“Acceptable” norms of consumption
Read to the end for a troubling Jeremy Fragrance update
When TikTok Cringe Collides With Fandom Cringe
Alas, I am stooping to a new low; I am writing a column about TikTok drama. But in my defense, it’s drama that I feel a deep personal connection to.
Here’s how it goes: Sapphire, a 19-year-old singer from England, wrote a song about Stranger Things heartthrob Eddie Munson, and ended up releasing it on Spotify, where it racked up half a million plays, and even got some playlisting. That’s pretty cool, and I wish it was the whole story. Buuuut…
What is mainly and sadly notable about the song is the sheer volume of backlash it received, to the degree that the YouTube comments are currently filled with statements like “this song was not needed lmfao” and “This would actually be an awesome song w different lyric.” The sound has been used nearly 60,000 times on TikTok, most of which are straightforwardly mocking the song, wishing it had never been written, or (most commonly) fully muting the sound and making an unrelated video in an effort to hack the algorithm.
To Sapphire’s credit, it doesn’t seem like the insane amount of bullying has affected her (at least publicly). She released a follow-up song about another Stranger Things character a month later; then she turned off comments on all the TikToks related to both songs, didn’t make any response videos to the haters, and is now mainly posting original music.
Good for her — but I can say with the deepest sincerity that if anything remotely like that had happened to me when I was posting my heartfelt reams of fan music as a teenager, I would literally have had a breakdown and never picked up a guitar again. Instead, from age 14 to 17 I was heartened and encouraged by the enthusiastic responses that my songs received from fellow fans, and to this day if I get into a new fandom I make it a point to record and upload at least one song about it, just for old time’s sake.
Fan music has a long and storied history. In the mid-20th century, congruent with the increase in attendance at science fiction and fantasy cons and gatherings, fans began to gather and perform sci-fi-themed folk songs, which eventually became codified into a genre known as “filk.” Filk songs, many of which featured new lyrics set to classic or well-known tunes, were recorded and traded on cassettes, but it was largely an in-person group activity, influenced by the traditions of the folk revival.
Fan music in the 21st century is not nearly as cohesive nor as well-documented as the filk subculture, though. There was a transitional period in the 2000s, as indicated by a fan studies scholar asking the question “Is Wizard Rock filk?” regarding the Wrock scene and its constituent bands such as Harry and the Potters [Ed. Note: My high school ska band opened for them once! Nice guys.] but by the time I began making my own fan music, I don’t think I ever heard the word “filk” until I began researching fan history much later. Fan musicians in the 2010s (in my experience) divided themselves mostly by individual fandoms: There was Trock (Time Lord Rock) for Doctor Who songs, and Homestuck fansong genres were entire universes unto themselves, from Broadwaystuck to Tindeck.
All of this is to say… what interests me about the Sapphire incident, upon reflection, is that it doesn’t seem like she was creating the song as a mode of participation in a larger fandom. Which isn’t to say the song itself isn’t fannish, but it’s not as if her account was Stranger Things or fandom-themed at all, before or after. If the same song had been released by someone with “fangirl” well-defined as their brand already (and an audience of the same), instead of a normie blonde aspiring singer, would the backlash have been so intense? And surely there is a bit of projection happening: is this what I sound like when I talk about how much I enjoyed this show? Oh, God.
Without any proof whatsoever, I do think that was a major factor in the context collapse that happened here. You can blame TikTok’s algorithm in general, of course, for exposing the song to people who Just Don’t Get It. But also, importantly: comments on Sapphire’s song like (for example) “We have AO3 so you don’t have to do things like this” make me think about how as fandom mainstreams, there is an increasing desire from within to see fan behavior circumscribed to certain “acceptable” norms of consumption and participation.
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The UK Is Fine
Liz Truss, the former prime minister of the UK, has stepped down, making her the shortest-lived prime minister in the country’s history — including Hugh Grant’s fictional Love Actually prime minister. She was ultimately defeated by a lettuce (and, of course, her terrible economic policies). British tabloid The Daily Star started livestreaming a head of lettuce last week, asking which would last longer, Truss or the lettuce. And, last night, the lettuce was projected on to the walls of parliament.
