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Criticism is WWE
Read to the end for blissed out in the slop
Before we begin, a couple housekeeping things: First up, Substack supports referrals now, so I’ve turned them on to see what happens. Let me know what you think! Right now I’ve set it to: five referrals for a free month comped, 15 referrals for three months comped, and 25 referrals for six months comped and a coupon for 50% off anything at the Garbage Day merch store. I’ve also turned gift subscriptions on.
Second, tonight is the last New York show I’ve got on the books for the summer. I set aside a couple free tickets for readers. If you’ve never seen Garbage Day live before, tonight should be pretty fun, I’m doing a mix of old stuff and new before heading off to perform in the UK next month. Head over here to grab a free ticket before they’re gone.
I Actually Think Quentin Tarantino Has A Point About Film Criticism!!!
Today, I don't know [any critics’ names]. Is it my fault? Theirs? What remains are website names: CinemaBlend, Deadline. I am told: “There are still good critics.” And I always answer: who? I say this without sarcasm. I'm told, "Manohla Dargis [of the New York Times], she's excellent." But when I ask what are the three movies she loved and the three she hated in the last few years, no one can answer me. Because they don't care! OK, if The New York Times is at my disposal then I’ll open it, read it, but that's it. I used to know a critics style of writing, their tastes, intimately! The sad reality is that today, the voice of Manohla Dargis – and it's nothing against her – doesn't matter enough for me to read her opinion on Notes on a Scandal or the fourth Transformers.
The reason Tarantino doesn’t know critics’ names, of course, is because platforms turned reviews into aggregate scores, which has, in turn, broken the way we think about media.
As the internet moved from search to social in the early 2010s, platforms started to bundle up content and suddenly sites like Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and Cinemascore began turning reviews into large aggregate “scores”. And then, over time, those scores were inserted into other platforms. So nowadays, if you google a TV show, the first thing you get are variety of different metrics. For instance, if you look up the Apple TV show Platonic right now, you get four very different “scores,” which basically don’t mean anything when taken all together. It has a 2.8 audience rating, but 72% of Google users liked it, and it has a 7/10 on IMDb, but a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Thankfully, the Rotten Tomatoes audience score isn’t also included here.
It wasn’t always like this, though. Reviews and criticism were actually something you used to have to seek out.
If you’ve never heard my villain origin story before, the condensed version goes like this: In high school, I got super into web comics like Penny Arcade, Questionable Content, PvP, Nothing Nice To Say, and Dinosaur Comics. I took a bunch of art classes and headed off to college with plans of becoming a cartoonist and starting my own web comic. My freshman year, I ended up working as an assistant on the entertainment desk of the school paper (which is where the comics were located). Thanks to the magic of music piracy, which I was also very into at the time, I managed to get leaked copies of Kanye West’s Graduation and 50 Cent’s Curtis a couple days before their official release. So my first pitch for the section was a double review of both albums — which were marketed as competing releases at the time. My review ended up getting picked up by hip hop blogs and went so viral it crashed the paper’s website. And, while I continued to draw on and off, I got hooked on writing arts criticism and, more broadly, blogging.
And so, for a long time, I was someone who was not only reading a lot of criticism, but I was a genuine fanboy of the writers publishing it. I would spend lunch breaks at my first job out of school reading sites like Punknews, Stereogum, VICE, Brooklyn Vegan, and Pitchfork on Google Reader. I developed a wildly parasocial relationship with Pitchfork’s resident emo writer, Ian Cohen, and freaked out when he followed me back on Twitter one day. A few years ago, I did a full X-Files binge using The AV Club’s incredible recap series by Zack Handlen and Emily St. James and think I had more fun reading the recaps than watching the show (especially post-season five).
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment scores overtook criticism as the dominant way we process culture, but I actually think the Gamergate movement was the canary in the coal mine for what would happen after they did. Gamergaters were — and still are — obsessed with reviews, but largely because of those reviews’ perceived impact on Metacritic scores, which they believed determine a game’s financial success. Which was sort of true considering critic scores follow a project around the internet literally forever.
