Does "Velma" Suck On Purpose?
Well, it finally happened. Someone made a show that combines all the right vapid culture war tropes at just the right level to successfully piss off users on both Tumblr and 4chan simultaneously — for largely the same reasons. And that show is Mindy Kaling’s edgy Scooby Doo reboot, Velma, which has garnered near-universal hatred across the entire internet (it has a Rotten Tomatoes score of around 55%, but an audience score of under 10%). The question is, though, did Kaling and the team behind the show purposefully make it like this? No, probably not. But a lot of people are beginning to think they did.
The most popular version of the Velma psyop conspiracy theory comes from Twitter user @oneradchee, who wrote last week, “[Kaling] *deliberately* made Velma suck so the culture war YouTubers make a million videos about it to boost its SEO.”
First, that’s not really how SEO works in the grand scheme of things. Second, I have a hard time believing Warner Bros. Discovery, still trying to untangle themselves from the Snyder Cut culture war, would let Kaling take one of their most important intellectual properties and use it to whack another online hornet’s nest just to increase SEO. But I do want to go a bit deeper into the thinking here because a lot of users are saying that Velma is a good example of “sacrificial trash”.
In October of last year, YouTube creator and fandom expert Sarah Z coined the term “sacrificial trash,” and it’s a great concept. If I can try and condense her almost hour-long video into one sentence: “Sacrificial trash” is a piece of media that tries to pander to young audiences with woke identity politics to cover up how mediocre it is, which, in turn, creates a chaotic feedback loop of online discourse. Sarah Z’s video uses the 2016 Ghostbusters film as a good example of this. It’s a pretty bad movie that got a lot of attention for its all-woman cast, which then kicked off a wave of wildly misogynistic backlash, which then led to a bunch liberals and progressives defending the movie, which made them look silly because the movie was, in fact, not good.
The “sacrificial trash” concept has interesting connections to the trashed bathroom theory of social justice, where marginalized groups on the internet tend to attack one another as a way to exert control inside sociopolitical systems they have no real sense of agency in. This is why the most dangerous thing you can do in the 21st century is publish a young adult fiction novel and have it get a Goodreads page. Which is basically to say that internet politics are driven not by what’s most important or even morally right, but by whatever’s easiest and most entertaining to do on social platforms. There are very few things that are politically similar about the left and the right, but I am comfortable saying that at both ends of the horseshoe, there are a lot of people who care more about retweets or traffic than they do expressing a coherent political ideology. And those ends of the horseshoe have, weirdly enough, both agreed that Velma sucks shit. But to bring it back to the big question: Was it made to suck on purpose? I don’t think so.
Velma might be “sacrificial trash” in the sense that it’s, by all accounts, cynical and lazy and has ignited a culture war for no good reason. But I don’t think it was some evil masterplan. I don’t think Kaling and the show’s official showrunner, her long-time collaborator, Charlie Grandy, sat in a writers room and said, “we should make a show that pisses everyone off so they make angry YouTube videos about it.” Instead, I think Velma is just another example of a lot of the people behind pop culture being totally unable to separate online discourse from real-world conversation.
It feels increasingly like the people who write our movies and TV shows are really only interested in feeding those movies and TV shows back into Twitter. (The same is true for music right now, but with TikTok.) And I think people who spend a lot of time on Twitter, especially if they’re rich and famous enough for Twitter discourse to have no material consequence on their lives, write off internet outrage as just vague general “controversy” and think that controversy is inherently good because all attention is good, especially in the world of streaming.
But that same driving force — that all attention is good — is also true for the people who think Velma can’t just be a weird bad show written by out-of-touch Twitter addicts, and, instead, must be a conspiracy theory. Because unraveling a right-wing psyop to make a bad edgy Scooby Doo reboot on purpose to generate edgelord YouTube traffic is more compelling for your own content dunking on it than if you just admitted that you’re a weird adult yelling about cartoons on the internet.
Or, as Gawker writer Sarah Hagi, recently tweeted, “Can’t people go back to disliking celebrities a normal amount? You don’t need to make a conspiracy theory up about why a TV show got made. Be normal with your hatred and move on.”
Anyways, good job, everyone, a season two of Velma might already in the works.
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My Twitter Feed Is All TikToks Now
A few readers mildly complained about how negative I was last week about Twitter’s new algorithmic timeline. One reader made a sort of devastating point that, for all the whining I do about Twitter, I sure do love to include a lot of tweets in this newsletter. So instead of really reflecting on how badly I was owned there, I decided to start trying to use the new “For You” timeline more regularly. My own chronological feed has become pretty empty and boring since the Musk chaos began — I suspect a lot of people I followed are tweeting less than they used to — and I can say that there’s a lot more happening on the “For You” tab.
And contrary to how the last iteration of Twitter’s algorithmic timeline was last year, this new version is, for me, just surfacing a ton of TikToks. Which makes sense. That’s the exact kind of environment TikTok videos are created for. Let me know what you’re seeing more of in the new feed!
