Arrogance Persevering

Thoughts about jackasses on the internet and how much of my life I’ve wasted responding to them.

Yet another thing that I have to thank WandaVision for: maybe I can finally stop feeling the need to respond to arrogant dipshits on the internet? Last week’s excellent episode had an extremely well-written and well-performed scene in which Vision reminded a grieving Wanda that what she was feeling wasn’t just sorrow and emptiness. “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

An objectively good line in an objectively good scene in an objectively good show. ‘Nuff said!

Except Twitter’s gonna Twit, so the whole weekend was filled with some people gushing about what a well-written moment that was… followed by an assload of trolls, snobs, condescending misogynist dolts, insufferable anti-corporate twits, and generally arrogant an awful people mocking it — and the series as a whole — as being insultingly beneath them.

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Spoiler Warning: Human Beings Continue to Disappoint

When I first heard that Disney+ was going to release its original series as real series, meaning waiting a week between episodes instead of dumping an entire season online at once, I was very happy to hear it. The Netflix model makes sense for what they’re trying to do — be a repository for hours and hours and hours of programming available whenever you want it — but it turns out that even in the over-stimulated 21st century, there’s a lot to be said for that week of speculation and anticipation between episodes. It feels more like a shared communal experience.

Or at least, it would feel like that, if there weren’t so many selfish a-holes out there.

As much as I’ve been loving The Mandalorian, I’m not watching new episodes at midnight the night before a new episode is released. But I’ve seen people not even waiting an hour to start posting spoilers online.

Now granted, I didn’t see many direct spoilers, probably because I’ve managed to weed out the worst offenders from my social media by now. But there were enough people proud of themselves for talking around the spoilers that by the time I watched the episode at a reasonable time tonight, I already had a rough idea of what was going to happen.1The biggest spoiler was a coy, roundabout tweet from one of the guest stars of the episode, which more or less revealed that they were going to be a guest star of the episode. It reminded me of The Crying Game, when I’d seen so many people so deliberately talking around the spoiler that I could tell what the spoiler was within a few minutes.

Most surprising to me, though, was how many people I saw on Twitter defending their right to post whatever they want. “If you don’t want to be spoiled, you shouldn’t be on Twitter!” was the claim. One particularly asinine person started mocking somebody who was complaining about spoilers, then said that if you’re reading Twitter in the morning you’re clearly not working, so you could just as well be watching the episode. Because taking two minutes to scroll through Twitter at work is exactly the same as taking 45 minutes to watch television during work, I guess.

I started to break my read-only policy to call the guy out for not only being stupid, but also being such a jack-ass that he’d go out of his way to defend carelessly and selfishly ruining the experience for other people, instead of showing the barest minimum amount of consideration by demonstrating the barest minimum amount of impulse control for a couple of hours until everyone got a chance to watch it. But then I realized three things.

One is that the people I was about to yell at were people I didn’t know, and one of them is apparently a contributor to a notoriously asinine Disney “news” site, so I had no idea why I’d been following them in the first place.

Two was that once someone’s selfishness has gotten to that point, calling them out on it isn’t going to have any effect at all. If there’s ever any question, the best course of action is always to block them and move on.

And lastly, no matter how selfish their intention, their advice was “you shouldn’t be on Twitter.” Which is impossible to argue with.

Apart from just bitching about a social media platform I should never have signed back onto, this also has me wondering about building anticipation and buzz and community when distribution gets wider and audiences get more and more fractured. The Mandalorian in particular has been, since its first episode, full of revelations that it’s tried to keep under wraps. Surprisingly, it’s succeeded more often than not. Obviously, people are super-eager to talk about it, or there wouldn’t be so many people eager to spoil it, so they’ve built (and earned) a dedicated audience. I’d be interested to see if there are ways to preserve that communal experience of the old broadcast TV days, that don’t just depend on people not being jerks.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Stupid Pet Tricks

How people raised on 80s TV can’t reliably distinguish between real and fake, and why it’s even worse now.

While I was trying to figure out how Dolly Parton manages to achieve near-sainthood in such a cold and nasty world, I kept spinning off on tangents thinking about how much we’ve gone astray from putting value in — or even recognizing — sincerity and authenticity.

