Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, a profile of an acting legend, a deep dive into the “Intellectual Dark Web”‘s favorite forum, a look at how to get offline, and a key reason to stay on.
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Justin Peters on The Joe Rogan Experience.
Full disclosure: this one came out last week, but close enough to our Friday deadline that it escaped notice, and not pointing you in its direction would be unforgivable. For Slate, Peters digs deep into the patron saint of the “Intellectual Dark Web” (snort), explaining what Rogan’s popular podcast (and its accompanying YouTube stream) is, how it acquired its fringe cache, and how, week after week, “Rogan gives the impression of breadth while depriving his listeners of depth.”:
We are living in the dumbest period of modern American history, where our centering institutions have destabilized, our governing social norms seem unenforceable, and our fast-food restaurants routinely insult one another on Twitter. Into this breach have stepped myriad articulate charlatans, aggro-provocateurs, and other confident dullards who seek to capitalize on the end of authority by using the internet to proclaim their own truths. Their goal is to convince the world’s least-informed people that they are actually the most-informed people, and they are very good at their jobs.
These grifters, who include the president of the United States, profit by obscuring facts for personal gain. They are working an angle, all of them: the health gurus and conspiracy theorists, the life hackers peddling easy solutions to difficult problems, the IDW stalwarts who sneer at “PC culture” and “identity politics” as a means of reassuring cisgender white males that they are not and have never been the problem. Rogan has given these people a safe space where they and their grifts can feel right at home.
From its unambitious beginnings as a venue for Joe Rogan to shoot the shit with his comedian buddies, The Joe Rogan Experience has become one of the internet’s foremost vectors for anti-wokeness. With its mellow, welcoming vibe, its pretense of common sense, and its general reluctance to push back on any of its guests’ ideas save for only the battiest, the podcast has become the factory where red pills get sugarcoated.
Parul Sehgal profiles Glenda Jackson.
In 1992, two-time Academy Award winner Jackson abruptly quit acting to become a member of Parliament. She served for 23 years, until 2015, and then returned to the stage; she’s currently playing Shakespeare’s King Lear on Broadway. In the New York Times Magazine, book critic Sehgal talks to the great actor about aging, taking on the daunting role, and living a life without compromise.
A friend of hers was in the audience the previous night and told her how moved the audience had been by Jackson’s performance, by “the age thing,” as Jackson puts it, that intimation of what was to come. I asked her if she ever feared getting older. She shook her head, mouth full of waffle. The invisibility of youth had been the indignity. Age has been more annoyance than anything else. “The essential you is on the inside, it stays the same,” she told me. “I mean, the envelope you inhabit doesn’t respond as it should. My handwriting is appalling, this arm shakes for no good reason. I have backache. You’re getting old, so what? But it’s irritating.”
Gloria Steinem once said that getting older was like falling off a cliff; there were no women she thought she could emulate. I wanted to tell Jackson this, about having had this feeling and not having it anymore. I wanted to tell her something about her beauty and asperity, about watching her catch the lightning in her hands onstage, but she would have yelled at me and told me to stop being sentimental. Plus, she was getting up to go. “I can leave you a cigarette,” she said, pulled a Dunhill from the pack and slid it across the table. “But I won’t leave you my lighter. You’ll have to find someone to help you.”
I smoked her cigarette outside the diner and scanned the streets for her silhouette, the way she would move quickly but carefully through the slushy sidewalk, shoulders back, duty discharged. Jackson hums as she walks. It’s an old habit. Once, as she walked through her constituency, humming, two young girls started following her. They trailed her for some time. They told her they wanted to hear what happened next. I was embarrassed by my desire to do the same. Tell me what happens next, Glenda.
Sara Benincasa on her “digital detox.”
