A Bubble Is Popping
Input Mag reported this week that Clubhouse is still uncensored in Russia and is being used by anti-war activists to communicate about the invasion of Ukraine. Here’s my favorite passage from the piece:
The use of the app has astounded Ilya Yablokov, an academic at the University of Sheffield, U.K., who studies censorship in post-Soviet countries. “I had totally forgotten about [Clubhouse],” he says. “It provides such a great example that social media could have positive effects and help horizontal connections in societies.”
Same, Ilya, same.
Clubhouse’s journey over the last 12 months has been interesting to say the least! Last April, the live audio app was valued at around $4 billion. Which is stupid and insane, of course, but the fact it’s now so irrelevant that the Russian government appears to have forgotten to censor it is extremely funny. (For what it’s worth, the app does seem to still be thriving in South Asia.) But Clubhouse isn’t alone in this general slump from venture capitalist darling to forgotten plaything. On Monday, I wrote about how Twitter Spaces has had a similar evolution from shiny new toy to growth hack for scammers. And long-time readers know I’ve been outrageously skeptical about live audio apps from the beginning, but this trend doesn’t stop with conference call platforms for LinkedIn gurus.
The much-touted future of the internet, Web3, is also starting to lose its luster. NFTs dominated SXSW, but Google Trends data suggests actual interest is drying up fast. And the fact that Yuga Labs, the company behind Bored Ape Yacht Club, is snatching up other NFT lines and creating a crypto token monopoly makes me think the boom is over. But even the “investor”/consumer side of the NFT market seems to be consolidating. One Twitter user named @dingalingts recently claimed to own over 100 Bored Ape NFTs. Do your brain a favor and don’t try and calculate how much that’s all worth. Though, I did like the user that replied to this tweet with, “Some people don’t feel it necessary to flaunt their 36+ Apes all the time, they’re just happy to be here quietly supporting the community!”
Also, adding to the pile, The Information reported this morning that a wave of layoffs are coming for spend-happy pandemic era startups, as well as late-stage tech companies who were eyeing public offerings. And former meme stock powerhouses GameStop and AMC are pivoting, yet again. GameStop is finally launching its NFT marketplace soon and AMC, per Matt Levine’s excellent newsletter for Bloomberg, is basically turning into a glorified meme finance investment firm/consulting agency. And I don’t think any of this happening at the same time is a coincidence.
During the pandemic, venture capitalists, the people and organizations that fund the development of the web, began dreaming up a new version of the internet and all of their spending over the last two years has been focused on making it a reality. They even gave it a name: the metaverse, which they define as an immersive and surveillable digital shopping mall where content costs money to consume and share. It turns out, for the most part, this has manifested as embarrassing Zoom calls that allow you to buy and sell genital-free cartoon avatars with cryptocurrencies. But there really seems to have been a genuine assumption that by spending enough money on “immersive” platforms, online exchanges and marketplaces, and other various other kinds of software-as-a-service, they could make “fetch” happen (lol sorry). As of last November, The New York Times reports that $27 billion globally has been invested into crypto startups. Though, none of it really seems to be sticking when it comes to actual products and services the average internet user can use.
In fact, I think what this metaverse rush has actually accomplished is just expose how old the internet — particularly American owned platforms — feels now. Facebook turns 20 in two years, YouTube in three, and Twitter in four. Silicon Valley feels, for the first time in my adult life, wobbly in its influence. Obviously, some bad podcasting apps and some shitty monkey JPG investments don’t signal the immediate end to the tech world’s status quo, but it’s hard to look at anything that’s happened in that sector in the last two years and still feel like these people know what’s going on anymore.
While writing this, I got curious if there was anything that has really tracked how internet usage has changed during the course of the pandemic, but aside from anecdotal reporting and some trend pieces, I think we’re still too close to all of it to get a good sense of exactly how average internet users have shifted their behaviors. But I did find one Pew study published last September that was interesting. Even though Zoom had a massive pandemic spike, most users reported being deeply “fatigued” by the video calling platform. The thing that helped people the most, though? Messaging platforms and other forms of “dark social” apps. Which makes me think that maybe that’s where tech companies should be focusing their attention on.
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What The Birth Of A Fandom Looks Like
How is babby fandom formed? Like new hit songs, which seem to most casual listeners to suddenly appear on the charts fully formed and dominant, but have the hard work of hundreds of music industry players backing them up, there are lots of complex mechanisms at play behind a community’s rise from nonexistent to constantly-memeing-feuding-trending.
First of all, what is the difference between a popular show and one with a fandom? At a certain level it becomes indistinguishable. Any property with a sufficient level of popularity will have some people engaging in fan activity around it, but the proportions are not always what you’d expect, because they are dependent on not only the inherent properties of the show but the behavior of the people invested in it. Without getting too deep into the semantics, let’s say a show has a fandom when devoted fan accounts start popping up on social media, making show-specific content.
