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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

How Memes Became Weapons in the Culture Wars

Internet memes seem harmless enough. A few pictures of cats with some grammatically incorrect text—what could go wrong? Well, memes have come a long way since the early days of the internet. For more than a decade, memes have been deployed as a weapon in culture wars. And they’re even more persuasive than most people realize. A well-placed meme on somebody’s social media timeline can lead them down a rabbit hole of radicalization, misinformation, and extremism.

This week on Gadget Lab, we talk with Emily Dreyfuss, a senior editor at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy about how memes have shaped politics and culture.

Show Notes

Read more about all kinds of disinformation at Harvard Shorenstein Center’s Media Manipulation Casebook. Here’s Emily’s story about her life as a robot. Read Angela Watercutter’s story about the Bernie Sanders mittens memes.


Emily recommends that you look up what happens to an artichoke if you let it flower, and also American Nations by Colin Woodard. Mike recommends r/random, which takes you to a different subreddit everytime you click. Lauren recommends the HBO show White Lotus.

Emily Dreyfuss can be found on Twitter @EmilyDreyfuss. Lauren Goode is @LaurenGoode. Michael Calore is @snackfight. Bling the main hotline at @GadgetLab. The show is produced by Boone Ashworth (@booneashworth). Our theme music is by Solar Keys.

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Lauren Goode: Mike.

Michael Calore: Lauren.

LG: Mike, if you had to describe what a meme was to someone who just didn't quite get it, how would you define a meme?

MC: Well, it's like an idea. Usually, a humorous joke. It's something that gets passed around to a lot of people and becomes its own cultural touchstone. I don't know. How am I doing?

LG: I think that's pretty nebulous, but we're bringing someone on the show who I hope can clear it up for us.

MC: Good. We need an expert.

[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]

LG: Welcome to Gadget Lab. I'm Lauren Goode. I'm a senior writer at WIRED.

MC: I am Michael Calore. I'm a senior editor at WIRED.

LG: This week, we're joined by Emily Dreyfuss. Emily is a senior editor at Harvard Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, and she also happens to be a former colleague of ours at WIRED, where she wrote about the mBot, Alexa, cybersecurity issues, and much, much more. Emily, welcome back to Gadget Lab.

Emily Dreyfuss: Yay! I'm so happy to be here, you guys. I feel like I'm returning home for a minute.

MC: Aw.

LG: In many ways you are, because you were known for the mBot story in which you appeared virtually in a bunch of WIRED meetings, like courtesy of a robot. So now, we don't have the mBot with us, but we have you on Zoom.

ED: Yeah. I feel like I was an early adopter of the virtual workspace situation. When everyone was freaking out in the beginning of coronavirus like, "How are we all going to get this done?" I was thinking, "Man, I've actually been working remotely alone in my home for going on a decade now."

MC: Wow.

LG: So Emily has been living in the Metaverse much longer than the rest of us. I think that's like a whole other podcast episode. We'll talk about the Metaverse at some point, but today, we are talking about memes, because that's the subject of a book that you and your team had been working on.

ED: Yes.

LG: So internet memes started out harmless enough, right? A few pictures of cats and maybe some grammatically incorrect texts. I mean, how bad could it be? But in reality, memes have been deployed as a weapon in culture wars for more than a decade, and they're even more persuasive than most people realize. A well-placed meme on somebody's social media timeline can lead them down a rabbit hole of radicalization, misinformation, even extremism. So, Emily, you've been working on this book. It's called Drafted Into the Meme Wars, and it's about how memes have fueled whole ideological factions and shaped our politics in the real world. But first, take us through the history of memes, and let's go back to that question I asked Mike at the beginning of the show. What is a meme exactly, and when did they really become a thing?

ED: OK. Really good question. So I am writing this book with my team at Harvard, which is led by a sociologist named Joan Donovan. She's a sociologist of techno culture and movements, and how they are fomented online, and the interaction between those movements and the internet. So she is really like a foremost and inspiring expert on how media online gets used to bring people together. Then, the other person we're writing the book with is our senior researcher, a man named Brian Friedberg, and he's an ethnographer who … He calls himself a digital ethnographer, an anthropologist, which means he basically lives inside the communities of the internet that use this media to become movements. So the process of writing this book for me has been learning about memes a lot, because as an internet reporter, I have to say that I ignored memes for far too long, because they seemed trivial, and they seemed like jokes, and they seemed like something I could didn't have to pay attention to, because they didn't carry real-world import.

