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It is Sort Of Weird to be Watching Interrogation Footage Recreationally

Elizabeth Technology August 4, 2022

But Why?

It is very human to see something horrific and ask ‘why?’. Even moreso if the scale is small, and petty, if the stakes come down to ruining a handful of people’s lives for reasons that later seem transient. However, there isn’t always a good reason why… that doesn’t stop the asking.

Jim Can’t Swim and Similar Channels

I appreciate the work that goes into interrogation analysis videos, so long as those videos are made by people who know what they’re talking about. Jim Can’t Swim (often abbreviated to JCS) is a channel on Youtube that reviews and analyzes footage of interrogations released to the public. JCS is one of the biggest and most well-known channels following this premise; JCS’s narrator speaks with authority, is able to identify common tactics used by either the police or the suspect during the interrogation, and is generally respectful of the subject matter. While sometimes the subject matter is humorous because the suspect or the interrogating officer does something that’s weird or pathetic, JCS doesn’t turn serious crimes into jokes.

It also doesn’t devolve into ‘copaganda’, a term used to describe media that paints the police in an overly positive light. Copaganda may suggest that the police never make a mistake, or anyone who asks for a lawyer before speaking to the police is guilty, or that it’s okay for the police to break some of the rules as long as they ‘know’ the suspect is guilty – it’s a nasty trend that leads to well-meaning, otherwise innocent people giving up rights they are legally entitled to for the sake of not ‘looking’ guilty.  JCS often clarifies that the police are allowed to lie to you to get more info out of you during an interrogation because it so often works in the detective’s favor during taped interrogations.

Other channels mimicking his format began cropping up, and then the format began to turn into a problem.

Visibility Bias

There are two issues with the popularity of these channels. The first one is that, with the benefit of knowing how the case turns out, of course you can spot the tells of the suspect. It’s like watching a poker match when you already know who wins! For instance: many channels, JCS included, will point out body language or certain tics as indicators of lies. However, you can’t use those in court – many people tic when nervous, and it would never hold up because everyone tics a little differently. The focus on body language is for the interrogators, who are looking for certain clusters of behaviors as indicators that the person they’re interrogating might not be telling the whole truth. It’s an interrogation tactic to extract a confession, not a hard science that always yields results. While JCS and a handful of the other big channels that started after him will clarify this as they describe why the suspect is likely doing what they’re doing, many others do not – they simply point to a behavior and say “this is where they started lying” because they know how the case ends. The tendency to use big, flashy cases where the murder was gruesome and the suspect left behind tons of evidence worsens the effect, because every video ends in a conviction, giving the viewer a false sense of efficacy when it comes to certain techniques.

You don’t see the videos where the tactics lead to investigators pressuring someone for an hour because they struggled to make eye contact with the interrogator, because that’s not interesting or cool and the channels realize that. However, if every video you see where the suspect couldn’t make eye contact ended in a conviction, you’d be inclined to believe everyone who can’t make eye contact is guilty, and it’s not just something nervous people do – sort of an ‘every square is a rectangle, not all rectangles are squares’ deal. Channels have to be very careful what they’re pointing out as recognizable nervous or lying tics because it’s not a science, they know how the case ends and so may be seeing tells where there aren’t any, and there’s no frame of reference for ‘innocent’ behavior elsewhere on the channel.  

Speaking of which, the second issue is that it often ends up accidentally turning into copaganda anyway – at least, the copycat channels do. When you stop focusing on how inexact many of the tactics are because they always seem to work in the videos and the channel narrator always points certain things out when they happen, it can be easy to fall into the trap of [X] is guilty because when the cops interrogated [Y], this same thing happened. Almost every video on JCS with a few exceptions were cases where the murder suspect either took a plea deal or went to trial, meaning the prosecutors already had a ton of evidence against the suspect. In the one or two cases on his channel where the suspect had been pulled in and later cleared, he points out how not-guilty the suspect acts during the interrogation. The rest? The huge percentage of interrogations that don’t provide any meaningful answers because the police had more or less said ‘this guy was in the area and we’re out of ideas’ to drag that guy in? Those interrogations aren’t the ones that end up on the channel. Why would they? They’re boring. The convicted suspect’s interrogation was probably more interesting anyway, right? The five people investigators went through to get to the prime suspect are never seen, and so the police look hypercompetent on these channels, always nailing the right person and always managing to extract something incriminating related to the case within an hour or three. These channels end up stripping quite a bit of valuable context from the case. It’s actually built into the formatting of this style of channel, because all people want to see is the case and the interview. Nothing else.

Inexpertise

And then there’s the issue of the analysis itself. Many of these folks could be amateur experts (we don’t know what credentials the vast majority of them have), meaning they’ve done extensive research online for specific cases, and specific interrogation techniques… but don’t know much beyond that. While the internet is huge and useful, you can’t research yourself into a self-made Master’s degree. Usually, that’s fine. You don’t need to have a degree in botany to be giving advice on tomatoes, you just need some research from people who do that you can cite when someone asks you how you know something will or won’t work. The field of psychology is not quite this simple, and when mixed with matters of law, sometimes even people in the system confuse themselves into messing up a case! For an outsider to be able to just leap in and begin analyzing footage of two human beings interacting within a specific legal circumstance, and having that analysis be trusted because of an air of expertise despite few credentials and sometimes sparse citations, may as well be a television show.

The problem then is that there’s no official, end-all-be-all way to describe why a new channel’s videos aren’t as good at describing the interrogation as an older channel like JCS is. A huge chunk of these interrogation-analysis videos don’t have any official training, just ‘experience’. Experience is useful, yes, but when anyone can just start making videos on such serious subject matters, you’re going to end up with a lot of pop-psychology and bias making it’s way into the analysis. JCS, with scripters, can avoid some of it, but can a teen with no editor or scriptwriter avoid accidentally suggesting something completely incorrect because it just happens to pan out in this case?

Just like everything else online, you should avoid taking the word of an interrogation channel without a grain of salt. They’re there for your entertainment first – anything else comes second!

Jake Novak Wants to Be Cancelled… Just Not Like This

Elizabeth Technology August 2, 2022

Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live is a pillar of American TV culture. It has a lot of history, it has a very talented team of writers that still get laughs out of the target demographic, but it’s not afraid of resorting to the obvious joke in a given scenario because the point of the show is to be kind of rushed. It’s live, and they only have a week to plan it, and there’s no do-overs. When you consider the format and compare it to something like ‘The Simpsons’, which has continually gotten simpler and simpler with jokes until they’re barely jokes at all despite having more time to write the episodes, it’s honestly kind of impressive that SNL has been as consistent as it has over the years.

However, by the nature of the industry, they end up churning through cast members and writers at a decent pace. This does more good than bad, usually. The material naturally freshens up with new eyes on it, and outside of a few select incidents (the Elon-Musk-as-Wario episode truly lives in infamy) the show is able to keep marching despite the turnover. It’s still a juggernaut, and while there may be more good TV out there than ever, it’s still beloved by many.

Jake Novak

You don’t end up on SNL accidentally. The guests may be random one-offs from a variety of professions, but the core cast is entirely comedians with years and years of experience. Of course Musk and any other number of guests have sucked – the guests are usually famous for something other than comedy, and comedy is really hard. Especially when you have to rush it out in a week.

Jake Novak, who – if you know him at all – you likely know as ‘some guy on TikTok’, is better known for his singing and rapping. As many people in the comments of his videos and subsequent criticism videos have put it, he’s a theater kid. He’s heavily inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the writer and lead actor in the hit Broadway musical Hamilton, and it shows quite a bit. His songs might sometimes be funny, but other times they’re political, and many times they’re just telling a story.

Jake Novak has a TikTok and Youtube account, but has either purposefully or accidentally left out any sort of other experience that SNL would be looking for, like… a comedy career offline, or standup experience, or experience writing for a TV show. In his ‘audition’ song, he says he wants to be the next SNL cast member, but he doesn’t point to years of experience or tried-and-true comedic routines, he points out how similar he is to Lin Manuel-Miranda and that he’s good at songwriting. That’s nice, but it’s not what SNL does. It’s what Lin-Manuel Miranda does. He says he wants to give them the next big thing and that he’s good at acting (which he tries to demonstrate in the video) but doesn’t give anything else. He hasn’t released anything new since the SNL ‘audition’ video. It’s as of yet unclear if he’s going to abandon his TikTok altogether – he hasn’t posted since then.

I Want To Be Cancelled

Worse still was one of the first videos he ever posted to his TikTok channel, one in which he says he wants to be canceled so everyone will know his name and he can get enough recognition to be verified on Twitter. This is understandably the last thing any current TV show wants one of its people to say. It is a nightmare for a studio. Right now, DC Comics is trying to handle Ezra Miller getting themselves cancelled for a number of things they did while in Hawai’i, and it’s not going well. Jake Novak is obviously joking by listing out cancelable crimes that he’d never do, and at the end says he could get by with being canceled ‘just a little’ for something minor and stupid, but making the joke in the first place feels desperate if not tone-deaf.

