Boxxy was a happy normal 16-year-old girl who liked anime and played Gaia Online. She did nothing wrong. Nor did she do anything especially right. But for a day last month, she became one of the most searched terms in Google, the most-subscribed channel on Youtube and the reason for an “online civil war” that put one of the major Internet forums offline for a couple of hours.
A month after the phenomenon: keep reading for the Boxxy story, the Boxxy science, from online videos to American presidents.
FOAR EVERYWUN FROM BOXXY
Everything started when her Internet friend, Ant, asked her to make a video. She did. Another friend asked the same. She did too. Those were some curious videos, where boxxy, her nickname, sounded like a hamster on drugs. But she was just a normal teenager who liked anime.
Her videos were seen by a few hundred people in a year, but that would change. On December 27 2008, someone linked to them on 4chan, one of the biggest online forums and place of birth and propagation of many Internet memes (such as the video of Albert Einstein tongue-kissing Marilyn Monroe).
The video spread like the major Internet meme it became. In a week Boxxy images took over more than half of all messages on 4chan, spreading over many other places. People either loved or hated boxxy, either way, they posted her image everywhere.
By this time Boxxy herself realized she was being worshipped, and then created a third video directed especially to 4chan. It’s the one you see above, where she clarifies she “doesn’t normally talk this way” – talking exactly that way – and says she doesn’t do drugs.
In 24 hours the video hit the top of Youtube with 300.000 viewers, and on that day “Boxxy” became the fifth most searched term on Google, surpassing the interest for trivial things like the conflicts in the Middle East. And, speaking of conflicts, Boxxy’s takeover of the Internet, and especially, 4chan, enraged many who proclaimed a self-titled “online civil war”, with online attacks on the forum which actually fell over for almost 4 hours.
The online war went on. A so-called “CBCR” (Center for Boxxy Control and Restriction) managed to hack into Boxxy’s Youtube account, making her original videos unavailable. They also managed to get all personal information of Boxxy and leaked most of it in the Internet. She was indeed “just a bubbly 16-year-old girl”. But that meant they were abusing a mostly innocent girl.
In the drama that ensued and the backlash against such excessive acts, the CBCR then returned the Youtube account to her, and shut down their “organization”. 4chan, after being taken down, had now also placed an automatic ban on any discussion about Boxxy. The climax of her phenomenon was over, though it would still reverberate for a few weeks.
Boxxy is just a normal, underage girl, acting strange for an online video she did for a few online friends. She is indeed just 16, unlike lonelygirl15, another Internet phenomenon that was in fact an elaborate project by a production company, with screen writers and a professional 19-year-old actress.
Unlike lonelygirl15, Boxxy’s only three videos don’t tell any real story. They were also not intended to such a wide audience, the two original videos that propelled her to stardom were addressed to a few specific people. No world domination plans involved. The flood of her images that took over web were all made by those millions who loved or hated her, but she was just a single teenager.
The fact that Boxxy is a cute teenage girl undoubtedly played a part on this, but would it explain it all? In a couple of days she managed to get a third of the subscribers on Youtube of lonelygirl15, the professional two-year-old project. And some would say that lonelygirl15 is cuter than Boxxy.
Whoever of both girls you think is cuter, lonelygirl15 definitely showed up more of her body than Boxxy.
How to explain the Boxxy phenomenon? Science may help.
FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE FROM REAGAN
Almost thirty years ago, another unexplained phenomenon took over the world. It was a guy who appeared on screen, and people loved or hated him. With the difference that there were actual world domination plans involved. It was the unexpected rise of a Hollywood actor into the most powerful role in the planet. It was the rise of Ronald Reagan, the so-called “Teflon President”, as none of the many scandals in his administrations stuck to his public image.
And though no academic studies have been conducted about the Boxxy phenomenon (and will not likely be conducted), since the beginning of the Reagan years there has been research on his effect on people.
Despite never winning an Academy Award, several different published research papers showed that Reagan was a good actor. As a politician. Both Democrats and Republicans recognized the non-verbal signals that he expressed as consistent with the message he was convening. That may sound trivial at first, but you would have to consider, even if you like him, that Reagan was probably not always expressing what he actually thought. He was acting.