LG: Mm-hmm.

ED: The process of writing this book has taught me how wrong that was. So what's a meme, and where does it come from? It's an old idea. It was coined by the philosopher Richard Dawkins, and in his book, The Selfish Gene, I believe it's called, he came up with this idea for a meme, which is very similar to what Mike just said. A meme is an idea, an idea that like a gene in our DNA and in our body can travel through generations, morph, change, but stay with us. So he defined a meme as any kind of idea that can take hold in a culture and then continue to be passed on through generations and times and contexts.

It didn't become an idea that was referred specifically to internet artifacts the way that we think of it now until the late '90s. In fact, the guy, Mike Godwin, who is best known for coining Godwin's Law, which says that any discourse on the internet will inevitably become a discussion of Nazis. But he also is the person who first began applying the word "meme" to internet ideas, sticky internet ideas. So that's how we commonly understand them now.

What makes a meme a meme is actually a little hard to define. A lot of people think a meme has to be visual, like it has to be an image with text on top. That's actually a specific kind of meme called a macro meme, but memes can also be slogans or hashtags or things called “snowclones,” which is like that saying where you can insert any word into the format of a phrase and say something different. So like "the Uber of television" is a meme. That's a snowclone meme. But what makes the memes is rather that they have to have a couple of characteristics. Right? So they have to be memorable. We call that stickiness. They have to stick in your mind. They have to be kind of weird in some way, so that they are memorable. So "Stop the Steal" is one of the most important memes of our time. It's very strangely ungrammatical, and the ungrammatical nature of it makes it weird and makes it memorable.

LG: Mm-hmm.

ED: Then, if a phrase, or a piece of media, or a saying, or an idea can be distilled down into either an image or a sound bite, and then within that distillation of words, you can convey a whole huge idea as well as conveying an in-group and an out-group. There are people who get the meme, and there are people who don't. There are people for whom it's funny and people for whom it's either total gibberish or a target. That's a central feature of a meme. And then another thing that will make it a meme is its ability to be remixed and used in different contexts by different people, so that it can travel through the internet, become different things, and yet always maintain its central core of an idea.

MC: So the thing you were just talking about, the … like the otherness, right? Like the meme has to be weird, and it has to be something that is not going to immediately make sense to people the first time they see it—we've all encountered that. We're browsing Twitter or on Facebook and we see a meme, and we're like, "OK. Everybody is reacting to this, and it's obviously funny, but I don't get the joke."

ED: Yeah.

MC: How do you get the meaning? What's the process that people have to go through in order to begin to understand what they're talking about when they see the meme?

ED: OK. This is such a great question, and this process is what makes memes dangerous in terms of them becoming entrances to a rabbit hole that can turn you into an extremist without your realizing it.

MC: Oh, no.

ED: I know that sounds hyperbolic, but the truth is that's absolutely true. Now, let's take a meme coined or maybe perhaps popularized by Alex Jones, the phrase "false flag." Now, "false flag" is a meme. It is not immediately apparent what it means if you don't know the context. Those words don't mean on their face what the phrase "false flag" actually means. OK? If you encounter that, and people are interacting with it, and they're saying like, "This was a false flag event," and you've never heard that phrase, you don't know what they're talking about, there's this curiosity gap. There's this desire to know, to figure out what the hell you're missing, and some people will just move past it because it's alienating.

If you see a community of people discussing something that they clearly all understand and you don't understand, there's a couple of different ways you can respond. One is to just move on, and the other one is to be like, "I really want to figure it out." To figure it out, you Google it, or you go back in the thread on the forum you're on and read what was the thing they're talking about at the very top, or you go on YouTube and you watch a video about a person explaining it. All of that process of trying to figure out what on earth "false flag" is, in order to do that research yourself, to do your own research on the internet, you are now opening yourself up to falling into so many traps that are laid for you.

