Why must Cordelia die? I’ve asked this question to a number of people a number of times, except the answer was always wrong because the question is based on a misreading of King Lear. For the longest time, I thought Lear was the one who killed Cordelia before dragging his daughter’s dead body on stage, meaning Lear wouldn’t technically be a tragedy, in the Aristotelian sense, since Lear’s madness would introduce a random act of violence. For years, I took this as a model for morality: there is good and there is evil, and then there’s madness. You can’t stop madness. You can lock yourself up twelve stories high in some corner of New York, but that particular train is still coming. It will plow through the Hudson River, emerge from the pavement down Manhattan on Broadway, right up to your building, pummel up the elevator shaft and straight through your door, and it will run you over. Because madness doesn’t follow the rules. It isn’t afraid of you. Which is why it’s so terrifying when, in the play’s final scene, the Duke of Kent stands over a bloodbath of the English monarchy, and asks, Is this the promised end? Except I got the part wrong about how it actually ends. Doesn’t matter. Cordelia dies anyway.
Over the years, this would serve as a cautionary tale, a kind of bad omen, for dark times and inconvenient revelations, during which I waded through the unsorted phenomena of lived experience, attempting, but failing, to cull the appropriate narratives out of nonsense, glean the cause and effect, locate the tragic flaw. The period I’m writing about would start during the Obama years, and transition into the apocalyptic logic of the Trump Presidency. During those years, I worked in New York advertising for the former Design Director at Interview, the former editor of The New York Observer, and one of the first hundred employees at Google. On an irregular basis, I wrote art reviews for magazines, talked shit, showed face at gallery openings and warehouse parties when my friends were DJ’ing, and I never asked for list. I read everything I could find, opened myself up to the contagion of the world, made note of who had the fewest lines of dialogue in The Great Gatsby (those with the most power and those with the least), and precisely at which point Proust turns on the Duchesse de Guermantes (when she declares, at her salon, that she doesn’t care for contemporary painting). I maintained the ability to, on command, recite the Clinton Administration’s policy in Yugoslavia, or state the reasons why an American intervention in Syria may or may not have prevented ISIS, which is to say I kept up with the news. And when I could not keep up with history, history caught up with me. I’d been reading on my parents’ balcony in California when I got the text from my editor at the conservative magazine I wrote for, alerting me that our login credentials got phished by the Syrian Electronic Army. A week later, when the magazine interviewed the SEA about the data breach, the hacker collective responded curtly, “It was a joke.”
Except nothing was funny, because nothing made sense to me — I either got the timing wrong, waited too long, or misunderstood the premise so far off that I started working off structures in my mind completely divorced from whatever I could confirm in the people around me.
These years I traveled frequently. I lived in Istanbul and then in New York, spent time in Hong Kong, Paris, and traveled through former Yugoslavia. In Northern Iraq, I accidentally took photos inside a Yazidi temple where no photos were allowed, only to read seven years later that the temple had likely been destroyed by ISIS. Another weekend, I flew into New York from Berlin, went to a warehouse party in Brooklyn until ten in the morning, crashed on a friend’s couch, then emerged six hours later to moderate a panel with the Goethe-Institute on international queer literature. The week I sold my own international queer novel, I went to Dover Street Market, bought a Rick Owens trench coat off the runway, rode the elevator down to the ground floor bar and ordered myself a glass of cava (which is to say that sometimes, things were so good I thought my life, like the times, could only get better).
This was during the years I divided between New York and Berlin. That I never really knew where I was living contributed to my recurring cycles of disorientation. I had a habit of starting my life, and then restarting it up again every few months, as if jumping through unrelated episodes I didn’t always finish before moving onto the next. One month, I rented a studio on Maybachufer across the canal from the luxury residences on Paul-Linke Ufer, and by the next, I was living in a narrow room in Mitte with a single window that opened onto dumpsters in the courtyard from which, some sweaty Monday mornings after coming back from the club, the smell of damp socks and garlic would waft into the room where, passed out from ketamine, I dreamt of becoming famous.
I finished my novel in an apartment with a view over Görlitzer Park. I didn’t celebrate, nor did I do very much on my birthdays, as they were private landmarks I’d acknowledge privately. In Berlin, I found I was often alone, and then suddenly surrounded by three thousand at once, at a club or a Biennial exhibition or a street protest in Friedrichshain. Once, I wore Rick Owens sneakers to a housing protest where demonstrators in black balaclavas hurled stun grenades over the crowd and onto a fortress of ballistic shields: an image that accurately represents the delusions I had about Berlin and whatever I was supposed to be doing at this point in my life.
In an apartment by the canal, I read the transcript to the Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in all fifty states, and on the night that forty-nine were shot dead at the Pulse nightclub in Miami, I was at Berghain. The morning I found out that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot unarmed by racist cops, I was acting on the set for a web series alongside a German philosopher, a male model, two Syrian refugees, and a hedge fund analyst. That the series was titled “DISCREET: An Intelligence Agency for the People” might suggest that I was at least in on the joke, except I was not.
I never was, I kept failing to see the punch line. As it happened, I would fail to get the bigger picture for a pretty long time before things got weird, before the part in the song where “Sounds make you cry / Some nights you dance with tears in your eyes.” Around the same time, I remember reading DeLillo’s story “The Itch” about the character who “heard what sounded like words as his urine hit the water,” because during the year that story came out, so did I. Loud noises would begin to disturb me. I would make excuses to stay inside. At the time, I had been house-sitting a friend’s top-floor apartment in Prenzlauer Berg, across from a massive crane that, during thunderstorms, I imagined would swing in my direction and crash straight into the sliding glass doors of the balcony.
Those days, all that could hold my attention were reports of the Ergenekon Trials, and the wisdom of crowds. Outside, I made labyrinthine walks around my neighborhood, taking fast turns from the Turkish food stands and into the discount supermarket, keeping note of who walked into both places after me and didn’t buy a thing. “How old are you? What year is this?” a police officer would one day ask me over the phone, after a botched ayahuasca ceremony in Brandenburg, during which I climbed out of a window on the second floor and jumped, convinced I was being held against my will by a religious cult, only to run out into miles of open grain fields with no cars in sight. Months later, I would find those questions useful to ask myself on a regular basis. I began forgetting what year this was and where I had come from, around the time I found myself at Berghain one early Monday morning, sobbing so uncontrollably on the dance floor that the DJ (it was Efdemin) stopped the music and put on “Journey in Satchidananda,” suggesting that it might be time for some people to go home.
