Last blogpost grouped 4chan/pol/ images formalistically on what meme they depicted. But classifying 4chan-images can also be done on a higher, more abstract level, namely by identifying prevalent themes within all /pol/-images. Through the image walls that follow, one can not only see the overall aesthetics of prevalent topics on /pol/, but also draw the lines from meme to theme by identifying which particular memes appear along which themes.
Each image is derived from a dataset of posts on 4chan/pol/ from January 7th 6AM to January 8th 3AM, and around 5000 images were tagged (this text only shows a subset of themes). Tagging was done collectively and the most popular themes were determined after an initial collaboratory categorisation. Still, tagging mistakes remain. Some duplicates will appear because of overlapping datasets. The images were tagged only when a thematic relation could be derived from the image itself. The context of an image might very well determine its thematic usage as well, but complicated the categorisation process because of the ambiguity on forums such as /pol/. Some images can be considered offensive.
Racist sentiment is rampant on /pol/, even though the official 4chan’s rules state it’s not allowed. This makes race-related images are quite difficult to categorise. The image wall above shows images that relate to simply all forms of racialism. By that category, the images easily generate the most-occurring theme of the dataset. Naturally, the Amerimutt is present, since the meme inherently embodies a racialised message. A large portion of the racialism-images are statistical screencaptures, often with graphs indicating a disproportionate amount of crimes committed by black people in the US. Despite the skewed cause-effect rationale, these statistics are often taken up as an argument for the racism masked under the term ‘race realism’.
Another popular theme is antisemitism. Indeed, the propagation of Jew-hatred and Judaist conspiracies seem to have grown rapidly on /pol/, as reflected in the sheer amount of images. The Le Happy Merchant-meme is present, as expected. Also notable is the volume of screen-captures showing ‘evidence’ of Jewish conspiracy.
While one might claim /pol/-anons post pictures of Hitler because it is transgressive and edgy, the sheer amount of Nazi imagery arguably transcends in-group joking. Obviously, swastika’s are prevalent, as well as historical pictures of the World Wars. Pepe is present, but does not (anymore) ‘meme-ify’ Nazism to the extent that Amerimutt and Le Happy Merchant directly correspond to their respectively racist and antisemitic themes.
A large portion of the Nazi images make a reappearance in the themes tagged as ‘historical’, mostly related to Hitler or WWII. Black-and-white photography comprises a large part of this theme, as well as quote-images of historical juggernauts like Roosevelt and Jefferson.
While /pol/ has been characterised as the ‘skeleton key’ to Trump’s election, in this dataset of early 2018, pro-Trump images might not be as common as expected. Moreover, the Trumpist images that do appear, either indirectly support Trump (e.g. by being anti-Hillary), or even smear him (even anti-Trump images were categorised as ‘Trumpism’). Emblematic for the latter is the image in the bottom-middle, above the MAGA-lion, indicating how Trump’s support of Israel does not mix with the antisemitism of /pol/. Apart from Pepe, a second meme commonly represents Trump-support, namely the Anime-cat girl seen e.g. in the top-right corner, forming a mix between 4chan’s Japanese affinity and its right-wing shift.
Many images that were tagged as relating to conspiratory thinking/evidence-building consist of screencaptures, graphs, and collages. One notable subtheme are the portraits of Jewish media figures, pushing the conspiracies of ‘Cultural Marxism’ and ‘The Cathedral’, where a Jewish elite is said to control the cultural course of the Western world.
One of the main publics rendering /pol/ a counterpublic is the common denominator ‘the left’; particularly, American liberals and globalist left-wing leaders. Many images that counter this big group are critiquing political correctness, feminism, Marxism or a general lack of pro-Western sentiment.
While the subversive style of /pol/ anons is characterised by some as abhorring moralistic Christian values, and instead revelling in Sadean transgression (Nagle 2017, 38), a significant number of images are in fact pro-Christianity. These often indicate appreciation for the traditionalist Christian values of the Western world. The ‘Deus Vult’-meme, a Crusade-related sentence most often used as a battle cry to drive out Islamism, appears on the middle-right, with alt-light YouTube-celebrity Lauren Southern wearing the sentence on her hoodie. Other than that, drawings of Jesus and Christian quotes make up the most of the image wall.
/pol/ knows an idiosyncratic appreciation for esoteric imagery, as seen in the images above.
The pro-Western sentiment on /pol/ often co-occurs with a disdain of the Islam. This scorn is then frequently used as a critique for open-border leftist policy, sketching scenarios where Western countries are overrun by Muslims (e.g. in the bottom-left corner or in the Merkel-meme in the top-right middle).
While strictly an oxymoron, ‘European nationalism’ forms a prevalent theme in the /pol/ images. Most propagate to preserve the national boundaries and traditions of countries in the European continent. Alternatively, most of the images can be understood as a pan-nationalist sentiment that promotes a (racist) European purity, often relating to Arian or Nordic ‘whiteness’.
Historically, 4chan has had a peculiar relation to homosexuality. On /b/, androcentrism is rampant, but not necessarily in a heterosexual manner, since gay porn often shows up, while the often-used suffix ‘fag’ (e.g. ‘newfag’, ’causefag’ or ‘namefag’) functions as “a homophobic slur, a term of endearment, or a mode of self-identification” (Philips 2015, 55), all at the same time. One anon characterised /b/ as “the only one in your group of friends to be secure in his sexuality and say anything”. On /pol/, this sexual openness might have shifted when drawing from the images of the dataset, since anti-LGBT pictures frequently show up, mostly because of the leftist culture it is associated with, but also because its friction with /pol/’s idolisation of traditionalist (Christian) Western family values mentioned above.
Vaporwave is a musical style that appropriates 80’s EDM synth music, but has also been translated in an Internet meme by repurposing its visuals. On /pol/, vaporwave is often repurposed as ‘fashwave‘, merging it with Nazi imagery.