Post-pandemic predictions with Madison Malone Kircher and Rachelle Hampton

Plus: oh great now i gotta be responsible for this giant water bottle

Oh Great Now I Gotta Be Responsible for This Giant Water Bottle

This is your obligatory reminder to drink some water.

Have you seen this water bottle? I have. Everywhere. I first noticed the product on Danielle Prescod’s Instagram, and was impressed with how many of her followers she had influenced to buy one. It’s nothing new, just a massive water bottle with markings designating how much water a person should drink each hour of the day, accompanied by motivational phrases. 

A few weeks later, my friend mentioned wanting to get herself the same water bottle to help her drink more water during the work day. It wasn’t all that surprising that a recommendation made by Prescod, a former fashion editor at Hearst, made its way to my friend, a current culture writer at Conde Nast. But it was spreading. Then The New York Times noticed

This week, the giant water bottle went international. English lifestyle vlogger Zoe Sugg posted essentially the same water bottle on her Instagram Story for her over nine million followers to swipe up and buy. 

This kind of water bottle isn’t new, and is a little too close to a Facebook Wine Mom Meme for my liking, but that might just be my dehydration talking. And since I know you’ll ask, here’s where you can get (one version of) the giant water bottle. —Kate Lindsay

Madison Malone Kircher and Rachelle Hampton Aren’t Saving You a Click

The hosts of Slate’s new In Case You Missed It podcast want to bring internet culture conversations to the adults' table. 

If you’re reading this newsletter, it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that internet culture coverage is the hot new thing. But make no mistake, the people behind said coverage have been on the internet for a long time.

“I have a distinct memory of making a Neopets account at my friend's house because I knew my parents wouldn't let me,” Madison Malone Kircher, the New York Magazine writer-turned-co-host of Slate’s podcast In Case You Missed It, tells me over Zoom. The new project hopes to unpack the weirdest happenings on the internet twice a week, while also looking back at some of the wildest moments from Internet Past. 

For Rachelle Hampton, the other voice behind the pod, her internet gateway drug was Tumblr. It was there she first learned the digital language around race, privilege, and social justice—and also a lot about Les Miserables?

“[I had a] One Direction phase, a Les Mis phase, a Tom Hiddleston phase,” she says, practically counting on her fingers, adding, “I struck up a year-long friendship with someone I met on Omegle. I think about him like once a year. I hope he's doing okay.”

“We gotta get him on the show,” Madison jokes. 

The pair, who released their first episode last week, have gone on to cover everything from Clubhouse to Lil Nas X—and one day, if Madison gets her way, an interview with the early 2000s viral grape-stomping woman who fell and broke her ribs. Live shows and merch are all on the post-pandemic table, too, even though the two aren’t thrilled with the idea of bumping into people in Brooklyn wearing their faces. Until then, we spoke about how they’re planning to tackle the wild west of the internet ... and why it suddenly seems like everyone is so interested. —KL

What is it that you hope the podcast brings to the conversation about internet culture that perhaps the current one is lacking?

Madison: The thing that makes me sort of laugh and also seethe when people talk about internet culture coverage [is acting] like it came up in a vacuum instead of just being the logical extension of culture coverage as our life got, to use a very overused phrase, more and more lived online, and as our lived experiences became increasingly digital. So I'm hoping it feels like we're not putting internet culture in a box and you only can care about it if you're online or know about One Direction/Les Mis fandoms. Rather, in the same way that people read culture criticism about art, media, language, books that they maybe don't know about, what we do is of that same feeling.

Rachelle: There's always been this strain of cultural criticism that has been interested in the internet. There's a way in which Blackness has been translated online and a lot more people have that access to Blackness online than they would have otherwise. It's always driven popular culture, but it's just become a part of digital culture in a way that is very hard to unravel, which is why you need conversations about digital Blackface, or other stuff like that.

Part of what made me realize it was the kind of thing you could cover in media is the way in which Black Twitter created Black Lives Matter and it translated into this very real movement—making people realize that the lives we live online are translated into what we interact with in person all the time. QAnon started online and is now fully running the undercurrent of our political [system]. And so I think people will often try to silo what happens on the internet as different from what happens in person, and it's not.

Madison: We sort of did that to ourselves. That was the pitch for like gen one, gen two internet culture websites: how we're living online, we're doing it on the internet, let's talk about it. And I don't think that was a disservice because I think that was a pretty strong case for getting people to care about it. But now the iteration is, there is no dividing line. 

