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It’s incredible just how much happens in one year. It’s not something that you think about while living your daily life, but trying to track all the ups and downs, all the trends and cancellations and all the unexpected memes of a year is tiring. Social media is a whirlwind of things being thrown at a wall and only the most impactful things stick. I love it. The chaos of the digital sphere means that anything and everything — my favorite being #NancytheThroatGoat — is fair game. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world as unhinged as that?

Mik Deitz, Senior Arts Editor

The only thing I can say about 2021 without second-guessing myself is that it was most definitely a year, and things happened. Armie Hammer was outed as a cannibal. I started writing for The Michigan Daily. Azealia Banks said a lot of things via her Instagram story. Trisha Paytas retweeted my article. The Carters looked really tiny next to the Bidens. Not all of these things are of equal importance to me, but they hold a special place in my brain. Here’s to Digital Culture, for scratching my itch for the niche, inconsequential knowledge I tend to collect, and to another year of things happening!

— Laine Brotherton, Digital Culture Beat Editor

January: End of Adobe Flash Player

On the penultimate day of 2020, Adobe prevented downloads of one of their most popular services, and on Jan. 12, it was turned off entirely, ending a 24-year history. The decision was due to the emergence of other “viable alternatives for Flash content,” as other major browsers developed their own standards. Adobe Flash Player, known as Macromedia Flash 1.0 when it was first released, started as a software that helped display animated content on web browsers. It quickly became a staple across web browsers, especially in the online game world. Whole websites like sprung up to host these games and inspire nascent developers everywhere. Its simplicity and adaptability made it a unique concept ahead of its time, to such an extent that it survived unprecedented technological advancements.

The ripple effects of this decision were felt around the world; entire systems running on Flash Player began malfunctioning almost immediately. Many feared that some of their favorite games would soon bite the dust, but the online community across the world ensured that Adobe Flash Player, in some form, would live on in our browsers and in our hearts. 

— Rushabh Shah, Daily Arts Writer

February: Reddit takes Wall Street with GameStop

Since its inception in 2005, Reddit has received cult status amongst the online community, but it was never as important as February 2021 when a popular Reddit thread (r/wallstreetbets) started a movement that reached the corners of the world. Someone found out that a short — borrowing stocks at a high price to sell them back at a low one, thus gaining profit — was planned for the troubled GameStop. And this made people mad. The objective was simple: The common person, those that feel separated from the top dogs of Wall Street, wanted to serve a stark reminder to the financial giants of the world that said giants aren’t as powerful as they might believe themselves to be. To achieve this, the thread urged anyone and everyone to purchase and hold onto stocks, first solely from GameStop, but quickly Blackberry and AMC Entertainement joined the ranks. As the stock price rose, the brokers lost money while the Redditors who got in early cashed out and made bank. 

What followed was another great example of the power of social media. Stocks like GameStop skyrocketed to highs they had never seen before, hitting a share price of almost $350 in the days leading up to February. The movement migrated from Reddit onto Twitter and into the wider world, the word spreading like wildfire: You should get in while it’s hot. While the money was simply a payday for hedge fund salesmen, those who jumped in from social media were endowed with life-changing funds. The prices eventually did return to normalcy in the weeks that followed, but the incident proved again that we, as a society, can achieve a lot when we work together and social media is where it can all come together.

— Rushabh Shah, Daily Arts Writer

March: Too many NFTs 

The month of March roughly demarcates an irreversible shift in internet discourse: NFTs. After writing a painstakingly-researched article on the NFT boom, I tried (to no avail) erasing every thought and feeling relating to non-fungible tokens. This proved to be a fruitless endeavor — before March ended, one NFT sold for almost $70 million dollars, and crypto bros succeeded in creating a goliath that has since become the Collins Dictionary “Word of the Year.” NFTs have a firm grip on the cryptocurrency market, and not just because Joe Rogan and Elon Musk love them — companies like Taco Bell and Visa have started to ride the wave, too.

I’m not going to relive the agony of explaining NFTs, so here’s all you need to know: they’re registered on a blockchain, they’re encrypted tokens of authenticity, and they can be anything. Azealia Banks’s sex tape is an NFT. Nyan Cat is an NFT. A video of a Banksy piece being engulfed in flames was also, ironically, turned into an NFT. In March, what started as digital trading cards resembling Gorillaz fanart began to dominate the news cycle and since then, peace has never been restored. 

