I’m hardly familiar with the entire history of interactive trends, but Bitstrips seems entirely original in a way I’ve not yet seen in the five years of critical voyeurism Facebook has afforded me. Though I rarely contribute pieces of my life to my Friends or the Public or Like anything, I approach the the news feed with an addict’s eternal quest for immediate satisfaction. I scroll fiendishly, scanning at hyper-speed until I find something that appeals to a split-second reaction of pleasure. Observing others’ scores and accomplishments at games like Farmville, Mafia Wars or Words With Friends never did it for me. Rather, scrolling past the familiar template of each, I evolved from annoyed curiosity, to annoyed familiarity, to bitter anger, to complete indifference.
Bitstrips appears to be the next major fad in social media juvenalia. People I actually respect post these fun little one-frame cartoons, not just the foolish bores who in their mid-twenties played Farmville to fill the void left by their failure to procreate or party adequately enough to document their real lives online. No, it’s not just losers transforming into idealized cartoon versions of themselves; it’s young professionals! It’s mothers of two kids who this time of year, you’d expect to be posting photos of their little Iron Men and Angry Birds and Princess Toadstools if they’re particularly cool and nostalgic.
I actually look at these things. I shouldn’t admit that, I guess, because I fancy myself so dignified as to be quite above it, but…whatever, I love them. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll never see a curly-headed, pointy-nosed weirdo in a t-shirt in cartoon world—I live that world in my head twenty-four-seven—but I can’t deny the fact that when they pop up on the news feed, I get that rush of excitement like sweet-whiskey on my tongue and rich tobacco smoke in the back of my throat.
There is an odd poetry to Bitstrips. The brilliance of comics in general is in the way they reduce humans to caricature. They strip away all the complexity of individualism leaving only the emotion and a few defining physical characteristics. A guy with a beard is sad. A girl with blonde hair is triumphant. It’s a simple formula, but it allows you to plug and play virtually any situation. You know the girl is triumphant because she is bragging to very interested friends that she’s been interviewed by a real journalist and the guy with the beard is alone and jealous in the background. There’s no context, only the moment. Bitstrips sometimes indicate aspects of a person’s actual personality and sometimes illustrate complex fantasy-fulfillment, but always in pleasantly bizarre abstraction. More often than not, a theme runs throughout the Bitstrips someone chooses. Browsing through one Friend’s assortment, I found her cartoon alter-ego as a super-hero rescuing someone from a mugging; dancing the lead in a tango with a male friend with both in drag; discovering the same male friend playing with dolls; and mastering an imaginary sport. In a sense, this is more indicative of her personality than any photo or written status she could post.
My initial relationship with social media connections was jealousy and depression. I allowed myself to believe that peoples’ lives were actually as exciting and full of happiness and friendship and love as they were presented online. Later, this was supplanted by hatred for the entire concept of social media, not just the stupid games I was forced to look at, but people’s ugly children and mangy dogs, and whorish Halloween costumes. I fought the urge to rebel, and barely retrained from posting statuses like, “I hate your children,” “People notice that you always pose with you hands on your hips,” “You’re getting fat,” “Who fucking cares?” and “Taking a shit.”
Somewhere along the line, more and more people began posting the chronicles of their depression, their hatred of an ex and their struggles with addiction. Others believed themselves clever, attempting what they considered satire, posting “ironic” selfies which attempted to capture and editorialize on some trend. Both types are reactionary to believing others’ happiness and feeling depressed by comparison, inadvertently reinforcing the structure simply by acknowledging it. In fact, trends are the norm and are not necessarily synonymous with reality, and whether your opinions are meant to challenge or utilize the medium itself, they are inherently reduced to the standard of presentation most commonly used (think labeling a photo “This,” saying something like “much-needed,” or using a dependent clause as a sentence). Certainly, this is always the case when innovation is supplanted by gut-reaction disguised as opinion, but in the case of social media, trends have supplanted the very individualism platforms like Facebook claim to encourage. It’s supposed to be about you. Not about tailoring yourself to be social media-acceptable.
It is nothing short of an absurd tragedy that we have reduced our own lives to tropes. If this is the case, then the world we live in is no uncharted future of endless possibility, but merely a genre with stipulated guidelines. To venture outside the framework is to risk no longer existing.
I celebrate Bitstrips because it is effectively subversive to this phenomenon in its utter absurdity. By becoming a cartoon, one washes his hands of all responsibility of individuality in exchange for liberation from flaws and the complexity of real life. He circumvents the responsibility of individual freedom that comes with a hyper-capitalist society by removing reality itself. Where once there was the real world with real problems, there is now only honest, magnificent artifice.
It’s in this fantasy that we rediscover the real version of ourselves.