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 POP LOSER No. 83

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Bad Taste Gained Ascendancy

I needed a kitchen show—something I could watch on an iPad while cooking or washing dishes on the days I’m fed up with baseball. I decided on The Office, which I’d seen before in pieces, but never all together. 

It’s fine. Legitimately funny, especially in its early seasons before the jokes run stale, and the Pam and Jim thing through the first three seasons is really great if you’re a big softy like me. But there’s one thing about The Office I hadn’t noticed before: Toby Flenderson.

Why doesn’t everyone talk about Toby Flenderson? 

Toby Flenderson, at least into season five, is the most tragic character in television. His pain and torment is Shakespearean. The slow burn on his Pam crush pays off in a small arc at the end of season four with his announcement he’s leaving and then his final episode. I think he’s gone one episode before he turns up in a hospital bed during a tag, and it’s so brilliant. From a meta aspect, it’s even more amazing that the character is temporarily written out to create a lazy in for Michael—Toby’s nemesis—to find a love interest thus setting up his own exit from the show. 

That the character quietly steals the show makes more sense when you know he’s played by the guy writing, directing and producing it. As fictional character Wikipedia entries go, Toby Flenderson is a great read

In “Get the Girl” Toby introduces himself to Nellie as Tony, to which Pam replies “You messed up saying your name?” He answers her by saying, “It happens, okay?”

I probably would have abandoned The Office as my kitchen show by now—like I said, it gets a bit stale as shows with so many episodes do—except now I’m all in on Toby. 

I love him. 
 

CONFUSIONS

YouTube advertisers recently decided they didn’t necessarily want their ads appearing on racist or sexist videos and YouTube thought, “That’s fair.” So they made some quick and sweeping changes, leaving a lot of YouTubers who aren’t making sexist and racist videos with severely reduced revenue.

Last month Google—YouTube’s owner—announced a range of “ expanded safeguards for advertisers ” in the wake of mounting complaints from the likes of AT&T, Walmart and the British government , all of whom staged a boycott of advertising on the platform after their ads appeared next to offensive and in some cases extremist content (in some cases terrorist recruitment videos or KKK propaganda). In rectifying the situation, Google made it easy for brands to pull their advertising from content that was “potentially objectionable,” leading to a huge drop in income for creators whose videos did not fit into the safest content bracket, a group including political talk shows and many comedians.

​The YouTube wrestling community—which is weirdly vibrant—is one of the groups to take the hit.

Early in YouTube’s life, the platform became an outpost for fans to upload classic footage from their videotape collections that never saw an official commercial release. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the biggest wrestling company in the world, eventually started to aggressively exploit the platform, posting highlights of its TV shows within an hour of them airing. As a result, WWE regularly found itself ranked among the top five YouTube channels in terms of views.

In the meantime, promoters like Drew Cordeiro, owner of New England-based Beyond Wrestling, saw YouTube ad revenue as a way to grow his bottom line—a bottom line that, unlike Vince McMahon’s WWE, wasn’t buttressed by millions of dollars in television rights fees.

And now thanks to YouTube’s sudden about-face as to what constitutes “advertiser-friendly” content, Cordeiro finds himself at a crossroads.

This isn’t so different than media companies trying to play on Facebook and finding it difficult to keep up. If you don’t control the platform and you don’t sell the ad space and you don’t even really understand the rules or algorithm, well, at some point your awesome business venture is going to eat it.

Also: YouTube redesigned.


Facebook will kill us all.

