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REMEMBERING SHITSTORM ALBERTO
BRANDON SCOTT GORRELL


OVERVIEW

Shitstorm Alberto was the first of the 2010 literary shitstorm season, heading off what Weather.com reported would likely be a "pretty shitty year." The storm was the third most active, reported, and time-consuming shitstorm in American literary history, bested only by Shitstorm Nemo of 2009, which ravaged the online literary community for an unprecedented two weeks and garnered over 700 comments (of which 85% were allegedly written by persons holding Master of Fine Arts degrees in Comparative Literature or Creative Writing, or 'MFAs'), over 50 uncoordinated, independent blog posts, 20 internet articles on 'lesser-known' internet literary blogs, and coverage at the Los Angeles Times Books blog before the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) downgraded it to a tropical shitstorm; and the highly publicized Shitstorm Agatha of 1969, which was so powerful that it took the lives of three editors of The New Yorker, compelling Pope Paul VI to call for an end to "shit-talking, whether logically justified or not, because you all know you're only participating to reread your own comments so you don't have to go through another night of crying yourself to sleep." Ultimately, Shitstorm Alberto resulted in over $3,400 in damages, over 50 fatalities, and an unprecedented national temporary ban on all forms of internet literary commenting, issued on March 20, 2010 by US President Barack Obama.


DAY 1

Shitstorm Alberto formed as a mere drizzle of shit over HTMLGIANT, a then-well-established internet literary blog, on March 17, 2010 at 8:47 AM as the consequence of an essay titled "A Review of Reviews of Shoplifting From American Apparel" by American author Brandon Scott Gorrell, posted as a 'guest post' by Gene Morgan, HTMLGIANT's webmaster, and Ryan Call, HTMLGIANT's managing editor[1]. The system was upgraded to a tropical shitstorm later that morning, after it had garnered just over 30 comments, and at this point was given the name Alberto. The storm continued to attract comments from a diverse set of bloggers, and officially became a shitstorm[2] after it generated two multi-paragraph, vitriolic comments by American short story writer and novelist Justin Taylor, in which he called for an internet-wide recognition that "the BSG-joke wasn't funny anymore" and expressed a disgust for Gorrell—and for Morgan, Call, and American poet, short story writer, and novelist Tao Lin (for not agreeing that Gorrell wasn't "intellectual")—so visceral and uninhibited that several of HTMLGIANT's servers froze and had to be unplugged, plugged back in and restarted[3].

The shitstorm rapidly intensified after Taylor's comments, growing from a Category 2 shitstorm to a Category 4 shitstorm in just three hours. Several meteorological agencies had taken notice at this point, including the National Weather Service (NWS), who issued an uncharacteristically vivid statement that predicted the shitstorm would leave much of New York and parts of San Francisco "devastated and uninhabitable" for weeks and recommending to the states' legislatures that mandatory evacuation be enforced.

By 6PM, the number of comments on Gorrell's post had reached over 90, having shown all the typical characteristics of a shitstorm: qualified and unqualified attempts at gaining intellectual superiority, visceral disgust, censorship, references to Andy Warhol, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, David Foster Wallace and/or Gordon Lish, use of the expression "but I digress," or "kudos," and the formation of clear, opposing argumentative 'teams.' The Rumpus had also "gotten in on that shit," as its editor, Stephen Elliot, would later say, having blogged about Gorrell's article, including a link directed toward a minor shitstorm that had developed over their website in February 2010. By 11PM—Shitstorm Alberto having showed no signs of losing power—Gorrell's post had garnered a total of over 200 comments and had gained participants of relative internet-literary clout such as Tony O' Neill, Nick Antosca, Tao Lin, Lily Hoang, Catherine Lacey, and Blake Butler.

