We have too many Main Characters now
Read to the end for a real thought-provoking tweet
Our Constant Context Collapse Spillover
In a recent Medium piece by Ed Zitron, he marvels at the expansiveness of today’s internet, and the relatively recent development of “the internet becoming so large that simply being on it all the time wasn’t enough to keep up.” The piece was surprisingly positive coming from a guy I mainly know as a writer of Impassioned Screeds against workplace managerial practices. You love to see it!
Since I am an internet culture writer, I must have approximate knowledge of many things in the web’s great and storied history in order to do my job. But I wonder, in the chicken/egg question of the day, if I enjoy this gig so much because it, in fact, plays to my strength as a lifetime trivia head. I pick up details easily; frequently the mere fact of a name will accrete in my head along with a few vital contextual bits and pieces. This is not anything resembling deep cultural knowledge: but ever since furtively surfing Encyclopedia Dramatica as an overly curious 10-year-old and picking up all sorts of disturbing secondhand tidbits about CWC and Boxxy and so on and so forth, I’ve prided myself on generally knowing what people are talking about when it comes to being online.
However, not everyone has my fucked-up Katamari brain. That much is made clear by how many people claim to have never even heard of the Try Guys before this week’s Milkshake Duckery. Subcultural content has always existed and been very important to the people who consume it, but as Zitron points out, it’s the sheer volume of consumption that has changed. I mean, Emma Chamberlain’s motherfucking HOUSE! QED. [Ed. note: I don’t know what that is.]
The silos of our digital spaces are porous, which is why Main Characters tend to induce all sorts of context collapse spillovers. The louder subcultures like Minecraft YouTube and K-Pop regularly trend on platforms through coordinated group action, which does nothing so much as simply make people aware they exist, but plenty of otherwise very up-to-date people have never heard of (for example) the McElroy Content Empire because they are generally quite inoffensive and fly just below the radar of the true “mainstream” (if such a thing exists). And there’s a lot more where that came from!
It’s just really hard to get a legitimate bird’s-eye view anymore. I mean, that’s the reason I was obsessed with this very newsletter for so long before starting to write for it. Because Ryan excels in a certain type of broad contextual scope which at least acknowledges the many disparate corners of the subcultural digital landscape that are cooperating behind the scenes of a phenomenon or event. And then even when certain outlets are great at hiring writers who do attempt this sort of scope, they get unceremoniously shut down…
I’ve written before about how fandom histories are important. I would apply this more broadly to say that subcultural histories, especially the digital ones, are vital. Zitron points out that he no longer scoffs at internet journalism and now considers it necessary. I sure hope it does! But should I write a whole column about how in one of my fandoms, someone recently prompted a GPT-3 A.I. to write a fanfic of a ship they didn’t like, posted it on AO3, and then used the resulting comments and kudos as “proof” of the general poor quality of the enemy ship’s works and its shippers lack of discernment? I mean… probably not. [Ed. note: Yes you should!!] But observing an obscure subcultural event like that and considering it in the larger context of the age of synthetic media will probably prove useful to me further down the line, and more importantly informative for others.
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It’d be a shame to miss what Gizmodo calls “a part searing social indictment and part psychological deep dive [into] the gamification of our everyday,” but that’s cool because at least you should check out this excellent free content!
Radiolab’s Gigaverse ep goes into the gamification of Uber driving
Watch this NYU Games Center lecture with Adrian Hon and Eric Zimmerman on the rise of gamification
Caught in the Study Web is a great piece by Fadeke Adegbuyi on students gamifying their study time in massive Discord chats
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A Good Tweet
Bolsonaro Finally Debates
Last night was the final debate of the Brazilian election. The two top candidates are incumbent Jair “Actually Dozens Of Coronavirus Variants In A Trench Coat” Bolsonaro and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or just “Lula” as everyone calls him. Bolsonaro is a dangerous far-right maniac who wants to burn down the Amazon and apparently buy as much property in cash as he can. And Lula is a beloved former president with serious leftist cred who went to jail for corruption for a while, though the conviction was eventually annulled. Brazilian politics, baby.
The debate in Brazil this week was notable for a few reasons, but the biggest one for me was that Bolsonaro skipped the one in 2018, instead going live on his Facebook as the other candidates debated each other. It’s hard to imagine Facebook Live (or any Meta product) being able to counter-program a national primetime broadcast in 2022, but four years ago, Bolsonaro was able to fully tap into an out-of-control social media groundswell, thanks to pretty much unlimited reached on Facebook and WhatsApp. When he won, his supporters literally chanted “Facebook” and “WhatsApp” at the presidential palace gates. And in an interesting story that I haven’t seen really talked about in the English media yet is that it’s not just Bolsonaro that is suffering from Meta’s waning cultural influence in Brazil and Instagram’s pivot to TikTok, but also all of the far-right influencers that ran alongside him in 2018. And so it should come as no surprise that Bolsonaro has recently begun focusing on Telegram.
Obviously, for the sake of both Brazil and the Earth’s biosphere, Bolsonaro will hopefully lose. And a recent survey seems to point to Bolsonaro getting thoroughly trounced. But, of course, the big question is whether he’ll admit he lost if and when he does. For a country that had a dictatorship as recently as 1985, the stakes for a Trumpian Stop The Steal repeat are much higher. But impending constitutional crises aside, the big star of last night’s debate, according to Brazilian Twitter (the undefeated champion of the global meme Olympics) was this guy:
He calls himself “Padre Kelmon,” but it seems like he’s not, in fact, actually a priest. He’s running with the Brazilian Labour Party and spent most of the evening saying outrageous nonsense and being a hypeman for Bolsonaro. Soraya Thronicke, another candidate on the stage accidentally called him “Padre Kelson” at one point and the moderator of the debate called him “Padre Kelman”. Excellent stuff all around.
