Dante Alighieri must have had an amazing agent. Few fourteenth-century writers got their names above the title, as he did with “Dante’s Inferno.” Even more impressive, while Shakespeare is forever known by his last name, Dante is known by his first — like some kind of medieval Oprah.
Still, after 800 years, it’s time to reboot his Nine Circles of Hell franchise to make it relevant to a time-crunched, multi-tasking audience that doesn’t think gluttony is a serious enough sin to merit standing amid worms in an icy rain for all eternity:
First Circle — Limbo: Instead of non-sinning pagans who could not enter Heaven, the First Circle now contains 1) those waiting on tech support or cable (or other company) customer service lines for someone to actually help and 2) those hoping to move out of the “Friendzone.” It feels like eternity only because it is.
Second Circle — TMI: Just because you can curate every moment of your life doesn’t mean you should, or that anyone else cares. Oversharers, especially those who post staged “candid” photos on Facebook and Instagram, have a choice of listening to Gwyneth Paltrow talk about “conscious uncoupling,” being stuck in a waiting room with a February 11, 1998, issue of US, or being jabbed repeatedly by a selfie stick.
Third Circle — Reality TV “celebrities” and others famous for being famous: This includes celebs (Lindsay Lohan, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, and O. J. Simpson) whose court bookings outnumber other kinds. Andy Warhol is there — not because his prediction that “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes” was wrong (hello, “Alex from Target”) but because he grossly underestimated how long some could cling to the spotlight. Their punishment: When they die, there’s no obit, not even a brief mention in People.
Fourth Circle — Spammers: The punishment for the greedy, including spammers and other fraudsters, consists of getting a new notice each day from a retailer or a credit card company, explaining that the database with their information has been hacked so they’ll need to track all charges (and getting the charges overturned will take a perpetual three-month period to sort out while you move back to the first Circle).
Fifth Circle — Hypocrisy: Instead of heresy, the updated version of this circle contains hypocrites like politicians (especially those with pro-family values who later get caught in sex scandals) and cable news pundits. Their punishment: Slow Internet access, which causes streaming video to buffer every few seconds, especially during key moments in Orange Is the New Black, Game of Thrones, and, um, adult video. Actually, the only way they can access the Internet is through CompuScape or AWOL dial-up.
Sixth Circle — Anger & Violence: Those who have been violent and short-tempered now must reset their passwords every time they log on to their phone, computer, app, or website. And each time, the instructions require an additional hurdle. First time: Any six-letter word will do, but it must be somewhat interesting and be in Latin; then a number, also interesting; then an added non-alphanumeric character; then one added uppercase or lowercase letter. Then the level of difficulty increases, including having to reenter illegible CAPTCHA phrases until the end of time, Hell freezes over, or the Chicago Cubs win the World Series — whichever comes later.
Seventh Circle — People who think they’re cool because they’re early technology adopters: For them as well as those who place their phones on the table at a social dinner (as if the president might call at any moment), the punishment is: The latest phones, apps, and gadget are available everywhere else six months before reaching the Seventh Circle. Additionally, they are forced to meet with friends at Starbucks — yes, there’s a Starbucks in Hell, actually three of them, with two across the street from each other — but without their phones so they’re the only ones forced to stare at each other. Awkward forever!
Actually, to succeed, the updated version doesn’t have to last forever or even another 800 years. In fact, residents of Hell will need to re-reboot randomly and frequently, and always when it is least convenient.
Norman Birnbach contributes humor articles to McSweeney’s, Splitsider and other publications. He’s already experienced the punishment found in the Sixth Circle. Website: normanbirnbach.com.