Good stuff, very normal place to live.
But Britain’s Channel 4 I think really outdid everyone else, when they literally aired a montage of Liz Truss set to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” which feels like a fever dream.
We talked about the ongoing political crisis in the UK this week on my podcast The Content Mines if you’re looking for more about all of this. You can check that out here:
Thinking About Life After Twitter
The Washington Post reported this week that Elon Musk plans to severely cut Twitter’s workforce by up to 75% if and when he finally purchases the social network. Now, it’s of course worth taking everything Musk says about Twitter with a massive grain of salt, but the report has led many to start wondering what it might be like when Twitter finally becomes completely unusable. “Devastating for the trust & safety of the platform,” Kate Klonick, a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, correctly surmized.
And social media analyst Matt Navarra offered up an interesting thought experiment, asking, “If Twitter died tomorrow, which social platform would you flip to?” Which I want to try and answer.
While we don’t have a ton of examples of how social networks actually die. Of the ones we can point to, like Myspace, Friendster, LiveJournal, and Vine, there is a general pattern to how it typically plays out. Usually there are shakeups that happen within the company’s C-suite, which usually seems to line up with controversial changes made to the platform’s UX. And that general disarray usually causes users to start leaving. And those migrations of users happen in two ways. Either wholesale over to a competing platform or they scatter into the digital void.
So the question is where would people go without Twitter? I don’t see any platforms well-established enough to collect Twitter refugees all at once, but as Twitter has diversified what kind of content that can be shared there, so too has it opened itself up to being replaced. So, I don’t think it would be a Myspace-to-Facebook or Digg-to-Reddit situation, but instead something closer to when Vine stars found new homes on YouTube, Instagram, and Musical.ly (which then became TikTok). My hunch is many writers would move to Substack or equivalent services. While Twitter’s creatives would probably move fully over to TikTok and Instagram. And those looking to network would go to LinkedIn (cringe but ok). But what’s interesting about all of this is that, historically, the exact features of a dead platform never really come back.
The private and professional mixed culture of Twitter, where anyone can quickly log on, post a piece of content, read or react to a few others, and leave — that’s likely not going to come back if Twitter does die off. Just in the same way that the exact alchemy that made Myspace a success never came back somewhere else. Which, considering what the last 15 years of Twitter have been like, might be the best for everyone.
An Incredible Super Power
There’s An A.I. That Can Finally Replace The Hustle Bros
Ali Abdaal is a popular YouTuber who makes a lot of content about productivity culture. His videos are part of an aesthetic I’m going to call iPadcore, which is a bunch of men in extremely pleasantly-lit, but impossibly sterile and clean rooms handling Apple products, mechanical keyboards, and bullet journals while they list various cloud-based organizational apps they use to run multiple income streams. I find this pocket of YouTube extremely calming to watch because my life is a disaster.
Anyways, last week, Abdaal tweeted out a thread about productivity, which went over “15 actionable tips” to be productive and not get burnt out. Pretty standard stuff.
Abdaal revealed yesterday, however, that his thread, which was viewed over a million times, was partially written by an A.I. In yesterday’s thread, he explained that he used Lex, an A.I. developed by the newsletter collective Every. It’s meant to work as a brainstorming tool and uses GPT-3 to suggest lines when you get stuck.
Lex not only was able to fill in lines for specific tips that Abdaal asked it to write out, but it also then started suggesting its own tips to go in the thread. The A.I. hilariously suggested a “no-internet day”.
Meet The Heely Pro
Heely Pro, just as the name suggests, is a TikTok account where a guy does crazy stuff with Heelies, those shoes with the wheels in them. Here’s a Tumblr mirror of a video where, I think, he makes a pair of Heelies that shoot fireworks.
A Blue’s Clues Mystery Answered
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(Here’s a Twitter mirror for folks in non-TikTok regions.)
Some Stray Links
“Burned Out on Your Personal Brand” (I’m not. I love my personal brand.)
P.S. here’s a troubling Jeremy Fragrance update.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***