The Year Ahead
Internet culture writing has come a really long way in the last decade. There is now at least one person at most major American media outlets who is writing about memes, influencers, misinformation, and/or conspiracy theories. And a lot of the writers doing this work are women, which is great, considering the position used to be one almost-exclusively held by deeply unpleasant white men in their late-20s. These weird “meme experts” would screech all day about trends and viral videos, furious that they weren’t being given credit simply for seeing something first. I used to bump into these guys at open bar networking events a lot and I was always surprised by how little they seemed to actually like being online. Every reference, every new discovery, seemed to produce a weird exasperation. As if it was somehow noble to be upset by the content you consume online.
I don’t ever want Garbage Day to feel that way and I hope it doesn’t! I like the internet and I find even the bad parts fascinating. And I don’t find anything particularly compelling about sitting around all day talking about how the web is bad. We all contribute to it, by who we follow and what we post. If you aren’t having fun online and have the privilege to do something about it and do not, then that’s on you.
My favorite thing about the internet is its flexibility. Creative projects can be any size and shape you want them to be. A Korean webtoon can create 141 perfectly-paced chapters and end there. Meanwhile, an American stick figure comic about math can expand outwardly for decades and encompass almost all of the lived human experience. A guy singing showtunes on Vine can become a cinematic universe. A blog about the physics of being marooned on Mars can become a book and major motion picture. An Earth, Wind, And Fire meme can become a yearly event.
This kind of creative weirdness, I believe, is in danger and should be protected. Digital advertising and corporate social platforms promise fame and fortune and endless connectivity, but they are effectively pyramid schemes. Modern digital publishers, the descendants of exciting and vibrant and unique blogs, are forced to swim in the wake of these huge social networks, feeding on their scraps, and generating identical content, hoping their version of the viral tweet write up is the one that gets placed inside the algorithmically generated trending topic. Individual creators fare no better. Young, visually identical, white (but tanned) influencers dance and prank and vlog from barely-furnished California McMansions. Some will achieve enough viral escape velocity to start businesses or break into the actual entertainment industry. Most will not, churning out video content until they have nervous breakdowns and quietly retire.
I did not expect email newsletters to be a life raft for digital expression, but, at least right now, they are.
This particular newsletter started as a lunch break goof, but is now, effectively, my main job. I feel extremely lucky about this. Garbage Day is not nearly as popular — or profitable — as some other Substack publications, but its growth is steady and consistent enough that I’m rolling with it. I don’t know where it will take me, but I’m curious! I want to treat it like a real business and see what it can do. I’m exploring some merch ideas, looking into the logistics of a Discord channel, have talked briefly about sponsorships, and begun thinking about what Garbage Day would look like as a Twitch show or a YouTube series. Yes, money is good, it helps me stay alive and pays off my student loan debt, but more than that, I’m interested in seeing what Garbage Day can become. If anyone reading this has ideas or wants to help, shoot me an email! Obligatory plug for subscriptions:
I’m always hesitant about big proclamations. I prefer slow iterative evolution. And I can’t pretend that I know where 2021 will take me. After the emotional rollercoaster ride of 2020, it would be utterly ludicrous to assume anything about the future. But I am comfortable making two promises about Garbage Day:
First, the Friday email of weird, interesting, and sometimes horrifying internet content that arrives in your inbox around lunch time will always be free and I will stuff it with links until I hit the email size limit. That’s how this newsletter began and that will never change.
Second, I will be as transparent as I possibly can about any changes that happen to Garbage Day in 2021. I have lots of ideas about how to keep building this crazy thing and I’m excited about them and I consider you, the readers, as investors or my clients. I want you to know what those subscription fees are going towards!
Thank you all, truly, for reading.
Alright, here’s some garbage.
New Turtle Dropped
Unraveling The Short YouTube Video Mystery
On Wednesday, I wrote about the weird spammy videos show up on people’s YouTube homepages. They’re all under 30 seconds long and instruct users to do basic comment challenges, like “comments will all be RickRoll links.”
At the end of my item about these videos, I wrote, “The fact that comments seem to be outweighing watch time when it comes to YouTube’s promotional widgets is definitely surprising and seems rife for more sophisticated manipulation.” And I concluded that there must be something up with YouTube’s algorithm. But I wasn’t sure what!
A very smart Garbage Day reader named Drew pointed out something really interesting that I hadn’t considered. YouTube has been doing a bunch of work behind the scenes to get users to watch their TikTok-like short-form video product, Shorts. A, uh, Shorts shortcut(?) was even added to the homepage of the YouTube mobile app. I think it’s a safe bet that the Shorts rollout is what is causing this influx of very short videos appearing everywhere.
I am going to assume this isn’t the kind of short videos that YouTube wants its users to consume. Let me know if any of you have seen similarly weird short videos appearing around the site.
Good Song Alert
Cool Bird Livestream
Looking for a good livestream of geese, chickens, and ducks? Check out the fantastically named Ryan’s Goslings. I came across this thanks to the r/InternetIsBeautiful subreddit. And yes, sometimes the birds wear costumes.
Here’s Another Good Tweet
A 2020 Bad Posts Quiz
This was very interesting! It was posted by u/Hecuba to the r/InternetDrama subreddit this week. I had totally missed the podcaster wife fajita drama and the leftist charcuterie discourse.
