Photo by: FPVmat A / Unsplash

The song opens with a hyperactive-sounding synth.

Then a man's voice kicks in. "Sometimes I had too many beers," says supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh. "Which I gladly do. And I fully embrace."

The day that Brett Kavanaugh said those lines will go down in our collective memory as a day of unusual absurdity, which is saying a lot. As we all know, on September 27, 2018, Christine Blasey Ford told senators she was "100 percent certain Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her," according to CNN. As Time Magazine wrote, her testimony changed America, both opening up a flood of sexual assault accusations that had previously remained in the dark and proving just how far our government and power structures will go to ensure that the accused remain in power.

If Blasey Ford changed America, Brett Kavanuagh showed its true colors. He sobbed and shouted his way through his testimony, painting a portrait of upper-class, private-school boyhood that inevitably led to a reckoning and sparked a firestorm of criticism and parody. If Blasey Ford's testimony was a story of girlhood wrapped in silence and memory obscured by trauma, Kavanaugh's was a tale of American masculinity refracted through a funhouse mirror.

The Myth of the American Hero: Kavanaugh, Beer, and Other False Gods

Perhaps that's why "Brett Kavanaugh Automatic x Levels" slaps so hard. Brett Kavanaugh's testimony was impossible to take seriously, but contained within a capsule of 2011 EDM gold, its absurdity and banality somehow bend into a thing of strange beauty. "Maybe it was because I was an only child and had no sisters," he says. "Many of us became friends and remain friends to this day with students at local Catholic all-girl schools." His voice is slow, almost slurred; it sounds like a poor imitation of a middle school bully, or a drugged-out Pete Davidson.

But beneath the gleeful, celebratory atmosphere of "Brett Kavanaugh Automatic x Levels," something haunting—if not monstrous—lurks. That ghostly thing is, most transparently, the knowledge that Kavanaugh is quite literally one of the most powerful people in our nation. As a supreme court justice, he is appointed for life. For our entire foreseeable future—which may or may not include a revolution and a full-on climate crisis—will make decisions that affect millions of people, instantly.

There is something implicitly and horribly entertaining about hearing Kavanaugh's testimony mixed with "Levels." The remix makes it easier and more acceptable to laugh at Kavanaugh, and at the whole absurd situation; but when you contrast Kavanaugh's speech with Ford's, the whole thing starts to glitch.

While Kavanaugh lives under an umbrella of humor and simulacra-esque surrealism, the defenders of Christine Blasey Ford tend to utilize a kind of righteous and dead-serious moral supremacy, which doesn't sit well with anyone not entirely convinced by her testimony. "It was her civic duty," they say ad infinitum, "and that has to mean something." Meanwhile, Kavanaugh rambles on about his calendar and working out. The dance music grows louder until it sounds like a scream. We know what the right thing to do is, but we are tired. We are used to hearing these stories. We witness worse struggles on the streets daily; we hear them, live them.

And we've seen Kavanaugh before. It's an age-old image, that of the cowboy or the colonizer, the Hollywood bad-boy, the hero who always comes out on top, albeit with blood on his hands, the righteous redpilled alt-righter. Brett Kavanaugh's testimony highlighted the cracks in this archetype, but it also showed how firmly that archetype is ingrained into our minds and culture.

Today, while Kavanaugh sits on the supreme court, Blasey Ford has been forced to leave her home thanks to death threats—and she's a blonde white woman with a PhD. What happens to people who try to make accusations who are further out into the margins of society, who are less palatable to the masses? We already know the answer.

Parody, Remix, and Tik Tok Protest: Political Activism or Complacency?

In a way, the art of the politically charged parodical remix has become ubiqutious thanks to mediums like Tik Tok, which often paste lighthearted memes and jokes over serious messages (sometimes so serious that they get users banned from the platform). If something is so garishly absurd that it's hard to look at straight-on, humor and remixes are easy methods of deflecting, of seeing something without really seeing. So much of the Internet is like this—essentially one massive and bipolar defense mechanism, one pastiche of ironic humor and total existential panic, dissociation and brutal headlines.

Whether this omnipresent deflection will actually motivate political action or encourage apathy and complacency remains to be seen. Most likely the result will be a pastiche of both—kind of like "Brett Kavanaugh Automatic x Levels."

Let's not forget that "Levels"—the song that underlies the Kavanaugh testimony excerpts—was composed by the late Avicii, a Swedish producer who committed suicide in 2018. The song contains the refrain, "Oh, sometimes, I get a good feeling," made artificially high-pitched. It's exuberant, almost radiantly ecstatic, an ode to impulsivity, ketamine, and rave culture at its peak.

