There were many things on the internet in 2017, some of which were very good! Dril is here, for example. Tom Hanks still signs all of his tweets “Hanx.” The internet turned the Babadook into a gay icon, and there was that time Kurt Eichenwald tweeted out some tentacle porn. These were all good things, worth celebrating high and low.
Still, there were many more terrible things online in 2017, a year which saw further consolidation of internet culture to a handful of for-profit platforms; endless, dispiriting pivots to video by major media organizations; algorithmically determined content etching out an uncanny valley of the human soul; the emergence of emboldened, better organized hate groups; and wild misuse of the word “literally,” literally everywhere. If there was one unifying thread to being online in 2017, it was hating being online in 2017, a year in which the internet’s capacity for outrage calcified into a more neutral, but no less intense sense of scorn. The internet is full of bad things, but of all the many worthy objects of derision on the internet in 2017, these were the most deserving.
Republicans have had a banner year for being shitty, including (but definitely not limited to) their apparent war on the concept of humor itself. Vice President Mike Pence leads the pack of sad clowns with the social media presence of a confused senior. The homophobic corpse tries to humanize himself and be funny by getting in on the jokes about him. Fellow hastily costumed alien Ted Cruz has similarly attempted to take ownership of jokes about his dad being the Zodiac killer and his own dorkiness, while continuing to be the world’s worst pop culture nerd. But the most egregious offender by far is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. His feed—filled with confusing racism, topical jokes about horrifying airline passenger abuse, and masterful wordplay—is a series of the worst possible dad jokes, yelled through a global megaphone. All three embody a growing, ever more exasperating trend: widely detested public figures trying to appropriate humor made at their expense with a naive misunderstanding of how the internet (or jokes in general) actually work. Even though their own attempts never manage to land, we at least have wonderful examples of these numbskulls walking into gags that allow us to get some enjoyment out of their presence in modern politics. [Reid McCarter]
If you’ve been wondering why the media is currently so consumed with “pivoting to video,” it’s at least partly due to the fact that some of the world’s biggest celebrities aren’t acting on HBO or AMC, but rather streaming live video from their backyard on YouTube. Sure, there’s a sense of community that can be fostered from such an endeavor, but 2017 showed us the dark side of all that power. Viral songwriter Austin Jones used his fame to solicit sexually explicit videos from underaged fans; ultra-famous gamer PewDiePie started dropping racist and anti-semitic slurs during livestreams; YouTube music critic Anthony Fantano began blowing a dog whistle for the alt-right; and one set of parents literally got famous for abusing their children. But it was probably YouTube prankster turned Disney star turned infamous asshole Jake Paul who most captured this particular zeitgeist. After a local news crew spread word of the havoc he and his cronies were wreaking in his West Hollywood neighborhood—burning couches, racing dirt bikes, clogging the streets with fans—the living, heaving meme (who also told a fan from Kazakhstan “it sounds like you’re just going to blow someone up”) released a “rap” song asking why no one ever reports on the nice things he’s done, which he went on to list ad nauseam. Readers, we implore you: Unsubscribe. [Randall Colburn]
Every adult knows that kids like some pretty weird stuff, but the darker corners of YouTube have been pushing content to kids that’s more horrifying than weird. A lot of it involves kid-friendly characters like Spider-Man or Elsa from Frozen suddenly finding themselves in bizarre situations, like being impregnated by magic wands and then getting abortion injections. As weird as that stuff is, though, the unsettling thing is just how innocuous it all seems right up until things start to feel wrong, like a purple baby Spider-Man showing up or Peppa Pig revealing rows of rotting, far-too-realistic teeth. This is all made worse by the fact that—up until YouTube stepped in—channels like these could’ve been making over $500,000 a month in ad revenue. As always, the profitability of YouTube bullshit is somehow the must fucked-up part. [Sam Barsanti]
