Very Fine Day #29: Miles Klee

"Making the smart stuff dumb and making the dumb stuff smart."

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“I had the experience that any older millennial will recognise: going into random chat rooms and lying”.


MILES KLEE is a writer and “professional poster” originally from New Jersey. He currently lives in California. Miles works at the recently re-launched MEL Magazine and publishes some of the best internet culture and shitposting reporting around. I have been a big fan of his work for years, and it was great to hear him unpack what he thinks about when he’s trying to work a story together – and also ask him a bit about Michael Mann’s HEAT, too.

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INTERVIEW BEGINS:

VFD: Where'd you go?

Miles Klee: Where'd I go? Oh, just up in Oregon. We live in LA but my girlfriend Maddie is from a really beautiful spot in the Northwest. And you try to go up there for, well, y’know… river rafting, touching grass. All the good stuff.

VFD: Yeah, the proper California dream.

Miles Klee: Yeah, yeah.

VFD: Thanks for doing this man. I appreciate it.

Miles Klee: Yeah of course, I’m happy to do it.

VFD: I guess the easiest place to start is: back when we were trying to set this up you said that things were a bit hectic. Are you going back and forth between LA and NYC because of the restart of MEL Magazine or something?

Miles Klee: Oh, no, no, I'm not travelling. Well. We just relaunched publishing this last week. We've been at work for about a month, but this past week was the first time we've been publishing new stuff. So it's just been busy.

And yeah, like I said, I was travelling up to Oregon and I'm planning on going out to the east coast next week. But that's to see family and other friends and stuff. So I'm trying to have my ultimate summer while also going back to work.

VFD: Yeah. Where are you from on the East Coast?

Miles Klee: I'm from New Jersey originally. I lived in New York for a good long time and then moved out to California and had the quintessential New Yorker experience of: what the fuck took me so long? This is paradise. I'm never going back. But all of my family is over in New York and New Jersey.

VFD: What's New Jersey like?

Miles Klee: New Jersey is a pretty derided state here. The stereotype is that it's just one big highway, because you kind of have to go through it to get to various other points on the East Coast. So in some some ways it's just a stretch of road between New York and Philadelphia. But officially we are known as the “Garden State” and there are many beautiful green places and farms. So it's a very densely populated state.

I’m from a little commuter town outside of New York. And there's commuter towns outside of Philly, too, but out in the middle there's a lot of really beautiful rural spots. And a lot of it is like a swamp to get to – you’ve always got to factor that in. The easiest, most universal way to describe where I’m from is like the opening credits of “The Sopranos”. That's basically what I grew up in. I have a lot of affection for it now that I live far away from it.

VFD: But not when you were there?

Miles Klee: Oh, yeah. When I was growing up you just think of it as suburban purgatory that you have to escape at all costs. I think a lot of teenagers feel that way. But no, I have a certain amount of pride about it now. The New Jersey Twitter account is actually pretty funny – the official state Twitter account is always going on and starting to talk about having the best pizza and all that. We like to stand up for ourselves, just because we are so often called the armpit of the United States. And I will confess there are a lot of really smelly parts as well.

VFD: Yeah. But there's a lot of states like that, right?

Miles Klee: Yeah. I've been around.

VFD: So did you spend a lot of time going into New York City then? Was that the dream as a teenager?

Miles Klee: Yeah, y’know, you try to get into the city and it's really funny because it's easy to do. You take a train half an hour from my hometown. And then if you’re 15 or 16-years-old you get to Midtown Manhattan and then you don't really know what to do next. You can kind of walk up to Times Square. You can get lost in Penn Station if you want. And when you're a kid the subway can be a little intimidating, too, because the commuter train is easy. But all of a sudden you're thrust into the underground system that is just constantly changing and degrading in baffling ways.

I kind of enjoy watching subway disaster stuff now, even though it's really bad and I have a lot of friends who still live there. But the fact that I don't have to deal with the subway and I'm not swimming through sewage to get to my train, which is just some of what the footage is showing now – I'm so grateful for that. And I say that as someone whose car just broke down yesterday. Even so, I’m glad to be not commuting on the subway.