So specifically, the "false flag" one: If you're just trying to define it, you would find truther videos saying that the Sandy Hook massacre didn't happen. You would find so many stories alleging that all of these events in world history were part of a grand conspiracy, and you may be someone who is like, "Wow, this is crazy. I would really prefer to look up the dictionary definition of this phrase. Ha, ha, ha," or, "I would really like to find a WIRED explainer on why false flag is a meme." Maybe you'll do that, but the way the internet is formatted, the whole system of the algorithm of search results of everything means that that might not be what you find first. You might have to search pages and pages and pages of stuff to figure out what "false flag" means, to figure out what the meme means. In that time, you definitely have now been exposed to things that could be ideas that could be harmful to you.

LG: So based on an earlier conversation we had, this book is really going to cover memes spanning as far back as the '90s up to Occupy Wall Street as a movement that really wielded the power of memes, up to more recent events. I think of things like Gamergate or even Pizzagate. What would you say was the meme or one of the memes in our recent history that signaled some kind of turning point that you and your fellow researchers have identified as the moment of, "Oh, right. Some people actually take these seriously, and they could have real life consequences?"

ED: Well, so the truth is that this research has taught me that we have to go way far back to identify the first memes that were powerful like this, way before the internet. Concepts like the New World Order. That's a meme. Concepts like blood libel and anti-Semitic tropes in the Middle Ages that were used against Jews. These are memes that traveled through culture. But to talk about our more recent history and internet memes, and the way in which these memes have been accelerated by new technology to take culture wars online, and make them go much, much faster, and lead to events like January 6th, I think one of the first memes that for me resonates is in Occupy Wall Street.

I remember when this happened. I was in San Francisco. Not working for WIRED, but I worked for CNET at the time. Occupy Wall Street was happening. It was 2011, and these students at UC Davis were protesting the conditions on their campus. You guys may remember that a breaking news story happened because a police officer who had been empowered by the university to break up this protest very casually pepper-sprayed these students in their face. Do you remember that?

MC: Yeah. He had a canister with a tube coming out of it, and he just walked up and shot this jet stream.

ED: Exactly, it was just so casual, and his body language was very chill. The kids were screaming. People were yelling. There was a crowd around. Everyone was holding their phones. This was only three or four years into everyone having an iPhone, but everyone was streaming this, taking photos of it, taking video. One photo that was captured that day then went pretty much instantly viral. This was the peak of Facebook becoming the thing that everyone looked at. Twitter was just showing its utility. You couldn't livestream on Twitter yet, but you could share photos. So this photo of this cop doing this to these students went viral, and then it was taken and put into Photoshop, and people cut him out. Then they put him into historical famous paintings or historical photos, and the comment … It was a comment on the ridiculousness of his action. The casualness with which he wielded his state-given power was so clearly wrong, and so in some ways, it became a really galvanizing moment for police brutality.

Whether you were someone who was following Occupy Wall Street, whether you were an Occupy Wall Streeter yourself, or totally against Occupy Wall Street, this made sense to you. It was powerful, and it went everywhere. Then, what was so interesting, going back and looking at it, was that then the meme got news coverage in a way that now sounds normal to us. Memes often get news coverage, but this was one of the early examples of an internet meme getting coverage, and that coverage in some ways eclipsing the coverage of the event. I went back and listened to some radio reporting about the incident at UC Davis. It was two days later, and the reporters were actually just going over the funniest memes that had resulted from the incident, and they were just giggling so much, which also shows how memes can be completely decontextualized from the original thing that inspired them.

The first instances of the pepper-spraying cop meme, as it came to be known, were political statements about the casualness of police brutality. But the further from the event it got, and the more it got Photoshopped into, like, the painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the less it signified the thing that it had originally signified. So it could become something that was just funny. In some ways, to me, it was a wake-up moment, listening back to that recording and realizing, "Wow. As journalists, we really should have been reporting on the violence that had inspired this meme, and not the fact that the meme itself was a funny use of Photoshop."

LG: Right, and that's an example of where the distillation of the media itself actually becomes somewhat harmful. All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to talk more about how online memes can have real-life consequences.


