An onslaught of toilets

Read to the end for a good wizard meme

Hi folks! I’m on the road this week, making my way to Latitude Festival in Suffolk, England, where I’ll be doing Garbage Day Live. If you’re at the festival, I’ll be on The Listening Post stage on Saturday. Come say hi!

Because this week is a little crazy for me, I’m bringing in Adam Bumas to write today’s top essay. He’s an internet culture researcher and former Know Your Meme analyst who’s been working with me recently on the monthly trend reports some of you have subscribed to. And he’s been nice enough to put together an explainer on all of those toilet videos you may or may not be seeing on Twitter and TikTok at the moment.

Take it away, Adam!

The Internet Is Filling Up With Toilets

Over the past couple months, you may have seen these singing heads coming out of toilets. They’re called Skibidi Toilets and they’re everywhere. There are dozens of game mods, hundreds of shovelware mobile apps, and thousands of imitators on TikTok and YouTube making these, with millions of subscribers for the originals. Despite all that success, though, some discussion on Twitter last week highlighted that most people above the drinking age aren’t aware of them at all. 

The toilets popped up on our radar a few months ago, when, while compiling our monthly Garbage Intelligence trend reports, we noticed that channels making this content were some of the fastest growing on YouTube. Each new video handily clears 10 million views in 24 hours and last month the main channel pumping these out, DaFuq!?Boom!, had more new subscribers than MrBeast’s. It’s a pretty big achievement, though I hope it doesn’t lead to a Skibidi Toilet Burger chain.

It’s hard to come up with a better metaphor for an online experience inescapably tailored by algorithms than this current onslaught of toilets. Though, as ubiquitous as they are right now, chances are you have no idea what any of this means if you’re not in a specific age demographic — preteens. Even grotesque web animation legend Cyriak Harris recently pointed out that older generations don’t know what to make of them. I’ve seen people write them off as the TikTok-era equivalent of Elsa getting her teeth removed by Spider-Man.

If you allow me to get a little deep on this whole thing, while most of the imitations and cash-ins are pretty standard soulless engagement bait, the original videos featuring these toilets go past “actually funny” to having serious artistic integrity. (Stay with me here.)

Let’s start with the name. The “skibidi” part comes from Nelly Furtado remix of a viral song made by a guy jiggling his belly, which the toilets are sometimes paired with. The first couple videos were simple potty humor gags for 8-year-olds with iPad-at-the-dinner-table attention spans, but the new ones are full-on action scenes that look like they’re straight from a lore-filled Minecraft SMP server, or maybe Cloverfield.

DaFuq!?Boom! is making these videos with modern animation tools, but they’re clearly influenced by earlier Weird Internet aesthetics. The artists behind the channel even specified that their work is going for a late 2000s GMod vibe. If you’ve never heard of GMod, or Garry’s Mod, it was basically Minecraft before Minecraft. A game with no default objectives or structure, letting you create and build whatever you want. Early YouTube was filled with GMod videos, the exact same way Minecraft videos dominate the platform today.

Of course, most DaFuq!?Boom! fans are younger than Garry’s Mod itself (which is a big reason for all the knockoffs, I suspect) but that doesn’t mean they aren’t picking up on the references. It’s the same way most people reading this learned about black-and-white movies through jokes and TV and cartoons, whether or not you actually saw any. Which, in a way, makes the toilets feel more like a milestone for maturity than a crappy engagement hack. It shows that a specific style has developed its own creative logic and vocabulary that viewers will recognize.

All of this is to say, don’t get surprised when these kids grow up a little and this creative sensibility starts bleeding over into other places. I’m not suggesting the toilets get a movie deal, but considering we’re only months away from the Five Nights At Freddy’s movie, I also wouldn’t 100% rule it out.

If you came across a toilet video in the last week and started hyperventilating about What The Internet Is Doing To Our Children, you can relax. This is nothing new. Whether it’s the Skibidi Toilets or inscrutable Minecraft videos, very little of what the kids are doing now is all that different from what millennials were doing with GMod or Halo footage 15 years ago. And that doesn’t mean creativity has vanished either. It’s more that traditions have built up. Stupid internet videos have now been around long enough they have their own clichés and conventions for people to artistically play with.

We have simply always been this annoying online, which is kind of nice.

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Meta’s LLaMA 2 Is Open Source

There has been A LOT of AI news in the last week. Meta, which basically did a Mario Kart sputter out at the starting line of the AI arms race, has made an interesting pivot. They partnered with Microsoft and open sourced the new version of their AI model, LLaMA 2. And that open source license includes commercial use. It can even run locally.

