It's all kicking off on train TikTok
Read to the end for a good meme
A couple points of business: Friday will be the last Garbage Day of the year! I’m tired! I’ll be back January 5th. Hit me up on Discord if you need anything. Also, Thursday is the last Extra Garbage Day of the year and it’s an interview with someone that I’ve been such a huge fan of for a while now… Michael Hobbes, journalist and former host of one of my favorite podcasts, You’re Wrong About. I thought he’d be a perfect person to interview to close out a year defined by outrage, both real and imagined. Hit the subscribe button to get that in your inbox later this week!
The “Unmasking” Of Train Guy
One of the biggest TikTok success stories of 2021 was the user @francis.bourgeois, who has amassed almost two million followers for his, honestly, delightful videos of English trains. If you’ve never watched one of this videos, there are a really nice mix of wholesome, awkward, and slightly unhinged. He straps a GoPro to his head and films his own face reacting to the trains.
A few months ago, old photos of @francis.bourgeois began circulating on British social media. Other TikTokers started making videos about his “hidden past” last month. And things came to a head three weeks ago, when college-focused tabloid The Tab published an article titled, “Derailed: TikTok train star Francis Bourgeois’ real name is… Luke,” in which they “exclusively revealed” that the tiktoker’s name was Luke Nicolson, a 21-year-old from North West London who recently incorporated a company called FRANCIS BOURGEOIS LIMITED. The article’s subheadline was, “We’re just as heartbroken as you.”
Nicolson released a video over the weekend addressing the controversy, explaining that he went through a bodybuilding phase when he first got to college and then when lockdown happened, he fell back in love with trainspotting and started using TikTok to document it. Fair enough! A similar thing happened with me and ska music during lockdown (minus the bodybuilding phase).
The whole non-story is an interesting mix of old — British journalism’s compulsive need to knock down anyone who gains even a modicum of minor celebrity — and new — TikTok’s rampant “investigation” culture, which has recently manifested in the doxxing and harassment of “Couch Guy” in the US.
But concerns among British internet users that Nicolson may be doing some kind of character or may be completely dreamed up by a scummy Soho marketing firm aren’t unfounded. UK social media is a radically different environment for virality than in the US and there are countless examples from the last 10 years of posh white people either adopting working class accents to grow YouTube channels or working with seedy companies to inorganically grow their social followings. The controversy around Nicolson also has a racial dimension to it, as well.
In one video, Nicolson described his pre-train style as “roadman clothes,” which is a term that comes from working class black British culture. And, for many users, the old photos of Nicolson clashed with his current aesthetic and thus rendered it inauthentic. Here’s a really good Twitter thread dissecting that idea further. And there’s also the autism question.
Nicolson has never publicly said if he is on the autism spectrum, but the presentation of his videos has led many autistic TikTok users to claim he is, or at the very least, feel as if he is representative of the content they produce. An autism news site wrote a whole piece claiming Nicolson was the victim of cancel culture and quoted other autistic creators who were defending him.
For a TikTok channel about a dude who likes trains, things have really spiraled out of control!
The truth is all of these can be real at the same time. A TikTok user with over a million followers should probably have a trademark or company registered for their account, no matter how innocent and wholesome their content is. A white college student from North West London who really likes trains probably doesn’t have a very nuanced view of race or class dynamics, nor do the teenagers following his channel. And an autistic person can absolutely get super into raving and bodybuilding, but also love trains!
Ultimately, these kinds of TikTok scandals — dating all the way back to the Bee Lady earlier this year — are about context collapse. TikTok is the most engrossing social platform that’s ever been created, but also offers the smallest window into the lives of its users. It creates a situation where you believe you know everything there is to know about the person behind an account like @francis.bourgeois. I mean, you spend so much time watching his videos, how could you NOT, right? And then when you’re confronted with any new information about a TikTok user it’s incredibly jarring and destabilizing. And I’m not sure how you fix this sort of phenomenon. It feels pretty baked into the platform. But perhaps we’re beginning to understand why so many social networks started simple, with things like status updates, photo albums, and 140 character limits. Though, maybe this kind of thing is unavoidable regardless of what you’re posting.
One of many common laments over the current state of social media is a grief at the long-diminishing and seemingly soon-to-be-extinct ability to fully customize one’s web presence. Gone are the days of charming flash-heavy personal websites that you could navigate like a video game. Even Tumblr’s infinitely malleable HTML/CSS desktop-view blogs, while certainly still extant, have been sidelined in favor of their streamlined in-dashboard views and their mobile app.
