How to Safely Navigate Our Haunted Transsexual Internet
pirate wires #95 // trans bud light the musical, the daily wire's symbiotic relationship with dylan mulvaney, and our internet's designed to make us go insane. let's fix it.
Quick note: I’m including a little bonus content for paying subscribers this week. Hop beyond the paywall at the bottom of the piece for further, rough thoughts, and remember to join the conversation in our comments.
Grab an ice cold Bud Lixt. In the chaotic, lightning-fast, amnesic realm of the internet, culture war dramas rarely last longer than a day or two, but people have been screaming about a transsexual Bud Light can for over four weeks. Why? Right on the ground floor, the story really does have something for everyone: a wildly famous trans “girl” influencer documenting her “second puberty” before an audience of millions, a “woke” Bud Light marketing executive, a right wing boycott, a left wing boycott, Kid Rock with an assault rifle, several corporate firings, and a small class of the most influential political talking heads in the country, every one of whom believes they are oppressed because of their conservative politics, shamelessly amplifying this purportedly dangerous spectacle to the country. But as fun as all of this is (and thank you, everyone, great work this month in the genre of Clown World bullshit), the intensity of this culture war backlash is revelatory of something actually important: there is a critical incompatibility between any kind of stabile mainstream culture, and social media at scale.
The structure of our social internet not only amplifies the most extreme possible positions on every topic, it invites a struggle for consensus on such fundamentally incompatible positions among hundreds of millions of people. In other words, our platforms are designed, even if inadvertently, to drive us all crazy. Counterintuitively, it seems any future internet that doesn’t help us get away from each other, to meet and live in our own, weird little spaces full of weirdos just like us, will irreparably drive this country apart. I think the internet can still be fixed, and there are some positive signs in this direction. But first, in accordance with the Law of Clown, grab yourself an ice cold Bud Lixt, and take a seat. It’s time to talk about this gender bending beer from TikTok Hell.
On April 1st, in celebration of March Madness, Bud Light sent trans mega-influencer Dylan Mulvaney a handful of commemorative cans emblazoned with her face. Dylan released a little commercial for the company on Instagram, jokingly noted she had no idea what sports were, and the internet lost its mind. Standard issue shitposters, always here for any drama, immediately uncovered the name of the marketing executive responsible for the trans can, along with a very unfortunate interview in which the executive criticized the only consumers who actually drank her product (frat boys, she said, and ignorant olds). Then she outlined a plan to tap a series of left-coded political values in service of making Bud Light more popular among the cast of HBO’s Euphoria.
Public response has been legendary. Kid Rock filmed himself with an assault rifle blasting the beer to hell in his backyard, country music singer Travis Tritt banned the beer from his tour, and in joyful viral video after joyful viral video lifelong fans of the famously mid beverage memed a boycott of the product into a symbol of populist rage. Within a week, Bud Light sales tanked. Within two weeks, the executives responsible for the trans can were put on leave. A month later, with sales still cratering, the decision to “wokify” Bud Light appears to be one of the worst missteps in consumer marketing history.
Now, Dylan Mulvaney is not an activist. Dylan has even implied, repeatedly, a clear understanding of biological sex (rare for trans influencers). I’ve never heard Dylan insist males should be in athletic competition, or prison, with females, or that young girls should be permitted to receive double-mastectomies. While she very well may think all of these crazy things, my point is just she doesn’t talk about them, she doesn’t fight for them, she is really nothing like your typical activist gender goblin. Dylan is not stupid, or insane. Dylan is just a fame-hungry influencer with gender dysphoria who happens to be very charming, and very popular — specifically with talking heads at the Daily Wire. This twisted, toxic, highly-online rivalry, more than anything, is why the Bud Light controversy went nuclear.