If it’s an exaggeration to say that News Feed has become the most influential source of information in the history of civilization, it is only slightly so. Facebook created News Feed in 2006 to solve a problem: In the social-media age, people suddenly had too many friends to keep up with. At the time, Facebook was just a collection of profiles, lacking any kind of central organization. To figure out what any of your connections were up to, you had to visit each of their profiles to see if anything had changed. News Feed fixed that. Every time you open Facebook, it hunts through the network, collecting every post from every connection — information that, for most Facebook users, would be too overwhelming to process themselves. Then it weighs the merits of each post before presenting you with a feed sorted in order of importance: a hyperpersonalized front page designed just for you.
[…]
The people who work on News Feed aren’t making decisions that turn on fuzzy human ideas like ethics, judgment, intuition or seniority. They are concerned only with quantifiable outcomes about people’s actions on the site. That data, at Facebook, is the only real truth. And it is a particular kind of truth: The News Feed team’s ultimate mission is to figure out what users want — what they find “meaningful,” to use Cox and Zuckerberg’s preferred term — and to give them more of that.

And: Seriously. It’s getting a little too this-is-the-backstory-in-distopian-novels for me.

Some of the snippets from the report include how Facebook can determine when young people are interested in “looking good and body confidence” or “working out and losing weight.” While that’s handy for targeting ads, Facebook’s algorithms can also determine in real time “moments when young people need a confidence boost.” According to the report, the document claims, “Monday-Thursday is about building confidence” and “anticipatory emotions;” the weekend is for broadcasting achievements” and “reflective emotions.”

Related: Instagram might be the next Facebook. So Facebook is probably happy they spent $1 billion on it.

Instagram has thus triggered an echo — it feels like Facebook. More precisely, it feels the way Facebook did from 2009 to 2012, when it silently crossed over from one of those tech things that some people sometimes did to one of those tech things that everyone you know does every day.


Can publishers ever win when it isn’t even their fight?

Yet much of the social media action around news publishing, touted as earnest effort and welcomed by publishers, is just a boxing match between social giants vying for users and attention. Can publishers win in a fight that isn’t really about them?


I hated that Heineken ad making the rounds two weeks ago because I hate any ad that tries to play on your feelsies just to flog something. It made me yell “Oh, Fuck You!” at my laptop. This is a more articulate review of how terrible it really is.

The commercial ends with everyone smiling and laughing over their bigotry and diminished humanity. And just like in real life, cis white women don’t even bother to show up. Cue the sound of liberals furiously masturbating to the idea that terrible white men and marginalized folks can get along if only they spent more time building Ikea furniture and drinking European Coor’s Light.

This commercial is the worst type of propaganda.


I wrote an optimistic thing about the Internet.

I say this with all the irony my white male privilege can muster, but I’m tired. Maybe we made a mistake.


This is the dream: a single device that does it all and is entirely context aware. That we haven’t got there yet seems to be a failure of imagination; a classic "yesterday’s answers to today’s questions” situation (which is how McLuhan described politics, but apt here).

Just for kicks, imagine the alternate universe where the Foleo was a smashing success. You might wake up in the morning, snatch your phone off its charging dock, and plug it into your TV to watch the morning news while you get ready. Once you got to the office, you’d drop it into your workstation, where you’d have a dormant mouse, keyboard, and monitor waiting to be activated. You could throw presentations from your phone onto a TV using the dock on the conference room table. Starbucks might have a dozen docks in every store for aspiring screenwriters. You’d buy one incredible device, with all the power you need, that breathes life into all others.

Even a decade later, which is several eons in tech years, plenty of companies and developers believe in this idea. They see a generation of people coming online with no experience or need for traditional computers, who might be interested in an inexpensive keyboard and screen that draw power and intelligence from your all-powerful smartphone. Others say nobody cares, that people are happy with both a laptop and a smartphone, and that combining them is a waste of engineering effort. But a few people, including some of the folks who have been working on this stuff the longest, say they’ve been solving the wrong problem this whole time. Docking your phone into a laptop isn’t the point. The point is to remove the borders between our gadgets, to make them all work together. To turn every screen, keyboard, and surface into exactly the gadget you need, for exactly as long as you need it.


This scathing review of Michael Harris’s new book about an Andrew Sullivan essay is an absolute delight.

Let me save you the trouble of skipping down to the last paragraph to see what I really think about Michael Harris’s Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World: This book is worthless, culturally oblivious and rhetorically inert. If I’d read it on paper, I’d say it was a waste of paper, but I read an advance digital copy, so let me go a step further and say it was a waste of pixels.