You want to be famous, and you’ll do anything to get it? Including being cancelled or doing something cancellable? You made a whole song about it because you’re ‘jokingly’ jealous of how much (negative!!) fame and press the cancelled people are getting for their very real cases of sexual harassment? And the ‘a little cancellable’ items he lists off aren’t exactly great either – ‘misgendering a tadpole’ rings a little too much like the right-wing joke of ‘did you just assume my gender?!’ for the audience he seems to be trying to attract. This is exactly the kind of video that comes back to haunt you after you ‘make it big’, and that alone may have made him too radioactive to hire, the kind of thing that would get you cancelled. Assuming he was ever actually a possibility in the first place. Which he wasn’t.

Misconception

There was a misunderstanding somewhere between skills he perceived were needed and what a TV show like SNL actually wants its staff to do. If Pete Davidson did a song about wanting to join SNL as a gag, it’d be funny… when Jake Novak does it, it’s just sort of cringe, because he seems to be assuming he’s on the same level as the staff that’s already on the show because he’s big on TikTok and he has flow. He perceives himself to be their peer, at least in the video. He is not.

This divide is the difference between ‘old media’ and ‘new media’. Old media is generally the stuff like newspapers, TV shows, movies, etc. that a team of people make and is generally regulated. New media, on the other hand, is the stuff you see on Youtube, made with minimal or no staff aside from the presenter, and not subject to the same rules about presentability or censoring. New media has made it possible for nearly anyone to become famous given a little luck – you don’t need to audition to be a Youtuber! But old media remains much as it used to, relying on certain markers to identify who will be successful in a given role and who won’t be. It’s rare for a non-reality show to be recruiting from social media because it doesn’t work as well as traditional methods of finding funny people do.

 If anything, the track record so far has been kind of bad, with new media stars being given shows they have to write for and discovering how hard writing is when you have to fill 22 minutes with something. A huge chunk of comedy is timing, so when you get used to being able to make the show as long or as short as you want, a hard time limit feels suffocating for both the viewer and the writer.The Annoying Orange, for example. Or Fred, or Jake Paul. All of them famous online, none of them capable of handling a TV show.

 TikTok is especially new – the set of skills to make a 45 second long song don’t clearly translate to the writing room for a 5, 10, or 15 minute bit. SNL rarely uses singing anyway. He addresses his videos directly to Lorne Michaels which might be for the sake of rhyming or getting his point across, but it comes across as incredibly arrogant, especially when the rest of the song seems to imply he’s auditioning for the show itself, to be next to all of the big important comedians, and not just a bit writer somewhere in the back. His one thing is the singing, and that’s plenty for new media online, but not nearly enough for a TV show. This is the kind of audition you’d make if you wanted to make a short with another Youtuber or TikToker, not a fully staffed old-media TV show! Formatting and content aside, this wasn’t a genius attention grab anyway. Famous online does not equal famous enough for TV.

All that said, don’t bully the guy – he was doing what he loved and the video blew up unexpectedly on him. His audience, wherever they may be now, was interested enough to follow him.

Nursery Rhyme Music Is Just Repackaged Indie Accent Music

Elizabeth Technology July 21, 2022

What was the deal with the ‘Indie Slur’ In self-produced music? And what does it have to do with this new trend of nursery rhyme music?

What Am I Talking About?

The indie slur, indie (girl or boy) voice, etc. refers to a sort of Scandinavian-adjacent accent commonly used by English-speaking indie music artists online. If you’ve heard it, you’ll know it – singers glide across ‘ee’ and ‘eh’ sound by turning them into ‘ay’s, syllable sounds that end with an ‘ah’ or ‘oh’ turn into ‘aiy’ and ‘oiy’ depending on placement, and by the time they reach the end of a lyric, they’re rasping out the words because they’ve run out of air to sound breathy. It’s sort of like Bjork, if she were trying to write music for the radio. It was also incredibly distinct and served as a signature for a couple of popular Indie artists in the aughts and 2010s.

Halsey

Halsey used a toned-down version. It’s not so harsh as to be unlistenable, she doesn’t sound like she’s trying to imitate a European accent, and it adds some spice to her songs. She’s probably the most well-known user of this technique even though she’s not the most extreme example of it. After her came a wave of people trying to recreate that sound but better in bedroom pop. This is a totally normal trend – when a singer makes it big, other singers want to recreate their sound but better so they’re not known as knockoffs of the original. Or worse, mistaken as the original!

Halsey’s singing is unique both in tone and technique. Mimicking tone is a good way to end up in knockoff territory, so technique is what new indie artists pursued when they wanted to follow in her footsteps. Halsey, therefore, indirectly spawned a trend of online, underground music that used this indie voice as a way to differentiate (or her participation in a trend that was already beginning online lead to that trend blowing up – either way she popularized it). Unfortunately, the new era of internet users were familiar with websites like Soundcloud and Youtube, meaning that new singers had the ability to post music directly to the internet without beta-testing it in front of smaller groups of people first.

This lead to some really ridiculous results. In online spaces especially, ‘but better’ turns into ‘but more intense’; the indie voice is a really distinctive stylistic tool, and it can hide quite a bit of bad technique. Even mediocre singers sound kind of like Halsey if they slur all the way across the line! People who genuinely like the indie voice, people who are trolling so they’ll keep putting out music, and people who think the accent is because the singer really doesn’t speak English as a first language all lead to positive comments online in a way they just didn’t before the internet. Some of these singers stay entirely online because the environment is so much more nurturing than constant garage tours or open mic nights can be, so it became a sort of echo chamber. Anyone can win, anyone can post to media sharing sites, and anyone can build a fandom because the investment to do it online is so much less demanding than doing it the traditional way. There’s no soaring heights, but there’s no crashing and burning either. Eventually, the baseline indie voice got so watered down with all of the people doing it badly that it turned into a meme, and now it’s back into being a ‘sometimes’ tool for beginners.

Nursery Rhyme Alternative Music

But that’s not the only ‘sometimes’ tool this has happened to. In the same way the indie slur was used to hijack the recognizability of bigger stars, so too are nursery rhyme songs hijacking the recognizability of nursery rhymes. You know the phenomenon where you have to hear a song a few times to decide if you like it or not? Or how some people will say a song was played enough on the radio that it grew on them? This is a shortcut to that – you already know the ABC song, now you just have to decide if you like the tweaks made to make it ABCDEFU. On TikTok especially, indie singers with relatively small followings are trying to turn nursery rhymes into the backbone of some really bitter breakup songs. The one that first caught my attention on this trend was one by Leah Kate, called ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little B****’ (warning for swearing). 

The video I’ve linked features the hate comments, yes – but TikTok has no dislike button, hate comments are literally the only way people can make it known that they dislike the music (which is a discussion for another time). At 78K+ likes, Leah’s song has wormed its way into moderate success. This is such a unique trend because it’s not very hard to get into, just like the indie slur was. Even the parody songs that people are making in response to Leah Kate’s song sound like the real deal! Look at this one (warning for swearing!). The cursing, the belting, the lyrics themselves are so over-the-top bitter to compensate for how syrupy sweet the nursery rhyme it’s using is that it’s a parody unto itself. The parody might even be a smidge better, because the melody changes in her second line while Leah’s doesn’t stray outside of the original and repeats every other line just like the nursery rhyme it’s using does.

What makes this trend even more fascinating is that it’s following roughly the same pattern the indie slur did! Melanie Martinez may not be a regular feature in the top 40, but she’s undoubtedly popular in her niche, and her niche is a sort of American goth-lolita thing that looks to childish toys, ideas, and yes, nursery rhymes for inspiration. But only inspiration. The majority of her songs are not borrowing melodies from nursery rhymes, and the lyrics are not built to convey an entire song in the space of a TikTok. People want to be her, but more, but better, but even angrier and even more inspired by nursery rhymes, just like they did with Halsey. However, unlike Halsey’s music-writing fans, the memes and jokes are coming out at the same time the nursery rhyme songs are. Leah was getting these hate comments and parody videos as soon as her TikTok about it was posted. The online denizens of TikTok seemed to recognize the trend cycle taking shape and shoved a branch in the spoke before record labels could capitalize off of it. You’re probably going to see or hear a couple similar songs, but since it’s already becoming uncool, something else is going to have to take off in it’s place.  

Sources:

https://www.acelinguist.com/2021/05/dialect-dissection-indie-voicecursive.html

Mysteries in Online Tales: How Do You Keep it Scary?

