If you spot a Chiver, he’s probably wearing Bill Murray’s face on a t-shirt, or the phrase “Keep Calm and Chive On” somewhere on his body or social media profile. Likely he has a "KCCO" phone case, towel, beer cozy, or bumper sticker. Chive gear is how Chivers—and Chivettes, their female counterparts—identify each other in the wild.
The Chive, if you don't know it, is bigger than NPR, Salon, Jezebel, or The Onion (no relation). It received more than 8 million global unique visitors in June, according to Quantcast—more than 9 million by internal numbers. The Chive is, on its face, a collection of funny pictures culled from around the web. There are also plenty of photos of half-naked women, photo galleries of animals making dumb faces and people horrifically crashing their BMX bikes. Recurring features have names like FLBP (future lower back pain), Hump Day, Burnsday (that's burn your bra Thursday), and Frisky Friday. Needless to say, the website’s taste is bro-ish and sophomoric. According to the site’s analytics, 3 out of 4 Chive users are male, and most are between the ages of 18 and 34. Fittingly, then, the site's offerings for advertisers include not just display advertising but the ability to take hoaxes "viral" and run pre-roll against the videos. (See: "Donald Trump's $10,000 tip" and the infamous "Girl Quits Job By Dry-Erase Board.")
The Chivettes section gets pride of place on the website. Most of these pictures seem self-submitted; Twitter is full of them, as well. (#ChivettesBoredAtWork is a thing now.) On-site, "There Are Sexy Chivers Among Us (112 Photos)" is a typical headline. See also: "An arched back is such a grand and glorious curve (33 Photos)." This sometimes gets uncomfortable. "#94 is absolutely beautiful. I would love to see more of this chivette," commented Sol Jeff on a post of Chivettes. "She and I are going to have some gorgeous children," replied Ctrain. "thats the same thing i said about your mom but look how you turned out…" said yza.
Sometimes a line is crossed. "If you’re going to call yourself a Chiver you should have more respect for the Chivettes around you," one woman recently shared.
— Can O'Peas✨ (@keymasterbacon) May 25, 2013
A few weeks prior, she posted a photo of herself in her underwear.
By plugging into a grown-up non-Ivy college dude mindset, the Chive has crafted the perfect fantasy: everyone here likes girls, funny pictures, drinking, charity, and you. The basis of this community isn’t a common interest so much as a common lifestyle: the Chive has taken an already extant personality type and given it a home with a brand. In the matrix of online communities, they’re somewhere between Redditors who like to go outside and juggalos who don't wear complicated get-ups.
But the Chive is bigger than the sum of its manboy parts. The Chive has an unparalleled, cult-like following. Fans wish the #ChiveNation goodnight on Twitter, and tell their drunk stories with #ChiveWknd. #Chivettes post naked photos so #ChiveNation can #ChivetteCrush on them. But even beyond the boob pictures and bored tweets, there are glimmers of sincerity and trust—and a strong culture of charity.
— iChive (@Fsu_ChiveAF) March 13, 2013
— I Am On Vacation! (@bedepp) May 11, 2013
Though Chivers advocate RAKs (random acts of kindness) for each other, less random acts were firmly institutionalized in the Chive mentality with the creation of Chive Charities, a 501(c)(3), in 2012. (The nonprofit status is still pending.) The site claims a new sort of charity form, one which basically seems to be the definition of crowdfunding:
Chive Charities is changing the Charitable-giving paradigm. Rather than using the cause to raise awareness for the individual, we will help the individual raise awareness for the cause. Chive Charities allows you to support a cause and know exactly where each dollar of your support goes. 100% of funds raised for specific campaigns go directly to supporting those campaigns.
Though the structure is basically a non-profit version of Kickstarter, the tactics are different: Chive Charities is funded almost exclusively by Chive users. (Imagine if Kickstarter had its own social network it could reliably count on to fund all or most of its projects—and all of those projects were helping sick children, veterans, firefighters and mass shooting victims. In March, The Chive was the lead sponsor for the annual Murray Bros. Caddyshack Charity Golf Tournament.) Because the Chive identity is based, in part, on an involvement in charity and a desire to “pay it forward,” Chive Charities doesn’t have to do much to get people to donate, and enourages members to take part in one of four levels of monthly recurring donations.
The Chive’s founders, brothers Leo and John Resig, have so effectively branded a certain kind of lifestyle and identity that the membership, from giving to submitting, does most of the work itself. (Leo Resig declined to comment for this article, though he said he was a “big fan” of The Awl.) They live in Venice, California, and the site's name, by the way, is apparently a contraction of Chicago and Venice; the Resigs were born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They have other interests as well: John Resig is a recurring minor character on "True Blood." Their sisters, Emily and Megan, are the editors of the sister site the Berry, which "gives ladies a much needed one-stop destination to peruse hot male celebs, funny photos, daily gossip, fashion, viral videos and adorable animals," and features an "eye candy" section of dudes in the same space where The Chive features its Chivettes. The Berry gets a bit more than 10% of the traffic of The Chive, according to Quantcast. The company's other sub-sites, The Throttle—pictures of hot cars—and The Brigade—tagline "In 'Merica We Trust," with lots of photos of guns, tanks and uniforms—skew even more male, about 80%, and are about the same size as the Berry.