LG: So we've talked about how memes develop and proliferate on the internet, but let's get into where they go from there and how they spill over into the real world. Emily, in the first half of the show, you briefly mentioned the capital insurrection on January 6th. How did memes lead us there?

ED: So many different memes played a role in bringing people to the Capitol that day, and it's hard to pinpoint any single one that was responsible for bringing, let's say, baby boomers who believed that the second Civil War was coming, or QAnon adherents who were mesmerized by the "Where we go one, we go all" meme that then convinced them to show up that day, or the "Save the children" meme, which was a hashtag that they coopted from an actual movement and turned into a conspiracy theory. There are so many memes that led people to develop the worldviews that brought them to the Capitol that day, but I think the most important one to talk about is "Stop the Steal." It's a good example because "Stop the Steal" was a meme whose origin we know exactly. Some of them, we don't. Sometimes it takes a long time to figure it out because they're born in a place like 4chan, for instance.

So, like, the Boogaloo meme is one that you can trace all the way back to gun boards on 4chan, but you have to go … You have to do digging to figure that out. “Stop the Steal,” you don't really have to dig at all. It was a phrase coined and created by Roger Stone. Powerful behind-the-scenes henchman, Roger Stone. He created it in 2016 when he assumed, like all of the media, that Donald Trump was not going to win the election or was not … To be clear, he thought Donald Trump was not going to win the nomination for the Republican candidacy for president in 2016. So he created the phrase "Stop the Steal" and registered a website with that name, because he was already planning to claim that if Trump didn't get the nomination, it was because the nomination was stolen from him by the Republican establishment, and the political establishment, and the "Swamp," which is also a meme, and the “Deep State,” which is also a meme.

However, he didn't need to deploy the meme at that time, because Trump did get the nomination, and then he did win. So “Stop the Steal,” the website and the idea, just sat around, waiting to be deployed by an operative, and he first deployed it in 2018 in the midterm elections when, I think, the Republicans didn't get as many seats as they wanted or whatever. He was like, "Oh, now is when ‘Stop the Steal’ can come in. They stole those from us. Ha, ha, ha." I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for that impersonation of Roger Stone.

LG: You're good.

MC: No, no, no. That was gold.

ED: “Stop the Steal” is an interesting one because it is literally a top-down meme. It was created by a person in power. He had a clear agenda for what to do with it, and it followed some very smart rubrics for being memorable. As I said, it's slightly ungrammatical. It's a three-word phrase, which the best viral slogans are: Black Lives Matter. Stop the Steall. Critical Race Theory. He sadly created a slogan that was evocative of some kind of wrongdoing, but not specific enough that it could be easily disproven, and also vague enough and wide enough that it could be applied in different contexts.

LG: Mm-hmm.

ED: So the “Stop the Steal” meme that led to the Capitol insurrection, it was deployed by people at the top, but then it resonated with a wide audience of people who adopted it from users on Twitter, from MAGA supporters. I mean, MAGA is another meme to people who were looking to professionalize and make money off of a movement that could be built around a meme. So all of these people then created companies and traveling tours to do rallies around “Stop the Steal.” All of that infrastructure and work and planning was hidden by the virality of the phrase, and the virality of the phrase was a rabbit hole into an entire universe of election fraud allegations. All of which didn't need to be true. Only some of them. Even if none of them were true, the penumbra of authority provided by “Stop the Steal” lawsuits and officials in the government using the phrase, including the president of the United States, gave enough sincerity to the idea that this meme conveyed that it was impossible to ignore for people who wanted to believe that it was true.

LG: So earlier in the show, Mike gave his description of a meme. I said, "Ah, it sounds kind of nebulous." But actually, what you're saying is it's that opacity that can exist around some of these phrases, and the fact that they do catch on but can be used or misused in different ways, that's part of what makes it a meme.

ED: Totally. If it was too specific, it couldn't be a meme. It wouldn't be able to be remixed. It wouldn't be able to be reapplied, and there are some memes that are pretty specific. Therefore, then they're like a niche meme, like the memes that only resonate in the handyman Facebook group because they're all about fixing sinks or whatever. There's like journalist memes. They don't have a wide adoption outside of their in-group because they're too specific, but a meme that is nebulous enough, and that people can project their own ideas onto, and that can be taken out of a context and put into a different context, is very, very powerful.

