“blonde or brunette?”
“Fox or monkey?”
“Can you quack?”
“Midget porn, anyone?”
Almost every page on the website has a post gathering a poll on who the hottest freshman, kappa, GDI, professor, asian ’15, or “ginger gay couple” on campus is. There are posts on how to pick up girls, what Greek houses to rush, whether jockstraps are hot. Where’s the best weed on campus? Are they finally serving milkshakes at Late Night? And the most important question of all: “hookup?” Gay hookup?” “Pony hookup?” “Professorial hookup?” “Heil Hitler hookup?”
Bored at Baker is an online forum for Dartmouth students. Posts are anonymous. It’s kind of like bathroom graffiti except more interactive–you can link people to pornographic GIFs, a YouTube video of a cat getting ham thrown on its face, 4chan threads, or pictures of your–or someone else’s– dick. If you want to share something, b@b gives you the power to do so with social immunity. Screen names can be used to build up a profile linked to a “personality” whose posts resonate with a certain character type.
For example: from b@b superstar “beer”: Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy. Or from “Blackout Girl”: It’s not alcoholism until after college. There are almost four hundred personalities on b@b. Like beer and Blackout Girl, their names speak for themselves: Tits, Buzz Killington, Jim Kim, Frat Boi. LonelyAlumnus. Nice Jewish Boy.
Personalities are a good way to rack up points, another feature of b@b. To encourage interaction on the site, you receive points for clicks on links you post, private messages you receive, or the number of “agrees” and “disagrees.” You’re rewarded for certain point benchmarks, like getting the “Heartbeat Badge” which lets you see how many people are currently online. The idea is to get attention; to incite a reaction. There’s an notorious personality on b@b called “Relatively High Expectations Indian Father”, or RHEIF. He posts limericks (“There once was an Indian son / whose homework was quite far from done / Would not it be cool? / to eat at the Jewel? / but, alas, he chose Playstation!” – Limerick No. 2 from “Lost Sonnets”), fathering “tips”, and ironic references to imaginary comedic tours. He’s obnoxious and prolific. Everyone despises him. But he’s winning at b@b.
The forum isn’t a free-for-all. The creator of b@b is Jonathan Pappas, an alumnus of Columbia who goes by the pseudonym Jae Daemon. He has a rules page and a team of volunteer moderators to hold obscenity in line. Hate speech, spamming, and breaking anonymity in any way are “prohibited” though anyone who has been on the site knows that you can’t surf b@b without seeing at least one of the three.
Jae claims that there is a “human eye on everything.” If one of his moderators flag a post, they can take it down, suspend or deactivate the account behind it, or deduct five hundred points as a penalty. But b@b is bloated with content whose baseline of vulgarity is so high that it’s difficult for moderators to make judgment calls on how bad a post is. The “Rules” are closer to a set of guidelines; if a moderator were truly to adhere to them, they would empty more than half of b@b.
I tried to comb the site for what I considered the most vile comments, but found myself becoming desensitized in less than an hour. It wasn’t that I no longer recognized what was inappropriate and what was not; I had trouble comparing the “badness” of one post to another. For instance, how would you compare: sex with a muslim (A) sex with a donkey (D) and The APA hazing article makes me hate blacks, not frats.?
In the end, I chose a few posts at random from my growing archive:
: black people should just go back to Africa
: burn in hell faggot
: I’d never admit it, but deep down I’m bigoted to the point that I would never date/marry a girl who has ever slept with a black guy
: did jew bitches at auschwitz give blowjobs for the protein?
: Female Scumbag Holds forum on sexual assault and rape, denouncing Dartmouth’s “rape culture” and urging people to take back the night. Arrives at supertails early to take shots, black out, and have sex with AD rugby bro.
Jae is oddly serene about the whole thing. The top left corner of b@b has a little peace sign. He calls it a “family.” He describes it as a community that can change the world with a little love and nurture. “It can be lonely out there in the default world,” he writes. “One of us will always be here to listen.”
Jae is the creator of parent site “Boredat.com”, which provides the same service to other elite universities such as Harvard and Columbia. It’s his hobby. He doesn’t collect a profit. On his “Donations” page, he explains that he pays for everything because he wants to give the “concept” the chance it deserves. The concept? Allowing people to speak their mind.
According to server statistics, an average of eight hundred Dartmouth students peruse the site every day, or twenty percent of the undergraduate population. Among Boredat universities, Dartmouth consistently ranks number one, beating out universities with student populations almost double. We’re productive. Over the academic year, we generate about two thousand posts a day in addition to sending more than one hundred private messages.
* * *
: MORE TITZ PLZ
: you guys, I think the asian 16′s might be grimmer than the asian 14s.
: Poll: i’d have sex with a sibling.
: I’ll bring the dick, you bring the nutella
: girls with eating disorders?
: fap n’ nap
: I just want a kinky Mormon wife.