But this is same sentiment is now everywhere. Every fandom has some online leaderboard they obsess over and if their favorite artist or franchise gets a bad score on it, they react extremely violently. You can see this attitude really clearly in recent tweets from pop artist Charli XCX, who recently lashed out at Pitchfork writer Laura Snapes, who wrote in the Guardian that she was wrong about her initial review of Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom EP. “This is why reviews are kind of silly in my opinion…,” the singer tweeted. “Like if the sway of culture and popular opinion is the thing that’s forcing a journalist to reconsider their review with hindsight then what’s the point of even reviewing in the first place?”
Which, yeah, what is the point when your review gets aggregated into unmovable score? But it’s the platforms that got this wrong, not the critics. Criticism is WWE. It’s a fluid conversation that’s meant to rile you up. I still hold grudges against certain critics and I actually think that’s fine. I can’t even remember why I’m still angry at the Boston Globe’s former film critic Ty Burr, but I knowhat t I have beef with him. It’s all meant to be debated and reassessed. It’s not a product review.
The thing we don’t know with all of this is how the move from search and social to AI will impact criticism and every other type of culture writing. Will all these scores just get absorbed into the machine and become accepted facts that a bot spits back out? Or will the continued decentralization of the web mean we head back to an internet where we start to know the names of critics again? It’s possible both happen, with new names emerging that we know and all the old ones frozen collectively in amber.
Anyways, this is the score the Pitchfork Review Generator gave Garbage Day.
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r/MildlyInteresting Has Fallen
After Reddit CEO Steve Huffman went on a press tour calling his users medieval serfs, the protests on the site entered a new stage. Hackers are threatening to release internal data if the company doesn’t roll back the API changes (and also pay an exorbitant ransom) and large subreddits are making themselves NSFW and filling up with “sexy” photos of John Oliver.
A big hub for organizing the ongoing protests is r/ModCoord, which is where I came across a post yesterday claiming that mods have been removed from the r/MildlyInteresting subreddit and posts about protesting have been removed, as well. In the screenshot above, by the way, “greedy little pig boy” refers to Huffman.
In the comments of the r/ModCoord post, a former mod for r/MildlyInteresting explained what happened. The community created a poll to decide how they would protest. The community decided that they would mark themselves NSFW, which means that ads can’t run on the subreddit. Right after the subreddit was marked as NSFW, the mod leading the poll was logged out of their account and is now unable to log back in. Just to give a sense of the scale here, r/MildlyInteresting has 22 million users. It’s now closed down completely, with no mods and no new posts. I really can’t overstate how disastrous this is going.
I sort of assumed that when Elon Musk bought Twitter and started using it as his personal bad idea urinal that other big platforms would get lazier about moderation, but I did not expect that every other Silicon Valley tech maniac would see it as a signal that they could finally go full Lowtax and declare themselves a message board god king. If I had an infinite money machine run by unpaid volunteers I simply wouldn’t go to war with them, but maybe that’s why I’m not making the big bucks.
No, AI Models Aren’t Being Impacted By AI Generations (Yet)
I’m not going to call any specific users out for this, but there’s a narrative going around right now that AI content has filled up the internet so quickly that AI models are now breaking down. I saw more than a few users call it “AI inbreeding,” which is actually very funny. The only problem is it’s not actually happening — at least, not yet.
It seems like this idea started going around earlier this month after a few sites covered a new research paper titled, “The Curse of Recursion: Training on Generated Data Makes Models Forget,” which explores what happens when AI content gets into a generative-AI’s data set. (It’s not good.)
And while it’s definitely possible that this could happen in the future, it isn’t impacting any of the main generative AI tools at the moment. Aside from Stable Diffusion, which is open source, most of them were trained on data taken before a certain date and almost exclusively from human-made content. For instance, ChatGPT launched with a knowledge cutoff of 2021, well before the takeover of GPT-3-generated text.
