Memes are the 21st century’s Pandora’s Box: once you start using them for a real purpose, they begin to cut in every direction. Don’t get me wrong, as a scurrilous bottom-feeder who attacks people from anonymity, memes are my friends. I have witnessed their birth in the wild and lauded them.
It was only a matter of time before memes that I didn’t like, on the topic of LARP, arose. At first I struggled to understand, rationally, why I didn’t like them. Irrationally I could screech a list a mile long, that’s my specialty! But to write anything cohesive, one has to have at least the semblance of rationality. And for me, that takes time and sometimes liquor to help round off the jagged edges of my anger and bitterness.
But I’m ready to take on that smiling, wretchedly “positive” face of evil.
I speak of course of Larp Wholesomeposting. You may laugh, because the notion of this post, an entire post, picking apart a page that just wants to keep things positive seems absurd and excessive, even for me, right?
Except that I’m dead serious. There is something profoundly unsettling about that page, about their content, a bitter poison made palatable, for a multitude of unsuspecting and exhausted LARPers, tired of infighting and salt. And if you stay with me long enough on this paranoid journey, I think you too may be able to sniff out what’s rotting just beneath the happy surface.
Today I am going to dissect some of the content I’ve seen there, discuss the purpose of satire, and try to string together a cogent argument for why Wholesomeposting is a vector of dangerous, suffocating ideology. And that hiding in what appears to be a safe place to post genuinely nice, validating content, there are the means to stifle dissent and keep victims of abuses quiet.
Satire, Salt, Power, and LARP
Before we discuss Wholesomeposting, we must discuss what they stand in opposition to, content they deem negative, the purpose this “negative” content serves, and how it relates to players and games.
In 2019, it may feel as if an angry mob now rules LARP. Game runners in major networks, and even of smaller games, express real fear of upsetting players, horror stories of the backlash they face when a decision they make isn’t liked. Many leave the field of LARPing entirely, with symptoms suspiciously similar to those of PTSD.
For many, most in fact, I have sincere sympathy. Because many, if not most, are probably neutral people, some could even be good people, or great people, who find themselves at the mercy of circumstances, emotions and systems they have little control over.
But many game runners, and even players, still cannot grasp a fundamental reality that rules our hobby: the ability to deny service to people, in most states and countries without any requirement for explanation, gives game runners almost insurmountable leverage and power over players, whether or not they choose to use that leverage. It comes at a cost, of course, with the risk of social backlash and outrage, but the power imbalance between player and game runner will always be enormous. And the larger the game, the more likely it is that not-very-good people with ill-intentions, narcissists and bullies, find their way into positions of power.
With that in mind, here is a very pertinent quote by Molly Ivins:
“Satire is a weapon, and it can be quite cruel. It has historically been the weapon of powerless people aimed at the powerful. When you use satire against powerless people, . . . it is not only cruel, it’s profoundly vulgar.”
Players are going to make memes about their negative experiences, whether or not they are fair, because they are ultimately less powerful than game runners and staff. No matter the perception, the ability to deny service, revoke attendance rights, and cancel someone right out of their own social life is an insurmountable power firmly in the hands of game runners. Satire, and memes, are the weapon of the powerless against such power.
And if said content, designed to voice criticism, fear or pain is deemed too negative, and the prescribed cure is positivity, positivity itself becomes a convenient cudgel for the powerful, to be used against the powerless.
What is Toxic Positivity?
This post is not just fueled by my own paranoia and well-earned insanity. Toxic Positivity has been identified as a profoundly dangerous mode of thinking, that not only blinds people to real and healthy ways out of bad situations, but provides refuge for abusers.
Not that Medium is the world’s most reliable source of psychiatric data, but this piece provides a handy definition for Toxic Positivity:
Toxic positivity is the push for a mental state in which we only experience and show “positive” emotions. We see this push in books, quotes, social media, and everyday conversations. It has become all of our jobs to paint a picture of positivity for ourselves and the outside world.
Regarding dealing with her own abuse and trauma, another author writing on Medium explains how blind positivity worked to the advantage of her abuser:
And nothing worked. Not only was I broke, I didn’t feel happier. I felt inauthentic. And turning the other cheek just got it slapped, too.
Moreover, those who embrace positivity culture will let you know it, with an air of moral superiority that absolutely and ironically makes me want to slap them. I first got a whiff of this when I’d just gotten out of an abusive relationship. A friend told me that if I just “put out what I wanted into the world,” I’d get a healthy relationship. Then she followed up with a shrug(!) and said, “Some people just bring out the worst in each other.”
Despite being well-intended and rooted in positivity, her words made me feel worse. I had been thinking positive. I went into the relationship with all the sunshine and rainbows I could muster as someone with depression, and I’d stayed with him under the delusion that things would get better. My optimistic thinking kept me under his thumb for too long. Positive thinking, it seemed, had encouraged me to ignore the abuse. And now, my friend was not only suggesting that I had been putting out the desire for abuse “into the world,” but also splitting the blame between me and my abuser.
So … what does this mean for LARP?
It means that you, reader, readers, everyone with a pulse, should be extremely suspicious of voices that urge us all to be more positive, without also addressing the dangers, damages and problems that lead people to be negative in the first place. There are a dozen LARP-related meme pages that are a mix of emotions, and even the most negative also includes raw humor and uplifting content. Wholesomeposting is the only one which is non-stop, suspicious positivity.
Now I set my crosshairs on that fucking balloon and its stupid wizard hat.
Reading Between the Saccharine Lines
Any good analysis starts with a quote, so below I have posted Wholesomeposting’s stated content rules:
There are some … strange implications buried in there.
