More slop for the void

Read to the end for the Cheesecake Joker

I’m on the road this week and doing a bunch of running around before this week’s show. So no audio versions, but we’ll be back next week. You can find previous editions on every major podcasting app. If it’s not there, here’s an RSS feed.

The Age Of Slop

(I love content)

You’ve probably seen the phrase AI slop already, the term most people have settled on for the confusing and oftentimes disturbing pictures of Jesus and flight attendants and veterans that are filling up Facebook right now. But the current universe of slop is much more vast than that. There’s Google Slop, YouTube slop, TikTok slop, Marvel slop, Taylor Swift slop, Netflix slop. One could argue that slop has become the defining “genre” of the 2020s. But even though we’ve all come around to this idea, I haven’t seen anyone actually define it. So today I’m going to try.

Content slop has three important characteristics. The first being that, to the user, the viewer, the customer, it feels worthless. This might be because it was clearly generated in bulk by a machine or because of how much of that particular content is being created. The next important feature of slop is that feels forced upon us, whether by a corporation or an algorithm. It’s in the name. We’re the little piggies and it’s the gruel in the trough. But the last feature is the most crucial. It not only feels worthless and ubiquitous, it also feels optimized to be so. The Charli XCX “Brat summer” meme does not feel like slop, nor does Kendrick Lamar’s extremely long “Not Like Us” roll out. But Taylor Swift’s cascade of alternate versions of her songs does. The jury’s still out on Sabrina Carpenter. Similarly, last summer’s Barbenheimer phenomenon did not, to me, feel like slop. Dune: Part Two didn’t either. But Deadpool & Wolverine, at least in the marketing, definitely does.

Speaking of Ryan Reynolds, the film essayist Patrick Willems has been attacking this idea from a different direction in a string of videos over the last year. In one essay titled, “When Movie Stars Become Brands,” Willems argues that in the mid-2000s, after a string of bombs, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds adapted a strategy lifted from George Clooney, where an actor builds brands and side businesses to fund creatively riskier movie projects. Except Reynolds and Johnson never made the creatively riskier movie projects and, instead, locked themselves into streaming conglomerates and allowed their brands to eat their movies. The zenith of this being their 2021 Netflix movie Red Notice, which literally opens with competing scenes advertising their respective liquor brands. A movie that, according to Netflix, is their most popular movie ever.

And Willems’ fascination with when this shift occurred in both actors’ careers is the right impulse because identifying slop is less about describing a static state of being and more about pinpointing a sliding of standards. For instance, most people know that the Netflix of 2024 feels very different from the Netflix of 2014, but articulating exactly when that change happened is difficult. Though, we should try.

Lining up my own memory of using Netflix over the years with IMDB lists of their original TV shows and movies, 2018 seems to be the start of Netflix’s slop era. In June of that year, the streamer canceled Sense8, a show they would never make now, and in December, it released of Bird Box, the last time I remember pressing play on a Netflix movie expecting it to be good. This isn’t to say Netflix doesn’t make art anymore, but after 2018, the production of slop clearly outpaced everything else and now stumbling across something I like on there is a fun surprise rather than the default. Locating the slop threshold is easier with other studios, though. Disney’s slop era, and, by extension Pixar’s, Star Wars’s, and Marvel’s, clearly started with the launch of Disney+ in November 2019. (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was released a month later btw.) And HBO’s began with the rebranded launch of Max last year. Though the cause of all three’s decent into slopdom appears to be the same: algorithmic feedback, a desperation for mass appeal, and a void of content that needs to be filled.

And this content void is the real driver of all of this. When, in the early 2010s, sites like Facebook and YouTube began to morph from simple social networks and user-generated content platforms into genuine competitors of movies, TV, record labels, and news networks, the main problem they had to solve was having stuff people wanted to look at more than traditional media. To solve this problem, each app created its own algorithm, its own set of standards, its own incentives, and its own metrics to determine if users were meeting them successfully. And by the 2020s, not only did they successfully destabilize pop culture, they also offloaded their fear of the content void onto all of us. Now we’re the ones worrying if we’re posting enough. The malls convinced the shoppers to work there for free.

The first sector of culture that fell into this trap was, of course, the news. I knew an editor that, all the way back in 2015, was using the term “dog food” for the viral content we had to produce for the sake of it. But no one cares about journalists and so the first time anyone really started to notice the rise of what we would now call slop was when rappers started gaming Spotify in 2018. There’s that year again. 2018 was also the year TikTok became the most-downloaded app in the US. And it was also the year Drake, the king of slop, released Scorpion, a 25-song album with a runtime comparable to a feature film. Wikipedia tells me it had six singles, only one of which, “God’s Plan,” I even recognize and that’s because the chorus is just “God’s Plan” over and over again.

