MrBeast: A Veblenian Terror from the Fourth Circle of Hell
The leisure class continues to innovate in its stagnation of industry. As part of their own industry of sabotage, the horrors of spectacle that conspicuous agents create to engage in a positive feedback loop of social capital are seemingly endless. This loop is as follows: The agent displays a form of consumption to attract attention. The attention gained, in turn, gives the agent the means to attain a greater display of consumption. This greater display, in turn, is supposed to attract even more attention, and so on. The goal of this is to boost the social status and wealth of the agent with each successful rotation.
The incorporation of play into the process as a means to display charity through competition is our focus here. As conspicuous consumption gives birth to conspicuous compassion, it too gives birth to another habit of the leisure class. The transformation of the ladder into what we will call “conspicuous competition,” the expenditure on a lavish display of competition created to publicly give large sums of money to the winner and or other participants as well, as a way to enhance the host's social prestige.
This is a key feature of the content for the Veblenian nightmare and our main subject, who goes by the name Jimmy Donaldson, or as he’s known online, MrBeast. Before we can cut-open and examine the anatomy of this beast, let’s briefly discuss the Ludus in the Homo Ludens.
The Ludus (play) within Homo sapiens is universal to all their cultures, as it’s an essential aspect of culture in itself. Everyone engages in recreational activities, from infants to the elderly. The idea of turning these into entertainment for countless spectators is also universal. When capitalism was brought into existence by 16th-century powers as a way to continue their ownership over comprehension (centralist realism), it was not long before they figured out ways to incorporate play into capital’s cycles. This turns playful activities into commodities and leisure into a spectacle, which reinforces the purchasing habits around commodity consumption.
The cognitive orientational intelligence (COI) of ideology (COII Circuit) had a new machine to insert itself into. This mechanical configuration was based on a series of micro-feedback loops that analyze, process, capture, manifest, produce, and then reproduce to create the simulated reality we live in. The essence and culmination of these is the search for capital (an asset that increases the ability to generate value) to gain the power (the capacity to direct influence) to gain more capital to gain more power, and so on.
This new machine called capitalism began to gain its own intelligence, but that is for another time. Simply carry this process with you as we fast-forward to February 2012, when MrBeast (under the handle MrBeast6000) started uploading videos. In the beginning, his videos were let’s plays, notably covering Minecraft and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.
But as his channel grew, the nature of his content changed. Fast-forward a little more to November 24th, 2021, with his video “$456,000 Squid Game In Real Life!”
For those unaware, Squid Game is a South Korean Netflix original series about 456 players, all in financial debt, engaging in a series of deadly children’s games for a chance to win 45.6 billion South Korean won. Obviously, MrBeast’s reenactment of this didn’t involve the losers dying in gruesome ways. However, the part about winning money is still very much real (at least, as “real” as any MrBeast video can be), but instead of South Korean won, it’s for nearly half a million USD.
It’s fascinating how a show that satirizes capitalism and the leisure class with childish games of death would then be turned into a partial reality. The processes of hyperstition seem to be working towards the full actualization of these death games into a reality once again, as they used to be with Roman gladiator fights. (Although death wasn't always mandatory, as in the case of a stalemate making the crowd bored, or if the crowd was pleased enough with the fight, both warriors were allowed to leave alive). However, this time, instead of an emperor's decree standing in the way, it’s the global institution of liberal human rights.
As for now, it will only ever be partially realized, as in, the consumption is real but the severity of the competition is lessened from death to a show of embarrassment. Let’s not forget that the process of capital is no stranger to assimilating its satire, let alone the idea that this specific type of satire is anything new.
Earlier incarnations of this subgenre of capitalist satire can be found in films like The Running Man (1987), which weaved criminal punishment into its game, Battle Royale (2000), which popularized and gave a name to the people competing in a game of death sub-genre and also weaved juvenile punishment into its game; and The Hunger Games (2012), which incidentally came out about a month or so after MrBeast’s first video. The punishment of criminals in the Hunger Games universe is its own separate spectacle. The use of juveniles in the titular Hunger Games was presented as an “honor” rather than punishment outright.
Outside of film, the poor, middle-classed, and famous have constantly competed against each other on TV (and formerly on the radio) all the time in the form of game shows. Starting with the Inter-Regional Spelling Competition, which was a one-off radio contest in 1937, the first televised game show (also on the radio) appeared the next year, called the Spelling Bee (TV Series 1938). This evolved into greater displays of theatrics as game shows became an everyday part of television consumption. This, too, is a partial reality, as they cast contestants in advance, and the money won is taxed. So the money you win isn’t the actual amount you get.
A notable television game show is Wheel of Fortune, which, like its medieval counterpart, the Rota Fortunae, decides fate once spun. The show debuted in 1975 with Chuck Wooley as its first host. Wooley would go on to host other game shows, such as the Love Connection (hosted from 1983–94) and Scrabble (hosted the entire TV series from 1984–90, and its revival in 1993). Successful hosts like him (and others more successful) gain massive fan bases. Many who watched at home would regularly participate in the shows themselves, shouting out possible answers to questions and jumping with joy or disappointment whenever the answer was revealed. The audience at home, whether they knew it or not, was gaining a parasocial relationship with the hosts.
What makes MrBeast significant in all this is that he represents an update to the formula. Thanks to 21st-century influencers and social media culture, you get to see the low-to-middle class and famous in “battle royales” daily (or 1-2 videos a month in MrBeast’s case) instead of waiting a week or years to see them. With your ever-increasing and accelerating dose of conspicuous consumption, compassion, and competition, you also receive greater degrees of parasocial relations.
