culture

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The feed.

For any of you that may have ever perused a pornography website, you may have noticed the scenarios getting increasingly preposterous over the years. Multiple partners and medically improbable appendages are the base case. I am cognizant that the situations presented are not representative of ‘real life’. They are not representative of typical sexual relations. I’m sure the scenarios presented on porn sites really do happen sometimes, but they’re highly exaggerated outliers.

I’ve been a tech platform cassandra for my non media+tech friends for a few years now, but trying to explain how ad-based business models and algorithms combine to create a completely distorted understanding of reality has been difficult. The one thing that almost instantly breaks through is to equate the reality presented in a social feed to porn. Yes, the things you are presented with are real and do exist, but they are not representative of the mundane nature of everyday life. Again, highly exaggerated outliers.

In the same way none of us are going to pornhub and searching “suburban pudgy 40something couple missionary” (maybe you are and kudos to you) the algorithm does not promote the uninteresting and the unstimulating. If there is any censorship on these platforms, it’s of the tedious and routine elements of life.

To look at your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feed as representative of reality is to look at Pornhub and think “this is how most people have sex”.

Ranjan Roy on outliers.

Kind of an aside, but as someone who’s porn consumption is pretty much limited to fanfic, I would point out that “pudgy 40something couple missionary” is indeed very popular, and the only reason I’m removing the “suburban” part is that it’s difficult to apply when you’re dealing with, like. People on spaceships or imaginary military bases or fantasy medieval castles or whatever. There’s even an entire fic term for this genre; “established relationship”, particularly when coupled with other tags like “domestic fluff”. Possibly unsurprisingly, it seems—at least in the fandoms I’ve been reading—to’ve gotten a huge boot in popularity in 2020, along with all the other related “soft (◕ω◕✿)” tropes.

(Incidentally, this doesn’t even detract from Roy’s point, because one of the reasons I… don’t particularly gel with a lot of fic in this genre is even it tends to present weirdly unrealistic versions of its otherwise allegedly mundane scenarios. Ref. for e.g. the hugely popular “The Avengers cuddle and watch Disney movie marathons in Avengers Tower” genre which I just… I get the appeal of intellectually but as someone to whom this scenario is pretty much the antithesis of my id, I just cannot get over the fact that, like. Half these people are, like. Middle aged men, man. They just… are not. Doing that. Highly exaggerated outliers, indeed.)

2020-11-16T10:24:46+11:0025th November, 2020|Tags: culture, social media, tech|

The Quick Guide to Cultural Marxism.

Not sure how to tell your postmodernisms from your cultural Marxisms? Confused by 20th century critiques of power? Well here you go: a handy quick reference to the history behind the right’s current favourite bogeymen.

2020-11-16T08:18:57+11:0022nd November, 2020|Tags: culture|

The private profit of public “good.”

The modern nonprofit model began with that baron of the Gilded Age Andrew Carnegie’s desire to change capitalism in order to “save it”—after accumulating vast amounts of personal wealth and witnessing labor strikes and violence toward “captains of industry” and their businesses. Carnegie believed inequality was an inevitable result of industrial progress but that traditional charity would not close the gap because indiscriminate handouts would only encourage lazy, drunk, and unworthy people to persist in their ways. Then, as now, the “undeserving poor” were assumed to be all people who are able-bodied yet unemployed: people who seemingly did not want to work or made poor choices that prohibit them from doing so. Rather than use his immense personal wealth to alleviate suffering, Carnegie urged his fellow millionaires to benefit the community by “[placing] within its reach the ladders on which the aspiring can rise,” inventing the notion of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps without acknowledging that some people do not even have boots.

Heralded by many as the father of modern philanthropy, Carnegie’s ideals actually further exacerbated the gap between equality of condition and equality of opportunity. The foundations begun by Carnegie and his contemporaries were to be used as vehicles for the “public good.” But that public good would no longer be defined by the public itself or won through direct action. According to Peter Dobkin Hall, it would instead be determined by elites, academic experts, professional bodies, businesses, and government entities; they studied conditions, generated and dispersed their findings to citizens with influence, and drummed up public awareness to bring social change—a model not very different from the one employed by nonprofits and their funders today.

A brief history of the nonprofit.

Friendly reminder that the actual vehicles for public good and social change are supposed to be, a) the democratically accountable government, and b) small grassroots social organisations. Not giant multinationals established as tax dodges by billionaires.

2020-11-16T08:13:56+11:0021st November, 2020|Tags: culture|

Destroy cringe culture.

We were talking about the habit of being critical—discussing a person we both knew who was caustically critical (and often entertainingly insulting) about everything. She said she didn’t quite approve of that attitude, because it was so safe.

