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On the concept of being part of a scene

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This Ain’t A Scene, It’s A God Damn Thinkpiece

Does a scene really exist if there is nobody around documenting it? —A koan which has been rattling around in my head recently, as my month at the Edinburgh Fringe draws to a close. 

I’ve long been fixated on the concept of being part of a scene. Books like Meet Me In The Bathroom and Our Band Could Be Your Life, exhaustive first-person chronicles of what it felt like to participate in bygone legendary music scenes, were constant companions to me in college. They inspired me to seek out local artistic milieus and attempt to become an active participant: efforts that were met with differing levels of success, but which were usually rewarding in the sense that it got me off the computer and out of the fucking house, seeking the impossible dream of being caught in the background of a photo that would be featured in the glossy insert of one of these books years later. 

But there’s a difference between those books’ type of extensive, thoughtful post-mortem examination, and the ongoing narrativization of a scene which becomes so elaborate that the scene then cannot exist without its supporting structure. The Dimes Square phenomenon, for example, depends almost wholly on constant thinkpieces from supporters and detractors alike in order to maintain and justify its continued existence: Mike Crumplar’s recent piece about being invited to report on his own public shaming proves as much. The answer to the question of whether it has any actual cultural impact will depend on who you ask. Dimes Square, as Michelle Goldberg explains in the excellent article Ryan linked to on Wednesday, might merely be taken as evidence that “chroniclers of the zeitgeist are desperate for new fodder.” There’s plenty of other wonderful art being made in New York (to say nothing of the rest of the country) but none with quite the whiff of journalistic catnip and guaranteed (hate-)clicks generated by the half-dozen cryptofascists slouching towards Lucien at all hours. 

Whereas the Edinburgh Fringe is a chaotic, energetic scene with its own rules and extensive subcultural capital, but which is really barely documented or even noticed outside its own boundaries. It has quite a large demonstrable effect on culture: Successes at the Fringe frequently go on to dominate the domains of television and theater within years (Fleabag, Six, James Acaster, etc.) but everyone who cares about what’s going on there is like… already there by default? So there’s not much need or desire for the sort of lengthy reporting by established institutions that the “Downtown Scene” generates, despite the fact that the Next Big Thing comedians are arguably more representative of where the general vibe is heading than a handful of NFT boosters in Manhattan.

Okay, maybe this equivalence is a bit of a stretch, but I really am struck by the propensity for some artistic “scenes” to lean so heavily on their story, whereas others can and do exist solely for their own sake. It is the latter type that lend themselves to readable and fascinating histories years later. Nobody is going to write a Meet Me In The Bathroom of Dimes Square because 20 years from now everything that could have been said about those people will have already been said, and also nobody will care. On the other hand, I personally would give anything for a tell-all about the early 2000s Fringe scene when Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi first took Scotland by storm.

Goldberg highlights W. David Marx’s argument that thanks to the internet, “[y]ou don’t need to make your way into any social world to develop a familiarity with” avant-garde or underground art. But thanks to the Fringe I know that’s not necessarily true. Genuinely, and for real, I promise you there’s weird and freaky and fantastic stuff out there, on the internet as well as in real life, that you cannot access unless you stumble in, Spirited Away-like, into the gatekept wonderland of the Real Good Shit. Sure, these days it might not carry the same journalist-bestowed prestige as John Cage in the 60s or whoever, but certainly the art itself is out there, being made every day by brutally, brilliantly talented people it is a privilege to just be around. That much hasn’t changed, and won’t change, no matter the vicissitudes of digitally-mediated taste. 

Tomorrow Is The First Weekend Edition For Paying Readers!!

Wahooooo! Tomorrow is the first official big bonus weekend edition of Garbage Day that will be going out for paying readers. Think about subscribing to Garbage Day if you don’t already! Paying readers also get Discord access, regular discounts on Garbage Day merch and live events. Thank you and I love you.

The Edit Button

Twitter is currently testing out an edit button and it’s very controversial. On one hand, you have a lot of users — like myself — that have lived in typo-filled agony in for years and, on the other hand, you have a lot of misinformation and disinformation researchers who think an edit button would be abused by bad actors. Before we dig into all that, first, here’s what we know about how the button will function.

It will only be possible to edit a tweet for 30 minutes after publishing and when you do edit the post a little pencil icon will appear showing an archive of all the previous versions. I think Twitter is scourge on mankind and even I think this is pretty reasonable. But, also, the more I’ve thought this through, the more I’ve come to think that maybe the lack of an edit button has actually been one of the more toxic things about the platform.

I think researchers are broadly right, an edit button will abused by bad actors, because everything on the site is, because it was created with dog shit incentives for the miserable goblins (like myself) that compulsively use it to compete for social clout. But, also, who cares. Why does anything on Twitter need to be real or true?

