Yesterday, Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti added more fuel to the widespread speculation that the company could go public next year. If Buzzfeed employees are smart—and many of them are!—they will not let that happen without having a union drive first.
I've always hated life-hack listicles. And by that, I mean I once read one in 2012, and I didn't like it. But once you've read one, you've read them all: the same ancient photos of some phone chargers slotted into a paperclip, rehashed when it's been a low-yielding week on the content farm.
Mind you, I could probably benefit from paying some attention. With my lack of storage, my lack of most common household appliances, and my lack of any products to help me stay on top of my multiple loose phone chargers—I recognize these issues but don't have the time, imagination, or money to do anything about them.
So maybe—just maybe—following the life hackers' advice could be the answer I've been looking for all along?
1) No Idea How to Deal with Your Storage
Issues? The Answer Is Right Under You, Dummy!
I live in a garden shed. This has its upsides—relatively good talking point, the fact I'm the only person who lives in it—but also its downsides. It is tiny, and there's nowhere to put any of my stuff.
Luckily, the life hackers have a solution: Drill a chair into a wall and hang your valuables off it.
OK, so there's no shelf space like in the original photo, but at least I have something on which to hang my scarves, hats, shirts, and other light items. And, yes, I now have nowhere to sit in my own home, and this precarious arrangement can't really handle much weight, and the whole exercise was basically redundant, but I guess novice life hackers like myself have to expect a few casualties along the way.
2) Need a Crisp Shirt, but Don't Have an Iron Around? Steam, Idiot!
I do have an iron, but I hate ironing. And I'd sure like a life in which I can look sharp without singed knuckles. So I thought I'd try this:
Hammer out. Pans on. The answers were right in front of me all along!
That said, after ten minutes of bubbling, this method doesn't seem to be having much impact. Feeling my shirt—which is the consistency of the inner sole of a soggy shoe on a rainy day—I decide it probably just needs a little longer, like a stew. So I leave it to steam and move on.
3) Don't Spend Money on Tape, Moron!
I often find myself screaming at my jars. Why? Because they are unlabeled, and I have no idea what's in them, and the masking tape I bought four years ago for that purpose has since lost its stick.
Again, the life hackers apparently have a cure: Microwave the roll of tape. While researching this article, I've come to realize that roughly 66 percent of life hacks basically consist of microwaving inedible household items, so I'm skeptical about this one.
I pick the plate up, and the tape creaks. Like Jesus poking his head out of the cave, it has risen. Though it may have damaged my microwave in a way that will slowly and discreetly poison me, it did work. Thanks, hackers!
4) Sick of Stuffy Bike Rides in the Summer? Soak It Up, Dum Dum!
It's lunchtime, the sun is out, and I've got errands to run. Sounds pleasant, right? Well, not for me. I have the complexion of a button mushroom and live in south London, which means bike riding is a necessity. So today means a stuffy bike ride, with my shoes sure to be soaked through with sweat by the end of the day. That is, unless German engineering can come to the rescue.
Sommerpedale! Simply grab some sponges from under the sink, string them from your toolbox, and make yourself some... spandles?
Despite my soles being turning red from residual passata, with the sun shining and a cool breeze running between my toes, I feel good. Refreshed, I begin to wonder: Why don't we ride like this all year round?
5) Hate Standing in Line? Try It Caribbean style, Bonehead!
Heading to the ATM, I'm still giddy. What a revelation! But getting off my bike, I realize I've made a fatal mistake. Caught up in the wind of refreshed feet, I've left my shoes at home. But never fear: The life hackers, as ever, have a solution. Try "Caribbean queuing," leaving your shoes—or, in my case, sponges—in your place while you have a little rest.
Sitting against the wall, I watch a young man jump in front of me in line.
"Sorry, dude," I say. "I'm actually in line."
"I'm in line, look."
I point, and we both stare down at the spandles. He looks back at me. Then he looks out at the world, dumbfounded.