This quiz actually includes a piece of content I’ve been trying to figure out a good way to address in Garbage Day — the resurgence of trans Thomas Jefferson in a Hatsune Miku binder. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, congrats, you’re a functional adult.
The TL;DR on this is that in 2017, a Tumblr user named umbronydraws drew a bunch of fan art depicting the founding fathers as Gen Z college students. I, of course, blame Hamilton for this. The Tumblr user decided to depict Thomas Jefferson as a trans man who was obsessed with anime and sold drugs. Not the point here, but if Thomas Jefferson was a modern college student he would absolutely be a predatory philosophy major who would corner you at a party and explain why selling coke was actually totally punk.
Anyways, trans Thomas Jefferson has bounced around a bunch this year. This is mainly because the original artist behind the piece, umbronydraws, came out against the Defund The Police movement. Which, honestly, I did not have on my 2020 bingo card. Click here to see a totally cursed drawing of Ben Shapiro done in the same style.
Gucci Is On Roblox Now
A few years ago, my friend Brian Feldman wrote a very smart piece about how Fortnite was essentially the Instagram of video games. He argued that the self-expressive aspect, more than the actual gameplay, was actually what made the game such a hit:
In this way, social platforms with bright, sunny aesthetics that constantly add a rotating and growing set of features that keep users coming back, building up a platform-specific identity, provide better points of comparison than other video-game shooters. Fortnite is a candy-colored video game populated by friends and celebrities, with quantified metrics for success tucked into every corner, constantly updated, highly social, usable anywhere, dopamine-releasing, and extremely competitive. In other words, the way to think about Fortnite isn’t Halo, but Instagram. Not Call of Duty, but Snapchat. What’s the difference between racking up kills and racking up likes?
Brian wrote that two years ago, but I think he nailed it. Just take a look at what Gucci is doing on Roblox, a Minecraft-esque open world game platform.
My millennial instincts had me ready to assume that Roblox players would think that buying Gucci-branded virtual outfits would be incredibly stupid. And, judging from this discussion happening on the Roblox subreddit, there definitely are some who do. But virtual fashion drops happening inside of video games aren’t going away.
I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the future of virtual commodities and the placeless-ness they offer us. I wrote a bit about it for The Morning News’ The Year That Was And Wasn’t this week. I don’t think all of the in-game replacements for irl events that popped up this year due to COVID are going away once the pandemic is over. The future is going to be more remote and I think it’s going to get a lot weirder than Gucci Roblox fashion.
The Pulp Fiction Screenwriter Discovers Anime
This story happened in 2019, but I only found out about it this week and I’m honestly furious none of you flagged this up! It’s literally the perfect Garbage Day story. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Last November, a Letterboxd user named Gala Avary wrote a review of an anime movie called KonoSuba: God’s Blessing On This Wonderful World! Legend Of Crimson. I actually haven’t watched any KonoSuba, but I follow some accounts on Tumblr that like it. From what I understand, the anime is a fun and goofy story about a guy who gets transported to a fantasy world and then goes on a bunch of adventures. These kinds of anime are called Isekai by the way. If you want to watch a really brutal and good one, I recommend Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World. I’ve only seen the first season though. Can’t vouch for the second.
Anyways, Letterboxd user Gala Avary, in her review, wrote that her dad really liked the movie too.
Well, here’s the thing. Gala Avary is the daughter of Richard Avary. Richard Avary is the screenwriter of Pulp Fiction. He also directed one of my favorite movies, Rules Of Attraction (very good James Van Der Beek performance).
But wait, there’s more! Last year, a Twitter user discovered this Letterboxd review and shared a screenshot.
And Richard Avary replied!
For what it’s worth though, I’ve seen four anime films in a theater — Pokémon: The First Movie, Digimon: The movie, Your Name, and Promare and I cried during all four. So maybe it’s just a theatrical anime thing!
A Historian’s Take On Conspiracy Theories
I lurk in a bunch of the ask-an-academic subreddits. And I’ve become very fascinated recently with r/AskAnthropology. Some of the history subreddits are better than others. r/AskHistorians is the strictest in terms of what you can ask and how it can be answered. And r/AskHistory is a little more free-wheeling.
Nevertheless, I liked this thread about Lincoln assassination conspiracy theories. It touches on some questions I’ve been asking myself recently about the state of the internet and why it seems like Americans, in particular, have become completely warped by conspiracy theories.
Of all the comments, I thought this one was the most interesting:
For all we know, there might have been thousands of conspiracy theories about Lincoln's assassination that were never written down. Because they weren't written down, we have no way of tracing them (like we don't know about any of the other ancient Greek epic poems like the Iliad and the Odyssey that were told but not captured in writing). JFK was killed during a time of cheap printing. The ease of distribution of information says a lot about how firmly conspiracy theories can spread--QAnon probably wouldn't have the same spread if it wasn't so easy to post on the Internet.
In addition, at the time of JFK's assassination, there was already a lot of conspiracy theories in the air due to paranoia about the Soviet Union and the Cold War threat.
And Lastly, This Tweet Made Me Weirdly Emotional
It was sent me by Amber and I love it.
P.S. here’s a good Twitter thread about Donkey Kong.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***