There’s a version of LLaMA 2 running as a chatbot that you can use here. It’s unbelievably fast, though, definitely a bit limited. I asked if to tell me a good joke about England and it said it couldn’t mock a particular country and told me that, “England is a diverse and vibrant nation with a rich history and heritage.” 🤔

ChatGPT Has Gotten Dumber And IS Moving Into Local News

I should probably clarify those two things are unrelated. A new research paper out of Stanford University purports that the models running ChatGPT have definitely changed over the last few months. It seems like GPT-4, the newest, more advanced model, has gotten less accurate and reliable, while GPT-3.5, the intermediary model that was released right before it, has actually improved when it comes to certain tasks.

One of the researchers behind the study, Matei Zaharia, wrote on Twitter that it’s still unclear why the changes have happened. “It could definitely be that [reinforcement learning from human feedback] and fine tuning are hitting a wall, but might also be bugs. Definitely seems tricky to manage quality,” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, Axios reports that OpenAI has is investing $5 million in the American Journalism Project to support local news. This is part of a broader initiative from OpenAI to find ways to work with and license news content. Look, maybe this time will be different, maybe this kind of deal involving local news and big tech will finally work out well for the journalists involved for the first time literally ever.

This Guy Is Rectangular, He Feels No Hole

Worth noting that this guy is a CEO.

Threads Is Being Rate Limited lol

I’m not sure I’ve ever dipped out of a social network faster than Threads, but it doesn’t seem like I’m missing anything. Though, if you think there’s stuff I should be paying attention to on the app, please let me know. I’m not too proud to admit that even Facebook has some fun spaces worth digging into.

Instagram (and Threads) head Adam Mosseri announced this week that spam has overtaken the platform — I’m curious how Meta differentiates spam from the normal content that its biggest users are regularly posting. And so, to combat this, Threads is being rate limited.

I’m genuinely baffled at a mindset that seems pervasive in Silicon Valley right now. The idea that users would put up with rate limits and janky freemium features to use a social platform. I feel like over the last 10 years, the heads of these companies seem to have completely forgotten why people use their apps. Social media is about convenience. That’s literally all it really offers. The deal is they give us safe, unfiltered, and curated access to internet content and, in return, we give them our data and eyeballs. And this is doubly true for a new social network, like Threads, especially if it’s an app that more or less has the exact same social graph as Instagram. Why would users put up with a rate limited, text-heavy version of an app they’re already using? Of course, I’m not convinced they’re even using the app anymore.

The New Culture War Issue Will Literally Just Be Ignoring How Hot It Is

I suppose it shouldn’t shock me that right-wing influencers are acting like extreme heat isn’t actually that extreme. It’s sort of the entire philosophy behind climate change denial. But I guess I just assumed that if the weather became extreme enough, at the very least, we could all agree that it was, in fact, extreme.

About three years ago, Atlantic writer Charlie Warzel tweeted something that has always stuck with me. In regards to the then still-emerging coronavirus outbreak, Warzel wrote, “The coronavirus scenario I can’t stop thinking about is the one where we simply get used to all the dying. There’s a national precedent: America’s response to gun violence.”

He was, of course, right about that. But I think he inadvertently summed up America’s national response to pretty much every large-scale systemic crisis we’re bound to face going forward. The weather’s going to keep getting worse and the right-wing media ecosystem will downplay or outright deny it, and, more often than not, they’ll find ways to tie the acknowledgement of it to definitions of masculinity. And just like the folks who thought they could ride out the pandemic without a vaccine or masks because they were tough, only to end up on ventilators, so too will a lot of folks get hurt trying to man up and ignore the rising temperatures.

A Zootopia-Obsessed TikTok Furry Found A Jan 6 Insurrectionist

If you understood all of the words in the title above, congrats. You’ve graduated from Garbage University. You can no longer function in normal society. Your diploma is in the mail.

For the well-adjusted readers going cross-eyed trying to work out what is happening here, let me explain. TikTok user @judyhoppsl0ver69 is a furry who “worships” Judy Hopps, the rabbit cop from the movie Zootopia. And according to a recent video of his, he was using a catfish account (of a woman named Judy, obvz) and matched with a man on a conservative dating app that not only bragged about being at the capitol on January 6th, but told @judyhoppsl0ver69 that he was planning on killing President Joe Biden and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if the chance arose.

“Think I needa report this guy to the FBI,” @judyhoppsl0ver69 captioned the video. I agree! It’s unclear if he did, however, because all of his recent videos are just more thirstposts for Judy Hopps.

GWAR Did Tiny Desk

Some Stray Links

P.S. here’s a good wizard meme.

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


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