Right now, HBO Max’s new streaming comedy Our Flag Means Death has aired eight of the 10 episodes of its first season. As far as I can tell people* (*professional TV critics on Twitter) are talking more about Severance and The Dropout than David Jenkins’ gag-filled pirate adventure starring Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi. But compared with fellow HBO Max show Raised With Wolves, which is already well into its second season accompanied by abundant chatter on social media, Our Flag Means Death has double the number of fics on AO3. Which is a very minor barometer, but it’s fascinating to watch people organize around the show in real-time and begin the amoebic process of forming a fandom. Currently freshly-birthed fans across platforms are working hard to determine ship names (relationships not boats) and trying to manifest renewal via word-of-mouth.
In the same way that Succession’s latest season sometimes seemed more or less written for the purpose of going viral on certain parts Twitter, Our Flag Means Death, with its light humor, serious moments, and healthy dose of LGBT relationships, gives off a particular demographic je ne sais quois — but fans, of course, can always tell the difference between being pandered to and being catered to because it’s never subtle. This show succeeds in falling squarely and smartly into the latter camp and thus has garnered the kind of communal goodwill you can’t buy nor steal.
The grit that the pearl of participatory culture forms around is never the same between properties. Alchemically speaking, there are certain components that bode well, but in this glutted age, with attention spans at a low ebb, there is no guarantee that what seems like a winning formula will garner the intense response that it might otherwise have had in a less crowded field. And sometimes even when they do, it doesn’t matter anyway. Being a first-season fan in this day an age is playing a dangerous game. For some, surely the danger of being betrayed by cancellation outweighs the clout of early-adoptership. But honestly, I think this time it’s worth it.
What Did The Dog Say When It Walked Into The Sumerian Bar?
Earlier this month, the extremely good @depthsofwiki Twitter account, which surfaces obscure parts of Wikipedia, came across one of the earliest examples of a bar joke. It goes like this:
“A dog walked into a tavern and said, ‘I can't see a thing. I'll open this one.’” The Wikipedia article that @depthsofwiki cited then explained that the meaning had been lost to time.
The tweet went super viral and has led to an explosion of ancient Sumer-based memes. Sumerian culture has already had a pretty big life online because of that really petty Sumerian tablet. Here’s a good Sumer bar dog meme I saw this week on Tumblr:
And here’s another good one.
OK, so that’s all well and good, but get this! I went to the Wikipedia article that @depthsofwiki linked to and it’s been updated!!! And it’s been updated with a full explanation of what the joke probably meant. It’s about prostitutes!
The factoid about the bar joke comes from Sumerian Animal Proverbs and Fables: 'Collection Five', by Edmund I. Gordon, who, according to the new Wikipedia article did provide a hypothesis for what the joke was referring to, as well as a clearer translation of it. The Wikipedia article now reads:
The earliest example of a bar joke is Sumerian, on a tablet dating from the early Old Babylonian Empire (c. 1894-1800 BC), and it features a dog: "A dog, having walked into an inn, did not see anything, (and so he said): 'Shall I open this (door)?'." The punchline presumes an inn would also be a brothel, and the humor suggests the dog is hoping to see what transpired out of view.
Wow, history is incredible.
A Reddit Discussion About “Forcing Your Fandom” On Your Baby
I’m one of those people who tends to assume everything on relationship subreddits is, if not objectively real, a reflection of reality. I tend to go into posts on r/AmITheAsshole or r/Relationship_Advice with the default belief that it’s real and wait until it’s revealed to be a troll. Well, I desperately want this Am I The Asshole post to not be real. The TL;DR here is that the OP wants to name her baby Minerva, who I understand is some kind of Harry Potter person, and got in a fight with her coworker about it because her coworker named her child Harley, after Harley Quinn. But wait, it gets worse. Here is a truly awful passage from this post:
Well, there’s this coworker of my named Gwen (23F). Gwen started interrupting me and telling me that I shouldn’t “force my fandom” on my baby by giving her a Harry Potter name. I get what she means, but then I said this…
…Gwen is a big comics girl, and often compares her and her boyfriend to Harley Quinn and Joker. I don’t know what she’s like at home, but naming your baby after a comics character is no better than if it’s from another fandom?
You can read the whole mess here.
This TikTok Is Sublime
This may be the first time I’ve ever used the word “sublime” in Garbage Day, but, honestly, I challenge you to find a better word for this video! It comes from an account called @greedypeasant (real name Tyler Gunther), which you can check out here. I was pretty confused by what he meant by “Spider-Peasant,” but according to the rest of his content, he dresses up in medieval peasant fashion a lot and one of his costumes is a medieval version of Spider-Man. Ok! Makes sense to me.
“Butt Rock Girl”
Cliffdiver is a pop punk (with a saxophone) band out of Oklahoma that posted an incredible parody to Machine Gun Kelly’s “Emo Girl” this week. It’s called “Butt Rock Girl” and it’s very very funny, with lyrics including, “She screams Hinder in the mirror in her bedroom, probably hiding a Confederate tattoo.”
Unfortunately, Instagram Reels don’t embed on Substack, but you can watch the whole thing here. (They also have a new song out with Skatune Network which is very fun.)
A Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
“How Stepan, Ukraine’s most famous cat, escaped the war to safety”
P.S. here’s a wildly cursed (and sorta NSFW) TikTok.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***