April 28, 2020
At the 2019 height of the Hong Kong protests, we shared the now beloved video of a protester giving President Donald Trump this advice: “Donald Trump, don't trust China! China is asshole!"
This week, I interviewed that man, Paladin Cheng ( 鄭實 ) to get an update on how the fight for independence in Hong Kong is going in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This interview is being partially paraphrased to handle the language barrier.
Born in Hong Kong 38 years ago, Cheng is a native, and this movement is as personal as it gets. He was 7 years old when the Chinese tanks rolled through Tiananmen Square in 1989 and 15 during the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997. He has seen the growth of the Communist Party’s control his entire life and these protests mark a landmark moment for him: a moment where “the CPC has taken away their mask and shown their world that they are shameless and cruel.”
To recap, this ongoing protest movement exploded in size and fervor in the summer of 2019, when the Chinese government pressed for a new extradition bill that would send alleged criminals from Hong Kong in to the mainland for trial. The protestors see this as a direct assault on the “One country, two systems” policy that maintains Hong Kong’s self-governance.
There were intense stand-offs as protestors took to the streets and disrupted public proceedings on the bill. On Sunday, June 9, 2019, over one million people flooded the streets and marched in protest of the bill, making them one of the largest public protests in human history.
That protest has not ended, however it has been stalled in the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Cheng, Here’s how the pro-Beijing forces are exploiting the COVID-19 emergency to silence and squash the pro-independence movement
Today, the protest is still maturing, and growing. Though the threat of Beijing is large, Cheng feels they have the massive, though quieted support of the people. “Even as I waved the Hong Kong Independence flag in the protests in 2019, some people would buy me water, give me thumbs up, and whisper ‘I support you.’”
I asked how the rest of the world can help the fight for freedom in Hong Kong. What the movement needs now, according to Cheng, is the backing of the international community. The people of Hong Kong are spirited, fighting for their lives and their freedom against the government of the largest nation on Earth.
“Understand that Hong Kong is just not a part of China, Hong Kong is being colonized by China.”
When I asked if that means military intervention is okay or necessary, he said “It is a contradiction between keeping human rights and being ruled by the CPC. [...] If we are left to be a Colony, we only have two choices: to be a slave or to be a corpse.”
October 1, 2018
I’m sitting across from a man whose identity is moreorless irrelevant. For now, he’s Peter Griffin. Donning the iconic white button-up, green pants, and circle-frame glasses, he’s playing a character at a small comic-con here in Queens, NY. This is Rob Franzese and after going viral in 2012, he developed an entire brand around being ‘Real Life Peter Griffin.’
The event we’re at is “Another Freakin’ Con,” a fan-led comic-con produced in-part by Rob and his manager and friend Anthony Cross. A lot of the excitement here is that they’re doing something I think anyone would want to see: a half-hour fight between Real Life Peter Griffin and a Giant Chicken. It sounds low-brow, but honestly, it was pure entertainment.
Talking with Rob, he remains fairly protected. It’s not that I need to know much about his past or dig into any of his childhood, but he’s not here to throw that out there. He’s here for the fans and to play around as one of America’s most recognizable television characters.
“I feel like I’ve made Peter Griffin my own character by now. The Real Life Peter Griffin is very different than Peter Griffin from television. Peter Griffin from television: he’s irreverent, he does a lot of things you wouldn’t be able to get away with in real life. I started this at Comic-Con and it was just about making people laugh.”
He’s certainly committed to the role. In the past year, he’s garnered 125,000 likes on Facebook and 18,400 followers on Instagram. That’s enough to bring people out for a local comic-con like this one, and a little bit more. Apparently, a chain of strip clubs is opening around the country and the owner wants to fly Real Life Peter Griffin to each opening to co-host with Stormy Daniels. Whether or not that’s on brand, at least the thought of that is absolutely outrageous.
None of this is effortless. Rob’s friend and manager Anthony Cross shows me a little of the behind-the-scenes work he handles every day while running the convention. He’s posting content every moment he can, in-between coordinating with the catering company and the stagehands, and the tabling organizations. Involving Rob to produce their videos for social media is also a struggle, what-with having to schedule the time and write the material, and posting them in a timely manner. Rob, for all that he is, is an entire brand and that kind of upkeep is a handful for some companies, let alone a team of scrappy upstarts like these guys.
But don’t let that take away from their work. Watching Real Life Peter Griffin smash a chair into the Giant Chicken is inarguably hysterical entertainment and well worth it. On Rob’s part, it seems well-worth it to him, too.