VFD: Yeah, they don't really have public transport in LA, right?

Miles Klee: It could be a hell of a lot better, that's for sure. The irony is the LA Metro is pretty good and almost nobody uses it. So it's quite nice. It just doesn't go anywhere – it’s a very limited network on one side of town. That's always something that they are claiming to be making progress on. It would be amazing if you could, for example, get a train from where I am out to the beach, but that's that's not really a possibility right now.

VFD: Well, you’ve got Elon Musk making single tunnel highways underground…

Miles Klee: Yeah, there are a lot of Teslas and I really think they are the worst drivers on the road. It's special. I mean, my theory is that it's just a lot of rich people who haven't been driving themselves for maybe 10 years. And then Teslas came out and the hot thing is to get a Tesla so you can drive it around. I think we need to get them to pass the driver's test again, because they're very confused out there.

VFD: How did you get out of New Jersey then?

Miles Klee: So after college I moved to New York immediately. Because, again, that's the grand ambition. I lived out there for almost 10 years. And then had a job at a website called The Daily Dot where everyone was more or less remote. It didn't really matter where you were. And my ex from the time also wanted to break into Hollywood – she had big screenwriting ambitions – and so we thought now or never. We moved out here. I loved it. She hated it. We broke up.

VFD: That’s a real spark notes review.

Miles Klee: Yeah, she moved to Berlin, which was much more her speed.

VFD: A lot of wearing all black and talking about movies and art and stuff.

Miles Klee: Mmhmm. But I completely made California my whole personality because I just felt I had been missing out on it this whole time.

VFD: Did you do writing in college?

Miles Klee: Yeah, yeah. I majored in English and Philosophy, which is the more embarrassing half. I like to say I kind of got a degree in bullshitting. But a tonne of writing there for the paper. At the time I thought I was a music critic because I read too much Pitchfork and I thought I could write really mean reviews of bands. So that was fun for me. Thankfully, I don't think any of those are accessible digitally anymore, so that's a huge relief.

VFD: You make any friends doing that?

Miles Klee: No. I mean, I made more friends in comedy groups. So another cringy thing I did was improv, but also my friends and I founded a sketch troupe. We had just watched a lot of “Mr. Show” and “Kids in the Hall” and stuff like that. We wanted to do zany, surrealist sketches. So we did a few shows with that.

And that club lasted a while after we graduated before it ultimately disintegrated, but we called it the Department of Homeland Security…

VFD: Good one to find on Google.

Miles Klee: We were there in the mid ‘00s and obviously the Bush stuff was really front of mind. The funny thing was that we had a Department of Homeland Security Facebook group for the sketch team and just had hundreds and hundreds of people trying to apply to be in the group who thought it was the government's Department of Homeland Security official Facebook page.

VFD: Oh yeah like they'd have a Facebook group,

Miles Klee: Yeah you know, just for chatter and to trade terror tips and stuff like that. I don't know what they were expecting.

VFD: Alright, so you ended up with The Daily Dot. How long were you there for?

Miles Klee: Let's see, that would have been 2013 to 2016. It was probably three, three and a half years. I was a writer first and then editor.

VFD: Was that your first experience of nine to five publishing gig?

Miles Klee: I mean, my first job out of college was copy editing financial journalism. And a lot of the time at that job I was secretly just writing for other places freelance. So the website that really gave me my start was The Awl, but it was kind of like a couple of guys who had been at Gawker. They founded it and I basically just emailed one of them one day and said: I just really like the site, can I just write some stuff? And I did write a lot of stuff for free. Eventually, they started paying a little bit.

But from there I got gigs in a couple other lifestyle spots: Writing about internet culture, music sometimes. And that’s when I got The Daily Dot job. After that I went to work at a bookstore in LA and to write freelance for a bunch of different places. So I became a weed correspondent for Mic.com. I became the weekend guy at someecards.com.

Like, they would just give me the keys to the site for the weekend and be like: um, keep this flowing. So a bunch of odds and ends and stuff like that. And then I finally got offered to do something with MEL.

VFD: How did that come around? Dollar Shave Club and all that. That’s gotta be a weird email.

