I do kind of want to do some stuff I was too much of a chicken to do before
Talking internet and media with Ashley Feinberg
Please throw a few bucks a month into the pot buddy. Thank you for reading either way.
“I’m fascinated by the ways politicians use social media,” Ashley Feinberg explained in the debut installment of her newsletter Trashberg. “Not in a ‘wow, look at how the information age has democratized our access to lawmakers’ sort of way, but in a ‘wow, this senator keeps accidentally faving amateur drawings of Mario eating Bowser’s ass’ sort of way.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Ashley’s “whole deal” that’s a fairly succinct explanation. You may also know her from some of her hard-hitting work over the years including uncovering James Comey’s and Mitt Romney’s secret Twitter accounts or for classic pieces like Is Donald Trump’s Hair a $60,000 Weave? and Was Tony The Tiger Driven Off Twitter By Unbelievably Horny Furries? and I Found Eric Trump’s YouTube Playlist, and Now I’m Depressed.
She also had the dubious distinction of appearing with me and David Roth at my book reading and discussion at The Strand in New York last year which I am pretty sure was the last fun thing I ever did. You can watch it here if you never saw it.
I spoke to Feinberg about what people can expect from her newsletter — she’s also joined up with me and the rest of the gang over in the Discontents collective — and some of the bigger stories in the media this week including Matt Gaetz and Jeff Bezos and the ongoing Substack drama. Nothing much else going on here. Nothing profound. Just two weird idiots talking about the internet. Stick around for more of my usual Hell World shit below. Enjoy! (?)
What exactly is your newsletter’s deal gonna be? I think people know the type of stuff you’re most famous for. Is it gonna be a lot of investigating creepy politicians’ Instagrams?
The only consistent way I can describe what I do is shit that I either think is very funny or that makes me mad. That’s gonna be the majority of it. One thing I do like about doing stuff where people will have to pay to see it is that you’re a lot less likely to have someone who exclusively wants to fuck you over reading because they’ll have to pay to read it once the paywall goes up. So I do kind of want to do some stuff I was too much of a chicken to do before.
How did the Newt and Callista Gingrich thing get lodged in your brain?
I’ve been a big, big fan of her for a long time. There’s so much shit she does where it’s aggressively and immediately obvious that it’s insane, but I started noticing the patterns of the photos of her and Newt in golf carts or at the fucking Vatican or wherever, and they were always the same. Like if you cut them out on Photoshop they would be identical copies of themselves. I couldn’t understand who this was for. It was like she was doing her own version of the “take a picture of yourself every day for ten years thing” or whatever, but without describing it or actually doing it. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for years, so this was an opportunity to finally get it out of my brain.
When you do these pieces about things you’re obsessed with does it turn the pressure valve in your brain off a little bit? Or does it further embed them in there?
I think it turns it off partially. I have this big list of shit that I want to do that I look at constantly. When there’s something I want to do on there it’s like constantly taunting me. But I have this thing where once I do a post that enough people read I immediately start hating it and never want to talk about again. I think at the end of the week I’ll never want to think again about this particular Cally Gingrich phenomenon.
You had some real great timing on joining Substack.
Yeah… They reached out to me and I think the day after I said yes was when Glenn Greenwald first announced he was doing it. Or someone fucking awful. I was like, oh great, this is gonna be a whole fucking thing.
I know people are sick of the Substack discourse, but this whole thing does weigh on me, that its reputation isn’t great right now.
Yeah and also the more Michael Tracey and all these idiots keep harping on it the worse it feels every time you tweet out a Substack link. It feels impossible not to think about constantly.
I guess where I’ve landed with it for now is: Let’s say I moved to another newsletter platform. Who’s to say that like the next day Don Jr. or whoever won’t announce they’re using that one too? Are we gonna keep running from each one to the next? I don’t have a good solution.
It’s impossible to work somewhere that hasn’t produced very explicitly harmful shit. I do think that’s true, but that argument benefits me because it lets me absolve some guilt from my conscience. I don’t know how much of that is me trying to assuage the feeling that I’m doing something wrong. But I do think that I really think that.
Right. Like most writers would jump at the chance to write something for... the New York Times. It’s not like they don’t suck and aren’t evil in their own ways.