I was surprised by that word, and asked her what she meant, and she said—more or less—that hating or criticizing everything was safe because it meant you never have to take a stand. Liking something means you are opening yourself up; if nothing is good enough for you it’s another way of saying you’re superior to everything. Very smug, very snug. Being insulting and critical, admittedly a position of attack when face-to-face, is, psychologically, actually a position of retreat.

Mike Johnston on safety.

2020-11-16T08:02:09+11:0019th November, 2020|Tags: culture|

Big and small.

[Jane] Jacobs’s perspective was that urban life happens at street level, and that access to a wide range of other people on the sidewalks of a city allow for an emergent culture that is unpredictable and messy, vital and communal. On the other hand, [Robert] Moses’s idea of progress involved sweeping away the mess and unpredictability, creating regimented highways and high-rises that would allow for urban life to be planned, and therefore improved. In many ways the contrast is also about scale — for Jacobs, the city should work at the scale and speed of the pedestrian, whereas Moses believed a modern city should reflect the scale and speed of the automobile.

Today, most urban planning theory has evolved to reflect Jacobs’s thinking, as Moses’s initiatives failed on many levels — far from ushering in the utopia he imagined, his housing projects became even worse than the slums he sought to remedy, and his highways destroyed neighborhoods and disenfranchised those without automobiles.

The current conversations about what our digital ecosystems should be and who they are for almost exactly mirrors these tensions.

Alexis Lloyd on space.

This is about platform-based social media versus indie/open web communities, though while we’re on the subject of comparing online to offline spaces, it’s also worth remembering Robert Moses was pretty demonstrably racist, and his urban planning reflected that.

2020-10-26T08:31:35+11:002nd November, 2020|Tags: culture, social media, tech|

QRG.

Looking at QAnon through the lens of the alternate reality game, and… ye-ee-ee-eah. That about fits. Except that, y’know. People breadcrumbing for The Secret World or Cloverfield never, like. Got anyone IRL-killed.

2020-10-26T07:32:24+11:001st November, 2020|Tags: culture, politics|

“Virtuous” literature.

The real problem, the kind of thing that would make De Niro in Casino groan, “Amateur night!”, starts when people imagine that they can stop immoral behavior by policing immoral characters, phrases, or scenes in literature.

They’re looking for the wrong thing. They’re sniffing for depictions of immorality, when they should be scanning the silences, the evasions.

There’s a very naïve theory of language at work here, roughly: “if people speak nicely, they’ll act nicely” — with the fatuous corollary, “If people mention bad things, they must like bad things.”

The simplest refutation of that is two words: Victorian Britain.

Victorian Britain carried out several of the biggest genocides in human history. It was also a high point of virtuous literature.

Because they were smart about language. They didn’t rant about the evil of their victims or gloat about massacring them, at least not in their public writings. They wrote virtuous novels, virtuous poems. And left a body count which may well end up the biggest in world history.

Gary Brecher on fictional morality.

2020-10-26T07:28:15+11:001st November, 2020|Tags: culture|

Tools of corporate power.

“The companies see talent as disposable, because so many people want to break into comics,” Seidman said. While some individuals at a given company might fight for a creator, the corporate structure as a whole is completely unaccountable. “There’s no shortage of people to fill spaces. Once you get past the people they really want to keep because they mean sales, they don’t give a fuck.”

Economic exploitation creates the conditions for sexual exploitation to flourish, and the comics industry as it currently exists cannot address the one without tackling the other. Sexual harassment, in all its various forms, is not simply a social problem; it is theft—of a victim’s time, dignity, of their ability to create work in peace and pursue financial or social opportunities. Moreover, it is theft of a creator’s ability to pursue a livelihood in their chosen field. Harassers don’t simply prey on those made vulnerable by precarity: they actively make the spaces and institutions they inhabit more precarious, and keep workers disorganized and afraid to the company’s financial benefit. Think of it, if you like, as grooming on a grand scale: the cultivation of a workforce that can be trusted to go along with sexual and economic exploitation—to grin through clenched teeth, to say nothing out of fear—and drive out those who can’t.

Asher Elbein on labor rights.

This exact same atmosphere (of fawning over badly behaving superstars while treating everyone else like disposable churn) is also part of the reason I bailed on Big 5 publishing…

2020-10-20T08:05:21+11:0026th October, 2020|Tags: comics, culture, cw: sexual assault, publishing|

Playing cards.

[W]e are trained to recognize the reactions of those who are not white men to white men as some sort of useful path to power. We are told, in lots of ways, that people who are not white men get to play certain kinds of cards — race and gender cards — to get ahead, whereas white men just … get ahead. White male power is so assumed as to be wholly indistinguishable from what we simply recognize as “power,” and with it, the whispered implication that those with authority have somehow earned that authority fairly and squarely, while those who challenge authority and its abuses are wily manipulators.

Rebecca Traister on power plays.

2020-10-19T15:11:18+11:0021st October, 2020|Tags: culture|
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