Dear God: It's worked. A man is standing in line behind a pair of sponges. A man is giving sponges with strings attached to them equivalent value as a human being standing in line. Picking up the sponges and leaving, I'm speechless. This is the biggest line revelation since Curb taught us the concept of the "chat and cut."
6) Never Buy an Old Egg Again, Nitwit!
Last week, I purchased some top-shelf, free-range eggs from my local supermarket. I got home and discovered two of them were de-yolked. I was heartbroken. It can never happen again. Good news, then, that the internet had a tip for me:
With a Tupperware box under my arm, I make my way over to that very same supermarket and head straight to the egg section.
One by one, they sink to the bottom. Everything looks good, so I head to the checkout. Draining my bounty outside, people glare at me, but it's a small price to pay for a perfect set of eggs.
On a high from the spandles and eggs, I decide I'm going to celebrate by going out tonight, so I head back to my place to get ready.
Hopping off my bike, I bound through the shed door. My smoke alarm sounds, pans clatter, and a wave of heat sears my eyes shut. It's like entering an 18th-century needle mill. Swatting away the condensation, I remember my shirt: It has literally been cooking for two and a half hours. And it's still completely creased. This damp shirt, I decide, is not going to dampen my mood. Not today. I'm going to enjoy the cool evening with a small campfire in the garden outside my shed—but another problem strikes: I have no firewood.
Still, that's fine, because:
7) Doritos Make Better Kindling Than Food, Idiot!
When you're grabbing Doritos to put on a fire, is it a necessity to buy the Chili Heatwave flavor? Or can I just get straight-up Cool Ranch Original? Logic suggests the former, but I prefer the taste and aroma of the latter. Either way, I go for Tangy Cheese. Not for its steady 4-4-2 deal but because its bland flavor has disappointed so many that it deserves to burn.
And up it goes.
It's sensational, this hack—the easiest fire I've ever built. You know what this evening needs now?
8) Never Bother with a Corkscrew Again, You Absolute Fool!
Though—like most humans—I own a corkscrew, by the looks of the internet, opening a bottle of wine is something people seem to love to hack. And this way looks the most assured. So I get my hammer—something I'm beginning to realize is all you really need in your home—and a screw and bottle.
I hammer it down and start pulling. It's tough, but I'm getting there. Eventually, a wriggle, an explosion, and then... boom.
The cork has split. So I hammer it in and try again. The same thing happens. Ten, 20, 30 minutes pass. My face slowly becomes more reddened by the excruciating Dorito heat. I try again, only for another excruciating failure. Tossing the hammer to the floor, I give up. All hope seems lost. And then I hear it.
One of the builders next door—one of the very men I've been tweeting passive aggressively about for the past month—spots me in my hour of need and calls out: "The screw needs to go deeper." Of course!
One. Last. Pull.
Glory. It may have taken 40 minutes and required the help of another man, but I got there in the end.
Time to get hammered.
9) Booze + Food Coloring + Mouthwash Bottle = Infallible Secret Drinking Vessel
I'm the kind of guy to order an Uber from the pub to Domino's after four $6 pints on a Wednesday night, so any saving tips are welcome, and this one makes complete sense to me.
Packing my bag, I head out into Brixton. And dare I say it, reader, but considering my successful bag search and entry, this seems to be another one that works.
I'm standing in the middle of bar that once refused me entry because I had a soccer scarf in my bag, swigging tequila.
Beginning to feel the warm embrace of Central America, it's time for the final hack.
10) Clean Out a Suntan-Lotion Bottle, so Your Stuff Never Gets Stolen, Pinhead!
Over the past 12 months, I've lost two wallets and had two phones mugged. I've also lost one bike helmet, four sets of headphones, a metro card, three bags of clothes, and multiple other bits and bobs while out drinking. So, naturally, I was drawn to this one.