Aside from Defector basically there’s no clean outlet.
It is kind of funny that this guy VC guy Marc Andreessen who’s pumping all the money into Substack has had me and you and most of us blocked on Twitter forever.
He’s such a little bitch. He blocked me over some stupid thing like tweeting a picture of an egg at him.
I don’t even know why he blocked me. Are you heartened by Defector and Discourse Blog and those sort of models seeming to work? You’ve been moving around a lot of different sites for the past few years. What’s your big picture on the state of digital media, and how has that impacted you moving around?
Digital media sucks. Part of the reason I was moving around was that working at Gawker for my first real job ruined all other jobs for me in an impossible to overcome way. My first job was working with twelve people I genuinely liked who were all smart and funny. Which isn’t to say there weren’t smart and funny people at some of the other places I was at, but it wasn’t the same cohesive group. Where you can say things that don’t actually make sense and people get what you mean and can build on them and make them better. Everywhere else there’s a lot more reticence to try new shit or like work each other up to do dumb things.
People keep making jokes about Substack being for people who don’t want editors. I appreciate a good editor who improves your copy and the story and all that obviously. But I don’t know if people understand how much of an editor’s job is to just say no to weird and cool ideas. That always frustrated me when I was writing for more traditional places. Some idea you’re obsessed with and then they have to go “eh I don’t know if anyone is going to read this or if it will match up with our brand…” Having no editor is liberating in that specific way.
Pretty much every outlet I went to I only went when I was sure I would have an editor I had a rapport with and I liked. I was with Tom Scocca at Slate and Tommy Craggs at the Huffington Post and some old Gizmodo editors at Wired. But even so that editor is trying to work your idea past like ten other less cool editors. So whenever I finally got to do things I wanted it was either watered down or you had to fight so hard for this extremely stupid joke that should have been nothing that the thought of it is just depressing.
Exactly. I’m sick of having jokes taken out or put in. It doesn’t mean all my jokes are good but I want to live and die on the things I want to do rather than try to anticipate what a defined audience will receive well and work backwards from there.
Do you remember that Medium post where Jeff Bezos described all the nudes of his he thought might get leaked? It was him describing what was in these photos. They were so specific. I asked the art person wherever I was at the time to draw the nudes from his descriptions. They were incredible. My editor went through five layers of editors fighting for approval. It was the most exhausting fight over the stupidest thing. We finally got approval to do it and then it got killed. It was so disheartening. Why even bother trying to do some shit?
That’s what I like about your work. That’s not an important story. It’s not capital J Journalism. But it’s fun and stupid and filled with whimsy. My whole deal in particular is talking about how miserable everything is all the time. But that sort of thing is just a brief respite from the constant barrage of shittiness.
Also Jeff Bezos’ penis is just a very funny thing to think about on its own. It’s literally the richest penis in the world.
Yes! God the descriptions were so funny. I can’t believe he did that. One of the images we had had his penis sticking out of his jeans, so we covered it up with an Amazon Echo. It was great and thematically appropriate but they still didn’t go for it.
You must be enjoying the Matt Gaetz story.
Matt Fuller tweeted about this, but there was a whole thing where he found this letter that one of Matt Gaetz’ friends had written to him being like “Buddy, you need to tell your young girlfriend to stop posting photos on her Instagram or people are going to find this out.” So I’ve just been waiting for something like this.
Wasn’t there someone who went through his Venmo friends?
I was looking at it yesterday and I think what they were talking about is his friends on there are a lot of young women for a guy who doesn’t have daughters to be familiar with. But the only real interesting payment was from Nestor in 2019 and it just said “This Nestor.” I wasn’t sure what to think of that. I don’t know what the fuck is going on there.
I love how he just instantly implicated his dad with the wire tweet.
I don’t know why I thought he was at least moderately smarter than this. Maybe because he supported weed legalization. I thought he would at least know to have lawyers answer these questions for him. Jesus.
How about the Amazon posting meltdown? There was a report that Bezos stepped in and said we need to start hitting back harder or whatever. It struck me as very Trumpian. These powerful guys always think you have to “fight back” in this shitty way.
