Pop Loser No. 44
People Who Clung to the Pillars of Civilization

Late last year at a Walrus Talks event in Calgary (theme: “Vice”) Dave Bidini, Jonathan Goldstein, Elizabeth Renzetti and others stood up and told mostly (though not always) funny stories. Then an executive from Ashley Madison spent ten minutes talking about their business, vaguely defending the company as not being shitty because people will have affairs anyway, so really what’s the harm, and besides, his girlfriend totally gave him permission to take the job. He also mentioned that a lot of publications won’t accept Ashley Madison advertising. At the end of the night, The Walrus' publisher exclaimed that her magazine would happily take their advertising because she thinks her readers can “decide for themselves.” Many, many people in the crowd applauded.

It was gross.

We now know that Ashley Madison isn’t a company that facilitates affairs so much as it’s a company that preys on sad men using imaginary women (NOTHING IS REAL!). (They also have pretty lousy security for what is ostensibly a tech company.)

This truth may actually make them slightly better from a moral standpoint (we gave Joey a pass when he sold “drugs” to Melanie and Kathleen, after all), but mostly this feels like one of those of-course-this-is-where-we-ended-up moments that leaves me feeling sad for no one in particular.


Related: Nav’s thoughts on the Ashley Madison hack are much deeper than mine. Which is actually pretty consistent with all of Nav’s other thoughts compared to all of my other thoughts.

The digitally inflected individual is often not quite an individual, not quite alone. Our past selves seem to be suspended around us like ghostly, shimmering holograms, versions of who we were lingering like memories made manifest in digital, diaphanous bodies. For me, many of those past selves are people I would like to put behind me—that same person who idly signed up for Ashley Madison is someone who hurt others by being careless and self-involved. Now, over a decade on, I’m left wondering to what extent that avatar of my past still stands for or defines me—of the statute of limitations on past wrongs.

Pop Loser

Formatting Note: I’ve gone back to no subheads because 1) I hate when they aren’t clever and I’m not clever enough to write that many clever headlines each week, and 2) You guys skim when I put them in. I know you do. Don’t even try to deny it.

A couple of guys started posting Nazi propaganda on comment threads for articles about European migration and people thought they made some good points because people are the worst.

At the most recent count, we had a total of 480 up votes (and rising) against 16 down votes, across eight adapted Nazi comments. It seems the migration debate has evolved to a place where even certified hate speech can pass for popular political opinion!

Remember, don’t ever read the comments.

For Gordon (and, to a lesser extent, the rest of you. I suppose I really could have just emailed this straight to Gordon, but whatever): Fuck nuance.

Nuance is not a virtue of good sociological theory. Sociologists typically use it as a term of praise, and almost without exception when nuance is mentioned it is because someone is asking for more of it. I shall argue that, for the problems facing Sociology at present, demanding more nuance typically obstructs the development of theory that is intellectually interesting, empirically generative, or practically successful.

And while I have strongly encouraged you to not read the comments, as always, MetaFilter is the exception.

Did you read The Berenstein Bears when you were a kid. I know I did. They were great. Except they were actually The Berenstain Bears (that's with an "a," not an "e") and this is proof that there are multiple dimensions and some of us are basically sliders. I’d think this is cute and amusing, except I am 100% positive it was Berenstein. There is no doubt in my mind. Now I’m scared to ask my wife what she remembers out of fear our kids are some kind of unholy multi-dimensional hybrids.

Go ahead and judge these books by their covers. Actually, judge all books but their covers. That’s why books have covers. The saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" is stupid. If your book is good, put a better cover on it. Sheesh. 

Debate over the meaning of “curation” is heating up again.

Blogs are curated. So are holiday gift guides. So are cliques, play lists, and restaurant menus. “Curated,” a word that barely existed forty years ago, has somehow come to qualify everything in our lives. When I tried that glib parlor game of typing a word into Google to see how it would autocomplete the search phrase, the first suggestion for “curated” was “content.” In other words, almost nothing escapes curation, or at least the possibility of being curated. How did our world become a venue for curation? And how did curating, a highly specialized line of museum work involving the care, accessioning, and exhibition of artworks, come to mean, as cultural policy scholar Amanda Coles puts it, “just picking stuff?”

It’s been awhile since the launch of the patently ridiculous Curator’s Code and I thought we’d just decided to let people who take themselves too seriously keep on keeping on. Guess not. (Keen readers may have noticed me refer to the pieces in the “David Foster Wallace Reader” as being “oddly curated” last week. Nobody's perfect.)

Nostalgia: You are actually just a filthy blogger.

