My Internet: Jillian Steinhauer
The art journalist says social media needs performances of sorrow and rage.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, from Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci.
Every Friday, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Jillian Steinhauer, a journalist and critic who has recently written about Covid memorials, art-making with undocumented teens, and Niki de Saint Phalle. Jillian has a high school insider who hooks her up with TikToks, is on strike from posting art on Instagram, and was once flown to the Minnesota State Fair to be a judge at an annual cat video festival, where she got to hold Grumpy Cat. —Nick
EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: The hilariously dumb conservative “established and complete woman” meme that was just going around. I love the woman on the right and I want to be her. (College debt: check! Cats: check! Giant dildo: working on it.)
Also this because I will never ever not love dumb images of dumb cats.
Also shoutout to Freeze Magazine and other art meme accounts that make me lol regularly and are thus providing a vital service.
EMBEDDED: What type of videos do you watch on YouTube?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Ummm I honestly don’t watch YouTube that often because I’m a hyperproductive person who’s bad at chilling out or going down rabbit holes. But my husband and I did recently spend a whole night watching line-dance videos on YouTube. It was weird!
EMBEDDED: Do you use TikTok?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Because I am definitely addicted to social media, I have refused to let myself download TikTok. But I know I would love it. I would love it so much.
Until I cave, I have a friend who works in a high school and knows what the kids are up to these days, and she supplies with me the TikTok videos I need in my life. How else would I know about luring my lovers to visit with the promise of a knisch? (This is a University of Michigan niche reference!)
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: I’m an art journalist and critic, and I used to use Instagram a lot for posting art: I see many exhibitions, most of which I can’t actually write about, so Instagram was/is a place to show people what I’m seeing and enjoying and thinking about. But last fall I really hit a wall with the whole building-your-brand stuff. I would spend four or five hours seeing shows and then come home and spend at least another hour picking out photos to post and making sure to tag all the artists and galleries. And to what end? No one’s paying me for that work. (No one’s even technically paying me to see art, even though it’s my job.) So I stopped. Just kind of went on an unspoken strike. Now I mostly post photos of my cats, selfies, and travel photos. What can I say? I’m a basic bitch, but it’s much less tiring.
That said, I still love following artists on Instagram, especially cartoonists these days. Seeing creativity in my feed still inspires me and keeps me on the platform, despite the fact that seeing images of people’s apartments and lives still makes me feel deeply insecure.
EMBEDDED: Do you tweet? Why?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: “Why does anyone tweet???!!!” she screamed into the void. The only possible answer is: ego.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Yes. Over the past couple years, I’ve become very involved in the Freelance Solidarity Project, a union for freelance media workers, and at some point in 2021, inspired by the work we were doing, I tossed off a dumb tweet about how, as a freelancer, you get to really have it all by being your own boss and also an exploited worker who needs to organize. It went viral, which was terrifying, because I love having just enough attention to satisfy my ego but absolutely NO MORE. Fortunately it did not rain down lots of misogyny or anti-semitism, just hilariously offended comments from other white ladies who were like, “Excuse me, I’m not exploited; I’m empowered!!”
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Define “cool.”
EMBEDDED: Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: I find the concept of celebrity really weird. Like, I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to care about what famous people are up to?! This is not a moral judgment on people who do care; clearly it’s a personal failing.
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: I look at The New York Times homepage every morning, often The Washington Post homepage too. And then most of the rest of it comes from Twitter, which for me is basically an RSS feed with more chaos and more feelings.
EMBEDDED: What’s one positive trend you see in media right now? What’s one negative trend?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: The positive trend is organizing and unionization! Media folks are fighting to improve our working conditions so that we can try to fix this dysfunctional industry. It’s a beautiful thing.
It’s impossible to list just one negative trend when there are so many, but I would say the heads of media companies union busting and also doing that thing where they wake up one morning and decide to lay off everyone with no warning.
EMBEDDED: What does “cancel culture” mean to you?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Privileged, mostly white people feeling embattled and threatened and whining about it in public.
EMBEDDED: Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Yes, a whole bunch. I enjoy them all—although I can’t keep up with any of them—but current favorites include Andrew Janjigian’s Wordloaf, because baking is all want to do these days, and Rusty Foster’s Today in Tabs, because it is literally the only way I know what’s going on in media (despite spending hours on Twitter 🤔).