Elizabeth Technology July 7, 2022

Want to write a creepypasta? You’ll have to learn how to balance what your viewers want to know with what they need to know.

What Is Creepypasta?

First and foremost, what is a creepypasta? Creepypastas are scary stories that start online, usually text based but sometimes video-based or audio-based as well. Creepypasta comes from the term copypasta, which comes from a misspelling of copy-paste, and is used to describe stories that people share over and over by copying and then pasting them somewhere else. The first threatening chain e-mails technically count as creepypastas! Slenderman, one of the more famous creepypasta stories online, is often credited with popularizing the term, although it had been used in niche forums for quite some time before that.

Creepypastas used to be a single-author effort, with limited input from the community that consumed them. In the early days of the web, it was very tough to identify what would create a copyright schism, so people weren’t so keen to begin making fan games, write fanfiction, make art featuring copyrighted characters, etc. because the original author might like it, or they might issue a cease-and-desist and make all that work pointless. Anne Rice famously crushed any and all fanfictions about Interview with a Vampire she found well into the late aughts, and so people stopped writing that fiction. There are rules that say you have to defend your copyright or you’ll lose it, so it’s hard to blame creators for being so extreme in the early days before there were precedents for online transformative works, but as a result, the environment was repressive and fan interaction was often limited.

This worked in the favor of the early creepypasta authors. The creator of Slenderman, for example, had a hand in the projects that featured his creation – as a result, most of the cool, big stuff featuring the monster, like the game 8 Pages and the short video series Marble Hornets, retained the original flavor of the monster.

Cruella De Ville

However, things have not stayed this way, for better and worse. To explain this purely by storytelling, lets look at another character, Cruella De Ville. Everything about her is meant to be scary and mean. She wants to skin a bunch of puppies for clothing! She’s named Cruella. She’s arguably one of the most black-and-white (hah) villains Disney ever created. She is just objectively awful, and that’s entertaining in and of itself. Almost anything can happen to her and the audience will think ‘serves her right!’

Until… Disney offered up a movie humanizing her, explaining that dalmations killed her mother, that she’s more of a Devil Wears Prada than genuine, cruel evil. And people hated this movie! Maleficent could be said to be misunderstood, but Cruella was a shallow villain to start with and should have stayed that way. Not only was the backstory unwanted, it added a lot of fluff and humanity to a character that – again – wanted to skin puppies for clothing. It made her motivations confusing and kind of pathetic instead of heartless and cold, defanging her for the sake of making some money on character recognition. This was a multi-million dollar effort on Disney’s side.

I’m explaining all this because in today’s day and age, it’s very easy to accidentally do the same thing to creepypastas and make them funny or clownish instead of scary. Things have changed when it comes to copyright, and fan interaction is not only allowed, it’s sometimes seen as the ticket to getting a lot of really good content about your project for free. Creators now build a community instead of an audience. While this does produce some really good scary content, it also invites a lot of mediocre content alongside it.

Un-Scaring By Missing The Point

There are a lot of talented artists who don’t have the time to create or maintain an ARG, but still want to create scary things. There are a lot of creatives who don’t necessarily have the talent to put their ideas to paper in a drawing, but can describe it over text in a way that is bone-chilling. There are people who can draw and animate things that are terrifying as long as they’re given a prompt, or a mood. There are people who can do neither, but still have great ideas and can collaborate to make those ideas a reality with someone who can put it to paper or animate it.

There are also people in each of these categories who don’t quite grasp what the scariest part of the original story/creepypasta/monster was supposed to be and end up creating something that pulls back the curtain, so to speak, removing the mystery associated with the monster. To use another not-so-scary example, look at Star Wars. The Force is a mysterious, all-encompassing but not omniscient power that flows through all living things, good or bad, weak or strong. It works in mysterious ways; it seeks balance over triumph; anyone may be able to access and harness it if they can devote years and years of their lives to training to become either Jedi or Sith. Some are born with natural talent for it, but others have to work hard to achieve the same talent their peers were born with. But, if they do, it’s worth it, because they get to stand among the Jedi! You get it? It’s so cool! Fans love The Force! Anyone could be a Jedi! And then George Lucas reveals that controlling The Force is actually the result of a blood infection by a microorganism called midichlorians, and all of the cool, metaphorical, mysterious parts of the story are brought into sharp contrast with this new information. Not everyone could be a Jedi. You have to be born special to be special.

To use a scary story, almost literally the same idea was incorporated into Five Nights at Freddy’s with the introduction of this goo called Remnant in one of the books – the animatronic suits that hunt you night after night aren’t bound there by a determination to get revenge on the guy who killed them, they’re there because the suits had that goo in it, and if the suits hadn’t had that goo in it, they would have just moved on. That could be scary, but it’s scientific and cheesy in a way that’s not scary in and of itself. Feeling so much rage that you crawl back out of your grave to seek revenge is a terrifying yet very human concept – midichlorians and Remnant goo remove the element of choice and willpower from the story and turn it into a game of chance. Things happening by chance can also be scary… but the setup has to know that chance is the scary part about the story, because if it’s not, it reads like a plot hole or a contrivance. But that’s the creator doing the un-scaring to themselves, what about fan content?

Fan Content

Many creepypasta monsters are scary because you don’t get a good look at them, either metaphorically or literally. You don’t know where they came from or what they’re after, just that you’re in their sights and you really don’t want to be. Getting a good look at them, therefore, removes the fear and defangs some of them. Some monsters continue to be scary even after they’re revealed to the viewer (a lot of monsters that represent forces of nature or evils remain scary if they don’t take the form of a human themselves – Room 1408 and The Blob, for example), but many more are less scary once they go from concepts to being real things, dumb animals, ‘just some guy’. Slenderman, for example, became divorced from representing paranoia and stranger danger and started being just some guy after countless works of fan art watered his presence down. He’s still plenty scary in the first few games that came out about him, but doing horror poorly tends to turn it camp, and now he’s often just some guy in a suit. Seeing art of Jason Voorhees just casually mowing the baseball diamond at Camp Crystal Lake like a regular camp counselor made him funnier and campier (hah) than actually, genuinely scary, too. Intentionally making art cute, or unintentionally failing to scare makes fanart one of the most dangerous blades a community has. If a monster doesn’t have a lot going for it, consistently cutesy fanart or fanfiction can break down the monster’s reputation more than a badly written chapter or a terrible plot twist ever could!

And Storytelling in a New World of Fan Art

 As previously mentioned, transformative works are no longer a constant source of copyright anxiety, so huge springs of art and fanfiction appear around characters like never before. Hot Topic had to get a license to use Jason Voorhees on their shirt, but some guy on Twitter can sell stickers with him dressed like a regular hockey player without the license because the work was transformative.

As a result, it’s never been harder to control the perception of the monster. Creepypasta writers often do their writing alone, so issues with how the monster might be perceived by fans aren’t necessarily caught until the fans are already perceiving it. Make it dumb, and maybe it’s just a trapped animal, make it smart, and maybe the main character could have reasoned with it, make it demonic, and maybe you should have known better than to invite it in, make it nature, and humans are the monster for the destruction they’ve caused. No monster is perfectly unredeemable… but there are many monsters who don’t get the ‘I can fix him’ treatment from fans because they aren’t lovable.

Still, even if you have beta readers and you’ve written a pretty good monster, people can be weird online. You don’t want to ask people to stop making their art – a scorned artist with a big fanbase can remove their fanbase from yours, which has happened before – but you don’t want the cute, calming art to consume your idea, at least not before the story’s completely over and fans who want to be terrified have gotten their fill.

How Would You Prevent Your Work From Becoming a Meme?  

Assuming you’ve written a pretty good monster (and there are tips online all over the place if you’d like to try your hand) there are a few things you can do to keep the horrifying entity you’ve made from being cross-contaminated with My Little Ponysonas by well-meaning but young fans.

Firstly, create an environment for your story that isn’t going to break immersion for your readers. In a movie, you can’t have someone interrupt your watch with a funny picture of the monster caught in a raccoon trap. If you’re scrolling through a blog, you can – if the artist reblogs works from fans on the same blog that they’re writing the story, they can accidentally reduce the seriousness of their own story. The creepypasta subreddit on Reddit actually has rules that state both the writer and commentors must treat everything as if it’s really happening, so you don’t get awkward breaks at the end of the story where the original poster thanks everyone who gave them nice feedback or medals. This saves the original poster of the story from having to shake hands with fans while they’re still in their monster makeup, so to speak, and it’s a good rule to apply no matter where the story is happening. Keep fan interaction on a side blog or side page so you’re not having to break character.

