All last week I was enjoying Gabriella Coleman’s history of Anonymous, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. For anyone who is interested in the intersections between Internet and underground culture, this is a hell of a book. Plus: political discourse, the radical left, 21st-century dissidents, Occupy, pwning Scientology, and many, many other things.
One of the first things Coleman gets into in this book is the idea of the “lulz.” This is a very foundational concept, because the lulz is a core part of the Anonymous aesthetic, and, as Coleman tell it, the unrestrained pursuit of the lulz is essentially what got Anonymous going in the first place. Here’s how Coleman defines the lulz
If we keep in mind that lulz derives from the acronym “lol” (laugh out loud), it becomes easier to see that lulz is primarily about humor. Lols are familiar to everyone who has ever sent a joke to someone by email. Lulz are darker: acquired most often at someone’s expense, prone to misfiring and, occasionally, bordering on disturbing or hateful speech. . . . Lulz are umistakably imbued with danger and mystery, and thus speak foremost to the pleasures of transgression.
Coleman goes on to make the case Anonymous was essentially founded in pursuit of the lulz: she traces the group’s inception to an incident in 2008 when a bunch of irate hackers who had heretofore congregated on the message board 4chan decided to band together to go at the Church of Scientology for little other reason than the lulz of it. The exploit worked out so well that the group snowballed from there, attracting more and more malcontents and moving on to bigger, and more politically viable, targets—like strongmen in Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, defense contractors selling out our privacy and civil rights for money, etc, etc.
But to get back to the lulz: when I read the above passage, I immediately scribbled “RTJ” in the margins, standing, of course, for the rap group Run the Jewels.