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We Covered All This On Season One Of Tumblr
Over the weekend, Democratic Senator Jon Ossof’s senior digital advisor Keith Edwards tweeted this picture of Michelle Obama photoshopped into the Luke Skywalker reveal from the end of The Mandalorian’s second season. The tweet is an incredible misunderstanding of how memes work and was been pretty thoroughly dunked on since it was posted.
It’s part of a larger conversation happening right now about whether or not Bernie Sanders somehow deserved to go viral for sitting in a chair during the inauguration. There have been more than a few ill-conceived tweets arguing that it is misogynistic or unfair to the women of color who were also in attendance like Kamala Harris or Michelle Obama that the Sanders meme was the defining viral moment of the day. For what it’s worth, Kamala Harris did go viral for The Simpsons parallel and Michelle Obama’s outfit was written up by a ton of outlets.
But this whole thing just reveals that neoliberals still believe that popularity is deserved. The political center of America has learned nothing from the last four years of Trumpian meme chaos. People like Edwards seem to understand that going viral is a form of soft power, but they’re unable to organically go viral because it requires human relatablity. Trump was a megalomaniacal goblin, but so are a lot of people on the internet! Yes, Barack Obama was a wildly polished president, but he was also extremely meme-worthy, largely because of his relatable facial expressions. Also, the majority of the really popular Obama memes involved Joe Biden because their friendship provided a human element people could latch onto.
It’s nonsensical to say “Michelle Obama should have gone viral instead of Bernie Sanders because she’s so cool.” How would that even work? Let’s also acknowledge that within the canon of both Star Wars and The Mandalorian, the Luke Skywalker photoshop makes no sense. Maybe Michelle Obama as General Leia Organa from the sequel trilogy? There’s that scene on Crait where Leia is wearing a face-shield kind of thing. This isn’t the point…
Edwards tweeting, “this beats the Bernie meme,” is also a great example of one of my biggest and pettiest Twitter pet peeves. I’ve had this hang-up for years and I’m excited to finally have a proper outlet to vent about this. Every time a meme begins trending, there is a pocket of people who start trying to declare a winner. These people are always the exact kind of people — white, verified, upper-middle-class, and typically employed in some kind of job where they’re required to update their coworkers via Slack about “what’s happening on the internet.” You see it every time. They’ll tweet stuff like, “Ok, this wins,” “everyone go home, this beats all the rest,” “ok, this won the internet.” Nothing wins the internet! It’s a forever-game where we all perpetually lose.
Anyways, this instinctual desire to institute some kind of top-down control over the populist chaos of digital culture is exactly why centrists continue to struggle to maintain any kind of relevance in an internet-first society. (You could argue that this also speaks to the intellectual hollowness of centrism as a political ideology, but this is a newsletter mainly about memes, so I’ll stick to what I know.)
Since the inauguration, I’ve been tormenting my friends by sending them a certain genre of tweet. I’ve seen some people refer to these tweets as “ruthkanda” tweets. It’s a portmanteau of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Wakanda. The term first appeared in a very bad tweet about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.
What I assume is happening in these kind of tweets is that members of the American status quo — people who were largely unaffected by Trump’s constant political wrecking ball — are doing exactly what Edwards was trying to do with his Michelle Obama meme. They understand that going viral and being a good internet user requires being relatable, but they can’t actually be relatable. Because they’re either too privileged or because they aren’t comfortable displaying enough pathos to connect with other people. And so the whole thing just comes out looking like weird fan fiction. It’s why everything turns into nonsense about The Avengers, Harry Potter, or Star Wars.
More than a few users have astutely pointed out that this kind of behavior is exactly what led to peak Tumblr culture. Between 2012 and 2014, white suburban Tumblr users ran amok on the platform and posted so much cringe that there is now an entire movement to archive all of it.
The difference between now and the Obama era though is that a huge chunk of Twitter’s younger professional class has moved to the left. Digital media companies are unionizing and there is an entire universe of independent leftist media now, including mega-popular Twitch streamers, YouTube channels, podcasts, cartoons, and newsletters. I suspect these media properties will act similarly to the way the Gawker sites kept the establishment in check, only in an even more chaotically and politically charged way.
More than a few Garbage Day readers have asked me if Twitter will have its own DashCon soon — the incredibly embarrassing fan “convention” that essentially killed Tumblr’s neoliberal fandom communities and larger cultural relevance in 2014. Maybe! Maybe we’ll look back in a few years and say “the Capitol insurrection was the DashCon of Twitter” or something. It’s a pretty loaded sentence, but it’s possible we’re now solidly in post-Twitter. History never totally lines up with the future, but the internet does move in cycles and after a decade of intense consolidation, we’re probably due for a big bust up. I’ve been arguing for a while now that Twitter feels like it’s dying and even Jack Dorsey seems interested in exploring a new future for the platform.
All I know for sure is that things are probably going to keep getting extremely embarrassing.
Here’s A Good Coup Meme
The Fascism Of Failed Influencers
Last August, author Jeff Sharlet asked his Twitter followers, “What's up with the gender politics of Q candidates? 6/7 of the most significant ones are women.”
