The Nihilism Of R/Wallstreetbets

UPDATE: Since this blew up 1. I wrote this mostly in response this article in Bloomberg. 2. If you want to follow me on Twitter for more hot takes on internet culture and marketing stuff you can do that here: @jeromysonne

I want to preface all of this by saying I am not an investing expert. I currently hold no publicly traded companies’ stock. (Though I might I haven’t logged into Robinhood in a while). What I am pretty good at though is internet culture and understanding communities through that lens. I also don’t agree with the Wallstreetbets culture. I’m just trying to explain it.

The recent dramatic fall and meteoric rise of Gamestop via the short squeeze that happened has a lot of technical reasons that people a lot better at finance can explain. What keeps coming up though is Wallstreetbets and their hand in taking a stock that seemed doomed to failure and rocketing it to new heights. I’m seeing a lot of well-meaning takes on their role that generally miss the “why” of the community and what it does / how it exists. After reading a well-written article in Bloomberg (that ultimately misses the point on WSB). I thought I would take a moment to give some insights.

References to tendies, autism, gay bears, and a bunch of other things don’t really make a lot of sense on the surface (and some make even less sense once you dive in). The culture of Wallstreetbets is an interesting one, to say the least, that has a lot of its language and customs rooted in 4chan. As 4chan users have grown up, migrated to other corners of the internet, and spread their language it’s continued on and evolved in different spaces. You saw a lot of this with the_donald on Reddit a few years ago before it was banned and a lot of similar overlap in language between what the community was and what WSB is now. (Twitter is so late to the party compared to Reddit).

The basic surface-level story of WSB is this. It’s a bunch of autistic losers that live in their mom’s basement who are gambling what little money they have to try and become rich to live lifestyles of hedonism. Since they are basement dwellers their obvious food of choice is chicken tenders aka tendies that they trade in their GBPs (Good boy points) to their mom so they can get more. In this world, they earn good boy points by doing well at stocks.

On the surface, it seems really weird but it’s mostly a type of gallows humor that permeates a lot of especially young millennials and zennial men. That nothing really means anything, that no one cares about them (or in some cases actively hate them), and so they reject buying in on the society they feel actively scorns them. I’ll resist the urge to add my personal opinions or quote Fight Club here, but I’m mostly saying all this to get you in their head.

As someone that deals with some (in the grand scheme of things minor) mental health issues around panic attacks and anxiety attacks the “Fuck it if nothing means anything I may as well do what I want” attitude on a self-destructive and nihilistic level makes sense to me. It’s not logical but it makes sense. If nothing means anything you may as well do what you want and try and have some fun before the existential crisis of death takes us all. To do that though you need cash, and most of us are slammed with student debt, increased COL, and stagnant wages as compared to our parents’ generation. All the “boomer” advice we’re given doesn’t really make sense especially when it comes to the dreaded value investing that we’re told to do when it comes to stocks especially in light of the financial crisis in 2008.

See back in the day if you played the rules, worked the job, saved the money you could mostly live a pretty good life. The system was there and it had your back you just had to play by the rules. At some point that changed. Understanding that fundamentally you can do “everything right” and be totally fucked anyways, never able to achieve your dreams regardless of what you do or don’t do is a shitty feeling. Along comes WSB.

Suddenly, there’s a chance. Not a big one, but a chance to get out of your situation and live the life you want. You can do everything right and never be able to retire anyway, OR you can take super speculative positions in the stock market by making giant bets on risky options that, if you happen to be right, could make you rich. You’ve broken the cycle and you can live the life you want. Worst case? You’re right back where you started.

““If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem. But if you owe a million, it has.” – Big Daddy Keyne$

I think there are really 2 things you need to understand about WSB (And really this piece of internet culture in general). It’s 50% depression and 50% a Molotov cocktail. You either win and get out or you lose AND you’re sticking it to the man at the same time. Even if I go super long, ratchet up the leverage, and take a big bet and lose guess what?


Seriously nothing. Most of these people are in hopeless debt with no clear path out anyway. They declare bankruptcy and move on. They took the bet, rode the adrenaline rush, and they lost. The silver lining? The elites that hate them are stuck paying the bill. It’s really a win-win situation. The memes, the culture, all of it really stems from this attitude.

I think it’s honestly fascinating that people are finally starting to notice this sub-culture once it’s begun affecting the mainstream financial system. Maybe now that it’s hitting these folks where they live, hurting the only thing they care about, they’ll start thinking about why these people are acting out. Before anyone accuses me of being a socialist I have a startup that sells radio ads called Decibel. I’m a died in the wool capitalist and I can plainly see these issues. That maybe if they felt they had more of a stake in the future, that wealth inequality wasn’t so bad, that they’ll never afford a home, etc. they wouldn’t feel the need to act out. That if they weren’t in such an unwinnable situation they wouldn’t feel the need to throw Molotov cocktails through the front window of the country and the global financial system.

I doubt it, but one can hope.

Until then this is going to get worse, not better.

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