I'm in the toilet, decanting a sun-cream bottle and making my very own time capsule containing a passport photo, $24.89, a spare bike key, some tobacco, an open train ticket to Redditch—a neighboring small town in England—and my phone number, to call if found.
Now I just need to plant it.
Seamless. I'll see you later.
Hours pass, and I work my way through the entire bottle of mouthwash. I make friends. I discuss current affairs in the bathroom. My photographer Theo leaves. A man from Essex pretends to be Norwegian, completely fooling me. We laugh. I'm invited back to a party and—after leaving at closing time—head over to retrieve my capsule.
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(Top photo: Paul Joseph Watson)
"Twitter is a tiny echo chamber. I'm not sure the left understand the monumental ass-whupping being dished out to them on YouTube."
Thus reads a tweet posted this Tuesday by InfoWars editor Paul Joseph Watson, who you may remember best as the right-wing vlogger who inadvertently promised every journalist in the world a free holiday to Sweden.
As with most things PJW does nowadays, the tweet was immediately and widely mocked. But however fun mocking Watson might be, there was a curious hollowness to the whole affair. Because on this issue – breaking the habit of a lifetime – Paul Joseph Watson is right.
PJW's tweet offers a sketch of the social media terrain that seems spot-on. Twitter isn't wholly dominated by the left, but – Donald Trump and anyone with an egg avatar aside – left-wing views are certainly better-represented there than on any other major social network. However, left-wing Twitter has failed to translate into real-world influence. Twitter conversations aren't very accessible to outsiders. The "echo chamber" trope is lazy and inaccurate – I've personally learnt a huge amount from people on Twitter, and often this has led to my political views changing as well. Nevertheless, Twitter lends itself best to the refinement of people's views in conversation with people they already share some sympathy with. It's an effective tool for dragging young Labour voters further left, perhaps, but not turning Trump voters into Black Lives Matter activists.
On YouTube, by contrast, left-wing voices are seemingly non-existent – apart from that communist child – while right-wing voices dominate. PJW himself is one, standing in front of his little world map shouting at the internet from his room; his mentor Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who likes to whip himself up into a frenzy by thinking about secret documents, is another. But it's not just InfoWars – there is a whole ecosystem of right-wing YouTubers out there at least as sophisticated as the society of woodlice you might find scurrying under a loose paving slab, a vast horde of unloved grown-up boys droning on and on about why we need to halt immigration; why we need to ban toilets; why we need to kill all girl-children at birth.
The videos these people produce are a lot of things – "amateurish" and "mind-numblingly tedious" are among the main descriptors I'd use. But somehow, they're incredibly effective. Let's face it: anyone who can get hundreds of thousands of views for a one-hour rant about Owen Jones is worthy of at least our anthropological interest, if not quite our respect.
The most famous instance of far-right views being disseminated on YouTube is PewDiePie – the site's biggest star, commanding an audience of literally millions of impressionable teenage boys, who for some reason want to watch him play computer games. He was dropped by Disney after it emerged that his videos included antisemitic jokes and Nazi imagery. PewDiePie wrote a blog post declaring: "I am in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes... Though this was not my intention, I understand that these jokes were ultimately offensive."
What PewDiePie does is very different from the likes of PJW, but this ironic racism can offer us a good example of what happens when these views, prominent in YouTube's ecosystem as they are, become normalised. Such videos are – at least anecdotally – having a measurable effect on how these kids talk about Jews, or the Nazis.
Here's my hypothesis: Twitter is the natural home of the left because Twitter – participatory; open; capable of presenting multiple viewpoints to the reader simultaneously – is well-suited to the expression of left-wing views, which are (to draw however loose a family resemblance between often disparate warring factions) typically somehow egalitarian.
Contemporary right-wing politics, by contrast, is driven largely by the unexamined prejudices and anxieties of (primarily) white men. Any white man who wants to hold on to their prejudices and anxieties is going to have a tough time of it on Twitter – but they're going to have a grand old time standing in front of their wall, alone, ranting.
