Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Following Dril, the Twitter account at the end of the world

Graphic: Natalie Peeples

On the internet, where nobody agrees about anything, everybody seems to agree about Dril. We associate Dril with Twitter, but he is much larger than that. He is a patron saint of the internet itself—a rare rallying point and muse for everyone, regardless of affiliation or creed. It’s old hat, at this point, to compare him to Donald Trump: Both are aging, endlessly aggrieved white men who seemingly do not understand core components of the internet, yet they perfectly embody its anonymous rage, its ability to turn people into lunatics being swarmed and eaten alive by enemies and trolls.

Throughout this tumultuous last year, this has even become a sort of parlor game. Whenever something big happens, everyone tries to find the corresponding Dril tweet that captures it. Miraculously, it never fails. Over the course of 10 years and some 7,500 tweets, Dril has rendered a tightly written comedic exaggeration of every daily outrage and conflict from the news cycle in which we find ourselves trapped. That the personas of Dril and Trump are similar has always been clear, but as the real world warps itself around Trump’s angry rhetoric, the subjective hallucinations of Dril have become more and more relatable. Now, we are all Dril.

It’s fitting, then, that no one knows who Dril actually is. Like a lot of the figures from the collective dubbed, in the platform’s early days, as “Weird Twitter,” he originated on Something Awful, the primarily video game-focused forum full of acerbic smartasses that became a culture unto itself. It was there, in the site’s FYAD (Fuck You And Die) thread, that its most elite wits sparred with scorched-earth, race-to-the-bottom inside jokes, each more subversive than the last. Today, whenever you see someone intentionally using too many commas (“Well ,,,,”), they are doing a pale, decade-old imitation of that forum’s sense of humor. It’s where Dril was born, originally posting under the name “gigantic drill.” And as that forum’s exclusivity slowly disintegrated, Dril migrated, along with some of the site’s other luminaries, to Twitter, following up his canonical first post (“no”) a mere year later with his second:

Dril’s comic sensibility was fully formed even then—although there was decidedly less narrative—with general riffing on Michael Jackson (who had just died), Austin Powers, and AIDS. Over time, a handful of preoccupations would develop, some of which would go on to have a Velvet Underground-like influence on the tenor of the internet to come. The language and obsessions of social media marketing (content, followers, retweets) swirl around him like cackling demons, although his corporate invective is balanced with perverse, Married… With Children-style gripes about his hectoring wife and ex-wife and his large, adult sons. He is obsessed with e-commerce, often complaining directly to brands and professing devotion to various platforms and products. But he often reveals flashes of more base online interactions, such as his ongoing blood feud with a man named DigimonOtis. Like so many men online, he is obsessed with his dick, his balls, his ass, his cum, and his shit. He is your uncle’s search history come to life and filtered through a scabrous comic sensibility, and he is possibly the most popular, beloved man on the entire internet (after, maybe, The Rock).

In Buzzfeed’s oral history of Weird Twitter, Dril briefly broke character, writing:

Twitter, as I understand it, is a sort of “Hell” that I was banished to upon death in my previous life. In this abstract realm, the only thing I am certain of is that my cries are awarded “Favs” or “RTs” when they are particularly miserable or profane. These ethereal merits do nothing to ease my suffering, but I have deliriously convinced myself that gathering enough of them will impress my unseen superiors and grant me a promotion to a higher plane of existence. This is my sole motivation.

He is uniquely good at this, having grown from an influential niche account to amass more than 800,000 followers. It’s been postulated that the account is the creation of the same team who made Horse_Ebooks, or maybe the work of an unspecified single person who works in graphic design. It’s been suggested he might be the product of a group of frustrated creatives spiraling through the worlds of advertising and “viral” content. But really, his self-defined equation between hell and the internet is all anyone really needs. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter “who Dril is.” Dril is a ghost, an id, a fictional bucket into which all the scorn of the internet has been heaped. Dril has returned to this hellscape imagery repeatedly over the years, and it helps to explain the nightmare-like vividness of his convictions, as well as their ability to dissolve and reformulate from one tweet to the next. It has the mutable logic of a dream.

This is part of what makes the tweets so versatile—and so bipartisan. As much as right-thinking liberals would love to claim Dril for their own (although he railed against Obama when he was president and he bemoans the death of traditional values), he’s equally embraced by the internet’s farthest-right fringes, including Breitbart’s wily, smirking Twitter account.

