In an attempt to be edgy Kobek’s novel feels dated and not particularly funny.

opening remarks

I wasn’t keen on the last book I read published by Serpent’s Tail but I Hate the Internet by Jarett Kobek was longlisted for this year’s Gordon Burn prize and given the stellar hit-rate of the award – it introduced me to three of my favourite books of the year – I thought to myself: why the fuck not.

Also, that title is a selling point.

knee-jerk observations

I get the feeling this may be a very quotable book.  Below is the opening to chapter one:

This is not a novel that trades in subtlety or ambiguity:
While this was all news to me:

Kobek’s take on the most popular videos on YouTube might have been true in 2016 but now that the site is predominantly watched by four-year-olds the videos with the most hits are (a) kids their age opening presents and toys (b) cuntish parents playing mean pranks on their children or (c) Elsa from Frozen having adventures with Spiderman usually against the Joker and involving much snot and vomit.

If it isn’t already clear I Hate The Internet is deeply cynical, satirical and self-aware novel that at times reads like Douglas Adams if he were a patronising prick.  Throughout the book, Kobek obsessively defines every noun and concept assuming the reader has been in a coma for the last century.  The story, what there is of it, is about Adeline, the co-creator of an indie comic about an anthropomorphic cat, who is dog-piled on the Internet after an interview, where she expresses some strident opinions, is posted on YouTube.

The novel features a couple of running gags the most annoying of which is noting the amount of “eumelanin present in the strata basale of the subject’s epidermis”.  Kobek’s less than subtle point is that opportunity and reward is contingent on the colour of your skin, even in the land of the free.  Like most people, I enjoy a good call back, but when it’s dragged into nearly every scene it stops being a running joke and more a justifiable reason to throw the book against the wall.

Still, amongst all the annoying callbacks there is the odd funny observation:

The novel is absolutely steeped in pop-culture (which, by the by, is one term Kobek never defines).  His main target is comics – and how they fucked over Jack Kirby – but he also has fun with Heinlein, Dick, Ballard and other sundry male science fiction authors.  At the halfway point of the book, Kobek finally has a crack at Doctor Who and its fandom.  It’s nothing profound, nothing he couldn’t have gleaned from any number of blog posts and articles about the topic, but then the novel, which hilariously feels dated 12 months after publication, struggles to provide any new insights about internet culture.

When you ‘critique’ Star Wars you’re not exactly plucking fruit from the highest branches:

The moral of Kobek’s story, as summarised below, is that all the hashtags, all the opinion pieces, all the memes, all the pictures of Pepe mean nothing, have no impact and simply oil the money making machine that is the Internet.  I know a few Russian bots that would disagree with this assertion:

The Gist Of It

I Hate The Internet often reminded me of that guy – it’s nearly always a guy – at a party, or at work, who not only acts as if he’s an expert about everything pop-culture but is keen to express his opinion on the things you enjoy by labelling them as shit.  Sometimes that guy can be funny and even on point but usually he’s a tiresome bore.

I often found myself… not bored… but unmoved by Kobek’s satirical attempt to reveal the dark heart of the Internet.  It’s not that I disagreed with his general argument, i.e. that the Internet masquerades as being a place of free expression and independent thought but really it’s just a money-maker for the Twitter, Facebooks and Apples of this world.  Or that I had an issue with his claim that the big brands – whether they be comic book companies or tech companies – have been making money on the backs of cheap labour for decades (with the Internet an extension of this).  And I won’t quibble with his assertion that San Francisco has become gentrified, that finding affordable living is nearly impossible and that much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Silicon Valley.  But none of this is new or profound.  Salon, HuffPo, the New York Times and countless other media outlets have published articles making similar arguments for years.  The mistreatment of Jack Kirby is a good example of something that’s been known for ages, which makes me wonder whether this book is aimed at me at all.  Could it be a guide for the baby boomers who need to have pointed out the shit legacy they’ve left for the rest of us? 

Whomever the audience, as a novel, as distinct from a series of ranty essays, it’s not very good.  The plot is thin, the characters are barely developed and in a book that pretends to have a social conscience about race and class it’s amazing how rich and privileged everyone is, especially our main star Adeline.  But the biggest problem with I Hate the Internet – which is not entirely Kobek’s fault – is how dated it is.  It’s set in 2013 and was published in 2016 (a self-published version may have come out earlier) and so there’s no mention of Russian bots, fake news, Trump or the rise of the alt-right, things that are all directly associated with our current perception of the Net.  One of Kobek’s arguments is that the shit you write on social media has no real impact or effect, as evidenced by the Arab Spring.  Of course, now it’s far more complicated.  Those companies are still making money but what’s published on social media, how it’s shaped and who it’s directed to does have an impact.  Elections can be won or lost because of the involvement of a horde of Pepe lovers on Twitter or a sensationalist bit of fake news on Facebook.

Still if you’re looking for a smug, cynical patronising novel about why the Internet is a bit shit, I suppose you could read this book.