We often speak of the internet as if it’s an independent entity, with a mind and a will of its own. But thankfully, that’s not quite the case—yet. For the time being, the internet is ultimately run by human beings, and is filled with the by-products of human thought and imagination. Sometimes, as we detailed yesterday, those by-products are more toxic than antifreeze mixed with the runoff from a copper mine, because they come from toxic people.
But the internet also has the potential for sparkling clear waters and blue, cloudless skies, for innocence and silliness and solidarity and communal bonding and simple enjoyment of the moment. Okay, so sometimes that enjoyment is of the schadenfreude variety. So what? You’ve got to take joy where you can get it these days. And it’s probably not a coincidence that a significant portion of the things that delighted us online in 2018 were related to animals, which are, by their very nature, pure. But, in a year that may ultimately be defined by how endless it felt, there were moments of lightness, and, dare we say it, maybe even hope.
Social media is, by and large, a poison; any quantity is probably too much. And yet there are, dappled among the many celebrities who refuse to log off, a small number who shine like a beacon in the darkness. There is the transparent goodness of possible golden retriever Chris Evans, who only calls Trump “Biff”; the churlish wit of Vince Staples; and Big Boi’s wonderfully dadlike punning. Ariana Grande, a person who is so good at being famous that she turned a break-up into one of the year’s best singles, refuses to stop owning Piers Morgan. Every Sunday we get to bear witness to The Rock’s comically over-sized “cheat meal”; Tom Hanks still signs all his tweets “Hanx”; Patti Smith joined Instagram and is extremely, unshakably Patti Smith. Chrissy Teigen will not log off and will not stop dunking on her husband. Jameela Jamil seems uniquely well-positioned to call out the bullshit of the celebrity apparatus. And, lastly, no one found the Henry Cavill mustache fiasco funnier than Henry Cavill himself, who created a memorial video for it after shaving. How long any of these good famous people can remain good on the internet remains to be seen; for now, though, they have withstood its polarizing winds, reminding us, in the process, why we liked them in the first place. [Clayton Purdom]
In our post-Five Nights At Freddy’s world, it’s only natural to fear the cute and cuddly. After all, we’re living in a time that’s revised, mangled, and “made cool” the characters we grew up loving, thus rendering our own nostalgia untrustworthy. Enter Long Furby, a serpentine reinterpretation of the stout, rotund Furbys of yore—one that, by virtue of those dead eyes and that uncanny rope of fur unfurling beneath it, seeded terror into the hearts of all who saw it. It didn’t help that the maniacs who brought them into this world cursed the creatures with Lovecraftian names like Cygnus, Yaldabaoth, and Jörmungandr.
Still, once the initial shock wears off, there’s something beautifully broken about the Long Furby, which may as well be a failed experiment, hollowed and cast aside. It doesn’t move, blink, or trill, having been stripped of its mechanics; it simply sits, trying to blend in like the rest of us emotionally maimed weirdos, snacking on chili dogs or watching the fireworks. The Long Furby is innocent and strange, a victim of times that thrive on the endless reshaping of that which came before. We can all relate. [Randall Colburn]
Gritty is Antifa. As far as we’re concerned, this is canon. It’s hard to believe that the wild-eyed Philadelphia Flyers mascot with a passion for blasting capitalists with a T-shirt cannon has only been a part of our lives since September 24, when his arrival online was greeted with cries of, “What the fuck is that thing?” What isn’t hard to believe is that it only took two days for Gritty to become politicized, after socialist magazine Jacobin tweeted, simply, “Gritty is a worker,” on September 26. The good people of Philadelphia, always ready to pound some faces into the pavement (all the better if they belong to fascists), took up the cause, and Gritty appeared on hand-drawn signs and banners protesting President Trump’s visit to the city in early October. It was a real-world analog to the leftist shitposters who had immediately, enthusiastically adopted Gritty as one of their own in the wake of Jacobin’s tweet:
There are precedents for Antifa Gritty in the significant overlap between leftist Twitter and Weird Twitter, namely the Babadook’s unofficial canonization as a LGBTQ icon in 2017. But perhaps because of the higher profile of a corporate sports mascot as opposed to an independent horror film, homophobes did not try to hijack the Babadook as fascists have Gritty. Luckily, fascists suck at meme-making, and sloppy, hateful attempts by the likes of The Daily Stormer have all failed to override the pre-existing “Gritty is Antifa” narrative. They’re just jealous because the 7-foot-tall son of Chewbacca and Zoe from Sesame Street could kick Pepe the Frog’s ass any day of the week—not to mention that the Flyers have yet to disown Antifa Gritty the way Pepe creator Matt Furie has disowned the “alt-right.” [Katie Rife]
Watching old people fail at social media has become quite the pastime for the Extremely Online, even if the trend peaked with the now-dormant Old People Writing On A Restaurant’s Facebook Page Tumblr. Still, it was impossible not to delightedly clutch your pearls when, on May 22, Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris popped into our timelines with two short, contextless words: “Sex gifs.” Was this a request? An observation? Did he confuse the search bar for the status bar? If so, why is he searching for sex gifs on Twitter, rather than Google or Tumblr (in those halcyon days when sex gifs still ruled Tumblr)? We’ll never know, because Norris subsequently disappeared from the platform, returning after three days to amiably crack jokes about the post with Patton Oswalt and Betsy Brandt, never once acknowledging its online ubiquity. It remains there to this day, taunting us with its impenetrability. [Randall Colburn]
As much fun as it’s been mocking the foibles of people like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos and the Prison Planet guy who ate books, there’s always been an underlying twinge of guilt to the idea that you were giving oxygen to people with real followers and truly nasty ideas. Thankfully, 2018 allowed us to have our cake and eat it too, thanks to a man who was both an honest-to-god public figure and yet somehow too stupid and incompetent for even the MAGA set to get on board with: the world’s dumbest child prodigy, Jacob Wohl.