Once you reach a certain point of wealth and power part of your reward is not giving a shit what anyone is tweeting at you. I can’t understand fucking caring at that point.
He literally could do anything in the world that he wants and he seems to be worried about this.
He could go fucking buy Twitter. Why is he even bothering with this?
I guess he thinks if this union drive goes through it’s gonna be a domino effect and next thing you know he’s only gonna have 100 billion instead of 200. How do you live on that?
If we’re being honest, do you kind of miss Trump on Twitter?
I do for things like that Matt Gaetz shit. When he got kicked off, for someone like me who had notifications for his tweets sent to my phone, because I have an unhealthy attachment to all this shit, it was a very tangible relief I felt. But with the Gaetz shit there was a 50% chance Trump might’ve tweeted a picture of himself with a fifteen year old of his own, so times like that I do miss his presence.
I feel like I don’t hear from Don Jr. anymore either.
He’s been tweeting links to his Rumble videos. I wasn’t familiar with that site until he started. He doesn’t seem to be doing well. He’s been on this hyperdrive culture war shit that’s like ten degrees off from what the actual conservative base is mad about. It’s like he’s trying too hard now. Not that he wasn’t before, but there’s some kind of extra tinge of … franticness with him trying to maintain some sort of relevancy. I’m sure whatever kind of drugs he’s on isn’t helping. I’m surprised he hasn’t had a heart attack yet just based on how red his face is in his videos.
I’d be curious if he actually is on drugs. I don’t want to allege anything here of course, but he’s like my age. You can’t keep doing drugs like that in your forties. It’s not good!
The other big story that reminded me of you was the fucking boat. But you didn’t seem to be into it?
It took me a really long time, but the boat just wasn’t doing it for me until I saw this one video of a bunch of guys very frantically pointing at it in a way that really just sold the whole ordeal for me. Then a couple hours later it was gone and I felt this emptiness I hadn’t realized the boat had been filing. I think it was a journey of me learning about myself more than anything.
That’s what we’re all here for! People seem to be talking about Melania a lot today. I’m not sure why yet.
Another thing I decided I think I can do now that less people who want to fuck with me will be reading my shit is: for some reason I have access to Melania’s sister’s Twitter on one of my accounts. Her tweets are fucking insane. It’s the most bizarre shit. It wasn’t Q but there was like some Q-adjacent thing about alien spirituality she’s into. There’s a lot of her posting images of text messages where she sends Melania old designs she drew and asks her if she remembers them and Melania says “yes I do” and that’s it. It’s a bizarre collection of shit I’m excited to share.
I didn’t even know she had a sister! I guess this is the type of shit we can look forward to on Trashberg.
Assuming I don’t either get shut down before then or taken out, yes.
Speaking of our man David Roth he and the good folks at the aforementioned Defector were kind enough to run an excerpt of my book on the site this week which you can find here. Please give them money we need independent worker-owned media outlets to thrive. It’s also like Deadspin before it literally the only website I type the url in for and just go look at every day.
It’s the one about my tense confrontation this summer with my new MAGA neighbor which a bunch of you have read but many probably missed and goes a little something like this.
I am not afraid of fighting a guy. I don’t want to especially when I’m thinking clearly but I’ll do it if I have to. It’s likely in very many of those hypothetical scenarios I would get my ass kicked but that is just how it is. I am on the other hand definitely not interested in being shot to death or having my dick hacked off with a machete. Men spend a lot of time envisioning themselves as John Wick dispatching assailants easily but I’m not stupid enough to think there’s anything I could do in a situation like that besides die and then as I’m dying think ah I fucked up on this one.
The absurdity of this all happening as tens of thousands of people marched and clashed in the streets was palpable for me. I had felt badly some days not always being out there and being more or less safely tucked away in the suburbs now. I felt badly about not getting my head stomped in by the cops and for not placing my body in the grinder often enough. Maybe this was my way of doing penance for that by bringing conflict to my neighborhood? But after a protest or riot you can at least if you aren’t arrested usually go home and sleep soundly in your own bed. Don’t shit where you eat I guess.
Throughout it all I still felt badly about being mean to this fucking guy though. What is that? Is that empathy? Perhaps there’s some PTSD type of situation going on over there and if so we did that to that guy. Not us specifically but all of us. We train these dudes to go kill for nothing and then when they come back we say fuck you good luck out there.
