I’m doing a super cool interview on Sidechannel this week! Eric Newcomer, Casey Newton, and I will be chatting with Discord CEO Jason Citron and Spark Capital general partner Nabeel Hyatt. It’ll be tomorrow, Tuesday, May 18 at 7:30 ET/4:30p PT. If you hit the button below to subscribe to Garbage Day, you’ll get an invite to the Discord.
Welcome To The Cheugy Cycle
At the end of the April, New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz wrote a piece, titled, “What Is ‘Cheugy’? You Know It When You See It.” It was a fun article analyzing a new bit of TikTok slang, popularized in a video from March by a user named @webkinzwhore143, real name Hallie Cain, a 24-year-old copywriter from Los Angeles. Cain, in her TikTok, reads from an Urban Dictionary listing for “cheugy,” that was posted in 2018, which defines the term as, “The opposite of trendy. Stylish in middle school and high school but no longer in style. Used when someone still follows these out of date trends. This may include but not be limited to fashion, habits on social media, usage of slang, etc.”
Lorenz’s piece went viral, which almost immediately led to accusations that Lorenz, by documenting the word in the Times, had actually killed cheugy. Even though almost no one had heard of the word before the piece. In fact, Cain, in her video, said it was largely just an inside joke among her friends and was offering it as a new way to describe basic white women.
I interviewed Lorenz on the Sidechannel Discord server immediately after her piece went live. You can listen to a recording here. And we talked about this continual reaction to her work — that she is effectively killing any meme she documents. She said she was aware of the criticism, but does her best to document how these bits of internet culture spread outwardly from different subcultures and she approaches the whole thing from an anthropological point of view.
“I mean, when the New York Times writes about something like people always say, oh, like the trend is dead,” she said. “Anytime I'm writing about anything that's coming from a community, I talked to authorities and people from that community. I think the problem is when you try to say like, ‘this is popular,’ but you don't talk about who originated it.”
Cheugy, however, has had quite a life since Lorenz and I spoke last month. Rolling Stone published a millennials are cheugy thinkpiece. (Hard agree.) Elite Daily posted two different cheugy pieces. The Cut wrote a cheugy explainer, as well as a piece about a cheugy NFT. In a very meta turn, People put together a roundup of the best cheugy explainers. VICE had a very VICE take, arguing that cheugy was a way for Gen Z to troll millennials. Yours truly was interviewed in a Grazia piece about cheugy (hi 🙋🏼♂️). And, most recently, this weekend, the Washington Post and the Guardian both posted somewhat grim pieces about how to accept the existential despair of being cheugy. In many ways, cheugy has become a Rorschach test for how you think about the internet, young women, and your own place in the fabric of pop culture.
But the most interesting participant of the cheugy content cycle, in my opinion, was center-right newspaper The Telegraph in the UK, which published two different cheugy pieces, by the same person on the same day, seemingly in response to each other. First, they published “How ‘Cheugy’ Is Your Style? Here Are Five Ways To Find Out” and then, an hour later, “I’m A Fashion Editor, I’m Cheugy — And I Don’t Care”.
The Telegraph’s double cheugy posting exposes an insidious little trick at heart of most internet culture trend cycles, but, particularly from stuffier, more establishment newspapers like The Telegraph. These outlets cherrypick internet trends, use them to create a sense of cultural anxiety, and then, as the cycle is dying down, write missives telling their readers to ignore the haters and not to worry about the false sense of anxiety that those very outlets created in the first place. In late 2019, Lorenz wrote about the popularity of the phrase “OK boomer” among Gen Z. The Telegraph has called it “generational warfare,” a “slur,” and “dehumanizing hate speech”.
Typically, The Telegraph’s weird handwringing would remain a slight annoyance for British readers, but, at the moment, the paper appears to have an extremely aggressive deal with Twitter. The paper is a constant fixture of Trending Topics and Moments, and, boy, have users noticed. The paper turned their twin cheugy pieces into Twitter moments and users are literally begging them and Twitter to stop promoting them in the app. Between May 11 and May 14, the paper tweeted the word “cheugy” 16 times.