And six years later, it’s not just music that feels forgettable and disposable. Most popular forms of entertainment and even basic information have degraded into slop simply meant to fill our various feeders. It doesn’t matter that Google’s AI is telling you to put glue on pizza. They needed more data for their language model, so they ingested every Reddit comment ever. This makes sense because from their perspective what your search results are doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you’re searching and getting a response. And now everything has meet these two contradictory requirements. It must fill the void and also be the most popular thing ever. It must reach the scale of MrBeast or it can’t exist. Ironically enough, though, when something does reach that scale now, it’s so watered down and forgettable it doesn’t actually feel like it exists.

The fix for all of this seems obvious and, unfortunately, impossible, at least right now. It has to come from us, the user, the viewer, the consumer, and there’s a lot of us now. We have to be the ones to demand that we all make less, aim smaller, be more deliberate about what we consume, and find new ways of funding — and distributing — what we do make. Which, sure, could happen. Maybe the next Chappell Roan or Timothée Chalamet shows up without any presence on Spotify or streaming platforms. But if it is going to happen it needs to happen soon because slop is only slop when you remember what real food looks like and the anxiety we’re all feeling right now is that if our slop era lasts any longer we won’t anymore.

Garbage Day Live. Swedish American Hall, San Francisco. This Friday. Tickets here! But also we’ve set aside a few at the door for folks who don’t buy online. See you there! It’s going to be a real fun night.

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A Good AI Song


Asking Ai To Make A Hit Country Song Day 82 🤠🍺🛻 #aimusic #country #countrymusic #aisong #funnysong #discover #newmusic #comedy #drinking #... See more

I do not condone drunk driving, which is why I think it’s fine to let the AI write all the songs about it.

The Democrats Are Trying To Weaponize Project 2025

I’ll be honest, I’m impressed with how Biden’s team is campaigning on Project 2025. I, of course, wish any of this was mentioned when Biden was in the room with Trump on, you know, national television. But I’ll take any aggression from the Democrats I can get at this point.

Last week, I wrote a bit about Project 2025, asking exactly how seriously we should be taking it. Based on conversations I’ve had recently with other reporters, it seems like most newsrooms are wondering the same thing right now. If you’re out of the loop on this, Project 2025 is the policy paper-equivalent of a school shooter manifesto dreamed up by right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation. The mainstream media was slow to cover it — because it is, honestly, kinda silly — but it’s been building buzz on TikTok and got a big bump after Taraji P. Henson mentioned it at the BET Awards. It also caught the attention of gay furries who then hacked the Heritage Foundation.

The Biden campaign, this week, summarized the sprawling document and put it up on a website so everyone gets a glimpse of what these freaks want to do if Trump gets elected in November — and if Trump actually does what they want. Which is a big if.

And like I said, I wish any of this was brought up during the debate, but literally the bar is in hell and, frustratingly, I do think the path to victory for the Democrats is very simply just more of this. The Republican Party is full of weird men that talk like The Joker and all you really have to do is hold a mirror up to them and they fizzle. My most steadfast view of American politics is that it’s not about having coherent political beliefs or clear policy objectives, it’s simply about not being a huge fucking weirdo.

There Was A V-Tuber At A Dodgers Game

I don’t know what’s happening to sports right now, but I gotta say, I’m real intrigued. Also, if you’re wondering, this V-Tuber is named Gawr Gura. She has 4.5 million subscribers on YouTube.

Here Come The Palworld Adaptations

Remember Palworld? The not-quite-Pokémon-knockoff that dominate Steam charts for a while earlier this year? The studio behind it, Pocketpair, has partnered with Sony Music and Aniplex to expand into “global licensing and merchandising.”

Strangely enough, having played the game somewhat obsessively and then dropping it and never thinking about it again, I actually think adding some lore to it via an anime or something could really help it. And I wasn’t the only one who lost interest with it. It peaked around two million concurrent players on Steam back in January is now hovering around 100,000. And I have to guess a lot of that drop off was because once you get far enough into the game you realize there isn’t much there. It has an addicting gameplay loop, but that’s about it.

DOOM Runs On A Flesh Light

There’s a full rundown of how this was built here. Aaron Christophel, the mastermind behind the project, previously got DOOM to run on an electric toothbrush.

I sacrificed my search history to get some details about the fleshlight he used. It’s called a Tifforun Spaceship Automatic Stroker and, uh, yep, that’s about all you need to know I think.

It seems like Christophel mapped the suction buttons to control the game and, most impressively of all, it even plays the music via a USB-C connection. According to a listing for the Tifforun I was looking at, apparently, the fleshlight also plays audio when it’s not running DOOM. I guess the base model has “a mellow real voice” that you can play. Kinda like a Peloton, I guess?

“Not Like Us” by Kendrick Lamar But It’s Goth

Did you know Garbage Day has a merch store?

P.S. here’s the Cheesecake Joker.

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


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