So the left have the tweet, and the right have the solo rant to camera. This would, in a way, be fine – except that it turns out the solo rant to camera is a vastly better way of converting people than the tweet is. There are, I think, a number of reasons for this. In contrast to the tweet, the video rant allows the speaker to set themselves up as an authority, never really having to deal with the questioning, sarcastic audience that any tweeter does (YouTube has below-the-line comments, of course, but that's a very odd ecosystem, and easy to ignore). Moreover, the fact that the vlog is an oral medium gives it a greater immediacy, so the audience can, for instance, feel the speaker's anger. On both counts, it's easy to see how the solo rant to camera might turn out to be more persuasive.
This is compounded by technological factors. The way in which YouTube is set up makes it very easy for newcomers to discover the world of right-wing rants to camera – all you need to do is find one rant, and then keep scrolling through the sidebar. It's also generally true that tech companies are increasingly prioritising video over words. Recently, a Professor of Technology speculated in the Guardian that Snapchat might be ushering in a "post-literary" age, while Facebook has recently changed its algorithm to promote video in anticipation of a future which is "all video".
So what can the left do? Calls for, say, a "Paul Joseph Watson of the left" are bound to be misguided. The left can never appropriate the solo rant to camera – it's an inherently authoritarian method of communication. But if the future is video then the left desperately need to find a way to use it. The question is whether the medium can be used in an open, diverse, participatory way.
In 1976, Richard Dawkins' book, The Selfish Gene, coined the term "meme." 40 years later, Donald Trump, a living meme, won a presidential election. Between these two watershed events, Barack Obama enjoyed the honor of being the first American president to serve the entirety of his term in an era both drowning in and shaped by internet memes.
Sure, some clips of George W. Bush awkwardly dancing in Africa or getting a shoe chucked at him enjoyed The Daily Show virality and made their way to the image flash sites of the proto-internet, but the tech and infrastructure was not yet in place to give every grandparent in the world the power to wield and consume dank memes.
While the rest of the journalistic world looks back on Obamas myriad accomplishments, we thought we'd give the memes he inspired their own retrospective.
After a 200-plus year history of electing white dude presidents with super white dude names, it's still a marvel that the American public (temporarily) swallowed its fear of foreign-sounding stuff and elected a guy named Barack Hussein Obama.
People came to familiarize themselves with this new political player's name in a number of ways. Some fear-mongered about the non-Anglican sound of it, while others noted that "Barack" sounds a lot like "Brock," a gym trainer from Pokémon.
As these were simpler times, the apolitical "Brock Obama" mashup lived out its short existence as some YTMND videos, Facebook pages, and many crude photoshops of the cartoon's head on the human's body.
Before he was president, Barack Obama was an accomplished author, his memoirs, Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope were both New York Times bestsellers. While these literary efforts earned him critical praise and accolades (even Grammys), the best thing to come of them was undoubtedly the author-read audiobooks, wherein we get to hear the soon-to-be POTUS say very un-presidential things about "sorry-ass motherfuckers," "ignorant motherfuckers," and people who need to buy their "own damn fries."
As Obama ascended into his role as leader of the free world, both internet pranksters and morning zoo DJs alike enjoyed the comedy goldmine offered by soundboards where the new Commander in Chief said naughty words in his then-already-iconic cadence.
Shepard Fairey, the guy who turned a close up of Andre the Giant's face into a street art and clothing brand, joined the ranks of all-time great propaganda poster artists like James Montgomery Flagg with his unofficial "HOPE" poster for the 2008 Obama campaign.
With a simple "word + face" format, the poster lent itself to easy parody and similar tri-colored images of John McCain, The Joker, and other pop culture figures soon flooded the internet. Paste Magazine even launched a (now-defunct) Obamicon.Me photo generator in early 2009. A testament to the staying power of the meme, a number of "GROPE" posters surfaced in the style of the original in the wake of Donald Trump's infamous Access Hollywood video.
