In which I get in my own way, again

Vague spoilers for Hunter X Hunter and Demon Slayer: Mugen Train, I think.

I don’t know if I’ve talked about this before, but when watching Hunter X Hunter, and the Demon Slayer movie, I found myself puzzle by the deaths of certain characters and the emotional toll that it placed on the protagonist. I felt that it didn’t work. The protagonist hadn’t spent enough time with the character to create a bond worthy of such pain.

Actually, I hadn’t spent enough time with the character to make me relate to the despair of the protagonist. ‘Yes, but,’ I think to myself, ‘you spent as much time as the story gives you. That should be enough to bond with the character through the protagonist, right? You have no other qualms about the writing in either story, right?’

Right. And as I was typing up my notes this morning, I found myself following a similar line of thinking concerning The Time Machine, George Pal’s 1960 adaptation of H.G. Wells’s scientific romance.

The humorous bond the time traveler creates with a distant mannequin, the change in whose outfits represent the passage of time, is forced, an obvious point to…wait a minute.

It’s me, isn’t it? I’m the issue here. I’m the one that needs much more time with a character (or real life person, to be honest) for some sort of bond to form. Ah! I get it now.

Remember when you’re analyzing or critiquing a piece of art, search for signs of yourself that may be getting in the way. Your experience and existence are integral to your unique view, but make sure that what you’re seeing in the work isn’t just a mirror.

Enjoy your stuff.

Who gets to be a teenager?

An open letter to NPR:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/news-wrap-teenager-pleads-guilty-to-killing-ten-black-workers-and-shoppers-in-buffalo

Why purposefully use “teenager” in this headline to describe the adult male pleading guilty? His attack was racially motivated and since we have a long history of “aging up “ Black people in our media to make them seem more threatening, this is a bad editorial choice.

“Man pleads guilty to killing ten Black workers and shopper in Buffalo.”

There. You don’t even have to put “white” before his name if it makes you uncomfortable, because we know. Of course, we know.

Smile when you say that

A post in which I talk about a podcast, but also about how you can hear a smile and why that scares me.

Thanks to the If Books Could Kill podcast and its co-host, Peter Shamshiri, I started listening to 5-4 — “a podcast about how much the Supreme Court sucks” which Peter also co-hosts. It’s good, infuriating, and informative. But handing you a new podcast to listen to is not why I’ve asked you here.

There is a promotion at the half-way point for a newsletter — Balls and Strikes — that another co-host, Michael Morbius, narrates. They seem to run it each episode and I’ve started noticing something. Actually, I’ve noticed that I’ve noticed something. It’s a bit meta.

I’m getting there.

At one point as he speaks I could tell that he starts smiling. The change is clear but undescribable. I don’t know why my brain has picked up on this. Less so, do I know why he’s smiling. So I went to the Internet, as I do, to find out why my brain does what it does.

My first stop was this article in Discover Magazine that showcases a study suggesting that if you can sense a smile in a voice you’re hearing, and not someone you can see, you tend to smile back. The article and the study it links to–well done, consumer science journalism–discuss the lack of research on what constitutes this auditory smile. Checking the paper’s sources, I ended up here: “The vocal communication of different types of smile” in Speech Communication. The study is from 2008 and I’m not sure if I’m going to see what builds upon this research. But I was still curious to see who else out there was wondering, “did I just hear you smile?”

Then I got here:

“Smiling voices maintain [increased trust] even in the face of behavioral evidence of untrustworthiness.” (1)

…and here:

“We present an experiment in which participants played a trust game with a virtual agent that expressed emotion through its voice, in a manner congruent or incongruent with its behavior.” (1)

…and here:

“Using an investment game paradigm, we found that positive vocal emotional expression – smiling voice – increases participants’ implicit trust attributions to virtual agents, compared with when agents speak with an emotionally neutral voice. As previously observed, the monetary returns of the agent also affected implicit trust, so that participants invested more money in the agent that was behaving generously.”(1)

And this is the point where I’ve saved the citation in Paperpile, sat back with my arms folded and leaned over to look down into the murky depths of this rabbit hole. I still don’t know what stimuli my brain is picking up that translates into “smile” after Michael says “Supreme Court sucks”, but I can pick up the danger of being able to simulate this in such a way that creates trust between yourself and stranger on the phone.

This is more than just Cash Green’s white voice in Sorry to Bother You, this is the “right voice,” the one that flicks an unknown switch in your head and you picture a reassuring smile. The “right voice” is built upon the research that pull the secrets out of our brains and tools them for algorithmic benefit. The “right voice” won’t just relieve people of their hard-earned money, it will lead them astray, down paths not yet cut.