“I actually got a message back when I had first gone viral. I think there was a police officer that had written to me, believe it or not, and it was in the time where it was the start of the decline of people’s opinions on police and everything. He said that he was really getting depressed over the comments and everything about law enforcement. [...] He said that my video was really helping him through that because there is a bright-side to everything. That, it’s really all about perspective. You can be negative about things all the time, or you can change it.”
On whether he’s privately that positive: “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
August 30, 2018
We’re members of a platform that houses an innumerable array of intersecting communities. The communities have their own lingos, visual and social grammar, rituals, and norms. The platform managers position themselves as upholders of these communities, but the communities are not their customers.
This important distinction explains the use of banning, purging, and silencing users based on a myriad of reasons. From hate speech to ‘inauthentic behavior,’ the potential violation of ‘community standards’ of these platforms has become a widely utilized tool to signal the platform’s cooperation with certain expectations, whether from Congress or from some of their vocal critics.
I was recently post-banned. Facebook requires you to log back in and shows you the post that violated their community standard, then tells you how long you are not allowed to post. First strike is 24 hours, the second is 3 days, third and beyond are 30 days. This time, I hit my third strike. I was sentenced to 30 days in Facebook jail.
In a way, it’s a form of digital incarceration. You get to see everything happening as you normally would, but you can’t react-response to anything, you can’t comment, you can’t message others, and you can’t operate any pages or groups that you admin. The only thing you can do is accept or reject friend requests, unfriend current friends, and allow tagged photos to show up on your timeline.
There is an almost beautiful order to this. The more invested you are into the Facebook platform, the more reason you have to police yourself and the greater reach you have on Facebook, the more people there are who can report and police your behavior. The punishment is intermingled with your value of the platform itself. The punishment is of human design, but its impact is considerably worrisome.
In the early days of social media circa-2006, this new era was being heralded from Silicon Valley to DC as the beginning of Web 2.0. The internet was going to be democratized and people across the globe would be invited to participate in their communities to such a wonderful degree. The spirit of the time was absolute excitement for a free and democratic future. Who could resist such an optimistic sentiment for open and free platforms?
But they missed the keystone to the structures of social media companies—who’s paying for it?
Advertisers, as much as I have interest and positive feelings for, are simple people. When it comes to social media communities, things are either good or bad: if it’s controversial, it’s going to make bad-feelings, and bad feelings are not what they want. Only good-feelings are allowed.
There can be some nuance here. Good-feelings can include a sense of purpose or righteousness that comes from a politically charged piece from Buzzfeed or NowThis, but ultimately, that too boils down to a matter of good-feelings for their specific audience. Any actually challenging brand is at worst, bad-bad-bad, and at best, simply too difficult to place into any audience. When you consider the kind of enlightened liberal ideals of rigorous discussion and democratic virtues of participation, the demands of advertisers are absolutely opposed to it.
A rigorous discussion is often painful to endure. Have you ever been challenged over beliefs integral to yourself and your vision of the community around you? It would categorically fit into the ‘bad-feelings’ branch of content. That’s not something Glade scented candles wants to pay for. More worryingly, it’s not something you yourself would want to pay for, either. In fact, the only people who pay for that kind of stuff are donors to academic institutions and nonprofits. They pay academics to go study and debate things—the academics themselves aren’t even paying to do it! They get paid to do it, and as we’ve seen, even their donors can be scant with whims of their own. Democratic values are indeed much more rare than we may assume.
Such ideals have only been achieved through absolute inevitability. You may crash into someone else who doesn’t see it like you do. Maybe it’s because you’re geographically locked in, like in a classroom, a team sport, a workplace, or an extended family dinner, but with Web 2.0, we now can curate a community entirely of our choosing. This removes the inevitability of encountering disagreements. This would be fine if only disagreements weren’t fundamental to sharing perspectives and growing from the experience.
It’s here that Facebook Jail becomes such a curious notion to me. It is a mechanism that is component to whatever reorganizing of social systems is already underway. It reinforces something—a sort of conformity towards some blurred social policy, but again, the policy is ultimately dictated by advertisers. I was handed a 30 day post-ban because I offended someone who saw a post on my 10,000-follower meme page. That instance of offense was all it took to tell an advertiser that I’m a bad-actor. At this point, I’ve already had to sit-out 1/12th of 2018.
