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The Trend Report™: Zillow Fantasies
What homeownership dreaming on a real estate app says about the state of the American dream.
Welcome to The Trend Report™ where you get a capturing of what happened this week.
Get ready to go all over the place, from Zillow lusting to video messages from celebrities, from the word of the year to my final thoughts on those stupid monoliths, from a meme dedicated to people who still believe in Santa to the trendiest cookies of the year. We’ve got all that and much more.
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Most nights – and a good part of some days – Bobby is on Zillow. He’ll text me links to interesting places or pop onto a group chat to share a large property that a group of friends can collectively imagine moving into. At Thanksgiving, from a table’s length distance, he and my aunt talked into the night about all the places they like looking at on Zillow. They talked about all the homes they’d buy and redesign, all the plans they have for various favorited spots, all the places that they own and live in in their minds, remodeling and flipping dream houses in their dreams.
This is a very 2020 pastime. An indulgent fantasy, a way to imagine an alternate reality for us where we have a house (or houses) and can live a Sims style life in the real world. This reality requires money and time that we don’t have. After all, we are Millennials who live in America’s most populated county.
Naturally, Bobby is participating in a trend, as New York Times reporter and general embodiment of digital culture Taylor Lorenz has noted many times in the past month. “Zillow surfing has become a primary form of escapism for those who want to flee not just their homes but the reality of 2020,” she wrote in mid-November. Previously, she did what Bobby and my aunt did at Thanksgiving with Curbed: shared her Zillow saves. (Naturally, this Curbed conversation is a recurring feature, speaking to the ubiquity of this practice.)
It’s easy to think this is a pandemmitivity but, as OneZero noted in January, sites like Zillow are “where fantasies about more stable lives are more possible than actually achieving them" due to the economic realities of America. As the story says, true homeownership for American young persons is a “Zillow fantasy.” Buzzfeed backhandedly wrote about this in 2018, referring to the act of perusing ugly expensive houses as an act of ambient class warfare.
There’s more at play to Zillow culture though, whether actually from Zillow or a competitor like Redfin: the website has become a place to capture the complete fucking oddity of American design and maximalist culture. From Christmas nightmares to Kansas scuba mansions to space beach suburban homes, these breakout home headaches are everywhere. Some of these posts go super viral too, like the Missouri home that was a jail and the gamified Kentucky home tour where you had to find the bathroom.
Yes, Zillow fantasies have to do with economic inequalities in this country, of the rich having far too much while the not-rich can only window shop on the apps they created. Yet, the desire to remake a home – or laugh at someone else’s unwanted home – represents America’s lack of history and our gluttonous national need to want. A home is a good thing, yes, but in the land of dormant McMansions and a rash of televised home buying fantasies, we’re in a never ending cycle of gimme, of need, of wanting. We’re starved while so, so full.
To be American, to be a homeowner, is to be in a fantasy relationship with permanence. You don’t own anything here. Easy come, easy go – just like a Zillow post.
Intersections along the avenues of science, technology, and nature.
"Scented candles: An unexpected victim of the COVID-19 pandemic"
This is my favorite story of the week: what started as a joke – ”People are leaving reviews on scented candles that they’re unscented!” – turned out to be factual. Thanks to some crunching numbers of review trends, there has been a rise in people complaining that scented candles “are unscented.” What could this mean? The people leaving reviews have Covid.
Iconic Dish at Arecibo Observatory Has Collapsed
I’ve been monitoring this situation for weeks and it’s just been bumming me the fuck out. The iconic Arecibo satellite in Puerto Rico finally deteriorated to death after some cables snapped, creating a state of too far gone disrepair. This is a big blow to the scientific community as the satellite was instrumental in helping identifying and seeing more of space in recent history. Pour one out and get further depressed by drone footage of the collapse.
"I’m 33 Years Old. I Got COVID-19 Eight Months Ago. I’m Still Sick."
1 in 1,000 people have died of coronavirus-linked causes
I am biting my tongue with Covis stories this week. These are the exceptions, which I am filing away to use when people ask why I’m so conservative and so concerned about Covid safety.
the city-proof all-electric ambulance bike taking over paris
This is something! A very cool traffic avoiding first aid vehicle that runs on two wheels. The future!
If Dogs Can Have AR Glasses That Reinforce Good Behavior, Why Can’t I?
Apparently augmented reality is being used to train military dogs which, uhhh, sure. But why hasn’t the technology crossed over to consumer markets? Who knows! But this author makes the case for why we’d all enjoy AR in our lives.
The Border Wall Has Been 'Absolutely Devastating' for People and Wildlife
God, fuck Donald Trump.