The media bubble is real and the Internet is making it worse.

This isn’t just a shift in medium. It’s also a shift in sociopolitics, and a radical one. Where newspaper jobs are spread nationwide, internet jobs are not: Today, 73 percent of all internet publishing jobs are concentrated in either the Boston-New York-Washington-Richmond corridor or the West Coast crescent that runs from Seattle to San Diego and on to Phoenix. The Chicagoland area, a traditional media center, captures 5 percent of the jobs, with a paltry 22 percent going to the rest of the country. And almost all the real growth of internet publishing is happening outside the heartland, in just a few urban counties, all places that voted for Clinton. So when your conservative friends use “media” as a synonym for “coastal” and “liberal,” they’re not far off the mark.


The Netflix heist is a stark example of how far we’ve come with digital content. I kind of love that their response to the hackers’ threat of releasing OITNB on torrent sites was “LOL! Go ahead.”

It must have seemed like such a good bet, as far as extortion attempts go. Steal one of Netflix’s prized original series months before it’s slated to air, and shake the streaming company down under threat of releasing it. But as season five of Orange Is the New Black’s recent appearance on torrenting site The Pirate Bay shows, it was a crime destined for failure, because it misunderstood how streaming—and the internet at large—works today.


The power of the Spotify playlist.

The song owes much of its success to Spotify playlists. These playlists, created by individual users or Spotify “editors,” form the curated labyrinth through which Spotify can lead an artist or song from obscurity to mass appeal. Think of it as the moneyball of music, a ruthlessly data-driven approach to introducing listeners to songs. Just as Facebook loves rolling out new features to a tiny subset of its users, killing what doesn’t work and expanding on what does, Spotify considers every track a beta test. Nick Holmsten, the service’s head of shows and editorial, claims he could dig into the data and tell you which new song will be a hit in six months. He declined to prove it, but says his team certainly saw “Call on Me” coming.


How Check Your Head made the Beastie Boys.

Even more than its audacious predecessor, Check Your Head presented an ambitious vision of a group who were still best known for a handful of novelty hits. Where Paul’s Boutique and, to a lesser extent, Licensed to Ill derived their thrills from the head-snapping sampling, they were both recognizable as hip-hop albums of their era; Ill is simpatico with contemporary records from the Beasties’ tourmates in Run-D.M.C., and Paul’s Boutique was released three months after De La Soul brought psychedelia to hip-hop with 3 Feet High and Rising (“Here we were trying to make something really creative and out-there, and we felt like, ‘Fuck, these guys beat us to it,’” Diamond says). Check Your Head, though, asks more of its listeners—a particularly bold move given that the band didn’t know whether they had any listeners left. It shoves muddy, overdriven hip-hop rapped through several layers of vocal distortion against hardcore pastiche and the kind of organ jazz you’d imagine hearing at someone’s lounge-age bachelor pad.


For the second time in a month, someone takes a look at the amazing promise and profound disappointment of Google Books.

When the library at Alexandria burned it was said to be an “international catastrophe.” When the most significant humanities project of our time was dismantled in court, the scholars, archivists, and librarians who’d had a hand in its undoing breathed a sigh of relief, for they believed, at the time, that they had narrowly averted disaster.


Is the gig economy working? I think that it is not.

The American workplace is both a seat of national identity and a site of chronic upheaval and shame. The industry that drove America’s rise in the nineteenth century was often inhumane. The twentieth-century corrective—a corporate workplace of rules, hierarchies, collective bargaining, triplicate forms—brought its own unfairnesses. Gigging reflects the endlessly personalizable values of our own era, but its social effects, untried by time, remain uncertain.


What we lose if we lose Us Weekly.

