Neon Dystopia.

In the 90’s, coming off of the Cold War, the dystopia we feared was iron-clad and totalitarian. It made no efforts to hide its dismal nature. The turn of the millennium, however, has proven to us that a more insidious dystopia waits for us, one where corporate control is no less tyrannical, but brings such glossy, colorful convenience that we’ll happily submit. Fantasy Flight abandoned the genre’s classic aesthetic but stayed true to its core.

But they were an outlier. Much like the musical scene it took half of its name from, cyberpunk elsewhere became commodified and reduced into a marketable aesthetic utterly divorced from its political origins. This year’s eponymous video game, after all, was produced by a studio that exploited its workers via grueling six-day workweeks and appealed to its edgiest, transphobic fans in its marketing. “Cyberpunk” became a shorthand for certain sci-fi tropes: cybernetic prostheses, neon kanji, and ruthless ultraviolence, all delivered with a snarky, devil-may-care attitude.

“If your ‘radical’ politics are not fundamentally rooted in love, I cannot trust you.” I’ve lost the source, but I saw someone say this several years back, and it’s stuck with me since. From the outside, radical leftist political movements can look frighteningly forceful. This summer, anti-fascist protesters donned gas masks and wielded handmade shields to defend themselves against police brutality. The history of the punk scene is rife with stories of aggressively ejecting Nazi skinheads from local hangouts. We see these hard tactics, so far from the comfortable civility we typically enjoy, and it’s easy to conflate their wielders’ outrage with hatred. If this is your understanding of radical politics–disaffected misanthropes aiming to tear down the world out of sheer anger–no wonder you’d think cyberpunk heroes must be smug and aloof.

Spencer Dub on the politics of love.

So I came across this article when I was, in fact, playing Cyberpunk 2077 and it was, amusingly, the first time it clicked for me that the game was a franchise adaptation. I’d thought it’s generic mish-mash of tropes was just its lazy worldbuilding, but no! Apparently it was just suffering from a heavy dose of Seinfeld Is Unfunny coupled with, well. Actually being unoriginal, mass-marketed, soulless drek that would’ve been improved by doing nothing new with its source material, as opposed to what it actually did.1

  1. The game has many, many sins but probably its biggest on this specific front is the fact one of its major characters “shows growth” by having the revelation that caring about profit-driven war crimes is, like, bad, actually. And this is portrayed as a good thing! Because apathy, or something. Anyway, the game was terrible. Don’t play it for a hundred hours like I did. Or if you do, some tell me about how terrible it is, because seriously I thought I was over venting but apparently not . . . []
2021-09-09T08:45:22+10:0010th September, 2021|Tags: , |

And other monsters.

“The monster dwells at the gates of difference,” [Jeffrey Jerome Cohen] notes, in one of the insights that inform his seminal book Monster Theory. Monsters, [Women and Other Monsters author Jess] Zimmerman argues, “separate acceptable from unacceptable, what’s allowed from what is not. Their monstrosity is deviation blown up to exaggerated size—the mythic equivalent of ‘if you keep doing that, your face will stick that way.’”

This is part of the visceral thrill of cinematic villainy. Villains tend to be much more entertaining to watch than heroes because their embrace of aberrance can be cathartic: They acknowledge the constraints imposed by cultures that are narrow in their empathies—and then studiously ignore them. [ . . .] These characters dwell at the gates of difference and, crucially, have no interest in residing anywhere else.

On deviance.

This is from a longer article about the film Curella, which also (apparently completely unironically) contains the line, [Cruella’s] clothes suggest the avant-gardism of Vivienne Westwood [ . . .] And yet: “I want to be like you,” she tells the Baroness. “You’re a very powerful woman.” So Disney has given us an allegedly punk antihero whose defining goal is to be respected within the establishment. Which is just . . . pretty much the most Vivienne Westwood thing I can possibly imagine. So, like . . . even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and all that.

Relatedly: I own exactly one (1) Vivienne Westood item of clothing. It’s a tartan-print scarf. My mother-in-law bought it for me at the Sogo on Nathan Road in Hong Kong. It cost $400. On sale.

2021-08-23T09:17:49+10:0026th August, 2021|Tags: , |

The Nolan Effect.

I think of this as the Christopher Nolan effect: If you explain an incredibly simple premise — like, for example, “a guy forgets everything every five minutes” or “you can go inside people’s dreams and make false memories” — over and over in increasingly abstruse ways, the person it’s being explained to will eventually tell themselves, “I just don’t get it.” This effect is only strengthened the more people there are agreeing that the matter at hand is “cool,” “interesting,” or “complicated” — a process of mass, self-inflicted intellectual gaslighting.

Vicky Osterweil nails it.

The actual article is about NFTs, but as someone who also utterly can’t stand how po-faced-yet-facile Nolan’s films are . . . this.

2021-08-11T10:36:03+10:0013th August, 2021|Tags: |

Cloud money.

This newest wave of [TikTok] influencers could quite possibly be the first to escape the internet. Or, at the very least, become bigger than the platforms they use to publish content. This could fundamentally alter the power structures of the web. And I think it’s important context to consider as more and more tech companies roll out their monetization features. These payment features feel like the first public acknowledge that creators will not just keep posting for free.