Laine Brotherton, Digital Culture Beat Editor

April: “My grandparents were such a vibe in the 40s”

I, too, wish that Bella and Edward had helped raise me. This meme format, in which people posted black-and-white pictures of celebrities and influencers with the caption “my grandparents were such a vibe in the 40s,” exploded on Twitter in April. The tweet that started it all, from user @awdummy, featured the “You Know I Had to Do It to Em” meme in black and white. Shortly thereafter, a flood of Twitter users revealed their grandparents to the world, from The Weeknd to characters from The Office. Slowly, the meme descended into absurdity (as all memes eventually do), and by far my favorite version came from @GatorsDaily. I love my grandparents, but man would it be cool if they were ancient alligators. One can dream, I guess. In that beautiful spring moment, we could all dream big.

— Harper Koltz, Daily Arts Writer

May: Elon Musk kills SNL

It pains me to admit that “Saturday Night Live” has been on life support for well over half a decade. The sketch show has deep roots and I’ve always appreciated the smart humor and disdain for the powers that be, but there are only so many times the writers can get a pass for simply making skits about what was trending on Twitter that week. Thankfully the show doesn’t exist anymore (you cannot convince me otherwise) because Time Magazine’s Man of the Year Elon Musk visited SNL in the hospital, gave it some pretty flowers, stroked its face and then suffocated it with a pillow. I don’t even think the show fought back. It welcomed death.

Elon Musk’s episode of SNL causes me mental anguish, so if I must remember it, then you all must as well. The episode is legendary for Musk’s terribly meme-worthy portrayal of Wario, his poorly written opening monologue, and the tone-deaf “how do you do fellow kids” sketch of Gen Z hospital. It’s difficult to weigh whether Musk or SNL is more at fault in this scenario, as producer Lorne Michaels has long been allowing tempestuous celebrities to host. Musk remained a prominent asshole throughout 2021, as he shorted dogecoin, got dumped by Grimes, and got a truly horrific haircut. It tracks then that the only positive thing he would do all year was kill a once-beloved sketch show. 

Mik Deitz, Senior Arts Editor

June: Adult Swim on Tiktok

Creativity on TikTok never thrived more than it did in June of 2021 with the viral Adult Swim trend. For those who don’t know, Adult Swim is a cable programming block owned by Cartoon Network that runs overnight: The switch from kids’ cartoons to more mature shows signals to the young that it is probably time to go to bed. Based on the bumps that the channel would play in between commercial breaks, the trend quickly reached legendary status — today #AdultSwim has over six billion views. No matter what kind of content you regularly consumed on the app, you were bound to come across videos featuring the [as] logo and user VANO3000’s sped-up remix of “Time Moves Slow” by BADBADNOTGOOD. Ideas ranged from simple and snarky to artful and cinematic to just plain bizarre, but the cleverly placed logo was sure to make you gasp once it was revealed. Users found a way to follow the trend while sticking to their regular content and earned themselves millions of likes in the process. Eventually, even Adult Swim’s official TikTok account joined in on the fun. Even now, when the audio crosses the For You page months later, people still comment that this was TikTok’s “best era.” 

Hannah Carapellotti, Daily Arts Writer

July: Activision Blizzard gets sued by California 

2021 was the year that many game studios were finally held accountable for the decades of salacious rumors and inappropriate behaviors that were well-known secrets in the industry. Early in the year, many smaller studios reckoned with egotistical bosses, many of whom took “steps back” while remaining heavily involved in the day-to-day development of their games. This one step forward, two steps back tango was unprepared for the massive announcement on July 20 — that California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing had filed a lawsuit against American gaming giant Activision Blizzard. 

Well known for creating massive series such as “Call of Duty,” “World of Warcraft” and “Overwatch,” it’s safe to say Activision Blizzard is a big deal in gaming. The lawsuit alleged that the company “fostered a frat boy culture” that led to increased sexual harassment and unequal pay for female employees. The case is still ongoing — the company currently has three lawsuits against them — but the simple fact of the lawsuit’s existence promises something many both inside and outside the industry felt was impossible: change. Whether or not ActiBlizz is indicted on any charges (although the studio has already let go of a few accused individuals), simply opening investigations to hold such a powerful, long-standing company accountable signals that an industrywide change could happen. People want it to happen. And because of this (and ActiBlizz being purchased by Microsoft), it finally just might. 

Mik Deitz, Senior Arts Editor

August: “Good soup” on Tiktok

What can I possibly say about “Good soup?” What can I possibly say about this clip of Adam Driver, his luscious locks glinting in the diner light as he sits perfectly framed against the window beside him and leans into a bowl far too small for a man so large and, after taking a sip from said bowl, aggressively flashes the “OK” sign and murmurs to himself, as though speaking a prophecy, “Good soup”? I’ll tell you what I can say — this ridiculous clip defined my year.

