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The Kanye West Theory Of Technology
A decade ago, writer Mike Barthel, in The Awl, wrote an essay about Kanye West that I come back to pretty regularly. Barthel, I think, more than anyone else I’ve seen, zeroed in on something really interesting about West’s music:
The story of Kanye’s career is the story of his search to become a cyborg and then deal with the consequences of that transformation. In the early days, he was all too human, working at the mall and sleeping on a couch in an overheated Chicago apartment. When he finally got his foot in the door, it wasn’t as an individual artist but as a company man, becoming a house producer for Roc-A-Fella. This is the old-fashioned modern American path to success: work hard, get noticed by someone in power and then get promoted to a place of prominence within a larger organization. But Kanye wanted something more. He wanted to achieve on his own, to break free of the system. And he would slowly realize that the only way to do so is to become more than human.
Barthel’s thesis was that West was trying to use his career to warp the limitations of being human and transcend it to become something greater. And I think, as West has become more famous, he has continued to blur the lines between himself, the person, and himself, the meme or brand. If you think of a modern celebrity as a type of cyborg — a human/algorithm hybrid, existing as meaningfully in real life as they do inside a digital world — then Barthel’s “Kanye West is a cyborg” idea has become even more accurate over the years.
It’s because of Barthel’s essay that I tend to view West’s albums as defining snapshots of different eras of media and technology. I swear this works. Graduation, released at the tail end of the MTV era, is poppy and aspirational. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released at the start of the YouTube viral music video era, was accompanied by massive celebrity cameos and a 34-minute music video for “Runaway”. Yeezus is the violent and raging Id of the reality celebrity industrial complex dropped at the peak of the Kardashian empire’s reign, The Life Of Pablo was updated live on streaming platforms heralding our new Spotify status quo, and I can’t think of anything more fitting for the end of the Trump era than Jesus Is King, an ideologically hollow and scattershot attempt at some kind of deeper meaning completely hobbled by the microscopic attention span of social media. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll stop lol.
So, you might be saying, “Ryan, how does the bizarre rollout for Donda fit into all of this?” Well, it actually fits pretty well! I’ve written about this a bunch, but I think our post-pandemic world will be defined (is already being defined?) by online/offline hybrid media and events. I’ve honestly felt this would be the case since Pokémon Go dropped, but I think AR will beat out VR, and after a year of Fortnite and Roblox COVID concerts, I think we’re finally at a place where people are ready to mix real-world interactions with simultaneous digital content.
So the fact that West’s new album currently only exists as livestreamed concerts, the third of which will be happening tomorrow, actually feels right to me. Even more interesting, West is now offering a Donda “Stem Player” for $200 which will let you completely remix the songs from the album.
I want to be clear, I’m not saying I love all of this. I’d much rather just have, you know, a real album that I like to listen to. But I do still think that West is way ahead of the curve here. Lost in all the conversations about remote work and the metaverse is the simple fact that, still, only some people can safely go outside and some people can’t. And it will probably be like this for a long time. And the longer we live in a remote hybrid world, the better that experience will get. The fact that Kanye West has, purposefully or not, turned his album rollout into, now, three livestreamed concerts is actually exactly in line with where the world is right now. I know not actually having an album is frustrating for fans (I am one and I am frustrated), but during the second Donda stream, as I watched it on my phone in bed, I began to let go of my pre-COVID need for things to make sense lol and I let it just sort of wash over me. I had a great time! And I wasn’t totally disappointed when the album didn’t drop the next day. Flipping back and forth between the stream and Twitter was a lot of fun in the moment. The world is crazy and broken right now and the Donda streams have been a nice weird experiment.
But here’s the frustrating thing about Kanye West, possibly soon to be legally just “Ye,” I want to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s using the Donda rollout to push the limitations of art and technology and culture to shift the way we interact with our increasingly hyper-real world of tangible digital media, but it’s also just as likely that he’s delaying the release of his album to fuck with Drake, so, you know 🤷🏼♂️
OnlyFans Will Keep Explicit Content
Well, that was an exciting couple of days. How does everyone feel about that content cycle? Did you get your tweets out in time? Good game, everyone, see you next time.
I guess we’ll never know how OnlyFans “secured assurances necessary to support” their “diverse” creator community. Anyways, here’s an interesting fact that I just learned this week that has nothing to do with anything: In 2011, MindGeek, the owner of PornHub, received over $350 million from 125 “secret” investors, which was later revealed to include JPMorgan Chase and Cornell University (weird).
In all seriousness, while it’s good that OnlyFans isn’t jettisoning the sex workers that made their site valuable, that creator community is not exactly running back to the platform with open arms. Many sex workers have taken to Twitter today to warn others about trusting OnlyFans as their only source of income. Which, considering how ready they were to cave to financial institutions, is probably a good idea.
