Before we get into today’s issue, I just wanted to take a second to announce that this week will be last regular column from the always absolutely fantastic Allegra Rosenberg. Allegra has been writing for me for just over a year now and it’s been an absolute blast having her work in this newsletter every week. She has, also, tried her very best to get me to watch Formula 1, but it’s just not going to happen. I don’t want to watch cars drive!
Garbage Day went through some big changes in 2022, both in terms of readership size and the variety topics I cover, but also in how it makes money. In the first half of last year, I was pretty evenly split between advertising and subscriptions. But advertising has since bottomed out for me and subscriptions are now the main revenue stream for Garbage Day. Which looks like it’ll be ok for supporting myself, but it’s meant an adjustment for how I think about the newsletter more broadly. One benefit of advertising was that it helped me plan out a freelance budget and keep the majority of the newsletter free. Focusing on solely subscriptions will mean adjusting how I operate in ways I’m still exploring.
Bringing in other voices is still important to me, and I plan to do so when I can, but I also don’t want to promise stability while I’m trying to figure all of this out. And, most importantly, I want to make sure I’m able to pay writers what they deserve. So even though Allegra won’t be doing weekly updates, I do hope she still pitches me stuff! And if there are any editors reading this looking for someone with a jaw-dropping amount of expertise when it comes to fandoms and internet culture, please shoot her a message.
Now, without further ado, here’s Allegra’s Corner…
MrBeast Went To Antarctica
First of all, happy New Year. Second of all, did you know that MrBeast went to Antarctica?
I’m incredibly excited to bring you this news, but don’t take this as a sign of the start of sustained interest into MrBeast for me. Despite Jimmy Donaldson’s prominence as the fourth-most-subscribed channel on all of YouTube and the constant virality of his stunts, I’d never watched one of his videos before. Mainly because he encapsulates everything I really don’t give a shit about.
But then he went to Antarctica!!!!!!!!!! And I REALLY, really care about Antarctica (understatement). Though I played at refraining out of some misguided attempt at discipline, it was inevitable that I not only watched the video but developed some major opinions on it.
Despite centering on a 50-hour-long trip to the Union Glacier region at the very base of the Antarctic Peninsula in Ellsworth Land, the video is only twelve minutes long. This, I presume, is a highly scientific length based on viewership metrics. He brought a squad of what looked like at least a dozen friends along with him, including a multi-person camera crew and four of Minecraft YouTube’s biggest stars: Dream, GeorgeNotFound, Sapnap, and Karl Jacobs. I admit prior to this I was unaware of the crossover between MCYT and MrBeast’s crew, but apparently Karl got his start on MrBeast’s gaming channel.
The 50 hours of “survival” indicated by the video’s title consists roughly of: sledging from the plane drop-off point to the campsite in a blizzard; setting up camp; sleeping (or trying to); digging a giant hole in the snow for no reason; eating packaged food; generally goofing around; and, last but certainly not least, climbing a mountain and claiming it in the name of Shopify.
The reaction to this climactic moment on MrBeast’s subreddit was decidedly mixed, leaning negative. One fan claimed that “it made the whole thing feel gross,” while another said “it's the name that was given that was bad. Felt so soulless. Imagine climbing an unnamed mountain in Antarctica, a once in a lifetime experience, only to name it after a company.”
It’s unclear if the naming scheme confidently attested to by MrBeast — that if you’re the first to climb a mountain in Antarctica you can give it an official name — is genuinely real, but one hundred years ago, it certainly was. You didn’t even have to climb it, you just had to see it and chart it on a map, and you could name it after yourself, your best expedition homie, your crush, or, most commonly, your sponsor. Ernest Shackleton named a massive glacier he discovered in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains the Beardmore Glacier, after his patron Sir William Beardmore, the engineering magnate who funded his 1908-9 Nimrod expedition.
Even apart from naming landmarks, the history of Antarctica is practically coterminous with the history of sponcon in Antarctica. Scott’s 1910 expedition wasn’t fully government funded, so they had to rely on corporate sponsorship. Oxo, Heinz, Bovril, and Fry’s cocoa were among the many companies which offered supplies and/or money in exchange for slick photoshoots on the Antarctic continent. The photos lent the products a profitable association with the bold, masculine explorers working their way bravely towards the South Pole.
MrBeast’s “survival” video, as brash and in-your-face and boyishly annoying as it is, is perfectly in line with the commercialized, homosocial antics which made up the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. I don’t think MrBeast knows that, but it’s interesting all the same. While the rest of the continent’s government-associated stations are focused on vital atmospheric and geological science, the expeditions out of the privately-owned Union Glacier Camp like MrBeast’s are keeping that deranged Edwardian spirit alive.
Conspiracy videos all over the internet claim that “nobody is allowed to go to Antarctica,” because of aliens or Flat Earth or what have you. I doubt MrBeast made this video in order to refute that misconception, but I do think it’s not not helpful. Minecraft YouTube is one of the biggest fandoms among children and preteens; a not-insignificant percentage of the world’s population watches each MrBeast video. The MCYT fans who watched the video were strongly up in arms about not enough of their boys being featured and for not long enough; but Antarctica-as-setting was featured heavily and gorgeously, in long and sweeping shots from drones expertly piloted by MrBeast’s army of cameramen. If the video inspires any small percentage of viewers to investigate the fascinating history of the continent for their own, it will (....mostly) have been worth it.
