Countering Culture: the world of unreality

Freddie Parker on 31 May 2023
Jackie Kennedy

Fake news and disinformation plague the web, but why is it just so fun to lie about strangers on the internet?

What people do in their free time largely exists to escape from reality. Telling tall tales has been part of human culture since before even ancient times. As with any human phenomenon, it has previously made its way onto the internet through things like creepypastas and fanfiction. Although fanfiction came before the internet.

Recent years have seen both a Dada-like humour and a deep interest in internet lore develop. You could even argue that “unreality” is a mix of both of these. But what is it and how big is its scope?

What is unreality?

A scroll through the #unreality tag on tumblr will take you on a wild journey through people’s fantasies and strange fictions. Peppered amongst them you may see long-term mass hallucinations like clown husbandry and Goncharov. It’s talking about things that aren’t real as though they are.

You could argue though that this is a specific manifestation of a much larger trend. Think of how many viral moments were based on lies about celebrities. Millie Bobby Brown, Jackie Kennedy, Ellie Goulding and many more. This is the same thing, no?

What’s the weirdest internet celebrity lore?

Jackie Kennedy - The teeth and diet of this famous First Lady are at the centre of a longstanding online in-joke. According to the internet, she eats sheet metal. It started with this tweet, so says Know Your Meme:

Edited photo of Jackie Kennedy with the caption

There’s even a TikTok sound creators are commonly putting to Jackie Kennedy’s face, an example is just below:

@sugarsethx #stitch with @abbyshewmaker why sheet metal lol #jackiekennedy #sheetmetal ♬ original sound - SugarSethx

Lea Michele - The Glee star turned “Funny Girl” has long been suspected of hiding her inability to read. Some corners of the internet would even say she hasn’t done a very good job of hiding it.

@pinkteabags she’ll say it after the fact or not at all🤔 #leamichele #leamicheleisilliterate #foryoupage #glee ♬ original sound - kim⁷

In a stunning display of being a good sport, Michele has even leant in to the joke, making her own TikToks. People in her comments always spell out what they’re saying as emojis. So, she put out a handful of TikToks with captions that read (📖) the same.

Screenshot of comments of Lea Michele's TikToks



♬ original sound - leamichele

Millie Bobby Brown - Despite both being Gen Z herself and starring in possibly the most popular show among your generation, she isn't immune. Whispers, comments and tweets talk of her virulent, entirely fictional, homophobia.

@periodt_purr HELP- #milliebobbybrown #strangerthings #xbyzcafyp #angelastrangerthings #strangerthings4 #fyp #foryoupage #pridemonth #elevenhopper #viralxybca #virall #fyppage ♬ Good Form pon mi remix

Why do we enjoy this?

It’s collective storytelling. Long have we gathered around fires and told each other stories. Often with the hopes of messing with their ability to sleep. Gossip has been a common thread throughout history too. 

There’s a level of escapism to it, coupled with the fun of having an inside joke with strangers on the internet. It also complements the recent neo-Dadaism and abundant absurdism. What’s more pre- and post-surreal than telling lies for entertainment?

Is it all just harmless fun?

In theory, yes. In practice, no. It’s important to consider whether lies about illiteracy play into ableist power structures or if making homophobia a punchline is ethical behaviour. Regardless of intent, impact must be considered. And why is it always women that have this online lore?

But there are those who do it in a more respectful manner. The Twitter account Fake Showbiz News makes headline-worthy tweets, entirely devoid of truth. To be honest, they’re absurd to the point of ridiculousness. Their jokes still have an edge sometimes, but they only ever seem to punch up.

Prospective student? We want to hear from you! Join the Student Hut Forum and earn £s by taking surveys.

Freddie Parker
Freddie Parker on 31 May 2023