My take on Dolly Parton’s magic is that she doesn’t make a distinction between the “real” Dolly and the one that’s on-stage. For a lot of people, being “on” all the time means that they’re always insincere, but Dolly uses it as permission to always be sincere.1The saying goes: “Working from home doesn’t mean you’re always at home, it means you’re always at work.” But at least in my own experience, it also means that you’re always at home, which is nice both for unexpected napping and for knowing what to expect every day.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more it annoys me that my generation is the one that took all the earnest sincerity of the 1970s, said “Nah, that shit’s too fake and corny,” and sent American culture into a decades-long death spiral of self-satisfied, sarcastic, self-awareness. Post-modernism obviously wasn’t invented in the 1980s, but the 80s and 90s are what took it mainstream and then ran it into the ground.

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I Don’t Think You’re Ready For This Player

How the book Ready Player Two could be a teachable moment for the internet.

At least Demi Adejuyigbe managed to channel his disappointment into a song.

The sequel to the book Ready Player One has apparently been released, which is news I’ve been told repeatedly for some reason. It’s a book that I’ve now read several passages from, despite having no interest in reading any of it.

Not long after the first book was released, I got a copy of it (and the audiobook!) based on the hype around it. But I realized it was not for me — or more accurately, it was 100,000% “for” me, but I didn’t want it — as soon as I’d read an excerpt from the first chapter. In a correctly-functioning universe, that should’ve been the beginning and end of my awareness of this series and the works of Ernest Cline in general.

But I haven’t been able to escape the new book. Not because of a marketing blitz, but because I can’t turn around on the internet without running into someone eager to dunk on it. And the same people who spend most of their time saying “just let people enjoy things” are now double plus eager to show how funny their snarky comments are.1For all I know, maybe that is part of the marketing blitz? Are publishers cynical enough these days to be investing in hate-reading campaigns?

Don’t we have better things to do? I mean, I recognize the irony in writing a blog post to say how much I don’t care about something, but I’m not convinced that everyone is self-aware enough to really understand the irony. And while it’d be a lot simpler just to say “That’s stupid, stop doing it,” followed immediately by deleting my Twitter account for good, this seems like a perfect opportunity to ask people to just try and be better.

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More to See Than Can Ever Be Seen

Breaking away from toxic social media by actively choosing to make better use of your time

Stay home this holiday season, or you could find yourself on a flight like this.

Yesterday I woke up with “Circle of Life” from The Lion King going through my head. In particular, the part of the first verse, that goes: “There’s more to see that can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done.”

What stood out to me was the irony of it: it’s ostensibly a celebration of the infinite potential of adventure and discovery, but I’ve never heard it as such, because I’ve heard it so many hundreds of times that it’s become background music. Usually, background music during a trip to a Disney park I’ve already seen dozens if not hundreds of times.

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Peaches & Nougat

Recommending Adam Ragusea’s YouTube channel, which I’m only now discovering for some reason.

It seems a little absurd to be promoting a YouTube channel with over one million followers, on a blog that gets 30 views on a high-traffic day. But if I’m only just now discovering Adam Ragusea’s channel, with its being perfectly suited to so many of my interests, then I figure it’s likely other people haven’t, either.

Ragusea is a former journalism professor with infuriatingly good hair, who lives in Macon, Georgia and makes videos about recipes, food science, and food history. Every one of these could’ve made me a subscriber, but The Algorithm didn’t deem his channel relevant until it offered a video asking Is Washing Rice Really Still Necessary? (His finding: frequently not).

But the rest of the videos get gradually more interesting, at least to me as a hapless cook who loves collecting not-entirely-useful information. What’s the real reason billions of people refuse to eat pork? (It’s probably not trichinosis). Why do some people think Hershey chocolate tastes like vomit? (Soured milk). WTF Is Nougat? (Whipped sugar, but it’s surprisingly more complicated).

The one that really got me hooked was about Georgia’s association with peaches. I’ve known since I was a teenager that calling it the Peach State didn’t make sense, since pecans and peanuts (among others) were always bigger crops. This video explains — using The Georgia Peach by William Thomas Okie as a primary reference — that it was essentially a post-Civil War branding campaign. (It also explains why I never saw many peaches on the drive down to Florida; they need cooler weather, which is why they’re mostly grown closer to South Carolina).

I haven’t tried any of his recipe videos yet, but the one for easy Chana masala seems like a no-brainer for someone like me, who’s intimidated by the complexity of Indian food. Edited: I’ve tried the easy version of the recipe. It’s… fine. Nothing special, but considering how stupid easy it is to make, it’s fine.

