The Backrooms and Cursed Images

Fig 1. (Post 2661164, 2019)

The above image was posted on a 4Chan board back in 2019, in an imageboard about “cursed images.” 4Chan only consists of anonymous users, so there is no way to trace who exactly posted these things, but another user replied with a chilling quote.

“If you’re not careful and noclip out of reality in the wrong areas, you’ll end up in the Backrooms, where it’s nothing but the stink we of old moist carpet, the madness of mono-yellow, the endless background noise of fluorescent lights at maximum hum-buzz, and approximately six hundred million square miles of randomly segmented empty rooms to be trapped in.

God save you if you hear something wandering around nearby, because it sure as hell has heard you.” -Anonymous (Post 22662718, 2019)

Thus began the Internet’s spiral of creating related stories, art, and even short films on YouTube with millions of views. The Backrooms became a modern myth that preys on fears we all relate to: loneliness, being lost, and wet socks. However, what is truly scary about the backrooms is that⁠ it is just barely fictional. We’ve all been in a building just like the picture, and yet it has this uncanny valley type effect, where⁠—even without any added text⁠—something feels both strangely familiar and completely off. The architecture we observe has no purpose, the office was obviously built by people and yet there is nothing and no one there. The picture shows us that the walls are constructed in a way that makes no sense, and yet there are uniformly laid out, harsh fluorescent lights. You can almost hear the buzz. There is nothing to be afraid of, and yet it invokes fear. Curtis Newbold on The Visual Communication Guy talks about how visual rhetoric persuades you. Everything in this image bizarrely persuades you that you have been here, and that you’ve never seen this place in your entire life (Newbold 2014).

We are shown from Renee Sandell that analysis of art consists of Form, Theme, and Context (Sandell 2006). I chose this photo because by nature, this photo was never meant to be art, and was not created with the context in which it was posted in mind. This is usually the case with Internet artifacts like these, and it creates a wonderfully exciting, if a little confusing origin. You cannot trace who took the original image, who posted it first, or who commented on it. Yet the image itself invokes such an intense disturbed, unsettled emotion in everyone who sees it, that users have collectively created hundreds, if not thousands of works based on the one image.

Newbold, Curtis. “What is Visual Rhetoric?” The Visual Communication Guy, Newbold 

Communication and Design, 13 Feb. 2014, 

Post 2661164, 12 May 2019, 

Post 22662718, 12 May 2019, 

Sandell, Renee. (2006). Form + Theme + Context: Balancing Considerations for Meaningful Art 

Learning. Art Education. 59. 10.1080/00043125.2006.11651576.

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