Secondly, know when enough is enough. This is really, really hard. There’s a saying in music ‘to always leave them wanting more’, but you still want to make the story and share your ideas about it. Share enough to make the story, and maybe some stuff that didn’t make it in, but don’t reveal every corner of every room. Monsters are usually scariest in the dark, metaphorically and literally, so you have to leave some stuff to the imagination. This is where the midichlorian problem from before happens – maybe even you don’t know how your monster works perfectly, but it’s okay to leave it like that. Sometimes no explanation you could possibly give will surpass viewer imagination. Sometimes explanations for how things ended up the way that they did end up making the story less enjoyable, the way Cruella’s prequel movie did.

Thirdly, be aware of who your content is geared towards. In horror games, something like Outlast is going to have a very different audience to something like Five Nights at Freddy’s, and even that is going to have a wildly different audience than something like Poppy Playtime. The more kid-friendly your project is, the more likely it is you’ll end up with cutesy, AU, or less-than-scary fanart, because the population consuming it is going to veer younger. This can be pretty simple – while horror doesn’t have to be washed out and gray, Poppy Playtime sort of shot itself in the foot by giving itself a cute, floppy, absent-minded mascot in a building colored with bright, happy, primary colors. For even starker contrast, Five Nights at Freddy’s creepy animatronics attracted (and scared!) people of all ages. Five Nights at Freddy’s: Security Breach redesigned those characters into cuter, rounder, more human versions, and the game’s fear factor is noticeably lessened as a result.

Morbius Re-Release: What Did You Think Would Happen

Elizabeth Technology July 5, 2022

Memes are beginning to shape the perception of movies in a way movie studios can’t cope with.

Memes Rule The World

You’ve probably heard of ‘The Snyder Cut’. Back when Justice League was being filmed, Zack Snyder had to step away from filming due to family troubles, and he wasn’t able to return in time to finish directing. The movie we got as a result could have been something great, but lacked polish and vision. Fans online demanded the Snyder cut! The Snyder cut would have been great! The studio, realizing the could capitalize off this meme without losing face, partnered up with Snyder to make this happen. Fans got what they wanted, over online streaming services, but the Snyder cut ended up being five hours. Online, people seemed to like it a lot! But was it actually good? Or was it better only because they’d written five hours of script and tried to cram it into half that for a theater release? It was a poorly conceived project, and needed a re-write. In a world without memes, they wouldn’t have gotten away with re-framing the project parameters to turn a movie into a show.

Compared to the original shortened version, where character development and breathing room were cut to fit, the five hours of movie pulled out of the Snyder cut was better, but still suffered from some of the same problems Batman V. Superman did. By having a direct comparison, and by giving fans what they’d asked for, the Snyder cut of Justice League earned a higher rating than it probably actually deserved and would have gotten if it came out by itself without all the baggage. Once you, a fan, has asked for something, it would be rude to say you didn’t like it, right? A similar meme led to a very hideous Sonic from the Sonic movie getting a total overhaul into a much cuter Sonic, and people pushed each other to see it because the studio had gone through tremendous effort to make their movie watchable. The least you can do is go watch it, right?

Memes played a crucial role in ‘fixing’ both of these movies, giving fans a voice and letting DC and Sega know that the path they’d started down was not one they could continue on.

However, you can’t be ‘in’ on the joke if you don’t have any goodwill around your brand. People like Sega, and they liked Zack Snyder. DC has stumbled a few times since the release of Justice League, rusting out fans’ goodwill with controversies like cutting Ray Fisher (who played Cyborg) for speaking out about poor treatment of the character, but keeping Ezra Miller (who plays Flash) despite Miller assaulting more than one person in Hawaii while filming.

DC doesn’t have much goodwill left from non-fans. They stop listening to memes when those memes might cost them money. Sony, however, does not have their experience. This is what lead to ‘Morbin’ Time’ and a thousand-theater re-release nobody actually wanted.

Morbin’ Time

The first meme to refer to ‘morbin’ time’ came off a tweet that said you, the reader, couldn’t say that it wasn’t his catchphrase because the reader didn’t see the movie, either. Immediately, this should have been a hint to Sony that it was funnier if you hadn’t seen the movie. The perception of Morbius was a lot like the perception of the Green Lantern movie, except in a future where people know the Green Lantern movie isn’t good.

 “I loved it when he said ‘It’s Morbin’ Time!’ and morbed all over those guys.” “Stand Back, I’m beginning to Morb!” “What are we, some kinda Morbius?” “True Morbheads know what it means to morb and be morbless.” Et cetera. On Tumblr especially, the point of being a Morbhead was that you hadn’t seen the movie. You could ‘morb’ someone by flashing them with a very compressed, very pixelated two-minute gif of the entire movie. I got morbed on Tumblr and TikTok. People were streaming Morbius illegally on Twitch, a livestreaming platform usually used for gaming. Pirating it so you could show it to friends against their will was funny. Morbing someone was a punchline. You didn’t want to watch the movie. Sincerely watching movie outside of those gifs would ruin the fun of not knowing he didn’t morb all over those guys. Worse was paying for the privilege to do so after it was clear the movie was just another trash film.

Unfortunately, Sony misunderstood that the memes were laughing at them, not with them, and attempted to re-release the movie and double-dip on their opening weekend. Their first weekend was fine and made back the movie’s budget (meaning it didn’t actually bomb, despite the memes), but this second, undeserved re-release only earned them an additional 85,000$ across 1000 theaters in the US. It also soured people on actually watching it even more. Would they have done this without the memes? Absolutely not.

People who were interested would have seen it the first go-round. Online moviegoers realized how terrible of a precedent allowing Morbius to succeed on it’s second weekend would set. Companies could make a bad movie, and instead of fixing the issues that lead to the bad movie, they could instead manufacture memes about how bad their movie is, generate hype online for it, and then re-release it for people to laugh at how bad it is, at full price, of course. This would reward studios for producing lackluster content and rushing production. Morbius is alright, a little cheesy, but not the worst superhero movie, according to reviews – when Sony so much as thought they were in on the joke, the meme turned cold and cringe, and they lost all of that organic marketing they could have watched roll in on streaming services, rentals, and dumb merch. All to re-release a movie ‘nobody even saw’.

The Idea of the Movie

Morbius is one of those characters that’s just sort of there. He’s not one of the big, popular, everyone-knows-and-likes him kind of characters by default the way Spiderman is. Still, being a relatively unknown side character in today’s day and age is not a movie’s death sentence. Few knew who Iron Man was before Robert Downey Jr. turned him into one of the most well-known Marvel characters of all time in a movie that most critics expected to bomb. Instead, it set off a chain reaction that led to one of the biggest, most profitable, most-beloved and well-known cinematic universes the world has ever seen.

It didn’t seem preposterous that Dr. Morbius, a vampiric character that’s often pitted against Spiderman and co. could eek out a worthwhile movie and set himself up for a sequel and some merch. Unfortunately, the movie was nothing special, and the actor playing Morbius himself wasn’t helping matters.

The Guy in the Movie

Jared Leto has had good roles that he played well. He was in American Psycho, Blade Runner 2044, and a handful of other big movies. Unfortunately, he became better-known for his role in 2016’s Suicide Squad, another superhero movie about a handful of side characters that was poorly received by critics and the internet. Leto’s idea of the Joker, to use a phrase I stole online, is like a pizza cutter – all edge, no point. He’s kooky and cringey, and has a set of lines straight off of Reddit’s r/ImFourteenAndThisIsDeep. The movie failed because the script was really bad and had too many characters competing for screentime, a common DC issue, but Leto’s Joker stood out as one of the worst parts of the movie, remembered alongside iconic lines like “What are we, some kinda… Suicide Squad?” and “This is Katana. I would recommend not getting killed by her, her sword traps the souls of her victims.” (Are you seeing the setup to “It’s Morbin’ Time” in these lines?)

To make matters worse, Jared was also notoriously creepy and rude to his costars for the sake of ‘method acting’, going so far as to send Margot Robbie a rat, which then had to be re-homed because it’s a living animal and not a prop. He couldn’t seem to distinguish between press that said he’d gone too far in a good way and press that said he’d gone too far in a bad way, either, which egged him on in interviews after the fact, further solidifying his reputation as a jerk online. The poor performance in the movie made many people question what Jared actually thought method acting was – are you turning Jared Leto into the Joker, or are you turning the Joker into Jared Leto’s Joker?

Aside from that, Jared’s got some weird thing going on with a bunch of young women and an island that he’s kind of hinting might or might not be a cult, but not in a way that couldn’t be plausibly denied.