The very nature of the kind of celebrity Us trades in is changing too, with the traditional Hollywood A-listers replaced on its covers by a rotating cast of reality-TV stars and Kardashians. Sometimes “even 10 years ago, there was the idea that celebrities were bigger celebrities if they walled themselves off, if they kept themselves private and there was mystery about them,” Fuller, told The Ringer last year. “But fans today don’t want mystery. They want to know it all.” As the idea of “celebrity” changed—predominantly due to the rise of reality television and social media—Us Weekly changed right along with it. Instead of resorting to filling its pages with recycled rumors printed by its competition, it would come up with creative ways to skirt what could only be considered a “lack of access.”

Also: Brio, a Christian teen girl magazine, is back.

Teenage girls who dislike the frank sexuality of Cosmopolitan and the left-leaning politics of Teen Vogue but still want a magazine to give them tips on fashion and hairstyles (not to mention advice on abstinence) are in luck. This month Focus on the Family has relaunched Brio, a glossy teen magazine shut down in 2009.


The world is a message board and that’s probably bad.

Whatever else the alt-right is, it is a movement born and incubated on the internet, and it couldn’t have existed without that technology. Circulation, discussion, and debate are oxygen to political ideas. Commercial and social mechanisms like “the cost of owning a printing press” and “No one will invite you to parties if you openly praise Hitler” traditionally cut off extreme thinkers from mass circulation. Now, though, you can reproduce your ideas essentially infinitely, for prices so low as to be effectively free, and suffer no ill social effect. In fact, online, toxic ideas are more likely to get attention and social capital (plus, thanks to programmatic ad networks, real capital) that goes along with attention.


Podcasting: the last refuge for shitty people.

The solution, of course, would be for all of us to simply not listen to O’Reilly or Ghomeshi’s new podcasts, and you shouldn’t—not only because of the allegations leveled at both men, but also because the shows are pretty bad. I, however, listened to them so that you don’t have to.


FitBigot.

Are you looking for a device to count the number of backward steps we’ve taken as individuals and as a society? Well, look no further: FitBigot’s new line of regression trackers will keep you comfortably aware of how far we haven’t come.

By measuring your heart rate, sleep patterns, microaggressions, regular-sized aggressions, sexist Slack messages, and drunken racial slurs, FitBigot measures how closely you resemble a Confederate soldier, or if you’re motivated, an editor at the National Review.


This is ridiculously long but compelling: our collective misremembering of James T. Kirk.

Why am I bothering to make this argument again, if Womanising Kirk has already been exposed as some nonsense? Because the facts have not yet displaced patently incorrect common knowledge, and because I think there are reasons why they haven’t. These misreadings are supported by a subterranean network of ideas about masculinity, pop culture, and the past that consistently reinforce them, hitting refresh on these dank memes. I don’t think all the connections have been made here, and all the implications unfolded.


Waste more time. It’s good for you.

There will always be an endless list of chores to complete and work to do, and a culture of relentless productivity tells us to get to it right away and feel terribly guilty about any time wasted. But the truth is, a life spent dutifully responding to emails is a dull one indeed. And “wasted” time is, in fact, highly fulfilling and necessary.


I got a Switch—my first console in about a decade. I think the best way to enjoy video games is to only play them every ten years or so, when you’ll spend a lot of time simply marvelling at the advancements. That new Zelda game is a hell of a thing. I’ve spent hours trying to hunt frogs and bugs because I can. Anyway, Nintendo’s whole business is really weird.

Strong sales are good news for Nintendo, a company that always feels like it’s one big mistake away from total obsolescence. But if you’re a gamer who expects a major industry player to make its products readily available in this modern era of digital convenience, you’re probably annoyed that the company’s distribution strategy has become a perpetual game of cat-and-mouse. My colleague Jason Concepcion captured the appropriate reaction to any new Nintendo product announcement with this concise assessment: “Nintendo’s business model is a scam but also I want this.”


The current socio-economics of coffee.

Coffee, like craft beer or bourbon, has taken on material significance, and has become another status symbol. It’s still good to the last drop, but it’s becoming increasingly more important to coffee drinkers that the beans were grown and harvested in a sustainable manner, which is why so many of us are happy to hand over $4 for a mug, or upwards of $20 a pound, for our daily “fix” of what is really just heated water and ground coffee beans. A delineation appeared to accompany this shift: the Blue Bottle snobs who look down upon the Folgers drinkers.