The truth is that I was a long way from home. I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Here’s a cut to just a few months later, August 2018:
This is a 30-year-old male admitted to Parkside West on a 5150 hold for danger to self… This patient reports that he attempted to overdose due to severe auditory hallucinations. They are causing him distress. They are causing him to feel hopeless and helpless and causing him to continue to feel suicidal, depressed, and wanting to end his life so he does not have to hear the voices anymore… He was also restless and wanted to be left alone, and minimized his problems. He was given Zyprexa 10mg twice a day… was found to be positive for multiple substances including ketamine and amphetamines. His mood is irritable. His affect is constricted. His speech is with an irritable tone. He admits to suicidal ideation. He denies any homicidal ideations. He admits to severe auditory hallucinations. He has severe paranoia… He continues to feel overwhelmed and hopeless that he will get any better.
This is an excerpt from my psychiatric report, compiled shortly after I boarded a next-day flight from Berlin to California, and committed myself to the inpatient psychiatric clinic at the Citrus Valley Medical Center less than two weeks after I turned thirty. Only at my most dissociative am I inclined to see this as a literary metaphor for the dissolution of the times, but I don’t make those connections anymore. My twenties were already over before I could make good on any possible warnings, and by then, it didn’t matter. The train came for me anyway.
Here is a transcript from C-SPAN that provides a sense of what, maybe just ten years ago, would have been considered paranoid, yet in 2018 was a paragon of being informed:
SENATOR DICK DURBIN: I said to Senator Cornyn, my friend, when he said he thought consumers were aware that information is gathered on them… I said I’m sure he’s wrong. We have now put a little piece of electric tape over the camera on my laptop.
CHRISTOPHER WYLIE: Good.
SENATOR DICK DURBIN: Most people do, now. Because they’re being watched and they might not even know it.
This is from the testimony of twenty-eight-year-old whistleblower Christopher Wylie, former Research Director at Cambridge Analytica before the UK Senate Judiciary Committee. Wylie, self-identified as a “gay Canadian vegan,” recounted before the Senate how Cambridge Analytica harvested over fifty million Facebook profiles for the Trump Campaign in the US and the Brexit campaign in the UK. Dubbed by Wylie as a “full-service propaganda machine,” Cambridge Analytica employed personality quizzes that harvested psychographic data to target political ads specializing in “disinformation,” “rumors,” and “Kompromat” — a “military-style operation” in what was referred to internally as “Big Daddy.”
I followed this story as it developed in the Guardian and the Times, watched Wylie testify before Parliament on C-SPAN for four hours, and then again before the US Senate for three hours and forty minutes. So preoccupied was I with stories about cultural conditioning, manufactured consent, and disinformation campaigns happening across social platforms that enacted a system of classically conditioned propaganda on a global scale. I learned, for instance, that as early as 2014, Cambridge Analytica began using Facebook data (whose monthly users make up one third of the world’s population) to test responses to images of people scaling walls, and slogans like “The NSA is watching you” or “Build The Wall” or “Drain The Swamp,” two years before Donald Trump hired the firm and began parroting those same slogans across social platforms. Wylie describes the work of Cambridge Analytica as designed to trigger “some of the worst characteristics in people, such as neuroticism, paranoia, and racial biases,” otherwise traits that might describe the defining cultural characteristics of these years I’m writing about.
When asked by Senator Cory Booker why Cambridge Analytica was allegedly focused on “suppressing African American voters,” Wylie responded, “You’ll have to ask Mr. Bannon,” who was then the VP of Cambridge Analytica and executive chairman of the conservative network Breitbart News, before he became CEO of the Trump campaign. Reportedly, Bannon charted systematized “voter disengagement tactics” that targeted black users with divisive content that, in one example, reminded them about Hillary Clinton’s 1990s description of black youths as “super predators” in an effort to discourage black support for Clinton. (Coincidentally or not, black voter turnout for a presidential election declined in 2016 for the first time in twenty years.)
Here you see the idea that if you control the narrative, you have the keys to the culture. “Given the influence that story has on our everyday lives, and that popular culture is barraging us with story on a regular basis, we must remain ever vigilant as to the messaging in those stories,” wrote one writer in Breitbart. It was an elaboration on what’s known as the Breitbart Doctrine — “Politics is downstream from culture” — of which Bannon was an exemplary follower. Part sales pitch, part American lyric, the line had served as the founding principle of Breitbart News when Andrew Breitbart first launched the site in 2007 in efforts to reroute the cultural narratives for a far-right audience.
I had never heard of Breitbart, not really, until the rise of one of its senior editors Milo Yiannopoulos, an English conservative and self-described “dangerous faggot” who became the emergent poster child of what became known as the alt-right. Curdling around online forums such as Reddit and 4Chan, this cesspool of neoreactionary anti-feminists and white supremacists who made up the alt-right would become a particular focal point for Bannon when he headed the Trump campaign.
“The alt-right is the new left,” declared white supremacist Richard Spencer, who coined the term, since “we’re the ones thinking the unthinkable,” which now included some of Spencer’s new ideas such as “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” Yiannopoulos would also describe the alt right as “the new punk,” because they were “transgressive, subversive, fun.” Here, you find an adaptation of Pan Buchanan’s declared “religious war” over “the soul of America” at the 1992 RNC, readapted for a digital generation credited to codifying “trolling” into the culture as a legitimate political strategy.
In a video from 2017, Yiannopoulos is shown singing “America the Beautiful” to Richard Spencer and giving him a Sieg Heil salute, another “unthinkable” that would be interpreted as ironic because of all that transgressive and subversive fun they were having. Yet it would not be considered ironic when, in another leaked video, Nigel Oakes, founder of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL, stated about Hitler: “He didn’t have a problem with the Jews at all, but people didn’t like the Jews, so he just leveraged an artificial enemy. Well that’s exactly what Trump did, he leveraged the Muslims. That’s what Trump did — he had the balls to say what people wanted to hear.”
Below is a framed poem hung above the urinal at Café Loup in New York, which served for me both as a nostalgic token, like the restaurant itself, from a bygone era, as well as a warning, ignored, in dark times ahead:
Respect the elders
Teach the young
Cooperate with the pack
Play when you can
Hunt when you must
Rest in between
Share your affections
Voice your feelings
Leave your mark.
