In journalism school, they call the realm of public opinion and public discourse an “arena.” I think it’s part of a weird masculine obsession with power and violence. Like for generations everyone’s dad ‘became a man’ the first time they murdered some kid with a different birthplace and then suddenly the best you can hope for is to get good enough at Rainbow Six that the Air Force lets you end the bloodline of a Pakistani family from a trailer in New Mexico. So we needed to spice it up. We don’t discuss policy here, no, we battle for the supremacy of ideas in gladiatorial tweet combat. Like the Coliseum but instead of rounding up Christians to feed to lions, we round up a random assortment of celebrities to feed to Zoomers with generational trauma.
Are you proud of us Pappy? What’s that? You can’t understand me because you have three types of PTSD, no ability to process your emotions and an opioid addiction? Shut up, get back to your private prison staffed by five nursing students and the literal Armed Forces, my internet friends are pillorying a C-list YouTuber and I need to go have my worldview reinforced. Deuces.
Fuck me gang, public discourse isn’t an arena, it’s an Elizabethan theatre: the floor is mud, everyone smells like shit and has consumption, plus nobody can understand what the fuck anyone onstage is talking about. It’s not glorious. You pay the price of entry and instantly get contact chlamydia, but there’s dick all else to do, so might as well hop in. And, spoiler, our heckling and produce-chucking has about as much of an effect on policy now as did my WASPy-ass ancestors’ on the plot of the Henriad.
That said, there’s gotta be at least a couple minimally disappointing careers left to be carved out of the produce-chucking industrial complex, and I intend to come into 2022 slingin’. It won’t be hard — this year has already done an excellent job of demonstrating what a surreal and unbelievable waste of time it is to ‘keep up with the national conversation,’ or whatever we’re supposed to say to justify participating in six different algorithmic engagement (read: anger) generators. And in honour of this, I’ve decided to switch up what passes for a format around here and only focus on the stories that least deserve my attention this week.
I want to be clear: just because none of us should give a shit about these developments doesn’t mean they aren’t fun to engage with. If it did, the technocratic, anger-driven ‘public arena’ model wouldn't be nearly as effective. But know that caffeine, weed, and a lack of dignity are the only forces behind what you’re about to read.
I’ve arranged a lovely three-course meal of garbage news stories for you to shovel into your depraved reading holes, so let’s dig in shall we? Our appetizer, the amuse-bouche if you wanna be French about it, is a controversy surrounding Crazy Frog, because reality is splintering before our eyes. Worse, the backlash, as reported in late December, stems from a decision that the people behind the unfortunately bedicked, now 19-year old animated meme made to mint official NFTs (non-fungible tokens. Google it, I’ve already spent too much of my life writing about crypto.)
The animated amphibian rose to early internet stardom in 2003 with its cover of "Axel F," which featured the meme's iconic sound effects. (BING BING)
There is no force on Earth that can compel me to care about NFTs, and up until I decided I needed to hear more about the Crazy Frog drama, I didn’t know that there were people with entrenched positions on them. I should have guessed that there were, because people have entrenched positions on pizza toppings, but clearly I am a tiny baby who doesn’t understand the internet. As such, I was also surprised to learn that there were people who cared so much about this particular foray into the NFT business that they felt compelled to level death threats at the meme’s team.
And whatever, the anti-NFT people do have a point: blockchain tech, which supports the NFT industry, is harmful to the environment, though the Crazy Frog brand has said that the technology they plan on using is more eco-friendly, and crypto-bro culture is toxic and cringe. But that doesn’t justify moving beyond shitposting in the Crazy Frog discord, the existence of which is also a new and unnecessary addition to my consciousness, to threatening the lives of people in charge of what is, again, and I cannot stress this enough, an ancient meme of an anthropomorphic frog that makes annoying noises and carries half of a yogurt tube between its legs.
The stakes could not possibly be lower, and yet I read this shit on VICE because the 24-hour news cycle is a cancer on journalism. All I’m saying is if you’re looking for an appropriate omen for the state of ‘the discourse’ going into 2022, a nine-tweet thread about how you can contribute criticism of NFTs without threatening mortal retribution against the owners of one of the most decrepit and irrelevant intellectual properties of our age is a pretty good place to start.
Another good place to look is in the realm of niche internet microcelebrities. If you’re as terminally online as I am, you will have heard of either h3h3Productions or Jordan Peterson or both. If you aren’t, this isn’t the place for me to give you a proper rundown, but I’ll try and introduce them quickly.
H3h3 is one of those culture-making YouTube channels that satirizes and commentates on current affairs within the platform’s community. I gather it has a bit of an edgier bent, but it has like six and a quarter subscribers so it’s not like it’s out there offending vast swathes of viewers at a time. Jordan Peterson is one of those pseudo-intellectual gremlins who came to prominence on YouTube after capitalizing off of packaging right-wing anxieties into simplified, nuance-free arguments that allow his audience to feel okay about their more atavistic, reactionary responses to societal change. He does tend to offend swathes of viewers at a time, and it mostly seems like a point of pride for him. Peterson also identifies as a member of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web,’ so think about Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, or the dumbest parts of Joe Rogan for reference.