I’m also really pleasantly surprised that the majority of the commenters seem to have liked it which was not necessarily a given. This is in particular is maybe one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever gotten:
“When I read your words it feels like finding old journal entries from the guy in ‘The Road’ but in a world before the nukes went off. Beautiful and haunting.”
There’s been an awful lot to choose from but this bit of testimony from the Derek Chauvin trial going on this week is just the most fucked up thing from stem to stern. Just every aspect of it man.
It reminded me of this piece I wrote for Mel a few years ago (RIP). Goofy portmanteau attempt aside it was more about how men in general try to make ourselves appear less threatening to women on the street which is a different thing of course than Black men specifically trying to appear less threatening to police but this part came back to my memory anyway.
Race is another complicating factor, says Eric, a 36-year-old African American from Philly. There’s often a sense of tension he can’t shake whenever he finds himself alone with a woman — on an elevator and so on.
“Maybe I could attribute this to their behavior when they see me coming — purse-clutching, crossing the street, avoiding eye contact — but also maybe it’s just me? In a sense, like a lot of men I know, I don’t want to be perceived as threatening. I’m just a regular guy, you know? But how does that woman on the street know this? Do I whip out my pics of my wife and kids or something silly like that? These are the ridiculous thoughts that go through my head.”
Instead, he takes inspiration from Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, and whistles a pop song, particularly when around white women. Short of that, he stares at his phone intently, even if there’s nothing interesting to look at. “I’m trying to give off a ‘I’m way-too-focused on these memes to be a rapist,’” Eric says. “Ironically, I’d wager that many times these women I cross paths with probably barely notice me at all while I’m busy doing this nonthreatening Kabuki dance for them.”
Evergreen Review has published an extraordinary piece titled “Guard Duty” this week by Mohamedou Ould Slahi a man who was kidnapped from Mauritania in 2001 and imprisoned by us for fifteen years in Guantánamo Bay before finally being released without having been charged with any crime. His memoir Guantánamo Diary was written while he was imprisoned and became an international bestseller. Here’s a bit of the essay reprinted with permission.
I’d been taking Klonopin since late 2003, when I was broken to the point I started hearing voices. In the midst of the night sessions I would hear my family chatting, and clear, crisp Mauritanian music like the radio used to play when we gathered for breakfast and dinner: Dimi Nizar Qabbani poems, Feyrouz singing Andalusian and little al-Akhtal verses, Seddoum singing the devastating love poems of al-Buraii. The doctor started me on just a half a milligram of Klonopin, which was more than enough for me: it knocked me into a deep sleep after just a few minutes, and put a stop to my worries and anxieties and brought beautiful sleep for weeks. But as time went by it took longer to fall asleep and I needed more and more. The doctor obliged, doubling the dose, and I rode that life raft for almost two years. Then one day the camp’s supply ran out and the Navy doctor cut me off cold turkey, announcing I’d have to wait until a new delivery from the mainland arrived.
It was like having a partner who compulsively takes care of you and loves you and then, when you break up, that same partner suddenly wants to kill you. I was curled up in my cell, my head was exploding, I couldn’t see anyone or anything around me. Everything was hazy. I was weak, volatile, angry, and my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. I lay that way, not knowing day from night and crying half of the time, for at least two days. Salvation came with the resupply, but after that horrible episode I decided to give up that necessary evil, weaning myself from the daily medications and only taking them to get over a really horrible day, and never more than I needed to reach that end. This wouldn’t be easy, since Klonopin had to be taken under medical supervision, and when the doctors and nurses weren’t around the guards served as their witnesses and enforcers. But I got some unlikely help from Private Brent. Unlike me, Brent loved controlled substances and had no plans to quit using them any time soon. He couldn’t get a prescription on his own, but as my Jordanian interrogators used to tell me, “When Allah closes a window, he opens a door.” The door, in this case, was me.