In the thirty seconds it took to piss, my eyes would zero in on the words “the pack” — conjuring the image of sex cults, mass suicides, charismatic leaders who lured people into orgies, or Ponzi schemes, with telegenic smiles and promises of belonging. I wondered when, exactly, “community” passes into “groupthink,” when the mere “collective” becomes “mob mentality.” Such was evidently the case when a news story known as “Gamergate” came out about hackers, organized on 4Chan, who made death threats and rape threats to several feminist bloggers in what would become a years-long doxxing and harassment campaign of leaking contact details and personal information with threats like “I’ll rape you and put your head on a stick” and “Tits or get the fuck out.”
Petra Davis reported finding a website that advertise sex services with her address and images of mutilated women on the front page, under the tagline “Fuck her till she screams, filth whore, rape me all night cut me open.” Revenge porn with Zoe Quinn was sent to her family and employers. A video game of Anita Sarkeesian was created and distributed where users could punch her face until it was blue and swollen. And Kathy Sierra received Photoshopped images of her face with a noose next her head, a shooting target pointed at her face, and her head being gagged in underwear.
Here was an example of the pack gone astray, who no longer distinguished between hunt and play. By then, my worldview had corroded so deeply into the morbid that I assumed, at all times, that somebody, some group or other, was out to get me. I was never safe. Someone was always watching. More and more, people I knew started recommending I get on encrypted messaging apps like Signal, or the internet browser Tor, and I took their advice. I didn’t know what anyone might want by spying on me, but I assumed it could and would be used against me the day the Feds came knocking.
One afternoon, late summer, I was having coffee in the garden of the Standard Hotel when a friend told me he’d been contacted, for a job interview, by someone at the CIA. I said, “I’ll never know if you get the job, because if you do, you won’t be allowed to tell me.” He replied that he may not be able to tell me, but if I see him one day wearing an expensive coat, I’ll know why. We laughed, because the sun was bright, and it was still 2014, which is to say early, before the paranoia set in, and we were able to joke about things that seemed to belong to a remote reality.
A few months later, I saw him walk into a friend’s gallery opening wearing a three-quarter-length leather coat. When he saw me, he came over and whispered in my ear, “I got the coat.”
Whether or not this is just an eccentric anecdote along a string of unrelated events, I don’t know. After that, we carried, on the outset, our civilian lives. I continued to see him at parties and openings, and eventually I stopped thinking about the conversation we had at the Standard Hotel. This would be another story that I did not stick around long enough to find out the ending. After a certain point, it stopped seeming remarkable during a time defined by questions about whether or not a cell phone tower was in fact a cell phone tower, or an “active GSM base station” designed to intercept cell phone data operated remotely by the NSA. My preoccupation with these stories was my idea of “being informed.” Every threat was to be taken seriously: the promise for the wall, or the boogeyman under the bed, or behind the camera, staring back from the top of the laptop screen.
In 2015, I attended Art Basel Miami Beach, an annual event held at the Miami Beach Convention Center in December during which multiple commodities are available for sale or as trade collateral: paintings, new media, cultural capital, thumb drives, Foursquare check-ins, smartphone videos of the semi-nude, a critique on the collapse of the social contract, TASCHEN monographs, and glitter.
This makes Art Basel difficult to criticize because it seldom pretends to be anything other than what it is. Its absence of pretense has made talking about the fair avoided altogether, taboo because it is “degrading for art and artists,” as Christian Viveros-Fauné described in Artnet, or what Aly Weisman stated in Business Insider “has become as much about the parties as the art.” You might ask when exactly the “has become” took place, when exactly Art Basel had been “about the art,” as if its decision thirteen years ago to base the Swiss art-fair franchise in a city with a twenty-four hour party district, proximity to the US cocaine trade, and the 0% tax on sales and income were quirky atmospherics, the local color. Hans Ulrich Obrist, who mentored the fair’s director Noah Horrowitz as an associate at London’s Serpentine Galleries, himself confessed to having “little knowledge of, or interest, in art fairs.”
On parties, Barbara Gladstone of Gladstone Gallery stated to the New York Times, “There are too many of them and I don’t think it’s that useful.” Useful to what? The answer came more directly from Luhring Augustine of the Luhring Augustine Gallery. “There are a lot of people who come for the parties — there are people who don’t even come to the fair,” he said. “But we do business here.”
Business as usual was the main factor in navigating the fairgrounds. Upon entering the convention center, one encounters the so-called Circle of Power: Gagosian, Zwirner, Rosen, Hauser & Wirth, Cooper, et al. The opportunity for discovery, i.e. the 90% of the fair beyond the Kusamas, the Christopher Wools, the Krugers, the Frankenthalers, should have been an exciting prospect but was, in practice, deflating. In Artnet, Kenny Schachter hyperbolically described the fair as “the end of art history,” a Fukuyama-like prophecy that might explain rather than contradict why the fair felt the need, since 2014, to introduce the “Survey” section to “present precise art historical projects,” tucked neatly alongside of the fair’s main action. The main action was, you could say, the bigger history lesson at large: that the fair was not the end of art history, nor was it at all an anomaly in the history of art, or of its sales, dating back to the festivals of the late Middle Ages during which guild masters and apprentices set up “booths” that exhibited crafts for public evaluation, for public sales. The art history lesson here was the discrepancy between what we like to consider as the artworld and what it actually is. Or rather, what it had always been.
Somehow, the fair managed to piss everyone off, from its main players who were hasty to disavow emotional investments in their financial calculations, to regular fairgoers, comparing email invites and Instagram stories #aboutlastnight, who were at the fair to complain how they wanted to be somewhere else.
The tension and anxiety reached an alarming pitch when twenty-four-year old Siyuan Zhao of New York stabbed a thirty-three-year-old stranger in the neck with an X-Acto knife, just outside the Freedman Fitzpatrick Gallery booth. When interrogated by the officers about the crime, Zhao stated, “I had to kill her and two more!” and “I had to watch her bleed!”
Miami Herald photographer Rudy Perez was on the scene ready to shoot photos that would be introduced online with trigger warnings for “graphic content.” The Gothamist, CNN, FoxNews, and The Huffington Post each picked up the story, leading not with the stabbing itself but that “witnesses thought it was art.”