MC: So if you're on Facebook or Twitter or Reddit, and you encounter something that has this nebulous, obtuse meaning, but also opens up a door to this world of bad information, and you're tasked with eradicating this information off your platform, what do you do? What does Twitter do with something like “Stop the Steal” before it becomes obvious what it is?

ED: Well, they had enough warning that they should have banned it immediately. They see these things going viral. They see who's spreading them, especially with something like “Stop the Steal.” It was being deployed as a hashtag on social media by known, prolific, very influential disinformers, and that's a clue to the platform to take it seriously in the first place.

Before the insurrection, Twitter and Facebook were very, very resistant to taking any kind of mitigating action against a sitting president, because he was, after all, the president of the United States, and they were a private company, and they felt that if he wanted to use their platform to reach his audience, it wasn't really the place of a private company to be silencing the president of the United States. They changed their mind after they saw what happened with “Stop the Steal,” and they kicked Trump off Twitter. They kicked him off Facebook, and the impact was immediate. I mean, the impact on the news and information ecosystem online was incredibly immediate, which goes to show that that kind of deplatforming is very important, and it is within their right and their power to do it.

But to your broader question, not every meme is like “Stop the Steal.” Not every meme is so obviously a problem, and I would say what they most need to do is understand that this is what memes can do. There's some naivete—and I admit, as I said earlier in the show, I had some of that naivete. As a senior editor at WIRED, I have to admit, I was always like, "Why would we write an entire article about this meme that only these nuts over here care about?" Or like, "Why is it worth our time to write a news article about a funny meme? I know that it's enjoyable, but it's not news." I have to admit, I didn't totally get it.

LG: So you're saying that you would not have assigned the Bernie Sanders mittens story?

ED: I would have. No, no, no. So here's the thing. Maybe I would have. I absolutely would have, but I think I also would have … and I haven't read your Bernie Sanders memes.

LG: Oh, no. I think Angela Watercutter wrote it for us, but I mean, everybody wrote the Bernie Sanders mittens story, right? I think that's one of the memes that people on both sides of the political aisle could rally behind, this idea of a grandpa being transported straight from Vermont into the inauguration, you know?

ED: Totally, and I don't think that those articles were harmful. I also think that they can be moments to explain. That's a good meme to use as a way into explaining the power of memes, because it went everywhere. It was viral in every political context. It was viral in every state. So if you want to talk about, "Hey, what is the risk of exposure to bad ideas through memes?" or, "What is the power of memes to bring people into a group together where they then create their own internal lingo and have their own badges and signifiers of what they believe in?" that was a great example of how to explain that to people. But what can Facebook and Twitter do? First of all, admit that this is a function of memes and that memes can only have this power when they are diffused to the widest possible audience, and the widest possible audience for these memes is on their platforms. What I really want from them is to not say, “They're just memes,” because that's not true. They are much, much more than that.

LG: So while we're waiting for technology platforms to catch up to spotting harmful memes, is the idea that we as consumers need to get better about spotting them ourselves?

ED: Well, I mean, I think media literacy and meme literacy is important and vital. But honestly, it's such a cop-out for these companies, and for policymakers, and even for journalists to put the onus of this kind of responsible consuming of information on individual people, because these are systems that are so intricate and so vast, and journalists right now, us, all of us in this room, are being tasked with being the unpaid moderators of these platforms. I mean, I'm sure that both of you have had the experience that I've had even when I was at WIRED of finding something that was going viral, calling Facebook to ask them about it, and them being like, "Oh my God, thank you for pointing this out. We're going to take it down." This happens all the time.

MC: Yeah.

ED: Read any reporting about fake antifa Facebook groups that were organizing violence against people in the Pacific Northwest or any of these things, and in the articles about them, you'll see the statement. After being asked for a comment about these, the platforms took the pages down. What that shows is, yeah, some people are watching. They're journalists. They're researchers. They are independent researchers on Twitter who are able to notice this, and that is proof that the platforms could be noticing it themselves. This is why I also say, "Oftentimes, a meme can be an entrance to a rabbit hole, and on its face, it doesn't seem harmful." You can see. If you look in … Let's talk about the “Politically Incorrect” board on 4chan, because it's a classic place for people to go and workshop these ideas.