At the end of the third debate of the 2008 Presidential campaign, the moderator told Senator McCain that he was exiting the stage in the wrong direction. Channeling the bit of Michael Scott awkwardness we each have inside us, McCain chose to diffuse the situation by making a goofy "bleh" face and turning around. Unfortunately for McCain, Reuters photographer Jim Bourg captured the moment as a highly exploitable image of the aged Senator looking like a zombie chasing quarry.
INTERRUPTING BILL CLINTON
In 2010, photographer Drew Angerer captured a surprise visit from former President Clinton at a press briefing on a tax bill. The photo shows an exasperated-looking Obama juxtaposed with a lively, flamboyant Clinton. Coupled with Clinton's scandalous history, the photo sets up Obama as the straight man foil to Clinton's sex jokes and shenanigans, a motif that would be repeated years later with Biden-centric memes.
"NOT BAD" FACE
During a 2011 visit to Buckingham Palace, Barack and Michelle were photographed making silly faces that seemed to signify begrudging approval of something. Their "not bad" faces were summarily vectorized and added to the growing "rage face" catalog of the era.
During his 2012 Reddit AMA, Obama completed this meme's life cycle with a heavy wink and nod as he described his experience with the website as "NOT BAD!"
Taken at an Irish pub in Washington D.C., this photo of Obama giving thumbs up while holding a beer was used to signify a generous doling out of internet points or approval, the most common phrase associated with it being "Fuck it, have an upvote."
Despite its similarity to the "not bad" Obama meme, Upvote Obama existed more as an image macro outside of the dwindling-in-popularity rage comic format.
CELL PHONE OBAMA
At the tail end of the 2012 Presidential election, an AP photographer caught yet another "oh, exploitable" pic of Obama holding a phone with a smug look on his face. The expression fit perfectly with the pixelated sunglasses "deal with it" meme that had been making the rounds at the time and, thus, a new Obama meme was born.
Ironically, according to journalist Devon Dwyer, who was there for the shot, this "smug" face was actually the result of Obama dialing a wrong number while fundraising.
Probably the richest life cycle of any meme on this list, "Thanks, Obama" started as a sarcastic mockery of right-wingers who sought to blame all their woes on the Obama administration, even irksome everyday frustrations.
"Thanks, Obama" initially rose to prominence at the same time as over-exaggerated infomercials where people failed at simple tasks like moving plates of food or combing their hair. Pairing a "thanks, Obama" with a gif of a man knocking over a comically large bowl of chips perfectly encapsulated just how far certain groups were willing to go to vilify the President.
Obama himself even got in on the scapegoating in a very meta video (above) wherein a cookie he's eating is too large to be dunked in a glass of milk.
Occasionally, during dips in his popularity, the meme would be used to express actual disapproval. But towards the end of his second term, as people reflected on the accomplishments of his administration, particularly in instances of LGBTQ rights or healthcare, the meme took on its final form as a sincere expression of gratitude.
In 2015, a doctored photo of Obama with a "fuccboi" haircut surfaced with a caption indicating that "nah, me and Michelle don't talk no more." Soon after, Obamas with Drake-esque beards, dreadlocks, and other looks made the rounds on social media.
This fuccboi persona was given a second wind when a 2016 photo surfaced of Obama in very fashionable athleisure, replete with "dad hat," snapped at Fort McNair in front of a giant "69" building number. With real life confirmation of what was once a stream of Photoshop jokes, the internet was once again set ablaze with quips about the Commander in Chief looking like the kind of guy who would ghost a girl after a one-night-stand.
The Obama Presidency ended with a fairly wholesome and over-covered meme template of the President once again playing straight man while the VP made crude jokes or set up pranks at the expense of President-elect Trump.