Assuming for the first initial seconds that the stabbing was “performance art” with “fake blood” would not be considered abnormal, in light of how certain concergoers at the Bataclan Concert Hall during the Paris attacks thought the first gunshots fired were part of the music. Part of the art. It seemed reasonable enough after witnessing the stabbing, a traumatic event in its own right, except that was not the story the press was interested in. Gregg Hill, a witness who stated, “I never would have thought there would be a stabbing at Art Basel” was described by Paper Mag as a character out of an Onion piece. Something ridiculous. A satire. A salacious event at an elitist art fair that continues to mine the deepest social insecurities of this nation’s liberal intelligentsia on a yearly basis.
The victim was wheeled away by paramedics to Jackson Memorial. Zhao was arrested on an attempted murder charge. The blood was quickly removed. The fair went on as planned. Click. Shoot. Cut. Send.
For those of us who were not doing business here, most of the daytime was spent coked out and sleep deprived, wandering up and down Miami Beach with press pins and stickers, hunting for the VIP lounge in rain boots and Doc Martens.
I was here because after plans to spend New Years in Berlin had failed to materialize, I decided to reallocate the budget to getting fashionably plastered in South Beach, Miami. That weekend, the city had flooded. It came late on Thursday night as a sort of Biblical cleanse once the business at the temple of art was done, and the fair was open to the plebian middle class. That night, those who may or may not have flown in on delayed flights from New York shuttled back and forth between New York parties transplanted and reinvented in Miami: Horse Meat Disco, Topical Cream, Mixpack, Bunker, GHE20G0TH1K. Text messages were sent, asking if the nebulous there was better than the permanently uninteresting here. “I think we’re gonna go to NADAWAVE,” said one. “When does Objekt go on?” “Is Perez the same thing PAMM?” Paris Hilton or Alicia Keys may or may not have been playing a party in Wynwood. It may or may not have been worth the price of a taxi.
After two parties and sixty dollars worth of taxis up and down Collins Avenue, I’d ended up at party to see Julianna Huxtable and Venus X at Kill Your Idol. The bar was packed. Somebody reported seeing Jacolby Satterwhite and M.I.A. there, when in fact Jacolby Satterwhite, who was exhibiting a piece and hosting a party, was allegedly not in Miami. Dev Hynes, after a performance at PAMM that one attendee had described as “just okay,” was now waiting in line for the gender-neutral bathrooms. I was also in line waiting for a gender-neutral bathroom when a girl leaned over and asked, “Do you know where I can find any coke?”
I did not. Landing in the middle of Miami and finding a coke dealer off the street didn’t seem like the smartest thing to do. Others got more creative. One person I knew had stored two grams of coke in a nasal spray bottle and carried it on the plane, while another packed pills and mixed them in with a bottle of Melatonin. Another had stored small bags in a Soylent pouch packed sideways in his carryon to dodge the X-rays. “The powder blends in with the powder, the plastic blends in with the plastic,” as he described it.
Back on the dance floor, a friend said, “There’s Ryder Ripps behind me looking like a fuckboy.”
“Wait, I don’t know what he looks like,” I said.
“He looks like a fuckboy.”
I wedged my way through the dance floor, wearing a white turtleneck and the straps of my BAGGU backpack crossed over my chest like a harness. Across from me, the girl who asked for coke was now dancing on the couch beside her friend with bleached blonde hair, swinging his shirt over his head like a lasso. It was New York but not — the “but not” being the crucial factor in everyone letting their pants down, the “but not” factor of senior trips and study abroad programs and weekends in Palms Springs.
Even the word Basel had become a code word for cultural excess, an adlib to fill in the “What happens at stays at” dictum, a pride festival for Northeast liberals, an excuse to use “art” as stand-ins for “social awareness” and “criticality” that, instead of reining in excess, otherwise affirms the 24-hour hedonism of coke and neon. If politics is downstream from culture, then here was the culture: cultish, narcissistic, obsessed with petty optics over a coherent ideology, and eternally paranoid about minor distinctions up and down the social caste system. For that week, and that week only, South Beach would become a hall of mirrors for New York galleries, New York DJs, serving as the third leg in the revolving door of the East Coast underground, in and out of Bushwick, in and out of Boston, people I recognized but knew nothing about except that they had enough money to spend a weekend in Miami: the supposedly fun thing we would never do again unless everyone else was also down there with us pretending to look at art.
Another snapshot of the culture in excess: one weekend, in Berlin, I was at a monthly party called Herrensauna at the Bertrams club on Maybachufer. It was run by a former bartender at Berghain who went by Herrenscheide, a German portmanteau for “male cunt.” The party’s target clientele were unofficially described as “gay skinheads,” according to a friend who described the party to me as “half fashion, half gay sex.” I arrived that morning at six, hiding inside my sock what I thought was a gram of speed, but was actually a gram of meth, bought for seven euro at the last party I was at as “special speed” from a friend I knew who owed me a favor.
The party itself was a fashionable simulacrum with no original, itself a reference to the Fall 2015 show for the fashion label Vetements, which was staged inside a gay sex club with Shifted’s “Chapter 69” as the soundtrack, yet another reference towards the gay sex that actually was happening at Herrensauna, which had booked Shifted to play the headlining slot that morning of the party, and hired a model as the bouncer who actually did walk the Vetements shows in Paris.
Everything was a reference, a sign. At the party, we were not so much socializing as we were performing types, which often confounded me. I was never sure which side of the counterculture I was expected to perform: art critic, ad man from New York, technogoth turning looks at the club, or a foot fetishist with a kink for golden showers. I just knew that once I located my role, my “character,” it was important to deviate as little as possible.
On my way in, I ran into a rapper who went by Palm Trees and performed under the name VIOLENCE, and we started talking Cormac McCarthy. I saw another friend from New York, a photographer, who was wearing a white lace Craig Green top he got at an employee discount at Opening Ceremony. I saw a sizeable amount of “skinheads,” both in person and on Instagram posts from the party, insofar as they might be personally anti-fascist, yet were visibly channeling all the hallmarks of skinhead regalia: black Doc Martens with white laces, tattoos of dogs and Greek statues, Fred Perry polos and suspenders, replete with the party’s wrist-stamp showing the letter H inside a laurel crown. This was an archetype — a “character” — I occasionally saw around Berlin, on the U-Bahn, or smoking outside the späti. Multiple times, I saw men with tattoos of the Chanel logo, on the inside of someone’s forearm or behind his neck — a symbol that might appear curious coming from a luxury womenswear brand, were it not, as I learned later, an oblique reference to Coco Chanel’s career as a covert intelligence officer for the Nazis during the German occupation.