At approximately 11:45PM, Shitstorm Alberto weakened slightly and was downgraded to a Category 3 Shitstorm by the NWS. This relative loss of intensity gave scientists, bloggers, and journalists enough time, via a number of group Gmail chats, to form a symposium on potential safety measures[4]. Concurrently, the US Government released its first official response to the catastrophe, declaring a state of national emergency and setting aside approximately $7,000 for employers whose workforce productivity was expected to decline during the peak of the storm, and another $4,000 to address possible damages, should Alberto make a direct strike on the Core of the Internet Literary Scene[5]. Journalists at Thought Catalog, Big Other, and Bookslut made their first calls for an official investigation regarding who was to blame for Alberto. Most of these calls came, curiously, with assertions that an investigation "[didn't] even need to be conducted, because [they] all [knew] that it was another deceptive, lowbrow scheme" by Tao Lin. The Rumpus purported that Gorrell himself was to blame, and a number of posts by unknown bloggers on Tumblr suggested that Gene Morgan was the main culprit. Three months after Alberto, several YouTube videos surfaced which showed groups of 18 to 40 year-old, bearded, scarf- and thick-rimmed-glasses wearing males in Seattle, Vancouver, and Oakland. In each video, the males were chanting "Hell no, Ry must go!" It was later hypothesized that this was in reference to Ryan Call, but these claims remain unverified. If verified, some experts say, it would be the first instance of a literary shitstorm having gone IRL.


DAY 2

By 9AM on March 18, 2010, the number of comments on Gorrell's post had reached approximately 230, and the first of the auxiliary systems, tropical shitstorm Bernard, had been absorbed by Shitstorm Alberto. Bernard had originated at 2:28 that morning over an untitled post by HTMLGIANT contributor Alec Niedenthal, which questioned the "realness" of Tao Lin and asked readers, quite deftly: "Which Tao Lin is realer: the one who blogs, or the one 'out there.'" Of note is the disclaimer at the conclusion of the post: "I'm not 'shittalking.' Just talking," and later commentary by American writer and blogger Darby Larson that surfaced in the critically acclaimed national bestseller What We Should Have Known: What We Could Have Done to Prevent Shitstorm Alberto (WWSHK: WWCHDTPSSA) by The League of Concerned Internet-Literary Bloggers (LCILB) (Year of the Liquidator, 2012): "We were confused because Alec was part of our original symposium, and we had all agreed that we were going to do everything in our power to stop this shitstorm... from gaining momentum, but then he just totally made it bigger by dedicating another HTMLGIANT post to the storm. I was like... wtf?"

Shortly after Niedenthal's post went live, "shit began to fly,"[6] and the post gained over 15 comments within an hour, most taking on some, but not all, of the typical characteristics of a shitstorm: a sudden shift toward arguments about David Foster Wallace (a phenomenon meteorologists have yet to understand, but some purport the cause is closely tied to Chaos Theory), line-by-line 'take downs,' and numerous instances of commenters sending their peers to Wikipedia entries in vies for argumentative superiority.

At 11:37AM, a second auxiliary system—tropical shitstorm Carmichael—forming over both The New Yorker's Book Bench and Bookforum began to drift toward Alberto at an alarming pace, and by 12:04PM the two merged, causing Alberto to nearly double in size and take on what some purported were the first signs of supershitstormdom. Approximately an hour later, New York Governor David A. Paterson declared a state of emergency, prompting the majority of the state's elementary and high schools to close early and the erection of over 15 temporary refugee shelters. Mandatory evacuation orders were subsequently enforced in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The Wall Street Journal and CNN.com had also taken note, joining Thought Catalog, Big Other, and Bookslut's calls for an official investigation, but again, paradoxically asserting that an investigation wasn't necessary, because "[they] all knew that [Tao Lin] had put Gorrell up to [writing the article], that it was just another instance of disgusting Muumuu House cronyism...[and that] Lin and Gorrell [were] fucking inauthentic, vapid, post-post-modern pieces of shit."

At 7:29PM, to the absolute horror of concerned meteorologists and literary bloggers, the size of Alberto unexpectedly plumped yet again, swallowing a then-unnoticed system that had formed over the northeastern region of HTMLGIANT, where American writer Jimmy Chen had posted a link to The New Yorker's Book Bench coverage of Shitstorm Alberto. Gawker, Maud Newton, and eyeshot.net quickly tried to quell a reactionary tide of panic among the academic and literary communities, issuing a number of statements that Chen's post would have no significant effect on the Alberto system. Gorrell, it was later discovered, in The Collected Gmail Correspondences of Brandon Scott Gorrell and Tao Lin (Muumuu House, 2025), at this point had emailed Lin, "seems like im watching a very confusing, interesting film in which i have no idea 'what's going to happen next' but at every new event feel delighted by its occurance in relation to it's place in the narrative arc and 'what it means' in relation to the film as a whole," apparently referring to the events of that day.