Borrowing from the real life bromance between Joe and Barack that had the two awarding each other friendship bracelets and Presidential Medals of Freedom, this meme's call-and-response format, coupled with the variety of photos of its two subjects, also signified a maturation of internet memes as a whole, away from Impact font over one specific photo and towards a more fluid, free-form, genre-bending comedy landscape.
If you've logged onto Facebook or Twitter in the past year, chances are you've seen someone's accusations that 2016 "killed off" all of our favorite celebrities. There was David Bowie and Prince, Muhammad Ali and Gene Wilder, Harper Lee and Leonard Cohen. I mean, sure, beloved people die every year, but this was the first year when people truly rallied around the idea that the year itself was cursed. Someone even started a campaign to "save" Betty White from the death trap of 2016.
According to data from Google Trends, the death of David Bowie on January 10, 2016 coincided with the first spike in people googling "2016 celebrity deaths." Then, the death of Prince on April 21 led to what would be the largest spike in the year for this search term, until the week of December 25.
But were there actually more celebrities dying than usual? Even with all 12 months accounted for, the close of the year did not bring about a consensus on the answer to this question—mainly because it hinges on determining whether or not someone is truly a "celebrity." (The BBC's obituaries editor said yes, the year had been more deadly than usual; TIME said no, there had actually been a decrease in entertainer deaths from the year before.) Just a few days before the new year, Snopes tabulated notable deaths, culled from eight publications between 2013 and 2016. Three of the outlets they reviewed put 2016 in first place; five did not.
Regardless of how many celebrities did in fact die last year, it's safe to say that we collectively felt it more. And that's because 2016 was the year mourning celebrities went viral.
If your friends' Facebook and Twitter posts aren't evidence enough, just look on Legacy.com, the world's largest provider of online obituaries. An analysis of Legacy.com's yearly top 11 most viewed notable deaths and obituaries charts from the past nine years reveals that the 2016 crop had the most guestbook entries since they started the annual lists in 2008. The only year that came close was 2009, when Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze, Ted Kennedy, and Farrah Fawcett died. A representative from Legacy.com told me that on top of that, the current 2016 total "will certainly grow" now that the holidays are over and people view and sign the guestbooks for the year's later deaths, like Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, and George Michael, who will likely keep interest high into January 2017.
Some scholars have argued that the memorialization of celebrity deaths online is actually responsible for a large scale shift in the way we mourn. In a recent article in the journal Celebrity Studies, researchers Gisela Gil-Egui, Rebecca Kern-Stone, and Abbe E. Forman explain: "The information age is bringing death and mourning rituals back to our homes, via broadcast and interactive media. Just as the public came to know celebrities intimately through mass media, they mourn them in the same places: newspapers, television, and now the internet. Members of society collectively remember a public figure who played some important role in their lives."
Heather Servaty-Seib, a Purdue University professor who researches grief and loss, told me that this act of "collectively remembering" is something that is not typically seen when a non-celebrity dies. "A whole society—culture, subgroup—loses an important attachment figure. There can be a kind of connection and bonding in the grief," she told me. For her, the death of Prince was "the most significant celebrity death of the year," which led to her being contacted by old friends she hadn't spoken to in years. "We thought of each other and shared time together connected with Prince's music and even going to his club together," she said. Given how beloved and popular musicians like David Bowie and Prince were, there were no doubt countless other similar connections made in 2016 when their deaths became known.
So how much has that changed in 2016? Seven years may not seem like a lot, but when Michael Jackson died in 2009, large social networks were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are today. Facebook had fewer than 400 million users (versus 1.79 billion as of September 2016), and Twitter had 18 million (versus 313 million as of June 2016). It has become incredibly popular to share Youtube videos of celebrities when they die—so much so that when Prince died and his music was almost nowhere to be found online, the Daily Beast published an explainer for the bewildered masses. When Michael Jackson died, YouTube was just emerging as a popular platform to watch piano-playing cats and music videos. Back then, there were no emojis on iPhone keyboards; today, there's a memorial David Bowie emoji.