One last weird PornHub thing for you, actually. During this whole mess, I got curious about how MindGeek, the parent company of PornHub, organizes their finances. There actually hasn’t been a ton of good stuff written about this in the US, but the company, which is a privately held Canadian company, headquartered in Luxembourg, has 62 subsidiaries based in places like the British Virgin Islands, Mauritius, and Cyprus. It seems like a lot of it is a way to avoid paying proper taxes — Luxembourg has a tax treaty with Canada where the royalties paid by a Canadian subsidiary to a Luxembourgian parent company are tax exempt and also taxed less in Luxembourg. But you have to assume some of this is also to avoid what’s happening to OnlyFans right now.
TikTok Long Now
Congrats to TikTok on reaching the stage of a tech platform’s life cycle where, in an effort to completely dominate the market for no reason and reach completely unmanageable levels of scale, it begins shaving off the things about itself that make it unique. (To be fair, this also how I spent my mid-20s actually.)
Could 10-minute videos work on TikTok? Yeah, probably. But, also, why bother? TikTok has taken over American culture and is, in many ways, the most important platform on the internet in the US. And it got there by offering a thing that no other platform really understood: people like short-form videos with a full suite of free editing tools. It wasn’t bogged down by junk and it’s done really well without all the extra stuff. idk just seems like a lot more work for not a lot more benefit!
Here’s A Good Tweet
This was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by katato.
Is Goblinposting Cringe?
If you’ve never heard of #goblincore or #goblinposting, it’s basically what it sounds like? Posting internet content related to goblins. It’s been around for a while. Last year, Nylon called it, “the cottagecore-adjacent internet aesthetic that celebrates comfort” — god, I love culture right now.
There are goblincore Facebook pages, a subreddit, and lots and lots of indecipherable memes. Here’s a tweet my friend Bijan showed me last week:
Yes, those certainly are things that resemble words! I apparently missed the #goblincore wave last winter, but as VICE pointed out at the time, it was a visual and memetic trend that was very popular with nonbinary and autistic people. “I identify as a goblin since to me, goblins are little sneaky critters with no real sense of gender identity. They just collect and steal things and hang out in the woods,” Sküg, a #goblincore artist, told VICE. (I fucking LOVE culture right now.)
Apparently, in the last few days, a #goblincore account has gotten stuck in TikTok’s algorithm. They’re named @cedarthebarefoot, and they may or may not be the same cedarthebarefoot who went viral on Tumblr a while back for a truly heinous feet post.
If you don’t feel like clicking into their videos, their whole schtick is that they talk, uh, like a goblin, I guess. Imagine like a very twee Gollum voice. Do I find this sort of thing embarrassing? Absolutely, yes, but it’s harmless and fun and also internet culture, if left alone long enough, evolves into algorithmically optimized baby talk. Lol cat can haz cheezburger, look at this pupper, such wow, much amaze, what a smol bean, poggers!
But also I would argue that, if you can work your way through the deep secondhand embarrassment of watching someone online earnestly do something that makes them happy, without any regard for how it makes them look, you might, perhaps, learn how to be a bit more open about what weird things make you happier in life.
A 4chan User Has A Question About Bullets
This was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by JRo. What do you guys think? Will Anon become bulletproof if they keep shooting themselves with a pellet gun?
Big Chungus Is Canon
So I have not seen Space Jam: A New Legacy — I saw Ready Player One a few years ago and I’m satisfied — but apparently there’s a scene where Bugs Bunny gets real fat and small. The scene is a reference to a popular meme called big chungus. What is big chungus? Weirdly enough, the picture actually came from a 4chan thread about dark enlightenment accelerationist Nick Land.
But, even though the meme came from the racist swamp of the internet, it has had a massive second life in communities like Twitch, Tumblr, and Discord. Apparently, the big chungus scene was a big hit with the kids who saw the movie. I came across this Letterboxd post on Tumblr this week.
The True Origins Of “Poggers”
I learned a truly WILD fact about the word “pog” or “poggers” this week. I saw it on this Tumblr post, and it looks like this is all true. Here’s what happened:
Haleakala Dairy, a Hawaiian dairy company, created a passion orange guava drink. It was called “P.O.G.”
In the 70s, people would play a bottle cap game with the caps of “P.O.G.,” seen above.
In the 90s, the Pogs game was named after the game people were playing with the juice caps.
In 2010, Ryan Gutierrez, a popular streamer, made a crazy face on stream.
A year later, he released a video about pogs.
Then, most recently, Gutierrez’s exaggerated face was combined with the pogs topic and became the PogChamp emoji on Twitch.
Two Extremely Good Mandy Patinkin Videos
Some Stray Links
“I Know a Place,” an essay about Roblox and beauty
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***