Taylor Swift vs. the manosphere

Read to the end for the silliest drop you’ve ever heard

No Girls Allowed

Over the weekend, the always-excellent John Burn-Murdoch, over at The Financial Times, posted an alarming bit of demographic analysis that has now gone very viral. It’s from a column Burn-Murdoch wrote titled, “A New Global Gender Divide Is Emerging,” which shows a tremendous political gap forming between young men and women around the world.

Burn-Murdoch followed up the column with a lengthy thread on X hypothesizing as to what may be causing this gap and thousands of other users have offered up their own diagnoses, as well: Smartphones, video games, economic inequality, lack of education, an over-correction post-#MeToo.

Interestingly enough, though, the bulk of Burn-Murdoch’s reporting focuses on South Korea, the US, Germany, the UK, Spain, Poland, China, and Tunisia. Which, aside from China and Tunisia, were all countries I worked in, covering elections and far-right radicalization, in and around the time period those countries’ respective political gender gaps began widening. I’m not saying I have a tremendously in-depth understanding of, say, Polish toxic masculinity, but I did spend several days there following around white nationalist rappers and Catholic fundamentalist football fans. And, in South Korea, I worked on a project about radical feminists and their activism against the country’s equivalent of 4chan, Ilbe Storehouse.

In fact, between 2015-2019, I visited over 20 countries, essentially asking the same question: Where do bad men here hangout online? Which has given me a near-encyclopedic directory in my head, unfortunately, of international 4chan knock-offs. In Spain, it’s a car forum that doxxes rape victims called ForoCoches. In France, it’s a gaming forum that organized rallies for Marine Le Pen called Jeux Video. In Japan, it’s 2channel. In Brazil, it’s Dogolachan. And most, if not all, of these spaces pre-date any sort of modern social movement like #MeToo — or even the invention of the smartphone.

But the mainstream acceptance of the culture from these sites is new. Though I don’t actually think the mystery of “why now?” is that much of a mystery. While working in Europe, I came to understand that these sites and their culture war campaigns like Gamergate were a sort of emerging form of digital hooliganism. Nothing they were doing was new, but their understanding how to network online was novel. And in places like the UK, it actually became more and more common in the late-2010s to see Pepe the Frog cosplayers marching alongside far-right football clubs. In the US, we don’t have the same sports culture, but the end result has been the same. The nerds and the jocks eventually aligned in the streets. The anime nazis were simply early adopters and the tough guys with guns and zip ties just needed time to adapt to new technology. And, unlike the pre-internet age, unmoderated large social platforms give them an infinitely-scalable recruitment radius. They don’t have to hide in backrooms anymore.

Much of the digital playbook fueling this recruitment for our new(ish) international masculinist movement was created by ISIS, the true early adopters for this sort of thing. Though it took about a decade for the West to really embrace it. But nowadays, it is not uncommon to see trad accounts sharing memes about “motherhood,” that are pretty much identical to the Disney Princess photoshops ISIS brides would post on Tumblr to advertise their new life in Syria. And, even more darkly, just this week, a Trump supporter in Pennsylvania beheaded his father and uploaded it to YouTube, in a video where he ranted about the woke left and President Biden. Online extremism is a flat circle.

The biggest similarity, though, is in what I call cultural encoding. For ISIS, this was about constantly labeling everything that threatened their influence as a symptom of the decadent, secular West.

For our new International League Of Unfuckable Conservative Men, it is, increasingly, about labeling everything that threatens them as feminine and, thus, bad. This is why you only ever see them rant about women journalists — well, usually it’s just The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz tbh. This is also why they’re always angry about whatever wild shit random teenage girls are posting TikTok. And this why they invented the concept of “simping,” the minute sites like OnlyFans began giving direct financial power to sex workers. Because they see masculinity as unquestionable strength and anything that threatens that must be eliminated. And this why they’re all losing their minds over Taylor Swift right now.


Taylor Swift, an extremely affluent blonde, blue-eyed white woman who writes country-inflected pop music and is dating a football player headed for the Super Bowl. She should be a resounding victory for these guys. Doesn’t get more American than that. But due to an actually very funny glitch in how they see the world, she’s actually a huge threat.

Pop culture, according to the right wing, should be frivolous. Because before the internet, it was something sold to girls by corporations run by powerful men. Famous pop stars through the ages, like Frank Sinatra, America’s first Justin Bieber, or The Beatles, the One Direction of their time, would be canonized as Great by Serious Men after history had forgotten they rocketed to success as their generation’s Tumblr Sexymen. But from the 2000s onward, thanks to an increasingly powerful digital public square, young women and people of color were able to have more influence in mainstream culture and also accumulate more financial power from it. And after Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was able to connect this new form of pop influence to both liberal progressive politics and, also, social media, well, conservatives realized they had to catch up and fast. And the fastest way to do that is to try and smash the whole thing by dismissing it as feminine.

