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Tumblr In The Age Of Monetization
Yesterday, on the Sidechannel Discord server, I had a really interesting conversation with Cates Holderness, Tumblr’s head of editorial (and a former coworker of mine many years ago). We talked about frog memes, custom Furby blogs, and Minecraft YouTubers. Thanks to everyone who came to listen in!
I wanted to use our interview as a chance to get some more details about the rollout of Tumblr’s new monetization feature, “Post+”. The reactions from the community have been, at best, skeptical. Last month, users tried to organize a Tumblr boycott — though, it sort of fizzled. The largest issue I’ve seen from users is just a lack of trust in the company. The site’s biggest bloggers have been there for a while and have weathered a lot of changes with the platform’s management over the years and are skittish of pretty much every update that happens. There are also concerns about how monetization and copyright could work, considering so much of Tumblr’s content are iterative works based on someone else’s intellectual property. So I was curious how Tumblr can stay Tumblr when you inject capitalism into the equation. Holderness was pretty blunt about it.
“Forty-eight percent of Tumblr users bucket into Gen Z — which is wild — and we want Gen Z to get paid for the content,” she told me. “People should be empowered. There are content creators that are sharing great works of art, they're writing, they’re shitposting, and making memes. And we want to support them however we can. Post+ is the first step towards building a Tumblr for Gen Z.”
The fact that almost half of Tumblr users are Gen Z right now is definitely shocking, but also in line with my own reporting about the platform. As a long-term Tumblr user myself (I’ve had a blog on the site since 2008 (and no I will not link to it here)) I have similar anxieties about how paywalls on the site could work, even just on a functionality level. I asked Holderness how the site keeps its scrappy and authentic identity while putting in some features that let people monetize their content. As Holderness sees it, as long as the site keeps its very anti-Twitter culture of semi-anonymous users who manage all kinds of spin-off blogs, Post+ shouldn’t change the site’s vibe too much.
“For me, the secret sauce, I would have to say, would be passion. You know, people are on Tumblr because they're passionate about something,” she said. “People come to Tumblr to share the things that they're most passionate about and to connect with people who are equally as passionate. And they're not afraid to get weird and they're not afraid to get real, because in a lot of ways, the anonymity that you have on Tumblr, I think, fosters more authenticity.”
Right now, Post+ hasn’t rolled out for everyone yet, but if you’re looking for more info and the signup page, you can check it out here.
The Guardian Censors Judith Butler
On Tuesday, The Guardian published an interview with philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler. The interview attracted a lot of attention due to Butler’s thoughts about the “gender critical” anti-trans movement gaining ground in the US, and, especially, the UK. Butler specifically referenced “trans exclusionary radical feminists” or TERFs, saying, “The Terfs will not be part of the contemporary struggle against fascism, one that requires a coalition guided by struggles against racism, nationalism, xenophobia, and carceral violence, one that is mindful of the high rates of femicide throughout the world, which include high rates of attacks on trans and genderqueer people.”
Later on, Butler was even more explicit about how destructive the gender critical movement actually is to gender studies and connected TERFs to the global rise of anti-intellectualism and neo-fascism. The interview was a wallop of a conversation, conducted by writer Jules Gleeson.
After the interview went live, many trans and queer users on Twitter excitedly started sharing screenshots of Butler’s comments. Trans musician and activist Evan Greer, who I interviewed earlier this year, shared the interview, writing, “TERFs is fascists. Judith Butler said it.”
The fact this interview was published by a British newspaper felt like, for many, a victory against the country’s growing anti-trans movement. The UK is a hotbed of TERF activity. Mumsnet, a Reddit-like message board for British moms, radicalized into a vicious anti-trans community and many British publications have been criticized for amplifying otherwise liberal or feminist writers who promote “gender criticism”. In fact, in 2018, members of the Guardian US wrote an editorial condemning the anti-trans rhetoric being published in the Guardian UK. But it was still shocking what the Guardian decided to do to the Butler interview: The paper has since edited the interview, removing Butler’s comments about TERFs.
At one point, the Butler story had an update that said the piece had been altered “to reflect developments which occurred after the interview took place,” but now there’s no update on there anymore. The piece’s author, Gleeson, has published the missing excerpt on her Patreon.
It gets worse, though. According to journalist Eoin Higgins, who wrote about the retraction this morning, sources told him the Guardian’s UK editors are now pulling an entire series by Guardian US called Gender Now, which was supposed to launch with the Butler interview. In fact, there are still dead links to Gender Now on the site.
There is a punchline to all of this though. The Guardian’s retraction was noticed by readers and immediately became a trending topic on Twitter this morning, giving the interview way more eyeballs than it may have before. The Streisand Effect strikes again!
I came across this on Tumblr this week. It’s a TikTok hashtag called #dutchcore and it’s honestly incredible. Most of the content is coming from a smaller account called @dutchc0re..vib3zz, but there are other accounts popping up that do it too. I assume the aesthetic is a joke.
The videos use a lot of the same tropes you would see in fancams made by K-Pop stans about Korea or hardcore weeaboos about Japan. There are pink video filters, lots of cutesy text and emojis, and weird fetishizing of random Dutch stuff, like this video from a “Dutch section” of a party store lol. I’d say maybe Dutchcore could be the hot new micro-aesthetic of the fall, but I feel like Dutchcore is more of a spring thing. So let’s circle back next year!
