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Muscle Men And The End Of Objective Reality
Read to the end for a really good video
Late-stage Online Platform Madness
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the jacked up muscle maniac boomerposting his way towards the White House, has successfully swarmed America’s various crumbling discourse apparatuses with jabbering podcast clips and workout videos and Facebook chain letters and is now polling much higher than he should be. His digital footprint began to spread across Facebook during the pandemic, when he emerged as a vocal antivaxxer and now he’s pretty much the only thing I’m seeing on Twitter anymore about the 2024 election.
So far, the best critical piece I’ve seen chronicling Kennedy’s newfound stardom among the American right wing was this feature from NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny. Though, it’s hard not to feel like pieces like Zadrozny’s are a drop in the bucket compared to the near-constant hum of online chatter following Kennedy around the web at the moment. Also, whatever the fuck this is:
Nothing junior about those pecs, baby! Just don’t ask them how they feel about children getting the measles.
Kennedy is also a perfect example of what I believe was one of the biggest mistakes of the 2010s, which was to treat conspiracy theories as political movements and conspiracy theorists as those movements’ leaders. These communities, obviously, have political dimensions to them, but I think they are, first and foremost, fandoms. And are all fandoms about the same thing: the news.
QAnon, Johnny Depp supporters, antivaxxers — if you lift up the rock and actually read what these people are posting, for the most part, it’s just random news stories or deranged chatter about news stories that they then fit into their fan fiction. If you took a post about casting rumors from a Marvel subreddit or tweets from Taylor Swift stan’s thread and switched out all the proper nouns, you’d end up with a pretty standard conversation happening in a right-wing Facebook Group.
Here’s a really good recent example of what I’m talking about:
Inside an online platform everything, even reality, is just content and content just begets more content. And in a world run by big platforms, a person’s post becomes discourse, discourse creates memes, memes inspire a fandom, and fandoms become social movements. And over the last decade, as platforms flattened everything into content, most news publishers, hiding behind antiquated ideas about objectivity and made desperate from vanishing ad revenue, allowed themselves to be flattened, as well. And now, even though they don’t think of themselves as a competing news fandoms, they absolutely are.
I don’t think the way people react to news stories in 2023 is all that different from how it’s ever been. Here are two great threads comparing funny mean-spirited reactions to the Titanic sinking to the similar memes everyone made this month about the imploded submarine billionaires. But now, if you don’t like what’s in the newspaper you can just write your own thing and get more readers than it did.
Can’t possibly comprehend that extreme levels of wealth created an environment of arrogance that led to a submarine vaporizing a bunch of guys in the middle of the ocean? Just tweet that that’s not actually what happened. The fact the Russian coup didn’t even last a full day and no one got arrested sounds suspicious to you? Easy. Just make up something else. Materially, you’re not doing anything different from the guys still talking about what Zach Snyder’s Justice League sequel might have looked like.
I don’t think Kennedy has a real shot at the presidency, though stranger things have and will continue to happen. His numbers actually seem to be going down. But I think the excitement around him is important to pay attention to. It’s not about enacting a coherent political platform or even having a cult of personality, the way it was in 2016. Now it’s closer to the fans of a TV show voting to make the loudest fan its new showrunner. In a world of broken systems, fandom is one of the last ways to communicate. And, even more than Trump’s was, Kennedy’s 2024 presidential campaign is pure late-stage online platform madness. It exists nowhere and is, yet, everywhere. A jumbled cancerous mass of viral videos and outlandish statements traveling in user-generated globs around the internet until they hit enough shares to warrant a bunch of headlines and info panels on search engines and trending pages.
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A Good Tweet
The Trouble With Short Videos
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This video went viral on Twitter this week after a verified user going by @bornakang shared it with the caption, “Caribbean people bout to throw a fit lol.” The video was watched on Twitter around 17 million times, if you believe Twitter’s metrics. On TikTok, the original only has around 211,000 views. Also, just to be clear, the account that made this video is satire. It’s called @therecipeclub and every video is a disgusting recipe hack and the narrator does a different UK accent for each one. The whole joke, best as I can tell, is about British people cooking disgusting food.