Brent was a tall, skinny white kid in his early twenties. When we first met, I mistakenly typecast him as a Southerner, until he opened his mouth. He was friendly and distracted, and if he wasn’t outside the shack chain-smoking he mostly sat there smiling through his shift playing his PlayStation or watching episodes of Family Guy, looking as carefree as he must have looked in his living room as a teenager. Or maybe more so. His father was in the Army, too, and Brent had followed in his footsteps, though with a small, important difference. According to what Sergeant N told me, his father was a serious, dedicated soldier who rose to the rank of First Sergeant, in contrast to Brent, who Sgt. N called The Goof. Brent’s dedication, such as it was, took strange forms. The day the Army issued a new camouflage uniform, for instance, he ordered one online and started wearing it on his own—an unclear statement at best in an organization that doesn’t encourage diversity. Brent came up with the ingenious plan to con the medical staff. He and I conspired to pretend that I, ever the good detainee, gratefully accepted and took my medication, when in fact I would give half of the dose to my friend. Brent would collect the pills until he had enough to get him baked or high or whatever the appropriate word was, and then take them all at once.
“Friend” was Brent’s word. In return for my cooperation, Brent said he would bring me movies and food, but most of all I would get to be his friend. This was fine with me, since I was less interested in what I’d gain than in losing that darn Klonopin, and our arrangement gave me a way to quit gradually and avoid another episode of that terrible withdrawal.
This arrangement stood for some time, but Brent started wanting more because he said the prescriptions were too small and it took him too long to get the dose he needed. I was frustrated because I wasn’t ready to give up the medication completely, and I was afraid the doctors would bust us and be angry with me and I really didn’t want to anger my doctors. I thought my friend Brent was getting greedy and I refused to concede the whole dose.
Brent was not happy about this; he agreed out of necessity rather than conviction. I could see he was mad, but there wasn’t much he could do to retaliate without revealing our little secret. Instead, he said he would bring me some seeds and I should let him plant them in the garden the interrogators were letting me grow. At the time I was raising tomatoes, mint, watermelons, a few vegetables, and an avocado tree. He brought a small bottle filled with little black grains he claimed were poppy seeds, and we planted them together. I was happy to do it, because it gave him some hope and gave me some time to quit the Klonopin at my own pace. He came every day to check whether the seeds had sprouted, but they never did. I could see the hope being washed from his face little by little with every day that passed, but in all the time he was with me it never died completely.
Our schemes were never discovered, but the drug curse ultimately cost poor Brent his rank and his job. I learned from Sgt. N much later that he had been dishonorably discharged for using, a sad end, as Sgt. N described it, that also dishonored Brent’s father. I didn’t quite share this view. I felt bad that Brent has lost his job, but it made me happy that he was now free to do what he wanted to do. In my country, too, some fathers pressure their sons to follow in their footsteps, hoping to recycle themselves in an even better version. But Brent clearly wasn’t made for the Army. He was always pensive and distracted and smiling absentmindedly, and never even tried to pretend he had authority over me.
Read the rest here.
Welcome to April!
Ahaha I love this shit man I love that Mohammed Bin Salman and his buddies can afford to own so much property in Boston (and other cities) that sits empty thereby forcing the rest of us who would actually want to live there to move to whatever fucking weird nowhere town it is I live in now.
Please take some time to read this discussion below on what it’s like to be harassed as a woman online for your work.
There’s tons of great shit in this Brooklyn Vegan list of 20 punk, emo, hardcore, etc albums not to miss from winter 2021 but the one that’s jumped out to me is this from Rhode Island band Dreamwell. Fuck yes buddy.
on the one hand i hate how differentiated the media landscape is that I feel like I sign up for a newsletter every other week. on the other hand I feel like I'm getting better, more incisive writing and reading people's whose opinions I respect rather than just whatever the lamestream serves up. I love that I read Hell World on Defector and Feinberg in Hell World. It's like cutting the cable cord which felt so great five years ago but now I have 12 different streaming logins. I don't know what the solution to that is but anyways, going to go subscribe to Trashberg now obviously.
"I’m also really pleasantly surprised that the majority of the commenters seem to have liked it which was not necessarily a given." Defector is one of the only sites I read where the comments are genuinely good and worth reading. It turns out charging people $99 for the privilege of being able to make comments, and having a TOS which states commenting privileges can be revoked if you're an asshole, helps create a non-toxic discourse!