Naturally, many comedians of the past few years have attempted to mine this same absurdist vein, with varying degrees of success. When Million Dollar Extreme’s Sam Hyde was outed as an “alt-right” goon, many defenders claimed he was actually a Kaufman-esque cultural critic, exposing our biases and prejudices by living them out. The same was argued of music vlogger Anthony Fantano and his ostensibly Colbert-esque thatistheplan “meme” account. Other comedians, like Eric Andre or, earlier, Wonder Showzen, have explored these waters—though obviously, without requiring legions of angry fans to explain their transgressions as some sort of high-minded performance art.

Dril’s real politics are probably best gleaned by the ardently leftist “weird twitter” company he keeps, though he grasps the third rail almost daily by tweeting about ISIS, identity politics, rape, and so on. Somehow he’s only truly found himself on the wrong side of our atomized political climate once, when he combined neo-Nazi symbolism with a tweet about the Keebler elves. This is an impressive streak, all things considered.

The simpler epoch of internet culture that fostered Dril ended approximately a year ago, when Hillary Clinton—the ultimate avatar of centrist, normie culture—gave a speech denouncing the memes of the “alt-right,” leading to those most listless, glib internet users to the same frantic re-encrypting of inside jokes that always happens when the parents catch on. Ironically unfunny memes were replaced by ironically sincere anti-memes, as well as ever-escalating memes about memes, which were even briefly watched and speculated upon in a meme stock market. None of these were even slightly funny; their function was solely to reclaim social currency among these groups, a sort of secret handshake that expressed internet literacy among the people who spent all their time there already. Here is the Dril tweet for that. And another:

The game of “finding the Dril tweet” works the same way—instantly expressing a sort of fluency with the internet while also creating a sense of distance from it. Even for people who spend all their time being mad online, a Dril tweet says, “I’m not mad, I’m laughing at this.” It’s a release valve for the absurdity of our existences online, in a year where internet culture has hopped the divide and landed in the real world, and memes have been elected president.

Dril was made for this. He is equally masterful at recreating petty squabbles over video-game lore and console preferences as he is at lampooning the chin-stroking sophistry that defines much supposedly “smart” games writing. Up until Gamergate, these sides not only tolerated one another, but were barely even aware there was a difference, unified by their all-encompassing “shared hobby.” Gamergate activated dormant prejudices and affectations that forced the sides to scramble to attention in real time, developing their ideologies as they went. This preternatural understanding of the video-game discourse—both the performatively woke scholar and the irate, militaristic fanboy—is a key to his wide appeal, too. Just as games have served as R&D for many wider technologies—like HDTVs, broadband internet, VR, and so on—so too has gamer culture served as a sort of primordial goo for internet culture. The lines drawn during Gamergate keep getting retrenched and fought along again and again with increasing exasperation. There’s a Dril tweet for all of this, of course.

They’re so useful, in fact, it’s perhaps inevitable that he would try to sell them. On January 20, Dril launched a Patreon for a project called, appropriately enough, “Hell,” for which he is now collecting some $2,200 per month. He’s provided his patrons with a few updates that weave in and out of character while detailing two separate book projects, the first described as “the worst bullshit imaginable, hundreds of full-color pages including fake advertisements, long form writing, vile illustrations, craigs list pranks, just any idea I can come up with, thrown in here.” The second is a compilation of “hundreds of hand picked posts … sorted by subjects (guns, politics, digimon otis, etc),” and appended with illustrations “to keep it interesting.” He’s also posted a lot of artwork, a sort of companion to his blurry Tumblr account of “the worst images on the internet,” that roughly fleshes out Dril’s world: a drawing of “the boys,” a “hierarchy of online social standing,” as well as a “cradle of torment” lorded over by trolls, the press, and even those hated Keebler elves.

As always, it’s tempting to draw a connection between this project and the real world: The Hell Patreon was launched on the same day as Trump’s inauguration, and—while Dril made many jokes about Trump before his election, even pledging his support days beforehand—he’s only mentioned the president once since. What does the creator of a fictional hell feel when the world starts to resemble it?

Any artist would dream of this kind of success, but popularity only makes subversion more difficult. There’s something deflating about knowing the exact dollar amount Dril’s creator earns—and who needs Twitter in book form? And the risk of all this wider exposure is that he loses his mystique and lapses into self-parody, like some sort of internet Banksy. Of course, articles like this won’t help that either.

Still, right now, in the apocalyptic rhetorical landscape of the internet in 2017—that vast, decimated wasteland of people owning each other again and again—we need Dril to show us the way down and out. And there will always be a Dril tweet to guide us. Look, he even predicted this article:

There’s always a Dril tweet.

Clayton Purdom is a writer and editor based in Columbus, Ohio.