Anyways, comedian Franchesca Ramsey recently noted something interesting about the way all of the different short-form video platforms intersect. “Videos that go viral on my Twitter rarely hit on TikTok and vice versa,” she wrote. “Video does well on my Instagram? Certified dud on TikTok. When something goes viral on my TikTok it usually bombs on Twitter and Instagram. The algorithms vary so wildly across platforms.” The fact that she didn’t even mention YouTube Shorts is, I assume, notable.
I’ve noticed this, as well, and not just with disgusting food videos. There is an entire genre of TikToker that will go viral when they upload their TikToks on Twitter, but has virtually no presence on TikTok, itself. In my experience, a lot of these people work for some kind of real media company and, thus, have to make videos their bosses will like, which usually end up looking like bad Daily Show segments, and aren’t allowed to debase themselves by making content TikTok users actually want to watch, which is dumb garbage for children.
It may seem like a hot take to say this, but the weird ubiquity of short-form video, along with the complete lack of consistency around what views mean and what specific social networks prefer makes me think that we’re almost at the end of this whole fad? It reminds me of the pivot to silent 45-second social videos that took off around 2015. Eventually every platform wanted the same kind of content, but to fit specific algorithms and specific demographics, which no one would bother to do, so the same videos just got posted everywhere until none of the networks felt distinct from each other and every site just pivoted away from the whole idea.
And I think we’re about to do this whole cycle over again with long-form video podcasts btw.
Twitter Discovered r/TrueRateMe
One weird side effect of the Reddit protests getting so much attention beyond the site is that a bunch of outsiders noticed how weird the communities on there are. The weirdest being r/TrueRateMe, which is a deeply unhinged rate me subreddit run by deeply unwell incels. The screenshot above is from the “Women’s Rating Guide”.
Screenshots from r/TrueRateMe keep going viral because of how easy it is to get banned for “overrating”. There’s one mod named u/Good-Treat731 who is pretty much constantly threatening to ban users, which almost makes r/TrueRateMe funnier than it is sad. The idea of one very strange (I assume) guy is policing the hell out of a community based on his own wildly specific tastes in women.
Grimaceposting Is So Good
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The hot new TikTok trend is posting that the McDonald’s Grimace shake has either killed you or turned you into some kind of disgusting purple slime monster. The video embedded above is my favorite so far. But readers have been sending me a bunch of good ones. This one is great. And here’s a whole montage of them.
Did you know that Grimace is supposed to be an enlarged taste bud? I think that’s incredibly weird and I don’t like it at all. Happy birthday, Grimace!
There’s An AI Jesus Now
A reader named Matt sent this over and it’s absolutely wild. I also noticed this on the front page of Twitch a few times recently. It wasn’t created by a Christian organization, though, but actually a “tech-driven philanthropy” nonprofit called The Singularity Group.
lol sorry, but the idea of something called The Singularity Group building an AI Jesus is so out of control dystopian that it’s actually making me a little light-headed.
As for the tech it’s running on, it was built with a text-to-speech generator called Play.ht. I honestly would love to watch the Jesus AI, the Seinfeld AI, and the Peter Griffin AI all talk to each other.
Tears Of The Kingdom Players Are Now Pushing The Limits Of The Game
The YouTube creator Physics for the Birds tried to build a working calculator inside of the new Zelda game using the game’s building mechanic and physic engine. And he sort of did it! The major issue is there’s a limit to what you can fuse together in the game, which restricts what kind of virtual circuits you can build.
Then another YouTube creator named Tony Hinderman took the idea and built on it, which you can check out here. The main goal for players going forward is to figure out a way to build a complex enough “computer” inside the game to run a version of Zelda, or, at the very least, maybe DOOM.
Reddit, The Playlist
This is a neat idea. A user named u/UltraPowerfulGuy is jumping around different subreddits and asking for a song submission with the top voted comment getting added to the playlist.
Before checking out this playlist, close your eyes and imagine the most Reddit-looking collection of music possible. This ended up being even more stereotypically Reddit-y than that.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a really good video.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***