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Why We Love Buttons (Especially the Nut Button)

Yesterday evening, President Donald Trump — our foremost practitioner of shitposting-as-warfare — issued a veiled threat to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un about the size of his … button.

For some people, the “button” brought to mind Trump’s childlike worldview; for others, a clitoris. And for a subset of people who spend too much time online and have had their brains poisoned by memes and irony (me), the tweet also conjured up one of the most enduring online JPEGs of our current age: the Nut Button.

Since its invention (in, I dunno, 1840?) the push button has captivated humanity by allowing the user to perform significant acts with insignificant effort. The big, honkin’ button is a standby in humor, succinctly illustrated by Gary Larson in one of his famous “Far Side” comic strips: a team of technicians sitting at a long industrial workstation full of buttons and dials. Above them sits one large panel containing one enormous button. The caption reads, “One day, Irwin knew, he was just going to have to push that big button.”

The imagery of the big button is compelling, in part because it maps intangible acts onto physical objects. For the white-collar professional — and for many blue-collar factory laborers — pressing buttons is the basic task of work, the fundamental act in exchange for which we receive money. Your computer — an impossibly fast thinking-machine — is used simply by pressing various buttons, both tactile (your keyboard), and more recently, digital (the interface elements in software and on websites).

Indeed, with the advent of touchscreens and smartphones, those digital buttons now dominate our button-pressing activity. The biggest thing to happen to buttons in ages has been the advent of the Like Button. The Like is a button of interaction and connection. It’s a virtual tie to other people and other ideas. Unlike “Send” or “Okay,” the Like offers zero utility except to say, “I see you.”

But “pressing” these Like Buttons — “clicking” them — is not enough. Not even “tapping” the Like Button can express the action. In some cases, when we love something, when our admiration or awe overwhelms us, when a post is truly incredible, we “smash” the Like Button.

The concept of “smashing the like” gained a small cultural foothold in its overlap with #whoup culture. Let’s say it’s 1 a.m. and you can’t sleep. You scroll through Instagram or Twitter, and make a post that effectively asks, “Who else is awake right now?” Or more succinctly, #whoup.

Maybe a friend will message you, or maybe someone will just like your post to note that they’re also up. Soon, #whoup became part of a larger meme culture known as Real N**ga Hours (as in, if you’re asleep late at night, you’re fake), and the primary form of exchange became smashing the Like, emphasized in heavily compressed image macros. Almost instantly, and as is now routine for internet culture, the meme cultivated and influenced by black culture online was co-opted by ironic jokers.

Eventually, the #whoup culture of late night worked its way over to Tumblr, where a user named mariopowertennis posted a stock photo of someone smashing a literal Like Button onto a reblog chain in December of 2015.

As they later recalled, the image soon became known as the Nut Button. In case it wasn’t already clear, there is a substantial aspect of horniness to asking #whoup. Late at night, faces lit up only by the glow of our screens, the thirst awakens not unlike a vampire, retreating at the first sign of daybreak.

Anyway, that’s how we got to the point where a Tumblr user named kuma-kami edited a “smash that like” stock photo into the so-called Nut Button, so they could talk about being aroused by anime.

(The crowdsourced database Know Your Meme points to this as the first documented instance of the Nut Button. While I cannot confirm that myself, relatively low amount of compression and artifacting on the image lead me to conclude that it is certainly one of the earliest.)

So it’s a bit fraught. Still, though, there is something very funny to me about how fast this hand is moving toward the button that will allow this person to nut. Maybe the Nut Button is funny to me, at the beginning of 2018, because it is shameless and unapologetic about peoples’ desires. Social norms dictate that, generally speaking, you don’t talk about nutting; certainly not publicly, and certainly not on social media. But in the year that interacting online lost all of its subtlety, when the president is threatening nuclear war by literally talking about how big his button is, there can be no doubt that we live in Nut Button Country now. Welcome; it’s gonna be a while.


Why We Love Buttons (Especially the Nut Button)