What do I do? This digression has made me thoughtful. Sigh.


(1) Torre, Ilaria, et al. “If Your Device Could Smile: People Trust Happy-Sounding Artificial Agents More.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 105, Apr. 2020, p. 106215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.106215

Goofing around with the social medias

  • I signed up for Post.News a few days ago and think it’s fine for now. I’m not sure who will adopt it outside of journalists (if they do), but I think I will stick around for a while.
  • I finally got my Mastodon.Social account set up as well. I’m still wrapping my head around the Federated system, but I see that I don’t necessarily have to split myself into multiple pieces. I already have multiple personalities online, so I need to be careful here 😉
  • Slowly I’m coming back to tumblr too, under my personal name, and want to use that as a place to post comments on articles and asides. While I wanted to keep everything here on my blog, I would still like to reach a larger audience.

My plan is to have daily summary of the things I like elsewhere until that becomes unnecessary or unwieldy (or I just abandon it due to forgetting, which is more likely). Feel free to follow me in any of those places.

Giving you the raspberries

Image from TN Nursery

The latest episode of Last Seen a podcast by WBUR in Boston focuses on the reporter’s search for the elusive black raspberry, not in its usual ice cream form, but in the cultural wild, so to speak, the farmer’s market or grocery store. It’s an interesting look at the agricultural choices that are made by farmers, marketers, and consumers. At one point Amelia Mason meets up with a forager, who says:

Foraging is one of the last activities out there that does not involve a financial transaction of any kind…

Russ Cohen

And I 100% understand the spirit of this comment. Foraging is just you and the wild, building knowledge of what is and isn’t nibble-able.

But the sentiment renders the capitalism invisible.

  • Who has access to these wild areas? (How do you get there? Drive? Bike?)
  • How does one find out about areas that are accessible?
  • Who owns that land? (The state of federal government? Private citizens?)
  • Who preserves that land? What labor is involved?
  • What kind of transactions are needed to keep the area undeveloped?

All of these questions involve financial transactions in one way or another before one black raspberry is picked. We need to stop thinking that preservation can only exist outside of capitalism, because, frankly, nothing exists outside capitalism in our current world. To put it simply, if you know about it and can access it, a financial transaction was necessary for just the knowledge to get to you.

There’s no aspersions cast here because of the one quote. I loved the episode and want to grow my own black raspberries one day, but I’ll need land for that, and the money to buy it, and the money to buy the bushes, and the ability to provide the labor to do it, and the wherewithal to continue to own the land to see those berries come to fruition.

We’ve already grafted financial transactions onto every branch and when we pretend we haven’t, we think we can see the boundaries of capitalism, but they’re further out, past the brambles, down the slope and away.

Keep looking.

So I’m typing up my notes on Sorry to Bother You when…

I noted that apparently horrible real-life person Armie Hammer’s Steve Lift had to be based off the “WeWork” guy, so looked up Adam Neumann, clicked on his wife’s Wikipedia page and then found this:

Her father had a direct mail business and spent a number of years in prison for tax evasion.

Rebekah Neumann’s Wikipedia Page

Because, of course. That’s all.

What about an NFT of a tulip?

“It’s a Ponzi scheme. When there was tulip mania, at least when you lost all your money, you still had a tulip.”

Dennis Kelleher

I watch cryptocurrency drama from the nosebleed seats. I have some shallow understanding of the system and, I’m not ashamed to say, I rely on my students to fill in some details for me if I’m curious and they’re willing. If you keep hearing about FTX and wondering what’s going on, this piece in The Atlantic by Annie Lowrey will give you an idea of the most recent meltdown.

I guess there are ways to tell, right?

They saw in the dim light, the headless figure facing them.

H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man

Your local library may have access to apps that carry audiobooks. The Invisible Man is an H.G. Wells scientific fantasy that I haven’t read yet and the audiobook is damn fun so far.

This is a bad move by DeviantArt and they should feel bad and you should opt out and maybe move your art if you can…

If you hold the banhammer, can you banhammer yourself?

Like, an early subset of Twitter users are Something Awful forum goons — the most prominent of whom is Dril — and they love fucking with people.

Elizabeth Lopatto, “Elon Musk learns the hard way that being a Twitter troll is way more fun than being a mod” at The Verge

Did not think I was going to start my day thinking about the Something Awful forums or flashback to Worth 1000’s Photoshop tournament with them, but here I am.