This week’s exploration of the underbelly of young people culture takes us to surreal and terrifying imaginary spaces and invites us to have a heart-to-heart talk with a cartoon dog from a nearly forgotten app. I hope it doesn’t give you the ick.
I asked my kid for something he and his friends find funny, and he pointed me to YouTuber IShowSpeed. Like many YouTubers, he streams long sessions of Fortnite and such, but he’s become known lately for his conversations with a cartoon dog originally featured
in a kids app from 2011. Talking Ben the Dog lets you ask questions of a gruff cartoon canine who responds with yese
and non-committal grunts. It’s like a M
agic 8-ball—the kind of thing you’d find amusing for 30 seconds and delete. But IShowSpeed somehow turned the app into half of the funniest comedy duo online.
It’s partly funny because asking a cartoon dog controversial questions like “do you support LGBT rights?” is hilarious in itself, but mostly because the comic chemistry and timing between IShowSpeed and the imaginary dog is somehow perfect, even though only one of them is sentient. Just watch one of these videos to see what I mean. And then watch this one. And then watch the rest of them. The popularity of IShowSpeed’s streams have many people downloading the ancient
Talking Ben the Dog was recently the top-selling app on Apple’s store, despite being more than a decade old.
If you’ve noticed people on social meeds mentioning “The Ick,” here’s what’s going on: The ick refers to a sudden feeling of revulsion for a person you’re dating—that moment when you realize that the person you’ve idealized is actually kind of gross, awkward, or even just human. The hashtag over on TikTok features a ton of videos of people explaining how they got the ick. Some people get the ick from noticing a guy has abnormally long fingernails. You might be giving people the ick by awkwardly mounting your bicycle, wearing denim shorts, skinny jeans, or a Spider-man costume. Users are even giving themselves the ick to get over failed relationships, imagining their exes doing horrifically human things so it doesn’t hurt as badly. Maybe the ick is a what happens when the idealized personas we create online world meet our stupid, smelly meat-sack selves, or maybe it’s just an amusing little joke. You decide.
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Something is going on with the marketing campaign for upcoming movie The Northman. The posters on subways in New York City tell you everything you need to know about the film: It was made by Robert Eggers (The Witch and The Lighthouse), it stars Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, and freakin’ Bjork, it’s about Vikings. The only thing missing from the poster is the title of the movie. Someone is really dumb, and forgot to put the title on the poster, or really smart and is hoping to gain some online meme-magic with an obvious omission. I think it’s the latter, because people online are noticing and sharing. Some are calling out the person who forgot to include the title, or pointing out that it looks like a mobile game ad, but the best memes are the ones that add another movie’s title.
To fully understand this week’s viral video, you first have to burrow into one of the internet’s strangest rabbit holes. TikTok user yeetme084 posted this video of a discovery they supposedly made on Google Maps. Over de-tuned music, with the caption, “nah wtf they hiding in Japan?” the video zooms in on a strange circular building, then switches to Streetview to reveal its interior—a bland but vast collection of cubicles, and a pit that goes down to…somewhere. Over 20 million people have viewed it so far, and judging from the comments and discussions, many think this TikToker had found the legendary “Backrooms.”
“The Backrooms” is an internet urban legend—a dreamlike, endless maze of empty, randomly generated, office rooms you can supposedly enter only by “no-clipping” through reality. The idea of this and other “liminal spaces” has captured the imagination of people across the internet who are drawn to the locations that are disquieting for reasons that can’t quite be explained. They make games, short films, and post uncanny photos of places that evoke inexplicable dread.
Internet detectives zeroed in on the coordinates on yeetme084’s video and found they point to Nara Dreamland, a Japanese amusement park that has been closed and left to decay since 2006. A popular spot for urban explorers of abandoned places, Nara Dreamland is the perfect location for a space between the real world and whatever there is that we can’t see. Soon videos of other backroom locations all over the world were discovered on Google maps and Streetview.
It’s such a good, creepy story that I almost hate to spoil it, but the videos are of this world. That is to say, they’re fakes, part of an alternative reality game too tedious to care about. This YouTuber explains the whole thing, if you’re one of those “reality” kind of people.