By 10PM on March 18, Shitstorm Alberto had resulted in the evacuation of New York's Brooklyn and Manhattan boroughs, 14-19% declines in workforce productivity in the states of California, Texas, and Nevada—dealing crushing blows to the respective states' economies—and ~$1,300 in damage to HTMLGIANT's hosting website's servers. Commenter anon was reported as having a low-level panic attack upon receiving news that tropical shitstorm Carmichael had been swallowed by Alberto, Jimmy Chen was reported to have engaged in a "severe"[7] quarrel related to the amount of time he had been spending on HTMLGIANT since the birth of Alberto with his wife, Twitter user sadjew was found at a San Diego park in mid-seizure, apparently brought on by taking a combination of Xanax and Adderall in an attempt to quell his generalized anxiety related to the existence of the storm, and Tao Lin's roommate reported having heard "weird"[8] noises coming from behind the closed door of his room.


DAY 3

March 19, 2010, began somewhat slowly, officials at the NWS maintaining that Alberto's weakening was the "simple result" of the day of the week being Friday. An alternative theory, mentioned in WSHK: WWCHDTPSSA, held that bloggers were "really starting to see the extent to which Alberto threatened to destroy [them] all," and were attempting to quell Alberto via two methods: 1) refraining from shitstorm-style behaviors and 2) creating a number of inspirational, humorous, YouTube-heavy HTMLGIANT posts in an effort to push down Gorrell's original post while creating an air of positivity and humor. By 10AM, it appeared as if these attempts were functioning as planned. Alberto began to show visible signs of diminishing as it moved through the northernmost parts of HTMLGIANT, and the NWS soon downgraded it to a Category 1 Shitstorm. The first sighs of relief could be heard in the comments sections of other, unrelated HTMLGIANT posts, and these were quickly echoed by The New York Times and The Salt Lake Tribune. Meteorologists began to watch closely for signs of Alberto weakening further.

But at 2:10PM, to the dismay of meteorologists and bloggers alike, Shitstorm Alberto, while moving through a northeastern region of HTMLGIANT, again swelled in size, this time "reupping" most of its power upon reaching a post by American novelist Lily Hoang, who was, bafflingly, LCILB's current Chairman of the Board[9]. Her post directly addressed the shitstorm, calling for citizens of the Internet Literary Community to stop talking about what was being talked about. Soon thereafter, in a reaction that Hoang later reported was adverse to her intentions and expectations, many comments appeared on Hoang's post, talking about stopping talking about what Gorrell and the 200+ commenters on Gorrell's post had been talking about. The LCILB quickly issued a statement that the Internet Literary Community "really fucking [needed]...[to] stop talking about talking about stopping talking about Gorrell's post." The NWS upgraded Alberto, again, to a Category 3 Shitstorm.

While Alberto began another round of destruction in the northern regions of HTMLGIANT and authorities scrambled to form the first of what would be over 40 search and rescue efforts, commenter I. Fontana, at 4:57PM, posted an academic-style essay comment on Jimmy Chen's The New Yorker Book Bench post. The essay defended, to some extent, Tao Lin's 'gimmickry,' and name-dropped such prominent literary figures as Norman Mailer, Bret Easton Ellis, and Denis Johnson. This event immediately increased the storm's shitspeeds, up to 150% in some areas. Worsening the matter was the endorsement of the comment as "excellent" by American Actor, HTMLGIANT contributor, novelist, and LCILB Executive Director Ken Baumann, who, further, requested that it be republished on HTMLGIANT's front page. Officials warned against this quite violently, for the joining of another auxiliary system, they contested, would undoubtedly lead to a shitstorm of never-before-seen proportions. It was at this moment that the LCILB nearly dissolved, as a veritable coup was attempted on Baumann's position by American writer and editor Roxanne Gay, the staff at The L Magazine, and American short story writer and novelist Frederick Barthelme.