I'm really curious about what the internet will look like post-pandemic. 

Madison: My dream is it's just like me and Rachelle looking for content and there's two tumbleweeds. If everyone could just feel free themselves of the internet, I'd be very happy to say we have nothing to talk about. 

Rachelle: I think that certain platforms are going to go out of style. I think Twitter is on its last legs. I think that Trump gave it a huge bump because Twitter was where geopolitics was happening, because Trump was tweeting through everything, and then the pandemic happened and we were all online. But I think that Twitter has been circling the drain for a very long time. You can see it in the undertone of the discourse. It's all very antagonistic, but also bored. You see how familiar everything is to everyone and no one actually gives a fuck anymore. It's this eternal cycle of like, "Why is this coming up every six months? Why are we telling people to read more like Black writers 'cause this random guy was talking about David Foster Wallace? Why do we do this every six months on Twitter?” And I think that once outside opens again, I do think that Twitter as a platform is going to start declining. I don't think people are going to be less online. They're just going to move, like, obviously TikTok is the thing right now. Clubhouse—I don't really know what Clubhouse is going to look like post-pandemic. Why would I want to have access to so many people's unfiltered thoughts?

Madison: I’m trying to get banned [from Clubhouse]. 

The internet moves so quickly. How do you stay timely and decide what topics to give space to?

Madison: This was me last Tuesday at five o'clock before the episode drops on Wednesday morning: "So, the shrimp guy?"

Rachelle: We're not a daily show and so we're not going to be able to react to everything. And we're also not, like, first responders breaking news. That's not who we are. We're providing a level of analysis. Madison's used a phrase, "What's the day three take?" And honestly, with the way the internet works, with the shrimp guy, if we had covered him on Tuesday or Wednesday, we would have missed the milkshake duck. 

Is there anything on the internet you’re purposefully not going to cover?

Madison: I am absolutely guilty of having written the "the internet is losing its mind about" headline, it's not a construction you can avoid if you write and wrote in this space over the last 10 years, but I'm never interested in a story where it's just like, the internet is losing its mind over this thing. 

What is your ideal audience—are you talking to people who are as online as you are, or are you basically saving them a click? 

Rachelle: We pitched ourselves as like, we're going to make you sound like the smartest person in your group chat. But we've also been really cognizant of not talking past our audience. Sometimes you read coverage about something that you were specifically interested in, but it's very clearly not written for you, [it's] for someone who doesn't know about it. That's something that I'm cognizant of as somebody who's Black and writes about things that are Black. I want Black people to actually read my stuff and enjoy it and not feel like I'm explaining Black things to white people. So that's also the way I'm thinking about this show. Like both in that, I don't want to feel like I'm explaining Black Twitter to white people, but also like, I don't want people who are online and see these things to feel like they're coming to the show and not getting anything out of it. It should feel both like you're at a party, your two friends are talking about something you may or may not know about, but you feel like you can be involved in the conversation no matter what your level of knowledge is.

Last question: What’s your favorite internet moment from the pandemic? 

Rachelle: Everybody gathering to drag the “Imagine” video. Simply iconic.

Madison: This is very specific and it was very early days, but there was a YouTube special for Stephen Sondheim's 90th birthday, and it had every technical glitch you could have. I'm a big theater geek and I had really been missing sitting in an audience with people when things are bad or weird or shit breaks. And just experiencing a total meltdown through Twitter on the internet, it was so fun and it felt so normal to be like, "Well, this thing was supposed to start at like 7:30, but..." And Raúl Esparza—he was great, but he was just totally muted. The show turned out to be great because that brought us Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, and Audra McDonald doing "Ladies Who Lunch."

Rachelle: That does remind me that Verzuz came out of this. The technical glitches of the first ones were amazing. There was one with Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. Jill fully dropped off for like 10 minutes and it was like, "Where did she go?"

Madison: Pandemic internet was more fun before we got good at it.


Speaking of speaking on podcasts...

This week’s Most Embarrassing Thing On The Internet tells the saga of MySpace's Kiki Kannibal, which was way worse than anyone realized, and uncovers new info on what went down between YouTuber Grace Helbig and My Damn Channel. Plus, a story for Passover: the Taylor Swift Twitter stan who evaded the IDF.

The Fine Print

Thx Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher. Find us circling the drain on Twitter and feeling guilty about not drinking enough water on Instagram. Reminder: April Fools' Day is canceled this year, and every year.