And On Morbius

Now that I’ve told you all about Jared’s weird behavior to get into character as the Joker, you’ll be ecstatic to know he did it again with Morbius, and used a combination of crutches and wheelchairs to adapt to the character. That in and of itself is actually good method-acting: playing a disabled character accurately as an able-bodied actor means putting yourself in their wheels or crutches, experiencing the world as they do. You have to learn to hold your weight differently, at the very least. You learn things like motion-activated sinks and sinks that are too high aren’t mobility-aid friendly. Heavy pull doors suuuck. These are things you don’t think about until you have to live with them. Unfortunately, Leto took this to such an extreme that filming would come to a halt as he used the crutches to get to the bathroom and back, taking up to 45 minutes to do so.

 To strike a deal, the director had someone backstage wheel him to and fro in a wheelchair so the bathroom breaks would stop eating up so much time, which is where it became bad method acting. Jared was sort of parodying what an able-bodied man thinks crutch-users have to go through to get to the bathroom, not actually experiencing it, because the set has to stop because he’s the star and he can take however long he wants. He never had to learn to hurry on the crutches like real people often do, or like someone like Dr. Morbius would have had to, or how to actually handle things like opening doors and washing hands, or using mixed physical aides to do all of this in a reasonable time frame. Instead, he can flail through it, doing it the long way, instead of doing it the way crutch users actually do it. Because he’s Jared Leto and he’s the star. Thus, he’s not portraying a man on crutches accurately.

All of this is a lot of work for very little payoff – Morbius is a movie about a doctor who cures his own illness by becoming a vampire, so between you watching him decline and then recover, the part of the movie where he’s on crutches is maybe a 6th of the film at best.

The Movie Itself

The movie itself was nothing special. It’s a Sony movie. Fans have spent a long time watching Sony movies about superheroes miss the mark, so viewers are wary. People who liked Superman were willing to watch Man of Steel, but Morbius had very little built-in fanbase who’d go see it no matter what.

All this said, Morbius is allegedly fine, but not something you’d go out of your way to see unless the movie you were actually going to was sold out and nothing else was close in timing. Jared Leto delivers a passable if dramatic performance, the movie has good action scenes that are almost comically splattered with CG effects, the plot makes sense, it’s fine. Not good, not Iron Man or Wonder Woman, but not Batman V. Superman or Justice League.

It did fine too. It made its money back. But because it wasn’t the huge blockbuster comic book movies tend to be, and a lot of comic nerds avoided a movie they’d normally watch because it was from Sony, there were rumblings online that ‘nobody had seen it’, which started the memes. The movie itself could have gone down as one of Sony’s more passable movies if the studio hadn’t tried to hijack the memes into advertising.

Sources:

https://www.grunge.com/215715/the-truth-about-jared-letos-bizarre-cult/

https://www.slashfilm.com/802232/jared-leto-repeatedly-freaked-out-the-morbius-crew-with-his-method-acting-to-no-ones-surprise/

https://www.ign.com/articles/morbius-bathroom-breaks-jared-leto

https://www.thegamer.com/its-morbing-time-morbius-first-person-meme-origin/

“Apple’s Walled Garden” And the PG-13-ification of The Internet

Elizabeth Technology June 21, 2022

Tumblr

Tumblr is the most famous app to struggle with Apple’s obtuse clearance system. Since Tumblr seems to be making a bit of a comeback, it’s a good place to start the story. In 2018, the beginning stages of the NSFW content ban were beginning to wreak havoc on the site – Apple wasn’t going to allow specifically nudity-based NSFW media on any apps in the app store small enough for them to jerk around, and Tumblr had shrunk.

 NSFW content would be officially banned on December 17th, 2018, and any blog with any NSFW content would be put in the shadow realm, where they’d be impossible to search, and the posts that put them there would be removed.

 I can go on and on about how badly this screwed up Tumblr – there are a lot of artists who were making art that complied with Tumblr’s statement on what was allowed only to end up with their posts in review anyway because the auto-filter Tumblr used didn’t know the difference, there were people who reblogged something from a shirtless artist two years back, didn’t realize it was still there because of how much stuff they’d reblogged since then, and then ended up shadow-realmed with seemingly no way to figure out what got them in trouble, there were people who’d built entire careers out of shirtless art who got chased off to Twitter and took their followers with them, and there were people who were, quite frankly, only there for the shirtless art in the first place.

The ban was a huge mess and forced a lot of users off the site, including people who met all the requirements to stay but lost all of the blogs they followed to the ban. What do you do but leave when all of the people you were there for, are gone?

And it gets worse: some art was supposed to be allowed, but it de facto wasn’t. Museums were getting swept up! There are a lot of anthropologically important statues, paintings, and other representations of men and women, and not all of them are exactly dressed for church. Nobody is arguing that the Statue of David is not art, but there’s an argument (a bad faith one) that the statue is Not Suitable for Work. Automated filters can’t tell the difference between marble, paint, and flesh, anyway, so on Tumblr, pics of the statue were shadow-realmed unless they were censored. Appealing the post meant the post would be in limbo for days, if not weeks, and you may have to re-appeal it if the moderator who saw it didn’t recognize it as art at first. Combined with an overworked team of staff behind the scenes and general site-wide chaos, fixing the museum issue on top of fixing the spam bots and fixing the website and fixing the mistakenly-banned accounts and fixing the filter itself and fixing the – etc. felt like it was years away. So art where the subject happened to be nude was no longer present on the site, full stop.

Steve Jobs Hates Nudes

Which is just what Apple wanted. Steve Jobs was notoriously prudish. Steve Jobs did not like NSFW content. He did not want it anywhere near his beautiful, sleek app store. From TechCrunch: ‘When questioned about Apple’s role as moral police in the App Store, Jobs responds that “we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone.” Better, is what he said next: “Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.”.’ Well, fine, but – again – ordinary, culturally important art got swept up in that too, and he didn’t seem to mind. A number of apps just aren’t allowed on the store because they’re icky, not because something is actually wrong with them beyond that ickiness. You can extrapolate from his entire personality, his fear of buttons, his minimalist philosophy in design – he had a real problem with existing as a human and wanted to be something cleaner.

That philosophy has infected every app that wants to be on the Apple app store, because if they don’t tow the line, they get kicked. In a world where Apple is a billion-dollar company and a huge number of consumers have an iPhone, avoiding the Apple app store is shooting your app in the foot before it even gets off the ground. However, making an Apple-specific window into your app can actually help you out quite a bit. To go back to Tumblr, the app was wrecked. When the app was up for renewal, and thus had to go through the opaque approval process again, the person reviewing the app had spotted NSFW content under otherwise innocuous tags. So it was going to be wrecked again. To be clear, that’s mostly the spam-bots fault: spam-bots looking to get people to click their ads and links would tag their posts with every popular tag they could, resulting in innocent tags like #girl, #selfie, #boy, and more being attached to gifs of banned content.

However, this time was different. Tumblr only banned the tags for Apple because the Google app store had no such requirement upon renewal. Apple Tumblr users were understandably a little weirded out that their innocent K-Drama tags were no longer allowed, but at this point they were in it for the long haul, and communities built new tags instead of wondering too hard about the old ones. Apple’s app renewal process is difficult to navigate on purpose because Apple holds all the power!  They can declare arbitrarily that because its inspector found art under a tag in the app’s tagging system (that rightfully should have been caught by the filter, but wasn’t, because the filter sucks) Tumblr will either no longer have those tags or Tumblr just won’t be renewed, full stop. Every app is subject to this. If NSFW art can be found by an Apple app inspector, the app has to deal with it right then and there. Tumblr’s two-prong method was an interesting solution to the issue, but the result is an inequal app experience. For small developers, this may not be an option.

The Web Was A Wasteland

There was a time where the web was for adults, whether it be news, forums, math, or games, and if kids saw something gorey or scary when they weren’t supposed to, that was their parents’ fault for letting them be on there. This changed when kids were encouraged to use the internet for research, and websites acknowledged that it was possible to click an innocent-looking link on Google and end up somewhere horrid. Websites introduced the “I verify that I’m over 18” button, Google introduced Safe Search, and kids were introduced to the idea of ‘safe browsing’ in general, which curbed a lot of the issues parents had with the way the web was. Most normal people were happier with the web when they couldn’t accidentally stumble onto something gross, as well.

But then things changed. Kids were expected to have smartphones or other devices. Social media sites took root and became cool. Youtube, Twitter and Reddit set a lower age limit of 13, which tacitly said that children at age 13 or older would be accepted (at least, that’s the argument they’d use when people called them out for being kids arguing with adults). Before, minors would have to at least behave like an adult or get ridiculed online. Adults who were able to assume they were talking to other adults on forums could no longer assume that was the case. You started seeing things like ‘Minors DNI’ (DNI stands for Do Not Interact) on Tumblr profiles because a blog owner would discover, three hours into a basic philosophy argument, that the other person they’d been arguing with was actually 14. Obviously, teens aren’t stupid, but they’re also not just underaged adults!

