What were you doing on the internet in the late 90s? I have to be honest, I was not doing anything productive. When I had an AOL account, I was doing very important stuff, like playing games on nick.com and cartoonnetwork.com, URLs that I saw on TV. If I’m remembering correctly, I would also regularly go to AOL Kids and click the “homework help” link, expecting that somehow it would just load up a page with all of the answers to my homework.
(Later on, when I was still single-digits in age, my parents bought me an Acer desktop of my own, so I could use the internet constantly without supervision. As a subscriber to this newsletter, I don’t have to explain to you that this screwed me up irrevocably.)
Here’s what other people on the internet were doing in the late 90s: making funny image macros about Mr. T and other celebrities eating testicles. The “Ate My Balls” meme is relatively simple: you set up a page showing that a prominent figure ate balls. The first one was Mr. T Ate My Balls, set up by Nehal Patel in 1997, and it consists of these images, hosted on Patel’s servers at the University of Illinois.
In the absence of highly participatory, centralized social media, the disparate Ate My Balls pages were collected among various directories and webrings (god, I wish I could claim membership to an "ate my balls webring" now). The most reliable one I’ve found is the Yahoo! one.
There are many different Ate My Balls pages and, due to the passage of time and some broken images, I can’t really tell if any of them are particularly exceptional. But scan through all of them and it’s like getting a bird’s-eye view of an ancient city. You can see (at least what feels like) the entirety of an early web meme and what and who was popular ball-eating fodder at the time.
You can also see on certain pages a map of the genesis of an Ate My Balls. ("This is my Mallrats Ate My Balls page. My insperation came from my friends Beastie Boys Ate My Balls page, which was inspered by the orginal Mr. T Ate My Balls page. )
The Dave Matthews Band Ate My Balls page, the images of which have been lost to time, turned into something of a flame war. Jordan, the page’s creator, alleged that DMB had seen the page and liked it, though I have no idea if this is true. Many people thought the page was a slight against DMB, though a commenter got to the heart of the matter.
Godzilla Ate My Balls, Nintendo 64 Ate My Balls, Kenneth Starr Ate My Ballzs, Shaq Ate My Balls, Osama Bin Laudin Ate My Balls (Pre-9/11: "Please, no more of those tasty balls! Osama is stuffed and can take no more! Even a champion ball scarfer like myself has limits, you know."), His Holyness, Pope John Paul II, Excommunicated My Balls, My Tamagotchi Ate My Virtual Balls ("Update - 6/18 Just to let everyone know… The pictures ARE fake. There is NO ‘ball’ button. This page is a joke. I don’t really hate Tamagotchis.")
Perhaps most interesting to me in all of this is going back and trying to read the coverage of the phenomenon at the time. There’s a brief Q&A with Patel linked to on the original Mr. T page conducted by someone from Sound.net (the domain no longer loads a webpage).
What I particularly love about this Q&A is its demonstration of how little has changed in two decades. I have interviewed many people who have spawned memes, and these interviews are almost always brief and barely illuminating. This is not because these people are boring or inarticulate, but rather because memes don’t usually have much thought or intentionality behind them. Plus, these interview subjects are usually not media-trained, do not want attention, and do not have anything to promote.
These interviews are always like, “Why did you do this?” I was hanging out with my guys and we thought this’d be funny. “Were you surprised that it got so much attention?” Yeah, definitely, it’s been wild. “What are you going to do next?” I don’t know.
Anyway, it’s nice to see that this has always been the case, since the early days of the web.
There’s also a thinkpiece on Salon by Milo Miles, published August 10, 1997, that reads almost exactly like many of the meme thinkpieces that are prevalent nowadays. The ones in which people have fun overextending themselves and overanalyze the meme, searching for a deeper significance.
Scrutinizing far too many AMB pages confirms that sheer idiocy and camp value can provoke cheap laughs even if true comedians remain rare as ever. And, sigh, there are a very few, very predictable, very unfunny homophobes who have picked up the obvious cues of AMB. The hee-hee racial tension lurking around the original Mr. T inspiration also stirs in the subconscious, unresolved. According to Aaron Yost of the AMB Mega Page, the AMB sites that draw the most hate mail are those that take on hot, sensitive headline topics like Heaven’s Gate (two pages) and are encountered by accident by those who do not expect to find their topic engaged in a testicle festival.
I don’t really have a closing thought here. I just think it’s fun to poke around on the Internet Archive and find out that some things on the web have not drastically changed over the years. The ancient web is still recognizable inside of the new internet, lurking around the edges and in the details.
Just a good post
What’s Facebook up to?
A Facebook Inc. team had a blunt message for senior executives. The company’s algorithms weren’t bringing people together. They were driving people apart.
“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”
That presentation went to the heart of a question dogging Facebook almost since its founding: Does its platform aggravate polarization and tribal behavior?
The answer it found, in some cases, was yes.
Facebook had kicked off an internal effort to understand how its platform shaped user behavior and how the company might address potential harms. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg had in public and private expressed concern about “sensationalism and polarization.”
But in the end, Facebook’s interest was fleeting. Mr. Zuckerberg and other senior executives largely shelved the basic research, according to previously unreported internal documents and people familiar with the effort, and weakened or blocked efforts to apply its conclusions to Facebook products.
Awful company! Just terrible.
If you wanted to buy Raf Simons’s 1991 thesis project, you can do so on Grailed, I guess.
Check out the @dancinghorsefriends TikTok account.
The New York Times… wrote about the Omegaverse!!! “The specific fanfic universe that spawned the Cain-Ellis dispute emerged about a decade ago, when devotees of the CW drama “Supernatural” began writing stories in which its two lead actors are lovers. One would be the dominant alpha male. The other man would be a feminized omega, often with the ability to become impregnated — a trope known as MPreg. Canine, and then lupine, sex stuff got mixed in.”