Here’s a fun recent example of what I’m talking about. This week, former Something Awful writer “Dr.” David Thorpe, who tweets under the user name @arr, posted a very funny (and obviously fake) screenshot of an excerpt from an oral history of Pizza Hut in which an executive talks about how worried he was that people would use the word “P’Zone,” Pizza Hut’s calzone thing, as a slang term for “pussy”. The replies to Thorpe’s tweet are FULL of people saying, “uh, sir, I googled this and couldn’t find anything about it!! Please advise!!!”

If you want to be mad at a platform like Twitter for jumbling up all of our communication channels into an absolute rats nest of garbage, fine. But I also think there is a tendency for journalists, researchers, academics, and other people who work in analytical fields to expect everyone else to hold themselves to the same standard they hold themselves to. You see this during every breaking news event — “please be careful about verifying what you’re sharing,” they all yell into the void. Twitter is even testing out a new widget that scolds users with related mainstream news articles if they post misinformation. Ah, yes, I’m sure that @blackpilledShinji88 is just one New York Times article away from only sharing reputable news sources on the internet. I just don’t think that’s the average users’ job.

Around, let’s say, 2015, we all started treating Twitter like some kind of reliable public record because it’s one of the last social networks that you can search, it’s used by some of the most powerful and influential people on Earth, and, I’d argue, it didn’t have an edit button, which created the illusion that what we post there is somehow locked in stone. Which is a ridiculous way to treat any website, let alone Twitter. I mean, there’s a New Yorker writer guy who has spent like five years consistently going viral once a month for photoshopping fake scripts that he claims were written by an A.I. The average K-Pop stan is running at least four different sock puppet accounts, each with five digit follower counts. The word “Hitler” trends there literally every day. It’s a website where teenagers compete to see who can write the most relatable tweet about how McDonald’s Sprite goes hard af so they can advertise projectors and dildos in the replies. In what world is this a website where an edit button — that only works for 30 minutes — is going to be the thing that really pushes things over the edge?

A Good Tweet

Gentrified Hatsune Miku Was Created By The 5-Minute Crafts People

Last month, I wrote about Reuters getting some blowback about covering “Polar,” a virtual pop star that was described as “metaverse-born singer, dancer and influencer” that has “ambitions to perform in the real world”. To be clear, I’m not going to war with Reuters about this. It’s just indicative of a big issue across not just the media, but society, in general, right now, where a lot of large institutions have really no frame of reference for what is and isn’t artificial intelligence — like the super racist “A.I. rapper” FN Meka, also, earlier this month — and what is and isn’t new in the world of virtual influencers and metaversal creators.

One reason for this is that, basically, up until Mark Zuckerberg renamed his company Meta, most virtual influencers, like Japan’s Hatsune Miku, who is an open source “vocaloid” that does perform live, were for weird anime nerds. Same with VTubers, the human streamers that broadcast on Twitch and YouTube via cutesy cartoon avatars. The other problem is that there are A LOT of shady companies that have been throwing around “artificial intelligence” and “virtual influencer” as meaningless buzzwords, hoping to bait news organizations and brands into working with them.

But what I didn’t know earlier this month was that Polar is actually a much sketchier project than I originally thought. This Tumblr post about where Polar came from was dropped into the Garbage Day Discord by HarryJ and it has thoroughly blown my mind. Polar, which is primarily a project on TikTok and YouTube, was created by TheSoul Publishing, the content marketing company based in Cyprus that owns 5-Minute Crafts, which is that page that posts super viral, but utterly nonsensical — and often dangerous — DIY hacks like making a candle mold of your own hand or cleaning your furniture with Coca Cola.

So, look, there are virtual influencers out there. And some of them have real fan bases. But please, please, just go find a Gen Z anime fan and ask them what’s cool instead of listening to one of these company’s press releases.

Let’s Talk About The A.I. Art Contest Winner Thing

An artist named Jason Allen, who runs a tabletop gaming company and posts on Discord under the user name Sincarnate, recently won the Colorado State Fair’s digital arts category for three paintings that were actually drawn by Midjourney. It’s essentially the big messy ethics debacle that these art A.I.’s have been building to all summer. Allen explained his process in a Discord post, saying that he used a prompt to generate hundreds of pictures and then curated the best three, upscaled them with another A.I. called Gigapixel, and then printed them on a canvas. According to VICE’s Motherboard, the images were submitted as “Jason Allen via Midjourney”. Though, I’m personally curious to know if the Colorado State Fair judges knew what Midjourney was.