But the The Telegraph and Twitter going all in on cheugy is a really useful example of how digital media companies perpetuate the rage cycles that platforms like Twitter use to keep people engaged. Twitter’s trending topics, in particular, an endless pit of zero stakes anger and if publishers play ball and create content that helps fuel it, they get some traffic. Which is how internet culture micro-trends popular with young women like cheugy keep turning into moral panics. It’s not dissimilar from the gross Facebook food women or Bean Dad.
But these entirely hollow controversies also just expose the increasing absurdity of thinking we live in a monoculture anymore. Thanks to a year online and inside, we now live in a fractured world, where things no longer really trickle down from tastemakers, but instead tend to bubble up from seemingly random online communities. And, instead of doing the right thing — learning how to actually write about all of this — many digital media companies, and the platforms they publish on, have decided it’s more profitable for them to use these fleeting moments of digital culture to, simply put, piss everyone off.
Check Out This Huge Japanese Cat
This cat’s name is Haku. He went viral on Japanese Twitter back in March. Japanese culture blog Grapee has a good write up about him, but the important thing is he’s big and fluffy.
Redditors Get A Look At Israel’s Astroturfing App
Two weeks ago, a user on the r/israelexposed subreddit, which describes itself as a “*multiracial* and *multicultural* coalition of anti-war, anti-hate and anti-Zionism dissidents,” posted screenshots from the app Act.IL, which gives “missions” to users, asking them to like and share specific pro-Israel and anti-Palestine content. According to an Intercept piece from last week, the app has been used to mass-report Facebook and Instagram posts about Israeli violence.
A user on r/DigitalManipulation found the specific post mentioned in the Act.IL screenshots. It was in a comment section on r/WorldNews from last year. It seems like the Act.IL call out was only able to generate around 70 upvotes, which isn’t much. Although, it may be that Israeli info warfare is moving away from Act.IL and now being coordinated on apps like WhatsApp and Telegram.
According to @AntiBDSApp, a Twitter account which tracks Israeli astroturfing operations run by Michael Bueckert, the Vice President at Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, there are a few public Telegram channels that are now coordinating similar campaigns. According to Bueckert’s posts, the Telegram channel is not only leading retweet campaigns, but also disseminating images and memes to splash all over Facebook and Twitter right now.
What’s The Deal With Greg Kelly?
Up until this week, I had never heard of Greg Kelly. Apparently, he’s a host on Newsmax, which is like a less horny, but more deranged OAN. Tumblr user afloweroutofstone discovered that, while Kelly’s political views are absolutely abhorrent nonsense, his less-political tweets are almost Dril-tier.
For instance, he tweets about McDonalds a lot. But, also, never spells it correctly?
At a glance, you look at his account and you think, OK, maybe he’s doing a Trump thing. A lot of conservatives over the last four years decided that tweeting like a toddler that just took a fistful of adderall is good for engagement. But Kelly’s account is way more unhinged than Trump’s ever was.
Substack has space limits before emails get cut off, so I can’t embed as many of these I’d like, but click through and have a little gander. It’s all completely wild.
A Good Zoo TikTok
The Oregon Zoo has a really good TikTok. They have a beaver named Filbert that they call a “branch manager,” which is just delightful. Here’s a recent video of him trying to bring a really big stick inside his den. (Tumblr mirror for readers in non-TikTok countries.)
“Teenage Dirtbag” Gets A TikTok Sequel
This was created by a TikToker and musician named Jax. The 25-year-old has 2.7 million followers on the app. A lot of her more popular songs are new versions written from another perspective. This new version is pretty good!
I’m Not Sure What To Do With This Information
OK, so, if you didn’t know, there’s a sort of infamous DeviantArt comic that went viral a few years ago titled, “I Will Survive”. It was created by an artist named Borba. You can read the whole thing here.
The comic is based on the Disney movie Zootopia and it depicts the movie’s two leads, Nick (the fox) and Judy Hopps (the bunny), arguing about whether or not Judy should have an abortion. It’s a really weird comic!
Making things even weirder, Tumblr users realized that the backgrounds of the comic look sort of similar to… Jerry’s apartment in Seinfeld?
Like I said, I don’t know what to do with this information.
A Good Tweet
P.S. here’s a good Tumblr thread about an interesting 4chan post.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***