Pop music? It’s for girls. Social media? It’s for girls. Democrats? Girls. Taylor Swift? Girls and also a government psyop. But this line of thinking has no limit. It poisons everything. If Swift manages to make it to the Super Bowl, well, that has to become feminine too. And at a certain point, the whole thing falls apart because, honestly, you just sound like an insane loser.

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Garbage Day Patch Notes

We caught yet another bug causing double charges. It seems like it only impacted a very small amount of subscribers, thankfully, but I want to talk a bit about it because it’s something other newsletter writers should be aware of. And, also, I’m furious about it.

After leaving Substack, I luckily happened to come across some documentation from Ghost and a great post by writer Molly White about how you have to personally ask Substack’s support team to remove their access to your Stripe account. If you don’t, they can still take their 10% cut from your subscriptions, even though you’re no longer using them as a host. Which is ridiculous and, frankly, predatory, considering Substack, itself, does not mention this anywhere.

To be as diplomatic as I can here, during the one-on-one conversation with Substack’s support about removing this fee a, uh, miscommunication occurred. I thought I was explicit about what I wanted to happen, but, in talking to other writers who have left the site and dealt with this, it’s apparently a real “what’s the secret password” situation in getting them to do this correctly. And so, I discovered over the weekend that Substack had left all of their subscriptions still active and simply removed their access, resulting in everyone having two concurrent subscriptions, one for Substack and one for Beehiiv. Beehiiv has been a huge help and ran a script to remove the double charges this morning. If you haven’t been impacted, you shouldn’t have to do anything. If you’ve already emailed me about a double charge, don’t worry, I’ll be contacting you soon. And if you have seen a double charge and haven’t emailed me, just reply to this issue, and we’ll get it sorted.

And if you’re writer planning to leave Substack, you have to specifically ask for them to “cancel the subscriptions in Stripe, issue no refunds, and disconnect your Stripe account from Substack.” Even though it’s worded as if they’re about to nuke all your readers, this is the correct choice in the decision tree. Good luck.

“ARG” Stands For Argylle Reality Game”

—by Adam Bumas

With all the “movies are back!” moments we’ve had in the past few years, there’s probably no actually going back again. That’s why the movie Argylle, which opens in theaters Friday, can’t just sell itself on being a funny spy movie full of hot celebrities. There has to be some kind of crucial, structural spoiler — a reason to get out to the theater that just reading the plot synopsis won’t fully satisfy. 

And the secrecy around Argylle has been a multi-stage operation. Originally, the marketing said the movie was based on a book by author Elly Conway. Later, they revealed Elly Conway is actually the main character of the movie. It’s hard to shift focus while keeping everything shrouded in mystery, and so people are wondering who wrote the tie-in novel, which is still credited to this fictional character. Could Taylor Swift have written it? J.K. Rowling, maybe? [Ed. note: I assume it’s the cat, somehow.]

Akira Toriyama probably didn't write Argylle either.

The real supposition behind all these theories is that the movie has a story that’s too big for just a movie. It probably isn’t, but since they spent $200 million on it, that’s exactly what they’re hoping. That’s why I say there’s no going back. The hypertext must be the text now. The story you’re watching has to go somewhere other than the screen or the page.

And beyond that, what caught my eye about the theories is the best guesses people can come up with are the most SEO-friendly figures in the cultural conversation. Something W. David Marx recently called “Macro-taste Micro culture” in a very interesting essay.

It’s disappointing to see the “Boss Baby vibes” view of culture rushing to fill the tiniest vacuum of information, where every single unknown quantity will get more attention if you tie it into whatever’s popular. “Was Argylle AI-generated?” C’mon, crackpots!  Even with Elvis and JFK and so on, conspiracy theories used to require more effort and knowledge than this! Maybe the Bilderberg Group wrote it, I don’t know.

If you want actual juicy gossip involving both fictional and real life spies, however, you should look up the director’s real name and why he goes by Matthew Vaughn instead. Truth is stranger than fiction, especially when the fiction is so interconnected that it ends up being about nothing while trying to be about everything.

I Do Not See The Vision

Long-time readers know that I am actually someone who thinks headsets are pretty neat. I’ve always been more bullish on augmented, rather than virtual, reality, however, largely because I’m still chasing the summer of 2016 Pokémon Go high.

