The Internet Personified: Gossip makes the world go round

The two influencers who kept me company during lockdown

Hello old friends—and hello and welcome to all my new friends!

There’s an incredible number of you here (thanks probably to the Substack blog mention). This is my weird little internet project, where I tell you stories and send you links. That’s pretty much the whole brief, except the stories have a bent towards books and pop culture, my two favourite things, so that’s mostly what you’ll get from this with a few departures every now and then. You can rootle around the archives to get a hang of it, if you like, or wait for the letters to be a GLORIOUS SURPRISE. To be honest, I’m kind of making it up as I go along, so I have no set-in-stone USP for you, but that’s where we’re at just now anyway.

Onward.

silent film flirt GIF

There are two Influencers in my life. Both live in America, both are skinny and blonde. I’m not naming them so you can substitute Your Preferred Influencers face in their stead. I’m not naming them because they are the sort of Influencers who search for their own names almost hourly, and then do big internet meltdowns about how misunderstood they are. I’m not naming them because their names don’t matter. You don’t want to follow them, they offer nothing. The Older Influencer, a woman in her forties, who lives in Utah, and has two daughters, an ex-husband who ran off with another mommy blogger, which is what Older Influencer used to be, and a partner who is currently legally married to someone else, only posts content about how much people hate her and how she rises above it all anyway, like a skinny phoenix. She has taken, during pandemic times, to posing on her porch, wearing some variant of Gwen Stefani’s clothes from the early noughties, except safer, so lots of tube tops and low riding yoga pants. The Older Influencer tells us that years of “gut issues” have led to her body being too thin and now she accepts herself for who she is. She says this and then she photoshops the pictures to make herself look gaunter, ever section of her spine visible as she half turns to us and smirks.

The Younger Influencer is a hot mess. She appeared in my consiouness after an article her former best friend wrote about her went viral. No, that’s not true. She appeared in my consciousness after a Twitter thread called her out on being a scammer. She doubled down on this narrative, releasing coy cover reveals of a book she was self-publishing called Scammer, taking pre-orders. The book was meant to be out months ago. The book was meant to be out last week. She’s refunding money if you ask, but not telling anyone where the book is. She’s staying in her grandmother’s house in Florida and making a little extra money on the side by using Only Fans, a social media website for sex workers. She posts pictures of her nipples, and dresses up as literary characters, some of them underage. She posts pictures of her nipples and talks about how she’d love to be with a woman this time. She posts all this on Instagram, little butterfly emojis covering her nips, to tease us about Only Fans. “Join me there,” she says, her mouth doing that flattened sideways pout of all influencers.

The Influencers are not pretty, but it is easy to be pulled into their glamour and magic and believe they are. The Older Influencer wears dresses that look like negligees and tilts her head back, smiling at nothing. The Younger Influencer had her lips done, her hair dyed the perfect shade of Gwyneth. In older photos, she looks earnest and eager-to-please, a round face, watchful eyes, dirty blonde hair. Now, she has lost weight and spends most of her time cuddling with her cats pressed against her naked skin. The cats are brother and sister she bought from a breeder. The cats have not been spayed or neutered. The Older Influencer has a dog, animals are important to her. She complained about how much energy her older dog needed and then adopted a high energy dog again. The Older Influencer is sending her puppy to doggy boot camp because she yanks on a leash.

I know a lot about the Influencers even though I’ve never engaged with them in my life. They are, objectively, people I would actively avoid if I ever met them in real life. They are if not the worst of the internet, then just general train wrecks of people. The mature thing to do would be to unfollow them, not give them the views they live off of. But The Influencers kept me company during lockdown, and for that, they’ll stay in my life.

I’m not sure what kind of person you are, maybe you’re nicer than me, or more evolved or something, but I like to bitch about people sometimes. It goes into gossip, not secrets, you understand, but just general eye rolling about how so-and-so is insufferable now or how such-and-such said WHAT to someone else? OMG. It was a fun way to spend an evening, hanging out with your friends, cackling. I love gossip, even at 38, when it seems like everyone is living very boring lives, married and settled down and having children. If people are having affairs, no one is telling me about them, but they do sometimes tell me about bad behaviour and that is great fun to dissect. And then the lockdown happened and we were all forced into our homes, and people were more discreet than you would like them to be on social media, so who did we bitch about now? WHO?

What is life without someone to hate?

