I’ve always wanted digital publishing to be more visual, to embrace art as much as text and create recognizable brands that accompany the content. Graphics are fun! They’re a chance to show off the vibe of a publication and give readers something to associate with the abstract identity of a group of writers. The New Yorker has Eustace Tilley, a patrician dandy eternally gazing through his monocle. Now Dirt, the newsletter you are reading, has a mascot: Dirty, an amorphous blob who represents the ever-changing nature of Online Entertainment Content.
This iteration of Dirty is drawn by Jason Adam Katzenstein, an author, illustrator, and cartoonist for The New Yorker. Katzenstein also made our new logo, which is at the top of this newsletter and below. We (Kyle Chayka and Daisy Alioto) started Dirt as an experiment in different formats of writing about the stuff we’re interested in (streaming, TV shows, TikTok, digital aesthetics, vibes), but it has taken on a life of its own, with an email list of over 3,000 and a dozen other contributors. The new branding is to recognize that growth and prepare Dirt for its next stages. We are no longer beta v1.0; more like beta v1.6.
What we can promise is that this newsletter will arrive 3-5 days a week, covering basically anything that’s cool and interesting in the expanded realm of entertainment. For now, what you can do as readers is like, share, and comment, and tell your friends to subscribe to Dirt. Also pitch us stories or reviews by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org (for now we pay $50 per newsletter).
Here’s a game: We want people to tweet this Dirty fan card to let the world know that they love Dirty, too. Just save the file and then add it to a tweet. You can link to this post or https://dirt.substack.com in your tweet, or just help Dirty live their own special life on the internet. — By Kyle Chayka
Eliza Levinson: Streaming Lockdown Blues
Guten Tag. In Germany, where I live, the shit is currently hitting the fan because some of the most famous actors in the country have banded together for an ill-conceived video project called Alles Dicht Machen(“Shut It All Down”) — a satirical video series mocking the six month (and counting) lockdown in the country. Think the US’s “Don’t Vote” campaign. The actors introduce themselves, and, addressing the camera, sarcastically describe how much they love restrictions; how badly they want more of them imposed.
Predictably, comparisons to other authoritarian regimes in modern Germany are drawn, and are being received by a predictably hostile audience. The series is causing such a stir largely because the videos’ anti-lockdown angle is seen as sympathetic to local coronavirus conspiracy theorists and so-called Querdenkers (“Thinking outside the box”), who have continued to protest mask laws and vaccinations since the start of the pandemic. Anti-mask protests have quickly been co-opted by the German far-right, and a Querdenker rally in Berlin just this week was peppered, uncomfortably so, with German flags, a dog whistle for far-right nationalism. Within hours, the project’s website crashed, presumably due to traffic.
I’ve been watching all of this play out from Los Angeles, where I’m currently attempting to store sunlight in all of my extremities. I wiled away my time on the 18-hour journey listening to a five part series about Princess Diana on the podcast You’re Wrong About, which sent me into a YouTube wormhole of Princess Di interviews. (Quick sidebar: Princess Diana, charming and kind, did, actually, push an old lady down the stairs…? Here’s the episode where they talk about that, 55 min in.)
Anyway, I thought I was kind of immune to the Princess Diana of it all — I’ve lived in Europe long enough to know that the British monarchy is colonizing, taxpayer-funded Trash — but I couldn’t HELP but be CAUGHT UP in her overWHELMING sadness!! So rich, so beautiful, and yet, so sad! I related to her sadness, her wholly unglamorous honesty — the descriptions of her own insecurities, her self-destruction, her disappointed yearning for love and happiness — but I couldn’t tell if it was because I saw myself in her — that her sadness negated, or softened, our social difference, inexplicable yet certain — or because I saw myself as above her — that even money and global fame couldn’t give anyone everything.
