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[Venkatesh] Rao pegs the beginning of premium mediocrity’s ascent to the 2008 financial collapse, when cupcakes ruled the culinary landscape. The cupcake is a classic example: It’s a single-serve dessert on demand, minus the true indulgence of buying or making a whole cake to enjoy over time or share with family or friends. Cupcakes look great in photos, but as has been frequently noted in the past decade, many of them are not exactly delicious. I remain unconvinced that anyone ever took genuine pleasure in eating a dry, fist-size Crumbs Bake Shop cupcake topped with a mountain of hardened buttercream. […]

Crumbs Bake Shop expanded to 79 locations in the United States before it went out of business in 2014, but the value system that enabled it remains: A plethora of subpar options is the foundation of modern shopping. Most Millennials were too young to get a foothold in the economy before it fell out from under them, and now, confronted with the precariousness of working- and middle-class life in the decade after the Great Recession, the most many can do is playact modern success for as long as possible while hoping the real thing happens eventually.

All of the faux-Eames chairs the internet tried to sell me are props for this Kabuki theater: things you buy because they’re masquerading as more exceptional than they are. Some of these products are perfectly good at fulfilling their function, but they paper over a problem of class mobility that consumer choices can’t change. The market has looked upon the people it serves and said, “Let them eat cupcakes.”

Amanda Mull on class consumption.

2020-07-31T11:11:17+10:0020th August, 2020|Tags: culture|

Girl games.

“I think we miss a lot when our sole attraction to Sierra’s legacy is fixated on Roberta [Williams], or even on Sierra’s larger cadre of female designers” says [assistant professor of media industries at New York University, Laine] Nooney. “…it reinforces very conservative ideas about creative authorship and authorial intent.” In other words, neither Roberta nor any other talented game designer is solely responsible for the final product; it’s a group effort. The reason Sierra makes for such a compelling case is because it “reveals a history that intersects labor, class, and gender—a history the game industry very much needs to understand right now.”

It’s certainly not the history Roberta ever set out to write. She was never a crusader for equity, never a spokesperson for the women in her company, let alone her industry. And it’s not just Roberta, it’s all the women we cherry pick as signs of progress. We like to assume that any woman who once stood alone, surrounded by men in the tech world—or the science world, art world, or political world—must have held a torch fueled by some inner Joan of Arc or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The role of Roberta, Queen of Inclusion and Gender Parity, is something we’ve collectively written into the historical record. It’s not only wrong to place the weight of feminist activism on the unsuspecting shoulders of women like Roberta, it’s dangerous. This revisionist history may be inspiring for young women today, but a falsely positive story is a false story nonetheless. “Video game history doesn’t know how to make sense of her except to single her out,” says Nooney.

Perrin Drumm on the complicated history of Roberta Williams.

I confess that, as a young girl, seeing Williams’s face on the King’s Quest box was definitely effective marketing, if nothing else.

2020-07-31T09:23:04+10:0017th August, 2020|Tags: culture, gaming, video games|


2016, with both Trump and Brexit victories, was also a major shock to elites across the world. For forty years left and right elites had settled on a neoliberal consensus–privatization, deregulation, low taxes, and globalized trade for right-wing elites; self-actualization, individual rights, equal opportunity, and cosmopolitanism for the left elites. That centrist consensus depended on accepting some victories that were critical to elites and some losses that were critical to the mass supporters of each wing: the religious right and white identity working class supporters of the right lost over and over again on gender, sexuality, nationalism; and the working class supporters of the left lost on increasing economic insecurity and stagnating wages. 2016 was the year of a primal resistance, simmering since 2008 and the Great Recession. But these kinds of complex, long term structural dynamics are hard to explain, hard to cover, and worst of all, deeply inconsistent with the calming narrative elites have told each other to support this neoliberal detente. So what we get is a moral panic about online propaganda rather than introspection into where the political economy of the past forty years has gone profoundly wrong.

Yochai Benkler on the consensus elite.