Comedian, author, and longtime Flavorwire fave Benincasa is well aware that much has been written about the mental health benefits of getting the hell offline – in fact, this sharp, funny roadmap for Longreads includes some of the better writing on the subject. What makes her guide stand out is the understanding that you don’t have to go cold turkey; incremental steps are fine, particularly, she writes, when one depends on the social media space to promote one’s work
This thinking extends to my “personal” Twitter account (77,400 followers), despite my many qualms about the ethics of its overseers with regard to threats and harassment. It extended to my Facebook fan page, until I quit Facebook altogether because I don’t care what my least-favorite racist relative ate for breakfast — if I want to know what’s up with a boring person from high school, I’ll make private inquiries. When the current Russian government really loves something, I have to ask myself if I need that something in my life. (Note: I am aware that Facebook owns Instagram, and that I’m a hypocrite sometimes.)
Then there’s the Instagram account for my podcast (679 followers) and the Twitter account for my podcast (457 followers) and the Instagram account for my progressive lady-coat art project (26,200 followers). I don’t use Snapchat, because once I joined for 24 hours and my drunk friend sent me a dick pic framed by monogrammed his-and-hers towels in the master bathroom he shares with his girlfriend; I’m a Scorpio, and pseudoscience and common sense immediately told me the power of the Snap was too great for my personal constitution to handle. I also recently joined a few dating apps. And that led to more swiping, more clicking, more texting, more aggravation of writing-induced carpal tunnel issues. When an ex-NFL star asked me on what I’m sure would have been a super safe and not-gross date to his house at 3 a.m., I decided that Tinder was also too much for me.
At this point, and considering my sore wrists, the signals seemed to say, “SARA. TAKE SOME TIME OFF THE SOCIAL MEDIA.” I had 104,000 followers across social media, some of whom were double or triple followers and some of whom were robots, and while I loved each of them like my very own imaginary baby, Mommy needed a vacay.
Tom Whyman on why Dril should get the Nobel Prize.
But some things are worth being online for. The Nobel Prize in Literature, according to the rough English translation, should be awarded to “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Two of those prizes will be given this year, and at The Outline, Whyman argues that one should go to the poet laureate of the contemporary internet, Dril. And he makes a convincing case:
We live in an age completely dominated by the fact of the internet, by the historical consequences of the advent of Online. This fact has had seismic effects on how the economy works, on how we communicate with one another, on how we think. The internet has radically transformed human consciousness and is continuing to do so in innumerable, impossible-to-predict ways. Recently, I wrote about this in relation to the #cheesechallenge meme, in which people started filming themselves throwing cheese slices at babies: a metaphor for our perennially baffled, precarious condition amid the endless, barely contextualized rush of information we receive from our smartphones.
On the most basic level, Dril’s Twitter feed portrays a certain character — a character that “Dril” as a writer, is almost completely identified with (only at the level of authorial intention — the actual writer’s clearly ironic detachment from his character’s utterances — can we talk coherently of a “Dril writer”). This character is not some single, unified being with a single, consistent physicality or a single, definitive history. Dril is an entity alternately young and old; at once married and divorced (I mean technically there’s no deep metaphysical mystery here, but I’ve always assumed his wife and his ex-wife are simultaneous, the same woman, who he is both married and not-married to at the same time). Sometimes Dril’s ass is “tiny and malnourished”; at others it seems to be large enough to be struck by a meteor without killing Dril himself. What is however consistent about Dril is a certain affect: pompous, gluttonous, self-righteous, perennially diapered, always ready to engage with brands, and constantly at war with the trolls.
In the words of the poet Patricia Lockwood, who incidentally is one of the few writers to engage with the internet with anything like the same level of sensitivity as Dril, the character is “the anonymous psycho of the comments box. He has been banned from every forum. He is all-present, and nothing-knowing .” Dril is the infantile subjectivity of the internet: the internet as it eats, shits, jerks off to porn, gets into fights, and posts a link to its Soundcloud in respose to a viral tweet. Perhaps the sole argument against the idea that Dril’s work moves in any “ideal direction” would be that, in a way, he can be considered the internet’s ultimate realist: he holds up a mirror, albeit grotesque one, to how we — the internet’s first (and, one can only hope, worst) children — really are.