My dalliance with Princess Diana came from the same dark pull I felt binging the Justin Bieber and, more recently, Demi Lovato documentaries on YouTube. There’s just something so infinitely, addictively tantalizing about the Sad Celebrity, confessing it all-too-openly for you to see. The Justin Bieber YouTube doc includes him finalizing the music video for one of his most recent songs, which includes lyrics like “What if you had it all / but nobody to call / maybe then you’d know me,” and the chorus, which is him mournfully yodelling, “I’m so lo-oo-oo-oo-nely.”
Somehow this, too, feels different than this TikTok my friend loves and I hate: a young person who has clearly been sobbing sits in their car covered in streaked mascara. They are eating gummy worms, wiping tears off of their chin, listening to Taylor Swift, and staring at me. My friend showed me the TikTok after both of us had had particularly tough weeks, but it felt Too Real for me to find funny. The Sad Celebrity, crucially, isn’t Too Real. The Sad Celebrity manages to stir my empathy while respecting the fourth wall. The Sad Celebrity uses their public face as a call to be understood, while an actual person having a hard time uses their public face — social media — as a cry for help.
But maybe that’s an outmoded form of famous person. Breaking the fourth wall is the point of being a YouTuber, a profession that’s increasingly blurring the line between average social media user and Celebrity. Netflix just bought the rights to a reality show about the original Hype House, while E! is making a docuseries about YouTube beauty influencers (Pretty Ugly: Money, Rumors, and Lies).
News about the Netflix show broke as the New York Times featured a scathing behind-the-scenes portrait of life in Jake Paul’s Team 10 house by Taylor Lorenz, but it’s honestly sort of confusing because some of the issues raised in the piece (“electrically shock[ing people] without warning” and “pressur[ing them] to jump from the mansion’s roof into a pool”; “chain-saw[ing] through a bedroom door to wake up two people in the house”) feel like extremely tame (and lame) iterations of pranks the Jackass guys engineered two decades before. While most of the allegations in the piece are severe — the piece includes multiple sexual assault allegations, not to mention that Paul himself seems like an entirely abhorrent person — these arguments are minimized by the inclusion of Paul’s unimaginative fratty misbehavior as earnest issues of workplace mistreatment.
The point isn’t really, in my opinion, that Jake Paul is or has been a toxic boss, though he is and was. The point is that hype houses are creepy and weird and the whole system of being a lucrative YouTuber is a wholly deregulated means of selling over your life rights to an intentionally opaque tech company which profits exponentially off of the value you create for it, generally for free. The central problem, in my opinion, is less that Jake Paul is a shitty boss, and more that it’s becoming normalized to depict a house full of children working constantly for a company, YouTube, as aspirational; their days of constant shooting, performing, and editing misconstrued as freedom.
I know; I’m missing the point. The technocapitalism is coming from inside the (hype) house. This quote from Jake Paul says it all: “I know it’s a cliché, but, like, literally, I want to create an empire of dozens of talent under me, to take my power and multiply it so that I become bigger than myself,” Mr. Paul told The New York Times in 2017.
~Catch up on Dirt~
— Rolling Stone explores why, exactly, women on TikTok are asking to be peed on — Dazed profiles the major players in hyperpop, like Glaive, Kuru, and Alice Gas — Lil Nas X has a “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” video game (it was only a matter of time) — Gucci’s newest collection, Aria, debuted online — Kevin Smith is also making an NFT — Weezer and iRobot made a “Wroomba”, which is a Roomba with a Weezer logo on it, and I am haunted by the knowledge that Rivers Cuomo literally went to Harvard — Vine and TikTok star Adam Perkins has died at the age of 24
— You’re Wrong About on the Enron scandal — this album by Fatima Al Qadiri — a feature on Dawoud Bey’s photography for The Paris Review — an exhibition overview of Made In LA at the Hammer Museum — the Twitter account @LiZaOutlives, compiling events Liza Minelli has outlived — Wendy Williams trying to say Dua Lipa — By Eliza Levinson