In the mid-2000s, one of the most notorious videos in internet history was uploaded: a minute-long clip of two women shitting into a cup, eating it, and then vomiting on each other.
That video, Two Girls One Cup, could have stayed hidden in its corner of the internet forever, viewed only by a specific kink or fetish audience. Instead, John Mayer spoofed it with comedian Sherrod Small. Family Guy referenced it. Though they existed before, the reaction video phenomenon was popularized because of it.
More than 12 years later, it’s still the most famous shock site of all time, the gold standard for what kind of disgusting content you can find—and share—on the web.
But it wasn’t the first. Two Girls One Cup was just the biggest in a long line of shock sites and shock content that found their way beyond niche communities to the surface of the internet and popular culture at large. From pictures of a giant gaping anus, orange juice enemas, and videos of a man having sex with a horse, the shock site has been with the internet for almost its entire lifespan. To talk about shock sites is to talk about the internet, understanding how the latter couldn’t exist in its modern form without the former.
And they’re far from a relic of the past. Shock site creators, meme historians, and psychologists say they’ve reshaped pop culture, defined the modern era of the internet, and informed how we use it today.
Just Like The Movies
In 1981, Ruggero Deodato stood trial for the murder of five people—including the impalement of one. The murders were filmed; he’d made a snuff film. Or so the courts said.
The world didn’t know what to do with Deodato’s 1980 pseudo-documentary Cannibal Holocaust. In it, a four-person film crew goes missing while making a documentary about cannibal tribes in the Amazonian rainforest, and New York University sends a search crew after them. When they recover the crew’s footage, they discover they’d tormented the tribe, forcing the indigenous people to defend themselves. What follows is an onslaught of scenes featuring rape, mutilation, animal cruelty, and graphic sex.
Aside from six animals that were actually killed, no human actors were murdered in Cannibal Holocaust. But it all looked too real for 1980s filmgoers, forcing the director to appear in an Italian court proving he hadn’t actually killed anyone on screen. It didn’t help matters that the actors in question were contractually obligated not to appear in other media for a year after Cannibal Holocaust’s release, giving the movie a false air of authenticity. Once he proved they were all still alive, he was acquitted of the murder charges, though not the obscenity charges.
Made in response to what Deodato (who died in December 2022) perceived as journalists helping stage real death and murder for entertainment, even by 2023 standards, Cannibal Holocaust is shockingly brutal and unflinchingly cruel, cementing itself as one of the most controversial films of all time, and being banned in countries all over the globe. It’s also popular. In the 2003 documentary In The Jungle: The Making of Cannibal Holocaust, Deodato claims that within its first 10 days of release, before its initial seizure, it made the equivalent of $8 million dollars today. It’s also received numerous home releases and re-releases over the years. It’s since gone on to influence many popular horror directors, and helped create the found footage genre, paving the way for films like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity.
Before the internet, people relied on cinemas for their fix of the taboo, violent, and repulsive. Cannibal Holocaust stands out as one of the most famous examples due to its legacy and legal disputes, but it’s just one of many disturbing or disgusting films people flocked to see in theaters or bought on VHS before the internet age. Many of these films, perhaps simply because of their infamy, became as successful as they were shocking.
Within six months of its release, the 1972 pornographic film Deep Throat, famous for its depictions of, well, deep throating by actress Linda Boreman, made $3.2 million (roughly $22 million adjusted for inflation) in the United States back on its $25,000 budget. It was also slapped with obscenity charges. The Exorcist reportedly made numerous filmgoers faint or vomit when it hit theaters in 1974—but in 2010, it was selected by the National Library of Congress for its National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Hideshi Hino’s 1985 Japanese torture film Guinea Pig 2: Flowers of Flesh and Blood, where a man in a samurai costume slowly dismembers a drugged woman, spooked Charlie Sheen so badly that he reported it to the FBI, which briefly investigated its authenticity. It has since gone on to be a major cult classic in extreme cinema circles outside of Japan, and the now-out-of-print American release of the series by Unearthed Films goes for hundreds of dollars online.