Related: I am the freshest comedy aggregator on the Internet.

Do you think this is easy? Gathering original humor and reproducing it? Consuming the freshest morsels off the plates of starving comedians, and regurgitating their product onto my own Twitter and Instagram accounts? I’ve aggregated memes you people wouldn’t believe.

I missed the rise of “Netflix and chill” as a thing (because I'm old), but I love it and can’t stop working it  into conversation, no matter how inappropriate.

“Netflix and chill” is a classic case of social media-fueled semantic drift. It began as a plain, descriptive phrase (“Can’t wait to leave work so I can watch Netflix and chill!”), and stayed that way for several years before acquiring a loose sexual connotation (“Wanna come over for Netflix and chill? ;)”) and, eventually becoming a known code phrase (“He said he loves me, but I know he just wants to Netflix and chill”).

Two stories of websites: and Space Jam.

The site lay more-or-less dormant for the next 14 years. But that changed for good in late 2010, when the Internet, exponentially bigger than it was in 1996, rediscovered the site – almost entirely unchanged from its initial launch. It was reborn as a viral sensation, the web’s equivalent of a recently discovered cave painting. We laughed at the site because we couldn’t believe anything was ever designed this way, but also because it still existed. It remains one of the most faithful living documents of early web design that anyone can access online.

They don’t make them like that anymore. Seriously, all websites look the same. (Work Slack was buzzing over this one.)

Speaking of Slack, it’s the latest thing destroying people who find it impossible to exercise even the slightest amount of self control.

First, I would delete the Slack app from my phone for the whole week, no exceptions. This, I reasoned, would keep me from impulsively checking channels when mobile, and ensure I don’t spend idle time at home checking in on work instead of being an attentive husband and dad. Next, all desktop and email notifications would be turned off, and adopt Slack “office hours” for four hours a day (two hours before lunch, two hours after), keeping the application closed on my laptop at all other times. Given that I spend well over 40 hours a week logged into Slack on average, this would cut my time in half or more. Gulp. Finally, I would to tell no one at work about my experiment. I wanted an honest assessment of how critical my consistent, virtual presence was, and to understand what repercussions I would face by not being available for work at all waking hours. On Monday morning, with my rules decided, I deleted the app from my phone, turned off desktop notifications, and got to work.

Dude, your problems go so much deeper than your phone's notifications.

The evolution of magazine covers (or: The New Yorker is awesome).

An open letter to 17-year-old boys who just discovered The Doors.

This will all end in merciful disillusionment.

That is some superlative goddamn truth.

This week in oral histories we didn’t know we needed: Theodore Rex.

Oliver Sacks died.

As a medical doctor and a writer, Dr. Sacks achieved a level of popular renown rare among scientists. More than a million copies of his books are in print in the United States, his work was adapted for film and stage, and he received about 10,000 letters a year. (“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.)

Here’s a reading list and a pretty good TED Talk.

Also: Wes Craven died. If you decide to go back an revisit some Craven, I think New Nightmare is brilliant.

Miscellany: Banksy’s Dismaland. Pitchfork’s 200 best songs of the 80s. Time Flies. Vintage airline posters.

Daddy O // The New Inquiry
I bought a t-shirt last year at a book fair. Navy blue with cream colored text, the fan-made tee is emblazoned in a vertical, sans serif font with the words KANSAS CITY TRUCKING CO. It’s one of my favorite articles of clothing.

It’s OK to Have the Hots for Baseball Players: A Manifesto // Vice
Over the past few years, as my baseball fandom spiked to near-ridiculous levels, I found myself using a stock phrase when discussing my favorite players. “It’s not a sex thing,” I’d say when extolling the virtues of Justin Verlander or Buster Posey or Clayton Kershaw.

The Radicalization of Joan Didion // The New Yorker
In the late spring of 1967, Joan Didion, accompanied by a photojournalist named Ted Streshinsky, began making trips from Berkeley, where she was staying, to Haight-Ashbury, to do research for a piece on the hippies for The Saturday Evening Post.

Why We Need to Resurrect Our Souls // The Chronicle of Higher Education
It is no secret: Culture in the West has become progressively more practical, materially oriented, and skeptical. When I look out at my students, I see people who are in the process of choosing a way to make money and succeed, a strategy for getting on in life.

"It didn’t alarm her to encounter people who had been driven out into the wilderness. She mistrusted more the people who clung to the pillars of civilization." Paul Quarrington

Pop Loser is a weekly newsletter of innumerable confusions collected and written by Tyler Hellard. If you enjoyed this issue, please share it with a friend.

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