I’m hunkered down in Berry 1. On my right is an embarrassing collection of coffee cups and empty wax envelopes. Evidence that despite my open laptop and squarely arranged notebook and pen, I have done nothing in the past few hours except take study breaks at the library's cafe. There’s a girl in front of me studying what looks to be organic chemistry. Mysterious symbols in blue ink cover her notebook as her hand worries the page. On my left is a guy leaning forward in his gray swivel chair; alert. He suppresses a laugh. Youtube.
Berry 1 hums. Clusters of students are bent over keyboards. A few bury their hands into their hair as they stare intensely into a blank Word document. Another student takes off their boots to get comfortable (it’s going to be a long night) and someone else cracks their knuckles. We’re prepping.
I open up b@b. No matter how many times I’ve been on the site, surfing it in public always makes me feel self-conscious. I even have Facebook open in a tab so I can flip to it when someone walks by. Most people consider b@b to be another sewer in the filthy sin city of the internet. If you’re a heavy user, a denizen, you’re guilty by association. It’s a step up from 4chan, but it’s also more intimately nasty. Ten to fifty posts are reported every day–sometimes as many as a hundred. For every post removed for hate speech, three are taken down for naming names.
I put mine into the search engine. Depending on how obscure you’ve managed to be on Dartmouth’s small campus, what’s written about you most likely isn’t kind, if there’s anything at all. Your worst irrational fears may be confirmed: So that’s what people think. I type in names of friends, shocked when I see: “X is a flaming faggot and wants it up the ass.” In real life, X is slim, polite, and likes to wear sweaters. He could be any preppy kid at Dartmouth. He doesn’t identify with being gay. I wonder if I should tell him. It might alter his everyday interactions, make him think he’s too effeminate.
Most of the posts are impulsive; straight from mind to mouth. I keep flipping through the site:
: situations where its ok for a white person to say “nigga”
: Does having lots of sex make people nicer?
: Are tits tits?
: what is a sex?
: but srsly, would you get weirded out if I asked you to call me daddy in bed?
: gay hookup in the stacks?
: stacks anyone?
“The Stacks” at Dartmouth remind me of an elevator shaft in which someone threw their mammoth book collection. The book shelves look unfinished; skeleton-like. The fluorescent lights are covered in small, hanging flaps of white plastic. Every once in a while, you can hear a distant groaning as another part of the library shifts: rumbling desks, sighing walls. It’s drafty and cold, and the acoustics amplify small sounds like rustling papers, sliding chairs, Velcro straps, and sniffling. It’s where we go to “get things done.”
It’s not sexy, except that it is. Having sex in the Stacks is an erotic fantasy. It’s a tradition. It’s one of the “Dartmouth Seven”, a list of public places to have sex. Most students don’t pull it off.
* * *
: if you give me a back massage, i’ll suck your dick.
: I want you to fuck my nose with your clit.
: any guys down to fuck and then eat ice cream hmu
: make me bleed then cum on me?
: I wish to plow you. Milady.
: Anal sex for fun and profit?
: Gangbang me?
Hookup requests start rolling in after six. Sometimes there’s a few that pop up mid-afternoon or in the morning, but they really start to dominate the b@b board once the sun goes down. Some people are just trolling, others comfortable and business-like (“gay hookup? post sn”), and some are like me. Total newbies with their hearts in their throats, hands clammy with thoughts of “what if.” I’m surprised at myself–it feels as nerve-wracking as a first date. The thought of breaking anonymity on b@b terrifies me. I’m so anxious my teeth are tingling.
“Hookup? F here,” I post and the ensuing replies are full of disbelief. lies says one user. pics please demands another, as if no decent or mediocre looking girl makes booty calls through something like b@b. This site is for desperate people, seemed to be the general consensus. Or gay hookups. Or straight men with an insatiable appetite for sex.
I try again, this time responding to a “straight hookup ” request from a male. We exchange screen names and move our advances from public b@b to private messaging. This is it, I think. People actually do this. I couldn’t believe it was working. I couldn’t believe that in maybe ten minutes, I’d be standing in front of some man I had summoned through b@b’s cyber realm, and that even though we knew nothing about each other–didn’t even have the context of a party–we were about to get intimate. Though it’s quite possible that we wouldn’t be complete strangers. Given the small size of Dartmouth’s student population, stumbling upon an acquaintance or even a friend through a b@b hookup is a real possibility. I chicken out.
I ask a friend what real b@b hookups are like. A year ago, he had hooked up a couple of times through the site, making it past the private messaging phase that I never could. Even my messages had been timid, too demure.
We sit across from each other. He’s wearing a light blue button-down with khakis. It’s rush week. We’re burning time before an event at his house.
“You say, like, your specs,” he says, hesitating. “Which is so fucking evil. I mean, how do you tell somebody to say your specs?”