The initial reactions to what Allen did were pretty angry. There is a growing contingent of artists who see art A.I.’s as an existential threat to not only their livelihoods, but, also, the very concept of human expression. There are also increasingly loud accusations being thrown around that these art A.I.’s are stealing artists’ work and spitting it back out. I’ll confess, I don’t know enough about how Midjourney or DALL-E work to say if that’s true or not. But my immediate gut reaction tells me that the conversation about what is and isn’t considered art should be separate from the conversation about not replacing (and paying) human artists for their labor. But I’ll also admit that this entire field is changing so fast at the moment that I don’t know how to do that, yet.

But here are two reactions to Allen’s contest win that I wanted to highlight. First, Tumblr user max1461 wrote, “Algorithms like this internalize patterns that they’ve seen in existing art, associate those patterns with various other things (in this case words), and are then able to reproduce those patterns in new configurations by drawing on the associations they’ve made. Much like another sort of art-producing contraption you may be familiar with…”

And, on a less snarky note, Rob Sheridan, a very online artist that I’ve followed for many years, wrote a long and very thoughtful thread about what A.I.’s will mean for digital art going forward. Sheridan, correctly, I think, compared the reaction many are having about art A.I.’s right now to how Photoshop was not considered a real art tool until, suddenly, it was.

“It's outrageous that someone can just take imagery that already exists, push a button, print it out, call it ‘art,’ and win an award for it! I'm talking, of course, about photographs of sunsets. Who would PAY for a photo of a sunset when ANYONE could do that? Lots of people,” Sheridan wrote.

And while you chew on that, a YouTuber experimented with using A.I.’s to write and draw a whole graphic novel. It came out better than you’d expect, but also not great. And I found another YouTuber who put every lyrics from a Deltron 3030 song into Midjourney and then stitched all the images together into a music video. Click into the user’s channel, they’ve done a few that all pretty cool.

What The Heck Is A Branded Mission?

This was flagged up in the Garbage Day Discord by xxxplodingfordpinto1973 and it’s absolutely fascinating. It’s a program from TikTok called “Branded Missions” and the one in the video above is from Nivea. I found a bit more about what this is. TikTok announced the program in May and it’s meant to help advertisers “crowdsource authentic content from creators on TikTok” and “turn top-performing videos into ads”.

It’s basically a branded hashtag challenge. You have to have at least 1,000 users to participate. Though, in the example above, it doesn’t even seen like there’s a guaranteed compensation promised, just the chance for your #Nivea branded content to be promoted and then maybe you get paid for it. In fact, TikTok describes it as “free video views,” which it says you can earn for making popular branded content. Which is just seems extremely bleak.

Algorithmically-Generated YouTube Prog Meets TikTokCore

Oh man, so I’ve been dying to find a moment to write about this particular pocket of YouTube I discovered last year and I feel like now is finally time. Basically, there are a lot of rock bands across the prog, metal, and post-hardcore genres that are all really popular inside of YouTube. If you like heavy or alternative music, as I do, there’s no doubt that you’ve seen bands like Polyphia, Dance Gavin Dance, Royal Coda, Spiritbox, Electric Callboy, Bring Me The Horizon, Architects, and a few others splattered across your YouTube recommendations. At first, I couldn’t really figure out why these same bands get popping up, there’s not a ton that links them sonically.

Then as I went further down the rabbit hole I realized that a lot of these bands are making highly technical songs that are then used as content for reaction channels — Metalheads React, Music Teachers React, Professional Guitar Players React, Grandmas React, etc. It’s an entire weird universe where bands with particularly challenging — or brutal — musicianship are basically driving an entire creator economy. The streamer Nik Nocturnal is good example of what I’m talking about as is, weirdly enough, Herman Li, the guitarist for DragonForce, who since the pandemic has been using the band’s YouTube channel to vlog (it rules).

There was a chance that the post-hardcore band Dance Gavin Dance could have become the biggest of these YouTubecore bands with their recent album Jackpot Juicer, but their lead singers recently took a break from the band following allegations of sexual misconduct. I’m also not sure the album was the crossover hit fans thought it was going to be. And, so, in the last few months, the Noodly-Guitar-Reaction-sphere has shifted to hyping up a forthcoming album from the typically instrumental-only prog band Polyphia (an album that was meant to actually feature the now-canceled Dance Gavin Dance vocalist).

Polyphia’s newest single “ABC,” which features the singer Sophia Black, does a really good job I think of combining the YouTube noodles that all the metal guys are doing the 😱 emoji to in reaction videos with the very TikTok-optimized cutesy Arianna Grande nursery rhyme/Taylor Swift rasp thing. idk I think trying to track this kind of stuff is cool and I feel like we just never really clocked how platform incentives were driving musical trends back when this was first happening across Myspace, early YouTube, and then, later, Soundcloud

Some Stray Links

***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***

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