The more our general society develops into a digital society, the more serious this becomes. Traditionally, we remove people from civil society through a system of due process for the purpose of protecting liberty and wresting the hands of power away from abusiveness. If we have a large component of civil society existent upon digital life, then will we have the same apprehension towards punishment, and not just punishment, but from actually removing people from society? Should we?
August 9, 2018
Marcin Walski is a non-descript guy. Hanging out with him at the Carnegie Club, his slight smile hints a glint of knowing. This is the guy behind several twitter accounts you might know. Today, he’s sold off most of them, but still owns the account “Typical White Girl.” These twitter accounts, with followers in the several thousand to several million, launched in the early days of Twitter and amassed their following far before legitimate companies and brands knew what social media even was. When did Walski start his? Sophomore year of high school.
And that was fairly common, says Walski. Remember the Will Ferrell twitter account? Launched by a kid in California, who at some point was raking in half a million a year. These kids had no idea what to do with the money.” Today, their business model is fairly common and well-understood by marketing companies and business undergraduates alike, but at the time, this was the bleeding edge of social media.
As he described it, there were just so many kids fabricating parody twitter accounts, amassing a following, and selling off to companies either the whole account or slipping ads into the content stream. Most of them didn’t need more than one person running them, with Walski himself being the sole manager of his accounts. All he needed was some software to analyze data and schedule posts.
Walski sold his first twitter account at 10k followers, and went on to launch the Ted ‘parody’ account right before the Seth McFarlane movie came out. At his max, he held 8 or 9 accounts, each with their own following, data insights, content, and content sales. With this money, he was able to pay for college and even start his own cryptofund.
Now that he graduated, he’s taken his steps away from the twitter parody account world. While he holds onto his “Typical White Girl” account for any potential need in the future, he’s set his sights on a new horizon: financial consulting. I asked him what he thought about the shifts in internet culture arising at the moment, what with the politics, censorship, and consolidation of companies. He noted that companies, like Facebook, had begun to aggressively shut down accounts, but after a bit of a pause, he responded in peak finance-fashion that it doesn’t really matter. “Culture evolved overtime with each generation. Just when you get old enough to appreciate what you grew up with, there’s constantly a new culture behind you.”
One thing he was excited about is the e-sports world, and that Twitch is the most exciting company online right now, a platform also populated with some of the internet community’s youngest stars. Perhaps that’s a lesson here; follow the youth.
August 8, 2018
The basic reality of memes in the modern era is that content creators and viewers alike inappropriately attempt to frame themselves as the main protagonist. Often, this results in the viewer being less likely to relate to the meme or falsely overestimating the weight of their own perspective. Worst of all, the oft-ignored perspectives of other characters in a given meme are never explored. We miss opportunities when we narrowly presume ourselves the “hero,” in what most of us believe to be our Hero’s Journey. As such, it’s imperative that we adjust our perspectives when creating content.
As an example, in the Car Veering Interstate Exit meme, most content creators frame themselves as the subject of the meme by placing the text “me” over the car. But if the perspective is shifted, one can easily become the right or the left side of the billboard. Because this exercise is so subjective, I encourage my students to review the status quo with honestly. With the awareness of bias in their minds, they can then adjust their work and produce content that carries maximum value.
Another example of heroic perspective is Kermit and Sinister Kermit. Original Kermit is often led astray by the sinister version of his inner desires. Most, assuming themselves to be moral, tend to identify as original Kermit...but if perspective is re-calibrated just so, the meme would be grounded much more firmly in reality. In fact, it would become relatable to those going through similar struggles. As it currently stands for most, comfort is the default.
Yet, comfort isn’t always doing what’s easy or right. A moral conscience calls for an appeal to our better selves in Original Kermit, but our default setting more closely resembles the sinister version of Kermit.
We are not always the main character of the story. We are often bystanders. More often than not, we are not the hero and our story-line is far from the Hero’s Journey. So let’s be mindful in our meme creation. Rather than try to present ourselves through rose-colored glasses, we should aim to create with value and relatability.
July 17, 2018
Win Bigly: Persuasion In A World Where Facts Don't Matter
Author: Scott Adams, 2017
Politics, Psychology, Non-Fiction
If I were to recommend one book to someone who hates Trump, or thinks he’s an idiot, this would be it.
Scott Adams describes himself as an Ultra Liberal, meaning liberals are typically too conservative for him. He has some weird opinions, like that men should sideline themselves on the abortion debate, and we should consider paying reparations to black Americans via a tax on the top 1%. That should be enough for many liberals to entertain the idea of reading this book. But it’s important to note that Adams is a trained hypnotist, and a “lifelong student of persuasion.”