I’ve long been interested in stuff like SciShow, Mental Floss, and The Straight Dope, which have all tried (to one degree or another) to make factual information entertaining. Now more than ever, it’s reassuring and even calming to watch something that acknowledges it can be fun to learn things. Ragusea’s opinionated, but pragmatic and non-prescriptive above all else, so I can’t imagine him ever making a proclamation like “no unitaskers in the kitchen.” Until that happens, I’m getting a kick out of nerding out about food.

The Josh Gad Test

A fun and easy personality test for citizens of the Internet

Everyone on the internet loves to take personality quizzes, and that’s why I’ve devised a simple and fun one that can determine what kind of person you are. It should take less than 30 minutes to complete, but will open new windows into your own self-awareness that could result in a lifetime’s worth of benefits!

The Josh Gad Test

Question 1:
Do you have a strong opinion, positive or negative, about actor, producer, and media personality Josh Gad?

Evaluation

That’s it, that’s the test. If you answered “no,” “not really,” or “who?” you have passed. If you answered “yes,” I’m afraid that you’ve failed. Please see me after class.

Disclaimer: friends and relatives of Mr Gad are obviously exempt from the test, as are entertainment industry professionals who have a vested interest in his career. If you fall into one of those categories, feel free to substitute Jason Segel.

Methodology

I am neither a trained nor licensed psychoanalyst, but I hit the epiphany that resulted in this test while watching the 2014 music video “Can You Do This” by Aloe Blacc. I’d intended just to listen to an Apple Music-ad-friendly pop hit from a few years ago, and enjoy some product placement for Beats headphones. I had completely forgotten the video’s framing device and its surprising reliance on the woman from The Big Bang Theory1Her name is Kelly Cuoco, and I honestly mean no disrespect when I say that I can never remember her name without looking it up. and Mr. Gad playing a newly married couple.

My first reaction was boy, that sure hasn’t aged well! My second reaction was, wait a second, where did that first reaction come from? I’d somehow internalized the idea that I’m not supposed to like Josh Gad, but it was as if the idea had been inserted into my brain, via post-hypnotic suggestion, or possible alien abduction.

I don’t actually have an opinion one way or the other about Mr. Gad. I love Olaf, of course, because everybody loves Olaf, and the two Frozen movies are perfectly charming, and they have exceptional voice talent across the board. I’ve seen very little of his other work, I have no idea of any political activism or charity work, and I know of him mainly through his numerous promotional appearances, where he plays an abrasive-but-inoffensively-hapless version of himself. I have no reason to dislike the man. (Or particularly like him, either — my irrational goodwill towards celebrities I will never meet is limited to a small group including Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda).

But wait, some people might be saying, wasn’t he in a movie in which he made a tunnel through the ground by shitting out dirt as he ate it? And that would be a fair point, except that the little boys to whom that movie was aggressively pandering just love stuff like that.2Also, I must point out, Mr. Gad most likely was not actually shitting out dirt during his performance. But I can’t fault the CG artists either, for performing the jobs they were assigned.

I’ve been trying to think back to what could’ve planted the idea that it wasn’t cool to like Josh Gad anymore. The only solid thing I can remember is a podcast I used to listen to, which was ostensibly just a few fans of Disney parks chatting about their favorite attractions. In one episode they were talking about a promo that Disney had shot to tease the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, in which Gad played his abrasive self trying to sneak past a guard into the new land. The hosts of this podcast were decidedly not fans. I remember them making several comments about how awful and cringe-worthy the bit was. It stood out in my mind because it had never occurred to me that anyone could have that strong an opinion against Josh Gad. The video had been pretty much on par with the usual level of corniness that’s in every Disney promo; they’re corny by design. So at the time, I just dismissed the grumbling as the kind of thing that people who live in LA say.

But it’s come back especially strong today, because I’ve spent the bulk of the day looking for new music online, and I’ve seen so many people producing so much creativity: music, music videos, short films, short documentaries, educational films, animation, and tutorials. And then I stopped and read Twitter for a bit, and it actually made me miss the level of discourse that I’d been seeing in YouTube comments.

For the first time in a long time, my reaction to Twitter wasn’t to notice how mean and destructive it is, but how empty it is.