Wohl is the son of a Fox News contributor, and before this year he was mostly known for being a teen hedge-fund manager who was banned from the National Futures Association for allegedly cheating clients. In search of a new hustle, Wohl became a Trump Tweet Reply Guy, spending his time online praising the president while posting countless variations of the same very obvious lie about overhearing liberals speaking positively about Trump in a “hipster coffee shop” later revealed to be that most hipster of shops: Coffee Bean.
But his coup de grâce was still to come: a failed October plot too intricately inept to fully describe here in which Wohl attempted to pay a woman (whose name he could not spell correctly) to accuse special investigator Robert Mueller of sexual assault, and shop those allegations to the press via an extremely made-up private intelligence firm called Surefire Intelligence, whose website included a photo of actor Christoph Waltz as an ostensible employee and was registered to a phone number that directed back to Wohl’s mom’s voicemail.
All of this led to a disastrous press conference in which a MAGA conspiracy guy with his fly open claimed Wohl had accomplished more than Mozart, followed by Wohl losing his job with conservative rag Gateway Pundit, Wohl being mocked across the political spectrum, and the whole thing being referred by Mueller to the FBI for being, you know, very possibly a major crime. [Gabe Worgaftik]
Private groups have been the only worthwhile thing on Facebook for a while now. But this year a group devoted to the best thing on the internet in general—cats, obviously—became an unlikely hub for a refreshingly grassroots body-positivity movement.
At first, “This Cat Is Chonky” was just for pictures of chonky (i.e., rotund, chubby, thicc, overweight—pick an adjective) cats, the cutest cats simply by virtue of the fact that there’s more of them to love. Then, like doggo culture before it, “This Cat Is Chonky” developed its own private in-jokes and linguistic conventions—“beans” are the little pads on cat toes, and “floofers” are chonks whose heft is mostly fur—many of them based on a Photoshopped veterinary chart rating cats from “a fine boi” to “O H L A W D H E C O M I N,” first posted in the group on August 2.
Then the humans started joining in. “I wish c h o n k y humans got this much love,” one user posted in October. That prompted a thread with more than 200 overwhelmingly affirmative comments, many of them selfies from self-proclaimed chonky people followed by effusive compliments indistinguishable from those you’d get on a photo of, say, a hefty tabby sitting up like he’s a person. That same day, another “human chonk appreciation thread” got more than 700 comments. In these threads, the self-consciously ironic slang of a cat group became a liberating vocabulary for members to discuss their bodies without using loaded medical terminology as users compared notes and lifted each other up in an online space already well-established as safe, supportive, and completely asexual. And no one tried to sell them deodorant in the process. [Katie Rife]
“Weird” Al Yankovic remains the master of the form overall, but there’s some serious competition for the title of Best Silly Song Composer online. Paul F. Tompkins and Tim Heidecker continue to be strong contenders, and comedian Gabriel Gundacker swooped in in September with “Zendaya Is Meechee” and nearly took the crown. But The A.V. Club’s champion for 2018 is Demi Adejuyigbe. This year, Adejuyigbe brought us not only a delightful new installment in his “21st night of September” dance series, but also wrote hilarious unofficial theme songs for Ready Player One, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Avengers: Infinity War, and departed members of the Trump administration. Not to be outdone, he also laid out the plot of mother! through the medium of David Byrne songs, and listed all the ghosts that scare him in 14 seconds flat. All of Adejuyigbe’s comedy songs overflow with the joy of creation—and rapid-fire pop culture references—but if we had to pick a favorite, we’d go with “Future’s End Credits Rap From Avengers: Infinity War,” both for the accuracy with which it recreates the Superfly composer’s flow and for the increasing absurdity of the Hemsworths in the fake credits that accompany the song, including “Keenan Ivory Hemsworth” and “Harpo Hemsworth IV.” [Katie Rife]
