The Curtain 092: A Post-Friday World

The internet's conception of performance has changed in the last 10 years
The Curtain mailing list
Gus Cuddy
S02-04 (Issue 92)

Hi friends,

Welcome to The Curtain. This is Season 2, Episode 4 (issue 092). The Curtain is a newsletter about arts and algorithms, with Season Two taking a special focus on the role of the internet. It’s written by me, Gus Cuddy.

# Friday. Friday. Gotta get down on Friday.

I’m not one for making up special occasions, but let it be known that February 10th was the ten-year anniversary of one of the defining events in internet pop culture: the release of Rebecca Black’s “Friday”. Black, who resiliently is still making music, released a bizarre (and sort of incredible?) remix commemorating the historic moment. After “Friday”'s original release, Black was subject to a barrage of bullying that encapsulated a particular type of late 00s / early 10s edginess. YouTube was still becoming a thing; Facebook was still kind of cool; Instagram had just launched; BitTorrent was beginning to fade into internet obscurity. The internet was changing, becoming nastier, more dynamic, and more electric. It was clear that it wasn’t just a place to look up information; it was a platform, a dynamo, somewhere you could get lost in — not just nerds, but everyone — and find yourself in bizarre, disturbing, or NSFW Tumblrs and sub-Reddits. But “Friday”’s release did mark something: a flag in the ground for what the internet was becoming; a place where a girl could release a strange, self-parodying pop song and achieve 150-million-view-virality. As Ryan Broderick writes in his newsletter Garbage Day, “In 2011, Rebecca Black’s “Friday” dropped and the internet woke up and it hasn’t gone back to sleep since.”

The idea of internet nostalgia is a funny one because we think of the internet as a still relatively young platform. But we’re at a point now where my mid-90s generation has grown up with the evolution of the internet, and where it has been the primary driver of culture for the last 10+ years. There are distinct periods, genres, cultural eras. Watching “Friday” now feels like a remarkable artifact from a different time, one where we were all stupider and didn’t yet know the power of memes, didn’t realize the direct lines between internet edgelords, social media and fascism. It feels startlingly quaint, a cursed bridge between the confused 00s and the twisted, weirded 10s. Of course, the switch that “Friday” helped turn on is not necessarily a positive one. In the “real world”, there hasn’t been much of any significant progress. Most technological and cultural development has happened online: inequality has risen, climate change has gotten worse, live art is increasingly inaccessible and expensive, Netflix started the streaming wars, and the subway still sucks.

Meanwhile, tech hardware has advanced rapidly, primarily empowering us with faster, slimmer super-computer phones and related devices, which mostly serve to connect us to the internet more seamlessly and more incessantly. The internet post-“Friday” is not an addendum to reality but the primary construction of many people’s reality. This, in turn, has led to varieties of psychoses of blurring realities. We’ve started to see strange internet-analog moldings this year, with the January 6th insurrection attempt by white supremacist QAnon conspiracy theorists and the recent GameStop stock saga that pitted Wall Street against swarms of Reddit bros. We have nostalgia for earlier internet phenomenon because they feel relatively simplistic and benign; in the case of Rebecca Black, it’s at least constrained to the story of one individual (who appears to have emerged stronger — the joke’s on us).

Are we getting anywhere, though? After “Friday”, we all kept spending more and more time online — accelerated by 2020’s year of quarantine. In his newsletter, Drew Austin responds to David Graeber’s indelible critique of modern technology (”Where, in short, are the flying cars?”) by positing that maybe “we should just admit that crafting brilliant illusions and spinning vivid narratives are simply more exciting than building something material, and now that we can do the former with unprecedented fidelity, that’s all we need.” That’s a cynical argument, but there’s some truth in it. Reality, narrative, and media are converging; building real things is too difficult — or worse, too boring. Movies and television and content captivate us; the ones that do so the most are the most illusory, often the most fleeting. It’s hard to get a stake down in the ground to hold one’s footing amidst the stream of content; that wasn’t the case ten years ago. Anyway, after all these years, February 2021 is perfectly rectangular; that’s fitting — it’s also the shape of almost every screen we leer into, gobbling down the immaterial, augmenting our reality with a wide variety of dopamine hits. Maybe we just need someone to tell us what day it is: that yesterday was Thursday, that tomorrow is Saturday, and that we’re looking forward to the weekend. Boy, I can’t wait to party on Fridays again.

# Notes from the Week

# End Note

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