A couple of legal cases where children were exposed to things they shouldn’t have been then led to a change in online responsibility. Anybody making that shirtless art from before could get in trouble if they learned kids were following them but didn’t do anything to prevent them from seeing said art (you can block people on most sites to prevent them from seeing your stuff, for instance) so they’d warn kids to stay away and avoid the trouble altogether. Reddit demands you make an account to verify age if you want to see NSFW subreddits, and Twitter allows adult artists to flag individual posts as NSFW, which was good for both adults who liked the artist but didn’t want to accidentally see something inappropriate for the subway while they scrolled through their feed, and kids who didn’t want or need to see it in the first place if their artist of choice retweeted the original artist.

 The reverse applied with ‘Minor – Adults DNI’,  where kids were looking for other kids to talk to online and didn’t want to accidentally talk to a predator. This wouldn’t stop an ill-intentioned adult, but it kept well-meaning adults from accidentally stumbling into a Chris Hansen situation due to a misunderstanding. Would it be better if kids weren’t allowed on the sites at all? Enforcement is the issue, not shoulds and woulds. It is extraordinarily difficult to prevent kids from pretending to be 18. Anything that actually worked would violate privacy and thus limit its own userbase.

As such, a lot of smaller sites PG-13ified themselves to avoid getting in trouble for accidentally distributing NSFW content to kids, whether it be gore or nudity, and the big social media apps began toning it down as much as they could without turning into Tumblr. Museums and other such places that had depictions of human bodies were further cornered by auto-filters.

Sometimes Art Is Not Accessible to Children… and Sometimes It’s Not Meant to Be

Some art is not meant for children. Some art is aimed at adults who have struggled in ways that adults do, and to water that art down so kids understand it would be destroying the art in the process. Its why people are angry that Disney is buying up so many properties – it means you don’t get to see superheroes rising above situations if those situations aren’t easily explained to a kid.

Imagine trying to make something like Moby Dick child-friendly in content, or A Tale of Two Cities: you’d end up with a Marvel story. Worse, think of the recent controversies over stories like ‘Maus’ – because a 13-year-old isn’t allowed to read it, now the 14-17-year-olds still in high school can’t find it in that Pennsylvanian library. For context, I read it sophomore year in high school, and it didn’t spark rebellion in me, as the argument that got it removed said it would. That argument and the inappropriateness argument is a smokescreen to remove a book that made them uncomfortable.

Allowing a small minority of parents to dictate what an entire population of schoolchildren shouldn’t read because it’s ‘inappropriate for kids’ is also a significant problem, one tied into the general censorship of the web. When parents are allowed to jerk around the people making art because the art is inappropriate for their children, you end up with bland retellings of fairy tales because anything else might offend. You end up with the Hayes Code. You end up with Holocaust deniers who never had to learn about it in high school and thus think it’s a conspiracy. You end up with kids that grow up into adults that can’t think critically about the media they consume or about the stereotypes and biases that may be hidden inside, because art for kids has to be perfectly clear about who’s right and who’s wrong so as not to confuse them with things like gray areas, which art and content for adults features all the time. Nobody’s perfect, except for in fairy tales.

Apple’s censorship of the web and the resulting child-friendly attitude that followed it has haunted the internet ever since.

Sources: https://techcrunch.com/2010/04/19/steve-jobs-android-porn/

Seth Green Lost His Bored Apes NFT

Elizabeth Technology June 16, 2022

And it’s kind of funny.

What is an NFT? And Why Do So Many People Hate Them?

An NFT is a non-fungible token. Essentially, it’s a unit of blockchain attached to something unique, like an image, as opposed to a blockchain coin, which is just a coin and can be exchanged with any other coin (fungibility). There are dozens upon dozens of people making really good arguments for why NFTs  shouldn’t exist and how their energy demands are ridiculous, but just know that every single layer of what an NFT is has some kind of tomfoolery going on within it.

Starting at the top: the art.

Art NFTs, which are non-fungible, can be any kind of art at all so long as it’s digital. Literally anything. Since the image isn’t actually stored on the blockchain (because there isn’t enough space for something hi-res) the blockchain is generally leading to a link to the image on the actual server where it’s stored (which is a whole other thing). Meaning you can link to huge impressive projects that someone may genuinely want to own an NFT of even though other people can see it, just because the project is that impressive. Like funding an art gallery IRL – the art inside is beautiful, and everyone who walks up knows you own it and you shared it with them.

Instead, we get bored apes and all sorts of other cookie-cutter Picrew dressup dolls with swappable details for easier selling, used mainly in Twitter avatars for clout. There’s also quite a bit of art theft going on, where people who published art online find their art later on NFT brokering websites and have to tell the staff that their picture was put up there illegitimately. It’s very annoying and difficult to combat, so much so that Deviantart created a tool for users to cross-check their art.

But Wait, There’s More

But the same doesn’t apply in reverse. Left-click-save people aren’t violating the rights of the purchaser or the creator unless they use that unedited image commercially. However, if someone does use it commercially, the creator has the right to legal action – not the buyer. Turns out, NFTs don’t confer copyright unless explicitly stated by the seller, so if you don’t clarify that you want to own that art and make stuff with it, you just don’t! The original creator of the NFT could double-sell the picture, and now there’s two Diamond Blunt-Smoking Bored Apes out there, and there’s nothing you can do except tweet about it. Generally speaking, an NFT is like a baseball card, in that you don’t own the art on the card or NFT just because you purchased it, and the original owner can pump out so many cards that the card you have is worthless. All of that blockchain does not prevent this from happening. A 2 where a 1 was earlier in the chain means those two diamond apes are technically different entities.

The blockchain is the whole point, too. Can you imagine someone buying a Bored Ape for an avatar and spending more than 20$ at most on it if it wasn’t blockchain? Much less thousands? They wouldn’t, that guy would have been laughed out of the room. Because him and other people like him successfully convinced people that the blockchain has inherent value, a bunch of people bought these blockchain collectibles for significantly more than anyone would have had it not been. To be clear, the blockchain is not inherently valuable no matter what product it’s representing. It’s a technology, not an investment in and of itself. Cryptocurrencies crash and burn all the time because investors lose their faith in the product’s value.

All this to say that the blockchain creates this illusion of exclusivity over an image when you don’t have exclusivity by default and the images used by the most popular NFTs are stock images with stock details that look like they’ve been run through an RNG. It’s a common joke that you can just left-click and save these images, and it’s funny because there’s really no rebuttal. If you don’t care about the blockchain, if the other person doesn’t have copyright ownership, and if you’re not using it for commercial reasons, why can’t you left-click and make the Bored Ape that guy owns your profile pic? Literally nothing is stopping you at that point except for respect. The image is not actually on the blockchain, most of the time – usually it’s a link.

I’m going to skip all of the stuff about electricity consumption and money laundering, but know that those are issues too.

Seth Green’s Bored Ape

There’s a lot of fraud in the industry. You can steal digital art and use it illegitimately, but most of the time you have some way to stop that from happening so long as you notice it’s happening – you can copyright strike on most websites that do art, for instance, and that will put the brakes on the art being used illegitimately. Unfortunately, the same is not necessarily true for NFTs. Not only do you not have the copyright by default (which is a huge, confusing mess to navigate when someone is using your lion on a T-shirt but you have to contact the Lazy Lions guy to actually get something done) but when you have a penumbra of the copyright, you still don’t have all of it!

Bored Ape owns the copyright to their apes, but they’re fairly generous with what users can do with said apes as long as they’re apes the user has bought, and not someone else’s apes or an ape that doesn’t exist yet. They seem to know that tightening the collar too much on copyright issues would make some of their buyers question why they had the ape at all, and as such give users a wide berth to do their own thing with it. It also acts as great free advertising. However. The issue with that system is that once you lose your ape, you can’t make things with your ape. That makes sense for legit sales but is a total nightmare for theft, which is what happened to Seth Green. Many NFT sites (and the NFTs themselves) don’t have any way of distinguishing a sale from a theft – they can only record that the token moved from one wallet to another on their chain. The non-famous and famous alike who bought these things and then clicked a scam link have no recourse but to publicly ask for the NFT back from the thief, or whoever bought it off the thief, which has mixed results and sometimes ends in a ransom to get the thing back. In Seth Green’s case, the new owner who bought it from the thief doesn’t want to give it back at all!

But wallets are secure, you may say. How could this have happened? Besides the whole Smart Contract issue (which is an entire article by itself, but is also discussed here: https://elixistechnology.com/?p=7187 ) humans are still humans, and can commit human errors.