And then there was Faces of Death. Released in 1978, director and writer John Alan Schwartz interspersed real footage of gory accidents, slaughterhouses, and mortuaries alongside staged violent and disturbing footage, leaving it up to viewers to decide what was fake and what was real. Like the aforementioned films, Faces of Death was immensely popular, making a reported $35 million at the box office and spawning four sequels and two compilation films. The movie has been banned in multiple countries, including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
Before you could just search online for footage of people dying and watch thousands of hours, you had to go out and actually see Faces of Death at a theater or know someone with a copy on VHS. You had to dare yourself to sit through 104 minutes of violence and gore. And judging by how much money the film made, people did just that, creating a small cottage industry in the process. Faces of Death spawned a host of copycat series, such as Traces of Death, Banned From Television (directed by Joe Francis, of Girls Gone Wild fame), and the particularly gruesome Japanese film Rare: A Dead Person, among many others.
The shocking films of the 1970s and 1980s and the shock sites of the internet that would eventually succeed them had something more than sex and gore in common: they’ve both been immensely popular. People wanted to see people die, be tortured, and have graphic, taboo sex long before the invention of the internet. But less obvious, perhaps, is the legal woes many of these films faced. You can’t really just put out a movie without attaching your name, your crew’s name, or the names of your cast to it. There’s not really anonymity when it comes to the cinema. When these films came out, they were often taken to task by puritanicals or people who found their content too extreme.
With the internet, however, you can say, do, or view whatever you want anonymously—within reason, there are certainly cases of shock sites causing social outrage or legal issues for their creators. But with shocking films being as popular as they were (and still are), once the internet made its way into the world, it’s no surprise that things only got more extreme and repulsive.
Shock sites’ proliferation can, in large part, be traced back to Rotten.com.
Speaking to Salon in 2001, the site’s founder, who went publicly by the pseudonym “Soylent,” said he originally started the website in 1996 because he liked the name, publishing some “joke pictures” on it. Despite its humble founding, Rotten quickly found an audience, thanks in no small part to shock-jock radio host Howard Stern. In April 1997, Stern talked about the website on his show, calling it “pretty good,” and looking at various celebrity autopsy photos posted on Rotten, including Marylin Monroe’s and John F. Kennedy’s. On its press page, Rotten used to boast that the appearance on the Howard Stern Show raised traffic from “4,500 people a day to 50,000.”
“…when you’re exploring, you sometimes gravitate towards the more intense, the more emotionally affecting in whatever direction.”
Rotten became a shock aggregator site, publishing tons of content, such as images of severed limbs and elephantiasis of the testicles. When it published alleged photos of Princess Diana’s corpse, it became a destination site for those interested in the macabre, as well as those on the other side of the coin pleading to have it either shut down or censored from children. Soon, Soylent’s joke site became, as he seemed to see it, a bastion for free speech on the internet. “Rotten dot com serves as a beacon to demonstrate that censorship of the Internet is impractical, unethical, and wrong,” the site once said.
“If you watch the Discovery Channel or the Learning Channel, you see pictures of dead bodies, cadavers of famous people,” Soylent told Salon, later claiming those very same stations contacted him “regularly” asking if they can use his photo library. “Horrors are sprinkled throughout life, and I see no problem with concentrating them. If you want, we could go down to the bookstores and find pictures of cadavers for you—it’s very easy. It’s not possible to write a law to make it impossible to display that stuff, even for minors. It’s too much of a slippery slope to take.”
At the end of the site’s run, by Jensen’s estimate, it’d cataloged “probably 50 or 60,000 sites,” adding upwards of 10 to 20 new sites a day. In 2015, Jensen wrote about his life running Portal of Evil for Intelligencer, musing over the fact he could pay his Manhattan rent at the time by reposting the worst the internet had to offer.
“It was sort of the resource for that kind of material, I think, in the early 2000s,” Jensen told me over the phone.
Needless to say, Jensen’s seen it all when it comes to shock sites. He thinks people sought this stuff out primarily because of the nature of the early internet: users were relatively isolated, be that socially or geographically, and used the internet to explore their hobbies or seek out new experiences.
“A lot of it was very exploratory,” he said, “and when you’re exploring, you sometimes gravitate towards the more intense, the more emotionally affecting in whatever direction.”