But if those that loved and those that hated him identified his expressions correctly, the same can’t be said about the emotional reactions to them. Those who supported him joined Reagan in happiness or difficulties. He laughed, they laughed. He forwned, they frowned. Those who didn’t support him were on the other hand emotionally indifferent to his expressions. After all, he could be simply acting. He was a politician.
No big surprise, Reagan was a good communicator, but he was not capable of mind control. Or was he?
You may ask yourself just how those scientific studies managed to measure the emotional reactions to Reagan, and you would find they simply involved subjects answering detailed surveys with what they claimed were their emotional reactions. And you may doubt the accuracy of these results. As the studies themselves recognized the limitations of this approach.
So, the scientists also tried to measure emotional reaction in a more objective way. With methods similar to those of a lie detector – which is not actually a lie detector – they did manage to measure the objective physiological reaction that people had to Reagan. And there was some surprise.
Both those who loved and hated Reagan reacted to him. In a similar way. An angry Reagan increased measurements of excitement, from heart rates to the electrical resistance in the skin. A relaxed Reagan calmed people. A smiling Reagan made people activate just slightly the face muscles associated with a smile. A frowning Reagan made people slightly frown too.
Contrary to the verbal answers in the surveys, where people evaluated their own emotional reactions, these direct physiological measurements didn’t depend on the subject’s previous opinion about Reagan. They only depended on Reagan. At this physical, unconscious level, no one could escape Reagan’s charisma.
To what point such reactions could influence people is not so clear. They are certainly not actually “mind control”, as many other politicians were as expressive and in some aspects even more expressive than Reagan (according to the same research), and yet were less favored in the end. Just as much as Reagan was always expressive, many just reinforced their verbal opinion that he was a phony.
Being a good communicator is not everything. But then, it’s extremely important for a politician. Fact is, even those that disliked and would claim that they were not affected by Reagan’s expressions were actually, at a vey basic level, helplessly empathic to him.
Later studies managed to literally enter our minds as the study of empathy started to rely on even better tools like functional neuroimaging, highlighting mirror neurons and showing that we do naturally, and unconsciously, react to these expressions.
Which brings us back to Boxxy.
A FACE IN CONSTANT MOVEMENT
The three Boxxy videos that millions saw last month have no script, special effects nor any explicit sexual appeal. But they do have some “special” effects, and Boxxy does show a part of her body.
She shows her face, that with some makeup and lighting effects – produced by a dark room and the light from a computer screen – contrasts with the background. Her famous eyeliner also directs attention to her eyes. And though this is all related to contemporary things like webcams, emo fashion and Youtube, and she almost certainly didn’t plan anything, it’s curiously a full circle from another time when screen resolution was terrible.
It was the time of silent movies, almost a century ago. Being the silent cinema, facial expressions were also exaggerated to convey some emotion. Charlie Chaplin also used eyeliner, and he was no emo boy.
Considering the intentionally hard to follow way with which Boxxy talks, we may then finally reach the very obvious conclusion that her success is related to her non-verbal expression.
And it’s a machine gun of expressions, in constant and very quick succession. We didn’t have to travel all the way from Reagan and Chaplin to suggest that Boxxy’s main attraction are her faces, but then, now you can better evaluate how these many faces may be affecting you. Even if you find her annoying.
So it’s probably no coincidence that one of the ways with which she took over 4chan were with “YOU RAGE YOU LOSE” topics, that usually have some irritating content where people who manage to stand for the most time “win”. As we have seen, we all have automatic physiological empathic reactions to expressions. Watching Boxxy without absolutely no emotional response is practically impossible. THE GAME.
Of course, just as those psychological studies into Reagan’s charisma didn’t explain all of his rise and success, these speculations based on them and applied to Boxxy must not be taken as gospel. But I hope they do make some sense and help explain how a happy run-of-the-mill girl became queen of the Internet, if only for a few moments.
– – –
- The Boxxy Story
- Encyclopedia Dramatica (NSFW)
- How Boxxy brought the web to its knees
- The face that launched an online war
- Emotional Contagion
- Attention, Attitude, and Affect in Response to Advertising
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