The Great Equalizer 2.0

Thomas Pynchon, hero to insecure English majors all across college campuses, wrote in his 1998 massive, monolithic novel Mason & Dixon,

Who claims Truth, Truth abandons. History is hir'd, or coerc'd, only in Interests that must ever prove base. She is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power,--who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish'd, as if it had never been. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters, Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev'ry Radius, Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume, Toilette, and Bearing, and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires, or even the Curiosity, of Government (p. 355)

If it were even possible for a quote to sum up Pynchon's literary canon, this, I think, would come the closest. Throughout his works, Pynchon obsesses over the power of the silenced, the marginalized, the ones left behind by God -- the "last poor Preterite one!" -- and forces his readers to confront the idea of spaces society that we don't know exist. In Pynchon's universe, these metaphorical spaces are fertile for "fabulists and counterfeiters" to come and populate with their own stories, untouched by the rest of society's corrupting influences, away from its power politics, tax forms, and daytime television programming. To Pynchon, these spaces are ideally inhabited by minorities, the poor, and the oppressed societal groups that have historically never had the chance to be heard, hidden out of sight from the conventional media. In his novels, these are the spaces of dreams.

Are these spaces still a dream in the 21st Century?

Where are the "fabulists and counterfeiters, Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev'ry Radius, Masters of Disguise" that Pynchon featured so prominently in his works? And what are they saying?

These questions all converge into one answer: the Internet. The Internet, or more accurately, the Web 2.0 version of it, has been hailed as the "Great Equalizer," a title that public education once held. On the Internet, voices from all different ethnic, cultural, and economic backgrounds can come together, be heard, and all given equal weight in the conversation. It's a place where people like James Franco, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet can talk to people like xXSkull_Eater89Xx via Twitter. It's a place where that same user can keep a blog and tell his stories about being a Hispanic-American in Manhattan and stories about eating skulls that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere on syndicated television. All anyone needs to do is hop on a computer, connect to the Internet, and log on.

Surely, this is the place that Pynchon dreamed of all these years! But is that necessarily a good thing? is a clear example of a Pynchonian universe gone horribly wrong. As the website has grown in popularity in the recent years, an unsettling trend of anti-liberalism and right-wing politics has emerged. A quick look at the population size of certain subreddits can give you an idea of this. At the time of this writing, the subreddit "Men's Rights," a vitriolic, non-satirical, community that posts false-rape accusation stories as if they were the norm daily, has nearly 110,000 subscribers; "Fat People Hate," a community where subscribers share links that show their irrational hate for overweight people, has a population of a little more than 111,000; "The Red Pill," the most disturbing subreddit out of these listed, a misogynistic community that discusses "sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men," has 108,000 subscribers; and "Tumblr in Action," a place dedicated to making fun of the LGBT community and those who claim to have other non-binaristic gender identities, has 198,000 subscribers. These are not small population sizes.

I chose just these four specific subreddits to show how pervasive the anti-politically correct, anti-"social justice warrior" attitude is on Reddit as a few examples, but Reddit has had a long history of controversial subreddits that it's had to forcibly shut down. To name a few more, "Creep Shots," the infamous "Fappening" subreddit, "Jail Bait." The list goes on. What's more disturbing is that recently the Videos subreddit, one of the largest communities on the site with over 7 million subscribers, was forced to address the rampant racism pervasive within the subreddit by implementing a no-tolerance policy against hateful comments. The moderator, videos_mod, addresses the subreddit's reputation directly,

"As anyone who has used reddit for any significant amount of time will know, /r/videos has historically had something of a reputation as a subreddit which sees a lot of racism in its comments."

What these examples show is that as much as the Internet allows silenced groups to speak, it allows other unpopular groups to be given equal exposure as well. In an increasingly liberal society, in which a woman can run for president and homosexual couples are getting married in more and more states, the Internet -- that liminal space unregulated and uncolonized by the Powers that be -- gives racists and misogynists a space to crawl into and voice their unpopular opinions. The question remains, then, if these voices are a small part of the marginalized groups that Pynchon talked about, just mixed in with all the rest, and don't reflect the actual attitudes of the population at large. If this is the case, then we can allow them to go on propagating their ridiculous beliefs in a place where they do as little damage as possible. If anything, it's a good thing -- an indicator of our health as a progressive society. We as a society are pushing back against extremists and racists into places where they can't be seen in the light of day. But if this isn't the case, then the alternative is something much more frightening: that those in power -- those who have claimed "truth" -- have found a way into the equalizing space of the Internet and have begun colonizing and pushing the natives out. History repeats itself, but on a different stage.