In an April article for TIME, writer Justin Worland offered his own suggestions for why, in 2016, it felt like more and more celebrities were dying, even if the numbers didn't quite add up. It was because, he theorized, of the celebrities' magnitude of fame, pure chance, a more diverse media, or because it was the end of an era—that this generation of celebrities "revolutionized popular entertainment" and were among the first to reach mega-stardom. It's only fitting, then, that we'd collectively mourn them more online.
"End of an era" is an explanation Servaty-Seib seemed to agree with most, but in a different way than Worland proposed. "I will never be the same person as I was in college when I heard my first Indigo Girls song, 'Secure Yourself to Heaven.' The song reminds me of who I was—with nostalgia—and reminds me that they were an important part of my self-development. When they die, I will grieve not only the idea that they cannot create any more music, but also… what? I think I will grieve again for the loss of who I was at that time. I can never go back."
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On December 26, 1979, 14-year old Robert Ben Madison became an unlikely king when he announced that the nation of Talossa—really, his second-floor bedroom in a house on Milwaukee's east side—had seceded from the United States.
It is unlikely that the child-king could've foreseen what his fantasy would become, but 37 years later, the Kingdom of Talossa still exists and boasts a few hundred citizens from around the world. It has its own language, Talossan, spoken fluently by many of its citizens; a fully developed system of law; and a colorful, troubled history.
In the decade that followed the founding of Talossa, Madison set himself the task of designing the Talossan language, which would include a lexicon of over 35,000 words, as well as outlining the laws of his constitutional monarchy. During those early years, Talossa consisted only of Madison and a few dozen of his closest friends and family. They'd gather for annual "Talossafests" in a Milwaukee park during the summer and Independence Day celebrations close to December 26. In the interim, Madison and his friends would work on the details of their fictional country, form political parties, host elections, and publish semi-regular newspapers.
"From 1979 to 1996, Talossa existed as a completely 'real' community, based exclusively in Milwaukee," Madison told me. Then, in 1996, he created a website which "made citizenship available to people all over the world who had no connection with the Milwaukee-based community."
Shortly after Madison made the website, Talossa gained coverage in high profile newspapers and magazines, including Wired and the New York Times. The coverage resulted in a period of unprecedented "immigration" to Talossa—more people joined in 1996 than in the previous 17 years combined. These new citizens had been drawn to Talossa for a number of reasons—linguists interested in the Talossan phenomenon, aspiring politicians who liked the immediacy of participating in the Talossan government, and those who simply liked the company of other strangers acting out a collective fantasy on internet message boards.
Yet as more and more "Cybercits"—citizens who came to Talossa by way of the internet instead of IRL in Wisconsin—joined Talossa from around the globe, they began to grow increasingly dissatisfied with the way it had been organized.
"The main conflict was that many of the new internet-based citizens thought that any Talossan who was not active on the website should not be a Talossan," Madison told me. "The flip side of that is that a number of Cybercits accused me of 'controlling' any pre-internet citizen who didn't vote for their [political] parties. 'Ben' became a symbol of tyranny and even 'brainwashing' simply because I spoke for the majority."
The dissatisfaction that a number of Talossans felt about Madison's rule spurred them to form a breakaway rival micronation called the Republic of Talossa while Madison was away on vacation. There were several years of infighting among the rival Talossan factions, with the Republic often waging personal attacks against Madison and his supporters. By 2004, Madison would relinquish his authority over Talossa, after a period that he described to me as "the single most traumatic experience of my entire life—worse than a death in the family and worse than a divorce."
But according to John Woolley, who joined Talossa in 2005 and now serves as the country's king, the reality is more complicated.
"This is just my take, but I think most people involved with Talossa would say that the core issue was Ben's personality," Woolley told me. "Ben's a smart guy, but he's also highly controlling. [Talossa] was his baby and he wanted to run it."