Avicii -

Avicii's passing was read by many as a result of pressure from the music industry, which forced the producer onto a relentless tour schedule. After his death, "Levels" became obsessively remixed, its ecstasy transmuted across medias so much that it all but became part of the Internet's sonic DNA. But it's still haunted by the sadness of the loss of Avicii, and the loss of all the futures that could've been—had the rave lasted forever, had the escape it promised remained permanent.

EDM and rave culture, like the "Brett Kavanaugh Automatic x Levels" remix and, more recently, memes themselves, are all distractions—and also ways of getting intimate with some of the primal forces that lurk deep in our minds. Beneath the dancing and the laughter, there's an intense, almost religious emotion that comes from tripping out and dancing under flashing lights, and beneath the chuckles, there's an abject horror at Kavanaugh and other forms of leadership we see playing out today.

On an emotional level, this might be the defining contrast of our post-postmodern condition—that oscillation between feeling everything and feeling nothing at all. On a capitalist level, that contrast exists, too, between the have-everythings and the have-nots, and within the have-everythings who have nothing inside.

What Happens After

It's not as if this is a new story, what happened to Christine Blasey Ford. Things happen in the dark wilderness of youth and behind closed doors at the offices. It's written in our American lineage, like apple pie and racism. Boys will be boys, and men defend each other, and will continue to defend each other, especially as the myth of the white male leader becomes more worn down by other storms like the one Ford started.

As people begin to understand that the forces that got Brett Kavanaugh appointed are the same forces that, relatively speaking, are trapping people in cycles of poverty, and are the same forces that obscured the truth about climate change in endless mantras about recycling, then maybe these patterns will slowly change.

But for now, maybe all we can or will do is dance.


Help, I Can't Stop Ending Texts With "Lol"

"Lmao" and "haha / ha / ha! hahaha" will be discussed at a later date, but today we're focusing on the granddaddy of text-speak, the ever-useful "lol."

Photo by Miquel Parera on Unsplash

Sometime around 2015, I started ending most of my text messages with "lol."

Since it's almost 2020, it's time to ask myself why I haven't been able to stop.

In reflecting on my reliance on "lol," I've traced its roots to my lifelong sense of insecurity and social anxiety. This wasn't created by the Internet—I spent a lot of time in my pre-social media youth (and too much of my adult life) worrying about what others think, or trying not to care.

Texting hasn't helped. In fact, texting is my least favorite form of digital messaging, and it often makes me even more uncomfortable than personal interactions. Texting crystallizes my social anxiety, making it present and unavoidable, unless I actively decide to disengage from my phone. Perpetually, there's someone waiting to be responded to or who I'm waiting for a response from, or some conversation I'm supposed to know how to continue or reignite in a perfectly cavalier, laid-back yet considerate fashion. Though I write for a living, I've never really been fluent in the art of casual human small talk, and that has translated into my digital communications.

When "lol" appeared in my life (a crush of mine had a tendency to use it), it quickly became a code word that was and is everything I want to imply but don't know how to say in a text. When I end a message with "lol," it means, I don't take myself too seriously, and neither should you, and, I have a healthy, cheerful, cool and chill attitude towards this conversation and to life, and if you want to end this conversation and never speak to me again, I would understand!

Usually, none of those things is entirely true, but the person I'm talking to doesn't need to know that. "Lol" adds a flicker of sarcasm, a kind of wink. It's less cheery than ":)" and less peppy than "!," less effortful than an emoji (though I do love those), more open and friendly than "…" and far less vitriolic than the period-free cold stop.

On the other hand, emails and status updates are much more formal and easy to intuit. You can end emails with "Best, ____," and call it a day. The artifice is explicit, and no one is pretending that the conversation could go on all night. When we email, there's an inherent understanding that we all want to get back to whatever it is we do outside of performing formal interactions with people we don't really want to be around or don't feel comfortable with.

But you can't end a text message with a cordial "Sincerely" or a "Thanks." For me, texting is so stressful, in part, because it's basically distilled small talk, and it's oddly difficult to end a conversation without ghosting or lying; and, having been on the receiving end of both of those things, I know that neither is a kind thing to do to someone. Also, texts are so easily misinterpreted; it's so easy for them to come off as cold or callous when they're supposed to be the opposite.

All this can be fixed by "lol." In terms of linguistic devices, it's actually quite elegant, a catch-all that does large amounts of emotional labor for a little palindrome. This isn't an accident—it's just indicative of language's ability to become an arbiter of nuance and implication instead of a fixed code. According to linguist John McWhorter, "If you look at the LOLs from the perspective of a geeky linguist looking for structure, what the LOLs are, are particles which indicate that the speaker – so to speak – and the addressee are sharing a certain context of interpretation, i.e., you know what this nasty day is like; You know what it's like being in the library. That is a piece of grammar."

