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A Year Of Parasocial Violence
Details continue to emerge following the horrifying Travis Scott Astroworld concert last Friday. So far, eight concertgoers are confirmed dead, with at least five more in critical condition and hundreds more injured. The Houston Chronicle has constructed a timeline of how the night spiraled out of control and discovered that Scott played for 37 minutes after the concert had already been declared a “mass casualty event” by both police and firefighters. At least twenty lawsuits have been filed against Scott so far. According to TMZ, Scott went to a party at Dave & Busters after the concert.
Law enforcement will spend the weeks ahead determining whether or not Scott personally incited the stampede of people that crushed each other to death. As Rolling Stone Editor-In-Chief Noah Shachtman told CNN on Monday, Scott had a history of egging his crowds on and pushing his fans further and further. Scott has already deleted a tweet he posted back in May, encouraging his fans to sneak in or climb the fences to get into his own concerts.
Yesterday, Scott announced that he would pay for funeral costs and was partnering with BetterHelp, a remote mental health services portal, to offer victims one month of tele-therapy. There really isn’t a word in the English language capable of conveying how grim this all is. As Olivia Yallop, author of Break the Internet: In Pursuit of Influence, tweeted yesterday, “Tragic and logical endpoint of the influencer economy is brokering brand partnership deals for the deaths of your followers.” But the connection that Yallop makes between influencer culture and what happened at Astroworld is accurate beyond just the shameless brand partnership.
2021 has been a year defined by parasocial violence, whether it’s physical like the January 6 insurrection, the TikTok meetup-turned-riot Adrian's Kickback, or, now, Astroworld, or digital like the Elon Musk crypto crash or even Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy’s current harassment campaign against Insider. The level of power celebrities and influencers have been able to achieve thanks to centralized social platforms has reached a level where they can cause riots, crash markets, or, depending on how the next two years go, topple governments, because they feel like it.
This wasn’t always possible, but the pandemic has accelerated both our relationship with technology and our desire to be together irl. As I’ve written countless times in Garbage Day, going outside is the future of being online. Our post-COVID world, whatever that means, will, in the short-term at least, be a world of flashmobs and meetups. And this moment where viral traffic becomes literally physical foot traffic is happening ironically at a moment where our real-world systems and supply chains are at their weakest. The crowd was so massive at Astroworld that fans couldn’t use their phones to call for help and the Houston firefighters union has said they weren’t even in direct communication with the private security and the emergency medical team inside the show. To say nothing of the disturbing reports circulating Instagram right now about medics working the concert not knowing how to perform CPR correctly.
Travis Scott was one of the first performers to play a virtual concert inside of Fortnite during the pandemic. His performance, complete with digital avatars of thousands of players running around shooting rocket launchers at each other, is, no doubt, what a lot of people think of when they think of the metaverse now. (Epic removed his emote from the game this week.) Astroworld was a horrifying inverse of that same desire to meld the online and the offline together with no thought about how it would work logistically. Instead of a real-life performer inside of a virtual reality simulation, Scott this weekend channeled the chaos and horror of the internet into a physical space that didn’t have the infrastructure in place to handle it. And then those horrifying scenes were uploaded back onto social media in near-real-time.
And, of course, just like with January 6, users began dissecting the photos and videos, spinning up absurd conspiracy theories about Satanism, blood magic, and child sacrifice. An influencer egging his fans on via social media for years, gathering them all in one place, only for them to trample each other to death, footage of which is then uploaded back to social media, where it becomes just more content for deeply unwell internet users.
But there is a hope that this gets better. And, in many ways, we just simply have to get better at handling this, but the question is how. There are couple possible outcomes as I see it. We could begin to temper how centralized our social networks are and start to regulate how influencers or celebrities interact with their audiences. Twitch, for what it’s worth, already tries to do this, by making streamers generally responsible for the moderation of their own communities. But there’s another more unsettling possibility here, which is that it just begins to become normal. Every day, a new riot, a new meetup that has spun out of control, a new display of power and influence and scale without any regards for who gets hurt.
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Mothership is an award-winning sci-fi horror tabletop RPG that’s live on Kickstarter right now. Boing Boing called it “a master class” and Jamie of the Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast said, "This might be my favorite role playing game other than D&D.” This game is made by the same people who made the insane party game, Two Rooms and a Boom. Click here to check out the Kickstarter!