Miles Klee: Yeah. So I didn't even know about the Dollar Shave Club thing at first. At first it was after Sam Escobar was doing a series that was recipes that were around heartbreak or breakup or something like that. And they wanted to know if I could do something along those lines.

VFD: Well, that's fun.

Miles Klee: Yeah, I think I did a crazy caprese salad, which was something I really liked to make when I was living my disgusting bachelor life. And then another editor there, Zak Stone, wanted to meet with me and we kicked around a few ideas. The really big thing was when another editor, Alana Levinson, had just moved out to LA, and we met and clicked and she was the one who brought me to the Editor in Chief at MEL, Josh Schollmeyer.

The first really big feature I did for them, freelance, was the deep dive into Two Girls One Cup – so I was looking into deep internet lore and what the truth of it was. I had a fun time doing that because I talked to a guy who'd actually gone to prison for obscenity because he, well… he was not the guy who made “Two Girls One Cup”, but he was intimately involved in the behind-the-scenes. And he was quite a character, of course.

From there I just started doing full time freelance there, and then full time staff writer.

VFD: Did you pitch that story?

Miles Klee: Two Girls One Cup? No. That was not my idea. But they knew enough to be like: I think this guy's a sicko. And that's good.

VFD: Yeah.

Miles Klee: I guess my brand was strong enough.

I definitely, at The Daily Dot, had developed a shitposting beat. At one point, because of stuff I'd written there, NPR had me on to talk about Pepe the Frog when that was becoming a thing. And the 2016 elections, too. There were just some really surreal experiences.

There was a time at The Daily Dot when I was writing about memes a lot and a certain section of the shitposting and meme community decided that whenever I had written something, well that meant the meme was officially dead.

VFD: Oh, yeah. I’ve been there.

Miles Klee: So it became a whole funny, cyclical thing. It started when I wrote about Dat Boi – another frog meme. And a lot of people got really upset and said that I'd killed it. From then on, whenever I wrote about something, there was a big declaration that it was over. Some people even came to see me as a kind of necessary Grim Reaper for memes, which was the funniest part. They were like: You're clearing out the deadwood. It's part of the natural life cycle of content. Thank you for your service.

VFD: Well that’s good. I mean, that's gotta be rare… that people on the internet find a positive and nice thing to say.

Miles Klee: Yeah, and the fun part was that they clearly had a fun time making me a meme myself. That's the most predictable thing they could have done - just turn me into a character as well. It was an interesting experience.

VFD: Did you spend a lot of time online as a kid then? What was your adolescence like on the internet?

Miles Klee: I mean, I'm old. So I remember AOL, CDs, all that stuff. I had the experience that any older millennial will recognise, which is going into random chat rooms and lying. Trying to get attention, pretending to be older or hot, or looking for sexual chat where I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I can kind of understand young edgelords today because you just get online and you're trying to get a reaction of some kind. That is my earliest experience. I don’t think we even had a computer until I was 11 or something. Even then, you’re restricted by modems and all that fun stuff. When I was older I would play some shoot 'em up games with other people and AIM was a big deal. Of course, my first crush was confessed over Instant Messenger. Stuff like that.

VFD: That's always a good experience. Nothing traumatic.

Miles Klee: Yeah… that show “PEN15” is very deadly accurate about some of those experiences.

VFD: OK, so you get to MEL and they ask you to write about “Two Girls One Cup”, which you do. And then it's just all uphill, or downhill, from there? Full speed ahead?

Miles Klee: It was interesting. It's a men's lifestyle site and I was brought on specifically to be the internet culture, content, memes, shitposting guy. And it was only about a year, or even less, into my being full time there that #MeToo happened. All of a sudden it was like: We had been trying to write enlightened stuff about men’s issue and be the 21st century update to stuff like GQ, Esquire, Maxim, whatever. But all of a sudden we were confronted with THE ISSUE on what we were going to try and represent the positive male perspective on. And it was really tough. We had a lot of meetings about it.

I ended up writing a thing that centred around the first Harvey Weinstein revelations. The theme was, basically: men, your silence won't save you. And it was basically what we had decided in our own conference room, which was that you're not going to get a pass on this issue by just avoiding it or letting other people be the ones to talk about it or come forward about it. And that became kind of woven into the ethos of the magazine, I would say.