How 'LOL' Changed the Way We Talk

The definition of "lol" has changed over the years due to its prominence in texting, writes McWhorter, coming to act as a stand-in for casual laughter and a symbol of nuance and empathy. "It used to be that if you were going to write in any real way beyond the personal letter, there were all these rules you were afraid you were breaking—and you probably were," he continues. "It wasn't a comfortable form. You can write comfortably now."

That's a fairly positive interpretation, and I would imagine that Mr. McWhorter is pretty fun at parties, but I'm not quite so optimistic about why we all love "lol" so much. In addition to being a grammatical unicorn, "lol" is, perhaps, a kind of shield against reality.

Like iPhones, a face tattoo, a trenchcoat, or a clown nose, maybe "lol" is a buffer against the truth.

In some ways, "lol" may be an early acronym for the post-ironic discourse that millennials and digital natives have become reliant on. Like a meme about politics or mental illness, perhaps "lol" is a way of communicating information while remaining self-deprecating and un-self-serious, which successfully circumvents the need to acknowledge that a change must be made.

And maybe we do need these kinds of buffers in order to exist in today's world of apocalyptic headlines and cutthroat capitalism. We need our casual laughs and our inside jokes, just like we need our coffee and our alerts and notifications that blink like signifiers of solidarity, albeit fractured through a screen. Perhaps "lol" functions similarly to Tweets, memes, and Tik Toks—all of which are becoming more and more sophisticated at helping us distance ourselves from reality, thereby allowing us to engage with the people and the world around us at lightning speed.

So, should I stop using "lol" or lean in further? Should we continue using the Internet while knowing it brainwashes us and tracks our information (but also opens our minds to new voices we may never have otherwise heard), or should I abscond entirely and move to a permaculture cabin in the woods? Friends, this is all pretty spooky imo lol. I'm not actually laughing, but you knew that.


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Culture Feature

Post-Ironic Media: How We Memed A President Into Office

How irony functions in the Information Age.

In November 2018, a bunch of Internet trolls banded together to combat their greatest existential threat to date―"thots."

They united beneath the banner of #ThotAudit ("thot" stands for "that ho over there") with the stated goal of reporting girls with premium Snapchats to the IRS, based on their assumption that online sex workers don't pay taxes. Their "movement" picked up steam on Facebook, then 4chan and various corners of Reddit. Proponents delighted in sending "thots" harassing DMs and sharing screenshots of completed IRS tip forms.

Even infamous pick-up artist Roosh got in on the campaign, encouraging reports with a tweet highlighting a 30% cut of any profits retrieved from IRS tax dodgers as the result of whistleblowing.

All of this ultimately culminated in absolutely nothing. There wasn't a single confirmed case of a #ThotAudit tip leading to an IRS takedown of a sex worker. All the outrage simply ended up being yet another excuse for angry right-wing men to harass women, much like #Gamergate.

But perhaps this shouldn't have been a surprise, considering the entire effort started as a cruel joke. While David Wu, the conservative Facebook user who started the whole thing, definitely believed in the ideology behind #ThotAudit. He never thought anything would actually be reported to the IRS. In essence, it was just a "troll idea" until someone actually did it, at which point it became a legitimate form of harassment and everyone who was "just trolling" was still entirely on board.

At the same time, subreddits dedicated to making fun of right-wing reactionaries had already started making their ironic memes. But in many of the related threads, something strange happened––some people were responding to the satirical memes unironically. For example, in this thread from r/gamersriseup, a subreddit predicated on users roleplaying as "gamers" who think they're being oppressed by society, one person responded to a presumably ironic post about #ThotAudit by asking, "why is this subreddit unironic now" and received over 40 upvotes.

While the entire debacle played out through small spats on niche corners of the internet, it nicely illustrated a much larger point playing out all across society: the decontextualization of ironic media.

Irony Is Not Dead

Despite the phrase's commonality, "irony is dead" is an incorrect assessment of a complex phenomenon.

If irony truly were dead, that would mean people were no longer utilizing ironic humor or interest in ironic culture. That, of course, is patently untrue. Everything from the existence of ironic meme subcultures to the prolific status of bad movies stands as evidence to the contrary. People still love ironic media, especially in more niche parts of the internet. The problem is that due to the nature of the internet and the unfettered access it gives to people from all walks of life, ironic media can no longer be trusted to remain in its ironic context. Instead, we get "post-ironic media"––press that may or might not have initially been ironic, but functions as genuine regardless.

