Best of 2023: Culture
A look at the year's culture, which mostly means TikTok.
Of all my best of children, culture somehow gets the least attention despite being the thing I am constantly wading in. Ironic, huh? I think that’s because there’s just too much happening and that would be like trying to categorize every grain of sand in the world: an impossible, thankless, ugly task that I do not have the time for. Thus, I went through all of my bookmarks and musings from the year to think about what captured the year (and my year) in culture. Here they are!
Also: if you’re looking for, say, movies and television show items? You aren’t going to get too much of that as TikTok and memes are my television. I’m not a Boomer, sorry!!!!!!!!
Best laugh: Ginger Johnson
I don’t think many people (Or Americans.) watched the last season of Drag Race UK, but it was one of the stronger seasons despite every season (Except for the incomparable season two!) feeling the same, from the casts all resembling each other to the winners being a specific flavor. What stood out about the season was contestant Ginger Johnson’s laugh. An incredible queen, to be certain, but her laugh was just a joy to encounter, the kind of noise that lights up a room. Of all the shows or movies or TikToks I watched, her laugh was the greatest.
Most flop: Paramount
Starting the year with a botched Drag Race roll out to save the failing MTV brand and ending it with a potential merger with Warner — after already being the merger of Viacom and CBS, despite multiple name changes — is just such desperate, bottom baby behavior. This is sad!
Biggest cultural bellwether: Nicki Minaj in Call of Duty & Peter Griffin in Fortnite
Both of these were incredible crossovers. Yes, Saweetie can perform in Roblox and Eminem can perform in Fortnite, playing into a long trend of real people performing “in” video games, but this year actually saw what fans want: being able to play your favorite star or character within a game, without having to add a mod. We saw that with both Nicki Minaj in Call of Duty and Peter Griffin in Fortnite, two items that created a whirlwind of memes, bringing in new fans, benefitting both IP worlds. If you’re looking for the future of media and advertising, this is it.
Most compelling (if not concerning) drama: The suburban tunnel builder of TikTok
I was not on Tunnel Girl TikTok but, hearing about a suburban woman build a tunnel into the earth, under her house, was definitely something I hated and loved and hated and loved. Is that safe? Is the house going to collapse? Is she going to jail? Can she actually do that? Who knows, but this was some of the most compelling drama to come out the year — and we had a submarine of billionaires explode! Word on the street is someone ratted her out and now she has to do some paperwork: stay tuned.
Also compelling drama: The Tabi swiper
A very bad trend: Barbenheimer
Free press for Hollywood? What is this? A church? I don’t understand why people are doing volunteer work for a dying industry. This is like when those queer people who work at Raytheon participate in Pride posts.
Most exhausting interior design: The hanging bedroom ivy
I do not want to see any more ivy on people’s damn bedroom walls. This was on everyone’s wall all year and, while it isn’t bad, it’s just so generic at this point. It’s very much a marker of 2023.
Best celebrity on TikTok: Maggie Rogers
Making jokes about having douchebag hair? Talking about having to do office work on tour? Explaining that her tour outfit is just a piece of fabric? Relatable queen.
Diva of the year: George Santos
This needs no explanation. But, just think, that all these fights for queer rights would culminate in a gay grifter making it to Congress.
Best meme account: The B52s on TikTok
Best best of list: The Top Albums of 2023 Graph
Most surprising cultural moment: “Toxic Gossip Train”
Colleen Ballinger’s being thrust into the spotlight because of her drama was one thing — but to go to your channel and create a ukulele apology song? That’s a specific, galaxy level of delulu. I love all the memes that came from it and feel like this is quite definitive of 2023.
The one good thing SNL did: Lisa From Temecula
I staunchly anti-stan SNL but I do give them this: the Lisa From Temecula sketch is a classic, arguably the best thing they did this year.
Best drug (“drug”) movie: Talk To Me
Surprising place to find good acting: Talk To Me
What a metaphor this was! I haven’t seen a horror movie this good in years, maybe not since Hereditary. I am obsessed with this movie and, while I watched very few films, this was my favorite of the year.
Best art house crossover: Laurie Anderson “O Superman”
To see Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” from 1982 get the Kate Bush treatment on TikTok, with a “hit” about strange family connections felt right. I love my art house auntie who talks about dogs and death.
Saddest internet moment: The closing of Dlisted
I talked about this again and again but Dlisted going bye bye felt like a part of the internet died. Something very 2000s, very proto-now, a culture incubator, a gossip stalwart, disappeared — and I don’t think enough people talked about this. I am still in mourning. I thank the people running the Dlisted subreddit for keeping my rude gossip fix going.
This says something big about culture: The Silly Name Economy
The fact that brands and businesses have shifted into a laughable landscape of silly words and nonsense when paired with unreal names and ridiculous new language, we’re firmly within the Silly Name Economy. I will write a larger essay on this but, when all culture is capitalized in a landscape of too much stuff, you have to turn to nonsense to stand out.
Funniest press item: Jonathan Majors breaks up fight
Unfortunately here to stay: AI Art
AI art is so bad and, as we all learned through repeated AI art trends, this is an item that will stay with us for…ever. Commercially, AI filters are going to takeover and become a new expression of entertainment but art — a la this shit — is going to continue as a very locked-in-amber gesture of the now. It’s so bad, but I will look at every piece of media like this.