If I didn’t know any better, I might’ve called this… the new punk? Fascinating Fascism or Fashion Fascists, either way, it depended on your understanding of “the new,” what with the party’s use of anti-gay skinhead symbols reappropriated as gay sexual fetish, following a tradition of transgressive artists from Genet to Siouxzi Sioux to Gabber Eleganza. There was no observable compass to be found here, preferable to a generation that adopted a shock-and-confuse strategy towards any attempts by the outsider media to make sense of the culture. Here, entire histories with contingent localities got recycled and posted on social media for the shocks and the lulz. Conveniently dropped were the working class values integral to British skinhead culture in the seventies, perhaps its only salvageable detail. Instead, the party deployed “the look” indiscriminately in circles of streetwear bloggers and runways in Paris, effectively obscuring any of its political coordinates by the absence of a moral compass.
I wondered when and where this mattered and when and where it didn’t. Down in the basement, the dance floor was filled with shirtless muscle queens and a drug dealer I knew, fully-clothed, working the floor. When the photographer and I needed a light, we tried to strike a lighter, but it wouldn’t light, because there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air.
Legitimately, this party was an operable men’s sauna: heat, fog, gay sex. Lines of speed started clumping up once you tapped it out onto your smartphone, though people were mostly taking milliliters of GBL, rationed off in the privacy of the dark rooms furnished with ripped up couches and a leather sling. I was off on the dance floor dancing like an overheating robot because I was on speed that was actually meth, and I was trying to find a place to park myself until I could ride out my assigned role for the night: the dumb American who took too much.
We were all too much. In the words of trend forecasting agencies, our roles were “influencers,” which implied an elusive “audience” we all knew didn’t refer to each other exactly, but someone out there watching, on Facebook or the livestream, otherwise followers in the reality TV show that was our youth culture in real time. Here was the manifestation of a generation spawned by the millennial emergence of a global elite, depicted on social as eternal leisure — an essentially groundless fantasy enacted entirely on EasyJet miles and corporate-sponsored afterparties. That our theater of excess might be alienating to “someone out there” was not a question on anyone’s mind, because no one ever asked who it was we were supposed to be “influencing,” who those people might be; because it would be poor taste to wonder what they might want from us as they scrolled through our social feeds, and whether or not their feelings towards us might be less than purely aspirational.
If politics is downstream from culture, it’s because the culture makes no fucking sense. For instance, take this story I heard about Kanye West that I often told people in certain media circles, about someone who worked for Kanye on a video shoot. Before Kanye arrives on set, one of his representatives comes out to meet with the agency. She tells them, “There’s something really important about Kanye that I need you to know. This might sound crazy to some of you, but Kanye does believe he’s a prophet. Don’t question it, and don’t bring it up in front of him. This is very important. Don’t tell him what to do. Do not look at him in the eye when talking. Do not ask him any direct questions. Try to treat him the way you would any other prophet.” So when Kanye actually arrives, nobody looks him in the eye and nobody asks any questions. Here, the personality disorders of the prophet merge with those of a dictator: moral indignation, claims of direct access to the divine, consolidation of an “inner circle,” positive perception of self paired with negative perception of the future. Everything Kanye touches here, every comment, every idea he expresses out loud turns to gold. Whenever he says something, or so much as stares at the mood board for longer than seconds, the team quarantines it off as “interesting.” Valuable. This goes on for a while, because everything Kanye finds interesting, they produce. Should Kanye not like what they produce, the team starts over. Should one of Kanye’s trusted advisors comment that what they produce “looks weird,” the team starts over. This happens several times with two full-length videos scrapped. On the third shoot, Kanye walks past one of the interns on a couch watching a YouTube video on an iPad. Kanye is stunned. “What are you watching?” Kanye asks. The intern answers. “What do you think of it? Are you into it? Why?” After a few more lines of dialogue, Kanye receives a signal from above. He turns to the rest of the team and tells them he has an announcement: everyone must stop what they’re doing and listen to this intern. He will now become the creative director of the video.
If I had ever known which video it was, I forgot, because the story itself had already become for me a contemporary parable about a culture industry based entirely upon a model of psychosis. In fact, almost ten years after I first heard the story about Kanye, I saw the same friend who told it to me, and I asked her to tell the story again. It turned out to be not at all the way I remembered it, but by then, it didn’t really matter. Are you starting to see a pattern?
Certain images, certain icons, became for me indicative of these years — images that don’t mean anything in most contexts, but are resonant in my mind like the branded mark of a sex cult insignia. One of them: the image of a clenched fist. I saw it first, during the 2009 UC fee hike protests, and I saw it again, on TV, at the barricades in Gezi, or the squares in Kiev. Incidentally, it had also been the symbol used in the Otpor! protests in Serbia “as the brand of a bloodless revolution,” recalls Srđa Popović, one of the leaders of the student-led revolution that deposed Slobodan Milošević from autocratic rule in 2000.
This is from an interview featured in the art exhibition Seductive Exacting Realism at Documenta14 by artist Irena Haiduk. In it, Haiduk elaborates on the work of the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), a political NGO founded by Popović that (as revealed by Wikileaks) collaborates with US intelligence firms and think tanks to provide political consulting to pro-democracy protest movements worldwide. Since its conception in 2004, CANVAS has trained groups in over fifty countries, often covertly, years before any of the movements start making global headlines. For instance, when in 2011 protesters in Tunisia deposed president Ben Ali from power in 2011, igniting the Arab Spring, CANVAS had been active in training grassroots organizations in the country since 2007. Because CANVAS’s involvement is discrete, it is impossible for outside observers to discern whether or not they have been active in any given protest movement on the televised news. In the centerpiece of the exhibition, Haiduk interviews the CANVAS founder:
HAIDUK: I can never tell when I am watching the news whether if you are involved or not.
POPOVIĆ: That’s good. It keeps us safe. Most of the time, you will never know. If and when we do sign our work, it is after the fact. It’s too dangerous in the process.
I, too, would not be able to tell. In my memory and in the news, I began looking for the telltale signs, which I hoped would reveal themselves back to me as details that would light up, betray the hand of their makers, like coded hand signs. I had a habit of drawing connections that could not be proven valid, but not exactly be disproven, laying somewhere in between the “may or may not.” I found similarities across disparate movements that might trace back to similar sources. For instance, I discovered that in training manuals distributed to activists, CANVAS compiled an extensive list of common nonviolent strategies. The guidelines include:
· Organize blockades of highways in order to debilitate the economy and show the regime the people’s power.