Chive users have created Facebook groups based on location, and unofficial meet-ups are happening in your area more likely than not (outside the U.S., they’ve happened in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, France, Scotland, Ireland, England, Canada, and Puerto Rico). Some meet-ups are essentially family-friendly, taking place in parks; others tend to promise an abundance of drinks and depravity.
The Baltimore meet-up I crashed recently seemed to fit the bill: wasted people, shirtless people, costumed people, and KCCO as far as the eye could see. (I was actually greeted with "Chive On.")
There were Chivettes dancing on poles, shirts nearly or totally removed. The event page had mentioned a motorboating station (where the money goes to charity, of course), but I didn't see anything so official.
A couple standing in the corner doesn’t seem too concerned about the Chive’s soft porn. “It’s all for fun,” Ryan Sasscer told me. He was seconded by his girlfriend, Kelly Janoskie. A reserved pair, Ryan and Kelly are mainly into the Chive for the charity aspect (Kelly, in particular, is really excited that the night’s event is benefitting the local SPCA). Another woman I spoke with—who had driven up with her husband from Charleston, West Virginia—was also pretty indifferent about the many pictures of girls on the Chive. “I mean, if that’s what they want to do, more power to ’em,” she said. “It’s not something I would do, but it doesn’t bother me.”
I was not spared the attention. Almost every dude I spoke with at the meet-up told me to drink more. A man at the bar insisted I looked upset, and told me to smile. As he got up to walk away, he leaned over and whispered, in near ecstasy, “Be happy. All things are good tonight.” A few minutes later, walking past a group of men, I was handed a card: “Hello, I just wanted to inform you that I find you to be very attractive. Thank you and have a nice day.” (These cards are available in packs of 25 at the Chivery). To their credit, the men at the meet-up observed some limits, which is more than I can say about some other men in other bars (maybe because they thought that women expected them to be objectifying and rude, so they had to try extra hard not to be?).
I zeroed in on a group of three that didn't appear to be overly intoxicated or predatory. It became clear that the girl of the threesome was blackout drunk; the two dudes started interviewing me instead about the Chive. (“Oh, someone doesn’t like being interviewed,” one said.) The guys had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned the charity aspect of the meet-up, but, as one explained, “if I can drink and it goes to the SPCA, well….” They were here because a few days ago one of their friends showed them some Chivette photos and invited them to the party. I’m reminded of what someone else—the other half of the Charleston, Virginia couple—told me: “They don’t care about the SPCA. I mean, they do… but they care about hanging out together.”
Yet the Chive’s charity component is a well-functioning machine. The auction that night would bring in thousands more dollars for the SPCA. The pole-dancing tables that were previously covered in girls were replaced by the meet-up’s organizers—Katie
Kuerig Krueger, Zack Rexine, and Dane Wittig—who auctioned off Chive T-shirts for around $100 each.
Chivers, for one reason or another, think of themselves as outsiders. In Twitter posts, comment sections, and in remarks from fans at the meet-up, a feeling of otherness is pervasive. “The Chive is just a way of life for the greatest community of hooligans, misfits, and sexy creatures to ever assemble," as one piece of Chive propaganda describes it.
— KCCO INDY (@KCCO_INDY) June 1, 2013
But misfits of what? Especially for Baltimore, there were few people of color at the meet-up; based on the site's and user's photos, the Chive is largely white, middle-class, heterosexual, pro-America and male. Chivers and Chivettes compose one of the most normative groups in America, and yet constantly describe feeling like outsiders, misfits, and people who “just don’t care,” as one Chiver told me. It's an expression reminiscent of Fight Club, the desire for an all-inclusive largely male group that rejects the values of larger society—in this case, maybe, maturity and political correctness.
A large part of this kind of misfit feeling comes from a sense of rejection by the opposite sex; that’s part of what makes the whole cult so attractive. A big part of the fantasy is that real live girls, girls who like the Chive just like you do, send you—well, the Chive—raunchy photos of themselves, totally free and by their own will. And best of all, it’s not really porn, and it’s right in there next to cat photos and fun facts about science. It's “just fun": the photos (and their perusal) are shed of the stigma that normal porn receives. And, in some ways, maybe these photos are better than regular porn. This is the aesthetic that amateur porn chases: selfies in the bathroom mirror, private sexts and videos, and the eroticism of willingness that you don’t get when you know the woman in the video is being paid. These girls, the fantasy goes, want to fuck you because you’re a Chiver. For no other reason than the fact that you like funny videos, girls, drinking, and being a good person, all these girls are (theoretically) yours. Add in some immature humor, good deeds, and cute puppy faces, and the Chive is a great place to be for some people.
At the auction, I got fixated on the drama, excitement, and intoxication of the scene. I heard the Chiver next to me stir: “Can you help me with this?” He was having a hard time fastening his glow bracelet. I helped him and prepared myself to deflect some come-ons. Instead we ended up having a long and detailed conversation about the death of journalism, where investigative news is heading, and how to fix breaking news. Every so often he paused and apologized for being so drunk—he hadn’t expected to have an intellectual conversation. Neither had I. After a while, the pounding music and endless screaming over which we had to communicate got to be too much; I said a swift goodbye and wove my way through the crowd, sure he wouldn’t remember our conversation in the morning.
Jordan Larson is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied
Enlgish English. She is now based in Washington, D.C. You can follow her on Twitter if you want.