You can go on those boards, and you'll see people workshopping, "What is the version of this meme that we should drop on Facebook so that it won't get mitigated, and so that boomers will see it, and it'll lead them to this other thing?" They're having this conversation outright, and Facebook should know that, and should have people watching those forums, because then they have no excuse when they say, "Well, the one that was on Facebook was just this harmless one that didn't show anything." Then, if I am able to email them and say, "I literally just found the entire thread where these people workshopped putting one on your platform that looked like it wasn't a big deal when really it was"—if I could find it, then they can find it.

LG: All right. So what I'm hearing from you is that too much of the onus is put on news consumers to spot all of these various memes that are flying at us, and that the platforms need to do a better job of moderating content. I think we've heard that one before. All right. That was great, Emily. Thank you. Let's take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to ask you for your recommendation.


LG: Emily, what is your recommendation?

ED: OK. I decided on two random recommendations. One is that I urge you to look up what happens to an artichoke if you let it become a flower.

MC: Nice.

LG: OK. Should we look it up, or should we just let that happen?

ED: Both. If you have access to an artichoke plant, definitely don't pick that artichoke. Just let it become a flower, and it's going to blow your mind.

LG: OK. Did this happen to you recently?

ED: Yes. Well, I bought a flower in a farmer's market and was like, "What is this absurd thing that I've never seen in my life? It looks like an alien, and I don't understand what it is." They were like, "This is an artichoke," and it shocked me.

LG: Wow. OK. Did it start snapping its jaws and say, "Feed me, Audrey"?

ED: It does go through a period where it then smells very bad, but it looks like a sea anemone. It's crazy.

MC: So what's the other one? You said you had two.

ED: Yeah. OK. The other one is a book I'm looking at that is by an author named Colin Woodard, and it's called American Nations. If you're someone who's interested in cultural differences and regional differences in the US and how areas get their personality, it's such a cool book.

MC: Very cool.

LG: I'm so curious. Unpack that for us a little bit more.

ED: OK. So it's about the way in which different regions in the US were actually populated and peopled by different cultures. So like, pilgrims moved to the northeast, and Danish people and people from the Netherlands moved to New York City, and there's how you can get … He traces the history of the different peoples who came to all of the different regions of the US, and the way they got there, and where their origins were, into how those places then got their personalities, and it explains … It really just resonates so well. It explains so much why, like, Louisiana has a lot more in common with French Canada than other parts of the South right next to it, or why the West Coast of the US has a lot more in common with the northeastern coast of the US than it does with the Mountain West.

So it breaks these regions in the US down, and then goes through their entire history of the characteristics and struggles of their people. I think that there are some people who have said that it's a simplistic explanation of some of these stereotypes of people, but it's a very good jumping-off point to understand how hundreds of years and thousands of years of history can come and create different cultures within a single nation.

LG: American Nations. All right. Those are great recommendations. Thank you.

MC: Yeah, and now I know why crab cakes and lobster rolls are so popular in San Francisco.

ED: There you go.

LG: Mike, what's your recommendation?

MC: So this one is a little bit on-topic because I'm going to send you to Reddit, the birthplace and proving ground of many memes out there in the world. So there's this fun little Easter egg inside Reddit, and it's called r/random. If you go to reddit.com/r/random, it redirects you automatically to a random subreddit. So it's not actually a subreddit. It's a redirection engine. You go from r/random to anywhere on Reddit, and it really just shows all kinds of stuff. So Lauren just typed it in, and she landed on the AirPods Pro subreddit. I just clicked on it because I have it set as a bookmark on my browser, and I landed on the r/Poland Reddit, subreddit.