· Occupy key public buildings and occasional nonviolent invasions of said buildings.
· Move bulldozers in line with police barricades.
I thought of the Çarşı bulldozer in the barricades at Istanbul. Waste trucks dumping manure in the streets of Paris. The highway shutdown in Atlanta after the shooting of Philando Castille. I don’t know, in each particular instance, which came first, the action observed or the prescription, or the extent to which any demonstration could be considered original. Maybe original isn’t even relevant in this context; every protest is a copy of a copy. Maybe it didn’t matter whether what feels organic actually is, or if it was orchestrated upstream by some pretty big players in the game. The difference between a staged revolution and a real one is that there is no difference. The result is the same: the regime comes down. “Assad, Chavez, Erdoğan, and Putin fear us,” states Popović about CANVAS. “In Saudi Arabia, we’re branded as terrorists. And when Chinese TV blames us for Hong Kong riots, it feels good. When you’re banned, you attract a certain type of people. It’s like a call.”
Whether or not this yields to a greater story, or if these are just more questions that lead to more questions, I don’t know. I don’t claim to know how any of this works. In years since, I only knew more and more people who felt the need to get out of bed and shut down a freeway. People active in Oakland, Zucotti Park, Gezi, Berlin, each protest seeming to pour its energies into each successive movement, increasingly stronger than the last. There was a time when all I heard was talk about eating the rich, shutting down prisons, doxxing the police — vigilante acts of justice that saw the only acceptable equivalent to storming the Winter Palace today as bombing the data-warehousing systems at Google. If politics is downstream from culture, then here was a culture that wanted to topple regimes.
In his interview with Haiduk, Popović states, “We seek out what might be a motivating factor for people — above all, young people.”
I would also wonder what motivates young people, because even as a young person myself, these motivations eluded me. Throughout the years, I don’t really know what it was that compelled me to join a demonstration. Five years after the fee-hike protests, I remember exiting the building where I worked in New York, and opening the door onto a procession of thousands who came to mourn the death of Eric Garner. People held signs that read “I Can’t Breathe” and “Don’t Shoot” and “Black Lives Matter.” That night, the largest funeral in the city’s recent memory was happening on the streets, from the fountains of Washington Square, down Madison Square Park to the churches past Houston Street, past the outdoor fish markets on Chinatown and westward to the river. I cried that night, and at Zucotti Park, and when I scrolled through Twitter images of the TOMA vehicles at Occupy Gezi in the neighborhoods I used to live in. I cried when Trump was elected, but not during the Women’s March. I was emotionally depleted by then, yet still had so much more to learn. I would parrot the call and response of, “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like,” compensating with emotion what I could not rationalize was more than, at best, a tangential subplot for direct political action, yet simultaneously, I would wonder: after the protests are over, what happens to all this? What happens to all the anger, the stunted desire, the gathering thunderclouds of our generation’s discontents, our grievances and our nursed alienations? Where does all of that energy go? I never found the answer, but I can tell you at least one thing: it doesn’t go nowhere.
During this time, I sat on literary panels, gave speeches at weddings, made orange chicken for holiday potlucks, and responded to emails on time. I kept up with the culture, saw Tillmans at Zwirner, signed up for Apple Music the week Frank Ocean dropped Boys Don’t Cry. At Café Loup, I had dinners with my agent and editor, where we gossiped about how the state of the culture wars was translating into the latest sales figures from a publishing industry still gridlocked between Ivy League Leftists and Pulitzer Prize Winners of Color. Culture, as we conceptualized it, was still some version of liberal pageantry, reinforced by the reigning mood of the Obama years, and parceled out into marketing categories formulated on the syrupy promises of racial diversity and visibility politics. We didn’t think it would end, until of course, it did, until it became inconceivable to believe how we’d ever thought it could last.
When exactly did the Obama years end? Somewhere between Gamergate and the shooting of Michael Brown.
When I think about the Obama years, I think about a giant party that didn’t want to end. But at some point, the party always ends, never on a high note, but at some blurry point in the morning, when the dance floor thins out, the lights fade on, and you look around to see that nobody’s in the same mood as they were in before. Sometimes, all I could ever be certain about was the mood. During the lead-up to the election, all I knew was that the “aura” was changing. A darkening energy clouded over New York. I remember arriving at a furniture sale in Brooklyn hosted by two friends of mine who were decamping to Finland. We opened the windows and cleansed the place with palo santo, and talked about how the mood in the US was souring — it didn’t “feel safe.” People were getting restless. I remember getting my Tarot card reading done by a practicing Wiccan I knew, and being told that bad fortune would come if I stayed in New York, and I should leave for Berlin “sooner than later.” Incredibly, I couldn’t get my mind off the blood moon prophecies from the Book of Joel about four lunar eclipses—red moons—that would fall in two consecutive years, triggering the Second Coming of Christ. In the past, I may have dismissed this as pure lunacy, but by the time the eleventh hour came, I no longer did.
When the time came for the unspeakable, people claimed it was inevitable. People pointed fingers. (The media! Identity politics!) Demons were getting excised. Then after the flagellation came the narratives. The Russia investigations. The Wylie hearings. Collectively, we appealed to the prophets to tell us what went wrong. What were the warning signs? How did this happen? And at some point or other, we privately asked ourselves: Were we surprised?
In 2014, Christopher Wylie was twenty-four, the year he came up with the idea to mine millions of Facebook profiles for private and personal information that could create psychographic political profiles in what he termed, in the Guardian, as Cambridge Analytica’s “psychological warfare mindfuck tool.”
I first read about Wylie in 2018, when I saw him in a photo shoot for the Guardian, with pink hair and a nose ring, wearing a camouflage jacket. It’s possible his outfit is the whole reason why he caught my attention, so influential were those details on my thinking, my language, that I texted a hair stylist I knew if he could dye my hair “Wylie pink.”
Wylie became, for me, an aspirational figure for the culture, a generational hero: the whistleblower. Before Cambridge Analytica, Wylie worked in Canadian Parliament for the opposition party, and as a data analyst for Obama’s national director. After, Wylie was approached by Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, who told him “We’ll give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas,” which bred the kind of analytics that revealed, for instance: “people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.”
I never ended up dying my hair, forgot I ever wanted to, but was then reminded when I discovered this detail, which stopped me in my tracks: at the time when Alexander Nix discovered him, Wylie was enrolled at the London School of Economics for a “PhD in fashion forecasting.”