Nostalgia over the lost days of LiveJournal themes and Blingee embeds has led to projects like SpaceHey, a fully recreated version of ye olde MySpace, getting covered by VICE and Bloomberg. Kyle Chayka, writing about lost 90s internet aesthetics, commented that, “the DIY web was more graspable and less alienating; today’s online experiences are more like following the rules, or gaming them.”
It’s difficult to show off a wholly unique personal aesthetic online when sites like Twitter and Instagram heavily limit the length your bio can be, and only allow you profile and header images, plus a pinned tweet. For the extremely online youths to whom their internet presence is the equivalent of a heavily-postered bedroom wall, and who had the misfortune to come of age after the heyday of the custom-coded blog theme, this clearly is not enough.
Enter Carrd. Carrd.co is a simple webpage-builder app that promises “simple, free, fully responsive one-page sites for pretty much anything.” It’s one step (or more) beyond Linktree and its ilk, allowing for multi-page navigation, interactivity, and complex layouts of text, images, and links. It’s free to use and subdomains are easy to grab.
This tool has been taken up en masse by the tweens, teens, and neurodivergent minors of fan Twitter and its adjacent spheres, as today’s flexible and accessible incarnation of the tricked-out blog theme. Across different fandoms and digital youth communities, Carrds are refreshingly diverse and creative in appearance, thanks to a welter of tutorials as well as the intuitive yet flexible design of the page builder itself. Life, uh, finds a way. (It’s interesting that the design of many Carrds mimic computer interfaces — menus, windows, buttons — but only in terms of aesthetic, not function. But that’s an entirely separate essay.)
More importantly, and possibly more interestingly, is the way that Carrd contributes a culture of self-disclosure among the participants in said communities. Of course, oversharing is nothing new. Think back seven years to the micro-identity-filled Tumblr bio, or further back to the tortured-soul Xanga. But the codified nature of the norms that have sprung up around Carrd within the last few years take it a step further. A quick Twitter search of the phrases “carrd byf” (“before you follow”) or “carrd please” shows how embedded these norms have become. Standard-issue on a Carrd, along with name, age, pronouns, and long lists of likes and dislikes, are sections for mental illnesses and triggers and strict “DNF/DNI” (do not follow/interact) criteria that detail precisely the type of people the user wishes to ban from their profiles.
Framed as a valiant, ground-up struggle against the constantly collapsing contexts of Twitter, Carrd culture is a fascinating phenomenon. In order to maintain their boundaries (and rep a vibe while doing so) on a platform which aims, for commercial reasons, to dissolve as many boundaries as possible, young users have sought recourse in an external technology.
Now, would a little text box that says “dni if: u fit basic dni criteria, stan problematic ppl” actually do anything to stop bad actors from interacting with you if they really wanted to? Probably not. And is it really a great idea to list out your deepest insecurities and newly-coined sexuality on a public webpage? No, but teens are gonna teen, and it’s encouraging to see how despite the paltry affordances of app profile layouts, the spirit of 2000s-era customization still lives on, and probably will continue to as long as there are stans who need plenty of page space to list off all of their K-Pop biases.
A Good Tweet
All The Embarrassing Stuff We Used To Put On Facebook Is On TikTok Now
A TikTok user named @whitleavitt has been using her account to document her pregnancy. She has about half a million followers and does a lot of viral dances and relatable mom content. One of her videos recently went viral for the wrong reasons, however, after she filmed herself dancing next to her newborn baby, who was being treated for respiratory syncytial virus and was having trouble breathing on his own. I’m not going to lie, the video is real bad!
You can guess the rest of what happened. People got mad, started filling up her comments with angry messages, she deleted the video, released a tearful apology, and now a bunch of other users are telling her to ignore the haters. Another discourse cycle comes to a satisfying conclusion, etc.
What’s notable about all of this though is that these kinds of stories used to predominantly happen on Facebook. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a new viral parenting controversy practically every week during the Obama era. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that the ultra-stylized and super-controlled “Instagram mom” aesthetic of the later half of the decade was actually a direct result of how wild Facebook parenting communities were in the first half.
That same peak Facebook drama is happening on TikTok now and is appearing in shapes determined by the platform. So instead of weird Facebook posts or viral status updates, it’s now surfacing as dances or lip-syncs. As always, I’m sure this will only get weirder and more embarrassing before we reach some kind of very bad breaking point with this stuff.
Mulch Is Here!
