Written by Elliott Weil
When I was nine years old, my mom helped me set up my first personal email address. Now a collection of detritus- from old promotional mailing lists to calls organized but never “hopped on”- at the time was the vestibule to a life lived foremost by online communication. While not a social media platform in the way that Facebook or the last breath of MySpace were at the time, anyone from the Google Chat (and eventually, Google Plus) generation can tell you that it was the gateway drug to being extremely online. My walk home from the school bus everyday was punctuated, without fail, with a stop by the family computer to see if my crush had chatted me “heyy” or if my signature needed more wingdings. Soon it was clear that I wouldn’t just grow up with the internet, I’d grow up on and alongside it. Both products of Y2K, social media and myself were awkward tweenagers, just beginning to individuate, but with sincerity largely still intact. Then came the perfect setting for my emblem of that time: chain mail.
My inbox, and from what I could tell, the inboxes of my peers, parents, grandparents were constantly filled with lengthy declarations about karma and the demand that the reader forward to ten friends. Despite the barely legible prose almost universally recognized as some sort of phishing scheme, they kind of worked. I mean- why not send it along, even if you know it’s fake. If the good fortune to get my parents to let me go to the Animal Collective concert was one forward away... I’d be fucking stupid not to send it. We knew what we were doing, and we did it anyway.
The medium has disappeared as online social interaction has redefined itself as the fully fledged Instagram, Twitter, TikTok world. While there’s no shortage of grifters looking to get you to like and share– not excluding the liberal obsession of reposting slideshow tutorials and petitioning idealogues – it’s just not the same. There’s only one remnant of chain-mail culture that has endured the onslaught of peer-to-peer communication and feels like a worthy homage to the chain-mail of my youth.
BOO!! Sorry did I scare you?! WASSUP GURL😉😉😊 ITS COCKTOBER 😈🌚🍂🍃🍁 AND IF YOU👈🏽 ARE GETTING THIS👇🏽😘 IT MEANS UR A HALLOWEEN 👻🎃 HOE😏😩👅💦 every year in Cocktober the jack o slut🎃 comes to life🙀😻🙌🏽👏👏🙌🏽 coming to harvest 🍁🍂🍃 his hoes for THOT-O-WEEN😏😏💥💥🎈🎂🎉 send this to 10 other Halloween Hoes or else you a TRICK🎃👻👻 🎃 IF YOU GET 4 BACK UR A THOT-O-WEEN TREAT😋 IF YOU GET 6 BACK UR A SLUTTY WITCH BITCH👄😍✨🔮 BUT IF YOU GET 10 BACK UR THE SPOOKIEST SLUT ON THE BLOCK😜💦⚰🎉🎉💯🎃 If you don’t send this to 1️⃣0️⃣other thots💁😩👄 you will get NO DICK 👋 this COCKTOBER🎃😉😜
Migrating birds, sprouting fungi, falling leaves, horny, emoji ridden, declarations of “Cocktober.” Somehow, every year this chain gets passed around despite its long expired schtick of ironic, gratuitous lust and infantile Internet speak. The genre is pretty broad, but the Autumn variation has always stood out to me the most. Something about the way “Cocktober” rolls off the tongue. It’s sex-positivity in the most accesible, least corny way possible. There’s no indecipherable vocabulary about 3rd and 4th wave feminism, just go out– be a jack-o-slut before it’s too cold to sling cocktails on the street. The final plea– threat of 0 dick if you dont text it to your hoes– is also the perfect reference chain-mails past promising your first kiss unless you fail to keep the chain going. You’re lying to yourself if you’re single on Halloween and don’t think about coming home with someone in cliched but topical Hunter Biden costume. Most importantly though, “Cocktober” is a bit that’s braved the cool, uncool, ironically cool, ironically uncool flywheel at least a half dozen times, and as goes the rotation of the sun, is just charming enough to play well when it reaches my phone each year. We know it’s arcane, embarrassing, annoying but we do it anyway.
And, truly, the internet landscape we’re operating off of could be the most antagonistic conditions for chain-mail since its inception. We’re no longer at that naive pre-teen stage of just the right lack of social consequence. Social media and the post-Y2K internet is in it’s 20s now. It’s nothing if not preformative to the detriment of it’s relationships. We haven’t done away with these daisy-chain interactions, we’ve just shifted them to the public sphere as platforms continue to serve the acceleration of–wait for it– our Culture of Narcissism™. Just looking at the changing layouts of MySpace, Facebook, and now Instagram clearly represents a moving goalpost of our desire to connect with a group of our peers, to the desire to present to public at large. And with an open audience, the intention of sharing some message in the interest of your good fortune and maybe your friend’s, has turned into an identity signal.
What are the sort of passed on motifs of social media if not hyper-exposed chain mail? Charity challenges, clip-art produce, LA graffiti walls, black squares, Pepe, Clandestino cheese plate. It’s the same thing with a sociopathic insistence that your participation in the passing forward is somehow a personal description. You don’t just want to get the good luck for the next 24 hours, you want your friends to know you have it.
Cocktober is democratic and impersonal. The joke has been laundered over and over to devoid it of any meaningful context, it just exists as a completely non-referential, but participatory event. It’s the last internet communication that isn’t tied up in some fantasy of “being in on the joke.” Sending the Cocktober text does what all of the ornamental “we’re in this together” COVID posting wishes it could do. It places the sender at the center of a really humane web of people, doing their fully conscious due-diligence of participation. The clapping at 7PM, #untiltomorrow, these are predicated on getting it. You have to read about it in some lame publication, or see it on your timeline, then show everyone you saw it. With Cocktober, if you’ve ever deceived the text, you’ve instantly understood it, and shared it with a community that means enough to you that you don’t feel weird about forwarding it to them . The infrastructure of 10 friends, each passing to 10 friends is a mimicry of genuine social interaction. Performing for an audience of 300-100K is collective psychosis.
It’s Cocktober, you know what that means!