“Politics is like fashion,” said Wylie in an early meeting with Steve Bannon. “Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically,” he said. “So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them?” After meeting Bannon, Wylie was soon introduced to Robert Mercer, Cambridge Analytica’s billionaire investor, and his daughter Rebekah Mercer.
When he met them in Rebekah Mercer’s Manhattan apartment, she stated, “Oh we need more of your type on our side!” by which she meant, “the gays,” Wylie clarified.
Bannon also saw “the gays,” said Wylie, as “early adopters,” believing that once the gays were on board, “everyone else will follow,” explaining why he was “so into the whole Milo thing.”
This was the level of detail I imagined, once plumbed deep enough, might unlock for me the absurdity that could work as an organizing principle of the era. Absurdity was the only operational logic behind things like Yiannopoulos’ “Gays For Trump” party at the Republican National Convention, for which he created promotional posters of shirtless twinks wearing Make America Great Again hats. When asked, in Bloomberg Businessweek, why he surrounds himself with white supremacists and 4Chan trolls, he explained, “Because they’re interesting.” Here influencers served as energy for energy’s sake, the libidinal compass at the heart of the Breitbart Doctrine, which sees no qualitative difference between fascist leader and hip hop celebrity. “Radical” denoted anything that hit a base common denominator of shocking or offensive, regardless of discernable political affiliation. Transgression for transgression’s sake.
A deference to the “radical” as a blanket aesthetic, erasing any discernable political coordinates, would also be the logic behind then editor Tina Brown’s deciding to put Donald Trump on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1994, as the kind of “authentic bullshit,” she recounted after Trump was elected, which “epitomized the brassy craziness of the times.”
By the 2016 election, brassy craziness had crossed irretrievably into the insane. Around this time, Breitbart began accompanying its articles about Yiannopoulos with an itemized list of his clothing worn in photo shoots, brands that include jackets from Balmain and suits from Gieves and Hawkes, outfitting Yiannopoulos as a socialite in his own right. Fashion was politics, politics was fashion. After a while, such absurdity was no longer the organizing principle but the animating force behind a culture industry led by a handful of influencers who were systemically incentivized to parrot back to the culture, as entertainment, the worst narratives it could tell about itself.
Facebook, a monopolist marketing platform that socially-conditions a third of the world’s population under an ethos of “connecting people” at neocolonial proportions, is the most powerful arm of what Dena Yago describes in e-flux as “the content industrial complex.” The phrase refers to the system of corporate-sponsored media designed with compulsively clickable headlines and images that compel users to share it on social platforms, gluing users to their screens for longer amounts of time that said social platforms can then sell back to corporations who are often also the ad sponsors for the media originally being circulated. In this system, users aren’t the customers so much as the livestock being sold, too dependent on the gamified apparatus of renewable bite-size stimulation to break away. “As a term,” Yago writes, “‘user’ resonates unambiguously with the language of addiction.”
Yago is a member of K-HOLE, the artist collective and mock trend-forecasting agency that analyzes the way certain trends emerge from the content circulated online. In 2013, K-HOLE released a trend report titled “Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom,” commissioned by the Serpentine Gallery in London. The report opens with, “It used to be possible to be special,” declaring a post-MTV marketing strategy that effectively neuters what used to be “special” — the idiosyncratic, indie — by recycling and monetizing emergent local trends into a mass-market aesthetics, made equally accessible to mall rats in Kentucky or radical queers in Manila. This tactic is known in advertising as “coolhunting.” In an era when any emergent style trend can be poached by corporations, and marketed out to mass culture, K-HOLE asks how it might be possible to avoid detection, avoid commodification, avoid getting coolhunted. The solution is invisibility. Here, K-HOLE proposes a ubiquitous “youth mode,” a quasi-fashion style adapted from Hito Steyerl’s “withdrawal from representation,” identified by a normie aesthetic that was so undetectable, so camouflaged as to be boring, so bland that it could never be taken for “special” or “cool.” It was the “anti-cool,” demonstrating a chameleonic ability to blend with the surroundings on the ground, thriving below the radar of trend forecasting agencies in an age of big data algorithms and universal surveillance.
Thus: Normcore. It was a fashion trend defined as “situational,” “adaptable,” and “post-aspirational.” By sporting Nike trainers, cargo shorts, and Gap pullovers, Normcore finds its identity in the incognito, in its ability to relate to any number of groups on any side of the culture. The aesthetic was spoofed in an episode of Model Files, a web series produced by the fashion retailer VFILES, where fictional (and real life) casting director Preston Chaunsumlit is shown outfitting underground style icons in Old Navy with its blanket mass-market aesthetics. The joke had reached its apex by the time Fiona Duncan wrote, in New York magazine, about Normcore, a style that captured “self-aware, stylized blandness” with an accompanying slideshow of models wearing “Uniqlo khakis with New Balance sneakers or Crocs.” Here, the simulacrum merges perfectly with the real. In streetwear photos around SoHo, Chaunsumlit is photographed wearing “white nurse clogs” i.e. Crocs, a sort of de-facto icon for Normcore, until four years later Demna Gvesalia, the creative director of Vetements and Balenciaga, designed platform Crocs with pointed rhinestones and sends them down the Balenciaga runway in Paris.
This is how “totally ugly” led to “fashion,” how “fashion” led to “politics.” Track the movement, gather the early-adopters. Dupe the public. Talking about all those gay early-adopters, I ended up meeting Chaunsumlit in 2016 at a gay party in Berlin called Cocktail d’Amore, a few weeks before we acted alongside each other in a web series for the Berlin Biennale in the same exhibition that featured K-HOLE. This is an example of a coincidental detail I don’t know where else to put. Most of this is just nonsense. I’m still waiting for someone, anyone, to piece together the relevant details, make this up into a coherent narrative, tell me a story.
Here are the notes. Where is the story?
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. I understand this to be the literary equivalent of the pareidolia effect, or apophenia, the psychological phenomenon where the brain assorts unrelated stimuli into a coherent image, the completion of basic gestalt principles where none exist, or hearing what sounds like words as urine hits the water. As neural networks are only as strong as the data sets they are provided, the brain hunts for what it already knows, or what makes sense to previous sets before assimilating to an encounter with the new. During these years I would struggle with understanding that not everything is meaningful, not every coincidence is interesting, or would eventually become “the story,” with enough lead time for the hindsight bias to emerge.