Lamest saga: The long tail of Twitter
We talked about this in July but someone needs to put Twitter out of its misery. I am tired of hearing about this website that I am still addicted to! Anyway, I regret to inform you that Threads will be the new spot, once they have a trending page, infrastructure, etc. Bluesky is also clearly not the spot and, if you’re there, you’re literally in an echo chamber.
Most over saturated: Erewhon
The bubble has burst because of Balenciaga. Simping an over-priced grocery store that exists in one city captures how stupid culture has become. Look: I lived in LA and I like the store! But this is even stupider than wearing a Yale sweatshirt if you didn’t go there. Get a life, loser!
Favorite digital journalist: Matt Shearer
While the WBZ News Radio team have been killing it on TikTok, Matt Shearer and his mini-docs on gas station tacos, a local water park jingle, and the iconic police slide show that they’re crafting the future of journalism. It’s truly good stuff! And it’s award winning too! I love what they’re doing.
Favorite makeup creator: @evilllllyn Makeup based on a mid-century Puerto Rican illustrator? Oh, this creator is doing something good.
Most over-exposed word: Slay
As I tested scents in Barcelona, I overheard a British mother telling her British pre-teen daughter something. “Slay,” she said in reply, to a question that did not necessitate the word, while walking away, mumbling the word to herself repeatedly. While I “like” the word, Gen A have effectively killed it by turning the formerly queer lingo into a modern, less-specific “cool.” It’s over-used and meaningless. Talk about white washing!
Worst TikTok of the year: Whatever this corporate propaganda is.
Worst meme: “Planet of the Bass”
This was like the final breath of Millennial culture. Imagine someone singing this right now, on this day? Embarrassing. Truly aged like milk.
Some good games of the year
Favorite posts of the year
Favorite memes of the year:
Creators / Performers of the year: Non-Profit Boss & Corporate Erin
If anyone captured the zeitgeist of the hell of modern work now, it was the TikTok characters of the Non-Profit Boss, who started off the year as that loveable, hateable, trying-so-hard, undoubtedly Gen X hypocrite capturing the madness that is not-for-profit work. For many who work in non-profits, or who have any relationship to them, this person and their cheap-but-pious behavior is quite familiar — and drives a person to grind their teeth. The character is the best distillation of American liberalism that we have. Happening in tandem, another character from the for-profit world emerged: Corporate Erin, who captures the contemporary gobbledegook that is work culture and the performative caring of “work” via this fusion of leadership via HR persona. Like the Non-Profit Boss, she is infuriatingly accurate, making you want to throw your phone out the window when she appears. I had to stop watching them both because they hit too close to home. As we all lay in the jaws of “the economy,” as stakeholders rest their heels on our throats, as unions galvanize and (American) workers reach unprecedented levels of infuriated apathy, these two characters and their flawless performances seize the moment and reflect how people actually are feeling. Specific, yes, but nothing sums up the problems of our times than incompetent, uncaring bosses, the henchmen that grease the machine of billionaires. It doesn’t end with them individually either as Corporate Erin is doing interviews in-character to further reflect this madness, further magnifying how ridiculous (and familiar) these performances in our every day are. If you want to stare into the abyss — and laugh and laugh and laugh — please watch the inevitable crossover of the Non-Profit Boss and Corporate Erin as the two ended the year with a joint live, where they discussed what unions mean and serving the underserved. Modern work, the past near thirty years of office culture, have been distilled down to one minute videos. The results are sharp.
Meme of the year: The Alien Boy
I don’t think we talked enough about the Mexican aliens who were literally unboxed live and revealed to be paper mache ghouls. How absurd was that? I am obsessed. The scammers! They are doing so much this year! George Santos wishes he had the balls to do this. This was such a moment of extreme absurdity that it’s worthy of remembering, something that was both as mainstream as it gets but also so very niche. There were many fabulous iterations of the alien but its best performance, it’s best appearance, was on TikTok where it was paired with a Smiths song to capture modern inconveniences that leave you, well, dried up and all alone. Having a duvet cover removed, when it’s time for school, forgetting your headphones, being overstimulated at the grocery store: something about these all felt “right,” resonating very deeply while being very funny. They’re dumb! But aren’t we all? This whole saga was a footnote to a footnote to a footnote of 2023 but, to me, it was a special slice of stupidity. It nourished me.
TikTok of the year: “Tequila hit grandma” & “There’s a bus behind you”
I don’t have much to say about these other than they were the TikToks I thought about most this year. The first is nothing short of an incredible America’s Funniest Videos video of an older woman having a shot of tequila and almost dying. What makes this video even better are the comments, most notably “tequila zoomies” which has been stuck in my head all year. She’s also wearing a shirt that proclaims her love of wine. It’s just perfect. The second TikTok was from drag queen and creator Miss Ma’am She whose account was a wellspring of silliness this year, from cut-scene divorces to fast food runs. Her finest — her stupidest, most brain-rotted, most pointless — work is one where she follows a bus and references a Lady Gaga song. I have lost count of how many times I’ve watched it. It’s the confidence, it’s the reference, it’s the edit, it’s the hand gesture. Some art needs no explanation. This one captures so many ways of expression that distill down the best parts of 2023.
Word of the year: delulu
To the scammers. To the dreamers. To the past. To the future. We’re all delulu. When life gets rough, empty your brains out. Lobotomize me, daddy. I don’t want to think anymore!