This was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by harryj. Can’t wait to listen to this band’s four-song EP on Spotify, see them open for Into It. Over It., read a really vague callout post about their bassist on Reddit, and then, seven years later, watch a YouTube documentary from their former merch guy about why the Philly scene changed forever when they broke up.
Crypto Isn’t As Porn Friendly As Everyone Thinks
I earmarked a Reddit post earlier this month titled, “I'm Convinced Porn Coins are Going to Be the Next Big Thing”. It was posted to r/CryptoCurrency, which is, honestly, not a very smart place lol, but sometimes worth keeping an eye on. “Porn coins haven't blasted off yet. I'm betting the explosion will come soon. Don't act surprised when it hits you in the face,” the post reads. Ah, yes, very clever.
I’ve wondered out loud a few times about this, as well, though. In August, after banking institutions tried to un-OnlyFans OnlyFans, I highlighted a few startups trying to use cryptocurrency to monetize pornography. But I also pointed out that a digital ledger that permanently records everything is probably not a good solution for user-generated porn platforms which are constantly weaponized to host revenge pornography. In fact, many people have already had their nudes minted as NFTs without their consent. And, in November, I looked more closely at the “furries and porn” theory of tech innovation. Simply put, if crypto was the future, why hasn’t the porn industry started using it? One possible answer: most major porn platforms are owned by the same shady monopoly, MindGeek.
But there’s another piece to this that I didn’t know about. Major crypto platforms have anti-sex work clauses. What’s that? You mean, a young cohort of capitalists are using libertarian ideals as a smokescreen to enforce the preexisting patriarchal status quo? That has literally never happened before.
Ashley Lake, a non-binary sex worker, and Hogspy, a BDSM news account, both posted tweets about crypto brokers’ “anti adult” clauses. For instance, Coinbase, the largest crypto trading platform in the US, has a clause that prohibits “pornography and other obscene materials” and as well as “sexually-related services,” which includes prostitution and even “adult live chat features”.
Unfortunately, this isn’t all that shocking if you think about it. The biggest crypto brokerage platforms allow users to connect their bank accounts. Most banks don’t allow sex work. Thus, if you want to be a big crypto platform, you have to play ball.
But the most hilarious, and perhaps most depressing thing about all of this is that MindGeek has accepted crypto for years, actually. Even wallet-to-wallet transfer. This dream of a crypto revolution in porn has already come and gone and it turns out the company that was able to integrate it the easiest was the monopoly that was already dominating the industry. And, as we look forward to 2022, which is poised to be an even bigger year for cryptocurrencies, this is possibly the best metaphor we have for the mainstreaming of crypto. People are excitedly fantasizing about a blockchain-based economic revolution, meanwhile, institutions have already cashed in and used it to reaffirm their stranglehold on the market.
A Siberian City Keeps Following Me Around The Internet
Here’s a weird thing! I have come across multiple posts in the last week about Yakutia, Russia. A city in Siberia that is supposedly the coldest inhabited place in the world. I’ve come across posts about it even on Tumblr, which isn’t a particularly algorithmic platform. Maybe this is happening to other people too? idk! But this video is fascinating!
TikTok Food Is The Metaverse
Here’s a thing that should send a chill down your spine: TikTok is making food. Per an utterly haunting Business Insider piece, the platform will be opening 300 ghost kitchens, which will sell viral food trends like pasta chips and feta pasta. The plan is to have a thousand TikTok ghost kitchens operating by end of 2022. Like I said, this is terrifying.
I recently wrote that the metaverse isn’t the VR conference call world that Zuckerberg is envisioning, but, possibly, the inverse.
“The metaverse may have some VR flourishes, but more likely it will look like the way things look now — a mix of mobile internet technology, cameras, geodata, and streaming video. It will involve big events that simultaneously happen online and offline, which can be consumed live or as a data trail of clips and memes afterwards. The world will feel like a Gorillaz concert. Going outside will feel like flash mob at a Comic Con,” I wrote in October. “Geographic spaces will start to buckle under viral physical traffic — a world of pink Instagram walls, cronut lines, TikTok challenges, and GameStop pumps.”
So, either TikTok’s foray into food fails and we look back at this as a quirky little weird fad or it succeeds and everything changes forever! Excited to find out which!
A Funeral Fit For An Ice Cream Man
Some Stray Links
“The Bizarre Story Of Rockstar's Cancelled Austin Powers Kart Racer”
“The latest horrible NFT project co-opts George Floyd’s image”
P.S. here’s a good meme.
***Any typos in this in email are on purpose actually***