Group 4

Spending slime online

Slime content is soothing, sensory, engrossing. And it just might hold the secret to understanding our online selves.

The internet of the first half of the 2010s belonged to the selfie: your face and brand were all that mattered. Online culture moved to the shutter speed of the front-facing camera. But somewhere around 2016, perhaps when the cult of personality led to a catastrophic American election, slime usurped the selfie. Slime took over youth culture by way of Thailand, where online creators pioneered the ASMR-adjacent slime videos that made slime one of Gen Z’s earliest cultural phenomena. The selfie was photo, slime is video. Selfie was brand, slime is aesthetic. Selfies pose with siren eyes, but slime is the siren song, the seduction.

Late-2010s slime was soothing, sensory, and engrossing. I could lose hours just watching. The videos all followed the same format: hands from beyond the frame descended on the innocent mass of Elmer’s Glue and Borax to manipulate, poke, stretch, and contort this plump little creation to the viewers’ satisfaction. Slime is young and vulnerable. Online, we’re all similarly young and vulnerable — there are always hands from above contorting us in ways we’d rather not.

We’re wracked with anxiety over our time online: we worry about our privacy, our security, our online presence, and how the internet leaks back into our minds — all things that seem to only grow in precarity as Silicon Valley’s power expands. We are at odds with all the time we spend online, because the way it makes us feels outweighs what it actually does.

The internet is wedged between our warring abilities to connect and dis-connect with our bodies.

Slime has been synonymous with youth since the beginning of youth culture itself. In his short video, “Brief History of Slime”, artist Oliver Payne charts the parallel histories of slime and youth culture: from 1948’s The Blob, a sci-fi horror about a jelly-blob alien, to the first slime toy in 1976, Silly Putty. I remember the last time I played with Silly Putty — right before I let it melt into the upholstery of my mom’s Chevrolet Lumina. The narration of Payne’s video explains that unlike other toys (like miniature cars or play kitchens), slime “is not a replica or a pretend version of the thing, it’s the thing itself”. Slime is just slime for the sake of being slime, “to be appreciated for how it feels versus what it does”. 

While catching up on all things #slime, I came across the Instagram page for a sexual wellness brand called Divine Secrets. The Reels weren’t modest so I won’t be either: Cracked coconuts getting finger-f*cked to a juicy climax. Erect cucumbers stroked wet with milky-white froth. Halved oranges getting squeezed into dripping streams of clear and brilliant slick. Gross or hot, at the very least it holds our attention, a sticky grip we’re used to resisting with futility — like doomscrolling, but for sexy slime videos. All to advertise the brand’s Waterfalls, a line of superfood lubricants that mimic “natural secretions” to give users “instant WAP”. 

Instagram alerted me to the one account I follow that happened to also follow Divine Secrets: FKA Twigs. Weeks later the pop star warned Instagram mutuals that she would be cleaning up her Instagram and unfollowing a lot of accounts to better surround herself with “the arts, clean non toxic living, [and] kind words”. Her name still appears as the only account I know follows @divinesecretsxoxo. Bodily slime, at least according to FKA Twigs, is essential to time online well-spent. In an interview with British Vogue the pop star used the phrase, “I’m like a slug” to explain her love of moisturising, adding that she loves “feeling like I’m connecting to myself and connecting to my body”. The internet is wedged between our warring abilities to connect and dis-connect with our bodies.

When I'm absorbed into my computer, enraptured by a comment section, diving into a rabbit hole — I don’t think about whether what I’m doing is good or bad, that’s a problem for later. Instead, I feel the edges of myself, blurring, reshaping, and returning to a slimy amniotic past. 

Today’s metaverse evangelists, from Zuckerberg to Bezos, love talking about how it can help us transcend the limits of the material world and how expansive and flexible time and space are in the digital world. All these manly pretensions of abandoning the human body were first described — and packaged into consumer tech products — by the cyberdudes of the nineties. In 1991, art collective VNS Matrix “crawled out of the cyberswamp” to challenge these ambitions when it “forged an unholy alliance with technology and its machines”. The collective’s mission was to “hijack the toys from technocowboys and remap cyberculture with a feminist bent”. They thought feminism still had a lot of work to do when it comes to the body —  along with its many fluids and functions. In the Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century, the collective refers to itself as “mercenaries of slime”. VSN is a faux-acronym that could stand for anything from Very Nice Sluts to Virtual Nodes of Slime.

I love rewatching that viral video of Fiona Apple reacting to leopard slug sex, which involves a swirl of two slugs suspended upside down at the end of a long strand of their own slime. The slime looks better than anything some twelve year old can cook up in a household kitchen. Apple’s awestruck reaction would have you thinking that strand of slime was hanging off a cloud in the sky. The slime is so romantic and majestic.

Maybe we feel tension around our time online, because it makes us aware of how porous and permeable we really are. The slime that was introduced as children’s toys in the 70s was actually a byproduct of making plastic — it’s waste. But we’ve treated slime as disposable long before we started making plastic, and to our detriment. In his book Slime Dynamics, Benjamin Woodward writes we treat slime as waste as part of our ongoing “attempt to remain absolutely immune to the baseness reality of life and matter”. We think of slime as trash because it's what connects us to everything around us. 

Slime is messy and liminal. Slime is neither liquid nor solid. When I'm absorbed into my computer, enraptured by a comment section, diving into a rabbit hole — I don’t think about whether what I’m doing is good or bad, that’s a problem for later. Instead, I feel the edges of myself, blurring, reshaping, and returning to a slimy amniotic past. It’s not unlike reading a book — a formative experience in chrysalistic dissolution. I’m swimming in the primordial soup, do your perceiving elsewhere. I’m like a slug. Like slime being massaged in ASMR. Like Waterfalls dripping out of an orange. I bet FKA Twigs feels it too, otherwise she wouldn’t be taking such measures to control it. It begins and ends with slime.

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