From then on we really did refocus on stuff in the Manosphere and “men's rights activists”, and MGTOWs: Men Going Their Own Way. And of course Incels and extremism. Of course, the political roller coaster of the Trump era was full of that kind of concern as well. So we did end up covering a lot of the extremist men's movement and red pill guys. And that has continued to be our focus, even through this last transition getting shuttered by Dollar Shave Club and then bought by Recurrent Ventures.

VFD: Yeah. And when you're doing that kind of reporting out, how much time goes into a piece?

What I really like about MEL, and I think what personally made it stand out, was the way that – not just you – but the magazine in general framed stories and was very deliberate in the angle it took. It seems like there's a lot of time that goes into that.

Miles Klee: Yeah, I’m writing one piece a day, essentially. Which can sound like a lot. People are always asking me: how the hell do you write that much? But I actually find it is much easier to take an entire day to try to process one story, or even one source or one event, rather than to do what a lot of blogging is which is writing five short things a day. So I was very used to that production schedule and a lack of, let's say, nuance, or context, or anything. A lot of it is just aggregation. A lot of it is giving something the clickiest headline and it's more about social positioning in order to get readers to it.

I really love MEL, not only because I get the time to really try to understand a topic, but I'm also publishing the next day because we're on the west coast. So that actually gives us even more time to consider what we really want to say and what we can add to the conversation as opposed to many websites which are stuck – and writers through no fault of their own – are stuck in that position of having to get the thing up as soon as possible. Because it's trending now. You gotta grab that traffic. That's been true since the dark days, when everything was tailored to the Facebook NewsFeed.

VFD: Yeah,

Miles Klee: And that’s still true today for some people, so we have a huge advantage there. And I think that lets us add a tonne of context, nuance, and honestly, just more fun. Because we even have a chance to react to the initial takes, which often turn out to be kind of bad, or they age incredibly badly, within the first 12 hours that they're up. Because again, there's no thought given to how we're going to allow this to simmer…

VFD: It's the classic milkshake duck thing.

Miles Klee: Yeah, exactly. And honestly, I remember it too. I can think of at least one time in my former blogging life where I was in a rush to aggregate something that I thought was funny, or clicky, and it was just straight-up from a satire site. And you're just humiliated when it happens, because you're like: Oh, I'm so stupid. I can't believe I got caught by that.

But it really is just a factor of not having the extra 30 seconds to think: wait a minute, what am I actually reading here? Where's the source?

So I don't know. It’s good to have that humility as a journalist, but it is also essential to have the space to breathe so that you don't make those kinds of mistakes. And I think MEL has those advantages.

VFD: Is that how you've always thought about yourself: as a journalist?

Miles Klee: No, I shouldn't have said journalist…

VFD: I would have said you are.

Miles Klee: I think I would have said I'm a professional poster.

VFD: That’s not too bad. OK, so at MEL, what happened when it went offline and then came back? Was there a lead up to that or was it just like one day you showed up and it was over?

Miles Klee: So MEL was founded by the co-founder and CEO of Dollar Shave Club – a guy named Mike Dubin – who really wanted an editorial arm. And he really wanted a separation of church and state and wanted us to do whatever we wanted. And a lot of people didn't even know that Dollar Shave Club owned MEL, because there's no hint of it on the site. But he also gave us a lot of leeway to… not make money, I guess?

We were working towards what would ultimately have been a profit making model. But what happened was: he stepped down as CEO, a new guy came in from Amazon, and he made cuts across the board that included us. Because obviously, we are not revenue generating. And had never really had the chance to do so. And that started a 60 day clock where other potential buyers could make approaches.

In fact, the idea of a sale had been kind of pursued long before that, I should say. But this just put a firm window on it. We were delighted to have dozens and dozens of suitors right away. And those got narrowed down and narrowed down, and we wound up with Recurrent Ventures, which is building a huge media portfolio. So lots of other websites there are now our sister publications. In fact they just announced that they bought Futurism. So there will be more acquisitions over there, I'm sure, and we will fall under the umbrella of this growing media empire. So we're going to have more traditional advertiser support. We're going to probably have some subscriber content and stuff like that. It's an exciting time. And we’re, like… excited to make money.

