Those of you who are of roughly the same age and demographic/interest profile as me might remember Zero Punctuation. It was a videogame review series where a British man employed compound swearwords, crude cartoon visuals and transparently affected rage for (what was at the time) hilarious comic effect. It was the voice of one crying in the desert, and not just because he lived in Australia: a whole generation of people who make videos about games online were influenced by this guy. I say this partly to trivialise, but video content about games is probably one of the most popular things in the world currently, so that's some real power. The series was very influential.
Sorry, did I say was? I meant is, because it's still going.
I think I've re-discovered its continuation every couple of years since I stopped watching it when I went to university in the very early 2010s. Zero Punctuation started in 2007, and I got on it pretty early and loved it—Youtube was only a couple of years old at this point, after all, and people's minds were pretty well blown at the idea that you could be rude in a video about games on the internet. I was 14. I'm not sure how much you've changed since you were 14, but if you're significantly older, it's probably a substantial amount. You know what hasn't changed in the last 14 years? These videos. Try watching as much as you can manage from this one (vintage 2007) and then this one (from five days ago). The presentation, both audio and visual, rhythm, patter, everything: identical. It is exactly the same.
I don't know who's watching these. Is it the nostalgia crowd? Have Zoomers started doing TikToks in his style? I have no idea, and if I'm honest I find it completely bananas and not a little disconcerting. I have a perverse admiration for such reckless disregard for the law of diminishing returns, but I find the idea of being that static, that unchanging, somewhat terrifying. I can only presume he either has an absurdly favourable or an absurdly unfavourable contract with The Escapist, otherwise I have no idea what could induce someone to carry on churning out exactly the same stuff, week in, week out.
Speaking of The Escapist, the guy who used to run it, Alexander Macris, went on to be the CEO of Milo's company—and Milo is a fascinating example of the opposite of the Zero Punctuation stagnation: someone who seems to constantly be changing. People don't really remember this now, but Milo's original thing was being a London tech scene reporter. He blogged for the Telegraph then started a website called The Kernel, which got quite a lot of press before imploding and being sold to The Daily Dot. He later resurfaced as a Gamergate figure, doing podcasts with theme tunes that are less good than other podcasts that use an synth version of the same theme tune and when that well started running dry, metamorphosed into a more general-purpose Shapiro-esque lib-triggerer, doing campus tours. Then he associated with some more overtly fascist people, said some dodgy stuff about the age of consent, got banned from almost every social media platform going. He has most recently come out as a fan of conversion therapy, which isn't a twist I saw coming, but isn't not a twist I saw coming. While he was in a constant state of flux, the one thing that was consistent about him was being contrarian. (And objectionable on social media, I suppose).
What seems most notable about him, looking back, is how constructed it all was. Back when I used Twitter, there were several people who existed in parallel social worlds, so I would see them pop up from time to time. They seemed to be in a constant state of self-reinvention. Like a wrestler who just can't quite seem to find their groove, they burn through a number of gimmicks before resting on something that feels somehow false, but is distinctive and it's been their Thing during their period of most numbers, so why not stick with it for now. There are a few I could name, but their gimmicks are sufficiently distinctive that someone could probably identify them from the outline I'd sketch. I do not have an objection to people changing. As I've indicated, I have changed a lot. It's more the fact that the things they're going for are so clearly gimmicks. "The thing about someone who uses humour as a weapon, is not the sense of humour, but the fact that they need a weapon".
And as much in the same way that doing the same thing over and over again—something notionally creative—for nearly 15 years seems dire, constantly chopping and changing oneself and the things one puts out into the world seems dire too. Real personal change is slow, gradual and often profound and long-lasting. It obviously shows differently through the internet, and through what people put on there, but I still think that's fundamentally true There are basic traits that remain the same, too; conveniently, there's video evidence to that effect of me as a ten-year-old. Speak to me now, and I've changed, but also I haven't. It's not change nothing or change everything.
I think the ideal middle-state of change for internet presentation and creation, to my mind, is something like the Neil Cicurega. He's been going for years, pretty much everything he does is good, funny, and usually different to, and building on, the last thing he did. There's an underlying consistency—his sensibilities are similar, but changed by age, circumstance, etc. And underlying it all, there's a craft to it all. The Ultimate Showdown might have aged poorly, but it's still well-put-together. I will never listen to his songs at 1999x speed to make them play Smash Mouth or whatever, but I'm glad it's there.
I mean, my real ideal state is putting loads of different stuff out, then taking it all down again and repeating that for fourteen years, but I'm an edge case.
or as I have recently become, literally twice that age ↩︎
real heads know ↩︎
This is perhaps more annoying, and causes more real-world issues, when it's not just a Twitter affect, but a posture of expertise; q.v. someone like Matt Yglesias, who's gone between being a defence guy, an economics guy, a general policy wonk. As Dan Davies once said, there's no such thing as a general purpose expert. ↩︎