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Rubbed smooth of the subcultural texture
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Allegra Goes To New York Comic Con
I spent a lot of time in high school at conventions. Anime cons, comic cons, tiny Doctor Who-specific cons where everyone knew everyone, you name it. I would slave over cosplays and carefully craft my panel schedules; I would get tipsy on Mike’s Hard Lemonade in pungent hotel rooms, and flirt with pimply teen boys conveniently dressed as the love interests of the characters I was dressed as.
The magic of a convention back then, for me, was how it was a refuge from the friendless purgatory of my teenage weekends, like my Tumblr dashboard made manifest. These days I am (slightly) more socially well-adjusted and so thankfully don’t need cons the way I did back then; but as you probably could perceive from my fevered missives from Edinburgh, I still love nothing more than immersing myself in a seething scene — so it was a no brainer to chuck my Garbage Day credentials into the New York Comic Con press pass application and start planning a trip to the Javits Center.
Comic conventions are big business. This is not news to anyone; the state of the industry, and its symbiotic interconnection with the entertainment industry which produces the products to fill it up, has been simmering at a steady boil for a few decades. This year’s NYCC drew 200,000 attendees, still down from a pre-pandemic high, but up from last year’s post-pandemic comeback show. SDCC, DragonCon, and ECCC all had healthy showings this year as well.
I suppose the question is, regarding behemoth conventions like NYCC, whether it is really possible to be a fan at these conventions at all — or whether, as I suspected, walking through the gates transforms one, consensually or not, into a consumer. It seems like a bit of a no-brainer when I type it out like that: of course, on the show floor, any individual affinities are subsumed into a morass of marketing. Of course, it is fun to be a consumer, especially in the carnivalesque atmosphere of the con (literally carnivalesque, given the smell of buttered popcorn permeating certain corners). People who get the most out of NYCC are the ones whose fan and consumer identities are the most congruent: those for whom proximity to major franchises, whether in a main hall panel or in an autograph line or in the replies to celebrities’ tweets, is a source of potent joy. Lots of those people exist; this type of con is mainly for them, and for the companies who rely on their patronage.
It must be said that I did have a really good time at the con. I enjoyed seeing a pregnant woman dressed as Fat Thor, a guy dressed as Shrek except he had the Star Wars alien head-tail things, a guy in a Constantine costume holding a sign that said “INFLATION DEAL: EXORCISMS $1,” and a truly infinite amount of Lokis. I enjoyed getting recognized for my costume a grand total of five times! (I was dressed as Nadia from Russian Doll, natch.) I loved getting to see The George Lucas Talk Show live and hearing confused attendees mutter to each other, “Is that really George Lucas?”
But the more cynical, the more claustrophobic, the more countercultural side of my mind had some minor qualms. Anxiety about the barely-enforced masking policy aside, I was most disappointed by the lack of cool stuff to buy in the Artist’s Alley; but I suppose that’s on me for being more used to the far more expansive AAs of anime cons, which by virtue of anime fandom’s proximity to the doujin-influenced traditions of amateurdom have more opportunities for fan artists to peddle their handmade prints and tchotchkes. Which I vastly prefer to the dreck being served up from the chazerai booths on the con floor. The burden of taste!!!!
I was struck while watching Netflix’s Sandman adaptation by the way in which the serial killer convention, which forms a setpiece of the show’s final act, was shot and designed. In the original graphic novel, which I utterly adored as a con-going teen, the serial killers’ con has a giddiness to it, a distinct fannishness which was no doubt a byproduct of author Neil Gaiman’s longstanding affiliation with the science-fiction and fantasy con scene. As a regular attendee at conventions around the world in the 80s and 90s long before he was a household name even within the comics world, he inserted a knowing (and loving) nod, in the form of the enthusiastic gathering of the “cereal collectors.” In the Netflix version, by contrast, the convention is… really boring? Rubbed smooth of most of the subcultural texture and overpoweringly dark and sinister, which — sure, is sort of the whole point, but I found myself wondering if Netflix execs had, at some point, slid some notes across reading, Make this as different from Comic-Con as possible — after all, we have to promote all our shows there. Including this one.
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Where Does Twitch Fit In?
Years ago, the assumption was that internet things would soon replace non-internet things, like CDs did to records. Digital-only media companies took turns calling themselves the next CNN or New York Times and big platforms would, first, compare their metrics to large newspapers, then big TV shows, and then, finally, just hours in the day that a human can spend looking at something.
The truth turned out to be more complicated. CNN has stumbled a bit on the innovation side in the last few years, but publishers like the Times quickly realized that it was easier to throw money at digital tricks than for digital publishers to viralize themselves into a century-old publishing institution. And while the big online platforms are still very big and only getting bigger, some of the ones that seemed like sure-thing replacements for something offline didn’t really pan out — namely, Twitch. In fact, every day it feels as if its first-movers’ advantage in the world of live video is weakening.
