Monolith Haters Are Convinced It’s Just a Dumb Marketing Ploy

·5 min read
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Every time another mysterious, silvery monolith is discovered in the remote wilderness, Nay Krisanda grows more fed up with the phenomenon. “If the first one felt like a marketing gimmick,” Krisanda told The Daily Beast, “the second two solidified that feeling.”

Three times in recent weeks, tall metal obelisks have been found standing upright like giant dominoes in the wild. The first, discovered in a Utah canyon, was removed by environmental activists last week. Another monolith appeared on a Romanian hillside shortly thereafter, followed by a third on a California mountaintop this week.

But for a growing anti-monolith crowd, the whimsy has worn off with each subsequent discovery. If it’s art, it’s not particularly good art, they argue. If it’s a publicity stunt, just cut to the chase and say what it’s advertising. If it’s aliens, they can go to hell.

“Unless there is some other intelligence behind this, then it is just something to sell something and it reeks of ‘marketing firm’s idea of fun,’” Krisanda, 36, who works for a printing company, said. “All happening during a pandemic that has shut down entire industries, thrown people out of work/off their health care and out of their homes. No one has the time or money for whatever they’re trying to sell.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>The original Utah monolith</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Reuters</div>

The original Utah monolith


The YouTuber known as Rational Disconnect has emerged as a vocal anti-monolithist.

“I originally thought that it was a cool art project or a prank from 4chan when the first one showed up,” he told The Daily Beast. After the appearance of the Romanian monolith, however, he began to suspect an advertising stunt, “which just sucks all the excitement and mystery out of it. The longer it goes on, the more I feel that I just want it to be over with so we can forget about the product this was for two weeks after it’s finally announced.”

There’s no evidence the monoliths are actually part of an ad blitz. In fact, next to nothing is known about the statues’ creators—or whether one entity is behind all of them. The first monolith may have been placed in a Utah canyon up to five years ago, according to Google Earth photos uncovered by Reddit user “Bear__Fucker.” The Romanian and Californian monoliths appear newer, only showing up after the Utah installation made headlines.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>The monolith found in Romania.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Reuters</div>

The monolith found in Romania.


Ellie Quigley, from Manchester in the U.K., works in marketing and spends a lot of time thinking about marketing stunts, she told The Daily Beast. Her professional opinion is that the statues aren’t selling anything—but that they’re still no good.

“It’s just so ominous,” she said of the tall metal structures, which have drawn comparisons to the creepy monoliths from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“The world really doesn’t need that at the moment. It's not like people have started knitting for tree trunks, at least that would feel quite nice. It's just a silver plinth that looks like it should be on Dumbledore's resting place in Harry Potter.”

Blaire Notrica, another Twitter user to express monolith fatigue, said he was tired of theories about the original statue’s origin “when it's obviously just found art and not very good art.”

Notrica said he welcomed genuine art criticism of the monolith, but “it's obviously not aliens and it's clearly not Bansky. On New Year's Day 2001 someone put up a monolith Space Odyssey-style in a park in Seattle. That's a little more clever.”

Even Twitter’s compulsive need to create parody accounts for every in-the-news noun appeared to falter for the monoliths. People have made at least nine “Utah Monolith” parody accounts, with handles like @utahmonolith, @utahmonolith1, @utahmonolith2, @utahmonolith3, and @monolithutah, but few are active and only one has (slightly) more than 100 followers. The glee that Twitter might once have wrung from a topical meme was gone.

A more offline group also took issue with the original monolith. Last week, a team of four people removed the Utah obelisk. One of them, a Utah adventure guide, explained their actions in an Instagram post.

“We removed the Utah Monolith because there are clear precedents for how we share and standardize the use of our public lands, natural wildlife, native plants, fresh water sources, and human impacts upon them. The mystery was the infatuation and we want to use this time to unite people behind the real issues here—we are losing our public lands—things like this don’t help,” Sylvan Christensen wrote.

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Although the statue had damaged some of the surrounding rock formations, its real cost came when hordes of tourists drove cars and rode helicopters to the remote canyon to see it, Christensen said.

“This land wasn’t physically prepared for the population shift (especially during a pandemic),” he wrote. “People arrived by car, by bus, by van, helicopter, planes, trains, motorcycles and E-bikes and there isn’t even a parking lot. There aren’t bathrooms—and yes, pooping in the desert is a misdemeanor. There was a lot of that.”

Maybe in an earlier era, people would have greeted the monoliths with less cynicism. But if the monoliths are indeed a marketing stunt, they’ve run into a jaded internet audience that has lost its taste for corporate gimmicks, Rational Disconnect said.

“I think that brands have really used up all their goodwill with stuff like this over the past couple of years,” he said. “Edgy Wendy’s clapping back at Arby's for the past couple of years really tired everyone out.”

Quigley, the marketing worker, said the mysterious totems arrived in a remarkably bad year when everyone is already overstimulated and unreceptive to aliens or publicity stunts or whatever this is.

“We’ve spent 2020 fearing the unknown,” she said. “Go home, monolith, you’re drunk.”

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