Francis The Train Guy Meets Thierry Henry
I love this guy! If you haven’t seen his videos, click here to check out his account. His name is Francis Bourgeois and he has 950,000 followers on the app and he, just, really fucking loves trains and I love that for him. In his most recent video, Bourgeois got to meet ex-Arsenal player Thierry Henry. Even better, Bourgeois gave him a whistle that he got at the Selhurst train depot, which is apparently the biggest train depot in the UK.
An NFT Guy Learns About Images
Click in to that tweet to read a thread where the “Senior NFT Strategist” for something called “traderDAO” learns that, thanks to the way the internet has operated for the last 32 years, images are downloaded into everyone’s devices while they’re browsing the internet, which includes his NFT. He’s now, of course, saying that he was just trolling normies. He’s done a bunch of these.
A quick aside, but related. There is now a whole category of hustlebro who gets into some kind of embarrassing back-and-forth on Twitter, on to be owned very hard. Then the hustlebro claims he was just trolling. But what I don’t get is, if that were true, what’s the troll? Thousands of people who will not investigate the matter further will just assume you’re an idiot. I don’t get how it works.
While we’re talking about NFTs. Played an NFT video game this year? Well, your taxes are going to be a mess. Basically, if you mess with crypto and don’t have something that can generate some kind of CSV of your transactions, prepare to have a real bad time.
The Gosar Anime Tweet
*deep long never-ending sigh* I want to be upfront that I did not want to cover this, but it has escalated to a point where I can’t ignore it. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Paul Gosar, the 62-year-old far-right representative from Arizona (and the guy who recently compared his penis posture chad energy with cacti), tweeted out a video where he was edited into the opening credits of the anime Attack On Titan. In the video, a titan (one of the giant monsters from the show) has Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s face photoshopped on it, and one of the characters from the show then kills the A.O.C. titan.
If you’ve never seen Attack On Titan, it’s an anime similar to Game Of Thrones. People live in walled cities and are hunted by giant humanoid monsters called titans. The show is wildly popular, but, also, as the show has gone on, the wildly fascist and far-right undertones of it have become harder and harder to ignore. Basically, imagine if when Daenerys became a genocidal maniac in the last season, but, instead, that was framed as a good and noble thing and she then assembled a team to defeat the villain, Jon Snow. Even as a long-time fan of the show, I’ll admit I’ve had a tough time watching the final seasons.
All that said, the assumption that anyone on Gosar’s team has that level of understanding of Attack On Titan is ridiculous. Gosar, in response to all the backlash, tweeted out this meme:
First of all, Paul, anime is cartoons, the characters from Attack On Titan fly around with wire cables called 3D maneuver gear, and they fight with special swords. God, I can’t believe there’s an entire section of the Republican party that is just spending their time baiting me into the same arguments I had with my dad when I was 14. ANYWAYS…
Both A.O.C. and Rep. Ted Lieu have called for some kind of repercussion for Gosar’s video, saying it was threatening and Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants the Ethics Committee to investigate. It’s not up to me to decide what A.O.C. finds threatening, especially considering how long far-right maniacs have been using idiotic anime imagery to telegraph real, eventual violence. But my main takeaway from this whole episode is that it’s very interesting to me that the dominant form of political discourse in America now is essentially weaponized JibJab videos. I’m not sure what that says about anything, but I find it interesting nonetheless.
A Good Cat Video
Twitter Blue Is Here 🥴
Twitter Blue has finally arrived for users in the US, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia. What’s in it? Well, for $2.99 a month, you get a 60-second undo tweet option, ad-free in-app articles from a handful of publishers, an upgraded thread experience, a Tweetdeck-like customizable navigation bar, better bookmark tools, and a bunch of early features they’re testing out. There’s also, most importantly, talk of bringing back features that were once available via a service called Nuzzel, which was used by power users to consume content trending within their personal follower networks.
All of this sounds great. Make it free. Twitter is, unfortunately, now the main vector for all of American pop culture. All of its users deserve to have a better experience than the Squid Game bunker of an interface they currently live in.
The Feminine Urge
New weird meme dropped. It’s all over my Tumblr dashboard. According to Know Your Meme, apparently the first use of the phrase “the feminine urge to [x]” was tweeted backed in 2009, but it came back into the zeitgeist last spring when a Tumblr user named coffeeheaux posted, “the feminine urge to stab <3” And it’s only become more popular since then.
Here’s one more good feminine urge post.
Incredible Lifehack Videos
I recently came across an absolutely wild Chinese “lifehack” series. It’s called “Detective Mom and Genius Son” and it seems to be mainly hosted on Chinese video sharing site Bilibili. But they’re also now sharing them over to YouTube. The videos are completely outrageous and there’s zero chance you will guess how they end.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good rage comic.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***