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News Corp Becomes The Internet’s Newspaper
This morning, News Corp announced that they had reached a three-year agreement with Google. It includes, “the development of a subscription platform, the sharing of ad revenue via Google’s ad technology services, the cultivation of audio journalism and meaningful investments in innovative video journalism by YouTube.”
There’s a lot of 😬😬😬 here. According to the press release, in the US, The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch, and the New York Post will now be part of Google News Showcase, a news widget that already rolled out in Australia earlier this month.
All of this is happening amid the Australian government introducing a media bargaining code, which would make platforms like Google and Facebook pay news outlets for featuring their content.
There are a lot of different reactions flying around right now. Casey Newton over at Platformer described the bargaining code as “dumb and bad.” And my friend (and Australian person) Brad Esposito, who writes a great newsletter called Very Fine Day, made a good point about this, as well: “It is so funny watching the split between non-Aussie journalists looking at the Australia / Google / Facebook thing and being like ‘this is dumb af’ and the Australian journos (often employed by news corp) saying ‘we need this desperately, media must be saved’.” Interesting!
My former boss Ben Smith also had a good take on the News Corp/Google partnership this morning, “Wild. News Corp basically just muscled Facebook, then Google, into surrendering their magic-internet-everything-for-free position with some combination of lobbying, investigative reporting, Tucker Carlson attacks, Murdochian menace,” he tweeted. Also, Jeff Jarvis hates it and has a very long thread on it if you’re really craving more takes on this.
Google’s algorithm and page placement doesn’t get as much scrutiny as Facebook’s. I suspect that’s because their products are slightly harder — and more boring — to manipulate. But also I think that Google’s societal influence is actually too large for the average person to conceive. (I’ve had a theory that the English-speaking world’s information landscape got so bad around 2014 because that was when British tabloids like the MailOnline started heavily investing in SEO.)
But I think beyond whether the News Corp deal is good or bad, what this will mean for the internet is very simple. Whatever news sources appear in these widgets will be the main news sources for the majority of the world. So, going forward, this will mean that, for Americans, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post will be the papers of record. In the UK, it’ll be The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Sun. And in Australia, it’ll be The Australian and Sky News. And that will have a profound effect on how those countries’ populations understand the world around them.
Things with the least friction online become the dominant form of whatever they are. If you’re operating at the scale of Google or Facebook, whatever is most readily accessible to your audience will define the user experience. First instance, how many people reading this have not only clicked beyond the first page of Google results in the last few years, but also even scrolled all the way down to the bottom of the first search results page? Well now, the thing that’s going to sit right at the top is going to be from a Murdoch-owned publication.
Real Good Ocean Meme Roundup Right Here
This was sent to me by my friend Ellie this morning. Sorry, it’s 2021, the ocean is CANCELED.
All Your Base Belongs To Everyone
My buddy Bijan has a good piece over at The Verge today about All Your Base Are Belong To Us turning 20. I have a very complicated relationship with meme-iversaries. I want to be able to expound eloquently on the legacy of internet content, but I actually really struggle with it. Trying to write about Rebecca Black’s “Friday” the other day took me hours and I feel like I still didn’t really articulate what I wanted to.
For any zoomers reading this — lol can you imagine Gen Z using email — “All Your Base” was a clip from a Mega Drive game called Zero Wing. The game was a common fixture on early-00s message boards because the English translation was real real bad.
Wired actually wrote about the meme in February of 2001. The article, titled, “When Gamer Humor Attacks,” is really interesting to revisit now:
The "all your base are belong to us" T-shirts are already available. Chat rooms are buzzing with "all your base" mutations and gossip. Web reporters are frantically searching for an explanation, firing off e-mails to geek gurus, demanding to know what is going on.
Parody? No. It's the Dada "reality" of a medium that refuses to be tamed into predictability. Armies of marketers toiling for years can't figure out how to grab Web-users' attention, and then a flash file with screen-shots from an outdated arcade game accompanied by clumsy subtitles conquers the world.
Is it any wonder no one can figure out how to make money off the Web?
What really stands out, though, reading through all the confused trend pieces about All Your Base Belong To Us is how, at the time, it was a strange subcultural oddity. The rest of culture made sense, but this weird arcade game screenshot didn’t. Twenty years later, we’re still asking the same questions — is it dadaist, should journalists write about it, can anyone make any real money off this — but now we’re asking them about everything. We’re just as lost as to how to describe the strange digital manifestations of culture that randomly appear in our feeds every day, but we increasingly no longer have anything coherent to compare them to.
