Discover more from Garbage Day
Nobody is embarrassed at all
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Hi all, Ryan here. I’m in the woods. I can’t see posts or consume any content. I am happy, I am refreshed, I am free. This week I’ve brought in Garbage Day contributor Allegra Rosenberg and Garbage Day researcher Adam Bumas to fill in for me while I heal from a year of psychic damage.
Allegra’s got a great piece looking at the summer of normie fandom and what it means for the future of everything. And Adam has collected a bunch of research he’s been doing on Twitter and Bluesky and has a fascinating take about what may be the biggest blindspot about what made Twitter work.
Take it away, Allegra!
Barbenheimer, The Eras Tour, And The Rise Of The Normie Fandom
—by Allegra Rosenberg
When everything is fandom, is anything fandom at all? This is the question that has been pursuing me over hill and over dale as I've been working on my forthcoming book on the cultural history of fandom. And it’s a question Ryan has often spotlighted in his own oft-quoted (by me at least) discussion of how “everything is fandom now;” and one that seems to mount in importance every day.
As we exit the summer of both Barbenheimer and Taylor Swift it seems like, yes, we are now fully in the era of the fandom normie. My position is that the average person on the street is not participating in Barbenheimer fervor because they absolutely want to slob on Oppenheimer’s knob (or watch, I don’t know, David Krumholtz’s character do it, I haven’t watched the movie yet). Nor have they become obsessed with the intricacies of the worldbuilding of the Barbie movie. Which is what you might expect with a media fandom as it has been understood, like, say, Superwholock or Undertale.
They’re doing it because it is, culturally, the Thing To Do. It’s fun! It’s fun, objectively, to participate in a trend. Everyone who took planking pictures in 2011 knows that. “Barbenheimer,” and to some extent its spiritual prequels the Summer of Morbius and the Gentleminions trend are all examples of the enjoyment people find in doing things in what I might describe as a “fandom way” — elaborate and all-in, full of pastiche and mash-up elements, joyful and odd.
But it’s not even that geeks have conquered the earth and all that. It’s that dressing up, making themed content, documenting and sharing evidence of active participation — revealing oneself as Someone Who Cares A Lot — is no longer the province of the truly obsessed. Anyone can do it regardless of their level or flavor of caring. This also isn't as earnest as it all might sound, there is a particular 2020s flavor of irony at the core of many of these trends. Though, not totally, which brings us to Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift’s “Eras” tour represents the apex of popular music fandom. Though the Swift phenomenon was lauded recently by the paper of record as a reclamation of the 1980s musical monoculture that gave us Michael Jackson and Madonna, I think it’s a little different.
Going to an Eras show, though it happens in real life, is largely about digital participation. It's part of the same compulsive aesthetic allegiances that dominate platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. To belong to a certain large-scale normative female in-group one simply must be a Swiftie, or at least put forth that you are one on social media.
And, yes, this is all nothing new, but let's outdo The Times here and go back even further. Charles Mackay’s 1841 Extraordinary Popular Delusions And Madness Of Crowds describes different societal manias throughout history, from the South Sea Bubble to the Crusades, and even devotes a chapter to the memes of his time: the “cant phrases” and verbal trends heard shouted on the streets of London’s East End.
In this segment he captures a vivid moment in London history which anyone who has been subject to the lifecycle of a dance trend, from black creators on TikTok to white boomer parents on Reels, will be familiar with. The hit “Jump Jim Crow,” by American minstrel performer T.D. Rice took the streets by storm. “For months the ears of orderly people were stunned by the senseless chorus,” Mackay writes. The song was utterly ubiquitous across the city, to the degree that it and “the uncouth dance, its accompaniment, might be seen in its full perfection on market nights in any great thoroughfare; and the words of the song might be heard, piercing above all the din and buzz of the ever-moving multitude.” As the poets say, when the rhythm is glad, there is nothing to be sad.
According to Mackay, trends which “quickly” passed by would last as long as a year, which seems like an eternity now, if not more. The 20th century, though, with its explosion in mass entertainment, sped things up and also pushed the more intense expressions of engagement towards the fringes. Beatlemania, Trekkies, admirers and anoraks of all types, these communities built up their own ways and means of engaging with the media which stirred their passions: tape-trading, slash-fiction writing, cosplaying and zine-making.
And now, we can see how large-scale communal participation (and making that participation part of one’s identity) around things like films, books, and television is finally reaching a level that sports fandom — to say nothing of religion — has been sitting comfortably at for centuries. The tactics and practices developed by devotees are comfortably appropriated by the masses. Loyal nerds stood in line and dressed up for The Matrix and Harry Potter sequels in theaters decades ago; in 2023, the glossiest TikTok girlies have been showing up to the cinema in Barbie fits, and nobody is embarrassed at all.
