A Legacy Of Angry Men Online
I was working in Tokyo the day Trump was sworn in. I’ve often compared it to a scene from a science fiction movie where an astronaut sees nukes going off from the window of a space station. To feel that far away from the chaos back home was disorienting. I felt bizarre pangs of guilt for not being there as I sat in a leopard print-themed dive bar in the Golden Gai neighborhood of Shinjuku and watched the “American carnage” speech with a Japanese dub, intercut with Japanese reporters explaining why people were burning cars in the capital. And I spent that following week having conversations with Japanese reporters about what the Trump era might be like. It was all anyone there wanted to talk about with me.
Out to lunch a few days later, one reporter offered up that the Trump presidency would probably be a lot like the early days of Shinzo Abe’s term. Abe may, at this point, be best known internationally for his cutesy Mario entrance announcing the Tokyo Olympics, but he was a virulent ultranationalist who spent his time in office calling for historical revisionism about Japan’s war-time atrocities in Korea and China. The reporter I sat with at lunch painted a picture of a soon-to-be America overrun by anonymous online trolls that abused and harassed women, leftists, activists, and journalists. He also said that Abe had figured out a way to weaponize the infamous message board 2channel (which was what 4chan was modeled off of directly). The reporter said that the New York Times would probably buckle under Trump and be pushed further and further right politically as more reporters were bullied by Trump’s administration. And he said the same thing had happened with the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest papers. Most of the things I heard during that lunch, at least partially came true.
In fact, Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice, a fantastic book that was recently adapted into an HBO show, wrote last week in a reflection on Abe’s legacy that he was “‘Trump before Trump’—except he pulled it off.” Adelstein, in 2016, also wrote an essential piece on Abe’s links to the secret Nippon Kaigi, or the “Japan Conference,” which I highly recommend reading, as well.
“Imagine if ‘future World President’ Donald Trump belonged to a right-wing evangelical group, let’s call it ‘USA Conference,’ that advocated a return to monarchy, the expulsion of immigrants, the revoking of equal rights for women, restrictions on freedom of speech—and most of his pre-selected political appointees were from the same group,” Adelstein wrote in 2016. Yes, “imagine” that.
It also appears that Abe, and the rest of his Liberal Democrat Party, had ties to South Korea’s Unification Church, an anti-communist religious group often referred to as “moonies,” that practice mass weddings and are regularly accused of being a cult. Abe’s assassin told law enforcement he killed the former prime minister because of the debts his mother owed to the church. I suppose Americans don’t have to work too hard to picture what it would be like to find out your ultra-conservative leader had domestic ties to a creepy right-wing authoritarian think tank as well international ties to an equally creepy and financially predatory religious cult!
While I was in Tokyo during that trip, I reported a story about how the online Trump movement resembled the one Abe had successfully harnessed into a digital attack dog years before — even down to the army of angry young men you can recruit from anime message boards. One thing I learned while I was working on that piece was that in 2016 Japan’s national broadcaster NHK discovered that Abe had paid a firm to activate online trolls to go after his political enemies. Any critics of Abe’s party would be targeted by the firm, which seeded out abuse on platforms like Twitter and 2channel. A study from The Asia-Pacific Journal found linguistic evidence that the Liberal Democrat Party and the far-right users of 2channel have been working together to overwhelm Japanese trending topics on Twitter since as far back as 2009.
Abe was a fundamentally different kind of leader than Trump, but it’s interesting to now see Abe’s death filtered back through the digital hellscape he was so adept at wielding as a cudgel. In fact, what could be more fitting than for Abe’s assassination to immediately become the center of a 4chan hoax.
Soon after photos began circulating of Abe’s shooter, users on 4chan photoshopped graphics that claimed the shooter was Hideo Kojima, best known as the creator of the Metal Gear Solid video game franchise. A narrative quickly spread that Kojima was a far-left extremist that had orchestrated the attack on Abe. One of these graphics was shared by Damien Rieu, a far-right politician from France. It’s likely Rieu shared it after seeing it posted by a French “comedian” and far-right influencer. Or maybe French far-right politicians just hang out 4chan and blindly share whatever they see there, which is also very possible. Rieu has since apologized, writing, “I naively took a joke for information. I didn't think we could joke about the assassination of a man, but I was wrong not to check before sharing.” But that hasn’t stopped the misinformation from spreading. Now, Kojima is threatening legal action.
Americans tend to have a certain pathological need to view every other countries’ politics through a lens of our own. We want everything to fit into a model that somehow connects to our political battles. It’s why American conservatives were quick to try and use Abe’s death as an example why gun control cannot work. (Which is ridiculous.) And when Americans can’t fit something into our own political context we get bored and dismissive. The truth, though, is Abe was both absolutely part of a global political wave engulfing our own country, but in ways that were very unique to his own country’s politics.