So it’s fitting, I suppose, that the first big example of this going semi-mainstream was a meme based on a mistranslation from a video game. Garbled nonsense from a computer program making our reality feel like a glitch itself. Which is now how our whole world feels — which is not always a bad thing, but it’s definitely confusing.
Gen Z Has Discovered The Tarzan Soundtrack
Every day, cultures use huge public social media platforms to restructure how their societies work. A lot of times this looks just like petty infighting on Twitter, but the chaotic free-for-all can be sort almost constructive on a macro level. Trending topics are like the screaming Id of a community trying to process its thoughts and feelings about something. And I feel like over the last year of lockdown, this big collective consciousness zeitgeist shifting has happened at an unparalleled rate.
Every few days, Americans rearrange the entire topography of our pop culture landscape. It’s exciting and confusing and a little terrifying. A good example of this is how everyone has decided that Dolly Parton is great and Chris Pratt is not. It can be serious, it can be goofy, it can be totally random.
In the last week or so, it seems like everyone has decided that Phil Collins’ Tarzan soundtrack absolutely slaps. No idea why we’ve reached this point, but I’m not complaining. Phil Collins rules. Excited to see what new revelations the internet brings us.
Everyone’s Mad About The Balloon Guy Again
Back in September, I wrote about how I woke up and checked Twitter and everyone was randomly angry about the balloon guy. After minutes of clicking around I realized that the whole Balloon Guy backlash was because he made a balloon wall post about how having a crush on someone means you might be mentally ill. Hmm, seems bad.
The “suddenly everyone’s mad about Balloon Guy” thing happened again this week. This time it was about this post on his Instagram:
The picture was shared on Twitter by user @evelkneidel, who wrote, “I hate this guy so much,” which got over 8,000 retweets. And boom, we’re off. The Balloon Guy Discourse content cycle begins anew. It’s gotten aggressive enough that folks on Tumblr are literally fantasizing about Balloon Guy dying.
If you’ve somehow totally avoided this dude up until now, his name is Michael James Schneider and he’s a 46-year-old artist from Portland who specializes in that particularly noxious form of Gen X neoliberal internet art that basically just boils down to him taking a DSLR photograph of himself doing the Dreamworks smirk and saying something that you used to be able to buy on a T-shirt at Forever 21. Like everyone else, this dude’s content makes my blood boil, which makes me feel like he’s successfully baiting me. Which only makes me angrier.
In a lot of ways he reminds of me of the 40-something Gen X guys I’ve worked with or bumped into at conferences over the years who basically saw a couple Ok Go videos in the early 2010s and decided that taking high-res photos of faux-bespoke pop art with memeable captions was the future of all media. I can’t say for sure that this is true of Schneider, but most of the Bored Panda-brained guys like him I’ve met irl ended up just being fake woke condescending hypercapitalist ghouls once you took away their millennial pink solid color backdrops and whimsical relatable content.
Anyways, here’s my favorite take on the therapist photo:
A Cool Video About The Stock Market
This video was posted by a YouTube channel called “The Rat Review” and every second of it is perfect. The music, the visuals, the rats. It’s a feast for the senses. A rat named Daisey made $0.38 off Apple and I’m very proud of her. The Rat Review has other great videos, like this one where a rat named Toby reviews a Nintendo Switch Lite. Toby gave the Switch a 4/5 for not having enough snacks. Tough, but fair, Toby.
The Rat Review YouTube channel seems like a project from the @RatsEveryHour Twitter account, which is an account that, you guessed it, posts a new rat every hour.
Discord Has An Egg Now
A user named joe in the Garbage Day Discord invited me to a Discord server this morning called “egg”. It’s just a picture of an egg and no one can post in it and it has almost 10,000 people in the chat.
As I was finishing up today’s newsletter, egg sent out an update. It apparently applied for Discord verification and was denied. “this clearly must be a mistake, i am a public figure, this server is the unique presence of ME, AND IM AN INDIVIDUAL WITH A STRONG FOLLOWING....,” the egg said to the server. “discord how could u i thought we were friends”
I will keep you updated on where this whole egg thing goes next.
Rush Limbaugh Died At 70 Today
Alright, let’s check Twitter…
The Very Good Huskie Video
P.S. here’s a video of a man eating a pickle without using his hands.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***