He’s also the author of the Dilbert comics. However, he authored this specific book because he was one of the first people to predict a Trump win in 2016, when everyone else thought it was insanity. This book is the election through his eyes. The question raised in ‘Win Bigly’ really is, if you open yourself to the idea that things may not be as they seem, or as the media portrays them, is it possible that Trump isn’t as dumb as you might think he is? (Even if you don’t like him.)
Everybody jokes about “7D chess,” but to what extent is that a reality? Trump literally wrote the book on negotiation, and people are still surprised when he acts it out. Throwing out an extreme and working back to the “middle” still has liberals AND conservatives terrified at the first offer. They can’t get past what it looks like on the surface, and that’s understandable. As Adams says, how could you recognize a business negotiation tactic if you’ve never studied business negotiation? It’s not 7D chess if it’s extremely simple. It’s just not what it appears to be at first glance. This book provides concrete examples and an explanation of how “7D chess” was being played during the 2016 election, and it isn’t complicated. It’s just persuasion-- and Trump is a Master Persuader.
‘Win Bigly’ not only shows Trump in a different light and through different lenses, but it’s also something of a self-help book. Adams’ persuasion tips are something that everyone can leverage. You don’t have to like Trump to read this and get something out of it. You can see what Trump got right, and where Hillary went wrong, from someone who predicted the outcome early. Or just convince your boss to give you a raise.
Here’s an example of one of the persuasion tips he offers. When you associate two ideas or images, people’s emotional reaction to them will begin to merge over time. Adams shows this with the examples of Trump aligning his brand with Reagan, and Carly Fiorina accidentally aligning hers with a dead baby. Visual persuasion is everything. Considering how the direction of Trump moving from “Hitler” to “incompetent baby” to “competent, but I don’t like it” is playing out, it doesn’t seem like an accident.
Whatever your opinion is of him, Trump is something different in politics. Scott Adams can help you understand why. Or maybe he just has me hypnotized.
June 17, 2018
I’m sitting here on Father’s Day in a kiddie pool at my in-laws house, smoking a Parliament, drinking a PBR, and writing my first ever blog post for NODEHAUS. For 21 years now, I’ve spent Father’s Day laying low. My father passed away when I was 6 of a cerebral hemorrhage. For at least the last decade, I’ve spent Father’s Day as the guy who took the shift so others could spend the day enjoying time with their fathers.
Now, I’m married and about 5 years younger than my father when he died, spending my day with my father in law, Dale. So why is this at all relevant to an internet culture magazine? Well, it’s because I’ve recently learned that even at Dale’s age, you can discover a passion for memes. While most Boomers are just boomerposting and sharing fake news or memes about 'remember when your mother would put the kettle on the stove,' Dale instead recognizes my deep-seated interest in the ways that memes affect the world we live in. As such, he’s begun sharing his dankest memes with me.
What’s more, he’s surprisingly good at it.
My father always had a penchant for pranks. His sense of humor was a force to be reckoned with. While still being one of the smartest people in his high school in rural Mississippi, he was also starting a satirical high school fraternity called the PLO, which no doubt upset his high school’s principal, all during the height of the international conflict with the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Maybe in that way, like genes, memes are inherited. Here I am today working out t-shirt designs daily for a movement to bring the prosperity associated with unbridled capitalism to the DPRK with a streetwear project by Nodehaus, called Gentrify Pyongyang.
Dale loves the idea behind Gentrify Pyongyang, and better, the idea of peace on the Korean Peninsula. This week alone, he’s sent me about 3 Trump-Kim memes. And for each one he’s sent me, I’ve returned the favor, sending back Trump-Kim Singapore Summit memes that, little by little, open his eyes to a newfound language to discuss culture and the politics of our day. He recognizes how unfunny the limousine liberals of late night comedy have become and sees more humor in the memes of the internet in our time. My father-in-law, at 58, is open to learning new languages, especially the language of the internet.
This Father’s Day is Dale’s first Father’s Day without his father, who passed away earlier this year from cancer. Every year, they’d spend Father’s Day together listening to Mollie B, a famous polka musician, as a means of sharing in their Polish heritage together. While Dale may have lost his father, I’m happy to say that after marrying his daughter just 2 months ago, he’s now gained a son, and one who will always share with him the absolute dankest memes of our day.
