the teller of a joke like can deflect criticism to the text and emoji enveloping the disaster pun. “Right it’s awful, but so were those chain messages back in the day,” is a pretty fair defense.

There’s also present here the ambiguous and confusing quality of ownership and authorship online. Some jokes on the Internet, like forum comments or memes with user-generated text pasted atop them, imply that the person posting the joke also came up with it. In fact, plenty of communities (Reddit in particular, from what I’ve seen) get incredibly upset if it comes out that OP (original poster) didn’t create the joke, and is in fact just “reposting.” The flipside to this is that jokes like my cousin’s entirely discard the importance of authorship. I don’t think that my cousin wrote this chain message, nor do I think she could tell me who did if I asked.

Hannah talked in her post last week about how we can walk away from and wash ourselves clean of disturbing things we encounter online because it’s so easy just scroll down, minimize, delete, and forget. I might expand on this by adding that we rely on the internet to shield us from the dangers of not just consuming offensive content, but creating offensive content. The internet, through its anonymity and through features like Share buttons and the now-universal Copy/Paste feature, makes it alarmingly easy to both pass on and distance oneself from a sick joke in one fell keystroke. But really, I can’t judge too much, and neither should the the 10 cuties I sent that text along to.

Things I’m Dying to Talk About

  1. I regularly come across stories about game developers creating in-game memorials to deceased players, which is really fascinating to me. Sometimes, these memorials take the form of digital gravestones or in-game locations, while others are immortalized as NPCs (non-playable characters), such as the one added to World of Warcraft as tribute to the late Robin Williams. I’m curious how this type of memorial allows the deceased to not just be remembered online, but also to maintain a permanent virtual presence online.
  2. It could be cool to talk about the actions taken by internet users in response to death but not with the intention of memorializing the dead – at least not in a positive light. These could include “flaming”, meme-creation, or even amateur detective-work, like that performed by Reddit in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.  One potential path for this discussion would be to explore how even more negative or destructive responses to death still form a sort of memorial to the deceased.
  3. Sherwood brought up the idea of talking about creepypasta and other forms of online “spooky stories”, and I’m definitely onboard. We might also explore the recent surge in popularity of horror films that position technology at their center, sometimes even giving it the role of the “monster” (for example, “V/H/S” and “Unfriended“). I’m interested in what films and stories like these can tell us about the anxieties and fears we harbor about death, technology, and the internet.