Our president is a demented game show host. Global warming is nearly irreversible. Your local Walmart, the one near your old middle school, is having a sale on guns right now.
If the 19th century was marked by industrialization and the 20th by unrelenting technological advances and consumerism, the 21st century is marked by despair, the feeling that progression has stopped and nothing is possible.
Twitter, a pit of existential dread masquerading as a social media platform, is the perfect repository for this collective feeling of doom. There, you can laugh about your clinical depression on the timeline and argue about prison reform with users named "1-800 feet pics" or "#1 American Freedom Caucus." Since we lack public health funding or a functioning government, the mantra is simple; instead of meaningfully treating our mental/political distress, we post. For most, social media is frivolous, but if we take Twitter to be a pressure valve for social discontent, then suddenly posting can be considered serious work, maybe even art.
Cue Sorrow-scopes, a popular Twitter profile created by Viktor Winetrout, an astrology enthusiast with an extremely dark sense of humor. Featuring hilarious predictions that oscillate between absurd and terrifying, the account was created as a means of "exploring the darker aspects of life (and death) and hopefully helping people to laugh about them." Still, reading your zodiac's sorrow-scope for the first time feels a bit like getting hit by a manic-depressive freight train. The authority with which they're delivered (though clearly part of the joke) always makes you pause, if only for a second, and genuinely wonder how these horrific tweets relate to you. Sorrow-scopes is a near perfect representation of the Internet's answer to incurable anguish. Namely, laughter.
Though created by Winetrout, the account is far from a one-man operation. "Initially, I planned to do the account on my own," Winetrout told us about its origins, "but I quickly realized that was a terrible idea. I wanted to post a couple of times a week, and I didn't have the time or energy to write that many scopes." Instead, Sorrow-scopes runs on steady contributions from various writers that Winetrout knows from Twitter, "people who are not only strong writers, but who also have the ability to write about strange or depressing subjects in a humorous way." But Winetrout doesn't edit much. When he's not writing, his role is more that of a curator, collecting jokes from other prominent Tweeters. According to him, "recruiting the right people limits the need to edit."
Sorrow-scopes exists in a strangely nebulous region. It's not the kind of account that's tweets are, in the words of David Roth, "the legible stain of a person yielding to the human impulse to transcribe the precise sound of every fart." There's something there. "I don't know if what we do is art," Winetrout replied when asked whether his jokes could be considered this way. "Some of the writing on Twitter rises to the level of art, I think. But it's subjective. I'm on Twitter primarily for the jokes. I have a handful of unfinished writing projects, but Twitter is my main creative outlet."
The question remains, though. Is this thing art? Does it rise to Winetrout's unspecified level of what an artful tweet is? To answer this we have to ask how Sorrow-scopes, with its off-beat humor, functions. Is it simply a collection of jokes, or does it also act as a salve for the bevy of psychic wounds we're all presently dealing with? In addressing our sorrow through laughter, are Winetrout and his contributors addressing a universal problem? Maybe. Maybe when absurdity becomes the baseline of existence, the only thing left to joke about is the serious bits. Death. Depression. Suffering. K-Pop. Disney ruining Star Wars. Maybe the only way out of our unfixable modern situation is to stare into the void and laugh. If that's the cure, Winetrout and his contributors have definitely elevated the status of the tweet.
Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. He currently serves as Lead Editor for Gramercy Media. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. Find Matt on Twitter: @mattclibanoff
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