- That existing LARP memes are connected to meanness. The title itself implies that those other memes are by their very nature mean. The title sets Wholesomeposting in direct opposition to literally all other LARP memes, and implies that if you like other memes, you like mean things.
- Memes can only be fun, ergo good, when everyone is having fun. That is a really, really problematic condition to set. It means any meme that might hurt someone’s feelings, even if it does so in the service of some greater justice or highlighting some greater issue, is forbidden content. Yikes.
- A submission must be good spirited and enjoyable by everyone. If a meme is satire, by its very nature it will NOT be enjoyable by people in positions of power. Ergo memes cannot be satire if they are to be acceptable.
- If it targets anything or anyone specific, it goes, you go, and then they will paper over it with a positive post to upset you. See #2 and #3. The danger here shouldn’t be too hard to understand.
Again, Yikes. And that’s just their stated rules.
Let’s move on to some examples of their “memes” I’ve hand picked. They are by no means the only examples, merely a sample organized for your analysis. My criticisms are in the captions.
Lastly, severe cringe warning, because some of these are cringey:
Taken together, the images I’ve posted above paint a bizarre picture: suffering in LARP is good, it’s always IC, if you think it’s OOC, that’s in your head, if you complain about it, you’re hurting staff, who are the only thing defending you against ennui and sadness. Want to make things better? Don’t talk about problems, uplift other players, quietly, don’t step on anyone’s toes doing so, and talk loudly about how positive and supportive you are.
And honestly, almost to its credit, most of Wholesomeposting is banal: painfully so. Sometimes it’s a little heartwarming. Sometimes it is approachable. But a startling portion of it, while seen through the lens of its own rules, is stifling, unhealthy, contributes to cults of personality, and encourages players to “chin up, try harder, a little suffering makes you a better player.”
That shit is creepy. Really creepy.
All of this energy, you might be thinking, to attack a page which is devoted to being wholesome, what’s my angle? What’s my agenda? What stake does Bitter Bruce have in all of this?
I’m sorry to say that it’s just me and my demons in here, reader: I do not know who runs wholesomeposting, nor any of the other meme pages. I do want to know who runs the most bizarre of them all, “Deep Fried LARPposting,” because I’m pretty sure they can find me a drug dealer, or three. Otherwise my stake is one of a worried bystander.
I do know, however, the implications and use-cases of memes and other viral content. And we can analyze who benefits the most from a type of meme, who could become a victim of them, and the meme’s uses.
The salty pages, we all know who benefits most from them: angry players. Salty memes give them a voice in which to express their dissatisfaction, whether that voice is reasonable or not. The potential victims are game runners, who might be trying to do their best, with efforts angry players cannot see. And for those hurt, I am sympathetic to what you have suffered. That my blog might hurt those who run games with good intentions and their best effort. But salty memes and cynical criticism can be mitigated with transparency, honesty, and not being fucking terrible. I have faith in you. At least a little.
So who benefits from Wholesomeposting’s memes? Is it those players just so darned tired of negativity? Sure, here’s your banal page on which to voice the same hype and drek you’ve always voiced, because LARP is full of positivity, if you look closely. The worrisome beneficiaries of the precedent that Wholesomeposting sets are abusers, whether they be players or staff, for whom criticism cannot be tolerated.
Call me crazy, but it’s just so heckin‘ convenient, to borrow from modern vernacular, that a page with a narrow definition of what is acceptable, could also be used to defend said abusers. Anything out of that very narrow pool of content can be dismissed, out the airlock, under the guise of maintaining “positivity” which, as I’ve said before, is a very effective way to bully players into silence.
To summarize, a dangerous minority can use Wholesomeposting’s rules and content to bombard players with “positive” content, to compete with and ultimately silence voices of complaint or negativity, no matter how real the problems they bring up.
Ethically Sourced Memes
Look if you want positive memes, they’re out there. For starters, they’re constantly being made by players about their own game. As I said before, it’s every hype post and post-game meme, shared on exhausted Mondays alongside updated Spotify character playlists. But positivity to the exclusion of all other content, that’s not real, that’s fantasy, and not the kind we pay for, but a fantasy designed to obscure reality, even a reality with flaws we must address.
The most balanced page is “Bad Larp Memes,” which is generally positive, but realistic, truer to most people’s experiences. I quite like that page, if I’m being honest.
Saltposting even throws out a positive one once in a while, despite that page creepily reposting me and calling me Brucie which makes me feel like they’re my eStalker:
Really, like as many pages as you can. Make memes about your experiences, share them, create a dialogue, criticize or praise, but don’t do ONE thing too much. Satire should be used in relation to your experiences, and if your experiences are ALL negative, you should probably find a new hobby and a therapist.
And if they’re all positive, you may be unwittingly used by those with an agenda.
Last Minute Edit:
Apparently Saltposting and Wholesomeposting are in the middle of a feud.
While I hope that balloon gets deflated, this is not my feud, and I am not a part of it. I can have my own feud without the help of a page of memelords. Either of them. Bitter Bruce is a solo act.
4 thoughts on “A Dangerous Little Balloon”
hey, do you/will you accept third-party submissions if they’re super good
I’ve done it once before. Send it in through the “contact” form.
You’re too weak for the drugs im on dude. Like little 🅱️aby
So my information is sketchy at best but here is the story I got.
Salt posting is run by some one who has been banned from a number of games for sexual misconduct.
Wholesome posting is run by either their ex, or previous victim (wasn’t clear on who) to sort of take the wind out of their sails. Either way I hate both pages but cant look away