VFD: Yeah, that's good. Generally, in any industry, but especially in the media industry.

Miles Klee: It really helps with the longevity of a job, I would say.

VFD: Yeah. When the CEO dude left, did he send you guys an email like: Hey, sorry, I feel like this could impact you. He must have known, right?

Miles Klee: Yeah I don’t really know what the communication was. My impression was - and I don't want to speak for anyone - but I know that the magazine were important to him. And I'm pretty sure he communicated that on his way out. But perhaps knowing that was not going to be enough to save us.

If you're the new CEO and your job is to figure out some cost saving measures then it's pretty obvious that you're going to chop the magazine…

VFD: The media arm of your business that isn’t making any money? Yeah. It’s frustrating. How do you find the stories you write about?

I think – for some context – the first time I remember being like: What the fuck is Miles doing? but in a good way, was when I started seeing you tweeting about you sending pictures of your dick to people. And that's a very brutal breakdown of the logic behind why you were doing that, but I think you're very good at coming up with ideas and everything you write is quite unique. And it has a good: Oh, I haven't read that before approach.

Miles Klee: Well, thank you. Y’know, like a lot of people I'm generating ideas by being too online all the time. You start to feel like Tom Cruise in “Minority Report” just sitting around with little blips floating around your head.

VFD: Yeah, I always liken it to Morgan Freeman in “Batman” when he has all of those cameras and microphones so he can see and hear everything in Gotham.

Miles Klee: It really depends on the topic, too. I have all of the subreddits that I follow that are like red pill guys, or MGTOWs, who just got kicked off there this week.

VFD: So crushing,

Miles Klee: I have been following them over to this other Reddit clone that they're on called Ruckus. So you have to follow them. Sometimes it's just a matter of following these groups that you're gonna be reporting on. I just try to cast a wide net of where I'm seeing memes, down from the broadest communities to the most niche. And I have joined a tonne of weird Facebook groups. I think a lot of people who have left Facebook don't really know what it's like on there right now, because they never log in. But there have been these incredible communities formed just around incredibly weird and specific brands of humour and interests. There's just such a wealth of stuff going on in there.

You also get a lot in terms of screenshots and stuff that's being shared from other platforms. Even something as simple as a screenshot of a Tinder conversation that someone else was having can set something off because you see what the dynamic was, and what these two people were talking about, and that gets you thinking about gender and sex in a broader way and you start pulling that thread and looking at more of that stuff.

Sometimes it's just that I want to know or explain why everyone on Twitter has been talking about a certain thing recently, and it's maybe not even a thing that is trending per se, but it is an idea that keeps popping up. And it's funny and amusing to me.

I guess a good example would be - and this hasn't come out yet - but I really love the discussion about men rotating three dimensional objects in their mind as a leisure activity. Supposedly because “research” has shown that men possess this visual spatial ability that's a replicatable difference between the sexes. And it's very contested, too. So that was really funny. I got to go down the rabbit hole of all the science behind that, but then also just talk about it as a shitposting thing. It’s like: dudes rock! I'm just sitting here getting a cube in my head and I'm having the best time.

So what I really love most - and my editor, Josh, says this as well- is really making the smart stuff dumb and making the dumb stuff smart. And I think that’s the genesis of a lot of the ideas that I find fun. You can really discover the absolute, highest intellectual version of discussing that thing and the pure himbo dumb aspect of it. And just fusing those is really fun.

VFD: What’s your favourite thing that you’ve done for MEL? Or in general.

Miles Klee: Oh, my gosh,

VFD: Big question…

Miles Klee: I'm just gonna draw a huge fat blank for this. Honestly, I checked my post count recently and I'm up to almost 1000 posts for MEL. And in a way it just leaves your brain as soon as it happens.

Y’know, I am proud of of certain longer, contemplated things I've done around politics and stuff. We did a big piece – a retrospective on whether the Bernie Bro ever really existed – that I’m proud of. There are a lot of unique perspectives there.

