Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Boxxy for President

120px-Boxxy

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.

Ffruustration_boxxy

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.

 

THE MYSTERY

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.

boxxygirl16

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.

reaganlike

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.

chesterfieldreagan

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.

chaplineyeliner

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.

Boxxy_lonely

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.

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Posted in People,Science | 14 comments

14 Comments so far

  1. Gevã February 23rd, 2009 10:33 am

    I understand, Forg, and i agree with you. But i believe in the strength of channel of boxxy videos: 4chan. Is a place known for yours xiitards users hungry for spend thousands of hours making flames, gifs, photoshop things, hacking and /b/ whatever. If boxxy was exposed only in other places his myriad faces would be overlooked.

  2. Hamletmaschine (Hamletmaschine) February 23rd, 2009 3:53 pm

    How to explain the Boxxy phenomenon? Science may help: http://is.gd/kt85

  3. Don February 24th, 2009 12:23 am

    The science is a way thin to none here on this post. I’ve read better at Bigfoot believer’s sites.

    Seems more like a elaborate setup just to trash Reagan and his plans for “actual world domination”. I don’t quite understand many people’s affection for Clinton or Obama but don’t feel the need to accuse them of some type of subliminal brainwashing. I do have some personal theories that all their supporters are lacking a little in intelligence but knowing the personal emotion and bias involved with politics would be very wary of speculating unless I had some hard data. That way leads to insanity and pseudoscience and is not fitting for your site. Keep the politics out.

  4. Mori February 24th, 2009 2:49 am

    Don, if it looked like I was trashing Reagan, then it was a misunderstanding. None of the research showed Reagan had anything like mind control abilities, and I tried to emphasize at the end that “those psychological studies into Reagan’s charisma didn’t explain all of his rise and success”. He was charismatic, and studies showed one particular, measurable dimension of his charisma, involving non-verbal expression and empathic response. That, per se, is nothing bad in itself. To some degree all presidents are and must be charismatic.

    In any event, this post was indeed just a lot of speculation. But, again, no politics was intended here.

  5. bujiwam February 24th, 2009 7:26 pm

    CANCER!

  6. Don February 24th, 2009 9:22 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. I enjoy your site and think you are doing a great service.

    Still think the “world domination” line threw the post into the political arena and shows a bit of bias. No biggie. We are all biased and as a honest skeptic I have to check myself first. I have seen intelligent skeptical people fall into the same traps of mind that they so strongly try to head off in others, especially in matters of politics and religion, and the post caused me a little concern. No harm, no foul and keep up the great work. Maybe my bias caused my response.

    Politics aside I don’t see the link to Reagan or Chaplin. It’s the internet. A bizarre world with a teenage hormone fueled fad pretty much daily. Tomorrow it might be a cute gerbil. Think you are reaching a little to deep into shallow water.

    By the way. About ten seconds of Boxxy and I was ready to shoot myself. Cute or not.

  7. Craig York February 25th, 2009 2:36 pm

    I suspect that there will be scientific inquiry into the
    “Boxxy Phenomena”, difficult though it might be to quantify.
    And the people who’ll do it will be the advertising industry.
    I didn’t see anything overtly or covertly political in
    the post by the way-just an expoloration of a phenomena.
    Love him or loathe him, Reagan was certainly that.

  8. Anonipotomous February 25th, 2009 5:58 pm

    This was some serious cancer. It’s really too bad that the Scientology raids ruined /b/ and made it so mainstream. Not that it was ever a “sekrit internet clubhouse”, but there was so much less newfaggotry and MSM exposure before that. I guess it was bound to happen with so many obscure raids happening.

    /b/ was never good. RULES 1&2 ARE DEAD, RIP.

    Also, Don is an idiot. It wasn’t about politics you partisan nutbag. Go find another Bush to worship.

  9. […] When we have a “grand unified theory of charima” we’ll be able to figure out roughly how charismatic certain historical figures were relative to their reference audiences. Cognitive psychology has already borne out that we empathize with certain faces, like that of Ronald Reagan’s, whether we like him or not. He smiles, we feel slightly happier. He’s angry, we feel a little ticked. The first major internet meme of 2009, boxxy, also demonstrates how certain faces induce strong empathic effects. […]

  10. antiprivacy (Anti-Privacy) March 27th, 2009 1:57 pm

    Boxxy for President | forgetomori http://tinyurl.com/cxfqdq

  11. Mary July 22nd, 2009 4:37 am

    What, so now conservatives think its a conspiracy when someone mentions Reagan??? Conservatives have turned into such conspira-bots since the election – its unbelievable!

    The post was patently not a partisan one. Perhaps you could try to refrain from exposing your own biases in your own posts.

    If you dont like the supposed “political” content of this website go somewhere else, like townhall.com, and join other like-minded political-conspiracy-bots.

  12. Anonymous August 23rd, 2009 10:34 pm

    Boxxy was a kind of twisted celebration of an attractive girl that conveys the culture bred at 4chan. She uses the same terminology and expressions that are used on the image board. It was easy for her to be idolized.

    Maybe your elaborate theory of subconscious inception to facial expression has some truth, but seriously, it’s not that complicated dude.

  13. J B Crawford September 3rd, 2009 11:02 pm

    I lost.

  14. Bib July 1st, 2010 4:31 am

    “Watching Boxxy without absolutely no emotional response is practically impossible”

    True, after 2 minutes I paused the video as she was boring as hell

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