In a few short months, the Twitter feed @incelReplies, also styled as “incel pickup lines,” has picked up more than a quarter of a million followers. It belongs to a genre of gimmick accounts that hone in on a niche form of content and — usually curating from a pile of DM submissions — share the best of the best (or worst of the worst).
You can keep up on “shirts that go hard,” “posts to show a small Victorian child,” “conservative self-owns” and examples of “sigma male activity.” Many classic accounts in this mold adhere to the balance of Ws and Ls, or wins and losses. “Crypto Bros Taking Ls,” for instance, is where you can see Bitcoin and NFT evangelists undone by the volatile market and crummy tech. “Incel pickup lines” is, likewise, all about dire Ls.
Besides the pleasure of rubbernecking at the scene of disaster, there may be an anthropological value to collecting these horrific attempts at… well, “flirtation” is giving them too much credit. Straight men in particular could stand to learn what kind of harassment women are subject to on the internet, and the sheer volume of it.
Yet @incelReplies also serves the same purpose that all cringe or “fail” compilations do: It elevates our status by showing us just how debased others are. If guys are sending messages this pathetic and unhinged, we are cleansed of any awkwardness or rejection we may encounter in dating. And while this basic formula is consistent wherever failures are documented, the effect isn’t. A premise like Crypto Bros Taking Ls invites us to feel smugly intelligent for not investing in ugly digital art; @incelReplies wants you to congratulate yourself for not being a creep. But the DMs represent just one form of creepiness.
It’s not that these guys don’t deserve to get clowned on — far from it. A more radical (and possibly controversial) version of the account wouldn’t protect their identities, leaving followers the option to mock and troll them directly. The crowdsourced, cropped and edited material begins to feel banal instead, repetitive proof of what we already know. The elimination of context, the strip-mining of the internet for this exact discomfiture, takes the fun and danger out of a global network where billions of strangers can interact and capture those exchanges. The worst advance here can never be as hilarious or shocking as one discovered organically.
We’ve been promised, through algorithms and customization, an end to randomness. Here, and in dozens of similarly constructed projects, you find a steady supply of something that once had an effect on you, eventually bled of meaning as you develop a tolerance. Or, to frame the problem another way: We’ve delegated the crucial task of owning each other. When a gross message turns up on @incelReplies, there’s no point dunking on it, since the work is done for you, and the weirdo who wrote it is unlikely to read your scathing opinion anyway.
Oh, well. No social media trend can last forever, and even the creator of this archive will get bored of reading through the painful exchanges — far sooner than sleazy dudes will get bored of generating them, of course. Whatever the next gimmick is, let’s hope it takes a more flexible and spontaneous approach than simply aggregating trash.