As you might know, Radio 4 is currently repeating The New Gurus on Tuesdays at 9am. We also made a bonus episode which went live this week: Gigachads and Sigma Wolves.
It’s about the manosphere—the big online ecosystem devoted to giving advice to men.
I got to try out Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and discover what a gigachad is, as well as challenging Jeremy Clarkson to a boxing match—on the basis that YouTubers are forever fighting each other and traditional journalists should pile into this rich seam of content, too.
This topic was a challenging one for me, as someone who has written about feminism for a decade, and has therefore faced down a lifetime’s worth of “whataboutery” urging me to focus instead on men’s issues. (As Matt Shea notes in the documentary, it’s strange that the Andrew Tate story has prompted so much soul-searching about a putative crisis of masculinity, when the alleged victims of Tate are women.)
I tried to draw together a few strands of my recent interests, one of which is the question of whether men want men-only spaces back (and would that be a bad thing?) and whether podcasts are a substitute for friends, particularly for lonely middle-aged guys and awkward teenage boys.
My spicy take is that Joe Rogan et al can act as a replacement for the pub, for guys who are too busy with work and kids, or live too far from their mates, or are 15 and can’t get served at the bar. I suppose it’s an extension of the Bowling Alone thesis, about the degradation of meatspace communities, and whether their online replacements are synthetic substitutes which feel like the real thing, but aren’t somehow as nourishing.
That’s not intended to be a judgemental take, because most of my friendships now run through WhatsApp. But I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as happy as I was living in halls at university with an infinite supply of people I liked just a short stroll away down the corridor. That helps explain the popularity of podcasts where guys just drink, smoke and tell rambling off-colour anecdotes. You’re hanging out with the bros!
What Was Twitter, Anyway? (New York Times)
Twitter’s takeover of the media class was rapid. In April 2009, Maureen Dowd interviewed Williams and Stone, telling them that she “would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account”; she signed up three months later to promote her column. Later that spring, a Time cover story noted that Twitter users had begun using the site as a “pointing device” and sharing longer-form content. (“It’s just as easy to use Twitter to spread the word about a brilliant 10,000-word New Yorker article as it is to spread the word about your Lucky Charms habit.”) This would make it an incredible way to keep up on the news — and absolutely irresistible to journalists. By the next year, the Times media reporter David Carr was writing an ode to the site, correctly predicting it was more than a fad and lauding it for both its relative civility and its “obvious utility” for information-gathering. “If all kinds of people are pointing at the same thing at the same instant,” he wrote, “it must be a pretty big deal.”
I am told by my superiors here at The Times that there was a time when journalists would talk about what they’d been reading at the bar, or at cocktail parties. One of these people told me, and I don’t think he was kidding, that an article of his went viral by fax machine. I’ll have to take his word for it, because I’ve never known a life in journalism free from the gravitational pull of Twitter.
Highly enjoyable retrospective of Twitter by Willy Staley, which focuses on what Twitter did to the brains of the minority of users who actually tweeted. Spoiler: Groupthink! Pluralistic ignorance! Being driven mad through exposure to the worst excesses of the “other side”!
I liked this line, about Staley’s own Twitter roasting: “In the real world, you can go 30-some years without ever encountering the sensitivities of the “Star Wars” cookware community.”
It reminded me of the time I got CALLED OUT by Jennifer Lawrence by noting that she’d catch her bloody death of cold if she wasn’t careful. “Everything you see me wear is my choice,” she posted on Facebook. “And if I want to be cold THATS MY CHOICE TOO!”
Bluestocking recommends: Colin From Accounts. This Australian sitcom, written by a husband and a wife, is unbelievably charming, and the deathbed scene in episode 3 made me cackle. It’s on BBC iPlayer.
Oh yeah, “Colin” is a dog. Don’t let that put you off.
DeSantis watch: Since writing about Big Ron earlier this year, I’ve kept following his progress—or lack of it. The was a highly enjoyable report in Politico this week about how a load of Florida Republicans have just endorsed Trump instead of their governor, adding to the sense that DeSantis has lost momentum.
After Florida Rep Greg Steube endorsed Trump, he “recalled a recent news conference dealing with damage from Hurricane Ian where the governor’s aides initially invited him to stand alongside DeSantis, only to tell him that he wouldn’t be part of the event when he showed up. Trump, on the other hand, was the first person Steube remembers calling him in the ICU to wish him well after he was injured in a January tree-trimming accident. ‘To this day I have not heard from Gov. DeSantis,’ he said.”
This is amazing, not least because this is basically how David Miliband lost the Labour leadership election in 2010. He just didn’t bother to woo the MPs—everyone had some story of a minor slight inflicted by him. How do you neglect something so basic?
Politics is, apart from anything else, a trade where people are intensely sensitive to status. My hunch is that DeSantis assumed that he was the big dog and everyone would be drawn to him, whereas he should have hosed down both donors and Republican colleagues with flattery (mixed with threats). The best politicians make everyone they speak to feel special.
[More from me: DeSantis’s Magic Kingdom, The Atlantic]
This claims to be in-game footage from an ultra-realistic first person shooter. I would not want to play this, and I don’t even live in America.
“Pledges to crack down on crime or illegal immigration are a great way for the Labour opposition to get attention, and win positive headlines in outlets favoured by the social conservatives they are targeting. But they could also prove to be a great way to start feuds within the Labour big tent once Labour is in government and actually has to deliver.” Rob Ford on how Labour’s path to power is setting up problems if they reach it (Substack).
They said it would never happen! Finally, an instagram reel that is actually funny. (Hat tip to Tracy for the link).
Talking of bro podcasts, this is one of the more shocking things I’ve seen recently. David Choe, an actor in the new Netflix hit Beef, was on a podcast a few years ago and casually described sexually assaulting a clearly non-consenting massage therapist. He later tried to claim it was “bad storytelling in the style of douche.” But even so, that would still be wild, in the sense that he was comfortable telling that story and the producers were comfortable putting it out.
I enjoyed this story about the royal family’s wealth, including c£100m in stamps (aka one first class parcel these days). However, the phrase “Charles has begun liquidating his equine assets” does rather sound like he’s been wandering round the stables with a bolt gun (Guardian).
The Dominion payout represents 6 percent of Fox News’s 2022 revenue (The Atlantic).
“A philosophy paper defending the view that to be a woman is to be an adult human female was begging to be written, and so I wrote one.” You will never GUESS what happened next. MIT philosopher Alex Byrne’s account of his treatment by Oxford University Press is a wild ride. (Quillette).
Talking of which, I got denounced by Contrapoints this week (she compared me to Donald Trump and Posie Parker, a galaxy-brained level of argumentation that a mere non-philosophy YouTuber like me could never hope to counter) but luckily it was 100 minutes into a video so I don’t think anyone noticed.
See you next time! Please feel free to use this gif in all your WhatsApp chats, as I have done this last week:
Update, 22 April: Edited to add name of David Choe in Quick Links.
Just read the Alex Byrne piece. It is fascinating how philosophy has turned into the Spanish Inquisition and, as per usual, the main section of society suffering the consequences are lower class women. I am sure they would manage to write entire essays on why Isla Bryson is as much as of a woman as I am.
Mary Harrington made the same point about spaces and podcasts for men on Chris Williamson’s podcast. Contrapoints was given far too much time on The Witch Trials of JK Rowling, I thought, so I’d enjoy a deep dive, too, but feel sorry for anyone who’d have to watch the videos to write it..