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We Are Living In The Shitposter Economy

andrew sullivan

Screenshot: Real Time With Bill Maher

Let’s start with Bari Weiss. I had no idea who that piece of shit was until one of my friends made me aware of her existence. That friend owes me money. Chances are, the only reason YOU know of Weiss isn’t because she used to write for The New York Times, but because people like ME would highlight her pathetic work and go, “Hey man, can you believe the Times pays people like this?” And now I owe YOU money.

Weiss elbowed her way into the Twitter Moments cycle again this week after coming to the vociferous defense of former Smith College librarian Jodi Shaw, who resigned from her post because her supervisor wouldn’t let her rap in front of students. I’ve rapped in front of other people. It’s NEVER done me any favors, so this Shaw lady should have thanked her boss from sparing her the embarrassment.

But that would have required Shaw to be capable of shame. And, as you are well aware by now, demonstrating genuine shame is anathema to the likes of Weiss, who promptly gave Shaw access to her Substack and helped her raise over $200,000 in sympathy money. Did you know that Smith College already issued a statement saying that Shaw tried to shake the university down with legal threats? Did you know that Weiss herself led an empty effort to get Muslim and Arab professors fired when she was a student at Columbia? If you didn’t, you’re certainly not surprised. Behind all of these people are empty brains and rotten intentions.

Bari Weiss is a nobody. She can’t write. She can’t really do much of anything, outside of checking her personal Google alerts to see who’s destroying Western civilization by daring to make fun of her at any given moment. Weiss belongs to a cottage industry of what I’ll call credible shitposters: Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, Bret Stephens, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Jesse Singal, JD Vance, and more. Some of these people are talented. Taibbi was the preeminent watchdog of the finance sector not too long ago. I loved Taibbi’s work. Now he's writing increasingly reactionary stuff on Substack and making strange arguments about QAnon.

With Rush Limbaugh dead and Trump formally exiled from Twitter, there’s now a massive online power vacuum in a country where the line between being a leader and being a public shithead is indistinct. You can see any number of politicians vying to usurp Trump’s job as Chief Well Poisoner: Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, Jim Jordan, Nikki Haley, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and other assorted neo-fascists. But credible shitposters like Vance are ALSO trying to get in on the action:

Vance’s name has been bandied about for a Senate run. His memoir was a best-seller that got adapted by Netflix into failed Oscar bait. His public relevance deserves to ebb, the same way Sullivan’s and Yglesias’s deserve to. In fact, Sullivan and Yglesias, like Weiss, have already been relegated to Substack thanks to their unending need to embarrass the publications that used to employ them. They don’t get to burnish their cred by writing for esteemed pubs like The Times and The Atlantic anymore. They’re outsiders, if only in the self-aggrieved sense.

But achieving that outsider status has proved lucrative. Yglesias, Greenwald, Taibbi, Sullivan, and Weiss all write newsletters that are at the top of Substack's subscription leaderboard. They each have thousands or even tens of thousands of paying subscribers, and they are making a lot of money off their work. All the culture war scabs these people picked at while at their old jobs, and all the hate-reading that their work induced, has earned them exactly the sort of attention they needed to make the pivot to professional shitposting. That these pivots just so happened to coincide with the rise of a publishing platform that can make writing on one's own profitable is probably less of a coincidence than it is the result of canny personal branding. And of exploiting their grievances, virtually all of them imagined, without guilt or an editor getting in the way.

And I'm part of the reason why they've been able to succeed. I’ve lost too much of my life skimming over the infuriating work of these ideological has-beens and then passing the poison chalice on to others. That malignant feedback loop is how these personalities make both a living and a reputation now, and every souring writer who makes the leap from a newsroom—where they were subject to oversight and at least exposed to the thoughts and viewpoints of their colleagues—to their own one-person publishing fiefdom will end up inevitably pulling their paying (and thus dedicated) readers further into their increasingly nonsensical world.

Even if you’re amplifying someone like Weiss because you think they suck, and Weiss very much does, you’re amplifying them. You’re doing them a favor, especially now when their income is directly tied to their ability to posture as truth-telling outsiders who make their enemies angry. These fake thinkers—from Sullivan to Limbaugh to fucking Bill Maher—are parasitic organisms: latching onto whatever hosts they can find, feeding off them, and then multiplying within them. That’s how they root themselves deep inside the American culture despite having no good ideas, and certainly no remaining talent to speak of. They exist inside their own feedback loop and foster a massive creative drain that remains ongoing. Their stupidity, their bigotry, and their friends in high places are the only things keeping them relevant. They are a society of assholes, and we lose just as much as they gain from the attention that's given to them.

But that relevance need not be permanent. It’s all built on a mountain of shit. Don’t be like me. Look away from them. Let them scream into the void until they eventually join it. 

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