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There Will Never Be Another Goatse

The most infamous shock-porn meme was the original NFT — and today it lives on as a sketchy crypto scheme. This is how Goatse changed the internet forever.

With all the buzz around NFTs — which is both art collecting for computer touchers and a cool new way for the blockchain to boil our planet in its own juices as quickly as possible — I did what any respectable shitposter would do: I checked Twitter to see if someone already made the NFT joke I wanted to post. They had. Multiple Twitter users posted about Goatse being the original NFT — an image burned into the brains of millions of internet users since 1997 or so, giving each of us a small amount of ownership over a culturally significant meme.

If you’re too pure of heart and/or young to have never encountered Goatse before, you can fix that here. (That link is obviously extraordinarily NSFW.) An acronym (or backronym) for “guy opens ass to show everyone,” it’s a picture of a bent-over man, face obscured, using both hands to stretch his own asshole open wider than you might imagine is comfortable. I’d add “or is even possible,” but there’s a lot of free porn online and you’ve probably seen worse.

But in the early aughts, most people hadn’t seen worse. Goatse.cx was probably one of the earliest shock-porn websites and certainly one of the most popular. In Adrian Chen’s excellent history of Goatse for Gawker (RIP), he details how the image made its journey from a zip file shared around Usenet porn forums and into the hands of users connected to the site hick.org. The “Hick crew” then uploaded the image to its very own website, the aforementioned Goatse.cx, so they could more easily prank each other and troll Christian web forums.

Around this time, the internet as we know it was in its infancy; the transition to web 2.0 officially occurred in 2004, marking the transition away from the Wild West of Usenet forums and bulletin board systems to the “blogosphere” — people really used to call it that — and social media. This pivot from niche message board communities to a more interconnected social internet meant Goatse could rapidly hit inside joke escape velocity, spreading (sorry) out from the orbit of Usenet and hick.org and onto the screens of unsuspecting internet explorers everywhere. It was used to troll Oprah fans, and it forced an L.A. Times website to be taken down. Essentially, before there was Rickrolling, there was Goatse.

Goatse wasn’t the only shock site being shared, and it definitely wasn’t the only pornographic image the average internet user in 2005 could assume 99 percent of the people they knew had also seen. Meatspin.com was a phenomenon in its own right, and ~only ’90s kids will remember~ that whitehouse.com used to be a porn site. Not to mention, once sharing video became easier in the mid-aughts with the advent of video-hosting sites like YouTube, a whole new wave of shock porn made the rounds. Hits like “Lemon Party” (seniors fucking), “Mr. Hands” (which involved a horse and has an unsurprisingly grim backstory) and the incandescently viral “2 Girls 1 Cup” circulated from user to user via instant messaging services like AIM and early social media platforms.

It wasn’t just the videos themselves that were popular — such shock-porn kick-started the reaction-video genre. People were showing women eating shit to their own grandmothers — welcome to the new millennium, Meemaw! — recording their loved ones’ horrified reactions and then uploading those videos on YouTube, posting it alongside the easily accessible porn that still populated the site.

YouTube, however, eventually tried to moderate porn off their platform — which hasn’t been entirely successful — and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter at least gesture toward dissuading their users from sharing scat fetish content and JPEGs of gaped assholes with one another. To say nothing of how we, as users, have changed our behavior online over the last decade-plus. People still do all sorts of wild things to themselves and their meemaws for attention, of course, but mainstream, shareable content has been trending toward viral dance crazes and “ice bucket challenge”-style stunts, and away from videos of siblings reacting in real time to watching a bestiality flick in their basement.

Digital platforms have evolved, and so have we — or at least, our tastes and our sense of how to conduct ourselves online have, broadly speaking. Internet users, some 59 percent of Earth’s population, have more options for where to spend our time online than we had in Goatse’s heyday. We definitely have access to more free porn, and that saturation on its own might make Goatse less shocking than it seemed at the turn of the millennium. And while many of us wind up choosing to spend the bulk of our time online on the same few social media platforms, the feeds we create for ourselves on each site are unique to each individual.

All of which is to say, because of the way the internet is now, another Goatse phenomenon is impossible. The era of water-cooler-conversation gross-out porn has passed, and even if a particular corner of the web did become exceptionally obsessed with a particular porn clip, GIF or image, there’s no guarantee that obsession would reverberate out to whatever parts of the internet you frequent. The expanse is too wide, and the cultural stigma against sharing that content on main is too high.

Seeing how rapidly things have changed in a little over two decades, though, it’s clear that no one can reliably predict how internet culture will evolve. Web 3.0 will apparently be defined by the blockchain, which actually might be a boon for Goatse’s return. Goatse.cx was defunct for a time, but it was resuscitated around 2014, when the new domain owners spent a few years failing to launch “Goatse coin.” That plan was scrapped, and as of this writing, the site hosts an Ethereum scheme that sounds suspiciously similar to an NFT: Now Goatse.cx offers you the chance to “Own a piece of Goatse!

As if Goatse didn’t already belong to all of us.

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