Another account, @pamina_q, posted a really interesting thread in response that I hadn’t come across since now. Her guess? QAnon women were redpilled by the natural birth movement. According to @pamina_q, the mothering.com forum became a big hub for wellness misinfo and helped making connections between mothers who were researching natural parenting techniques and antivaxxers. And antivaxxers would be the link between them and QAnon. This theory is also backed up by a lot of great reporting by NBC News’s Brandy Zadrozny, who has probably built the most comprehensive radicalization framework for online mothering communities, antivaxxers, and QAnon. This is not unlike how the UK’s Reddit for moms, Mumsnet, radicalized into a hub of anti-trans extremism.
@pamina_q also makes a really good point about the fact that misinformation within the mommy blogosphere is also extremely lucrative.
There’s been a myriad of similar attempts over the last few years to pin down what exactly the American far-right movement is. Yes, it’s racist and violent and fascist. But is it a cult? Is it a new political party? Is it a diet pill scam? Is it all three?
My former boss Ben Smith recently wrote about the path that took far-right influencer Baked Alaska from seemingly-liberal social media manager to insurrectionist. And arrest reports from the Capitol continue to reveal more and more about the kind of people who actually believe in QAnon enough to attempt a coup in defense of it. The overwhelming connection between all of this seems to be a very specific kind of viral failure — failed influencers, failed mommy bloggers, failed journalists, failed screenwriters.
I don’t think it’s an accident that these people were handsomely rewarded by platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube once they pivoted into demagogues and conspiracy theorists and began leaning into what these sites’ algorithms were trained to prioritize. I’ve often thought of influencers as a kind of cyborg celebrity — equal parts human and algorithm. I think this may also apply to movements like the Groypers, the MAGAsphere, and QAnon. If we actively target the machines that support their content, they may completely fall apart.
A Good Subreddit For Tracking Trad Influencers
Writer Maya Kosoff wrote a great Medium piece this week about her obsession with “trad influencers”. I know my way around the trad wife movement and the more white nationalist cottagecore stuff, but Kosoff’s piece is really great about outlining the actual influencers who are holding the whole movement up. Kosoff, also, I think, nails the parasocial appeal that a lot of these mega-popular influencers have:
Part of the appeal of following these people comes from observing what kind of life I’d have had if I had just done a few things differently. It’s kind of like reactivating Facebook and checking in on people from high school who you haven’t thought about in 10 years, just to see what they’re up to, or going to the bar in your hometown on Thanksgiving Eve. If I hadn’t left the state for college, if I’d married someone right after high school, if I had reprioritized my life when I was 17—maybe that could be me with 38k Instagram followers, seven sons under the age of 10, and a house on a farm in Montana, a self-described “mama.”
Kosoff also mentions a subreddit that I had never heard of before and now I’m completely obsessed — r/FundieSnark.
The above screenshot is from a video where two married influencers, Josie Bates and Kelton Balka, go on an unchaperoned date. Hmmm. Also, the subreddit has very similar vibes to the r/90DayFiance subreddit in ways I can’t properly put my finger on.
One Last Bernie Meme
The Official Minions Account Tweeted This At Tom Brady
I don’t know why they did this! But they have, obviously, deleted it. There’s a lot of weird things happening here. First, this tweet is from the official Minions Twitter account. Second, it’s asking Tom Brady to “squeeze” them. Third, the photo that the Minion has been photoshopped into is a photo of Tom Brady and his son. Fourth, in the original photo, Tom Brady is kissing his son on the mouth.
Not a single part of this is normal!
Instead of thinking about this anymore, check out the new Ben Affleck Dunkin Donuts photo drop.
The Official McDonalds Account Replied To Erotic My Chemical Romance Fanfic
Here’s another multi-layer branded tweet mess to untangle. The initial tweet there, from @unholyversebot, is a bot account that tweets lines from a fanfic called Unholyverse every three hours. Unholyverse is a five-part My Chemical Romance fanfic. It’s a Frank Iero/Gerard Way slashfic. I haven’t read it, but from the tags it seems like there’s a lot of “unresolved sexual tension” and it’s got kind of a Buffy The Vampire Slayer vibe. Seems pretty rad.
A Reddit AMA With A Former QAnon Supporter
This is a great look at the psychology of a QAnon supporter. Definitely click here to read through the whole thing. One of the most interesting insights is that Q’s inability to properly write about technology started making u/diceblue doubt the conspiracy theory:
One morning Q claimed to have shut down 7 FBI super computers (named after the seven dwarves no less) via satellite hacking and all the rabid fans ate it up, claiming that "their internet was running a little bit faster)
FBI Super Computer ::SLEEPY::[[OFFLINE]]
alarm bells went off in my head because, come on, that's not how any of this works. Using elementary school syntax form To SpeLl a [[Secret Code ]] felt fishy, and claiming your email in rural Montana loaded faster because seven super computers got shut down by remote hacking was a bridge too far for me. I realized that most of the Q believers I had seen were Boomers with no idea how technology works or people my age with no idea how computers operate. That day, I Googled Q Anon Debunked and got out.
My New Favorite Single-Purpose Twitter Account
P.S. here’s a good TikTok.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***