We take it for granted now, but 15 to 20 years ago, using the internet to talk to people around the world about your shared interests wasn’t just novel; it was revolutionary. Those isolated people Jensen talks about, for perhaps the first time, now had a plethora of others to speak with, thanks to the internet. They now had people they could share experiences with—even if those experiences were highly upsetting.
“In the early days of sharing and discussing [on the internet], it was something that you could get an emotional reaction from somebody else with, too,” Jensen said. “You could share this intense emotional experience very readily.”
And it’s hard to think of a more emotionally affecting image than Goatse.
Cracking The Internet
Skinny, with a gentle face and unremarkable facial hair, Kirk Johnson, a practitioner of extreme anal stretching, bent himself over and spread his very-wide anus open with both hands. A picture was taken. An internet legend was born.
According to Gawker (which publicized Johnson’s identity in 2012), Goatse first surfaced on the internet around 1997 as a picture in a folder simply labeled “Gap.zip.” The collection of 40 images, all of Johnson, was originally passed around in the internet gay porn community via email, FTP, and message boards such as Usenet. But when a hacker group known as the “Hick crew,” a group, according to Gawker, of “teenage hackers, programmers, pranksters, and internet fanatics, mostly men,” got ahold of it, Johnson’s anus became famous.
The Hick crew used the image to prank each other and “their enemies,” such as Christian chat forums, which the group spammed with Goatse until all other users left the chatroom. They kept their weaponized picture stored in an unlabeled directory owned by Hick member Matthew Miller. Seeing this as a non-ideal way to store the image, a “hacker and Hick associate” going under the username Merl1n registered the domain Goatse.cx in 1999, a web page set up for more easily distributing Johnson’s photo by making it a shareable link.
Whether Merl1n knew it or not, the hacker had just made internet history.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, the Goatse website became a massively popular prank. Send the seemingly-innocent URL to an unassuming friend—or an enemy, stranger, whoever—and wait for them to react in horror, seeing, probably for the first time, the human anus stretched far beyond what one would think should be possible.
It’s the prank potential of Goatse, according to Know Your Meme editor-in-chief Don Caldwell, that helped shock content proliferate on the internet. Compared to similarly shocking media, such as the Faces of Death films, something like Goatse came as a surprise to a lot of viewers. You can’t be tricked into watching an entire movie. But pranksters could easily trick people into seeing Johnson’s work, spreading it quickly around the internet with what appeared to be an innocuous link.
“With a shock site, it was Rick Rolling in a way,” Caldwell told me in a phone call. “A lot of times Goatse circulated by people sending a link that people didn’t know what the link was, and then they click it and then all the sudden they’re hit with an image that they were not expecting.”
“The other thing is I think they burn themselves into people’s memories, which makes them also successful as memes and [led to their] proliferation,” he said. “People don’t forget them because they are taken off guard. They’re pranked with it, and it just burns itself into their memory in ways that other things that you see on the internet just kind of get lost.”
In December 2000, an image showed up on Rotten.com under the title “Feco Japanese I Really Think So.” It’s an image Jensen said was the grossest thing he’d ever seen on the internet: an image known now as TubGirl.
Tubgirl, like Goatse, hits you at once. A woman lies in a tub, her legs pulled behind her head, a fountain of fluid (often considered an orange juice enema) flying from her anus into the air, then arching back into her own face. Unlike Goatse, Tubgirl’s identity largely remains a mystery, and there’s no verifiable information about the history of the photo. But her rise to internet fame shares a similar path as Johnson’s.
Rotten was TubGirl’s first home, and then in February 2002, someone anonymously registered the domain TubGirl.com. Like the Goatse image, hiding TubGirl behind an innocent-looking domain name made it the perfect prank fodder, easily spread to unsuspecting viewers.
Soon, shock content was all over the internet. Goatse and Tubgirl became legendary pranks of Web 1.0. In 2001, Rotten was getting more than 200,000 hits a day; it was Soylent’s full-time job. Stile Project reportedly brought in 500,000 hits a day. In 2000, it won a Webby Award.