Every Major Bank Has Now Ruled Out Funding Arctic Drilling
This is some good news!!
Wildfire Smoke Is Poisoning California’s Kids. Some Pay a Higher Price.
California today, the United States tomorrow. We really gotta get our shit together and fix the environment.
Warner Bros. Will Send Entire 2021 Slate to HBO Max and Theaters
This is major. Not science news, no, but backhandedly tech related and I didn’t know where else to put it. A win for me, who never wants to go to a movie theater ever again.
Did John McCracken Make That Monolith in Utah?
That Mysterious Monolith in the Utah Desert? It’s Gone, Officials Say
Mystery monolith vanishes in Romania - alien action or local prank?
How a Mysterious Monolith Vanished Overnight (It Wasn’t Aliens)
Mystery Obelisk Appears on Pine Mountain
The short and vague legacy of the Utah monolith
Racists Destroy Monolith, Proclaim Christ Superior to Aliens
Speaking of making it stop: the monolith news cycle is dead to me. This is the Balloon Boy of 2020, the shark jumping non-mystery of the year. I love a good aliens are real story – a la – but this is no longer an alien story. This is a prank I no longer want to hear about. It’s stupid and needs to go in the toilet. I am tired.
There’s a game I like playing with friends. It has no name but you’re required to visit Cameo, the service that offers personalized videos from celebrities. The game entails naming a random celebrity (Debbie Gibson! Tyra Banks! Tyler Oakley!) and seeing if they’re sad enough to be on Cameo (Yes! No! Yes!), followed by a Price Is Right style round of over/under to see who can get the closest to the celebrity’s rate ($249!! $65!!!!!). The results are always silly and surprising and inevitably inspire someone to order a Cameo video.
This D-list celebrity shaming was my introduction to this tech service, an idea that seemed so dumb in 2019 but now is something that I genuinely endorse and use with bimonthly regularity. Why? Because a personalized celebrity message wows anyone, even me. I sent my father a note from comedian Sinbad for his birthday. Bobby got a video from drag queen Juno Birch for his. As a joke, I once got a old boss a video from Rachel Dolezal saying “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself.” The things you can do with a celebrity via Cameo is wild.
In a pandemic world, where celebrities aren’t getting as much work or attention and meaningful gifts are harder to give, Cameo has been a multi-tiered godsend – and is hashtag thriving. As of July, the company produced 1.2 million celebrity video greetings with 500,000 of them produced in during quarantine. Stories about the website went from “lol celebrities are weird” and “lol celebrities are sad” in pre-pandemic times to “Is Cameo the future of celebrity?” and “Cameo can bring your family together.” and “Cameo will redefine advertising.” and “Cameo made Carole Baskin a household name.” This website has exploded into something much more than star studded textable jokes.
But there’s an interesting conundrum baked into the product: the service truly places you in blurred direct line with a celebrity, making for the possibility of very real, very unfiltered, very problematic things to be said as PR persons generally keep a closed eye to these interactions. A celebrity’s Cameo makes a bad Tweet from a celebrity look like something a toddler saying a bad word when, say, a notable Republican like Chris Christie is duped by a video request to vocally support a Democratic candidate. Some celebrities have answered calls to inspire people to “beat coronavirus.” At best, a fledgling startup can dupe a celebrity like Lindsay Lohan to be their spokesperson for almost nothing. At worst, racists and hate groups can enlist Brett Farve and Soulja Boy to spread their message. This is the real uncanny valley of Cameo: celebrities are doing what they are told, without stopping to think about the words that they’re saying. Why? Because that’s all they do for a living: say without thinking.
I love Cameo. It makes life feel even more disassociated and strange by enabling the feeling that I live in the television, video conferencing with friends and family and occasionally getting a one-sided chat with a celebrity-person who truly lives in the TV. Cameo offers one way to feel seen, to validate life inside and outside of this fucked up year. It’s a way to fully embrace the oddity of now, to pretend that you too are a celebrity, that you exist in videos, that people want you to wish them well via a facsimile of yourself.
The question is: how much will you charge for a video?
A temperature check of civics – with as little politics as possible.
Word of the Year: Pandemic
Surprise! To no one.
"there’s more ppl in congress born before 1945 than born after 1981"
I have said this so many times but we gotta get more elected officials who actually are living in 2020 instead of in 1970 or 1980 or 1990.
Miles Taylor has gone public and is hiding out.
"This is what cold, hard fury sounds like."
Two stories about how Trump’s enabling violence is actually leading to violence. Again: who is surprised here? What a nightmare country we live in.
Can Urban Planner Nithya Raman Fix Los Angeles?