During a week like any other in mid-June, the internet came together to witness a raccoon climbing up a very tall office building in St. Paul, Minnesota, squishing its furry raccoon body against windows as it gained the summit. A nonpartisan delight, the raccoon thrilled everyone who saw it. We set aside our differences and came together, briefly, as one people. Even those who wanted to ruin the fun by wringing their hands about the Babel-bound furball’s safety were shut down almost immediately: The raccoon was brought back down to earth in good health and enjoyed some delicious cat food alongside his newfound stardom. All was right. Like the 2017 eclipse—like 2015’s escaped llama chase—the climbing raccoon was a brief realization of the old tech utopian’s vision of the internet: a place where all human differences can be set aside in favor of what unites us. For a time, we achieved this dream in the form of a daring raccoon’s adventure. Let’s cherish that memory. [Reid McCarter]
The ratio will save democracy. Not on its own, obviously. But one thing the ratio—a term for when the replies to a tweet outnumber the likes and retweets—does do is establish a baseline reality, drawing a line between what’s acceptable and what isn’t to the majority of Americans (at least, the extremely online ones) in a mainstream media culture that still insists on “hearing both sides,” even when one side is saying that it’s acceptable to murder your political opponents by pushing them out of helicopters. It’s a collective cry of “this ain’t it” for takes that, were they to go unchallenged, would further erode the already-endangered concepts of collective decency and truth, a grassroots countermeasure to Orwellian lies.
This explains why the most potent ratios are political in nature. Who can forget when, on November 15, more than 20,000 people—13 times more people than those who “liked” the tweet—came together to tell Washington Examiner writer Eddie Scarry to go fuck himself for posting a creep shot of incoming New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, implying that she couldn’t be working-class because she owns a blazer:
The ratioing continued for days across multiple tweets, Scarry was alerted to the existence of TJ Maxx hundreds of times over, a new meme was born, and just for a moment, compassion prevailed over spite and spin. Even the dictionary dunked on Scarry, as the dictionary has been known to do. Of course, even better than ratioing terrible takes into oblivion is removing the means by which those takes are created in the first place, known as “deplatforming” when the means in question is social media. Twitter is notoriously reluctant to engage in the practice, but in the few cases they’ve done it, the results speak for themselves. Milo Yiannopoulos fell from the golden boy of the “alt-right” to bitching about how broke he is on Facebook within two years of having his Twitter account suspended; more recently, Laura Loomer handcuffed herself to Twitter headquarters with a Star of David pinned to her coat after she was banned from the platform, causing even other right-wing pundits to turn on her.
And Facebook’s ban of all things Proud Boys-related in October was followed by founder Gavin McInnes quitting the group, claiming that his withdrawal would help the legal cases of Proud Boys members charged with assault after beating a man while yelling homophobic slurs during an anti-racism demonstration in New York City. (The real reason may have more to do with McInnes’ recent complaints that his wealthy Connecticut neighbors don’t like him because of his association with the far-right “Western chauvinist” organization, recently labeled an extremist group by the FBI.) McInnes has now been banned from YouTube as well. That ouster was carried out under the pretense of “copyright infringement”—a notable departure from Alex Jones, whose own deplatforming for violating YouTube’s “community standards” (i.e., harassing the parents of Sandy Hook victims) took place in August. [Katie Rife]
Ultimately, the single unassailable force of good on the internet could only be one thing: animals! Big, round, fuzzy, wonderful, goofy, freakishly large animals! 2018, as a discrete chunk of time, seemed uniquely predisposed to creating and freaking out over large animals, whether it was a Twitter account celebrating “round boys,” a rash of unusually horny bears wandering into residential areas and doing all sorts of hilarious bear shit, or the emergence, in recent weeks, of an enormous cow in Australia that dwarfs all other cows in its presence.
No unit captured the internet’s attention quite so absolutely as the one tweeted out in April by the Museum Of English Rural Life: an archival image of a beatific sheep the size of a dumpster, an image so perfectly, spiritually round that it immediately rendered the museum’s Twitter account wonderfully, joyfully insane. What dark magick do the round boys hold? After years of cats dominating the internet, followed by several years of pro-dog discourse, 2018 rounded a corner and introduced a species-agnostic form of animal fandom. It’s a reminder that, no matter how bad things might get, we’re not all so dissimilar after all. Everyone, everywhere, can drop what they’re doing to appreciate a big-ass sheep. [Clayton Purdom]