So this is what I would recommend that you do. I recommend that you make it a bookmark on your browser bar, because when you're just bored and you need five minutes of distraction, and you just want something to look at that's not the infinite spiral of doom known as social media, you can just go to r/random, and it will drop you into a section of Reddit that maybe hasn't seen any action in six months, or maybe has millions of subscribers and it's really interesting, maybe is a section of culture that you've never experienced before and never would have experienced like Blade and Soul, which looks like a game. Lauren, what is that you just …

LG: Yeah, I just entered it again. It's a Korean fantasy martial arts massively multiplayer online role playing game, otherwise known as MMORPG, developed by NCSoft's team Bloodlust. If I sound like I know what I'm talking about, it's because I just read that out loud from the website.

MC: You read that on the description. See? There you go. Something that you never knew about that you now found because of this randomness machine. So that's my recommendation. Check it out. Make a bookmark for r/random.

LG: That's pretty good.

MC: Thanks.

ED: I love that. It reminds me of the Wikipedia option to go to any random Wikipedia page.

MC: Absolutely. So, Lauren, your turn. You're the host. What's your recommendation?

LG: I admit,when I came up with this recommendation and I jotted it down in our weekly podcast script, Mike, I wondered if I was perhaps stealing it from you, because I recommend White Lotus on HBO Max.

MC: Yes.

LG: Yeah. Mike and I are both fans of the show. Emily, have you had the chance to check this one out yet?

ED: No. I saw people talking about it on Twitter and was like, "OK. Good. Apparently there's a new show I can watch," but I know nothing about it.

LG: Yeah. When you take some time off after you're all done with this, the book project, you should definitely check out this show. As I say often, if anyone needs an HBO login, let me know. I give it out freely. I think that's why HBO didn't send me the press kit this year that they normally send people, because I saw people tweeting about that, and I was like, "Where is my kit?" But anyway, yeah, it's a fantastic show about a group of extremely privileged people who descend upon a Hawaiian luxury resort. These people don't all know each other necessarily, but they traveled in the same boat together, and then they are at the same resort together. So they keep running into each other at the pool, and on the beach, and whatnot. They're interacting with the staff at the resort, who are more diverse and presumably don't have … Their incomes are not as high as the people who are vacationing at the resort.

It's satire. It's really dark. I think The New Yorker called it a tragicomedy, and I think that's a good way to look at it. A really dark look at the interactions between these groups of people, and it's just quite good. At the time of this taping, I've watched three episodes. I think by the time this podcast comes out, there will be another episode. Check it out. White Lotus, HBO Max. Mike, do you have anything to add to that?

MC: It's a Mike White show. So if you're familiar with Mike White, he did Enlightened on HBO. He also wrote School of Rock and Nacho Libre. He was a writer on Freaks and Geeks. This is another hit in his long output of hits.

LG: I would say less like School of Rock and more like Freaks and Geeks for rich grownups.

MC: Yes, absolutely.

ED: Oh, wow. That sounds amazing. When you were describing it at first, I was hoping it was going to be like a Jordan Peele–style thing, and it would evolve into a massive revenge violence where all of these rich, privileged people get their comeuppance, but it doesn't sound quite like it's going to be like that.

LG: Not quite yet, but we don't know where it's going. I mean, I guess some of the press who write about this kind of thing regularly have seen all the screeners for it and know where it's going, but …

MC: Yeah. It's a miniseries. I think it's only six episodes.

LG: Yeah.

ED: Oh, cool.

MC: Well, speaking of press, Lauren, I did get the press kit for this.

LG: You did?

MC: Yes. It's an Aloha shirt, a box of ashes, and a bag of ketamine.

LG: Yes. That's amazing. Also, a kit to how to make your way through a midlife crisis.

MC: Yes.

LG: Yeah.

MC: Yes. Exactly.

LG: All right. All right. That's our show for this week. Thank you, Emily Dreyfuss, former WIRED one, for joining us on this week's Gadget Lab podcast. We look forward to reading your book next year when it comes out, Drafted Into the Meme Wars. We'll keep an eye out for that, and we miss you.

ED: Thank you so much for having me on, you guys. I miss you.

MC: Yay. I mean, not yay that you miss us, but yay, good to see you.

ED: Yes.

LG: Thanks to all of you for listening. As always, if you have feedback, you can find all of us on Twitter. Just check the show notes. The show is produced by the excellent Boone Ashworth. Goodbye for now. We'll be back next week.

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