The bad man pipeline is confusing
Read to the end for some very cool drone footage
The Long, Strange Journey Of Sinfest
If you’ve never heard of the comic Sinfest, congrats, you aren’t as hopelessly online as you may have previously thought. The comic is written and drawn by Tatsuya Ishida, a cartoonist from California. It started in 2000 and the basic “plot” follows cute anime-esque humanized depictions of devils, Satan, God, angels, and later, more philosophical concepts like Uncle Sam, Father Time, and the New Year Baby.
The comic has been running for 22 years at this point and it recently started getting a bunch of attention on Twitter because it has become outlandishly transphobic. A reader named Erika sent me over an incredible thread from a user named @bitterkarella who decided to read the entire run of Sinfest to figure out exactly when it became transphobic and why. It’s a heroic undertaking and @bitterkarella’s findings are pretty incredible.
Ishida started the comic amid the early-00s web comic boom, where many cartoonists immersed in early internet culture and nerd communities started self-publishing comic strips full of references tailor-made for that audience. The big comics of this era included Penny Arcade, Questionable Content, Player Vs. Player, and, of course, the comic that gave the world loss.jpg. When Sinfest started it was a very typical edgy South Park rip-off, but @bitterkarella’s recent deep-dive into the comic’s 22-year evolution actually gives us a startling insight into how a very specific kind of internet man would shift from angry nerd to anti-“woke” transphobic fascist.
Sinfest started as a very typical reaction to the jocks vs. nerds dichotomy that was still big in popular culture in the early-2000s. This seems to have blurred into a very proto-4chan attitude that all nerds are also dumb idiots who love porn and hot chicks, but in ways that were different and superior to more mainstream dude bros. This attitude over time seems to have turned into a real self-loathing for Ishida. Characters that start as Cartman-like edgy author-stand-ins start whining about the evils of pornography later on. And that, slowly, over time, turns into a real hatred for sex work, which Ishida continually portrays as an industry created by men to exploit women.
In the mid-2000s, Ishida comes out against the Iraq War, which was common for a lot of similar web comics, actually. Many of these edgy gamer comics reacted to the authoritarian actions the Bush administration and corporate American media were taking against anti-war voices with an almost deification of edginess and offensive humor. What’s interesting for Ishida is that his anti-porn self-loathing, which by the end of the 00s had become something close to what you would see on subreddits like r/NoFap, and his hatred of sex workers led him to start peppering ideas into his comics from hardcore radical feminism, which for a time really pissed off his core audience. (The general term used for this ideology would be SWERF or “sex worker exclusionary radical feminist”.)
By the early-2010s, Ishida starts playing around with a lot long-running internet conspiracies, like the illuminati and the Bilderberg group. Then, in 2016, he starts to get fascinated with Trump and the Make America Great Again movement, portraying it as an antidote to the evil porn-fueled illiminati-controlled society he had become increasingly obsessed with using edgy humor to fight against following the Iraq War years.
Then, in 2019, Ishida publishes his first anti-trans comic, which seems to argue that transgenderism was created as a way for Big Pharma to prey on young people. And then, from there, all of Ishida’s fascinations re-align around trans-exclusionary radical feminism. The anti-porn stuff, the anti-sex work stuff, the post-Iraq War concepts of edgy humor equalling free speech, the conspiracy theories — they all coalesce around transphobia. In 2021, Ishida depicts January 6th as a battle between guys wearing MAGA hats and queer people with purple hair. And then soon after, Sinfest goes full QAnon and even has plot lines about Christians defending their cottagecore farm from woke “zombies” who look like Tumblr SJWs. And, as of now, the comic is a Christian fascist slurry of random internet nonsense.
But what makes Sinfest such a useful archive of the last 20 years of internet culture is that Ishida uses a lot of the same characters as stand-ins for various topical issues. Which means you can start to see how he’s connected different ideas over time. A character that, 15 years ago, was meant to represent the predatory porn industry, which looked like a pick up artist and was constantly trying to lure women into dangerous careers as sex workers is then rebranded as a purple-haired “woke” agent of Big Pharma that is apparently working for the leftist illuminati and using social justice as a cover for sex trafficking. As completely incoherent and ridiculous as Ishida’s ideology is, expressed over thousands of comic strips, it actually becomes a very clear depiction of how a lot of men grew up online: The long, rambling, and hateful journey from 4chan nerd who loves anime to shameless pornography addict to conspiracy theorist to TERF to Christofascist extremist. Sinfest also has a ton of Harry Potter references, which feels like it’s worth pointing out.
@bitterkarella’s thread is long, but really taking some time to scroll through any chunk of it is interesting I think. Sinfest has inadvertently become one of the few unbroken chains that we can take all the back to the beginning of all of this. 4chan posts disappear, memes become too abstracted, but Ishida’s comic has consistently published through it. Which makes it a weirdly useful resource even if, as @bitterkarella put it:
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The Art of The Flounce
At a certain point the other day it all became unbearable. The “I’m leaving Twitter!” tweets. The “unlike all those other people I’m not leaving Twitter!” tweets. The “here’s what people saying they’re leaving Twitter Means About Society!” tweet. The mass scale was impressive but it wasn’t like anything I hadn’t seen before. Essentially what a lot of people were doing was flouncing.
The flounce is a common act perpetuated in online communities since the dawn of time. In fandom spaces it generally takes the form of dramatic declarations of someone’s imminent departure from a digital space. A grand finale of fed-up aimed at getting as much attention as possible before an announced exit.