In 2017, nothing summed up the empty, yet oddly smug nature of our sad state of modern communication like the Blinking White Guy. Said white guy is Drew Scanlon, a former video producer at gaming website Giant Bomb, a screengrab of whom became this year’s preferred way of responding to anything that was vaguely surprising, confusing, mildly interesting, or simply words on a screen. The brilliance of Blinking White Guy, as it were, is that it works for everything! You don’t even need a specific emotion or thought to convey; it’s the GIF version of typing “Wow… just wow,” a placeholder for anything genuinely insightful or funny you might have to contribute but don’t really have the time to compose right now, and that will still get you three likes, minimum. That’s why you’ll find Blinking White Guy blinking at just about everything these days, whether it’s the latest Trump tweet or a movie trailer. In the blink of a white guy, it swiftly vanquished perennial reaction GIFs like Wee-Bey’s surprised face, “Oh No Baby What Is You Doin,” and Stephen Colbert eating popcorn to become the year’s least funny, most unnecessary commentary from people who feel compelled to offer it regardless, a symbol of our hobbled discourse dying in a looped two seconds of real time. Ask not for whom the white guy blinks. He blinks for thee. [Sean O’Neal]
It began, perhaps, with the Rickroll—an aggressively random pop-culture artifact inserted, to the viewer’s dismay, where they least expected it. Years later, the point isn’t even to trick other people into watching some cursed video, but to instead watch it yourself in as many different ways as possible—sped up, slowed down, made of other references, and so on. Indeed, Jerry Seinfeld’s once-forgotten DreamWorks picture and Smash Mouth’s 1999 lounge-pop hit “All Star” have become punishments we inflict upon ourselves, aggressively and repeatedly. From the copypasta anarchy that lead the Bee Movie script being used to fight for net neutrality, to “All Star” being remixed ad infinitum, to the inevitable merger of the two, these twin examples of late-capitalist detritus have gone from “random” to groan-inducing to something beyond that: DDoS attacks on the idea of pop-culture humor. The less funny they get, the more of them there’ll be. [Clayton Purdom]
Rick And Morty may be one of the best shows on TV, but it has reached this critical point despite the best efforts of its truly awful fans. For many, the realization that the smart show had some not-smart acolytes (who were nevertheless convinced of their own smartness) took the form of a notorious copypasta explaining “why you’re probably not smart enough to get it.” For others, it took the great Szechuan rush of ’17 to realize that some Rick And Morty loyalists were the kind of people shitty enough to harass fast food employees for a few ounces of promotional teriyaki sauce. Finally, a handful of sexist “fans” took it upon themselves to dox the series’ female writers after blaming them for a perceived decrease in the show’s quality, much to the dismay of its creators. Moral of the story: Don’t hate Rick And Morty. Hate the people who like it and therefore, for some reason, think they own it. [Dan Neilan]
You know what? Fuck the Baby Boomer generation. They inherited a robust social safety net from their parents, reaped the benefits of it, took those protections away from future generations, and then had the audacity to call those younger generations lazy and entitled. (And Generation X? Well, they were raised by the Boomers.) This dynamic manifests online in the form of think-pieces wondering into the void why millennials aren’t buying diamonds (they can’t afford them), going on vacation (can’t afford that either), going to Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, or McDonald’s (that’s less of an affordability issue), wearing suits or stiletto heels, eating light yogurt, or using fabric softener or napkins. Millennials are responsible for declining beer sales because they prefer wine (which they are, incidentally, completely ruining). Millennials are killing marriage and relationships in general with their app-driven casual hookup culture, while simultaneously destroying sex by having less of it than their forebears. Millennials are bringing the world’s largest industry to its knees with their insistence on personal connections with brands. Millennials represent an existential threat to democracy itself. And let’s not forget that millennials are on the verge of sending the