It seems ironic, considering a lot of these pictures and videos were ostensibly intended only to be seen by small kink or fetish communities, that sites featuring extreme content such as coprophilia (a fetish for consuming feces) and gore would find such large audiences. But the internet made shock content easily accessible. Compared to other mediums—like film or television—the internet proved to be relatively lawless with the kind of content you could show and find. Plus, it was free, and people were ready to eat it up.
“A lot of them were created by hobbyists; obviously, they were created by just randos or whatever, just doing whatever. And then they transcended that by whatever visceral power they mustered.”
Shock’s rise to popularity happened before social media completely took over, and before the daily cycle of information on the web moved faster than anyone could hope to keep up with. That may have meant a shocking image or video took longer to spread, but it also meant it didn’t immediately vanish from the public consciousness in a week like many memes do today.
“The way that things can explode across the internet now just isn’t how the internet worked back then. There was kind of a slow build-up of it,” Caldwell said. “I think that might have kept them going on for longer, so a longer tail.”
In Jensen’s opinion, shock sites helped transform the early internet from something “anodyne and purely informational” into something that elicited strong reactions from people. They “cracked the internet,” he said.
“And now that’s the whole game,” Jensen added. “It’s all about getting those reactions. But back then, that wasn’t really that big of a thing. It wasn’t really about making something shareable or making something that was so impactful—it was hobbyist. Shock sites, I think, were one of those transitional moments away from the hobbyist internet. A lot of them were created by hobbyists; obviously, they were created by just randos or whatever, just doing whatever. And then they transcended that by whatever visceral power they mustered.”
The popularity of shock sites would continue to rise over the coming years. And with the stage set by Goatse, Rotten, and TubGirl, they were about to have their big break, thanks to Brazilian director Marco Antônio Fiorito.
The video starts innocently enough: two women kiss and grope each other. Hervé Roy’s “Lover’s Theme” plays in the background.
But then it happens. One of the women spreads her ass, unleashing a large mound of thick feces into a cup. What follows is just around a minute of the two women eating the feces and vomiting into each other’s mouths. If you listened, you could almost hear the entire internet scream in horror.
That video, “Two Girls One Cup,” changed everything. It took shock sites to the mainstream.
Two Girls One Cup is a brief clip from the Brazilian scat film Hungry Bitches, directed by Fiorito and produced by MFX Media. Around 2005 or 2006, the clip made the rounds on the forum Offtopic, and on August 12, 2007, the domain 2girls1cup.com was bought. Allegedly taking ownership of that site was the forum user Cojones, who bought the domain to have an easier way to pass the video around, bringing on user Thomor25 to help out with servers and Parker Ruhstaller, a web-designer and then-frequent user of Offtopic, to briefly help with the website’s design.
“Essentially, it was to have one place where you could go to find it because all these temporary hosting solutions would expire, and then you’d have to re-upload it and look for a new hosting service that wasn’t going to be going down with the amount of traffic being sent to it,” Ruhstaller told me.
Cojones and Thomor25 did not respond to interview requests for this piece.
According to a Reddit AMA with the person who claims to have created the titular website (who’s since deleted their profile) and uploaded screenshots they embedded in their post, within a month of the site going live, between August 12 and September 12, 2007, it got more than 400,000 visits. The next month nearly 2 million visits, and 5 million the month after. By this point, John Mayer had filmed his spoof with Sherrod Small, and the reaction video phenomenon had gone into full force. One person notably left out of the Two Girls One Cup phenomenon is Fiorito himself, who, ostensibly like many people who created the original content, was not responsible or compensated for their work being spread as far as it eventually was. “We were always kind of wondering, like, ‘Oh, is this guy gonna sue us for putting this video up of his?'” Ruhstaller said. However, in the past, Fiorito has claimed that “money is not the main reason that I make these films.”
At its peak, Two Girls One Cup got 11.5 million hits in one month. Throughout the six months the creator owned the site, it got nearly 32 million hits and nearly 43 million pageviews before they sold it for an unspecified “six-figure” amount. According to data provided in the Reddit AMA, The average time spent on the site clocked in at one minute and two seconds, meaning most visitors were sitting and stomaching the entire 1-minute-long video. It was even parodied by singer John Mayer, who eats frozen yogurt in a video titled “Two Guys, One Cup.” Esquire showed it to George Clooney, who apparently ran out of the room in disgust before watching his PR handler also see it.