Funnily enough, but nonetheless coincidental, similar to Squid Game, MrBeast has done videos where people play children’s games for money before. His catchphrase is “I will give you $10,000!” after all, due to challenges (among vlogs, reactions, and gaming) being a part of his content. We’ll focus particularly on his videos involving Tag and Hide-and-Seek, with each installment involving an ever-expanding degree of money and spectacle.
The two games are barely distinguishable from each other. In all the videos where these are played, the same formula happens. A group of people hides, and the last person to be caught, or touched, receives the money. Most of the time, the people involved are MrBeast’s friends, but sometimes celebrities and ordinary people are also involved.
We’ll focus on the Hide-and-Seek videos that follow the trend of increasing ten thousand dollars with each addition, except the most recent and Tag, which seems to follow the trend of increasing five times the amount with each addition.
The Hide-and-Seek videos are: “$50,000 Game of Extreme Hide and Seek — Challenge” (Uploaded on November 19th, 2019), “$60,000 Extreme Hide And Seek — Challenge” (Uploaded on January 17th, 2021), “$70,000 Extreme Hide And Seek — Challenge” (Uploaded on March 13th, 2021), and “Extreme $1,000,000 Hide And Seek” (Uploaded on December 18th, 2021). Let’s shorten these titles to Extreme Hide 50K, Extreme Hide 60K, Extreme Hide 70K, and Extreme Hide 1Mill.
Extreme Hide 50K takes place at East Carolina University (ECU), where ten of his friends play (you guessed it) hide-and-seek for fifty thousand dollars. Extreme Hide 60K takes place in an “abandoned city”, which looks more like two rows of small abandoned houses and a few mid-sized buildings surrounded by woods to Being, but whatever MrBeast.
Extreme Hide 70K takes place in a run-down amusement park. All three of these videos feature a group of his friends as players, except for Extreme Hide 1Mill, which involves a group of famous YouTubers playing inside of a stadium.
The Tag videos are: “Extreme $100,000 Game of Tag!” (Uploaded on April 17th, 2021) and “Extreme $500,000 Game Of Tag!” (Uploaded on September 4th, 2021). Let's also shorten each title to Extreme Tag 100K and Extreme Tag 500K.
Extreme Tag 100K takes place in an abandoned hospital. Where, as usual, the group playing are his friends. The Extreme Tag 500K video takes place in the “largest stadium in the world” (according to MrBeast) but the group playing is the finalists from his video “Last To Leave Circle Wins $500,000”.
The overall increase in money and spectacle will only grow as MrBeast’s channel does as it has already. Possibly tens or even hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, encompassing bigger spaces. Soon we will see a MrBeast video in which people (most likely his friends) play tag in a small country for ten billion dollars. It’ll be an interesting horror to see rich people renting out entire nations for their friends to play games of tag in, as they’re surrounded by and participating in ever-increasing wealth inequality, despair, and humanity’s ever-approaching extinction caused by climate change.
“Oh, but Mr. Being,” you might say, “He is a philanthropist that uses his wealth to better the lives of many!”
Philanthropy is a poisoned gift. It's a great way for the rich to use the existence of poverty (which is how one becomes rich in the first place) to further increase their social status within society by giving out large sums of money through charity, often accompanied by lavish displays. Like the Roman Emperors that threw handfuls of diamonds into crowds of people during chariot races, watching the people scramble and fight one another for them, these influencers transcended as well.
Millenniums or even just centuries ago, it was “What a great leader to throw his wealth around!” The peasant spectator said, “Truly, that is why he deserves to be emperor!” Today it’s “What a great influencer to throw their wealth around!” You say, behind a keyboard and screen, “Truly, that is why they deserve to be famous!” These profiteers of kindness are not angels, but more like demons. They might as well be the manifestations of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno.
This takes us to the last MrBeast video we will be going over, “If You Can Carry $1,000,000 You Keep It!”, uploaded on July 24th, 2021. The competitions involved all revolve around collecting, carrying, stacking, lifting, and wearing money or valuables like jewelry or iPhones. The first, most recurring, and our focus is the competition that takes place inside a warehouse with a “mountain” made out of cash. However much you can carry, you keep. This portion of the video in particular is eerily similar to what the denizens of the fourth circle have to go through.
The fourth circle of hell is guarded by Plutus, the demon (originally a Greek god) of wealth. This circle represents and is filled with people guilty of greed, as it’s split between the hoarders (the avaricious) and the spenders (the prodigal). Both groups joust against each other with great weights (illustrated as large sacks of money by Gustave Doré) as they push forward with the “main force” (as described in Inferno) of their chests. This imagery is what was so similar to MrBeast’s video.
If capitalism has indeed made the earth into a hell (Hell World™), then there is no better place for inspiration that MrBeast can use for his competitions than the Inferno itself.
The jousting game in the fourth circle could easily be MrBeast’s next competition. It should be no problem for him to recreate, as he’s done similar things before, and it would be lots of fun for his viewers to watch as the competitors grovel at MrBeast‘s (the Human incarnation of Plutus) request. Pushing each other with large sacks of money attached to their chests. As one group is told to cry out, “WHY DO YOU SPEND?” while the other is told to cry out “WHY DO YOU HOARD”? While he says, “Pape Satàn, pape Satàn Aleppo!” The title can even be: “If You Can Joust With $5,000,000 You Keep It!”
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