IT’S IN THE WATER
“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so” – Mark Twain’s words are haunting. Especially now. When so much of the finite commodity that is life is spent online. When so much of what happens IRL is inherited from, circulated in and fed back into the online sphere. Where opinions flow free, inundating your feeds with an ubiquity so obvious it washes over you like a breath you don’t notice you’re taking. On most days, you’re ambivalent. Until the moment it clicks – you latch on to some idea/thought/ad lib and the transformation begins.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. Across the span of time, cultures and tongues, transcendence has been shown to be triggered by its antithesis: We want what we don’t have; if it’s broken, we have to fix it. Likewise, the messaging around becoming a ‘better’ version of the man you currently are isn’t new. Religion, philosophy, the army, your father and Michael Bay have all been goading you towards betterness. It’s just that what ‘better’ is, is a matter of semantics. After all, what’s ‘better’ if it can’t be measured, quantified and compared against ‘worse’? Depending on whom you ask, better means more cars, more money, more women, a soaring trajectory, galactic biceps, or the exact opposite of all of that.
Patriarchy is an impinging force – no one is spared from it. Even those who enforce its bite. The male ego is patriarchy’s dartboard – but the bullseye is wherever the barb lands. Modernity, especially this accelerated modernity, where competition is intractable from existence, is a Darwinistic manifestation. Which also makes it a bustling marketplace for how to be better – and business, it seems, is booming.
A BLACK HAT RODE INTO TOWN
At this writing, a 35-year-old guru is more Google-d than Donald Trump, Joe Bidden and Kim Kardashian. He’s known as the Top G, the King Cobra, but most formidably, by his birth name Andrew Tate. By any metric that privileges visibility over something more subjective, like, say, substance, Tate is the reigning king of the “manosphere”, the broad, messy online space composed of various men’s rights advocates.
Tate is an Internet-born phenomenon, and more accurately, the spawn of this present moment in Internet history. His dominance in the conversation is a perfect storm of the dust settling in a post-MeToo world and his social media savvy. Where there are eyeballs, he’s there, making waves like a protein-shake-chugging Poseidon. But it’s not just that. Why he’s trending – and absolute killing it – is because his means of infiltration makes his arrival inescapable. Your Internet browser, your Instagram (where he’s the fastest-growing account, garnering more than 4 million followers in less eight months), your TikTok (where he has amassed views in excess of 11 billion) – no platform is safe.
A lot of what he’s peddling is outrageous and too easily dismissable: Men can cheat but women shouldn’t; depression isn’t real; always stay on your grind; if you’re not making money, you’re useless; if you’re always actively doing something, you won’t have the time to feel sad; sadness isn’t real; if you’re sad, you’re useless.
The grift – and it is one – is a combination of three aspects of marketing he’s weaponsised to legitimately awe-inspiring effect: Identifying A Problem (that men these days are weak/whipped), Crowning Himself The Solution (leading by example, which includes being in top physical shape and living a much-advertised lifestyle where ostentation is an unassailable norm) and Having Tangible Product (his online platform Hustler’s University 2.0, where for US$49 monthly, he’ll give you “Full resources, full lesson plans, everything you need to get rich and it all starts with you making your first money TODAY”. Should you require further convincing, he’s thought of that too: “You have no more excuses, I just took them all away. Buckle up. It's time to work”.
The comments section of any content either valorising or decrying him is illuminating. Besides their subject matter, they have one deeply fascinating and sobering sentiment in common: “He just says it like it is. He doesn’t worry about what people think about him”.
Too many times, that’s been proven to be devastatingly alluring to a vast number of people content to outsource their epiphanies to more charismatic (read: external) sources.
BREAKING THE MATRIX
Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins – they’re different but similar. Part-town criers, part-purveyors of the cure, they’ve built brands on the infinite complexity of our simple urge to know, get, feel and be more. In their own ways, they locate the beast in your belly and help you kill/best it. Whether or not there’s something actually meaningful about the spiel is, of course, up to the individual to decide for themselves.
But today’s hyper-online gurus (the ones who don’t have multi-million-dollar-book-and/or-show deals) are a lot less subtle than their predecessors. They – particularly Tate – literalise the premise of The Matrix constantly. Neo’s ingestion of the Red (truth-telling) pill is a dam-breaking moment in the film, whose reverberations are being mined for whatever detonations its interpreters seek to create.
If the way to break out out of an allegedly uninspired, directionless mind-and-body-numbing existence is by giving x-amount of your money, time and attention to a guy who looks, sounds, acts, lives like he’s figured it out, would you pull the trigger? Would you swallow that pill?
Or would you chuck all pills not prescribed by a medical professional, close your tabs, turn off your screen and step out into the light?
After all, as Twain once said, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so”.