All eyes on Tumblr

Read to the end for a good thread about jellyfish

The Continuing Viral Power Of Goncharov

Ryan wrote about Goncharov, Tumblr’s fever-dream Scorsese movie, in Monday’s newsletter, but since then there’s been an absolute explosion in press coverage — it went from Polygon all the way to the Guardian and the goddamn paper of record. (Also, before we get into it, disclosure: in addition to being Tumblr’s biggest fan I also freelance there.)

But why? Why has this meme in particular captured the attention of an audience outside the bounds of the dashboard? I mean, Tumblr churns out platform-wide participatory memes all year round which barely get a look in edgewise from the gen pop. 2022 alone has seen the vocabulary takeover of “blorbo from my shows” and the iconic Live Slug Reaction, to say nothing of the GOUGAR

Unquestionably, it has more than a little bit to do with the “all eyes on Tumblr” energy of the past few weeks due to the ongoing Twitter meltdown; simply put, more journalists are paying attention to the site than before. But also, Goncharov is pretty damn impressive on its own. It’s as if knowing they were being observed, Tumblr decided to put on their best show, one that demonstrated at full force its best features as a platform. I mean, that’s not really what happened, but it’s a fantastic coincidence even so. 

Despite, or perhaps in spite of, observations that the Goncharov created by the hive mind really shows all the marks of its communal creators never having actually watched a real Scorsese movie, it is a perfect canon. The kernelsprite of the original silly shoe label was prototyped by the successive additions of the “this idiot hasn’t seen goncharov” post and then finally the poster by @beelzeebub, which provided the necessary names and faces as fuel for what followed: including over half a thousand fics on Archive Of Our Own. 

Goncharov is, and don’t cringe at this, really pure. Like a classic fairytale, it shows off the power of communal enthusiasm to make something genuinely moving out of almost nothing — in this case, a silly shoe. Scorsese works beautifully as its symbolic centerpiece: his crusade against superhero movies makes him the perfect figurehead for such an anti-commercial communal phenomenon. While Marvel fandom of course still has a strong presence on Tumblr, the site’s heyday as a center of franchise consumption is perhaps in the rearview mirror. This year, the platform obsessed over the Dracula Daily Substack and, when it was over, prepared to read Moby Dick in the form of Whale Weekly as a hotbed of contrarian classicists it has never been healthier. 

Tumblr is a platform that has an incredibly strong identity and thrives on the continual re-evaluation and analysis of that identity, so of course Goncharovposting was followed by a spate of meta-Goncharovposting that analyzed the reasons and mechanics behind the meme behind the movie. A salient observation was posted by mrv3000, who argued that the phenomenon could be seen as a response to larger pop-cultural trends: “By media companies making The Story more and more exclusive and inaccessible to more and more people, fandom will turn to things in the public domain or even make up their own Story in order to have fun where anyone can join in.” 

If there were to be a center of a growing movement away from the pablum of binge-watching and towards something far more strange, of course it would be Tumblr, a true Library of Babel of our time. It’s Borgesian, it’s Nabokovian, it’s Calvinian. but most importantly it’s Goncharovian. 

Happy Black Friday! If you don’t know, there’s an Internet Garbage Store. And I’ve got a new design up there today from artist Chris Bishop. A few readers said they loved the “carefree weekend vibe” tagline I’ve been using on the new Garbage Day weekend edition, so I had Chris whip me up a chill weekend ghost for a new T-shirt. You can use the code TWTTRSOVR to get anything on the store for 15% off until Tuesday. You can pick that up here.

Don’t feel like buying a shirt, but want to support Garbage Day? Think about subscribing! You get Discord access and the weekend edition. Hit the green button below.

Let’s Dive Deeper Into Facebook’s New Widely Viewed Content Report

This week on my podcast The Content Mines we went through all the links in Facebook’s new Widely Viewed Content Report. If you’re looking for more Facebook weirdness head over there and have a listen. We also do a catchup on Musk Twitter drama and run through the complexities of World Cup viral content.