The Eras tour, as well as Barbenheimer, prove to me that fanways — I think I’m coining that now, it’s like “folkways” — have been well and truly upstreamed. Of course, that isn’t to say that the fans spending thousands and thousands of dollars on concert tickets aren’t real fans. Clearly there are many who care about Taylor Swift a lot, and in a way that would be comfortably familiar to Beatlemaniacs or Deadheads from days past. (See: the adorable friendship bracelet trend.)
But as I discussed in my Tab on the Hockey/BookTok collision last week, avenues of participation which were at one point oppositional and subcultural are also now pretty much the last way for huge corporations to prop up their corner of the entertainment industry. And it all hinges on us, the audience, having deeply personal, intense relationships with some aspect of mainstream pop culture and not feeling strange about that. In fact, it’s stranger if you don’t.
And, once again, this isn't to knock the Barbenheimer cosplayers or Swifties who have been having a blast this summer, but when more double-feature movie cycles and Eras-style tours start popping up — and they will — I think we'll start to really see what normie fandoms, and possibly all fandom, means in the 21st century: a stopgap for large platforms and companies refusing to admit their audiences have splintered into a thousand niches of personal, stay-at-home taste, none of which require profitable arena tours or movie theaters to perpetuate themselves. As much as it pains me, a full-on evangelist of fandom, to say, there is a slightly sinister undertone to all this acceptance and normalization.
Waking up the everyday consumer to the human joy inherent in fandom — putting on silly outfits, tchotchke-trading, and giving your life over to be ruled by a narrative or celebrity — is a powerful way for these companies to harness the madness of crowds for a little while longer. But the crowds always win in the end.
Ryan here, again. I still haven’t seen Oppenheimer yet, but I’ve now seen Barbie twice and I love it. I also once saw Taylor Swift live in the UK, she was pretty good, though, it was back during her era of having her girl group show up on screens in between songs. When Lena Dunham appeared on the jumbotron the whole crowd started booing. Anyways…
A reminder that Garbage Day Live tickets are on sale. You can grab tickets here. Hope to see a bunch of you there.
Alright, Adam, you’re up.
What If Twitter Was A Sports App The Entire Time?
—by Adam Bumas
As part of our Garbage Intelligence reports, I keep tabs on which accounts are gaining the most followers on a bunch of different platforms. It’s a pretty dynamic stat, a peek into who’s having a moment and why...except on Twitter, where it’s been almost completely locked in the whole summer.
Elon’s been the fastest-growing account since late last year, and since he started censoring critics of India’s government in March, prime minister Narendra Modi hasn’t fallen below fifth place. Neither have MrBeast or NASA, leaving only one free spot in our top five, the last vestige of Twitter as a real-time, reactive platform.
This mostly static top five on Twitter this summer seems to prove that all the vibrancy has been X'ed out, as it were. And Musk is intent on getting rid of any remaining traces of it with every new change to prioritize advertisers. You’re also not seeing any real movement on Threads, which is made for brands tweeting at brands — and that's about as exciting as a game of catch. Though I don't have any public metrics, by all accounts, the app is in free fall since its massive launch, pushing out new features to stop the bleeding.
Things are still happening on smaller platforms, however, ones where people go because they actually want conversation. July was the first month with enough data that we could track Bluesky follower counts, and it’s just as lively as Twitter used to be: Last month, the Washington Post gained fewer new followers than a trans shitposter named June. And US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was in the top 5, but since she hasn’t posted anything for a while she may be losing ground to the XKCD guy.
Of course, for some perspective, Bluesky follower numbers are less than a hundredth of what’s happening on Twitter. But one does wonder what might happen if Bluesky dropped its invite system and let everyone come in.
Since early June, when the soccer season ended across most of Europe, the only new account to enter Twitter's top five has been sports reporter Fabrizio Romano. He's an expert on which players are transferring to which teams, so he’s kind of the most exciting guy in soccer right now. The transfer window will last until September, which means it’s not crazy to think that Twitter/X will become so unpopular and algorithmic by then that he’ll stay on top afterwards.
If he does, it’ll show a major reason why the website is still so popular, and how it got that way in the first place: Twitter is the world’s largest sports bar. The platform first took off when journalists started using it, and sports news is one of the very few kinds that people actually have fun reading and discussing.
Twitter’s chronological view was a perfect way to keep up with sports in real time, so much that it gave that watching-the-game vibe to everything from TV shows to election results. This was almost definitely awful for all of our lives and brains, but it was a lot more fun than anything we had before. All of Elon’s changes to the platform are directly working against that experience, and if people can’t keep up with their favorite teams, X will lose one of the last things keeping it relevant.
If you want to subscribe to the trend reports that Adam and I are doing everything month, hit the green button below. It’s $150 a year and you get all the paid issues of Garbage Day, Discord access, and, no matter where you are in your current subscription, you just pay the difference to upgrade, which is a pretty good deal.
See you all next week! Bye bye I love you.
P.S. here’s a good AO3 screenshot.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***