The deepest, coldest abyss is a month spent on Parler
All of my bleak and predictable takeaways from hanging out on the conservative version of Twitter
You know what Nietzsche said about monsters and the abyss right? It goes, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back.”
These are certainly good words of advice to heed if you think the abyss is inherently bad. I can tell you from personal experience that the void is mostly just misunderstood. For one, the abyss has provided me with so many writing opportunities. I would be broke (well, more broke) if it wasn’t for all things voidy and abyssy.
I also think there’s value in looking down into the nadirs of human experience. How else are we going to learn about ourselves and the world around us if we can’t see the bottom?
And this is why I don’t hesitate to sign up for Parler, a social media platform that has drawn millions of conservative users in the past few weeks. The site—which is ostensibly a knock-off of Twitter and Reddit—touts freedom of speech without censorship. When Twitter began flagging Trump’s increasingly unhinged tweets as false or misleading, his legion of followers saw that as censorship, so to Parler they flocked.
Before I joined Parler, I thought I knew what the abyss was. Turns out, I didn’t know how deep it went.
Parler showed me how dark and stupid and boring it can get.
I swipe a photo from Facebook of some asshole I knew from high school. This is my Parler profile pic. I have no doubt that this guy is legit a Trump supporter in real life, so using his image for my fake Parler account only feels like half lying. He’s clean cut and handsome enough to attract thirsty MAGA heads and Aaryan enough to look like fit in with the rest of Parler’s users.
Now I need a screen name, but what conveys my patriotism? I briefly use the screen name “Duncan Hunter Jr.”—the disgraced congressman from San Diego—but parodying a well-known person for my fake account just feels like too many layers to manage. I want something that says I’m a literal American that will uphold American ideals, which includes our right to only believe what we want to believe.
I land on the name “Literal American.”
I try to get in the head of Literal American, and by extension, all Parler users. I come up with a rudimentary backstory that involves a lot of privilege and sadness. Literal American is a recent divorcee, and he’s just taken his ex-wife to the bank. Financially secure yet confused about the hurt he feels inside, he takes his anger out on the world. Why isn’t his pain—the pain of a straight, white man—valid? Why doesn’t his life matter? How come no one laughs at his jokes? Literal American is a very funny guy.
For these reasons, Literal American has turned to Parler.
A parlay by Literal American: “Almost as tired of this stolen election as Sleepy Joe is all the time.” Zero upvotes received.
I’m not even on the platform for a full day before I see someone reference to Satan in earnest.
LifeSiteNews—a very reputable news source, I’m sure—publishes a story with a headline that reads “90-year-old woman chooses euthenasia rather than endure another COVID lockdown.”
One of the responses comes from “Rachel G”: “She was isolated to the point where only the Devil was allowed to visit her.”
I look at Rachel G’s parlay (btw, “parlay” : Parler :: “tweet” : Twitter) for a long time, trying to understand it. Who is the devil in this situation? Is it COVID, loneliness, or lockdowns? Even if euthanasia is the 90 year old’s choice, is it still the devil’s handiwork? How are people who believe in the devil even allowed to use the internet? Everything’s confusing.
I realize that the rage and frustration must be what conservatives feel when they use just about any other site on the internet. Imagine what it must be like to be an elderly worm-brained Fox News victim stepping into Twitter for the first time. People don’t like cops? They have preferred pronouns? OnlyFans??
The lack of humor is the most glaring quality of Parlay. It’s not like Twitter is really this bastion of comedy either. Over the past 10 years that I’ve been on it, I’ve watched Twitter turn from an absurd theater into Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate, but extended ad infinitum.
However, if you turn away from the constant anger, it’s still easy to find good jokes on Twitter. There are also messages of love, romance, joy, exuberance, sweetness. These are what has ultimately kept me there.
This is not the case with Parler. Bitterness, paranoia and distrust are laced through every parlay. The world outside of Parler is to not be trusted.
The election was stolen. Everyone’s a pedophile. COVID was actually a weapon created by China to demolish American businesses (that is, if you believe that COVID is real). Public safety measures are actually the government’s way of controlling the population. The Dominion voting machines switched all votes to Biden. Mask mandates are a violation of American rights. Everyone’s a sheep.
Rejection is a major theme among the platform’s users. Many users I encounter have been banned from either Twitter or Facebook, and this designation unites Parler’s users but also fuels their obsession. Wading through the platform is like joining a club where all anyone does is talk about the clubs they were kicked out of. Instead acting as a rally cry, it’s just really fucking boring. Their hero Trump isn’t even on the platform, so they’re still posting screenshots of his tweets, which feels like it negates the point of Parler.
Of course, none of this is surprising. I didn’t have to join to know that this is what I’d encounter. But sometimes you just have to touch the hot stove, or smell the expired milk, or stare into the swirling abyss. It’s your right as an American to ignore your self-interests.
A parlay from Literal American: “More like dumb-inion amirite.” Zero upvotes received.
