In a recent episode of his podcast, Sean Monahan described a phenomenon he called “the West Elm Calebificiation of content” in which media and internet discourse converge on a narrow range of meme-like topics. Monahan offered a compelling theory about why this happens, going beyond the usual social media fatalism: “Publications used to give people money to go do stuff…When there’s no budget for people to do anything besides sit in front of their computer, all that gets covered is the churn of the Twitter trending bar or the churn of the TikTok For You Page, and a lot of that is purely a problem of funding.” This reaches beyond conventional wisdom, which holds that the quality of internet content (and culture in general, with which it is increasingly synonymous) is a direct and inevitable result of the platforms that distribute that content, and of those platforms’ interaction with human nature. Twitter and TikTok facilitate algorithmic virality and cultural flattening, one might assume, because they are designed to pick up whatever topic is getting attention and accelerate its ascent, with hordes of users chasing that momentum by posting their own takes and meme variants. From a broader perspective, though, you’d have to be insane to believe that a topic as hollow and tedious as West Elm Caleb—or any of countless other trending topics that have briefly dominated the internet lately—was destined to command mainstream attention for any amount of time. If the medium is indeed the message, West Elm Caleb is a brutal example of that.