Did you happen to catch that infamous tweet earlier this month when Disney drew upon the dark gothic heart of a Tumblr teen and posted this delightfully depressed meme?
That bleak message was brought to you by the interactive team behind the official blog, “Oh My Disney.” But as expected, the next day, the wholesome brand woke up and apparently regretted its show of emotions. (Think we’ve all been there.) And like a poisoned sugar cube melting away in the rain, Disney deleted the tweet and pretended like it never happened.
Still, it was out there. And so, we were left to grapple with its meaning. Namely: We all know the world’s grown dark, but has it grown that dark? Okay, maybe it has. After all, some people genuinely loved that the caretakers for the Happiest Place on Earth had embraced the cold ennui of life. People, like, this guy:
Then there was Maya Kosoff, a tech writer for Vanity Fair, who dryly brought the Mouse down to our level:
Meanwhile, Sara Yasin from BuzzFeed News took the darkness and dared to dream:
Lastly, Juliet Bennett Rylah doubled-down and embraced the relatability of Disney’s tweet:
The thing is, something feels terribly unsettling when a corporate brand wants to get super emotional online. Coming from a non-person, it’s a little too uncanny valley for most people. And sure, fine, corporations are people, too, as determined in the Citizens United Supreme Court case. But that doesn’t mean we want them acting like us online. Let us have something, something uniquely human. Like, being Depressed Online.
Of course, as with any rule, there are exceptions. As far as corporate Twitter being edgy goes, it’s hard to beat the official MoonPie account. It spits fire like an emcee out to make their name and shake up the game. MoonPie’s secret is simple: Have fun with it. That’s how their game stays wild. And they stay winning. BuzzFeed even did a profile on the dude who supplies the raw wit for what’s an endless corporate diss track disguised as a Twitter account. Check, for instance, how MoonPie treated someone named Kaela like an online stepchild in this thread:
Or how about this kiss of semi-sweet darkness:
So a corporation can do dark—and do it well. But it has to know its audience. No one wants Depressed Disney out in these internet streets playing the “I’m dead inside” game.
Maybe the more important question to ask, however, is: When, exactly, did “I’m dead inside” become something to share with strangers online?
Personally, like with so many things, I blame The Weeknd. Specifically, his song “Belong to the World.”
This track was the second single released from his 2013 debut album Kiss Land. In case you don’t know the song, Toronto’s Other Favorite Son sings:
I’m not a fool
I just love that you’re dead inside (that you’re dead inside)
I’m not a fool, I’m just lifeless too
But you taught me how to feel
When nobody ever would
And you taught me how to love
What nobody ever could
Coincidental or not, soon afterward, the “I’m dead inside” meme started to heat-up.
In fact, if you check Twitter for the phrase “I’m dead inside,” you’ll see its use shoots up precipitously after “Belong to the World” first hit ears in 2013. For instance, from January 1, 2012, through December 31, 2012, “I’m dead inside” was posted on Twitter 223 times. And among those tweets were some unusual suspects—e.g., this sext from the poet Warsan Shire, who co-wrote Beyonce’s Lemonade:
Or this depressive captain’s log entry from comedian Elan Gale:
Another comedian, Andy Kindler, felt the embrace of emptiness at the 2012 Republican National Convention, which left him in that oh-so familiar space:
But maybe you’re not dead inside. Maybe you just don’t love Rent enough:
There was also this tweet from writer/public radio show host John Moe, who was apparently dead inside, musically, and doing it for the RTs:
But outside the trendy depression of pop stars, when we blithely tweet about how our insides have ceased all vital functions, what does it really mean? Or better put, does it mean anything at all?
Is this just another aspect of the relentless emotional steamroller we call Ironic Culture? Have we become so jaded and jaundiced from being perpetually online that we genuinely do feel a loss of connection to others? The true modern irony. And now, in a very French way, we proclaim ourselves dead inside?
Others will point out that pretending to be deeply depressed or borderline suicidal isn’t good for our group psyche. Not in some holistic group spirit way, more because it reduces the very real mental health conditions of others down to a coy Plathian tweet. More specifically, people who suffer from depression and suicidal ideation don’t need any of us to minimize their suffering as some sort of passing mood.
Here, though, is the most insidious part of all this dead inside talk: Your subconscious. Kinda like Alexa, it listens to everything you say. Everything. And it’s very dumb. It believes whatever you say. Which means, if you say some dumb shit enough times, part of you will start to believe it. So it seems emotionally dangerous to desire death online too often—even if you know you’re joking. At best, it turns you into this man:
But back to how we got here in the first place—Disney. The best part of the House of Mouse’s deleted tweet may be the fact that PornHub beat it to become the first “dead inside” brand by at least two days:
When Disney and PornHub agree about their fake depression, it’s definitely time to ask yourself this year-old question from writer Mila Jaroniec:
It sure seems like the answer is a solid no. The good news: People may already feel ready to return to authentic emotions.
Which could be a good or bad thing. But at least it’ll be a real thing.