A Good Tweet About Big Light
David Icke Is Back On Twitter
British conspiracy theorist David Icke, who believes lizard people secretly control the world (among other noxious things), is back on Twitter this week. He, thankfully, hasn’t posted anything yet.
Musk’s clown car crash of a job running Twitter is, obviously, disastrous for society, but it’s also sort of a fascinating experiment to observe. Over the last decade, mainstream internet platforms have been in a constant state of trying to clean up their networks. Everything happening at Facebook and formerly at Twitter has been, at least on the surface, about making their respective apps safer, more coherent, easier to use, less abusive, less hateful, etc. And, as a consequence, we’ve come to associate websites where people like David Icke can freely post antisemitic content with “the dark corners of the internet”. We think of these sites as out of step with current trends in how we socialize online. Which makes it feel as if Musk, either through direct action or ineptitude, is turning back time on Twitter and regressing and devolving the site. And I assume this feeling, that Twitter suddenly feels old and weird and bad, will become more acute the further we go down this road.
It’s like watching an upscale cocktail bar transform suddenly into one of those strip clubs in Texas that have breakfast buffets. There was the fear last year that companies like Meta or YouTube would follow Musk’s lead and give up any attempt at moderation, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Instead, I suspect Twitter will start to feel the way message boards like 4chan did 10 years ago when platforms like Facebook started to mature and offer better browsing experiences.
The variable in all of this is what it will mean for the world’s media and political institutions to suddenly have their most prominent members spending time on a seedy digital backwater. A lot of the more serious people may leave, but there are still a lot of very influential and powerful people who may not realize that aren’t eating brunch at a country club anymore but instead shoveling down watery eggs in a windowless backroom just off the interstate.
John Green Is Back On Tumblr
Author John Green’s tumultuous relationship with Tumblr is well-told at this point, but to very quickly summarize for those who may not know: He ran a very popular Tumblr blog in the early 2010s. As his blog grew, and the site shrank, Tumblr users began to resent him and his presence on the site. His novels received some fairly convoluted backlash for being kind of cringe and the animosity between the author and the site’s power users eventually escalated in a full-on campaign to bully Green off the platform. The whole thing culminated in a user using a quirk of Tumblr’s old reblog feature, which allowed users to edit text of another user, and replaced one of Green’s posts with super graphic copypasta.
Anyways, all of that is to say that Green coming back to the site is a big deal. A new blog has popped up promoting Green’s Awesome Coffee Club, which is part of the Project For Awesome program that Green does with his brother Hank. And Tumblr users have deduced that the Awesome Coffee Club blog is almost certainly being updated by Green and it’s led to some very funny interactions:
There’s A Virtual Streamer That’s Controlled Entirely By A.I.
VICE has a great piece out this week about Neuro-sama, a VTuber that is run entirely by an artificial intelligence. I’m sure there are a lot of parts of that sentence that you may not immediately understand, so let’s go step by step, shall we?
A VTuber is a virtual streamer. They are typically women (though not always) that wear some form of a motion capture suit to stream from behind an anime avatar (though not always). It’s remained fairly niche in the US, but there are massive VTuber agencies in Japan and Korea and there was even a moment a few years ago where VTubers caused an international incident after enraging Chinese nationalists by acknowledging the existence of Taiwan.
Neuro-sama, unlike traditional VTubers, doesn’t have a human behind the avatar. Neuro-sama was trained on a language model and can interact with her chat. She can also play games.
I’m honestly surprised the uncanny valley between A.I. and virtual influencer isn’t getting more uncanny. It feels like A.I. is perfect for these kinds of projects, but, also, I’m going to come back to a point about A.I. I made on Wednesday which is that, no matter how fun this stuff is, there is something innately uninteresting about what an A.I. does. After the initial novelty, it just starts to feel like static. Even if that digital static is being delivered by a cutesy anime avatar.
Let’s Talk About The Avatar Instagram Lady
This Instagram account made a big ripple in the Garbage Day Discord this week. It’s called @becomingnavi and it’s run by a graphic artist named Bailey who likes to photoshop herself into one of the giant blue cat people from Avatar. She has a TikTok with the same username.
Is this weird? Yeah, totally. She doesn’t just photoshop herself into a giant blue cat person, but likes to pose in photos next to the Na’vi version of herself. But I also think it’s not nearly as weird as it could be. There’s literally the Avatar tattoo guy walking around. So I think it’s important to put all of this in perspective. As long as your Avatar fandom doesn’t involve elaborate body modification it’s probably fine.
Just Making Sure Everyone Saw This Video
Some Stray Links
“The Queer Furries seem just as happy as ever, whether or not anyone else is paying attention.”
P.S. here’s a really good Reddit comment section.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
If losing Allegra is what it takes for me to finally subscribe, then that’s what it takes.
“Musk’s clown car crash of a job running Twitter is, obviously, disastrous for society”
Citation extremely needed. Not because I think Musk is doing a good job, but because I think the sooner Twitter is destroyed the better. It has had a deleterious effect on politics and culture for the past decade and it’s high time for that epoch to come to a shuddering close. If anything, Musk isn’t ruining it fast enough!