The First Look At The Bored Ape Yacht Club Video Game Is Here
I’m not so sure that this looks very good…
Fears Of A Fully A.I.-Generated Web
I’ve basically found myself completely split on A.I. content, which is probably why I find it all so interesting. On one hand, as I wrote over the weekend, I think we fundamentally need to ask ourselves what the point of automating things with A.I. is. We’re told that ChatGPT can code whole websites or that you can generate thousands of images with DALL-E 2, but no one is really asking why. The unspoken answer seems to be: so we have more time to both make and consume more content. Which isn’t very satisfying. And I thought this Twitter thread with video games journalist Jason Schreier was a really good snapshot of this whole mindset:
Basically, what if we could use A.I. to live GamemasterAnthony's Birthday every day? What if we could use A.I. to never have to wait for the human labor required to produce content? A pathetic way to think about, well, life, but I think it’s also a popular one.
But there is another side of the A.I. coin that is worth considering. Creating and distributing content is not simple anymore. Even the act of publishing on the internet, which is supposed to be practically free compared to, say, publishing something in print, now requires a lot more resources than it used to, especially if you want what you’ve published to be seen by other people.
Search engines like Google or platforms like Facebook or YouTube ask a lot more from us than they used to because they’ve found that “higher quality” content makes advertisers happier. But these platforms don’t want to pay users directly for their “higher quality” content and, instead, dangle a cut of ad revenue as an incentive to make us post better. So I’m not surprised that people are already trying to game things like search engine optimization or YouTube content with A.I. And if that is creating a domino effect where the internet’s biggest platforms start to fill up with A.I.-generative junk content, I don’t completely blame the user. They aren’t the ones that built billion-dollar advertising businesses on the backs of unpaid users.
This obviously doesn’t cover the entire ethical dilemma created by generative-A.I. tools, but I think it’s worth questioning exactly why we want an A.I. to make things faster and easier in the first place? Faster for who? Easier for what?
Weird Conspiracies Are The New TikTok Meta
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Twitch users have a really handy term for site-wide strategies for getting views. They call them “metas” and I think similar patterns emerge on TikTok. There was that stretch in 2021, where every new week there was a witch hunt targeting random users like the Couch Guy and West Elm Caleb. And now it seems like the new big meta is just saying completely outrageous nonsense.
The video above is a user claiming the Titanic didn’t actually sink. Here’s a video of a woman talking about how she likes to eat packing peanuts. And the other day a user went viral for claiming that giants are real. I’ve seen folks saying Rome didn’t actually exist. I’ve seen one woman say she’s in contact with the spirit of ancient Greek writer. Just completely crazy horseshit.
Like all TikTok trends, I assume this will stay mostly harmless until someone takes it too far, then a bunch of other people take it too far, then the whole thing spins out of control, and then a bunch of news outlets write stories like “TikTok is radicalizing your children into believing Rome didn’t actually exist” and then the whole thing will chill out for a while.
A Good Take On Those Weird Stitched Together Videos
I came across this Reddit comment the other day about why so many people stitching together random videos and I thought it was a pretty good rundown of the thought process:
People on TikTok have realised that literally everybody who uses it have really short attention spans and get bored super easily. To “keep people engaged” they put 2 or more videos together with the audio being part of the “main content” while the other one or two videos are there to keep them entertained so they don’t immediately scroll down and ignore their content.
Another user in the thread commented that people’s attentions were getting shorter because of the internet, which may explain the weird videos. To which a third user made an equally good point: “It's more likely content creators are too lazy/struggling to make interesting content so they resort to cheap tricks like that.”
Some Stray Links
“Far-Right Superstars Are Failing on Rumble. Who’s Winning?”
“Quiet hiring and the endless quest to coin terms about work”
P.S. here’s a good Sonic Adventure 2 mod.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
The person who said that complaints of "everyone has short attention spans now" are mostly just ways to complain that the public doesn't like something you like/made really hit the nail on the head. We've been seeing accusations that every kind of media has been "causing short attention spans" going back over a century at this point. Recorded music, specific genres of music, movies, the radio, pulp literature, comic books, tv, video games, every different kind of computer. And there's never been any kind of real effect observed in scientific research to back this up, just very small studies showing results that vanish in larger studies.
It's all about people trying to find a big-if-true harm that they can blame their own unpopularity or the unpopularity of the things they like on, rather than being real. Especially among kids, where scientific research is pretty conclusive on "it's normal that kids have low attention spans" just like it's normal they have a hard time with really steady fine motor control or dealing with emotions compared to adults.
I actually also eat the biodegradeable packing peanuts. Not like, a lot, and mostly I do it as a prank to try to convince someone that I'm eating the styrofoam ones, but they do have a satisfying way of dissolving in your mouth. Stop looking at me like that, I swear I'm not crazy!