“I never ask,” he continues. “I’ve never asked. But the person always asks and is like, ‘Describe yourself.’ And you go to describe yourself.”
“Like muscular, skinny. Skinny and fit. Or, you know.” He pauses. “A little more to love…” He laughs. “It’s usually body type.”
I nod. It made sense. Because what else mattered in the dark, really?
Except sometimes other things did matter. I ask him if people ever bail after the “specs” phase.
“This is kind of fucked up but usually when I say I’m black,” he says. “That actually happens.” After reading so many posts on b@b, I can’t say I was shocked.
He sighs. Bored at Baker had ruined the “beauty and mysteriousness” of campus. He wishes he had never gone on the site. “I would’ve been a little more naive than I am now. And that’s a good thing.”
* * *
In an article written by Columbia’s student magazine “Bwog”, Dartmouth’s b@b is described as a “late-night Facebook-alternative…where fraternity gossip and ‘hottest 2016 girl’ power rankings are common.” In contrast, Columbia’s Bored at Butler is a “more humane board dominated by a few power users…who prevail over the anons in enacting their vision of the site.”
Is Columbia’s b@b less profane than Dartmouth’s? I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. I only bring up Bwog’s comment because it suggests that our b@b is distinct. Nudie pics and douchebaggery may be universal when it comes to anonymous online forums, but there is definitely a “Dartmouth” flavor to b@b. There are obvious things, like fraternity and sorority rankings that surface every term, or references to professors, classes, dining halls–things that physically exist on the Dartmouth campus.
Sometimes, beyond the one-post trolls, and the hookups, and the long threads of cyber sex, actual dialogue happens. Like a vicious back-and-forth debate on a familiar Dartmouth topic: sexual assault. That may not surprise you, but the most popular posts might:
A post from personality Orange Keystone for example:
Pardon me for breaking character, but I’d just want to say that the “Speak Out” event that was held tonight has completely changed the way I think about sexual assault on this campus and elsewhere. To the women who shared their stories; thank you. Sincerely. To the Dartmouth community; this shit is serious. We need to collectively treat this issue with more gravity than I have seen from many at this school. To the trolls; maybe reconsider posting that next rape joke. It may be just a little too real for someone..
Or this post from a fraternity brother:
I’ve never heard of a sexual assault in my frat. I’ve had to turn down girls before because I knew they were too drunk. And I fucking hate having to take responsibility for some vague accusations of rape or hazing or alcoholism when I know the vast majority of Dartmouth men are like me.
Or this from an anon:
LOL@ the sexual assault “happening” on sunday morning. Girl gets wasted, fucks dude, then wakes up as he wakes up. Invents some “rape” story and now the whole campus is freaking out. Jesus christ what is wrong with people.
Do they matter? Should those people have a say? Should bigots, racists, rapists and misogynists have a voice?
* * *
: i think it’s safe to say i’ve developed an eating disorder
: Paxil for the depression. I take about ten other meds for other things. I’m sick.
: My room smells like sperm and loneliness.
: what’s on my mind? well i’m having a mental breakdown and slept all day to keep from facing the pain, so yeah theres that.
: i share a drink called loneliness with everyone in frat basements … but its better than drinking alone
: I hope I don’t commit suicide.
The same anonymity that lets us post silly outbursts and hateful bigotry lets us post our despair. Some of us are so desperate and alone that the only audience we have and trust is an anonymous one. Maybe it’s the closest thing we have to screaming into a void. But there is feedback.
don’t do it! i’d miss you! an anon replies to a suicide post. “Pinkie Pie”, a well-known personality on b@b, posts *hug* on multiple depression threads. i’m lonely too OP. we can be lonely together writes another user. Others join in and offer advice: Shit Sucks, doesn’t it? I hope you get better, and if you want to discuss medications, pm me and we can exchange experiences. There’s a link to a psychologist in town and suggestions to visit Dick’s House. Lone voices gathering on a screen.
* * *
As fragmented as b@b is, sometimes, if you’re on there long enough, a weird trend emerges; a mood. The thoughts gain coherence. It’s the id of Dartmouth.
I’ve tried to imagine how b@b would manifest itself in the real world, and I can’t. It’s too loud, too compressed. There’s a reason why it exists in an alternate, digital universe. There’s no place for it out here in the “default world.”
boredatbaker fascinates me. it’s ridiculous and full of lurking trolls and frankly, a waste of time. within the copy-pasted sea of troll-spam, however, i can’t help but feel that this anonymous guise brings out the rawest and most genuine pulse of a lot of the Dartmouth community and all of its mixed-up priorities. the ups and downs and flow of the amassed conversation, with the ability to go from confessions of inner conflicts and loneliness to superficial gossip about who iz da hottest aZn ’12 in 3 seconds, are what keep me reading this absurd campus phenomenon. keep it up, classmates.
Originally published in The Dartmouth Radical, March 2013.