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Empire of Cursed
The internet is a vibrant connective tissue leading you to a number of Cursed places.
Every story we have been told about magic had one lesson: don’t overdo it. Don't ask for too much; don't wish harm unless you can take it yourself; what you send out is gonna hit you back sevenfold. Confident wizards are humiliated to the delight of antagonists and onlookers alike; anyone who gets high off their own power, without putting in The Work or taking into careful consideration the vein they really want to tap – they end up dead, institutionalized, or trapped in a place of great stillness, a shadow dimension, the other side of a mirror.
This is a story about Cursed timelines.
It's hard to fathom, as a non-American born, how people my age could grow up in regular homes – with roofs and walls and food on the table – and meanwhile they were raised to believe in black helicopters swooping in from above, fear presented as fact, clear and present danger-prophecy foretold, or, the government was gonna knock on the door late at night to snatch children and guns away from their rightful owners.
Different cultures have Doomsday myths, stories we tell to scare ourselves into submission, defiance, bit of both: this delusion is all yours. A basic type of thrill seeking that results in an addiction to crisis mode.
The paranoid style in American politics has grown to dominate international spaces. It has much to do with the Cursed nature of porous systems – the naive or willfully obtuse belief that “the best idea rises to the top” when it's been proven over and over the zone can get flooded by anyone who puts in the effort, combined with the average lack of boundaries to be found online. This creates a gullible tribe whose domain far surpasses its physical borders, perpetually scammed or conditioned into reaching for its collective wallet as a survival technique. It's hard, it's hard. Take my money.
The internet has no country; social media, very much the American internet. It carries a sameness, a tired familiarity, and a difficulty when it comes to leaving any platform, no matter how stale it gets. Author Elle Nash drove the point home in an interview with the Observer: “I hate that we all visit the same website every single day and sit on it, scrolling through. It’s kind of like walking down the same street every day, but then you see the same faces. It’s nice to see the same faces all the time, but then the buildings are always the same and the weather is always the same. […] But – that’s where all your friends are. So, if you deviate from that, say you go down a back alley and you’re like, yeah, I’m gonna go to this different nightclub. Well, no one else is fucking there. There aren’t even people there.”
In short, the internet is a vibrant connective tissue leading you to a number of Cursed places.
Cursed: poorly made, contaminated, born, produced or designed on such dire premises, it's impossible to salvage any part of it to a meaningful degree. You cannot, in fact, turn it around.
Any given day on a feed of mine, the word Cursed – capital C, for gravity – marks the presence of Cursed images (nothing to do but stare at the ugly), Cursed footage (same), Cursed threads (stay away, everyone's wrong). It embodied the Cursed district where Madison Cawthorn ran against Moe Davis – that speck in time where both candidates to a Congressional seat elaborated on the meaning and usage of the word “simp” within the same Twitter cycle. Cawthorn elevating himself to public office through the double power of a compelling personal story that was half a scam and a firebrand rhetoric his actions couldn't even begin to match? Cursed Christo-fascist, he did not put in the Work.
For that matter, after you bear witness to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani being called an absolute tulpa (manifestation of energies and thought into a human shape), followed by Tarot reading, sigil making, dark psychic forces, so much astrology and soft occultism, you realize anything wild and irrational is bound to have its moment in the sun. Especially if it lends itself to the possibility of getting reclaimed as genuine, antiauthoritarian, subversive.
Cursed no more.
The most Cursed phenomenon of them all would be the sudden ubiquity of words being thrown around as instant weapons: neoliberal, milquetoast, colonizer, feckless, shapeshifter, pick a card, any card. American gamers popularized cringe as a one-two reaction to anything that looks too earnest, way too late for a conversation liable to evolve in minutes. (Cringe has since gone global, in the same fashion you can find a male shut-in opining on women and POCs in any language setting of any portal). Out of this bloodstream, the word grift/grifter clawed up into relevance and maintained an enviable staying power. It's the easiest spell to cast – one word, no proof needed – and the one guaranteed to do some damage.
What could you say there: I'm no grifter? I'm for real?
An early example of addiction to crisis mode is the language of urgency in fundraising emails. As the average scammer would rush you into sharing personal details, the social imperative is always loud. NEED YOU. ACT NOW. WOLVES AT THE DOOR. Tim Miller stigmatizes it in the book Why We Did It, with all the insider knowledge of a dude who drafted plenty of desperate pleas. Still, social media normalized crisis mode, rewarding all behavior close to acting out.
If you are taught to perceive yourself as a warrior and the outside world as a coalition of demonic, odd forces pushing in: this intensity, the stakes, it must be like coming home.
Alex Jones habitually talks about demons and God on his show, although he avoids such language whenever he leaves the safety of the stage. We just witnessed him being asked to answer in court for the giant spell he cast over the years: Jones turned millions of people into rabid followers hooked on a steady drip of threats and fears, ushering in what is known as the Alex Jonesification of the GOP. And he went on the record saying he was in the throes of psychosis when he perpetuated a shameful lie about the Sandy Hook shooting.
This man would give himself up as mentally ill rather than admit he made stuff up for clout and profit.
Well, he would, wouldn't he.
Jones perfected a vocabulary to serve himself while keeping the viewers in a state of blind terror (that would be a double spell: fear and rage), he did tweak the Roger Ailes/Fox News model to the online audience – the conspiracy talk show space young Alex wanted to be a part of, back in the public-access days, he created a version of it as he crafted the myth of his own greatness. (Just a boy from Texas, forged in a cauldron of his own genius.) One of Jones' documented obsessions – the existence of crisis actors, therefore, the belief any witness or survivor of any violent event is being paid to lie about it – has taken on a life of its own. Emulators picked the term up, regardless of their political views.