“In the beginning, you’re like, ‘Holy shit. John Mayer went to the site that I designed,” Ruhstaller, who stopped working on the site before it was sold, said. “But then at a certain point, you’re just kind of like—you’re almost numb to it. You’re like, ‘Oh, okay, another person.’ I mean, I’m sure the same thing happens with famous people. You know, at a certain point, you get numb to all the attention and stuff. You’re just kind of like, ‘Oh, okay, yeah.’ You expect it. But in the beginning, for sure, I was like, ‘Wow, this is hilarious, but like, awesome. And really, really weird.'”
Know Your Meme has tracked shock sites over the years, and as Caldwell tells it, a huge element of Two Girls One Cup’s virality was the birth of reaction videos on YouTube. Users could upload a video of themselves or their friends reacting—almost always in horror—to the video, and in some cases, this led to thousands, if not millions, of views. It became an internet trend and meme itself, reaching so far that Family Guy spoofed it in 2008. It also gave people a safe-for-work way of interacting with shocking content, leading to curiosity about what, exactly, the people in the YouTube videos were watching.
“The reaction videos of [Two Girls One Cup] on YouTube is something that you can get away with playing anywhere,” Caldwell says. “And then also it would spark curiosity, like, ‘Why are they reacting so disgusted? What are they watching?’ Or, people that have already been exposed to the video are able to have this empathetic [reaction], like, ‘Oh, they’re feeling what I felt when I saw this. I know that feeling.'”
According to a video by Stanford computer science major Cary Huang breaking down the popularity of memes between 2004 and 2019, combining data from Google Trends and view counts from Know Your Meme, shock content consistently dominated the internet in the 2000s. Between 2004, the furthest Google Trends data goes back, and 2006, TubGirl and Goatse often rank in the top five spots—and frequently top three or number one spots. Unsurprisingly, once Two Girls One Cup hit the scene, it was at home at the top of the list. Other shock sites such as Lemon Party, a photo of an elderly gay orgy; Meat Spin, a gif of a penis spinning in circles while riding another penis; BME Pain Olympics, a fake video of two men removing their genitals with a meat cleaver; and Mr. Hands, a video of a man having anal sex with a full-grown horse (which allegedly resulted in the man’s death due to acute peritonitis from a perforated colon) also make several appearances.
Fascination with the disgusting isn’t a unique concept. Blood sports have been around since ancient times, and 20,000 people reportedly attended the last state-sanctioned public hanging in America in 1936. Humans have always been intrigued by the violent, disgusting, or macabre, and shock sites might just be the next evolution of that fact.
“Yeah, that’s the real paradox with disgust in particular,” Nina Strohminger (who also talked with Jensen for his 2015 piece about running a shock site), an Assistant Professor of Legal Studies & Business Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and the author of the paper “Disgust Talked About” told me over the phone. “Because disgust does have a dual kind of nature, where it’s not just that it’s negative or unpleasant. It really seems to have this strong behavioral reaction where you want to kind of avoid it, just sort of jump away from it, not look at it, not smell it, whatever. And yet, it seems to also be compelling.”
In her paper, Strohminger writes about the theory of benign masochism, or the “enjoyment of negative sensations for their own sake.” There are two different theories that try to explain benign masochism, she found. One is that once the fear of danger has been removed from a negative sensation, what’s left is the “thrill of novelty or sensation.” The second theory is that these sensations are gratifying because they give us a sense of mastery over our environments. Strohminger told me that while this doesn’t necessarily explain why people are interested in shock sites, taken at its most basic level, it does say “there is a phenomenon by which we enjoy feeling bad in various ways,” she said.
“And by the way, this isn’t limited to disgust; it applies to lots of negative emotions and other specific experiences,” Strohminger told me. “There are people who enjoy being scared or sad from going on a roller coaster or reading a sad novel or going to a tearjerker sort of movie, and you would then put the feeling of disgust as just one other example of what appears to be more a general purpose phenomenon. So that’s one way to understand what’s going on.”
The problem with using benign masochism as an explanation though, Strohminger said, is that it continuously pushes back the question of exactly why we’re interested in disgust, which isn’t something science necessarily has a conclusive answer for yet.