Over the past few months, right wing commentator Matt Walsh has brutally attacked Dylan for everything from her appearance to her intentions, going so far as to imply Dylan wants to trans his children. In her 6 or 7,000th chapter in the series, Candace Owens reflected on her past concerns that Dylan’s antics would lead to the normalization of pedophilia. Horrible things, and I could catalogue the entire year-long feud in detail, but nothing better demonstrates the relationship between Dylan and the Daily Wire as the show Dylan just produced in celebration of her “365th day as a girl.” For one special evening, surrounded by a cabal of woke priestesses of color, she sang, danced, and… led a discussion about her many haters at the Daily Wire, prominently featuring video clips of the vitriol they’ve directed at her on her “journey.” Dylan’s stated intention of amplifying all of this was something like catharsis. But, obviously, the Daily Wire responded, which hilariously led to a segment in which Daily Wire hosts discuss a Dylan clip, in which Dylan discusses a series of Daily Wire clips, in which Daily Wire hosts discuss a series of Dylan clips.
I can’t stress enough how impossible every piece of this would be without our endemically idiotic internet.
The online relationship between activists and media personalities with polar opposite perspectives on sex and gender is symbiotic, highly lucrative, and deafening. Concerning trans stuff in particular, discourse has bifurcated. On one hand, we have activists attempting to normalize a rare and highly-disadvantageous pathology, with further demands we rearchitect our entire civilization’s relationship with sex and gender on their behalf. On the other hand, we have activists — many of them self-identified as Christian! — ridiculing and dehumanizing a person with a rare mental condition. Mathematically identified by our social media platforms as the most attention-grabbing people, an audience of millions inadvertently amplifies their stories to prominence. As these are the only stories we consume, these are the stories we become.
The furthest extremes of the gender goblin left are now demanding chemical castration for adolescents, social “transition” — and even medical transition — without parental consent, violent males confined in prison along with females, and the legally-enforced “proper” use of pronouns (ok, Dylan actually did advocate that one herself). Meanwhile, the furthest extremes of the “trad” right, a sort of trans-masculine performance itself (no offense), are not simply rejecting these crazy positions, they are demanding the full-scale “eradication” of transgenderism from public life. A middle ground between two positions so extreme is obviously impossible, but the drive, from all parties involved, is toward sameness. This tension is breaking the country.
Since Jump, I’ve written about the new risk inherent of rapid viral sharing at the scale of our entire population. A few years ago, the question was mostly just “what kind of outlier event, which we can’t even imagine, is now possible, or even probable?” Back then, I imagined viral propaganda intended for instantaneous provocation of existentially dangerous harm — a social media-induced nuclear war, for example. I’m still concerned we’re at risk of something like that. But two related dangers, equally as difficult to wrap our head around for all their newness, include the messianic pull of “influence,” and the madness that follows any failure to achieve group consensus. Both impulses are human, but the scale at which they now play out hits wildly different than anything we’ve ever seen. Social media has naturally driven us to take-all social war, waged by megalomaniacal status demons, as we search for a single national culture. The more we fight, the more impossible that national culture becomes. The machine is designed for us to lose. The only winning move is not to play.
Last week I wrote about the power of subscribers, and an email list, as improbably championed to staggering success by the New York Times. A whole new generation of writers, enabled by a whole new generation of tools, are now creating something similar: tiny worlds, walled off from the broader social media hellscape, where smaller circles of like-minded individuals assemble and make sense of our reality. Prominent “misinformation experts” have long argued such siloed communities are dangerous hotbeds of radicalism, capable of bringing down our entire democracy. But if this is true it can’t possibly matter, because today, clearly, our entire popular culture is a hotbed of radicalism. Hello, what idea have we covered today that wasn’t considered unfathomably radical even ten years ago?
The future of culture is either a gatekept internet of mostly peaceful nations, and the rebirth of subculture, or all-consuming outrage until we’re swallowed by the void, left to wander anxious and empty through a haunted, miserable internet. Our choices: change our human nature (impossible), break (undesirable), or build something new.
I’m interested in something new.
Subscribe, or die.
I started work on this one last week, and it’s changed considerably since I began. By the time I finished, a handful of concepts no longer added to the piece. But I think they’re all pretty interesting. Thought I’d try something new this week, and share a couple of the rough thoughts below for paying subscribers. I think they’ll make for interesting conversation. Let me know what you think in the comments.