Here’s a local story gone national that’s actually good news: Raman recently won a City Council seat in town and actually has experience and plans to solve problems like homelessness. Bless her – and may she have the best of luck making change. (And take Eric Garcetti’s job.)
The Rich Kids Who Want to Tear Down Capitalism
This story is great but is a far echo from Washington Post’s terrific deep dive on Resource Generation from March, a group of rich kids giving away their inheritances for good causes and economic equality. More efforts like this, please!
Care packages replace canapés as Coronavirus cancels holiday parties
I told you this was going to happen last week!!! Unless you’re a GOP official, that is.
"That's what it costs to pay everyone a decent wage along the way."
People are criticizing AOC’s $60 “tax the rich” sweatshirt – but that’s how much it costs to make something at a fair wage. This is a very smart breakdown of that.
Remote school is leaving children sad and angry
As special-needs children fall behind, parents are desperate
I would be lying if I said these stories didn’t make me cry.
Melania’s Christmases, Ranked from Most to Least Haunted
But this made me laugh! Gotta love a murder Christmas.
Conspiracy theories are hashtag thriving right now. And, while we should certainly scold and try to deprogram people who believe shit like QAnon, kind conspiracies are all around us. For example: The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. Bigfoot. Jesus Christ.
And the biggest kind conspiracy of them all? Santa Claus.
At the intersection of QAnon parodies and deep fried memes enters a very 2020 variety of meme that has been making me lose my shit: Santa deniers. The premise of these jokes are that people who deny Santa (a la, anyone who is not a child) are actually conspiracy theorist akin to flat earthers, people who look truth in the face and go “Naw.”
This meme has taken various forms but, in my very casual research, seems to be tied to Anthony Fauci saying Santa is immune to Covid, to which people replied that scientists have confirmed Santa’s existence and that his blood must be sacred. This hysterical but, in a year where aliens were proven to be real, maybe Santa is real too.
Think about it: how many mental gymnastics does one have to go through to deny Santa’s existence, that something else eats the cookies on Christmas eve, that someone doesn’t fly through the sky in December giving out gifts? There are many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many memes that speak to the culture of Santa denying, which is a delightful evolution of the recent “brain empty” meme and the classic “dumb bitch” school of thought. We can expect more Santa denier memes.
What’s the worse that could happen here? Not much…unless people actually evolve this fucking stupid joke into a real ideology. Given how stupid Americans have proven themselves to be, never say never.
Updates from the creative class.
Yves Tumor - Kerosene! (Official Video) [XXX Uncensored Version]
An excellent fucking insane NSFW music video for Yves Tumor’s latest single, directed by genius Cody Critcheloe (aka SSION). It’s as if they made a queer version of David Cronenberg’s Crash.
U.S. Girls - Santa Stay Home (Explicit Version) (Official Video)
Everyone’s favorite alt-pop American expatriate has a Christmas song that is perfectly seasonal – and holds Santa accountable for being an environmental terrorist.
The 89 Best Book Covers of 2020
NPR’s 2020 Book Concierge
We’re in the throes of 2020 countdowns! My favorite book cover probably has to be for Olivia Laing’s Funny Weather. And! The concierge will definitely recommend you my favorite 2020 book, Sigrid Nunez’s What Are You Going Through.
"To mark our 31st annual observance of Day With(out) Art / World AIDS Day"
l.a. Eyeworks had performer and writer Beth Lapides write a poem in honor of World AIDS Day this year and it’s…………..quite beautiful.
TGI Fridays Is Trying A New Restaurant Design
hahahaha no ❤️
The Year on TikTok: Top 100
In case you need a primer of what happened this year on this platform, here you go.
These should make you laugh.
We Figured Out the Plot of Jane's Absurd Fantasy Book in Happiest Season
The best coverage of this delightfully OK gay holiday movie.
"Sasha Obama turnin’ up with her crew on TikTok! "
The only Obama with good takes this week.
"Conceptual Sneaker Designs being Generated by Machine Learning"
I’ll take one of each!
Turning a $20 Grocery Store Cake into a $500 Wedding Cake
Absolutely mesmerized by this recycling.
"A gigantic spider and a car full of young ladies"
I would literally kill myself in this situation.
"#MargaretThatcher in private audience with the #Queen"
This woman is, rightfully, having a moment.
"How did they find the worst audio ever made"
I don’t know but it’s just a masterpiece.
"karl marx was ugly as hell"
I love the Internet.
"latino parents listening to Bad Bunny"
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this video.
"Fuck this pandemic, I miss eating out"
Best Typo, 2020.
"life is short"
Ordering dozens of these cookies.
And, finally, me typing up the report.
Next week, we’re talking about everyone talking about sexy AOC memes and luxury air.