“Good soup” originated in an episode of HBO’s “Girls” in 2017, but resurfaced on YouTube on Aug. 6 of 2021 before TikTok user @visionsvibraniumpubes posted the clip on Aug. 15 with the caption “me when the soups good.” The audio subsequently blew up on TikTok and soon became a catch-all descriptor for anything ranging from eating actual soup to car maintenance.

The phrase became a staple in my household. My roommates and I use it when referring to the meals we cook, the grades we get or our Wii bowling scores. Even when I saw my less meme-savvy cousin at Christmas, she was quick to call the monkey bread we made for breakfast “good soup.”

Adam Driver’s throw-away line infiltrated every facet of my life and has incidentally become the perfect, most neutral way to meet every disaster we faced in 2021. He also gave me the perfect way to describe my hopes for the future — if 2021 had to be 2020: The Sequel, then 2022 could, at the very least, be “good soup.”

Maddie Agne, Daily Arts Writer

September: Yik Yak is back

September 2021 saw the “return of the Yak.” Yik Yak first arrived on the scene in 2013, with user anonymity as its strongest selling point. After shutting down in 2017 due to concerns of cyberbullying, the app re-launched last fall under new ownership and took off once again (it’s certainly popular here at the University). The anonymity that gave Yik Yak its intrigue still remains but new changes include a greater emphasis on combating the bullying and harassment that led to its original downfall. The app’s new owners make their positions known in their “community guardrails,” which are clearly labeled for users to find. Resources for mental health and staying safe, both online and in the real world, are also provided. When it comes to achieving these goals, the app hopes that its voting system on “Yaks” will do a better job in this relaunch. Similar to Reddit, users can either “upvote” or “downvote” a Yak. According to the guardrails, “Yaks that reach -5 total vote points are removed from Yik Yak.” Such a system relies heavily on the community to keep itself in check, but only time will tell if the app succeeds this time around.

Hannah Carapellotti, Daily Arts Writer

October: Facebook Metaverse

Where were you when the Facebook Metaverse trailer was released? Where were you when you realized that this deeply haunting video of Mark Zuckerberg sampling face filters could soon become an inescapable, stifling reality? Much like when Google changed their parent company to “Alphabet,” I expected to see the Metaverse issue bounce around the online news cycle until people eventually realized that nothing had changed. I don’t need to explain why the Metaverse is bad — that’s already been done. In short, the Metaverse is another way for the Zuck to stick his grubby hands in our personal data and sell it, except this time there’s a VR headset involved. 

Laine Brotherton, Digital Culture Beat Editor

November: YouTube removes dislikes

YouTube has been at the forefront of media and entertainment for the past 15 years. A place where anyone can upload their own video content was an incredible idea, and it has been a titan for my generation. However, YouTube decided to remove the dislike counter from the public eye in order to prevent harassment and create a respectful environment for viewers and creators alike. They cite “dislike attacks,” where viewers would work together to drive up the dislike counts on certain videos, as a driving force in this change. But one look at the previous most disliked video — YouTube’s own Rewind — and the waters become murkier. There has been significant backlash against this decision, by creators and viewers alike. Many believe that with so much content being pumped out every day, there needs to be a gauge of how “good” videos are; a sort of public discourse. Other members of this group argued it would spread misinformation, as a massively disliked video could be a strong indicator of biased or incorrect information. 

As a company, YouTube can pretty much do whatever it wants to its own platform, but it’s impossible to ignore the largely shared opinion that the removal of dislikes is unfavored in the digital culture sphere.

Maxwell Lee, Daily Arts Writer

December: The resurgence of FNAF

Five Nights at Freddy’s is a popular horror video game and book franchise that gained lots of traction on YouTube when it first came out in 2014. At first, there was an onslaught of gameplay and reaction videos of the game littering the platform. The suspenseful and supernatural nature of the game was a magnet for attracting viewers. As sequels were released and the lore got deeper, more and more people flocked to YouTube to discuss just exactly what was going on behind the doors of Fazbear’s Pizza. As with most fandom activities, overall traction dies down between releases. The community lay dormant, in wait after the previous game was released in 2019. In the grand scheme of things, two years is not a long time, but for fans, it can feel like an eternity.

However, on Dec. 16, 2021, the newest game — “Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach was released. Apart from the new 80s aesthetic, there was another new detail: where other games in the series have three endings, this one has six. As soon as the game launched, an onslaught of reaction and gameplay videos flooded YouTube channels from creators like Markiplier, JazzyGuns, PrestonPlayz and DanTDM. Other channels worked at light-speed to update their lore videos and posit new theories about creator Scott Cawthon’s master plan. The FNAF-fever even sparked a new wave of fanart and spread onto TikTok with too many fun edits to choose from. With this release right at the end of the year, we will hopefully see more of FNAF in 2022 and beyond.

K. Rodriguez-Garcia, Daily Arts Writer