Maybe race-baiting propaganda bots on social media are the symptom, not the disease…

2020-07-08T10:52:55+10:0012th August, 2020|Tags: culture, politics|

Antiracism-industrial complex.

So an extract from Matt Taibbi’s critique of White Fragility has been going around, and… hm.

I wouldn’t say I’m entirely convinced by all of Taibbi’s arguments—there’s a bit too much cancel culture boogeyman stuff, for one thing—though I think he does kind of… almost hit on a point, one that’s probably better covered by this New Yorker article from 2019. Tl;dr, the self-help style of corporate-approved “antiracism” that focuses on individual guilt and self-abasement, at best, does nothing to challenge or address issues of structural racism—and arguably helps preserve it—while simultaneously skirting weirdly fucking close to outright white supremacist talking points about whiteness and who “counts” as white.1

Intra-white discussions of what “whiteness” actually is—and, consequently, what to do about structural white supremacy—are like the men’s rights of the antiracism movement, I swear. And the problem with all these baby-tier shittakes designed to make people feel Bad On The Internet is they do nothing to address—and arguably actively work against efforts to address—some of the more insidious aspects of structural whiteness, such as how whiteness has historically co-opted “marginally white” ethnic groups2 into its bullshit by turning them against other ethnic groups with similar experiences but browner skin.3 These are groups that both benefit from white privilege and are viscerally, immediately aware of the existential threat when that privilege is taken away due to a failure to “perform whiteness” correctly. Usually because it happened to their grandparents. Addressing issues like that are, like, the bare minimum of “deconstructing whiteness” part of the antiracism equation and it is not up to people of color to do that work. White people need to do it. But it’s hard, and uncomfortable, and way not as fun as posting performative hashtags on Twitter or as lucrative as scolding white people in workplaces while requiring nothing from them but mealy-mouthed confessions of sin. So, yanno.

  1. Weird, isn’t it, how “whiteness” constructed in these contexts—at least in Anglophone countries—are never, ever things like “white people be like [picture of baklava]” or “[picture of payot]” or “[picture of signs in Welsh]” or… []
  2. Ref. the Irish, Eastern and Southern Europeans, European Jews, and so on, adjusted for local history as appropriate. []
  3. Amazing how easy it is to get people with, say, Scottish or Irish ancestry to reconsider their shitty takes on, say, Indigenous sovereignty claims when you mention Scotland and Ireland are also colonized nations and hey those British, amirite? Or the reason the whole “illegal boatpeople” scaremongering always sounded sus-AF to yours truly in part because her own grandparents also illegally migrated on forged papers to avoid being sent back to enjoy genocide in Ze Olt Kontree. []
2020-06-30T10:14:43+10:006th August, 2020|Tags: culture|


This false consciousness is apparent throughout the business and political worlds, but it might be most acute in tech, an industry that still lacks a widely shared code of ethics. Facebook employees have been quitting or staging virtual walkouts in recent weeks, with some declaring their disgust at Mark Zuckerberg for refusing to do more about President Donald Trump’s incendiary, and typically unhinged, posts. It’s commendable that Facebook employees are beginning to wake up to the way their platform is used for fomenting racist violence and division. But even if it were to solve these issues, Facebook is irreparably compromised, a mega-machine of surveillance and data capture whose fundamental business model is based on ever more granular monitoring of users in order to coerce them into desired behaviors. Like Google, which operates according to similar surveillance capitalist principles, Facebook has seen employees calling for the company to be more overtly political in its support of causes like BLM. But until tech workers understand the exploitation that underwrites their fabulous salaries—whether that exploitation occurs in an Amazon warehouse, on Facebook’s platform, or behind the wheel of a Lyft— their calls for racial progress will ring only slightly less hollow than those emanating from Taser.

Jacob Silverman on empty gestures.

I still remember the first time I learned the same company that makes tasers also makes most police body cameras. Talk about cornering the whole police brutality market…

2020-06-17T07:49:11+10:005th August, 2020|Tags: culture, tech|
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