Welcome To The Libertarian Social Web

The best way to view what Elon Musk and his weird, sad friends are doing to Twitter right now is a sort of large-scale libertarian dismantling of it. They want to bring back once-banned accounts and remove any sort of guardrails or moderation in name of free speech. And, just like how this plays out irl, far-right extremists are taking this opportunity to target journalists and activists, hoping to kick them off the platform. Well-known antifascist Chad Loder was suspended already along with a handful of other antifascist accounts. And right-wing Telegram accounts have created a list of 5,000 other Twitter accounts targeted for a large-scale mass reporting campaign. Though, I don’t think this mass reporting project will work because 5,000 accounts is just way too many to try and focus on.

Like that town that elected a bunch of libertarians and was then overrun by bears, the foolish desire of having a completely unmoderated public space means that lots of average users will fall through the cracks. At this point, you should assume if you lose access to your account for whatever reason, that’s it. Game over. It’s not an accident that Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton is talking to Musk right now about enabling “freedom” by giving users the “tools” to moderate Twitter as they see fit. These guys want to turn Twitter into New Hampshire.

On Thanksgiving, Musk tweeted that users should tweet at him personally if they see exploitative content involving minors on the site. Which is an outrageously stupid idea and one that could only come from a man so desperate to dogwhistle right-wingers obsessed with anti-LGBTQ “groomer” rhetoric right now that he forgot that child sexual exploitation material is basically the number one issue for user generated content platforms and it is assuredly increasing on Twitter right now. And, making things worse, Twitter is really the only mainstream social app left on the iOS App Store that’s allowed to have NSFW content on it. So if Musk keeps going, I think the first thing to happen is they lose that privilege. But I think it’s just as possible Apple decides it’s not worth all the drama and pulls the plug on the app entirely. Which is basically how all large-scale libertarian experiments on the internet tend to end, with some other authority stepping in to shut it down because the whole thing is filling up with nazis and pedophiles.

What’s Jack Dorsey’s Deal?

This looming intervention from Apple seems to be on Jack Dorsey’s mind right now. He tweeted on Thanksgiving that “we need a new mobile OS that’s web-only.” Which is, as Tedium’s Ernie Smith wrote, a “subtle way of criticizing that the App Store is going to ban Twitter soon without saying it.”

Honestly, for a guy who is so obsessed with turning Twitter into an open “social protocol,” it’s hard to believe he’s excited about Musk’s plan to turn Twitter into a paid subscription service — which is still coming, apparently. Even if only 140,000 people reportedly paid for it during its initial run earlier this month.

If you were to take Dorsey in good faith, he basically wants Twitter to work like email. No one can own it. No one single company can control it. And we would use it via various clients and apps. I imagine it would work like an unfederated Mastodon. So how does anything that’s happening to Twitter right now in any way bring it closer to that?

DJ Cummerbund Is Back With Another Banger

This was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by laughterkey and it goes hard as hell.

What Happened To This Pie?

It took me a while to understand that the top of the pie is a crystal shard. Which is wild, but the more you look at this pie the more you notice things that are wrong with it. The crust is a mess. The base looks burnt? I can’t even totally understand what the filling was supposed to be. Also is the crystal shard hard? Or is it like jello? I have to know.

Doubloons Are So Hot On TikTok Right Now

TikTok users are super into a made-up currency called doubloons right now. Here’s a good video sorta-kinda explaining what this is. And writer Kevin Buist has a long thread going deeper into it. It’s essentially roleplaying across TikTok as a platform. A user “gives” you doubloons, you write that down on your notes app. Then you come across another user that asks for doubloons as a payment. So you deduct those from your notes app and pay them. It’s all made up and users are tracking their doubloons themselves. It’s very weird, but also kind of cute.

I think it’s interesting that this is happening amid a trend malaise that’s happening on the app right now. You may not have even noticed, but there hasn’t been a large-scale TikTok trend in a while. In fact, it feels like activity on the app has fractured a bit following the mass panics of last year, like Couch Guy and West Elm Caleb. In fact, Mashable recently asked, “Is the TikTok trend dead?”

“The days when a singular trend was inescapable on the app are long over, wiped out by an ecosystem — and a culture — that's becoming increasingly more esoteric,” Mashable’s Elena Cavender wrote. Well, I’d say doubloons is pretty esoteric!

My question is whether or not this is a permanent change or if this is a phase. I think it’s too early to wonder if TikTok users are aging out of the app, but I think it’s coming and I wonder if the lack of big trends is a generational shift or the result of technical changes happening to the platform behind the scenes.

A Good Tweet

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a good thread about jellyfish.

***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***

Join the conversation

or to participate.