 Phishing scams are a huge issue in the industry, for example. None of the websites being used have been around for longer than NFTs themselves have been, and the side of the industry that wants to get these tokens out there to begin accumulating worth are not on the same page as website developers, so they end up with these huge, ungainly URLs that are indistinguishable from phishing scam pages. Some of the projects aren’t even made by a team – one guy is generating the pictures, making the advertising happen, running events, etc. and also making the website. Those projects are as legit as any of them are, and some blow up because of one big buyer – if you can score a 10$ NFT that turns into a 400$, it’s worth buying from those janky sites. Unfortunately, this means that the fake sites and the real sites that haven’t gotten their feet under them look too similar for comfort, but big risk, big reward, right? Even if the site looks good, that doesn’t stop someone from abusing the URL thing from before to make an identical page that steals data. This is regulated by an outside force– but you have to get into contact with the website hosting service to keep people from domain squatting on similar names, which most don’t. This exact thing happened to the Neopets NFTs, which was run by a big, well known company called Solana. If Solana couldn’t keep it from happening, what shot do the small guys have?

Anyway, Seth was trying to mint an NFT from GutterCats, and he clicked a phishing link instead. He’s probably going to get his NFT back (even though the person who has it says they don’t plan to return it – I suspect that’s a bluff to get a ransom out of him), but until it happened to him, the possibility of this bizarre penumbra-of-copyright thing happening hadn’t been considered. Because he’s famous and his show will act as free advertising, I doubt the Bored Apes guys would throw a fit even if he didn’t get his token back. However, the other Twitter nobodies? Who knows what would have happened if one of them was tackling a project as ambitious as an animated show only for the rug to be pulled out from under them? There’s no safety rails! If this hadn’t happened to Seth, the issues this creates wouldn’t have been discussed at all. Theft of the image is not supposed to be theft of the copyright too! In a digital world, that’s completely nuts – even real, physical art doesn’t work that way!

Sources:

https://decrypt.co/101283/seth-green-nft-show-bored-ape-stolen

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/sarahemerson/seth-green-bored-ape-owner

Meme Foods – Bacon?

Elizabeth Technology June 14, 2022

Why did bacon pop up everywhere? What was the deal with baked beans in places they didn’t belong?

Bacon – And Ads Ruin Everything

Bacon has an incredibly distinctive smell. Even if you don’t regularly eat it (or at all), the odds are that you’ll still know what you’re smelling when you walk into a Denny’s. The color and proportions of a slice of American-style bacon are also immediately recognizable to Americans no matter the art form. Abstract, pixelated, you name it, Americans have seen it. The breakfast food industry in America is partly to blame for bacon’s recognizability – most cold cereals are unhealthy by themselves, so every advertising campaign must include the phrase *part of a balanced breakfast to avoid being sued (thus including the classic picture of a glass of OJ, bacon, and eggs on the side next to the cereal, which is a meal already).

A much bigger part of the blame lands on the pork industry, which deliberately began pushing bacon after a nation-wide misunderstanding that ‘eating fat makes you fat’ was causing the public to shift away from the fattier parts of the pig. People went for leaner cuts, or if they still wanted their bacon and didn’t want to risk their cholesterol, they’d buy turkey bacon instead of the real stuff. Big Pork, with a ton of unrealized potential profits, partnered with fast food chains to make bacon cool again.

Internally Generated Ads

 Ideas such as “Fast food is already bad for you – why not go all out?” and “Dieting is something women do, and you’re a man, so go eat bacon” scattered ad campaigns and then trickled down to the web. Compounding this was an emerging reliance on headline-science, which are science articles boiled down to a headline on sites like Digg or Reddit. There is no room for nuance in 50 characters, and thanks to the already budding love of bacon created by advertisers, the people posting bacon research articles were siding with bacon. Headlines like “fat is not making you fat, sugar is” got mistranslated and misunderstood into “bacon is good for you, sugar is the enemy”, when the actual article talked about things like caloric density and glycemic index to indicate that fats shouldn’t be cut out entirely, like they had been a decade earlier, not that adding excess fat to your diet is a good idea unless it was already missing. Only a small portion of the people who read the headline click through to the article, though – many just scroll on after absorbing this ‘news’, and some go to the comment section for a synopsis made by someone else because they don’t want to leave Reddit itself. 

Bacon’s reputation recovered. Bacon, now, was a buddy. It just so happened that this new friend bacon was being puppeteered by an industry.

Rise and Fall

Bacon then crept in on the Cheezburger network (a collection of sites most famous for Reaction Animals memes and Fail blog), Buzzfeed, and other content websites from there. Bacon and bacon fat, of course, are perfectly valid ingredients, and in moderation are fine… but people took it to an extreme. Suddenly it was funny and popular to make things baconated. Bacon-scented candles. Bacon-flavored lip balm. Bacon-scented dryer sheets. Bacon-flavored candy (and candied bacon). Bacon cupcakes, bacon deodorant, bacon sunscreen. Everything. Could be bacon. And big pork was loving this, because it meant their ad campaign had become self-sustaining.

People didn’t want to be a buzzkill by mentioning that bacon was sort of bad for you, and if you eat too much of it for a long time, weird stuff starts happening to your heart and colon because of the salt and preservatives. Even if they did want to be a buzzkill, other people would shout them down with some variation of ‘we know, but it’s just a joke, man’ when they’d made an Epic Meal-Time style bacon burger with two packs of bacon to post online. Before millennials truly came to understand the all-consuming power of the market and big businesses, it was funny to buy and own these things because everyone else was doing it. It was easy to connect over bacon. The ad campaigns worked, and they didn’t connect the dots that the idea had been advertised to them on TV. Bacon was made a personality type, and it’s easy to advertise to ‘person who likes bacon’. Just sell them more bacon things. They’ll buy it.

This started dying down later in the 2010s for a number of reasons – bacon got more expensive, more extensive research on the negatives was published and because the internet had changed people finally listened, a growing awareness of the obesity epidemic, the aging of the core demographic that bacon mania hit, etc.. Bacon remains in recipes and artisanal shops just like it did before all the memes. It’s tasty! It’s just not an ‘everywhere, everything, all of the time’ food.

Baked Beans – The Opposite Effect

And then some time in the late 2010s to early 2020s, baked beans proved that the internet could make its own memes about food without outside adverts subliminally convincing them, thank you very much. Baked beans aren’t a universally liked food. Especially canned. Homemade baked beans, with real brown sugar, bacon, and a lot of tomato paste? Delightful. At worst, tolerable. Canned baked beans, barely heated and not dressed up? Has the texture of gluey applesauce and a lack of real flavor besides some vaguely molasses-ey sweetness. They’re not good. I think anyone who had TV in the late 2000s-early 2010s zone remembers the Busch’s Baked Beans dog, and yet baked beans are not anywhere nearly as loved as bacon is.

Unlike bacon, baked beans never appeared on national fast food menus en masse, and if it did, even regionally, it didn’t stay there. This is because unlike bacon, baked beans are messy and difficult to cook and serve if a restaurant doesn’t already have the infrastructure to do so. Waffle House could have done it, a lot of sit-down places could have done it, but places like Hardees and Wendy’s that got bacon to blow up wouldn’t be able to without a lot of extra expense. Baked beans didn’t have some gigantic industrial machine behind them to finance it, anyway, so they never tried! Baked beans, for a lot of people, appeared at barbecues during the summer and almost nowhere else. There is no Big Baked Bean machine working behind the scenes to make them cool.

This led to a bizarre sort of alienification of the food. Off the top of your head, what kind of bean is used for Busch’s baked beans? If you don’t already make them yourself or if you don’t have an allergy that forces you to look at the back of the can, it’s just “beans”, isn’t it? Generic. They’re a weird color. They have a weird aftertaste. The texture is like nothing else on Earth, a weird grainy texture that’s not quite like egg white but not as rich as a real gravy. They’re also immediately recognizable despite this, a bizarrely colored pale brown fluid with small misshapen orbs in it. It’s a food that could be mistaken for some weird marine lifeform’s eggs in the right context. Thus, the anti-baconification of baked beans took place.

Baked beans started appearing where they didn’t belong. Popsicles. Cereal boxes. Gas tanks. PC Towers. Ice cubes. Envelopes. Planted items in grocery stores. Kiddie pools. Hats. Anywhere that they’d be gross and unwelcome, somebody would put them there for a picture or a prank. Baked beans companies just sort of stood off to the side watching it happen. It was selling beans in a generation that was less likely to buy them, after all – and as long as the older folks didn’t see this happening and become disgusted by the trend, not much was lost.

It’s a perfect anti-bacon meme. The purchasable item is not made more desirable by the memes, and the companies making the product had no hand in how this meme took off – it just sort of did by itself. The product itself is pretty harmless (outside of the sugar content) but obnoxious. It’s not a personality type, either. Even the people making most of the memes approach it with a kind of self-aware irony, and they wouldn’t call themselves total bean fanatics or bean lovers unless it made a joke funnier. Shirts with the product on it are not worn unironically or around strangers that the wearer might see again. It’s come full opposite in a world where adverts have become the enemy.

