Story Pile: Goncharov

Don’t worry, I’m not about to do an explainer on this movie, which does not exist. I cannot stress that enough: It does not exist. I don’t think I need to belabour that point, because it seems almost nobody’s trying to sustain kayfabe on this one. You’re not going to see a big, elaborate description of the critical analysis of a four hour long 1973 Mafia film starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd and Lynda Carter (in a minor role), with a great big twist at the end like hahah, surprise, got you, this movie doesn’t exist!

I know, that is the kind of joke I like to tell! I like walking you down a garden path, introduce a ridiculous idea, and then surprise you by revealing that it’s true (or not, I mix it up). But no, in this case, I’m not here to do that. I’m going to do something so much worse, I’m going to talk to you about my feelings, and they’re not going to be happy or feel-good!

Content Warning: I’m going to talk about Goncharov, which I hope is obvious, and I’m going to talk about being angry at people and the way I felt treated without any intention to change their behaviour or ask apology.

First up let’s describe the phenomenon.

Goncharov is a community-constructed fake movie that users of Tumblr talked about in late November 2022, as part of an ongoing joke. I’m writing this in November, 2022, so for all I know after this point this thing has taken on a life of its own and transformed, or, it’s taken the course I predict which is, around December 1, most people stopped talking about it, the bubble of attention popped, some diehards used it as a platform to continue creating and it slowly trickled away as an interesting internet phenomenon.

I’m going to look stupid if the Goncharov Party gets elected to the United Nations or something in the mean time.

The genesis of Goncharov is a mis-printed label on a shoe that used what was probably a bad scan/OCR of a poster for Gomorrah. The text was a bit mangled, and a tumblr user shared a picture of the wonky text, and a commenter joked ‘this idiot hasn’t seen Goncharov.‘ From there, the bit began: Everyone wanted to make sure they were ‘in’ on the bit, acting as if of course they’d seen Goncharov.

And there are a lot of different ways this can go! This could become a real Seinfeldian moment, where the whole joke is someone goes ‘Goncharov has this in it’ and the natural response is ‘this idiot hasn’t seen Goncharov‘ and then repeat in a chain; everyone who shoots someone down about Goncharov talks about a fanciful thing from that movie, and everyone else then competes to sass them about how that’s definitely not in Goncharov. That’d be funny and kinda fundamentally meanspirited, a story where the joke is none of us have seen it and we’re all just pretending.

Tumblr did something different.

Tumblr went the other way.

Tumblr was suddenly full of people yes-anding everything anyone mentioned about Goncharov. People would mention a scene, and other people would talk about what they liked in the scene. People would mention a scene and other people would talk about how that tied into themes in a different scene. Imagery and symbolism and themes and vibes and all these things piled up and quotes, oh the quotes. Quotes that range from Winter comes to Naples with its bald demanding pomposity or “of course we’re in love, that’s why I tried to shoot you”/”if we really were in love you wouldn’t have missed,” which is as good as you imagine it being delivered, and of course, “it’s gonching time,” peerless text and all that, well, they are all canon and they are all yes-anded.

Crucially, they are not all true in the same moment and in the same way, but that is part of the play of Goncharov. It is about the memes, the ideas, the vibes of Mafia movies of the 1970s. It’s indescribably playful, and it’s fun, as you throw things into the thread of narratives, watching who sees your ideas and what they pick up on and what they share. There are a body of people who recognise that Katya Goncharov’s surname should be Goncharova, and the error shows that she isn’t really Russian, just like how she was never really married to Goncharov. Or maybe it’s because Goncharov is the one who introduced her and at no point did she correct him, showing everyone who speaks Russian in those scenes that he doesn’t really know her. Or maybe her name is Goncharova and everyone knows that, acting like that’s always how it’s been, and each of those ideas came from some people, perceived as problems and picked up and used and distributed.

Another thing that came up early was a lot of people immediately got involved on making sure there was a common thread of ‘unreality’ tagging of Goncharov posts; that people who struggled with ideas like gaslighting could avoid. It’s kind of funny, that the great event had three basic things to avoid; don’t #gaslight, don’t #gatekeep, but you could #girlboss, because of Katya, or Sofia, or Alina (the dancer who dies in the first 15 minutes).

There’s a lot of funny stuff you can do with Goncharoving around. And it has been a delight of a weekend, as this wonderful, silly, funny experience happened around me. And then it drew to an abrupt halt, as I approach people outside the space and ask: Hey, do you know about Goncharov?

Sometimes they yes-and me, and hey, that’s funny and we stop because we know the joke, and that’s that. And sometimes they don’t, and I then get to tell them about this delightfully weird thing going on. And it took about eight hours before I saw people who weren’t on tumblr and weren’t involved, complaining about the joke.

I saw critique from Reddit that Tumblr ‘should have’ done the ‘prank’ differently, as if this was a thing set up with an aim and a target, as opposed to people having fun telling stories. I saw complaints that the writing was low quality as if we needed to keep out the bad writing. It seemed overwhelmingly, the places where Goncharov did not happen had opinions about how Goncharov should be happening, which almost always demonstrated an opinion on what Goncharov was doing:

It was being fun.

I saw people calling people asking Neil Gaiman about it stochastic harrassment. Since Gaiman is on tumblr, and people ask him about things that interest them, a lot of them asked him about Goncharov, and he didn’t like that, so he made fun of people who asked him. And it felt like such a baffling criticism to have, because:

  • Stochastic terrorism is used to refer to creating climates inducing lone wolf behaviour, not trends of people asking about a common thread of commentary.
  • Tumblr has blocking tools that can be keyword based, so if someone asks you about Goncharov, and you have that word blocked, it won’t show up.
  • Neil Gaiman gets waves of related asks any time anything happens at all.

Which means that this felt like recruiting Neil Gaiman as an innocent victim of Goncharov as if a millionaire who can literally pay someone to empty his inbox deserves sympathy for the dreadful thing of being asked annoying questions as if that’s not what he has a tumblr account for, and it also means that bringing this up means you’re not aware of fundamental things about Tumblr, like how the messaging system works. It was criticism of a thing you’re pretty sure happened over there to someone you’re pretty sure can’t handle it, which was pretty bad, you’re pretty sure.

It felt very strange to me when it happened too because at that point, Twitter had just started on a path that sure looks like letting a few Nazis hang out in your soon-to-be Nazi bar? Dozens of other platforms were doing their thing and developing through a variety of dramas, and things were being done that had massive problems to them, but tumblr

Tumblr annoyed Neil Gaiman.

In a period where I was looking at what every single different social media platform was for, I was stunned to realise that ‘being Tumblr’ was an inherent mark against an idea. During a World Cup that people were tweeting about Qatar using slavery to build stadiums for FIFA, there was still this inherent disdain for Tumblr things because Tumblr had made up a movie that no corporation could take credit for, and were having fun telling stories about it. Tumblr was tumblr about it. And there’s all sorts of claims about why Tumblr has this position none of which I feel comfortable backing up and I don’t need to because this isn’t a thing to be solved. It’s an experience, much like Goncharov, to remember.

Just this heavy salvoing of: Hey, you know this thing you think is interesting? This really odd phenomenon of people creating stories and being silly?

Well, we’re pretty sure it sucks.