And along the same lines – when we had our moment of the Covington Catholic students squaring off against the Native American protesters. They were kind of these MAGA kids. I did a whole long thing about how fascism has always recruited young men and and made them emblematic and in the ideal ideology.

Some of the political stuff like that has been really hard but really, really rewarding. Because it's definitely outside of my comfort zone. I'd rather be talking about frog memes and stuff, but when I'm forced to do that, and when it does feel like it speaks to the moment, I'm pretty proud of it.

The thing that has gotten the most love since we just relaunched this last week was a post saying that we have to stop female dirtbag erasure because all the tweets are just about men not having bedframes and not washing themselves and being gross and stuff like that. And I had a couple of women on Twitter who were like: This is bullshit! I'm a slob, too. Like: you never hear about that. And that’s getting a huge response.

I laughed so much at all the other women who were sharing their own stories, too. And I think my favourite one was someone saying that they slept on an air mattress for a year and none of the guys who ever came over tweeted anything mean about them afterwards. Another point in favour of dudes rock.

VFD: Haha, Yeah, definitely. You’ve written books as well, right?

Miles Klee: Yeah, I've written three. I'm trying to get the third one published but I'm still in the process of revising it for my agents.

VFD: Does that hurt?

Miles Klee: Yeah, it takes for fucking ever. I've been working on this book since – I hate to say it – but it’s got to be seven years now. So awful. Just an awful rate of work.

But yeah, the first one came out in 2012. That's called “Ivyland”. It's a novel, a sort of surrealist sci-fi speculative set in New Jersey. It's about a suburb kind of based on my town, but in the book it’s a suburb that's been taken over by a pharmaceutical company that just runs the entire town.

VFD: Basically like America.

Miles Klee: Yeah, exactly. Well, New Jersey is a big capital for Big Pharma.

VFD: Right.

Miles Klee: So the politicians there have always been been in their pocket. And the second book came out in 2015. It's called “True False” and that's a collection of stories and a novella, and I think it's good bathroom reading, because some of the stories are just a page long.

VFD: Yeah.

Miles Klee: I recommend people read the stories. You want to always believe that you're getting better as a writer. People really do like the first book. But at this point I'm so much older than when I wrote it that you look back at it and think: Oh, what a child.

VFD: Yeah, like: I was getting really into Hunter Thompson or something/ You can tell. There's always that.

Miles Klee: Yes.

VFD: Well, I'd be remiss as well if we didn't talk about “HEAT”. I realised that last night: a big part of Miles’ online persona for what? 365 days?

Miles Klee: At least six months. Three hours. 180 days.

VFD: So for context, you watched it minute by minute at a pace of a minute a day. Do you feel like you know it better?

Miles Klee: Oh, yeah, definitely. And this is something that I don't think I've even talked about on Twitter, necessarily, but when I watch that day's minute, I will often watch it three or four times. And in doing that, you go back and you do uncover just strange little things that you wouldn't even register if you're just watching the movie.

I can't claim to have gone into as granular detail as Blake Howard, who did the podcasts about one minute of “HEAT” a day before I even thought of this thread.

Even when I started the thread a lot of people said: you know there's already a guy who did a podcast like this. And the podcast is amazing, because he'll do a two hour podcast about one minute of the film. And obviously there's a lot of expansive commentary there. But he can really just start from there. And his last episode, he actually interviewed Michael Mann. He's a much better and more accomplished film critic than I am just doing the shitty homage to that, I guess.

Don't get me wrong, I love the film, but the tweets are not usually coming from a form of complete reverence for it. It's often just fumbling around with it, because it's one of those movies that is very good and also very silly in its way. And I think “Point Break” was a good follow up to that because it had a lot of the same themes, as well as being both an incredible film and just a preposterous and ridiculous film. I think they both have that. Again, it’s like they’re trying to combine the smart and the dumb parts and get some kind of synthesis there.

VFD: Yeah, yeah. Well are you all back at work now? Are you still on break.

Miles Klee: Yeah, we’re back.

VFD: Well, thanks so much. I won't keep you any longer. I appreciate it.

Miles Klee: Yeah, thank you.