To hear Woolley tell it, the internet citizens of Talossa were getting increasingly fed up with Madison's inability to turn his creation loose and allow others to help shape the country. Once, according to Woolley, Madison even hired a private detective to look into somebody's personal affairs to use as political fodder for an argument that was happening in Talossa.
When I asked Madison about it, he categorically denied it. He says he and his family became the targets of a number of verbal threats, and his computer was regularly the target of malicious hacking, which he suspected was orchestrated by one disgruntled Talossan.
"My reaction was to ask, is this really the type of person who would resort to violence, or is this just internet hyperbole?" Madison told me. "In an effort to answer the question, I consulted a public online database to see if he had a criminal record. The records indicated that he did indeed have a criminal record and had a restraining order against him, in order to protect a woman whom he had violently assaulted."
Ultimately, Madison became tired of the growing animosity in his now divided kingdom. After he abdicated as king in August 2005, he named his eight-year old grandson, known as Prince Louis Adam, as head of the kingdom. Prince Louis remained the de facto ruler until his mother requested that the Talossans select a new king because she was uncomfortable with a bunch of grown men talking about her child on the internet.
By 2007, almost 30 years after Talossa was founded, the kingdom found itself divided and without a head of state. The future of the micronation seemed uncertain until Woolley was voted in as the new king and committed to running a sustainable constitutional monarchy. He's ruled ever since. The Republic of Talossa was absorbed back into Talossa in 2012.
By day, Woolley works as a software engineer, but by night he is the king of Talossa. The demands of this position vary depending on the day—sometimes he will go weeks without engaging with Talossa and other times he will spend several hours a night for days on end resolving conflicts in the kingdom. The nature of these conflicts varies, but Woolley recalled sorting out an instance of voter fraud where a single Talossan was acting out multiple identities on the internet so that he could try to swing Talossan elections as an example of a particularly stressful time as King of Talossa.
"To a large degree it's fallen on my shoulders to establish the monarchy the way a monarchy ought to be, instead of a personality cult," Woolley told me. "I don't want to set any bad precedents that are going to come back 50 or 100 years from now and screw things up. The kingdom of Talossa ought to be able to be stable over a long period of time."
When I spoke with Woolley on the phone from his home in Denver, over 1,000 miles away from where Talossa first began, he told me Talossa represents for him a beautiful experiment in politics and language that's brought together strangers from all around the world. If anything, the rebellion of the internet citizens against Madison and the pre-internet Talossans in 2005 spoke to the passion that the newcomers had for the nation-building project that a 14-year old had created in his bedroom almost three decades earlier.
If the popularity of Talossa today is any indicator, the Talossan rebels' intention was not to destroy Madison's creation, but to allow it to flourish as a true democracy. But for Madison, who today works at a mom-and-pop florist in Milwaukee, the wounds from that period are still very real.
"I have no doubt that what happened in 2004, 2005 was a coup against the state of Talossa and its people," Madison told me. "But I drew the conclusion that the group that had seized control was no longer really Talossa. And that, I think, was the wrong conclusion. The Talossa that exists today seems to be the Talossa that I founded in 1979 and nothing would please me more than to be able to rejoin the kingdom."
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Monday night, Slate published an explosive new story suggesting shady ties between a server registered to the Trump Organization and ones own by a Russian bank. While the Clinton campaign quickly pounced on the story as possibly “the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow,” security analysts raised doubts about the story’s conclusions just as swiftly. According to Noah Shachtman, the executive editor at The Daily Beast, his site ultimately declined to run the story itself due to the weakness of the evidence.
What is the purpose of the “World Wide Web”? Some would say that it’s to facilitate the free exchange of ideas on a global scale. (Hah!) Others might argue that it serves to democratize the tools of mass communication. (LOL) Personally, I believe that “on-line” exists to bring us videos like this:
Wherever you go in this life, there is some jerk telling you what to do. Almost always. But not always.