I’ve never understood how to market myself. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a brand strategy is to be myself as loudly and visibly as possible until hopefully someone gives me money for it. And let me tell you, for someone with that brand strategy, the internet of the early 2000s was fucking ideal.
Success on the early internet wasn’t driven by expertise, but by persona. Take me, for example. People didn’t read my myth retellings because I knew more about myths than they did — a lot of my regular readers were academics, professional storytellers, or deep mythology perverts — people read my myths because of how I told them. At my lowest point, gods help me, I was straight ripping shit off of Wikipedia, rephrasing it to be as filthy as possible, and raking in those delicious clicks.
I’m hardly the only example of this. There was Maddox with his Best Page in the Universe. There was Jerry Holkins on Penny Arcade dot com. There was Warren Ellis, who I used to utterly idolize. Recently I looked up an old Warren Ellis post that I think about a lot, the one about where he gets his ideas. I’d forgotten the bit halfway down where he says “If I wanted to, I could shag a million nuns and destroy their faith in Christ.” In a post ostensibly about his writing process. That was just the sort of rhetorical flourish he traded in. It’s why people wanted to know where he got his ideas.
This was the age of TED Talks and Malcolm Gladwell; Freakonomics and The Daily Show. An era in which what mattered was that you felt like the speaker knew what they were talking about, because they were so damn good at talking.
All of these people are still around, but shit has changed. Maddox has posted five times in the last three years: two posts about songs he doesn’t like, one post refuting a Vice article about him, one post about how the coronavirus isn’t dangerous, and one post retracting that post. Jerry still posts on Penny Arcade, and I still read all his posts, but he’s been through half a dozen internet dogpiles at this point and is much more careful about who he antagonizes. Warren Ellis is a confirmed sex pest who, having pretended to be old since he was 30, has now finally achieved the ripe old age of fifty-five. The culture has moved on.
These days, genuine expertise is where it’s at. I read men’s fashion articles by Derek Guy. I watch meticulously researched youtube videos about, like, anime, or the roblox “oof” sound, or… anime. I listen to five hour podcast episodes about the roman empire, because I’m a man and that’s all we care about besides IPAs and grooming our penises. I don’t have time for anything with less than ten cited sources. If it didn’t shave a year off the creator’s lifespan, count me out chief.
This isn’t a bad thing. Like, it’s no accident that so many of the dominant voices of the early 2000s were loud angry white men. It was a banner time for shitlords, grifters, and abusers. But it was also a banner time for me.
Many of the achievements I’m most proud of in my life follow directly from the success I gained as a loud angry white man online in the early 2000s. I feel like the heir to a South African emerald mine. I sometimes wonder: if I had to make a name for myself on today’s internet… would I? I don’t want to spend hours editing a TikTok. I don’t want to offer up my personality on the altar of Twitch. All of the avenues of self-promotion, all the ways I might “be myself as loudly and visibly as possible,” are so loud, and so visible, and so high-effort that just thinking about them makes me want to go to sleep.
I still believe I’m good at stuff. It’s not as if I don’t deserve to be publishing a novel, or writing for video games. I’m just finding, now that I’ve reached the age Warren Ellis was when he first started calling himself “old,” that I don’t know how to continue to exist publicly online. The internet-at-large no longer values the one thing I’m really very good at: bullshit.
That’s a glib way to put it, but putting things glibly is, like, my entire bit. I am, at heart, a writer of fiction, which is basically the domesticated version of lying. Fiction is to lying what penetration testers are to data thieves. It’s those reformed pickpockets who hire themselves out to corporate events and amuse all the rich people by taking their watches. It’s stage magic done by a guy who could just as easily make money at three-card-monte. It is, basically, the art of talking about things that didn’t actually happen, but not in a crime way.
So you can see how the era of grifters and shitlords was also a good time for me! Even though I’m not those things! Because my asset isn’t that I know a lot of stuff. My asset is how I can make myself sound when I tell you the stuff I know. I knew how to sell myself in an environment of unearned swagger.
At worst, it was just a parlor trick, but at best, it was a method of saying true things in a way that helped other people realize they’d known them all along. My best-performing myths were always the Greek and Norse ones — the stories most of my audience was already familiar with. I wasn’t sharing information, I was sharing a perspective on something we had in common.
I don’t know that there’s a home for bullshit online anymore. At least not harmless bullshit. The quality of the content on here is simply too good! People are on a whole other level, and I respect the hell out of them for it. I probably need to adapt — learn how to do actual research, or stream myself playing Slay the Spire and talking about my cat, or show feet. But like I said, all I’ve ever known how to do is be myself, as loudly and visibly as possible, and none of that stuff is me*. So I’m still here, doing this, waiting for the cultural carousel to slow down and let me on again.
* Except for the feet pics. Venmo me, I’m not proud.