The danger tourist who went to Afghanistan has a spectral existence online
On August 13, 2021, a user on 4chan’s /trv/ (travel) board posted that he was in Afghanistan, in the midst of the Taliban resurgence. He claimed to be a British university student named Miles Routledge who had tricked his bank into putting the title ‘Lord’ on all of his cards, in the belief that it would give him negotiating power. For the next three days, he shared daily updates about his time in Afghanistan.
Eventually, he was evacuated to Dubai, becoming the subject of several viral social media posts and a handful of news stories. In the year that followed, he achieved minor celebrity with his YouTube channel and on Twitter. He published a memoir with Antelope Hill, an independent far-Right publisher, and visited Afghanistan again, only to be captured by the Taliban at the end of March.
Then his social media posts stopped, and many of his followers assumed the worst. But a few days ago, Routledge reemerged, or at least his Twitter account did. Apparently using old photos, the thread began, “This is a friend of Lord Miles to give an update.” The tone was jarring, claiming that the Briton was “treated very well” and “goes on picnics and has tea with the Taliban cabinet”. This, not to mention that the thread didn’t come from Routledge himself, only pointed to his death abroad. There is currently no confirmation of his whereabouts.
Routledge isn’t exactly a sympathetic figure to the press. He’s a “shitposter” and the danger tourism trend has long gone out of fashion, while, as his relationship with Antelope Hill suggests, he is at least sympathetic to the far-Right. He has all the ingredients to be a media antagonist — the reckless 20-something abroad — but the press doesn’t care about him nearly as much as social networks do.
What’s most interesting about Routledge, though, isn’t whether he’s alive in Taliban custody, or that he feels like a relic from Vice-era shock reporting: it’s that he doesn’t seem like a person at all. Where the 24/7 news cycle made current events entertainment, and celebrities out of ordinary people, the Internet has taken this process a step further and turned people into text.
Poring over the conversation about Routledge, which itself is both bizarrely buzzy and largely self-contained to the “Extremely Online”, there is no pathos: he has become an infinitely replicating image, a meme. Very rarely do comments about him come across as if they’re discussing an individual who may be variously admired or reproached for his audacity, nor is there very much concern about his wellbeing. He’s a meme, and more certain confirmation of his death will only amplify this. Given his previous social media presence, it’s possible that this perception of him was by design.
From one perspective, this memeification is dehumanising; and even if it’s not necessarily a new phenomenon, it’s disturbing. A pessimist might say that Routledge’s amazing, or bizarre, or simply foolish behaviour has reduced him to Internet detritus.
From another perspective, Miles’s adventures in cyberspace, even more than his adventures abroad, have helped him achieve what so many great men have desired before him. That is, immortality — only this time as a meme.