Cool New Fruit Trend
A few issues ago, I threw this Reddit link at the bottom. It goes to an r/awesome post that has a supercut of Chinese farmers harvesting and then eating different types of fruit. I thought it was a cool video and didn’t really think much about it. But it turns out it’s part of a trend! Bloomberg has a super fun article about Chinese farmers that are making loads of money livestreaming themselves farming.
I found other supercuts of this kind of content all over YouTube. It seems like a lot of English-speaking users are referring to these videos as some combination of “Chinese farmer mukbang,” which is super interesting.
If you don’t know what “mukbang” videos are, the word is Korean for “eating broadcast” and they’re massively popular in the country. The trend has since spread beyond Korea. Typically, mukbang videos are people sitting at a table and eating their weight in squid or fried chicken, but these videos are taking advantage of the mobility given by short-form video apps for mobile users. Just seems like further proof that the future of online is just… being outside.
The Anti-Porn Crusade Isn’t Over
There’s an opinion piece in the New York Times today about OnlyFans. I’m not going to link to it, but it was written by Catharine MacKinnon, who the Times described in a tweet as “a lawyer”. While this is technically true, as Elle writer Katherine Krueger points out, MacKinnon isn’t just any lawyer! She’s a very famous feminist activist and also pioneered sexual harassment law in the United States. But she’s also a diehard anti-porn crusader who thinks that pornography harms women, should be completely illegal, and considers it a civil rights violation. MacKinnon also spreads a lot of misinfo about sex work.
I highlighted this in a previous Garbage Day, but a lot of this current pressure on porn platforms and online sex work stems from pieces written by the Times’ Nick Kristof, who The New Republic described last year as waging a “Holy War on Pornhub.”
So, I guess, the TL;DR of today’s email is if you’re looking for good stuff on trans issues, avoid the UK Guardian and if you’re looking for good stuff on sex work, avoid the New York Times Opinion section!
El Salvador’s First Day With Bitcoin
Yesterday, El Salvador began accepting Bitcoin as legal tender. The market responded to this by collapsing, crashing over 17%. Meanwhile, in El Salvador, Chivo, the digital wallet the country is using, experienced massive outages and protests broke out in the capital. The country’s millennial rise and grind president responded to the chaos by bragging on Twitter that the $10,000 dip in Bitcoin’s price yesterday gave them a discount and helped them by 150 new coins.
But maybe the Salvadoran crypto crisis was worth it because you can now buy food at McDonald’s there with a QR code. As Garbage Day reader Mitch, pointed out, if you bought a Big Mac for $5 yesterday at 9AM EST, two hours later it would have cost $4.11. The future is amazing. If you want to read more about how crypto is interacting with Salvadoran politics, check out my Foreign Policy piece about it from June.
Oh, also, Logan Paul was in El Salvador for the rollout.
One Last Piece Of Very Good Summer Content
This video is incredibly good. Also, shoutout to comedian Patton Oswalt who found the woman in the video and shared her Twitter handle, @katdaddystarks. The balance, the precision, the grace. Flawless.
The China Fandom Crackdown Comes For K-Pop
A group of K-Pop fan accounts were suspended by Chinese social platform Weibo this week. The official reason given for the suspensions was “irrational star-chasing behavior,” which, well, yeah, I mean, that’s the point of the accounts.
Twenty-two accounts were suspended in total, per the BBC. The suspensions come amid a tech-focused government crackdown happening in the country right now. The CCP has gone after recommendation algorithms, the amount of time children can play online video games, celebrity fan pages, broadcasts that feature “feminine-looking men,” and even individual tech founders. Weibo released a statement promising to “regulate community order”. It feels very much like the Chinese government is surveying the current global landscape of technology, digital media, and online pop culture, and are deciding what fits into their framework for social order and what doesn’t.
The main question I have with all of this is: Can you remove the “chaos” of the internet — the excess, the mania, the hyper-addictive user experience, the fluidity — and have it still be a thing that people want to use? Yes, China has a social credit score that monitors online activity and goads people into using pro-party apps and, yes, their internet is already heavily censored and firewalled off from the rest of the world, but it still resembles our online experience. There are memes and stans and weird videos and quirky trends. Viral content finds a way, you know? But if you do find a way to remove that from the ecosystem, but still want an extremely online population using apps and buying products and fueling your digital economy, how do you keep them engaged without the weird stuff?
The Floor People Of TikTok
lol so I almost wasn’t going to write about this, but then I logged into Tumblr this morning and the first thing I saw was a big post about it, so, I figure it’s worth explaining.
A video went viral on TikTok this month created by the now-private user @healthy_punk. You can’t see the video on TikTok anymore, but you can see duets of it, which are still up. Here’s one of them on Reddit if you’re in a non-TikTok country.
@healthy_punk, who had 100,000 followers on the platform before going dark, is an artist who specializes in architecture and interior design. The video of hers that blew up was about the fact that her and her partner don’t have any furniture and, instead, basically just live on the floor. They do have one chair, but it’s actually an expensive art piece in the shape of a chair that she keeps her sweaters on. People are now turning @healthy_punk’s videos into snarky duets and making memes about her.
As always, if you’re going to use the internet to share a details about your life, you need to make sure that you’re either normal or weird in a cool or interesting way!
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good tweet about technology.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***