Watching movies about the apocalypse, I’m always struck by the same annoying thought: It would be more realistic if their characters were doom-scrolling on Twitter! Going on Twitter has become the definitive and reflexive mechanism for processing the severity of how horrible things in the world really are — so it’s an uncanny time to be on the platform, which is rumored to capsize at any minute now. If Twitter crashes, where do we go to talk about Twitter crashing? The conundrum is almost a little bit like that posed by dying, and some of us are coping with this complex philosophical problem, naturally, by making memes.
On the upside, this question is engendering a cornucopia of revelrous and subversive content, as users ironically pay tribute to the site while lampooning its new owner Elon Musk — the kingpin of Twitter’s demise, who earlier this week issued an ultimatum to employees to do “extremely hardcore” work or leave. Sensibly, many chose to leave.
Twitter’s leadership shakeup has led to internal pandemonium: Employees are getting locked out of offices, being forced to weather mass layoffs, and now must field Musk’s erratic directives. Meanwhile, Musk’s new subscription verification service has led to an influx of parody accounts, fomenting a carnivalesque atmosphere on the platform as users have adopted the mask of the rich and powerful to hilarious effect.
The doctor of this whole predictably disastrous scheme is, of course, Musk himself. Not long after the launch of the feature, somebody named Elon Musk blessed with the authoritative blue check exhorted followers: “If you want to be like me, drink your pee.” One meme satirizes the tone of Musk’s megalomaniac corporate-speak and his spasmodic emailing habits while riffing on the parody stunt, displaying a screenshot of an employee inbox flooded with Musk’s desperate urinal fixation.
Several memes poke fun at the opening that Twitter’s collapse presents for competing social media platforms like Instagram. (Outwardly, Instagram eulogized Twitter’s coup de grâce in what read like a drunk Tweet — “tbh we love twitter” — then promptly deleted it.) Meanwhile, Tumblr is playing offense, reposting a photo of a house draped with a sheet spray-painted “Welcome Home Cheater” in all caps with a link to its own site. (That being said, this morning, Tumblr went down, likely in response to a surge in visitorship — so it might not yet be a real viable alternative.) Someone floated out Pinterest as another contender; sorry, but that’s never happening for me.
One Tweeter brilliantly invoked Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” to sing the praises of the erstwhile hedonistic playground in virtual space. Captioned “Twitter: Before / After,” on the left is Bosch’s original central panel, full of strange delights and distractions and visual overstimulation; on the right is a digitally edited version of the painting removed of all its pleasure-seeking human subjects. Sure, the new scene looks serene, but Bosch’s place in art history was hard-won by his meticulous dedication to orgiastic excess — something we are on the brink of losing as Twitter holds on for dear life.
And someone who has definitely been spending way too much time in the archives of the British Library posted a drawing of a bluebird getting shot by an incoming arrow that appears in the margins of a medieval manuscript.
In the modern-day art world, several people made jokes about the similarities between Twitter’s downfall and the everyday reality of working in museums and art nonprofits. “Leave Twitter just because it’s fallen into disrepair under terrible leadership?” Tamsin C. Russell tweeted. “But peeps I work in museums.”
Last night, at Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, critique exited the digital realm and entered the physical one, as someone projected scrolling text that attacked Musk as a “petulant pimple” and “space Karen” among other amusing insults.
Writing for Nieman Reports, Matt Karolian urges journalists to take advantage of the present moment of instability to think of better ways and platforms to communicate with their audiences.
But for now, as Musk himself once said best, “Let’s make Twitter maximum fun!” We will — while it lasts.