Just a reminder, I’ll be off again next week! (My vacation lined up in a real weird way this year.) Also, this month marks two full years of doing Garbage Day full time and I decided it was finally the right moment to do a reader survey. I’ve been weighing some different options for ~the future~ and I’d love to hear what you think!
Today’s first item is a real fun one. Kassy Cho is an excellent journalist from Taiwan and I asked her if she could give Garbage Day readers a rundown of what the country’s social media chatter was like last week as Nancy Pelosi arrived.
The Aftermath Of Typhoon Pelosi
Last week, US Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest ranking US official to visit Taiwan — which China claims as its territory — in more than 20 years.
As Pelosi took off and people in the West started freaking out about how China might react, Taiwanese people were bracing for a whole other type of disaster in the form of a typhoon. Specifically, a typhoon named “Pelosi”.
The meme reads: “With absolutely no regard for cold pressure from China, Typhoon Pelosi arrives in Taiwan!”
Typhoons are frequent in Taiwan in the summer, and, as more and more people started saying “Pelosi is coming” and tracking her movements with great interest, some people genuinely thought “Pelosi” was the name of a typhoon about to make landfall. It quickly became a meme, with one post titled, “Pelosi is tracking north directly towards Taiwan, will there be a holiday tomorrow?” reaching the top of the popular gossip board on PTT, a Taiwanese discussion forum.
The bottom text in the screenshot reads, “Everyone is very concerned about Pelosi’s movements. Right now everything seems calm, but will the weather change after midnight? Will school and work be canceled tomorrow?”
The Taiwan Alerts Facebook page, a page dedicated to sharing nationwide disaster alerts, then went viral when it shared an announcement that school and classes would continue as usual the next day in spite of Pelosi’s visit.
“Alert: US Speaker Nancy Pelosi is confirmed to land in Taiwan tonight. Work and classes will continue as usual tomorrow,” the page wrote.
In all the excitement and disappointment over classes not being canceled, one Taiwanese celebrity unexpectedly found herself the target of angry Chinese social media users. Singer Hebe Tien from the girl group S.H.E. was accused of being pro-Taiwan because she shared an Instagram story of her eating pasta.
The Facebook post reads: “Hebe shared a photo on social media of her smiling and eating pasta. Pelosi has Italian ancestry and now Chinese social media users are accusing her of ‘getting carried away,’ ‘narcissism,’ and ‘pro-Taiwanese independence’. She probably never though this would happen from eating pasta.”
Poor Hebe probably never thought sharing a photo of her enjoying her lunch would ignite the fury of so many Chinese social media users, who proceeded to flood her Instagram. But she probably also should have known that pasta is Italian, and Pelosi has Italian ancestry, and therefore, eating pasta ahead of Pelosi’s trip most definitely means that she is pro-Taiwanese independence, right?
China proceeded to announce military drills around Taiwan after Pelosi’s departure, and Taiwanese people, instead of panicking and preparing to take shelter, flocked to the coast to see if they could catch a glimpse of the missiles. Some compared it to whale watching. Others called it “Taiwanese people’s idea of romance”.
Threats from China aren’t new, and most Taiwanese people have grown up with it their whole lives. It’s not that we don’t worry; it’s that the constant threat of an attack is something that we have just had to get used to. When our repeated attempts to raise our concerns are disregarded, we turn to memes and jokes. The memes and jokes won’t stop, and probably neither will China’s threats, but as one Taiwanese grandpa who went to welcome Pelosi at the airport put it:
You can check out even more Taiwanese memes about Pelosi’s visit over at the Almost Instagram page.
—by Kassy Cho, founder & editor-in-chief of Almost
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Edinburgh Fringe Vs. TikTok’s Algorithm
I’m up at the Edinburgh Fringe for the entire month of August, producing a handful of shows on the incredible Stamptown Comedy roster. For the unfamiliar, the Fringe is a massive performing arts festival, adjacent to the official and much fancier Edinburgh International Festival which occurs at the same time. It began as a revolt against the main festival in the 1940s, but after spawning stars from Rowan Atkinson to Phoebe Waller-Bridge and, most recently, the hit musical Six, it is a behemoth in its own right, dwarfing the stodgy EIF and acting as a long-standing global mecca of comedy and theater.
This is my second time here — I last did the festival in 2017. I hadn’t graduated from college yet, there wasn’t a pandemic, and TikTok wasn’t a thing. 2022 is the Fringe’s comeback year, returning finally to their pre-pandemic level of attendance, and is sponsored heavily by TikTok. They have outposts up and down the Royal Mile, and are collaborating with venues and production companies to make site-specific content. TikTok also has created a special Fringe section in-app and (I hear tell) is internally boosting content that uses the #EdFringe hashtag.
But it’s a little bit of a weird match, to be honest. Fringe is all about being here, on the ground. It’s like sleep-away camp for adults, basically, or a deranged and boozy boarding school. There’s no algorithm other than word of mouth, plus good old-fashioned PR strategies like paying for fast-talking women to talk you up (fast) to as many journalists and bloggers as they possibly can. (I’ve barely looked at my Twitter feed in days, which is insane, but honestly feels great.)