The famous chaise lounge that keeps turning up in porn.

What do Le Corbusier and the 2005 porno Slut Puppies have in common?

One very curvaceous chair, the LC4 Chaise Lounge, a design icon of the 20th century apparently so comfortable and sleek it has cameos in hundreds of very, very NSFW adult flicks.


Feeld is a dating add-on for Slack. I use Slack at work and for fantasy baseball… so… hrm. (Also, I’m married.) This seems like a really terrible idea.

Feeld, a dating app originally created for threesomes, has created “Feeld for Slack“—a bot that allows employees to share who they have a crush on.

The goal of all technology is to get people laid.

Related: I am a Tinder guy holding a fish.

I excel in many areas. Working out, for instance. In this picture I display for you my abdomen. Abdomens are important for fishing excursions and mirror selfies, such as this one. I flex for you. What do you think?

I will provide you with many orgasms and sea bass.
 

INTERPLAYS

Obits: Jonathan Demme (watch his weird 80’s sitcom episode) and Hubert L. Dreyfus. Buy John Lennon’s Sgt. Pepper’s cover sketch. The Museum of Failure. Science Fiction Interfaces.  Notes from a News Stand . Princess Leia’s stolen Death Star plans. Trailers: 47 Meters Down, Ingrid Goes West, Ear Buds and Blade Runner 2049. IKEA catalog covers. 100 Million Books. Mnemonic Generator. The Thing: The Game.
 

PROPOGANDA

My Life As a Failed Artist // Vulture
Decades after giving up the dream for good, an art critic returns to the work he’d devoted his life to, then abandoned — but never really forgot.

The Frogger Delusion // Beyond the Robot
How an ’80s video game disproves scientific materialism. 

The Story of NESticle, the Ambitious Emulator That Redefined Retro Gaming // Motherboard
The product of a talented programmer who designed a hit shareware game while he was still in high school, NESticle was so good that everyone looked past the fact its name was basically a dick joke.

The Grunge Music Scene Has a Serious Problem With Sexism // This
While Kurt Cobain steals the media spotlight this April, the month of his death anniversary, you’d be hard pressed to find any news about comparable female acts. 

Wu-Tang Forever: The Making And The Breaking Of The Clan // The Quietus
Angus Batey looks back 20 years to the album that came at the end of the Wu-Tang Clan’s five year plan and asks, What went wrong?

The Love and Terror of Nick Cave // GQ
For four decades, Nick Cave has been at the edge of music, putting his spin on everything from punk rock to lovesick ballads—much of it with his band the Bad Seeds—assembling a body of work that is astonishing for its range, power, and feeling. Then unspeakable tragedy and grief had their way with him, and his music had to change yet again.

Literature’s Arctic Obsession // The New Yorker
The greatest writers of the nineteenth century were drawn to the North Pole. What did they hope to find there?

Fighting With Their Fists to Put a Period in a Basket // n+1
The wee baby Oscar is to be baptized this week. Such is why I’ve returned to the Bay Area: My nephew is to be marked with the water, marked as Catholic, indelibly—the tracking chip implanted, the guilt ineluctable, welcome to the fold, little homie, hair shirt to follow. The celebration is later this week, but I’m at my parents’ apartment now. There is playoff hockey on the flatscreen, fine and large.

The Unbearable Wrongness of Gwyneth Paltrow // The Outline
On her website Goop, actress-turned-lifestyle maven Gwyneth Paltrow dispenses alternative health advice for the upper-class Los Angeleno set with the certain something that could only come from someone who is just another woman trying to manage multiple homes.

 

“With the breakdown of the Medieval system, the gods of Chaos, Lunacy, and Bad Taste gained ascendancy.” 
John Kennedy Toole


Pop Loser is a weekly newsletter of innumerable confusions collected and written by Tyler Hellard.

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