And, as always, I am both optimistic and deeply nervous about all of this. Part of me thinks that more tipping features could lead to more mid-level creators harnessing the internet to create great content across multiple platforms as full-time careers. But another part of me thinks what is more likely is that the ultra-influencers at the top, capable of pulling in hundreds of millions of views, will soon have infinite revenue streams at the finger tips, while everyone else will effectively become content gig workers, posting for micro-transactions, trapped inside algorithmic systems they have no actual ownership of. Excited to see how things shake out!

Ryan Broderick on tip jars.

2021-08-12T07:09:06+10:008th August, 2021|Tags: , |

You can’t care when you don’t care.

As someone who also dislikes Mad Man (and, honestly, most of That Genre of Asshole Man “Prestige” TV), I confess I did enjoy this article on disliking Mad Men.

Second confession, I also did enjoy the “rebuttal” to it which is basically Have You Considered You’re Just Not Cool Enough To Like Mad Man but, like, written in six thousand words of pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook1 because . . . yeah. Yeah that really does capture the true l’esprit de l’disliking Man Men when confronted by people trying to justify not just why they like Mad Men but why liking Mad Man is the only “correct” choice.

  1. Ironically cloaked as anti-intellectual gobbledygook. []
2021-07-26T07:15:11+10:0029th July, 2021|Tags: |


Apparently, in 1997, David Bowie issued what were basically stocks in himself as an artist, giving the owners of said “Bowie Bonds” a percentage of his year-on-year royalties. They were initially bought by and endorsed by actual, legitimate investment firms, raising a craptonne of cash for Bowie and eventually losing their purchasers an additional craptonne when online piracy caused the bottom to drop out of the music market a few years later. Bowie, who was not an idiot–and, as those of you who are Old™ may recall, was Extremely Online in the internet’s early years and thus obviously could see which way the Napster was blowing–saw this coming and was thus able to comfortably ride out the post-internet music age and go on to make weird, non-mainstream experimental stuff for, I guess, funsies.1

Bowie turned out to be a more prescient futurist than most actual professional futurists, and ISAs–or “income sharing agreements”–are the Hot New Thing in white collar indentured servitude. They’re probably not as great an idea for the rest of us as they were for the Thin White Duke, hey.

  1. See also: Trent Reznor, another early leverager of being already famous when the Internet Era hit. []
2021-06-15T08:28:46+10:0017th June, 2021|Tags: , , |

The alternative is to opt-out.

So there’s a post going around Tumblr that’s basically something like “people keep saying parasocial relationships are bad but they never give any options for the alternatives? help?” and I keep thinking about just . . . How Much that is.1 Like I get the impression the poster is relatively young and thus has grown up in Peak Influencer Culture and the question is earnest but, still. An earnest question deserves an earnest answer, so:

The “alternative” to parasocial relationships, particularly if you feel you’re susceptible to forming them in unhealthy ways, is to actively block yourself form forming parasocial relationships.

That means stop watching that show or listening to that podcast that’s in any one of those “‘friends’ around a table” formats that are designed to prey on this kind of relationship. Unfollow all “famous” people on social media. Block all social media “personalities” (you know the ones I mean; the people who aren’t famous per se but always show up in reblogs). Just fucking say no to “influencer” culture. Uninstall TikTok and Instagram. Don’t even regularly read the Patreon posts of people you’re giving money to.2

This doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy things produced by or featuring particular individuals, but stop seeking out anything (or, worse, feeling entitled to) anything beyond their work. They aren’t your friends and you aren’t entitled to know anything about their private lives.3

Most importantly, humans are not commodities for consumption, no matter how much money “platform” companies make trying to convince you otherwise. Parasocial relationships blur the line between legitimate social connection and entertainment in ways that, in particular, prey on vulnerable people with less access to the former. If you think that’s you, resist! Stop allowing companies to exploit your loneliness for money. There’s plenty of other media out there that can fulfill your desire for entertainment that doesn’t rely on this level of extremely personal manipulation and–and I know this is terrifying but please believe me when I say–there are plenty of other beautiful (and often similarly lonely) people out there who’ll help you with the former. Yes, reaching out and trying to make friends is scary! Not every overture is going to work; you’re sometimes going to get brushed off, or snapped at. It happens. But it’s worth it, trust me, for all the time you try and end up making a real, earnest connection. That feeling, that connection, is something parasocial media can never, ever replace, and the more you try and make it the worse you’re going to feel.

You deserve better.

  1. Full disclosure: I am a Committed Parasocial Relationship Hater and myself do everything I’m about to suggest. []
  2. I know this sounds like really weird advice, and contrary to what Patreon is “for,” but I do solemnly swear it’s how I use the platform. []
  3. Even if they seem like they’re voluntarily offering it up, know they almost certainly aren’t–and almost certainly would prefer they didn’t have to–particularly if they’re an independent creator who primarily releases content online. []
2021-06-11T07:55:19+10:0015th June, 2021|Tags: , , |
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