Then there’s the way that flyering, the analog act of hiring people to hand out bits of cardstock with your face and show information on it to shove forcefully at passersby, still reigns supreme at the Fringe. It seems bizarrely old school, but it kind of just shows the bones of how everything else in the world still actually functions on a more covert level. As Choire Sicha remarked in his review of the Fancy Feast cat-food-for-humans restaurant experience, “People who work in marketing make a lot of money because it actually works.” That’s certainly the case during the Fringe, when thousands of acts are competing for the same diminishing bit of column space. PR is vital. And having to fight for relevance in the deranged Thunderdome that is Edinburgh during the Fringe might not make you a better comedian or performer, but I do get the sense that in any case it’s far less demoralizing than doing endless battle with an impersonal algorithm.
Quite a few of the performers on Stamptown’s roster, as well as in the larger Fringe lineup, found success on TikTok during the pandemic, and are now stepping onstage for the first time with the burden of a massive online audience’s expectations. A lot of the sought-after press coverage from big outlets pivots around this transition, which is understandable from a PR standpoint but frustrating for the comedians, at least the ones I’ve spoken to. But crossing the rubicon of the digital-to-IRL transition is something that performers have been doing for over a decade now. I mean, Bo Burnham won the prestigious Comedy Award at the Fringe back in 2010 after blowing up on YouTube! The post-pandemic TikTok comedy thing is a bit different, but comedians are adaptable animals, and I trust they will manage for the most part to successfully make that jump.
And besides, the best stuff at the Fringe are all the shows it would be absolutely 1000% impossible to recreate online. The other day I watched the 13th edition of a cult show called A Young Man Dressed as a Gorilla Dressed as an Old Man Sits Rocking in a Rocking Chair for 56 Minutes and Then Leaves and it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Take that, algorithm!
Here Comes Tumblr TV
I opened my Tumblr app this morning and discovered a little surprise. It’s called Tumblr TV and it’s, essentially, Tumblr’s version of Instagram Reels or TikTok’s For Your Page, though with one very interesting little variation. It pulls videos from across the app, but also GIFs. If you come across a GIFset, it shows each GIF one at a time as a carousel you can scroll through horizontally.
My main takeaway is how features like this can feel different based on the user base they’re rolled out to. For instance, TikTok’s For Your Page is so addicting because its users have been trained over several years to create content at a certain level of quality. A lot of this is thanks to TikTok’s initial acquisition of Musical.ly, which populated the app with a lot of young people ready to perform. But it has also invested a lot in tools that make creating good videos very easy. Conversely, Instagram has forced its Reels product onto a user base that has been trained for a decade to take photos. Also, as I’ve written about before, across all of Meta’s apps, its creators are locked in a maddening battle against the company’s algorithms. Which would explain why so much Facebook Watch and Instagram Reels content is absolute garbage — to the point people hate share it on TikTok.
Tumblr, though, is an interesting case. Its users tend to have a blurred distinction between creating content and curating it. It’s common to come across a GIFset made for a TV show that is both an iterative work and also so expertly done that it feels like art in its own right. Same with the site’s fan art and fan fiction. So, at least as of this morning, most of the videos I came across on Tumblr TV were from somewhere else — TikToks, Twitter videos, Twitch clips. But I kind of liked it?
We’re completely awash at the moment with artificial intelligences somewhat mindlessly and brutally forcing user generated content at us. And what’s annoying is every new feature being rolled out is in service of these A.I. So Tumblr TV provides a glimpse of what a For You Page would look like if it was run by hyperfixated Tumblr weirdos. And the result was that Tumblr TV was kind of boring and confusing and I jumped out of it after seeing too much content about the musical Hades Town, but I kind of liked that I didn’t get sucked into a weird content vortex. I saw some stuff. Reblogged some videos and went on with my day. Which I think is the way it should be.
“Link In Bio Is A Slow Knife”
Glitch CEO Anil Dash had a great take on this whole thing, tweeting a link to a post of his from 2019 where he wrote, “Have you ever been on Instagram and seen the phrase, ‘Link in Bio’? Did you ever think about it? Maybe it was a strategy to undermine the web itself, a technique of control over the actions a billion users. Maybe?”
Not maybe. I’d say definitely.
I Love This Guy’s YouTube Channel
Admittedly, this video is laser-targeted to my interests, but I also think it could be fun for a lot of people. Charles Cornell is a jazz pianist and he regularly uses his channel to analyze the music theory behind different theme songs and video games.
A recent video of his I loved was a response to another super viral YouTube video, one by a creator named Animyze that blew up last year that argued that all anime theme songs (for the most part) use the same musical chord progression. So Cornell tried it out live. What’s super fun about his videos is watching him, usually in real time, working through the songs with his piano and geeking out about it. Cornell’s videos honestly feel more like a science channel than a music channel.
A Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
If you haven’t yet read about the big record collector YouTube drama, please do
P.S. here’s another good Garfield Tumblr post.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
i'm assuming "tumblr tv" is also its own section that you choose to enter. if instagram insisted on reels but it was its own section i would be fine with it. also i always hated so much that instagram never allowed links in posts or comments (seriously how stupid is this??) and there's still too many internet-ignorant folx on ig who do not understand how to find the "link in bio" which is its own frustrating garbage pile of comments. but now...you're right, i'm thinking about it more/on a different level. wild.
loved the pelosi/taiwan writeup.
anyways BIG SHOUTOUT TO WISHBONE! my little sister loved this show. and it's good that my parents waited over a decade to have another kid so that i could enjoy it with her. very pleased also that the top reply for me was a shoutout to ghostwriter, my fave. (and i would like at this time to give hat tips to both mathnet and mathman.)
I liked kassy's part quite informative and humorous. And Allegra's section was quite insightful about something I wouldn't have known about in the comedy world unless I followed the career of flea bag lady and Blackadder