Here’s another irrelevant chain of associations: I first met Elizabeth Spiers in 2013 at an online publication called Flavorwire, where she was hired to revamp its digital strategy, which consisted of selling ad impressions, and partnering with advertisers to produce custom events and email giveaways. Two years earlier, Spiers was a writer for Forbes around the same time I was also at Forbes writing book reviews. For the October 2011 issue, Spiers profiled Arianna Huffington, who was featured on the cover as one of the world’s “100 Most Powerful Women.”
Here, Spiers had been the first to break, in detail, the revenue strategy on which Huffington built her digital empire at The Huffington Post, and by 2010 had grown to a total of 6,000 unpaid bloggers and 186 paid staffers. The model embodied a bottom-up content model distributed across twenty special-interest verticals ranging from US News and Business to Relationships and Wellness, built off a similar model as Gawker, which Spiers founded in 2005.
Two years after Huffington Post moved from analog to digital, Andrew Breitbart, who was co-founder and partner of the Huffington Post in 2005, “decided to go out and create our media,” he said in 2004, and launched Breitbart News. Since its inception, it was funded by Robert and Rebekah Mercer who also funded Cambridge Analytica. Breitbart would become responsible for publishing and promoting political content in conjunction with, on the one hand, Cambridge Analytica, and on the other, conservative pollster Pat Caddell, who said he worked on the Trump campaign because he was looking for someone with the name recognition and the resources that could connect with voter bases disillusioned by the establishment. In a reference to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Caddell stated in the New Yorker, “He clearly wasn’t the best Smith, but he was the only Smith.”
Before Flavorwire, Elizabeth Spiers was fired as the editor in chief of the New York Observer by Jared Kushner, owner of Observer Media Group, and future senior advisor to his father-in-law, President Trump. In an official statement, Kushner lauded Spiers for launching “a slew of new verticals and web properties, and invigorated the newsroom.” By the time Spiers had been hired to launch verticals and invigorate the newsroom at Flavorwire, I had been working as a books reporter, and edited an author interview series for which I asked questions like “What was the last good book you read?“ and “Where do you think American fiction is headed,” before I was fired by Spiers after just three interviews, because I failed to make any newsbreak anyone cared about.
Forbes, The Huffington Post, Gawker, Breitbart, Flavorwire, and The New York Observer were all publications that belonged to the same generation of digital media in the 2000s that specialized in sub-800 word viral content that abounded in listicles, affective slideshows, Op-Eds, and identitarian politics, that was designed for the explicit purpose to be shared widely on social media. The content that I wrote for Flavorwire didn’t drive up page views, but instead was understood as “legacy content” that lost money, but would boost the overall reputation of the site, which I failed to do.
Clearly I was missing something fundamental. Here, the publication is treated like an organism, whose political platform was only as strong as its ability to communicate to the culture its survival of the most frequently shared on social — an essentially ad-backed profit model sustained by corporations as part of a revenue system that itself spawned but also precipitated the collapse of an American news culture already in decline. How the inauguration of the content industrial complex paved the way for Trump to troll his way to the White House, one social share at a time, might be an example of a “bigger picture” story, but I’m too late here, having failed to grasp even the general idea at the time, probably the times, the generation, or something. Where any of these people are today, I have no idea. I assume they moved on after the damage was done. After a certain point, the only thing to do, which was also the most difficult, was to move on as well.
Somehow, I cannot. After the shouting in the hall, the revenue reports, my neurosis, my paranoia, and my racial biases, I haven’t found the through-line to make this story work. What’s left are a series of fragmentary images that, if viewed in quick succession, might appear as a comprehensible stop-motion for the times. The reality is harder to grasp. These days I see panic at the borders, riots in Paris, Twitter bot armies posing as civilians and civilians posing as prophets armed with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, and I still don’t know what it is I’m looking at. These days, I’m often advised to just relax. After I was discharged from the psychiatric hospital, I was diagnosed with “unspecified psychosis,” and told that I was still showing symptoms of PTSD from a previous trauma my psychiatrist said I may have thought I had healed from, but apparently had not. How one is supposed to heal from trauma, I don’t even know. Here’s what I do know: that I have difficulties trusting people, don’t like crowds, keep searching inside my brain for my one proverbial “voice” while finding nothing but an index of the chaos already known.
Some day, I will have to learn when to stop asking questions. That not every signal was meant for me, and I have to be okay with not knowing the endings of things. In the months after discharge, I spent a lot of time swimming in my parents’ pool in California, staring into the space between two palm trees where there used to be a third, which had to be cut down because of termites. At my father’s suggestion, I sometimes tied a swimming belt around my waist, attached to a column beneath the balcony, and practiced swimming in place. Flailing my limbs in water while making no progress at all is where I’m at these days. Because everywhere my mind turns I keep looking for the newsbreak, but I just keep moving in circles. I flush out my bad juju with higher-frequency energy and thoughts that serve me. I sit in the sunshine, meditate. On the phone, I listen as my friend tells me about how time is a linear concept for “occupying the material plane,” and by negotiating with past lives, I might find a path to “ascension.” This I recognize, in so many words, as an appeal to the spiritual, which I am looking for. Because after I stopped believing in God, I stopped believing in the story. No more meaning, no narrative. All that come back to me now are my heap of broken images.
As a writer, I thought I had to open myself up, like a compact mirror, to the generation, and when my generation became intolerable, so did I. Now where did that get me? I still wonder about the people I used to know, whatever came of the conversation at The Standard, whether any of the protesters I knew ended up in jail, or about the office assistant I knew at Flavorwire who one day, in New York, sold all her possessions and moved to Texas to sell 3D-printed rifles through Defense Distributed. She eventually became the organization’s director, and CEO of a company called Ghost Gunner. In a press release about her new role, she is also described as “organizing several independent spoken word nights and artist showcases.”
Mostly I try not to think about these things. Most of the people I know carried on less controversial lives. They published novels, exhibited at Basel, got married, started their own record label, or quit their jobs at declining publications and rebranded themselves by learning how to code. If I followed suit, I would also move on and live a functional life, and eventually I will. I’ll let go of my questions upon questions, releasing them into this deluge of aborted narratives. Because there is nowhere left to put them. Where else are they supposed to go? Where do they all end up? I haven’t found the answer yet, but I can give you a hint: they don’t go nowhere.
This piece was originally published in Hotel #6.