I’m not making a bold claim when I say that Twitter is bad, but I tend to think of it as a stream of toxic garbage that’s occasionally punctuated by a bit of useful news, or a clever gag. Even dragging someone — when they deserve it — can require a bit of inspiration to word it exactly the right way. But now I’m just thinking of all the times I saw professional comedy writers, many of them people whose work I adore, tweet out variations of A fly just landed on Mike Pence because flies are attracted to shit. It’s made me remember all the times I agonized over a joke, worried that it wasn’t original enough or funny enough, and I want all that time back. I used to fret that Twitter was full of Mean Girls, but now I think it’s more accurate to say it’s full of hacks.I can’t even enjoy the takedowns of Trump & his supporters anymore, since they’re all so lazy. 3So many people amplify “The Lincoln Project” as if it were insightful, instead of just a bunch of people wanting a return to the glory days of Reagan and Bush and having enough money to spend on hacky videos.

Tonight on Twitter, many of the same people who’ve spent months insisting that “cancel culture doesn’t exist” are participating in threads about how much Chris Pratt sucks and trying to come up with political justifications for it, instead of just acknowledging it as pointless celebrity gossip. And if I feel like I’ve wasted too much of my precious time here on Earth reading it, what does that say about the people writing it?

Conclusion

Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what point I’m trying to make. It’s not just a simplistic plea that we should focus on “positivity,” or saying that Twitter sucks, although both are true to some degree. Maybe I’m saying just let people enjoy things? Be more conscious of the energy you’re putting out into the world? Learn to amplify the things you love and ignore the things you don’t? If you feel the need to justify what you’re saying as “punching up” vs “punching down,” maybe you should take a step back and wonder why you think of social engagement in terms of “punching?” If you have a choice between being cool or being kind, choose kindness or STFU?

I often become acutely aware that I’ve spent more times talking about things that other people have made, than making things myself. That’s not entirely bad, since engaging with art and entertainment is an important part of the process, and I’m most often trying to parse it myself rather than explain it to anyone else. But there’s always a point where it feels like I’m taking more from the world than I’m giving to it. I wish we all, myself included, could be more mindful of how much we gradually chip away at our own souls when we engage in seemingly harmless acts of pointless pettiness.

Meanwhile, 2020 is the year I’ve been more aware of my own mortality than ever before, and I still chose to spend 10 minutes of my time left making a YouTube thumbnail-style image of Josh Gad instead of being productive on my own projects, because I thought it would be mildly funny. So what the hell do I know?

Edited to Add

I wrote this last night and scheduled it to be posted this afternoon. I was unaware that a columnist for The New Yorker would be caught accidentally exposing himself on a Zoom conference call with coworkers. Resulting in a constant stream of variations on the same three obvious jokes,4I do have to admit that riffs on The New Yorker’s umlauts are kind of clever. “Zoom Dick” as a trending topic, and several accusations that it was intentional. So, hooray for humanity, I guess?

Crêpes of Wrath

Food Network chefs hate me for sharing this one weird trick

This video of Chef Jacques Pépin explaining how to make crêpes is a game changer. It’s simple, easy, only takes a few minutes, and the results are delicious. Turns out that if you want to learn how to make something, going to the person who is famous for making them is a good idea.

Even if you don’t feel like making them, it’s just fun to hear him say “crêpe” over and over again.

I’ve tried making them before, with recipes from Epicurious, Bon Apetit, Alton Brown via the Food Network, and various random let-me-tell-you-my-life-story-before-I-get-to-the-recipe blogs, and the results have ranged from “inedible” to “unremarkable and definitely not worth the effort.” The consensus online seems to be that making crepes requires a blender and at least a couple of hours, at which point you have to wonder who’s got that kind of time. Pépin’s method is so simple and straightforward that I can finally see the appeal.

The other cool thing about Pépin’s video is that it shows crepes can easy to make and easy to serve. For years there’s been such a proliferation of crepe restaurants around the Bay Area, that I just kind assumed you had to go crazy with bananas and strawberries and whipped cream and ham and cheese and greens, and if you’re not stuffing them with tons of food, are you even making crepes at all? But as it turns out, nothing but a spoonful of jelly and a sprinkle of sugar afterwards is beyond perfect.

I feel like Food Network and the proliferation of cooking shows created an arms race where home cooking had to make for interesting programming instead of good food. I like the idea of getting back to keeping it simple. Frankly, I think I got steered down a bad path by Alton Brown, who I finally realized is a lot better at being a TV personality than any kind of authority on food. The “multi-taskers” cult are free to come at me.