Chobanification of Logos Online

Elizabeth Technology June 7, 2022

Logo art, just like any other art, goes through cycles.

The Fashion of Fashion

Fashion is cyclical. At first, something is new and fresh – after the excessively large straight leg or bell-bottomed jeans of the 90s, the low-cut tight-fitting jeans of the 2000s were a refreshing new silhouette. This continued into the 2010s, where the waist got higher but the jeans remained tight, and then finally the pants relaxed in the later 2010s with the revival of ‘mom jeans’, which are jeans that are less tight and higher-waisted by design. While this wasn’t full out JNCO jeans level pants, it was a reference to earlier designs, a sort of remix, old and new together. You see these cyclical design choices everywhere, not just clothing, and what was tacky and outdated five or ten years ago will no longer be tacky in twenty!

The principles of designing a web page are also cyclical. Some things will always remain the same – hamburger menus have stayed in fashion the same way buttons on jeans do. Others are constantly in flux – font choices, color rules, and general ‘feel’ come and go just like colors and fit of denim do.

Minimalism

The web went through a period where everything cool was minimalist. Every design website suggested that a minimalist design was more professional, and so many small up and coming businesses kept things narrow, black-and-white, and hidden until moused over. This is in heavy contrast to the free-for-all of the 2000s, where websites could be neon pink with blue text and totally unreadable. Customers, understandably, did not want to stare at that while reading blog posts or debating what to buy, and so breakout websites that made things somewhat less painful to look at ended up flourishing.

Of course, just like any trend, people were doing things outside of it and alongside it that accomplished the goal of a readable website, so not everything was minimalist, and the definition of ‘minimalist’ in a totally new space isn’t the same way you’d define a minimalist website today, the same way mom jeans are not JNCOs or bell-bottoms even though they meet the criteria of ‘not-low-cuts’.

Where 2000s minimalism was ‘there are no images, the website is nearly entirely black and white text’, 2010s minimalism was ‘all the buttons are hidden, the background is one large image, and the text is almost unreadably narrow, except sometimes for serif text which has broad diagonal lines’. This is also difficult to read in a different way. While users may spend more time on this site, they’re going to be spending that time looking for the button they need because it’s hidden by design, to minimalize the site.

Chobanification

Understandably, users get sick of this taken to an extreme. Just like jeans, it is possible to design a website that’s too tight, that’s too minimal. Fashion tends to lean harder and harder into an idea, taking it to an extreme beyond recognition, until it either mutates or someone comes up with something totally new and counter-culture. Websites that dared to stray from minimalism without looking like the sites of the 90s and early 2000s become the trendsetters, and thus Cooper Black begins to take over. Cooper Black is a fairly well-known font – it’s the same font on the Chobani logo, and it’s one of the defaults for Microsoft Word. While not perfectly readable (especially when small) it’s easier to spot when it’s just floating in space thanks to the line weight.

Just as more relaxed jeans were a response to pants getting tighter and tighter, seemingly with no rhyme or reason, this wide text is a response to websites doing the same with ever thinner, ever taller Calibri sans serif fonts that disappear into nothing on small screens and mobile.

The only problem with Cooper Black is that it’s incredibly recognizable. A lot of the tall, narrow fonts used on minimalist websites look similar, but not exactly identical. Even if you can tell that they’re approximately the same, the font itself is so ultimately brandless that it’s not noticeable. Like jeans, as a generic term – jeans are made of denim, and most are a shade of blue. When Cooper Black comes swinging in, the shape of the individual letters beyond the thickness of the lines is an immediate tell for the font. It’s the equivalent of one designer using teal instead of the standard indigo blue for jeans, and everyone else replicating that exact shade of teal. And it’s a nice shade, there’s nothing wrong with it, but when it’s used everywhere alongside beige, it can get kind of repetitive. Small companies use it. Large companies use it. It’s got a kind of 60’s vibe to it thanks to the mild warping of the letters, which leads to it being used in a lot of ‘feel-good’ brands that advertise their products for self-care. It also calls to mind the décor of the 60’s, so people working with wood and leather can also use it without it feeling out of place. For as memorable and striking as Cooper Black is, it’s surprisingly versatile!

As a default font, it’s also more accessible than a number of professional fonts that could substitute it. For someone designing a brand logo for their microbusiness, the twenty dollars you’d have to spend on a font pack only to use exactly one of the fonts inside it is money that could have been saved with the use of Cooper Black.  

The Next Big Thing

Cooper Black rides a wave of non-minimalism in websites. It’s not obnoxious, but it’s not the same super-skinny fonts that came in reply to obnoxious websites. When people making their websites, logos, and other digital items get bored, I expect to see something thin and a little blocky come to the limelight in it’s place – cyclically, people aren’t going to go back to ultra-narrow, ultra-tall type fonts, but they may start using a similar font that’s less difficult to read in small sizes. Cooper Black hasn’t peaked, even though website designers and online denizens alike are beginning to notice how often it’s used.

F-Shaped Scanning

Elizabeth Technology June 2, 2022

Design

Web pages have many rigid requirements. Some things need to be at the top, no matter what, or the user won’t be able to find them, even if it doesn’t necessarily mesh with the vibe of the page. Others need to be at the bottom, but if the page is especially long, users may be tricked into thinking there’s no ‘bottom’ to the page – some blogging websites, for instance, allow for forever scrolling because it makes it easier for the user to just keep scrolling mindlessly.

Things like contact buttons need to be in multiple places for service sites, but may only be needed at the bottom for content sites (for legal reasons). Many service websites actually take it a step further and include a chat that automatically opens when the page loads. That, too, is subject to the concept of F-shaped scanning!

F-shaped scanning essentially says that a user is going to start at the top edge of whichever way their language reads. English readers start at the top left and move right, while in a language like Arabic, readers start at the right side and move left. Users then track titles, scrolling to keep the relevant title header or bullet point at or near the top of the page while reading. They also glance down to the next title or header, creating an F-shaped scanning pattern as they look from side to side.

The Search Bar

You may notice that Google puts its search bar left-of-center after searching. Most search websites follow this formula – it allows your eyes to continue straight down to the results. While not strictly necessary any more, when Google was just starting out, people didn’t know what to expect. You went straight to a website from an address you already knew, you didn’t have to search for it. It was alien. It had to be as user-friendly as possible to make itself viable against paper competitors like Yellow Pages.

This all makes sense, right? Yet Wikipedia puts the search bar on the right of the page, not the left. And where Google puts the search in the middle on Google’s home page, Wikipedia actually puts it near the bottom. Why?

In certain cases, familiarity and usefulness of a brand make it possible to break rules. Most everyone knows what Wikipedia is, so they’re willing to stay on-site for 2 more seconds to locate the search bar! For smaller businesses, they have an extremely short window to make their functionalities obvious. As in seconds. Sometimes not even that! If the customer has to search for the search bar, and the website isn’t an essential one, they may just up and leave!

Text Alignment

Most websites in English-speaking countries align their text to the right – meaning the text forms a flat line along the right side’s margin, and the left side is sort of deckled. Some books space the words so that both sides are flat, but that can look a little strange when there are three big words in a sentence and so the         w e b p a g e   o r   b o o k   h a s     t o     o v e r c o m p e n s a t e    to make the words fit in that format. That’s sort of a pitfall no matter which direction the language goes – if you want equal kerning, you can’t have straight lines on both sides of your text. Make the leading edge of your text straight, and it will only be off on one side.

Rarely, you’ll see the text centered in a page – this is a pretty distinctive look because it makes the sentences in the page more symmetrical, and highlights both the really long sentences and the really short ones. Commonly, you’ll see this on websites that are only one page long, and as such don’t need to gear themselves for long-term reading. IsMercuryInRetrograde.com is one of my favorite examples of the concept.

A factor that also needs to be considered is the margin. When you go to a professional news site like the New York Times, the margin is smaller on the left than it is on the right. This is because they’ve put their secondary links to the right of the page – you look there second (because of F-shaped scanning!) and they don’t want to distract you from the article you’re currently reading. Having a straight line next to the side you start reading from also helps you orient yourself to the paragraph. However, as you get further and further down into the article, it begins to look a little silly – there’s a large blank area on the right for no visible reason once you get past those links and ads.

The Atlantic, another news site, fixes this by making the margins equal and simply narrowing down the side-link area. Is it better? It’s more balanced, but now both sides have a chunk of white space, and while the text is not unreadably small, it is noticeably smaller than, say, Mozilla Firefox’s Pocket articles, which enlarge the font and still manage to get those related articles tabs in on the side.

Long story short: organize your website with the important stuff either right, or centered, up top!