What differentiates a flounce from a mere farewell? The answer lies in its appeal to reassurance. The flouncer does not necessarily want to leave so much as they want to be begged not to. They want to be present at their own funeral, so to speak. As the please-don’t-go’s and the we’ll-miss-you-so-much’s roll in, the flouncer feels better about themselves and the digital endeavor they’ve proclaimed they’ll shortly be erasing foreverrrrrr and never coming back xoxo peace out.
A flounce, looking at it one way, is a spell to conjure or accomplish some social action. They have a ritual, incantatory quality, which is why I feel the various performative Twitter departure messages circulating this week all fall into the general flounce category, even if they didn’t carry with them the classic fandom flounce’s sub-clause of “none of you really appreciate me.” Certainly the moral-high-ground guilt-trip energy of flounce culture was present, as various academics I follow proclaimed they simply couldn’t live with themselves if they contributed in any way to Elon’s profit margin, and would be deleting their accounts shortly.
Of course, not all of the chatter was flouncey; quite a bit was of the hypothetical mass-hysteric phenotype: “if we all leave, if I get banned, if Elon lets loose a flood of trolls which devour us like a pack of so many jagged-toothed hyenas…” It’s easy to say all this will soon be proved to have been for naught, whether Elon takes over or not. Certainly the critical mass of Twitter’s userbase is going nowhere. But enough people were genuinely spurred into action that it made waves elsewhere. Tumblr, for example, reported a 19% surge in new user registrations on the day of the Elonpocalypse.
One of the perhaps unintended consequences of a classic flounce is to instill an awareness in its intended audience of the immateriality of online spaces. When your favorite fan-writer gets in a tussle with a hated rival and deletes all their fic with a harrumph, it impresses upon you the ephemeral nature of your subcultural zone, whose outsized importance in your emotional life might have thus far made it seem much more stable and solid than it actually is.
In that vein, I hope all of the people who this week gave real thought, performative or not, to the idea of leaving Twitter forever, take that panicked contemplation and do something material with it. Take those new Tumblr accounts and use them for a couple days. Fiddle with an RSS feed of your favorite blogs or just bookmark the blogs and refresh them all day waiting for updates. Seek out a Discord to lurk on, or a hobbyist forum (plenty still exist!). Nobody’s entire online life ought to be centralized on one feed belonging to one account belonging to one company. Even 3-5 might be too low, honestly… I find that the more options I have, the less distressed I am at the thought of losing any single one of them. This kind of digital maximalism isn’t for everyone, of course, but it might well help you avoid the temptation to flounce in the future.
A Good Tweet
Snapchat’s Making Moves
Snapchat has come out of left field this year and become a surprising success story. I highlighted this piece from Big Technology earlier this week, but I want to come back to it because I think it’s fascinating. Snapchat now has more daily users than Twitter. Why? Well, Big Technology’s Alex Kantrowitz thinks it’s because Snapchat has been investing more in two user trends that I’ve also been banging on about recently: messaging and augmented reality.
Snapchat is basically a super-powered messaging app with some of the best video and photo filters on the internet. While Meta has been pushing for a more immersive, walled off, and public internet spaces, Snap has gone the other way, building software — and as we’ll talk about in a second, hardware — that helps users pull the internet further into physical spaces. It’s very cool!
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel also had some interesting thoughts about the metaverse he shared with The Verge recently. “Our fundamental thesis and our big bet is on the real world,” Spiegel said. “People are going to spend the vast majority of their time in the world because it’s really a wonderful place.”
Now, this all sounds very upbeat and cool, but I do have to clarify that Snap’s investment in the real world includes this, which is either cool or horrifying depending on how you feel about living in a surveillance capitalism panopticon…
It’s Not Just Tumblr Getting The Musk Bump
One quick final addendum to the Elon Musk craziness and its ripple effects across the web. Earlier this week, I wrote how Musk’s possible purchase of Twitter has seemingly coincided with a huge uptick in new users over at Tumblr. According to this post that was dropped in the Garbage Day Discord by adrianhon, the same is true for the social network Mastodon.
If you’ve never heard of Mastodon, it’s essentially the decentralized protocol that Jack Dorsey has been dreaming of turning Twitter into. Except, it’s been around for years. If you’re having trouble envisioning how Mastodon works, imagine a Twitter for all of your friends. And imagine you start dating someone who has a Twitter for all of their friends. Because Mastodon is what’s called a “federated” social network, in this scenario, you and the person you are dating would be able to link your friend group Twitters together, effectively blending them. If you broke up, you could defederate them.
I interviewed Mastodon’s founder last year when all this talk of Web3 and decentralized social networks first kicked off in earnest. I took the paywall down, so feel free to click here if you want to read more about this.
A Good YouTube Reaction Video
A lot of smaller YouTube channels from younger users get their start with really simple videos of them watching Millennial and Gen X content for the first time. Some of these can be kind of cynical, some are cute. The video above is from a creator who describes himself as a “mumble rap fan” and it’s him reacting to The Cranberries’ song “Zombie,” which seemed like such a bizarre collection of things happening at once that I couldn’t help but click.
I’m not sure what led to this kid making this video, but his reaction is great. Glad to see that we can, across generations, agree that The Canberries went incredibly hard. Also, I highly recommend reading the comments, most of which appear to be from older music fans, some Irish, excitedly sharing their own memories of where they were when they first heard “Zombie”.
Another Good Tweet
The Facebookification Of Netflix
I didn’t have space this week to put down all my thoughts on the recent chaos over at Netflix — blame Musk — but this week on my podcast The Content Mines we went long on it. Click through on the embed above to check it out!
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s some very cool drone footage.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***