An important and dire warning: I can only endorse the recipe in the above video. The first time I tried it, it was super-easy and the results were fantastic. There’s at least one variant of an “official” Jacques Pépin recipe for crêpes going around that I’ve tried three times so far with no success. If it includes any vegetable or canola oil, the results come out less like crepes and more like those “movie magic” shows where a makeup artist is preparing a prosthetic. They’re rubbery and oily; you can see them in the pan just sweating oil.

I spend most of my time these days watching Disney & Universal YouTubers going through the parks, and everybody’s been raving about a new crepe stand that opened at Universal Studios. I get a craving every time I see them, so now I can sit back and pretend I’m in Orlando. All I’d need is a bunch of heat lamps and someone telling me over and over that I can’t ride anything because I’m too fat.1From eating crêpes.

Habitat and the MADE

I learned from a video from NoClip the disappointing (but not surprising, unfortunately) news that the Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment here has had to leave its building in Oakland. They’re looking for donations, and have started a Patreon, to find a new home post-COVID. The thing that stood out in that video was the reference to Habitat, the first massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

I was extremely into QuantumLink in the early 80s, and in retrospect, it was probably the beginnings of my not-entirely-healthy relationship with social platforms on the internet. 1It also charged by the minute, which led to one of the only times I got into serious trouble as a teenager. Habitat was near legendary. It sounded like the coolest concept ever! It was being made by the company that made Star Wars games! And it always seemed to be just about to come out, any month now.

I never got to actually play it, as I stopped using QuantumLink before I ever got a chance to. I’m still not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing. Knowing how obsessed I got with LucasArts adventure games later on, it seems like I would’ve spent entirely too much of my parents’ money on it and burned out on video games altogether. Or maybe I would’ve known back in the 80s that I wanted to work in games, instead of a decade and three college majors later. In retrospect, even the biggest Q-Link bill was probably cheaper than a year of film school.

Mundane Observations from a Recovering Social Media Addict

Remember when people used to write blogs?

Before Twitter and Facebook arrived to make billions of dollars by making people sad, fearful, and poorly informed, my internet oversharing platform of choice was the Straight Dope Message Boards. The Straight Dope was a newspaper column that gave genuine, researched (if not entirely respectful) answers to reader-submitted questions about any conceivable topic. The message boards started as a forum for more detailed conversation about the columns, but by the time I’d arrived, had already developed into a solid and surprisingly supportive community of pedantic nerds like myself.

My favorite section of the boards was called “Mundane Pointless Stuff I Must Share.” It was for pretty much any topic you wanted, with the explicit acknowledgement that it didn’t have to be worthy of conversation with hundreds or thousands of other people. It didn’t even need to be all that interesting. In 2020, that concept is known as “the entire internet,” but back in the early 2000s it was a novel concept for me. 1I never got into livejournal because I thought it was silly over-indulgence for arrested development adults behaving as if they were still emotional teens, which is hilarious to think of now because that’s me 10,000%.

Since I’m currently in the process of weening myself off of Facebook and Instagram, I’m trying to see if I can turn back the clock to the turn-of-the-century blogosphere. That means lowering my standards for what counts as “blog worthy,” and not feeling like I have to come up with a well-thought-out essay for every single topic. 2Believe it or not, I have at least been trying to come up with well-thought-out essays.

It’s weird, though. I wish I knew why; the only thing that Facebook and Twitter did to change the formula was add a social graph, lots of ads, and take ownership of the whole thing. I think something feels fundamentally different when you’re essentially putting pages from your personal journal online for other people to read, without being surrounded by a bunch of other people all doing the same thing. That tacit approval. The acknowledgement, “No, you don’t actually need to be sharing every random thought that enters your head, but it’s okay because everybody else is doing it, too.”

Maybe micro.blog is worth looking into again. I tried it a while back, and I quickly realized that the real strength of Twitter isn’t its format or its spontaneity, but its social graph. As much as I tell myself that it’s all about getting thoughts out of my head, and I don’t really care about followers, it does feel odd shouting out into a well-intentioned but sparsely-populated, echoing room.

If you use micro.blog and like it, let me know! It’s entirely possible I just need to follow more people.

Until then, I’ll start a category for nonessential thoughts and see if I can get back into the swing of embracing pointless communication.