Now, here’s where things get interesting. If the AI revolution is really here and these tools are going to become completely enmeshed in our lives, it will eventually become harder and harder to train an AI model on completely organic content. For instance, I’ve read arguments that is it now essentially impossible to generate a large language model in English without including at least some AI-influenced text.
I spun through the original research paper, hoping they included some kind of solution to what they’re calling “model collapse,” but their conclusion isn’t exactly helpful. “One option is community-wide coordination to ensure that different parties involved in [large language model] creation and deployment share the information needed to resolve questions of provenance,” the researchers wrote. In other words, maybe we can all work together on this.
lmao ok. Yeah, AI is doomed.
Smosh Bought Smosh
I’ll confess, I wasn’t even a fan of Smosh when Smosh was new. The two hosts looked too much like the dudes who would bully me in high school for me to find it relatable. But I can’t help but root for them now that they own their own channel again.
If you aren’t up to date on Smosh lore, neither was I. Around 2013, a company called Alloy Digital bought the channel. Alloy merged with another company called Break Media, became Defy Media, and then, in 2018, shut down. That’s digital media, baby! It’s literally bad for everyone every time. After Defy dissolved, Rhett and Link’s Mythical Entertainment, another popular YouTube company started by two other guys with intense high school bully vibes (a common denominator with many early youtubers), bought Smosh to save it. And this month Smosh’s core duo, Anthony Padilla and Ian Hecox, bought it back.
I see this as part of the same trend behind other longterm creator companies going self-owned like Dropout TV, The Try Guys, and Watcher which, I think, is a good thing if only because it signals that digital video is maturing as industry and, hopefully, disconnecting from the continued chaos of digital publishing.
The New TikTok Meta Is Cookbooks
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I’ve come across three different TikTok channels that have started advertising cookbooks and two of the channels even teamed up to advertise their books. The video above features B. Dylan Hollis, the guy who makes food out of old cookbooks, and Nick DiGiovanni, whose main schtick is like throwing his knife at his cutting board before starting his recipes. There’s also a pair of DJs that go by Party Shirt that have a channel where they make viral recipes and they also launched a cookbook recently.
This all reminds me a lot of the blog-to-book pipeline of the late 2000s, which eventually evolved into the “Tumblr book deal” concept of the early 2010s. A buddy of mine was actually once offered a book deal for his Tumblr of funny cat pictures back then and I got to sit in on the meeting. The publisher was a company that made coffee table books and it was probably one of the saddest, bleakest conversations I’ve ever witnessed. My friend decided it wasn’t worth the psychic damage to make the book.
Weirdly, though, I think TikTok is actually a better fit for this sort of thing? It’s a better place to showcase a personality and the videos are short enough that, for the most part, the recipes still make enough logical sense to work on a page.
This Man Hasn’t Had A Fizzy Drink In Over 1,100 Days
I was sent this the other day and I think it’s the best Instagram account I’ve ever seen.
His name is Rohit Roy and every day he posts an update on his Instagram letting his followers know that he hasn’t had a fizzy drink. He lives in Australia and I really love that he is blatantly reuploading his own TikToks to Instagram, watermark included. You can check out his account here and then you should watch this video.
A Good Tweet
There’s A New Spider-Verse Ship
Last week, I wrote about how people were making erotic fanfic of Spider-Man 2099 and LEGO Spider-Man from Across The Spider-Verse. Well, there’s been a development in that fandom in the last few days.
Spanish-speaking Twitter users, specifically, are now all in on shipping Peni Parker, the anime Spider-Man variant, and Miles Morales. I guess the big catalyst for this is that in the new Spider-Verse movie Peni has a small cameo where it’s revealed she’s depressed now, which has led to a lot of fan art of the two of them as your typical edgy anime couple.
It should go without saying that you should absolutely not search anything about this on a work computer.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s blissed out in the slop.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***