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: I’m annoying about podcasts, because I mostly don’t like the ones that are just conversations between people. If I want to listen to a conversation between people, I’ll just go find my friends. I’m also terrible at multitasking and not a great cook, which means I cannot listen to a podcast while making dinner if I want the food to turn out remotely well.
EMBEDDED: When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: I tried to use it for a hot minute when I started planning my wedding, but I could not handle all the bridal stuff and ran away.
EMBEDDED: Are you in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What's the most useful or entertaining one?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: One of the best things about quitting my job was uninstalling Slack; I’ve NEVER LOOKED BACK.
More generally, I’m not a very active participant in any groups on these platforms. I’ve cycled in and out of them in the past, but these days I find I get much more fulfillment from relationships and communities I have that exist at least partly offline.
EMBEDDED: What's something you might want to do in the metaverse? What's something you wouldn't want to do?
EMBEDDED: What purpose do you see in NFTs?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: I’m an art journalist, so I should have a good answer for this, but my official policy is to refer all questions about NFTs to my husband, Benjamin Sutton (also an art journalist).
EMBEDDED: Do you think Web3 will mean a better internet?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Lololol
EMBEDDED: Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Sometimes I do, usually when someone else does it first, and it makes me so incredibly happy to hear the sound of their voice that I want to respond in kind. Also occasionally when I have a lot to say and am too lazy to type it out.
EMBEDDED: Do any of your group chats have a name that you're willing to share? What’s something that recently inspired debate in the chat?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Coven of HOS
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
🤷🏻♀️ 😂 👍🏻
EMBEDDED: What’s a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: My husband and I have spent the pandemic making a lot of themed playlists, and my favorite one that I’ve initiated so far is all songs about or that mention phones. (“Call Me”! “Call Me Maybe”! “Phone Home”! The hits go on.) But also: Dolly Parton. I have been listening to so much Dolly.
EMBEDDED: Do you pay for a music streaming service, and if so, which one? When was the last time you bought a music download or vinyl record, CD, or tape?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Spotify. I held out for a while, because my musician friends told me how much it sucks, but eventually I caved. I do try to buy my friends’ and other indie musicians’ albums on Bandcamp or elsewhere too, so that they get paid for their work.
EMBEDDED: If you could only keep Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, or one other streaming service, which would it be, and why?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Of these I only have Netflix, lol.
EMBEDDED: What’s your favorite non-social media app?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Does NYT Cooking count? God, that’s so embarrassing, but I just love being able to organize my recipes, okay??
EMBEDDED: What’s the most basic internet thing that you love?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: All things cats, especially cat videos. For a few years, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis put on an annual cat video festival, and I was a judge for one of them. After watching way too many cat videos and ranking them in a spreadsheet, they flew me out for the big event, which took place at the Minnesota State Fair. It was amazing. There was a giant carved butter sculpture of a cat, and I got to hold Grumpy Cat.
…Have I mentioned that I’m a geriatric millennial? I feel like that explains a lot about me.
EMBEDDED: Have you recently read an article, book, or social media post about the internet that you’ve found particularly insightful?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: Both this piece in The New Yorker and its corollary in Hyperallergic. I’ve spent a large portion of the past seven or eight years thinking about illness and death, grief and mourning, and I’m grateful for these two pieces, which look at how some people are sharing their experiences with those things on social media (and Instagram in particular). I think social media will always be a performance—that’s the whole deal—but if it’s at all worth keeping around, then it needs to include performances of sorrow and rage and uncertainty alongside all the happy moments, vacation photos, and self-promotion. I haven’t yet figured out how to do that—to express and perform my vulnerability in a way that feels honest, and that I’m comfortable with—but I really admire those who have and who do.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
JILLIAN STEINHAUER: I don’t have a good answer for this because joy is not a feeling I feel much while online these days. But I will say that lately, I feel the best online when I feel seen and understood. And that seems to happen a lot via insightful comics, like this one by Madeline Horwath, which had me screaming YES inside my soul.
Thanks Jillian! Read her writing and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
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