Another: “They call them the left because they’re gonna be left behind.” Again, zero upvotes.
Since my text posts aren’t getting any love, I decide to try my hand at memes. If I know one thing about conservatives, they love memes. Surely this will ingratiate Literal American to the Parler crowd.
The first I create is Trump in full Braveheart makeup. I feel that Braveheart is a good movie to memeify because it exemplifies the warrior spirit conservatives often tout. Plus, the film was made by an antisemite, a quality that plays well among the Parler crowd.
The photoshop is crude—I basically paint Trump’s makeup on with the paintbrush, something I could’ve done in MS Paint. Underneath in garish Impact font, I type out “THEY CAN TAKE OUR ELECTION BUT THEY’LL NEVER TAKE OUR MEMES.” I use the image to respond to Tucker Carlson, Ben Stein, Sean Hannity. Despite the fact that it never has anything to do with the original post, Trumpheart always manages to get a moderate amount of upvotes.
The next meme plays off the allegations that Dominion voting machines only allowed votes for Biden. In this one, Dominion has turned to making frozen yogurt machines.
This meme gets one upvote. Probably too smart for Parler! I think, justifying the low votes. It’s also likely that it got that upvote due to the simple fact I used a pic of an attractive woman. Parler users are desperately and angrily horny. For every post blasting AOC’s communist agenda, there’s always a response from some gross man who begrudgingly wants to see her naked.
Unfortunately, the day I post this next meme is the same day that conservatives turn on Tucker Carlson for calling out Sidney Powell—one of Trump’s lawyers—for not providing evidence for her claims that Dominion voting machines changed votes. The Tucker Carlson meme gets two downvotes.
I’m strangely proud of this next photoshop, and that’s when I realize that I’m flying too close to the sun. There’s a very real chance that I’m becoming that which I hate.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.
Near the end of my Parler run, I see a post from the company’s CEO (and Poway resident) John Matze:
“Throughout history we have seen the consequences of a society when it’s deprived of information. Whereas an abundance of information, and access to all information lends strength to the correct answer. Only through discussion and argument and weighting [sic] the information available can anyone determine what is right.”
It’s a bold move to aggrandize Parler’s role in increasing access to information, much like if McDonald’s positioned their food as a way to end world hunger. There’s a small part of me that respects the amount of delusion it takes to thrive in the world of Parler, but a bigger, saner part of me is just bored. The hills these people have chosen to die on are small and largely made of shit. Shit dries up quickly. It crumbles. I’d be surprised if Parler is still going two years from now. There are many places on the internet where hate, anger and racism thrive (NextDoor, 4chan, Reddit), and to think Parler is any different than those might be the most delusional thing about it.
And when Parler fades away, the abyss will remain.
THE WEEKLY GOODS
I keep thinking how next year’s Oscars are going to be wild because of how few movies have been released in 2020. Is every category going to come down to either Bill and Ted or Hubie Halloween? (Not complaining!) There’s no denying 2020 has been sort of a cinema desert, which is why I’m so stoked about The Sound of Metal. The film is about Ruben, a drummer in a noise-metal band who begins to experience hearing loss. I’m not going to get too much into the plot because I reviewed the film for the San Diego Union-Tribune, which is my first film review for the paper. Woo! (unless you count my grim write-up of CATS, which, looking back, feels like a cursed omen for this year). The Sound of Metal is one of the most emotionally affecting films I’ve seen in some time, and it has a lot of cool Easter eggs for fans of extreme music (e.g. Surfbort’s singer makes a cameo, and the filmmakers tagged Pharmakon as a consultant for the live music scenes).
San Diego filmmaker Cy Kuckenbaker makes some of the most impressive short films I’ve ever seen, and his latest short, “Tiger Oak + Echo,” is no exception. The film’s about three Lithuanian freedom fighters hiding out in the forest during Soviet occupation—a heady subject that Kuckenbaker handles with incredible grace. Although it was completed in 2018, it recently arrived on Amazon Prime and has the potential to reach the wide audience it deserves. Go watch it, and leave a review.
For the past two weeks, the world has been enthralled by the mysterious obelisk (or is it monolith? Who could ever know?) that appeared in the Utah desert, and then disappeared, and then reappeared in Romania, and then disappeared. I can’t say I fully support the obelisk because it attracted a lot of yahoos who trashed the surrounding area, but I do appreciate large scale stunts like this. For this week’s photoshop contest (been a while since I’ve done one), create your own mysterious desert art. What would you like to discover?
I suspect that whoever installed the obelisk is a big Kubrick fan, so I imagined their next art to be Kurbrick’s second most iconic image: Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket with a donut shoved in his mouth. Send your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll post them in the next newsletter. Excited to see what you come up with.
Got a tip or wanna say hi? Email me at email@example.com, or follow me on Twitter @theryanbradford. And if you like what you’ve just read, please hit that little heart icon at the end of the post.
Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.