But after I spent a few weeks last year inside of Meta’s Quest Pro, I’ve also become very attuned to the issues involving headsets. The main one being that if they don’t easily sync with the other parts of your digital life, they’re actually a massive pain. About 30% of my experience inside the Quest Pro was taking it off to read my own passwords so I could type them into various accounts.

So I figured that the Vision Pro would fix this, seeing as how Apple’s ecosystem is pretty damn good. But the first impressions I’ve seen from places like The Verge (embedded above) and YouTube creator Marques Brownlee, have not left me with a lot of confidence in Apple’s new Vision (Pro). I mean the FaceTime stuff is hideous. And at this point, I’m honestly willing to say that I think the headset, as a concept, as we’ve seen it, is completely wrong.

So what’s the way forward here? Well, I’m starting to wonder if the problem is that it shouldn’t be one device, but two. What if, instead of cramming an entire “spatial” computer into a headset, Apple made a pair of good XR glasses that plug in (or wirelessly connect) with their existing devices and then gave AirPods their own AI assistant?

Do People Actually Want AI Summaries?

The New York Times is hiring a generative-AI team. Based on the job listings, it looks like they may be researching the feasibility of building a proprietary ChatGPT-like chatbot for readers. (But that’s just me talking out of my ass.)

Also, The Browser Company, the folks behind the Arc Browser, which I’ve heard is pretty good (even if I once got in a fight on X with their founder), just released a new AI-powered “search” app called Arc Search. As The Verge put it, Arc Search, “combines browser, search engine, and AI into something new and different.”

But Arc Search, and whatever The New York Times may be exploring, along with the majority of other AI-powered “search” platforms we’ve seen so far are all built on two bizarre and weirdly unchallenged assumptions. That people both want to ask for information and also want to read summaries of said information.

Let’s start with the first assumption: That people want to actively seek out news content. This is an especially weird idea that has seeped into Silicon Valley and, by extension, the increasingly-desperate mainstream media, considering that since the invention of the television, that has not been the case. In fact, almost all modern media is created to catch people’s attention when they experience it out in the wild, whether that’s online in a feed or out in meatspace. Cable news, in particular, seems to be designed to exclusively catch your eye as you sit in an airport. So it’s pretty silly to think that simply because an AI can talk to you at level on par with the average hiring manager on LinkedIn, that people will suddenly want to actively go and ask questions to consume the majority of their news. I think it’s better to assume, at this point, that people just don’t want to consume any news at all, unless it’s being told to them by a young woman drinking flavored water out of a big lead-contaminated cup.

The second assumption, that people want summaries of information when they receive it, is also a funny one. It seems to come around every four-to-eight years. Typically when Democrats are in the White House, I’ve noticed. This was the impetus behind Vox, for instance, with its big initial claims of inventing “explainer journalism,” which quickly just devolved into blogging, again. My own assumption here is that this is a byproduct of CEO brain. “I can’t possibly read all of the information I need to pretend to care about to run my company, so other people must treat information as a nuisance to be fixed, as well.” But, once again, that is not really the case. The internet has turned the consumption of information into its own form of entertainment — or in the context of conspiracy theories, madness.

So, yeah, idk man lol. I think this is a dead end.

Pokimane Is Leaving Twitch

In last week’s paid issue, I wrote, “I’m pretty blackpilled on [Twitch] at this point and I’m half-convinced that there’s no real way to turn the ship around. I think if one or two more big creators leave in the next six months, we’re going to see a Snapchat-esque never-ending death spiral.”

Well, a big creator is jumping ship much sooner than I expected. Imane Anys, known as Pokimane, announced that she’s leaving the platform yesterday. She has not said where she’s going next (if anywhere), but most folks seem to think it’s YouTube.

I would say the death spiral for Twitch has officially begun.

Let’s Talk About The Hazbin Hotel AMV Thing

The other day, I got a text out of the blue from a dear friend that, to paraphrase an old Tumblr post, felt as if I had just watched the outline of some great, unknown leviathan swim underneath the hull of my small ship. This was the text:

And, of course, I had to look up what this meant. And, yeah, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

A YouTuber reportedly spent $50,000 commissioning an animated music video that features him in bed with a character from the cartoon Hazbin Hotel. If you want to see the video, you can find that here. It’s not NSFW, but it’s also not SFW, if you know what I mean. But, also, my friend was right. The song in the video is pretty good. It’s called “Hide Away,” by Synapson featuring Holly.

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