At 5:05PM, director of the NWS Jack Hayes had a video conference call with President Obama, warning of an impending "collapse" of the entire Internet Literary Community. Fears were brought to a head when, around 5:25PM, a small system originating over the regions of heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.com, where Tao Lin had posted coverage of Alberto itself, was absorbed by Alberto. The fusion of these two storms quickly generated what is commonly thought of as the worst of shitstorm effects: masturbatory, line-by-line 'take-down' arguments by MFAs about the merits of Sartre and Heidegger, with self-congratulatory and self-aggrandizing statements 'slipped in,' complete with footnotes and references. Two unknown bloggers lost their lives as a result. Of this event, the US Government quickly issued a statement, calling for an end to shitstorm behavior before Alberto became "the storm that most of us have long feared." At 5:47PM, Gawker issued reports that indicated chances of a direct hit by Shitstorm Alberto on the Core of Internet Literary Community were at 26%, with a strike probability rising to 44% that night. This scenario was considered a potential catastrophe because many of these website's contributors actually lived inside the Core, and massive loss of life would thus entail.


PEAK - MARCH 19, 2010, 7:40PM

After Shitstorm Alberto had absorbed the system over heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.com, it began the course that scientists had most feared. Within 3 hours, Alberto made landfall on the Core, resulting in a very significant shit surge that caused the level of New York Harbor to rise drastically and flood much of New York City. The height of the surge is uncertain because of lack of data, although a tide gauge in Queens indicated a shit tide in excess of 29 feet and a 17-foot shit surge was recorded in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

The most troubling result of the shit surge was its flooding of the Core. An estimated $3,400 in servers was lost, and every known literary website on the internet, with the exception of Alice Blue Review, went offline. Notable bloggers and writers Nick Antosca, Roxanne Gay, Amy McDaniel, John Wang, Rozalia Jovanovic, and Gene Morgan perished, and Huw Nesbitt, Kati Nolfi, and Jimmy Chen remain missing to this day. Another 47 staff members of the Core lost their lives. 13 are still missing.

Within 30 minutes of Alberto reaching the Core, President Obama issued a temporary ban on all forms of internet literary commenting, saying that "the shit [had] hit the fan, but we will prevail. Change has come to America." The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took issue with President Obama's ban, and their court case presently awaits a Supreme Court decision. Despite the possible infringements on free speech, however, President Obama's ban effectively drained so much power from Shitstorm Alberto that it was downgraded to a tropical shitstorm within 23 minutes.


AFTERMATH

Within just an hour of Alberto's direct strike on the core, in an uncharacteristic display of generosity, the Concerned Housewives of Asian Descent (CHOAD), coordinated with officials to form a shitstorm relief fund and distribution network, and within 2 weeks had successfully distributed over 400 pounds of non-perishable food items and 700 gallons of drinking water to the survivors of Alberto, although there were reports of isolated rioting in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Austin. Massive search and rescue efforts were made in New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Orlando, and Las Vegas. In a statement issued one month after the first day of Shitstorm Alberto, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said that the storm was "probably the worst catastrophe, or set of catastrophes" in the country's history. In a number of press conferences, main participants of the Alberto system—Tao Lin, Brandon Scott Gorrell, Justin Taylor, 'stephen,' Lily Hoang, John Sakkis, 'anon', and I. Fontana—explained their views on the storm. Of contributing to Alberto, Lily Hoang was "embarrassed." Justin Taylor justified his participation as necessary for the well-being of the Internet Literary Community and repeatedly ignored a number of journalists' questions, instead opting to quote his comments from Gorrell's post, in a kind of reiteration: "There is nothing—nothing—intellectual about Brandon. Brandon Scott Gorrell is our Sarah Palin. I swear to God if I could vote one person off this island it'd be him. Writing exactly what I think of that guy, and what it says about us that we help promote him, felt SO good it made my whole day better." Blake Butler said of Alberto, as a whole "All arguments on the internet are related to varying natures of senses of humor, or lacks thereof." Tao Lin offered, simply, the word "Damn," while Jordan Castro explained that that day he had beaten his father in a game of ping pong, "but only after eating a plate of organic kale, organic onions, 3x cloves of garlic, and organic sundried tomatoes." The Office of Dave Eggers issued a statement that the "whole affair [had been] a damn shame" while The Rumpus expressed its opinion that there was "light on the horizon." In a confusing, cryptic, or possibly telling response to a question concerning having caused the shitstorm, Gorrell, donning a white t-shirt that had printed on it, in black Helvetica, "RIP GENE MORGAN," muttered a phrase that was not immediately understood, but later transcribed as "HTML...stupid pussies...you...vegan Justin...HTML is...proffered...the shitstorm...is my penis...art?" Onlookers reported having seen a "bewildered" and "insecure" "grin" on his face and having detected the strong odor of alcohol emanating from the part of the room in which he was "swaying"[10]. The general consensus of the Internet Literary Community was that Shitstorm Alberto was a shameful event and that Gorrell was "bad," and remains so to this day, but a number of bloggers took Gorrell's side, Zoe Kimball being the most outspoken in his defense, having tweeted, in reference to the commenters on his Review of Reviews, and in what some interpreted as a general allusion to the entire Internet Literary Establishment, "I don't like those guys. They think their shit talk is so crafted and worthy but their big word faggotry makes me fucking sick."