And so I Googled my Influencers, both of them. They were being so annoying, their posts were nothing but garbage, and I didn’t want sensible advice like, “why don’t you just unfollow them then?” There is a time for sensible advice, and there is a time for doubling down and rolling your eyes so hard in the direction of one internet famous person that surely she can hear the rattle from where she sits.

Then I discovered the forums dedicated to my Influencers on Reddit. The Older Influencer got just a thread, there’s not much copy in someone just going on about how much everyone hates her and she’ll rise above it in every single post, but the Younger Influencer, the one who posts rat-a-tat sixty or seventy images a day had a whole forum to herself. It’s cleverly disguised, you can’t find it unless you’re looking for a keyword, it’s not named after the Younger Influencer but something she says. And all of a sudden, like Mary Lennox opening the door, I was in. I had the Secret Garden of snark, I knew what everyone was talking about and the threads rolled on, unrelenting all day. As long as she posted, they posted. As long as she had something to say, they had something to say about her having something to say. I followed a few snarkers on Twitter, one pulled out an old Airbnb review.

Anyway, as the lockdown went on, I tried to figure out what it was exactly that drew me back to those forums. They’d be the last thing I’d check before I went to sleep at night, a soothing never-ending scroll after I was done with my book and was lying on my side in the dark. Around me, the world fell apart, and yet, we could all band together in hating the Older Influencer who flew to London—to London! to go to a concert! in April! and met everyone she could afterwards and then whinges to us about how much the COVID test sucked. I might be crawling up the walls in my own house, wondering when it would be safe to go outside again, but one swipe on my phone and I was watching the Younger Influencer mix kombucha with white wine and call it a drink. They kept me company. These garbage people kept me company. Everyone else was great and thoughtful and serious about their think pieces, and these two, they acted like it was just slightly unfortunate that they had to stay in more. It was exactly the sort of attitude I was looking for—someone to pretend like it wasn’t happening. And other people to bitch about that someone with, all of us with our own desperately serious lives, trying to get shit together, trying to keep our jobs and our futures and trying not to worry constantly, all of us putting it aside for a bit and bitching about the Influencers.

Of course, I only lurked. My reddit username, made many moons ago, is pretty obviously me, and I wanted to be anonymous, so I’m silent on reddit mostly, only participating twice to ask questions on r/whatsthisbug.

If our internet activities showed our true age, on reddit I probably come across as an older woman, gardening. Curious about insects. I take my hat off and go inside my house for my homemade lemonade. My forty year old daughter comes to call on me every now and then, my husband sits on the verandah and reads the newspaper, pausing every now and then to read something aloud to me. But if you look at the places I lurk, I am transformed, I am young with heavy black eyeliner, and I am crooked over my laptop somewhere dark. I am alone, except for my cat, and I often don’t shower for days.

Then the lockdown lifted and we started slowly going back to our lives, new normal blah blah blah and the Influencers suddenly seemed sad and shaken. Nothing had changed for them, everything had changed for us. They tried to claw back content, but we were bored now of them. Forums that buzzed now whisper. There’s debate about whether the Older Influencer deserves a thread at all. After all, what is there left to say?

I haven’t yet unfollowed the Influencers, but the need for gossip in my life is temporarily subdued. We ran out of things to bitch about, and it feels like we’ve come full circle. Maybe one of them will do something horrendous and we’ll all talk about it a bit, but for now, I don’t even check their threads. I swipe past their posts on Instagram. The Influencers belong to a world I no longer inhabit. It was nice to sit with the cool kids for a while and pass judgement though. I felt like a god.

Gloria sic transit mundi. I had to work that phrase in, I’m obsessed with it since I Googled it yesterday and now will deploy it to make myself look more learned. Thus goes the glory of the world.

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Links I like!

Love these conversations with creative demons. (I had LITERALLY this exact discussion with mine recently.) Oh, what the hell, have another!

The terrible real story behind the Pied Piper myth. Where did all those children go?

What was Indian food like before spices?

I sent this to everyoneeee because it resonated so hard with me. If you read no other link this week, read this!!

Just a funny post about Top Gun.

Why are some people more delicious to mosquitoes?

Author Jesmyn Ward on losing her (33-year-old) husband to COVID is desperately sad reading.

And finally: since I read so many newsletters, I thought I’d recommend some here too. This week: Vittles and Read Like The Wind.

Have a great week!

xx

m

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Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.

Who are you?Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.

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