This morning I awoke in Bean Dad’s America. Like most West Coast dwellers who enjoy sleeping in, I usually catch big Internet Events mid-cycle. They spend a few hours percolating through the rest of the country while I unknowingly sleep away my last moments of living in a world free of whatever dumb thing has transpired.
You know who Bean Dad is, even if you don’t. In Bean Dad there is a pale imitation of nearly every exhausting Internet Event of the last five years. A dad made his 9 year old daughter spend six hours trying to figure out how a can opener worked and then posted about the ordeal with confidence. A minimal amount of digging revealed a bunch of “ironically” racist tweets from the dad’s past. Celebrity Jeopardy Man Ken Jennings defended the dad and possibly blew up his own career doing so. Of course somehow Israel was involved. At the start of the day, Bean Dad was a regular guy and within twelve hours his life was irrevocably changed by his decision to post.
When you google “Bean Dad” the whole thing starts to border on self parody.
I read through this discourse for most of the day because when the trough reaches a certain size and stench, not even the staunchest of pigs can resist dipping his snout in. Even if said pig literally JUST made a New Year’s Resolution to avoid exactly this type of slop. There was “this is child abuse” discourse, there was “no, calling this child abuse is cancel culture” discourse, there was “no it’s not, but also his podcast co-host should lose his job” discourse. The saga of Bean Dad had become so simultaneously bland and convoluted that people seemed capable of wringing any type of take they wanted out of it.
Is anyone else fucking exhausted?
What are we doing here? Who is making us do this?
I was lucky enough to have a little time off work and I spent the very last day of it at a digital watercooler making and reading the worst, most perfunctory jokes imaginable about an event so familiar that it feels like we’ve lived through it a thousand times before.
I used to love being online but it now feels like any positive byproducts of social media were just misunderstood early symptoms of something much darker. All the fun memes and Wife Guys trained us to come when called, to reliably provide daily discourse so that the content mill could continue to churn at the cost of our time and sanity. We logged on because chemically simulated fun on demand sounded too good to pass up and we stayed because we were right. Like teens sharing cigarettes behind the bleachers who’ve become middle aged smokers cursing the cold, we’re no longer in a position to easily divorce ourselves from our habit despite the fact that the deal became one sided long ago.
A celebrity’s gaffe, a politician’s outfit, a dorky dad’s attempt at bean-based parenting, all of these things have more control over my life than I do now. We’re all like Bean Dad’s poor daughter, being promised that if we work hard enough for long enough, eventually we will get this broken machine to do what we want it to do. And we don’t even like baked beans.
But what’re we going to do, leave? In the tenth month of a seemingly infinite pandemic, these digital spaces are all most of us have. We count ourselves lucky that hell at least has group chats.
And who knows, maybe after the pandemic things will be different. Maybe so much time in isolation will allow us to properly reconnect with each other when the opportunity to do so returns. After all, an overwhelming despair coupled with the vain hope that things might change is as much a part of life online as it is off these days. But I am at this point a part of so many gigantic things that I did not choose and do not approve of, what’s one more?