Abe did not come to power thanks to some Steve Bannon-esque Facebook populism — Japan has one of the lower Facebook user bases in the world and its internet landscape could not be more different to our own. Nor was Abe some reality show influencer fascist ranting about meme magic on weird podcasts. But he was one of the first politicians in the world to figure out an innovation that has changed the way democracies function, maybe forever. He found a way to take the rage and chaos of an anonymous message board like 2channel and point it at his enemies. He figured out how to attract the angry young men in the corners of the internet and activate them to fight in an endless culture war that poisons everything it touches.
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Some Good Advice From NFT God
I spotted this thanks to the New York Times Mike Isaac, who called it a “deeply funny (and maybe unintentional?) indictment of NFTs”. The user is called NFT God (lol) and the tweet above is part of a broader thread about how if you tell people what your NFT project is and how it could be used and how it works it won’t do as well as if you just mindless hype it up. In one tweet further down the thread, NFT God writes, “find projects that weaponize mystery”. (Don’t do that.)
I think there are two ways to view what NFT God is, I think, correctly, identifying about the NFT market. And I think these two things can actually both be correct at the same time. On one hand, NFT collectors are degenerate gamblers who are basically just buying and selling vaporware bull shit in a wildly unregulated secondary market. But, also, I think the NFT market has the same general rhythm to it as the internet as a whole. Unlike Bitcoin or even Ethereum, which don’t really feel particularly populist anymore, NFTs are pure virality monetized to some extent. And I think there is actually some utility it monitoring what internet hype can do to market valuations when there’s no friction keeping things from spinning out of control. Speaking of NFT hype vs. NFT utility…
Active users for Axie Infinity, the blobby Pokémon knock-off that was briefly the biggest NFT game in the world and was supporting an economy of video game gig workers in countries like The Philippines, has cratered. The Wall Street Journal reports daily active users are down more than 85% since November. This led Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal to ask what is actually a very interesting question:
The answer, as it turns out, is no, not really. Which really just leads to more questions about the whole utility of Web3.
Let’s, Uh, Check In On The Elon Musk Stuff, I Guess
I don’t want to talk about this I don’t want to talk about this I don’t want to talk about this I don’t want to talk about this I don’t want to talk abo—Ok, so, Musk is “backing out” of his deal with Twitter. Even though he has already signed a merger agreement, he is claiming Twitter deceived him about the amount of bots and spam on the site. Twitter is pursuing legal action to make sure the deal goes through.
Matt Levine, over at Bloomberg, obviously has the best take about all of this: “Musk cannot get out of the deal just because one of Twitter’s representations is false. He still has to close the deal unless the representation is false and it would have a ‘material adverse effect’ on Twitter. This is a famously under-defined term but it generally needs to be a pretty catastrophic effect.”
And the various goblin men that make up the right-wing pocket of Twitter are now saying Musk will do just that. VICE has a good roundup of unhinged weirdos who are claiming this is all part of Musk’s ongoing battle against the Deep State.
Howie Mandel Posted A Butthole On TikTok
It brings me no joy to say this. Howie Mandel went on TikTok and greenscreened himself in front of a giant photo of a prolapsed anus (which does not appear to be Goatse) and then asked his TikTok followers if this was a COVID symptom. The original video was deleted, but I’m thinking this was a troll? Like someone sent him the photo and asked him the question? Because it sort of sounds like he was reading from something in the thankfully-censored video above. Either way, Howie Mandel posted a butthole on TikTok. Have a good week everyone.
A Good Tweet
Snowpiercer: The Willy Wonka Cut
The r/fanedits subreddit is mostly just weird guys making terrible new cuts of Star Wars movies where all the female characters have been removed — I’m not joking. But I recently came across this one that I thought was super interesting. Apparently, there’s a fan theory that’s kicked around for a while that Snowpiercer is a sequel to Willy Wonka, which is pretty fun.
I haven’t watched this edit yet, but it seems like the bulk of it is just adding in music from Willy Wonka and a few flashbacks to establish that Charlie grew up to be Wilford, the guy at the front of the train. Either way, it’s a fun subreddit to poke around if you’ve never seen it before.
Love This Guy
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Adrian Bliss has had a couple of videos go viral on Twitter recently. He has a great TikTok channel and I think he might have some of the best costumes of anyone on the app right now. So if you’ve seen his videos floating around and don’t know where they’re coming from, hit the link on the embed above to check out his whole channel.
Some Stray Links
Web3 Is Going Great’s Molly White gets a proper local news profile
P.S. here’s a good crab pic.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
I really liked the insights you gave regarding Japanese culture and politics it definitely helped me understand the situation better than a lot of the stuff on Twitter. Nft God seemed to have some solid advice worth thinking about if one gets into the nft game
the one thing i really wanted was the good crab pic :(