real-estate market into free fall thanks to their beloved avocado toast. It all makes millennials sound like thoroughly nihilistic lot—and why shouldn’t they be? Saddled with seemingly insurmountable amounts of student debt, and forced to jump from hustle to side gig in an economy sorely lacking in the kinds of stable career-path positions that are currently cutting their parents’ pension checks, millennials are half as likely to own homes as people their age were in 1975. One in five lives in poverty, and most won’t be able to retire until their 70s, if at all. In that context, a few slices of fancy toast before collapsing of a heart attack on the way to their third job in 2068 is the least society can offer them. [Katie Rife]
Few sights on Twitter are as wretched as those summoned by the word “THREAD.” THREADs can be identified by their authors’ monomania and relentless grandiosity. Thus the canonical THREADsmith is Eric Garland, an “intelligence consultant” (or something?) who, over two excruciating hours last December, emitted a frothing, 127 consecutive tweets. If you are reading this, you surely recognize its intro, “It’s time for some game theory,” after which Garland wheels from an ill-defined “actor analysis” of Russian intelligence (sample: “the Russians f**king [sic] rule at covert shit”) to an absolutely gobsmacking salvo about What It Means To Be American (sample). It is nigh-unreadable, yet it garnered nauseating praise. A cottage industry of unhinged pseudoanalysis has sprung up in Garland’s wake, though the master himself has hardly abandoned his craft. There’s also attorney Seth Abramson, whose rabid oeuvre is collected in this merciless 55-page PDF, and Louise Mensch, who—along with her partner Claude “TrueFactsStated” Taylor—put her chips on a Trump impeachment in July based on an fake (and unvetted) source. The THREAD is a powerful tool, especially as a way for marginalized voices to make themselves heard, but these “thinkfluencing” hangers-on have corrupted it into a tool for nu-Red Scare paranoia and wild grandstanding. Beware. [Astrid Budgor]
There were some real A-plus, shit-the-bed moments in Twitter-based brand engagement this year, with McDonald’s long parade of self-owns and aforementioned promotional sauces, and Papa John’s desperate efforts to backpedal to some definition of “woke” in the wake of its owner’s apparent disdain for the NFL protest movement. But the really dangerous brands weren’t the ones sending out blank Black Friday tweets or being forced to blatantly tell racists to fuck off; they’re the ones who are actually good at this stuff, creating the illusion that they’re just your fun, brassy friend who also happens to be owned and operated by a billion-dollar fast food corporation. Occasionally, these accounts can verge on actual brilliance, as with KFC’s subtle “11 Herbs and Spice Girls” joke, or the gentle surrealism of the borderline-suicidal official MoonPies account. But brilliant marketing is still marketing, and we’re constantly forced to remind ourselves that every tongue-in-cheek movie review or sick burn on the competition—and now we’re looking at you, Wendy’s, the apex predator in this sass-based food chain—exists only to make us feel vaguely better-disposed toward throwing our hard-earned cash at their suspiciously square-shaped burgers. [William Hughes]
It’d be giving him too much credit to call Donald Trump the worst thing in the real world, but it’s his just crown to reign supreme among the infinite shit-heap of invective, clickbait, programmatic ads, anonymous rage, misinformation, snake-oil scams, and organized mobs of misogynists that compose the visible, risible internet in 2017. Whether it was risking nuclear war in order to call a world leader “short and fat” or implying that a U.S. senator is a prostitute; whether it was retweeting low-rent anti-Muslim propaganda or playfully banning transgender people from the military; there was no debasement too low for the president of online. Twitter is his home base, the bully pulpit from which he rules. More than anything else, though, he is reprehensible not for his power, but for his lack of it, the way his online habits mirror those of so many of our newly radicalized friends, family members, and acquaintances, who log on each day and spiral into insanity anew in a never-ending cycle of petty slap fights and grim moral victories. For people throughout the political spectrum, Trump’s self-aggrandizing online crusade is both a model and an engine, the white hot centrifuge of internet outrage. [Clayton Purdom]