This week Twitch held TwitchCon, a convention for all things streaming video, but with, as the name would suggest, a big focus on Twitch. And it was kind of a disaster. We talked about all the controversies on my podcast this week, the biggest one being Adriana Chechik breaking her back in two places after jumping into a wildly unsafe foam pit that also injured an attendee. The fact that all of this is happening amid a controversial revenue split change for creators on the site is also important.
But Twitch has not even publicly acknowledged that the incidents happened, both in the press or on their public social channels where they’re asking users to “celebrate the end of three incredible days.” I’m sure there are teams of lawyers behind the scenes trying to figure out who is liable for what happened, but the silence from Twitch while Chechik is literally learning to walk again right now is deafening and surreal.
At the moment, a lot of users are comparing the foam pit that Chechik jumped into to the infamous Dash Con ball pit, which I don’t think is totally fair. Dash Con was an unofficial convention thrown by users that was just sorta cringe. What happened at TwitchCon is way worse. But I do think the similarity between Twitch and Tumblr is useful. Tumblr still exists and I still use it every day, but I can see that it’s not a place for creators anymore. The site became more and more convoluted over the years and harder to use and explain and eventually anyone who was serious about making professional-level content for the site left. It’s Twitter accounts that get book deals now, not Tumblr. And I think we’re very close to a turning point for Twitch where a long and brutal exodus to either YouTube or TikTok or Instagram starts. There are simply too many places that let you go live and monetize it available to stick with a platform that doesn’t even apologize for a convention that hurt attendees and paralyzed a creator (on a partner livestream no less).
The Butlerian Jihad Is Imminent
The users over at r/dune, the subreddit for the Dune franchise, have banned submissions of A.I. artwork. According to the thread announcing the ban, “the technology sure is fascinating, but it does technically qualify as low-effort content.” Which makes sense. At a certain point, A.I. art kind of becomes a form of weird spam. (I think there’s whole other conversation to be had about the very quickly evolving conversations around good and bad uses of A.I. art.)
But r/dune banning A.I. art is also funny for lore reasons. The Dune books take place in a future where a war is waged against thinking machines. It’s called the Butlerian Jihad and it’s why there are no sentient robots in Dune. So, yeah, honestly, banning A.I. art is good for most subreddits, but it’s especially good for the r/dune subreddit.
Hey Look At This
The Legs Were Faked
Guys, I’m so mad about this. The metaverse legs I wrote about on Wednesday? They were fake!!! According to Ian Hamilton, a journalist focusing on virtual reality, Meta said, “To enable this preview of what’s to come, the segment featured animations created from motion capture.” It was motion capture the whole time! Zuckerberg still doesn’t have metaverse legs.
This entire news cycle though is such a bizarre own goal and I think really reveals how little Meta, as a company, understands about this space. Also, as another long-time virtual reality journalist Wagner James Au recently reported, the reason the new Meta VR helmet is so expensive is because no one is paying for Meta’s games, instead playing free ones. Which is true for me, as well. I paid a bunch of money for Beat Saber packs (the Linkin Park one rips), which Meta doesn’t make anything from, and, aside from that, spend most of my time in VRChat and a free Fortnite-esque shooting game called Gun Raiders.
In fact, it’s, frankly, very weird that a social media company like Meta thinks what they do would be the evolutionary branch that gets us to the Metaverse. Meta doesn’t have any experience with hardware really and they don’t have any experience with game design. But for some reason they’ve decided they want to attempt to do both at the same time.
The Duolingo Owl Went Full Horny On Main
I don’t know why the Duolingo Twitter account thought it would help increase brand awareness for their language-learning app by insinuating that their owl mascot had sex with Katy Perry at the 2010 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, but, you know what, I’m not in marketing. Maybe this is what it takes to get people to log back on.
What I do think is important here is that the Duolingo owl has crossed a line in the sand. We have reached a new frontier for branded tweets. Excited to next find out which M&M eats ass or whatever.
Liz Truss Vs. A Wet Lettuce
Liz Truss, the new weirdly-damp looking posh weirdo running the UK at the moment, fired her finance minister this morning after the two of them crashed the country’s economy. It’s likely that Truss’s position is not long for this world either. And so British tabloid The Daily Star is livestreaming a wet head of lettuce to see if it goes bad before Truss gets kicked out of parliament.
No One Has The Courage To Bring Back This Version Of Tumblrcore
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Everyone wants to talk about indie sleaze and soft pastel grunge Tumblr posts, but no one wants to talk about the other side of early 2010s Tumblr fashion. The above TikTok (Tumblr mirror here) makes a lot of really good points. Any thin person who smokes enough cigarettes can look hot in low-rise jeans. But it takes a special kind of person to look good dressed up as a Homestuck troll.
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s the squnt (It’s safe for work lol).
***If this email reads a little funkier than usual I got a COVID booster and flu shot and I am not having a good time today***