A grifter, on paper, is a con artist – yet the latter implies a certain motivation, a wider skill set, clear monetary goals, whereas the grifter adopts an attitude, a presentation and a language in order to simulate a core set of beliefs: a grifter does ask for money, a lot, yet the ultimate goal might be the creation of a successful alternate self.
A grifter believes in nothing but their own divine right to be in the mix. They can earn your resentful admiration as masters of the craft. Gotta hand it to (x). The cardinal sin of the grifter here would be the surface fault line between words and actions. Grifters do prosper online because of the chronic poor boundaries inherent to the platforms – how the same weakness can bleed into a preoccupation with mask-off moments, that's a story for another time – and a determined grifter will encourage you to smash those boundaries once and for all: make yourself available 24/7, pledge loyalty to their gospel. Understand them.
Let's flash back to the minute the Fyre Festival came to an end, when the whole enterprise was revealed to be a collective manic episode at best, and the scammy nature of the festival imploded under the weight of unanswered prayers. In a linear world, once the truth comes out, a con artist would be miles away, fake IDs fanned out on the floor, ready to enjoy the spoils of their own cleverness. The grifter – kinda lingers, even after he burns the house down, betting on a scenario where no one will sincerely ask them to leave. Instead, excuses will be made, perhaps their most faithful followers will step up to the challenge. Billy's a visionary. He's just a player in a rigged game.
If there's a common takeaway from the latest crop of cult documentaries and podcasts, it's the big reveal – how dense these thought leaders really are, for a bunch of self-made Gods, how their only authentic character trait could be the fervent belief they do deserve veneration and wealth. This makes them resolute during the acquisition phase. I am strong. I am beautiful. I am powerful. I love myself. They are the creators of a convoluted group language they consume first, often ripped from a separate belief system, much like the red pill was borrowed from The Matrix to propel a reactionary outlook. These creators are the test subjects of any spell they devise.
Jeff and Shaleia, the alleged digital cult leaders at the center of Twin Flames, happened to sell themselves as a devoted happy couple, there to help other people land a uniquely suited partner. There was a desire to get rich at play, but more than that, there was the desire to gather a flock of disciples that could be found way down in the “Spiritual” American internet: here you shall be fully pilled.
Pilled is for the radical believers, the converts who got switched on to some truth. Once again, it's a Cursed piece of Men's Rights lexicon. We know this. It's bad. And it's the easiest way to get a point across when you're talking to a stranger. I'm good, I'm pilled. Not here to lose your time. I'm on board. (I called myself pleizar-pilled, in public, to signal my affection and my situational agreement with a now dormant Twitter account.)
Are you hoping to redeem a Cursed word, here, can you turn it around, can you snatch it back from enemy territory? Knock yourself out. A Chad is a strong, resolute person if you're reclaiming the word; it still means a guy blessed with conventional good looks in the incel groups that coined the term. Based is a generic “yes”/“good”/“agreed”: it comes straight from 4Chan. Based (on facts and logic). Based (on self-evident truth). Based (on the principle of LOL nothing matters). I hate myself a little every time I say it, but I do say it.
Mimicry brings the unabashed comfort of repetition. Click, cursed, based, pilled, click. The ease of being superficially understood as low-grade acceptance. Everybody knows what you mean. Fake it long enough, you'll get a foot in the door no questions asked.
In the weeks this piece was postponed due to its author being diagnosed with a precancerous mouth lesion, later revealed to be a bite scratch because a goddamn dentist couldn't tell the difference between “accidentally bit her lip” and “yup cancer”, Alex Jones was slapped with 45 million dollars in punitive damages, the Release The Snyder Cut movement seems to have relied on bots (along with an ocean of individuals behaving in bot-y ways), organizer Shaun King was outed as having spent $40.000 on a dog, the money possibly coming from one of his fundraising efforts, King retaliated by kicking off a crowdsourced harassment campaign against two tabloid reporters, a writer got chased out of social media when their long term place of employment became public knowledge – the smoking gun being the contrast between the writer's avowed moral values and the industry in question – and “Dark Brandon” became a cheerful, sinister meme after it was wrestled from the right-wing ecosphere and the extremely online left: something used to celebrate the Biden administration scoring significant wins in what felt like minutes, but it wasn't.
Permanent crisis mode breaks people down. Excitement, doom, doom, based, agony, triumph. There's no living with it. And even the opposite – militant detachment – can cause you harm.
In a recent episode of the Fever Dreams podcast, Conspirituality co-host Matthew Remski recalled a failed attempt to get his older yoga buddies involved in the 2008 election cycle: he got reprimanded for daring to bring politics into their space. According to Remski, this refusal to engage, coupled with a stubborn notion of “the space” as pure, primed a ton of yoga people to fall for the vilest, loudest disinformation further down the line. The more they rejected civic participation, the more they left themselves vulnerable to any nightmare scenario hitting where it hurt: their space.
Most Cursed timeline: the quick erosion of Wellness Brain into whoosh lizard baby-eating tunnels.
So let's talk survival. Avoid getting swayed by a language you do not fully grasp. If it sounds plausible, it's not. Learn your own language – practice a counter-spell, if you will. Write longhand, take notes, delete social media from your phone, do not fall asleep with a podcast or a video on – never replicate what you see when you're scrolling. Engage in a back and forth at every opportunity. Move on. You can walk out anytime.