They say that “Saturdays Are For The Boys,” and while that may be true, for the first time in the 21 years since my father passed away, I have someone I can call a father of my own. Today, Father’s Day is for the Boys—most notably, Dale Bob.
Happy Father’s Day, Dale!
June 16, 2018
A confession: I was pushed to tears about four times and was otherwise misty-eyed for the full 90 minutes. A documentary about a beloved childhood hero—my childhood hero? His loving gaze and soothing voice will have you lost in the folds of your past.
The film opens with the late Fred Rogers’ musings about modulations. He sits at his grand piano and plays a few chords to demonstrate an analogy. He talks about shifts, like C to F and F to F#. Some shifts are simple, some are complicated, but they’re always easier when there’s someone there to help you and guide you. This documentary is not about Fred Rogers, but it is about his ideas on self-worth, the need to face reality with love and care, and the need for children to know their emotions are real.
The parallels of his show and the world around him are deliberate. In 1968, the puppet Daniel Tiger asks Lady Elaine to blow up a balloon for him. As she does, Daniel builds up the courage to ask “What does assassination mean?” Days before, Robert Kennedy had been killed in Los Angeles. Lady Elaine takes a moment to think and asks “Have you heard that word a lot today?” She goes on to explain “Well, it means someone getting killed in sort of a surprise way.” Daniel Tiger pauses to interpret the words much like the many children in the documentary do whenever Rogers explained things to them. He ponders the words deeply and then tries to make sense of it. “That man killed that other man,’ then after a moment, “I’d rather talk about it some other day.”
Rogers knows that the thoughts of children are deep and that they need the space to make sense of things themselves. Recognizing that the child’s anxieties about the world’s big troubles are indeed important and warrant the help of adults, that was his true north.
History has a perennial nature to it. Though it may not repeat itself, children develop themselves everyday. When they encounter the world of grown-ups, they may not yet fit into that world. But then where do they fit?
Rogers’ story is about that journey of navigation—a journey we’ve all had to live through and one that it seems Rogers would argue continues into our adult lives with just as much need for heart as ever.
Beyond the 60s, beyond 2001, the end of the show, or the end of Rogers’ life in 2003, this story comes to us at a time of great American need. Perhaps we should feel bad for all the times we didn’t do something so simple as showing kindness—and it hits us as simple because Mr. Rogers was so able to do it. The kindness and caring feels so possible, especially when reminded that the Westboro Baptist Church protested Rogers’ funeral for being too tolerant (tolerant of homosexuals).
Won’t You Be My Neighbor reminds us that Mr. Rogers life is truly a part of American history, his vision about love and virtue is powerful and his legacy is a lasting lesson. Go and see this film.
June 14, 2018
Solo is a great movie. It's fun, exciting, and great time to spend with your kids. If you're in it because you wanted to experience the origin story of the real Han Solo, take a step back.
The story is solid. We're following Han as he makes his escape from the squalor of Corellia and into the stars to become the famous pilot we know and love. He spends time with the military and thieves, fighting all ends of intergalactic politics, and it's all very exciting. Some of the scenes are even among the best in the Star Wars canon -- to which prolific director Ron Howard deserves some major credit.
But the key to this film is in the title: who the hell is Han Solo and do I even care about him?
Alden Ehrenreich isn't terrible. He's got all those Han Solo Quirks™ and Smirks™, but that doesn't make him any more real as a character. It's particularly clear when he's playing Han Solo in the beginning just as coy and cool as Harrison Ford does as Han Solo several decades in advance. Where is the character development if he's Han Solo™ the entire time? Essentially, you're getting served with a Han Solo action figure for a movie.
The question of 'do I care' is a real one that audiences are going to have to ask. As the Disney machine continues to crank out films for multiple expanding universes, is another hour-and-a-half worth it if there's going to be another sequel, prequel, spin-off or reboot (How many people have actually watched the whole MCU?) The very same problem is going to show up right here at the feet of Star Wars. I can't honestly say Rouge One was worth it. Solo barely makes the cut, which is a problem since they end the story with a lingering question about the future of some of the characters.
Reviews often have a binary appeal to them: yes or no—go buy the ticket or not. I say yeah, sure. It's fun, it's energetic, and at the very least you get to see Donald Glover lay on the sex-appeal as Lando Calrissian intermingled with an fairly epic space drama.
Also, they end the story with a subtextual 'Han shot first' joke. Keep your eyes open.