Florida congressman Matt Gaetz embodies the memeification of the GOP
Last week, the Twitter personality and pseudonymous author of Welcome to Hell “Bad” Billy Pratt made a statement that then prompted days of discussion on the website. “Margot Robbie was cast in Barbie explicitly because she isn’t pretty enough to alienate a female audience,” he said of the Australian’s starring role in this summer’s must-see film.
Naturally, thousands of users descended upon the tweet, either to add their contrarian agreement or, as was the intended purpose of the original post, to say that men were crazy, pornsick losers. Robbie is, obviously, one of the most beautiful women in the world.
One would be well within one’s rights to wonder why this is news, but now politicians are getting in on the act. At a Turning Point USA conference for young conservatives on Saturday, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz added his two cents: “Margot Robbie is not ‘mid’, a 10 is a 10, even with Common Core math.” It was a passable joke, but are men really “debating” Robbie’s attractiveness? More, do we really have an epidemic of men so fiercely set on enforcing beauty standards that they don’t think she would make some imaginary cut? Such is the potency of these issues, Gaetz didn’t even need to have seen the original tweet: it ended up in the pages of Newsweek.
For Republicans, and Americans on the Right more broadly, seizing on these viral moments has become standard practice. On Twitter, it used to be a running joke that Tucker Carlson’s writers scoured the social network for content after featuring several high-profile Internet personalities on his show, including Raw Egg Nationalist and Curtis Yarvin (formerly best known by his nom de plume, “Mencius Moldbug”). And recently, to mark the end of Pride Month, the Ron DeSantis campaign released a cringe-inducing and now-deleted ad that evoked popular Twitter memes.
Between the success of figures like Bronze Age Pervert and the media frenzy around Trump’s online following in 2016, it’s not a completely misguided strategy. The real tastemakers, so the wisdom goes, are on Twitter, and that applies for both the Left and the Right. Digital culture is frequently a good barometer for what people really think, and online trends capture the zeitgeist before more mainstream figures even know it’s arrived. Yet the media amplification of petty online debates isn’t trend forecasting: this, after all, was just a semi-serious Twitter spat about a hot woman.
What does the Margot Robbie incident tell us about the world? It tells us that most journalism is less precise than Internet culture blogging. The “debate”, if we can call it that, is only news insofar as it tells us the state of the media landscape — not the state of men. Matt Gaetz, sensing an easy point-score, leapt on this.
Arguably more interesting is that online commentators are coming out of the woodwork and trying to recapture the success of the original controversy, in search of free PR. Say something outlandish, and dozens of editorial writers will descend upon you like vultures to give you your obligatory 15 minutes of fame. This weekend, a woman claimed that beefcake actor Henry Cavill is “mid” and, as night follows day, the cartoon-avatared commentariat took the bait.
Online fame used to require personal humiliation; now all you need to do is start an argument. Arriving on the heels of Twitter’s new revenue-sharing programme, where impressions equal money, this raises salient questions about the economy of opinion-sharing. When the hottest takes lead to a higher profile and a boost in income, it shouldn’t be surprising that both sides of the political aisle will eventually want to cash in.