“There’s a few ways you can approach this,” she said. “One is you could say, ‘Well listen, any sort of sensation is gonna be more interesting than nothing at all.’ So, an emotion like disgust is gonna [have] high arousal.”
But consider you’re in the room with TubGirl. Given the amount of human excrement you two would be sharing that space with, there is a pathogen risk. The human body’s natural defenses against illness might stop you from thinking, I want to sit here and watch this.
“But if you’re just watching a video, you know on an intellectual level that even though you’re having this emotional response, you’re perfectly safe. This is all just pixels on a screen,” Strohminger said. “Once you strip away the cognitive dimension of disgust or some of these negative emotions, the ones that say ‘Hey, there’s actually a danger here,’ then it just sort of becomes fun and interesting.”
Of course, people are going to have different thresholds for what levels of a negative experience they can tolerate. “Like, I can handle a dirty joke of a certain level of dirtiness, but someone else might have a different threshold,” Strohminger said.
Two Girls One Cup remains a staple of pop culture to this day. In 2017 it was spoofed by Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter, used to market a cupcake maker in 2013, and was referenced on the first episode of Inside Amy Schumer. But it was also one of the last of its kind. Since its debut 12 years ago, no singular shock image or video has managed to eclipse the cultural phenomenon of Two Girls One Cup. But by no means is the shock site dead. Just as they grew up with the internet, shock sites have evolved with it. And instead of being relegated to their own websites, shock as a genre is everywhere now—even if you don’t always immediately see it.
More Popular Than Ever
In 2023, there are, of course, porn sites dedicated to mostly shocking content, still bringing in millions of curious visitors to their web pages, such as Efukt, which started in 2006. One of its earliest claims to fame was hosting the 1 Guy 1 Jar video (called 1 Guy 1 Cup on Efukt), in which a guy inserts a glass jar into his ass, which then breaks, forcing him to pull out the bloody shards. That video, uploaded on December 4, 2008, currently has more than 10 million views.
Scanning over the homepage at the time of writing, it’s clear the website receives an astounding amount of traffic. Altogether, the 25 videos hosted on just the front page, published between November 21, 2022, and February 13, 2023, have 29,187,254 views. Curiously, none of the thumbnails are all that explicit compared to something like Pornhub, and at least a few are actually safe for work. The most viewed video on the site, according to Duran, the site’s current editor, who spoke to me over email, is called “Dad! I Don’t Want To Fuck You!,” in which porn actress Marsha May has sex with her fictional father. As of writing, it has over 17.4 million views. But, Duran adds, earlier view counts have been lost or reset over the years. “I think the head-in-vagina video might be the true most viewed,” he said.
As for the site’s overall success, Duran told me, “When i started i was sleeping on a futon at my grandma’s, now I own a small house in palm beach.”
Shock sites are still alive and well. That much is clear just by looking at the numbers. But shock content has found its way into all corners of the internet, and how we consume that content has completely changed in a few fundamental ways.
One of the biggest changes is where it’s found: everywhere. There are subreddits and forums dedicated to the gross and bizarre with active communities. Anonymous, controversial imageboard sites 4Chan and 8Chan specialize in shock content. Crime scene clean-up units have their own Instagram accounts where they post, well, pictures of crime scenes to hundreds of thousands of followers. WorldStarHipHop regularly puts out compilations of people fighting, sometimes featuring some, including teenagers, beaten into having seizures. The New Zealand mosque shooting flooded Twitter timelines, exposing unsuspecting users to footage of mass murder. Thanks to TikTok, TubGirl has seen a massive boost in popularity, at least based on Google Trends data. Since 2021, the photo has appeared in “Don’t Google” TikTok videos—some of which received millions of views. Google searches for TubGirl have hit an all-time high by an astronomical margin, though other shock content, such as Two Girls One Cup and Goatse, haven’t received the same attention.
Though not extreme, there’s also the entire reaction video industry. Originally brought to prominence by Two Girls One Cup before becoming a trend in and of itself, watching people react to any number of things—movie trailers, political speeches, and even different reaction videos—is now a mainstay of modern internet culture. The next time you watch old people react to Gen Z slang, you can thank Fiorito, who just wanted to make fetish films with the help of his wife.