The memes about Padre Kelmon were real good. My girlfriend sent me this one last night. And I thought this one was pretty good too. And if you’re looking for a good English-language rundown of the debate, I’m a big fan of Twitter user @oceanyia, who does a ton of great English-language explainers about Brazilian news.
Brazil has a two-round voting system, with the first election on October 2nd. If someone wins a majority, election done, but if not, a second round between the top two candidates happens on October 30th. Which is quick, but also a lot of time for Bolsonaro and his supporters (the bolsominions) to cause a lot of chaos.
Saying Hurricanes Are Fake For Clout
American Idol contestant and hardcore right-wing influencer Jimmy Levy posted a video on Instagram this week claiming that the footage on CNN of Hurricane Ian was “The Truman Show,” writing a whole rant about how “they” make “the weather.” The video is no longer on his Instagram, but a whole bunch of other wild posts about the hurricane still are. He seems to think that the weather was manipulated artificially to induce climate change lockdowns. Yadda yadda yadda…
Every time a conspiracy theory like this leaves its containment unit, a whole bunch of verified liberal users on Twitter tut-tut about the rise of conspiratorial thinking in America and shriek about the need for digital literacy, etc. But I think there’s a fairly compelling argument to be made that this is a pretty natural consequence of America’s current media landscape.
I’ve written before about how I think right-wing conspiracies are actually, on a technical level, closer to fan fiction communities than coherent political ideologies. And I think many of them would have surfaced without Trump and there’s even a way of looking at them as the very force that produced Trump. I mean what is his core base other than the “TV always on in the suburban mcmansion” demographic. And so I’m not surprised we’re seeing increasingly nutso conspiracies like “hurricanes are made by satanists” flourish online. We live immersed in a 24-hour news cycle and spend all of our time on digital platforms that incentivize creating and sharing and watching content over all else.
I mean, at this point America’s information systems are so broken that the viral hurricane street shark hoax that goes around every year finally actually happened in Florida and ended up being “debunked” anyways by a “professor of intelligence studies” who confidently claimed on Twitter that it was fake. So, yeah, why wouldn’t you sit in front of your TV and film cable news reporters needlessly running around in a hurricane and then go claim it was all made up and get some internet points on a platform no one cares enough to moderate.
A Real Good Breaking Bad Video
Last month I wrote that “the internet is doing something to Breaking Bad” and it looks like that something is still happening. As for why Breaking Bad memes are blowing up right now, I think the simplest answer is the 15 year rule of nostalgia. The show’s premiere will turn 15 in January. And I think part of expressing nostalgia online now for young internet users involves wildly complex remixes and edits a la the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies or the Star Wars prequels. Anyways, here’s another extremely good edit I saw on Tumblr this week.
It Has Come To My Attention That Some People Don’t Remember The Coolio College House Party Video
The year is 2013. Coolio ends up at a local club near University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England. He then goes back to a flat with some students and performs “Gangsta’s Paradise,” including a fourth unreleased verse. He also goes to a Tesco with the students and makes them a three-course meal of a caprese salad, “Chicken á la Daaaamn,” and a peach crumble. The whole story is incredible. Here’s a big Reddit thread about it.
A Redditor Accidentally Bought A Lot Of Uranium
If I had to describe the general vibe of a big site like Reddit, there’s obviously a lot of different paths to take. But I really can’t think of a better example of “Reddit brain” than someone buying “$5000 worth” of “crystals and rocks from an old guy” and then going on r/whatisthisrock and asking why one of the rocks would be in a metal container and extremely dense. Turns out it’s almost definitely uranium!
“So from what I googled, I should not die,” the user wrote in a follow-up comment. “But I’m [not] picking it up anytime soon”
But wait, there’s one more very funny piece to this. As Tumblr user sabakos noticed, the price tag is sort of curious. If the user just bought a bunch of rocks and crystals (and uranium apparently) how do they know if it’s worth $5000? Also, in another comment, the user said they bought the collection for $50. So what’s going on here? Well, guys, let me tell you, the answer is going to blow your socks off.
“Well there is over 5000 specimens,” the user wrote when asked about this in the comments. “If I sold each one for $1 then I mean that’s $5000. But there is a lot of really really good and unique things in the mix so I figure give it take. It’s all WORTH $5000 min.”
Incredible. Simply incredible.
Some Stray Links
“I watched too many TikToks and had some thoughts about cyberpunk”
P.S. here’s a real thought-provoking tweet.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
First off I'm glad that garbage day can now add Fred durst and nu metal to the content one can find here.
Allegra and zitron have caught on to something I think a lot of heavy internet users feel. There's just too much happening everywhere at once and it's too hard to discern between noise and not noise.
The fake priest is awesome. I feel like I can say that since American democracy is close to putting our bolsanaro back in power. I hope Brazilians are getting laughs from our Q shamans and desantis'.
I liked the piece on how broken our information systems are. I think there are too many factors at play for them to be fixed but we'll see how bad it will or won't get. I do think that while we always think we've hit rock bottom we have the capacity to go lower. There's a non zero chance that a weatherman will be arrested for participating in faking a hurricane in the future and that's just the world we live in.