_________________________

[1] This claim is disputed and needs verification. Many scientists hold that Alberto began sometime in early January, with a series of email exchanges between Gene Morgan, Ryan Call, and Brandon Scott Gorrell. Others date Alberto's origins to November, 2009, when Gorrell posted a ~1,500 word analysis of shit-talking in the comments section of an HTMLGIANT post written by American writer Jimmy Chen.

[2] Silliman's Blog, March, 17, 2010.

[3] Gorrell, in a June 2015 appearance on Oprah, reported that upon seeing Taylor's comments, had run to the bathroom and "violently retched" into a bathroom sink "in a torrent of despair and hopelessness...for what felt like an hour." Other reports run contrary this testimony, claiming his reaction was to "continue sitting in his chair, staring at the computer screen, refreshing Facebook repeatedly, sometimes producing rapid-fire, ape-like noises while Gmail chatting."

[4] The results were later serialized under the title We Should Have Known: What We Could Have Done to Prevent Shitstorm Alberto (WSHK: WWCHDTPSSA) by The League of Concerned Internet-Literary Bloggers (LCILB) at The Rumpus over a 6-month period. In the second installment of the series, 'stephen' who had almost lost his life on the first day of the storm, "trying to avoid a virtual landslide of shit" in Hollywood Hills, describes the relative consensus of the group that night: "We didn't know whether Alberto was going to naturally relegate to a much more benign tropical shitstorm or if the smaller auxiliary systems would come close enough to Alberto that they might merge." Many bloggers, 'stephen' reported, were "in a state of panic" about the prospect of a supershitstorm, and so decided to do "everything in their power" to quell what "might be left of the bitch."

[5] The headquarters of the hosting service, godaddy.com, used for the majority of internet literary websites, including HTMLGIANT, The Rumpus, Fanzine, Fiction Circus, Bookslut, Opium, Elimae, Word Riot, Juked, Alice Blue Review, McSweeneys, Maud Newton, MississippiReview.com, eyeshot.net, Galleycat, Hobart, The New Yorker, Bookforum, and others.

[6] The League of Concerned Internet-Literary Bloggers. (2012). We Should Have Known: What We Could Have Done to Prevent Shitstorm Alberto. Detroit: The Year of the Liquidator.

[7] Personal email from Jimmy Chen to Brandon Scott Gorrell, March 22, 2010.

[8] Oprah, August 17, 2013.

[9] The LCILB reacted in a collective outrage, issuing a vehement statement in the comments section of an obscure, now-defunct Tumblog, that called for her immediate termination, claiming that she was acting in "bad faith," and that her action, while "Kafkaesque" (thus affording it literary merit) was "deplorable." The statement then degenerated into a still untranslated academic language which had been previously been understood only by those in the highest tiers of the literary community. It is unknown if it will ever be translated fully, as large portions of the text have been lost or stolen. Recovered passages of abstract relevance include: "Melville was persona non grata when he died...Write because you can't not write...Just not existing in a void. Just not disappeared after death...And let's not forget dear Emily Dickinson...Kudos!...If you graft his nothing onto his plenitude you get more affirmation than many a 12 step program...Critical writings and art about Lady Gaga...Cheers!...Observational humor often digresses...Tastefully awkward poignancy...Tugging at the errant threads found in New York City's human scenery...A glorious form of mental acupuncture: men fighting with lampposts."

[10] Oprah, August 17, 2013.