Last summer, the internet-famous pool float was an inflatable pink coffin. “When it’s summer but you have depression,” one woman captioned its promotional photos on Twitter, receiving more than 117,000 retweets.
It was designed by friends Andrew Greenbaum and Ian Felton as a joke, but so many people actually wanted to buy them that the pair started a company called Pom Pom Floats — now shipping “WORLDWIDE,” according to its Instagram bio, and charging $75 per coffin. Pom Pom’s second product will be a black coffin pool float, coming in July. (There was a limited-edition gold coffin, but you had to donate $400 to the company’s Kickstarter to get it.)
The pink coffin was written up by dozens of outlets as either “morbid” or “millennial summer goals.” But it is not the only entry in the creepy pool float genre. My editor brought to my attention earlier today the existence of Decapitated Floats, a company that makes only giant inflatable swans with gory detachable heads (created by the internet-y advertising company MSCHF and digital artist Lukas Bentel).
Elsewhere, you can buy a cockroach pool raft for just $6. You can buy a shark that looks like it’s eating you. You can float around on a giant eyeball. Or this other coffin from a company called BlackCraft Cult Clothing, if it ever comes back in stock at Hot Topic. BlackCraft also makes a pool float shaped like a pentagram, and one shaped like the planchette that comes with a Ouija board. Then there’s this black swan float, which I admit is only sort of creepy to me personally because of how often I think about Black Swan.
Anyway, why? It’s summer! The novelty float has been on the rise ever since Taylor Swift’s white swan pool party in 2015, but when did it get so dark?
I would hazard a guess that these creepy-ass pool floats are part of a burgeoning beach goth aesthetic, a combination of light and dark that makes a lot of sense for Instagram — high contrast, high saturation! Twenty-first century nihilism is being shoved down our throats by cultural tastemakers from Travis Scott, whose biggest radio hit features a scene in which a woman does not know the difference between a pool and the ocean, to the New Yorker, which this week included a story of writer Jia Tolentino sitting on the beach thinking “fucking kill me.” It’s all doom and gloom when the planet is dying, which is why kids are tweeting about sabotaging the global banking system before we’re all underwater. Have you seen the latest at Urban Outfitters? Its big summer 2019 idea is an oversize Nirvana T-shirt on the boardwalk.
Some other things that are beach goth: Big Little Lies, wide-brim sun hats, Vince Staples, the Patti Smith book about Hurricane Sandy, that Polish movie about teen cannibal mermaids, Black Cherry Mike’s Hard Lemonade, Atlantic City, Lana Del Rey, this photo of Lana Del Rey hugging Billie Eilish, Melissa Broder’s novel The Pisces.
Last year, when I interviewed Broder about the novel, she said, “I lived in Venice, California, for four years, and I was at the beach all the time. I was always so surprised and kind of amazed that the ocean doesn’t give a fuck.”
(Beach goth is not to be confused with seapunk, which is different.)
Still, why celebrate this aesthetic, or these super-creepy pool floats, which are not designed for summer fun and are only designed for the internet? What the original coffin float most reminds me of is this Tumblr-famous screenshot from Goosebumps, which shows a girl floating down a river in an actual coffin and is captioned “This is kind of relaxing.” This image is super popular on Tumblr because Tumblr is where goth kids go to collect images of things like girls floating down rivers in coffins. And that’s great, and I would perish if anything bad ever happened to Tumblr, but do I want Tumblr as a pool float? No! Do I want Instagram as a pool float? Even less!
Real-life summer is not about “lol nothing matters,” and it is not about #SummerGoals. It’s about going outside and sitting in a neon inner tube and drinking a Corona while your butt gets wet and your face gets unrecognizably burned and you forget that you’ve ever spent any time online at all.
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