I’m talking about them because the two recently beefed on Twitter, and the collision of these two spheres of the internet is the exact type of shit that makes for the absolute juiciest, pettiest distractions online. It wasn’t even a good beef either, but it was one of those crossovers with absolutely no middle ground and neither side’s supporters are willing to be swayed an inch by the others’ comments, so you just get to watch hundreds of uptight dudes mald in the replies.
This beef stemmed from h3h3’s Ethan Klein’s recent decision to delete a couple old interviews with Peterson from his channel, saying that he hadn’t been fully familiar with the ex-UofT professor’s politics and that he now considers them to be dangerous/irredeemably shitty. From what I can tell, this decision didn’t seem to be in response to any organized criticism, and even if it were, this is an example of a content creator moderating their own platform. Klein removed his own content which was associated with a worldview he doesn’t support.
I don’t think there’s a rational argument to be made that these actions are in any way condemnable apart from the fact that some people wish that they hadn’t been taken. Nonetheless, Peterson immediately clapped back, invoking the spectre of the cancel culture panic, which is a favoured right-wing punching bag. Then, in a move that made my head hurt, the American creator of a multi-million subscriber YouTube account began rattling off takes on Canadian politics, bringing up Peterson’s tweet about the government’s recent ban on gay conversion therapy, which the latter called “moral grandstanding,” and Peterson’s “mischaracterization of Bill C-16 [, which] led to a surge in transphobia.”
THEN, fucking Anthony Fantano, a YouTuber with a successful Hip Hop review channel jumped in, tweeting that Peterson “sucks ass and is a dickhead.” The Needledrop host then posted that picture of Peterson, in which he looks like a sickly Master Splinter complete with Sewer background, and all the replies devolved into “clean your room” spam. I don’t care who you are, that’s peak comedy, and also represents my exact level of engagement with this entire controversy.
Have your brains turned to worms yet? In case they haven’t, here’s one last story of fabricated outrage to complete the transformation: On January 3, journalist Tara Henley, who had recently resigned a position with the CBC, posted a Substack post in which she explained that she left the public broadcaster because:
“To work at the CBC in the current climate is to embrace cognitive dissonance and to abandon journalistic integrity. It is to sign on, enthusiastically, to a radical political agenda that originated on Ivy League campuses in the United States and spread through American social media platforms that monetize outrage and stoke societal divisions. It is to pretend that the “woke” worldview is near universal.”
For anyone who pays attention to the CBC’s coverage of issues that are important to those with a “woke” worldview, Henley’s allegations here are, on their face, hilarious. But it goes deeper than that, because despite the fact that her article, which was picked up and deposited onto the front page of the National Post, also gained attention from the American and British right-wing press, independent American journalists like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi who have in the past been critical of a perceived radical left bias in legacy media, and CPC leader Erin O’Toole, when pressed for evidence of this bias by Canadaland’s Jesse Brown, Henley was unable to provide.
It should be noted that of the organizations and people quickest to scoop up Henley’s take and run with it, virtually all of them have a vested interest, political or brand-wise, in undermining the credibility of Canada’s public broadcaster. The frustrating thing is that the CBC deserves criticism for not taking more seriously issues that Henley professed to be both interested in and unable to cover while working for the organization, such as wealth inequality, but framing the problem as an infestation of “woke” politics is completely ass-backwards. The only radical bent you'll find to CBC coverage is radical centrism, and to be honest, the company could use a few more woke influences, if only because it might inject some critical thinking to the editorial process.
This kind of shit is a different kind of distraction from the other two stories. It’s more sinister because this is the kind of take that lends itself to politicians’ attempts at influencing the discourse. Crazy Frog is strictly dumb, and Peterson has largey declined in influence, to the point where one more deplatforming is unlikely to make a measurable impact. But when you, intentionally or not, allow your journalism to be hijacked by special interests, you’d better make damn sure that you didn’t base it off of your personal distaste for a brand of leftism that has put the literal teensiest amount of pressure on your comfort. If you have any media literacy, you should know that to publish something like this, to pick it up and run it, is to actively diminish the quality of the national conversation AND the ability of news organizations to engage with societal change in a good faith way… but that hasn’t been a concern for editors in decades, let’s be honest.
So there you have it: A three-course meal of journalistic pigshit. There’s a little something in there for everyone, but rest assured that none of it is healthy. The point I’m trying to make is that it is impossible to have a civilized discussion about anything anymore. I actually don’t know that it’s gotten much worse, but it’s at least clear now that it’s disingenuous to keep insisting that trying to influence the discourse is a noble pursuit. The best we can do as media contributors is to not make everything worse.
I guess then I just want this to serve as my anti-blog. A template for everything I don’t want to do with my platform. And if you ever catch me giving unironic oxygen to anything like the garbage I covered above, slap the breath out of my lungs — not cause I’m concerned with maintaining the integrity of the public arena, but just cause I’m worried about keeping my head above the dookie pile.