This has also happened in a few key areas. One of the more obvious is the rise in true crime. As it’s become more mainstream, YouTube channels, such as DireTrip, have begun releasing videos that describe heinous crimes in what they call “complete detail.” In the case of their Junko Furuta video, which has more than 1.5 million views, they graphically describe the brutal torture, rape, and murder of the 17-year-old Japanese schoolgirl over the course of her 40-day-long captivity at the hands of several classmates. While covering Tsutomu Miyazaki, or “The Otaku Murderer,” as he’s often called, who sexually assaulted and murdered four girls between the ages 4 and 7, popular Japan-based vlogger Akidearest wore a fake mustache and detective’s outfit while describing the crimes, “in great detail,” and in between traveling to the real-world locations where his murders took place. The video has more than 1.6 million views. (As a side note, Miyazaki’s crimes were tied to the aforementioned Guinea Pig film series. One of the films was found in his home, causing a brief police investigation into the authenticity of the movies.)
Another area where YouTube shock content flourishes coincides with the recent increased interest in underground and extreme cinema. Now, entire YouTube channels exist that either review, react, or offer in-depth breakdowns of the most extreme the movie world has to offer. It’s more than easy to find dozens of YouTubers describing and reacting to vomit porn, such as Lucifer Valentine’s Vomit Gore trilogy, or literal torture porn films, such as Tamakichi Anaru’s Tumbling Doll of Flesh, in which a porn performer is tortured and dismembered during sex, and actual death footage, such as the aforementioned Rare: A Dead Person.
Entire channels are now dedicated to describing and watching real gore videos—with large audiences. One of the bigger names is the YouTuber Plagued Moth, who covers gore videos, shock content, and broader internet and influencer culture. They’ve made a name for themselves talking about some of the most extreme and obscure videos on the internet. Notably, they also show blurred versions of the videos on YouTube, obfuscating what’s happening on-camera but not muting the sounds of the torture and murder videos they’re talking about. Similarly, the YouTuber Disturbed Reality covers South American cartel execution videos, talking about the circumstances that led up to the on-screen death, who the person dying was, and then, of course, what happened in the video. Largely more lighthearted, popular YouTuber Whang! has an entire channel dedicated to, among other gross stories and topics, covering classic shock sites, going over their history, content, and legacy.
One thing many of these content creators and website hosts who peddle in reposting or reenacting true-life content have in common is that they’re profiting—whether at the box office or through website advertising, or subscribers on YouTube—on the exploitation of other people’s realities. By definition, the business of shock sites is exploitative: Goatse likely never saw a dime from his asshole becoming a global, decades-enduring meme sensation, and the people depicted in cartel execution videos and true-crime analyses certainly didn’t.
Spend just a few minutes watching this kind of content on YouTube or TikTok, and the sites will algorithmically start serving you more and more. Subscribe to specific subreddits, and you can get served a constant slew of shocking content every single day. Log on to Twitter or Facebook at the wrong time, and you might be unexpectedly confronted with any manner of awful or disgusting footage going viral at that moment. Shock is everywhere.
The Shock Goes On
There might not be any singular shock image or video as popular as Goatse, TubGirl, or Two Girls One Cup ever again, but by now, shock content has just become a part of our daily lives and our daily habits on the internet.
And as such, what it takes to truly shock people has changed drastically compared to the early 2000s. Duran offers a similar sentiment, saying these days, watching someone eat feces or “getting killed with a hammer” just doesn’t have the same impact as it might have a decade ago. For better or for worse, people who grew up on the internet have seen it all. Sure, people aren’t attending public beheadings anymore, but how many times can you watch someone defecate or be knocked out before it completely loses its punch? Spend 10 to 20 years growing up with that kind of content, and it’s going to take a lot to get an internet user to squirm.
However, the shock site legacy has less to do with any single video or picture’s content and more to do with the culture they’ve created. Like the movies that came before them, the shock site is just the next in a long line of ways people share their emotions, world views, and finds across the world. They’re changing how we interact with the internet every day. And they’re doing it one nasty image at a time.
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