Take r/gamersriseup for instance. While the subreddit is explicitly intended to make fun of right-wing "gamer" reactionaries, at least 40 people saw one such "ironic" post about #ThotAudit and genuinely thought, "yeah, that makes perfect sense." In that capacity, to those 40 people, r/gamersriseup was unironic in spite of its intent. In other words, an ironic sub unintentionally pushed the exact sentiment it was making fun of due to certain users earnestly believing said sentiment.

This begs the question: does the intent behind content creation matter if people are going to interpret it seriously anyway?

Does Intent Matter?

"Ironic media" exists purely within the context of its consumption. For instance, a poorly made movie can be viewed either ironically or unironically. An unironic viewing might point out the ways the movie fails and deem it "bad." Whereas an ironic viewing would specifically relish in the movie's failures through the lens of "so bad it's good." Ultimately, the enjoyment and appreciation for the movie doesn't derive from whether or not the director intended the movie to be "good" or "bad," but rather how the viewer approaches it.

That same sentiment can be applied to any form of "ironic media." If a non-racist person makes a racist meme ironically to show how stupid racists are, there's a good chance that their non-racist friends will view the meme as similarly ironic. There's also a good chance that an actual racist would see the meme, agree with it, and reshare it unironically with other people who would agree. The result, regardless of the original poster's intent, would still be spreading racism.

The Internet's greatest benefit is also its most significant drawback––everyone has access to everything. This means that even when something is posted in a community meant entirely as a joke, such as r/gamersriseup, someone will always approach it sans context. Short of completely closed and controlled environments, creating and sharing ironic content still runs the risk of genuinely spreading ideas you disagree with.

The Larger Context

On 4chan, Donald Trump was always a joke. That's not to say many people on the forum didn't support him––they did, rabidly––but these users weren't in quite the same boat as the middle-aged Christian conservative boomers who voted for Trump. 4Chan users were generally younger and more internet savvy. It's not that they didn't support Trump genuinely––again, they did––but rather they enjoyed the entire Trump presidency through a layer of irony. It's similar to how someone else might view a "bad" movie in a positive light because of how funny they found it. To be clear, the users' racism, sexism, and homophobia were absolutely real, but Trump was a meme, a big joke intended to piss off liberals and "globalists."

That's why when Trump won the election in 2016, they bragged about memeing a president into office. In this capacity, many Trump memes were created ironically, at least in the sense that the person making them didn't necessarily believe the content. Instead, the intent was twofold. Within the 4chan community, a solid Trump meme would inspire laughs from like-minded people who "got it." Outside the 4chan community, the meme could be targeted at and shared by "normies" (4chan's catch-all term for normal people functioning with ease in mainstream society) who either agreed with them and believed the content genuinely or disagreed with them and were therefore "triggered."

So while the number of eligible voters on 4chan might have been largely insignificant, (or at least too insignificant to matter in a national election), their understanding of the internet and its many subcultures gave them extensive reach––enough that they really might have influenced the election by targeting "ironic" memes at people with no barometer for irony.


So how do we approach "ironic media" in a post-ironic culture where everything can be shared and re-shared far beyond its point of origin?

Ultimately, ironic media isn't going anywhere. Ironic jokes and memes and communities are an inherent part of online culture. Ironically, however, irony doesn't translate well online. The sheer number of people coming into contact with any given piece of public content ensures that someone somewhere will decontextualize it and take it at face value. Knowing this, how can we ensure our irony functions as intended? How do we dismantle ideas we dislike, fully understanding that our action spreads those very ideas? There might not be a correct answer. Even when we limit ironic content to isolated communities where it's most likely to be understood, certain people always find a way to miss the point.

As such, we should always approach ironic media through the lens of skepticism. Just because you find something funny doesn't mean it was intended to be ironic, and it also doesn't mean that others will interpret it similarly. On the other hand, something automatically offensive might have been intended as a joke, so before dedicating your time and energy to a response, try to assess whether or not you're reading it correctly.

Finally, consider the effects of sharing ironic content should it be interpreted genuinely. In certain dedicated communities (ironic meme forums, for instance), the chances are high that most people engaging with the content will be in the same mindset as you. But if not, if people take the material you're putting out at face value, is that something you're okay with? Is that content worth the possibility of spreading ideas and sentiments that might be at odds with the ones you actually hold? Maybe it is. Only you can decide.

Dan Kahan is a writer & screenwriter from Brooklyn, usually rocking a man bun. Find more at

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