Creepy Internet Men, Celebrity Nudes, & Privacy

Over the last two years that I've been frequenting Reddit, I've really grown to love and appreciate the site. It's just a total wealth of knowledge, and there's a subreddit for literally anything you can think of. It allowed me to move away from Tumblr, just before it turned into a network of pseudo open-minded individuals, but amplified everything I loved about it. It let me get a glimpse of the best content on the internet, without the awfulness of 4chan, or the delay of having "viral" posts posted to Facebook three weeks after they've worn out their welcome. 

The best part though is that it taught me what all of these newfangled acronyms, like FWIW, IIRC, & FTFY, mean.

The best part though is that it taught me what all of these newfangled acronyms, like FWIW, IIRC, & FTFY, mean.

However, yesterday I began to lose faith in the network. After I got home from a long day at work, I was browsing Twitter to catch up on things that I had missed, and saw several tweets regarding a supposed iCloud hack, and a massive album of celebrity nudes. Being naturally intrigued by this whole thing, I went and check it out, and I could not have been any less stoked by the whole affair. I felt weird, and pervy scrolling through, and before I hit even the 10th of a seemingly endless page, I had to quit.

I sat down, and decided I was going to talk to two of my friends about this, and I realized that I wasn't alone in feeling mixed emotions. On one hand, it's not great seeing people being dumb, taking nude selfies, and it's even worse seeing their privacy being completely and totally violated. But, on the other hand, boobs are great, and these are people displaying that they're completely comfortable with their bodies by taking these selfies, so who are we to judge? There's nothing wrong with wanting to display your body, or wanting to be comfortable with your sexuality. There is something wrong in having that done for you without your consent, however.

The thing is that we should judge - not the celebrities, but rather the men and communities on Reddit that perpetuate and allow these sorts of creepy, horrible acts to continue. The biggest issue that I, along with many others, have with Reddit, is the laissez-faire attitude that Reddit managers seem to have taken. There is a culture of free-speech on the site, and while that has fostered countless great conversations on countless topics, it has also allowed people like Michael Brutsch, a.k.a u/violentacrez, to create horrible subreddits such as r/jailbait, and r/creepshot.

It goes back the topic I wrote about a few days ago, on how misogynistic internet trolls are ruining this whole experience we share on the internet, something so ubiquitous, by being total scumbags, and it all starts at 4chan, the head of the great Internet human-centipede.

The problem lies at the heart of Reddit; total anonymity. One of the two golden rules on the site is no posting of any personal information (the other being no child porn, but seeing as how far u/violentacrez was allowed to get, it's easy to see that Reddit is, again, super laissez-faire in making sure that they're own rules are followed), except for when it involves naked female celebrities. There are countless subreddits that thrive on this kind of traffic, from r/celebs, r/WatchitForThePlot, and r/nakedcelebs. The sidebar information of the latter actually reads as follows:

"To clarify, I mean full out porn, nude shots, bikini shots, leaked sex tapes. Any dirt you have on those hot Hollywood stars post it here!"

Reddit allows for users to remain totally anonymous, and I'm sure that they're grateful for that, but doesn't allow the for the same level of privacy when a massive celebrity nude leak takes place. And this double-standard doesn't just apply to Reddit.

Commenters all over the web are comparing this to the reaction the public had when Anthony Weiner, former U.S. Congressman, was caught sending pictures of his penis. The issue there is that these women likely weren't sending them to other men and women, but were rather keeping them for private purposes, where as Weiner was actively sending these explicit images to three different women. In this case, it was directly Weiner's fault, as he wasn't hacked, and didn't have these pictures displayed without his permission. He willingly, and knowingly, sent them out himself. These women did not, and that right there is the difference that needs to be made clear.

The Verge's T.C. Sottek posted an article today calling these creeps out, rightly so, and chillingly compared those who supported the leak to those who disliked the NSA. 

It's easy to say, "don't take nude photos!" or, "don't back up anything private to the cloud!" Living in the modern world necessitates the use of the Internet, and yes, while there are ways to minimize the risk of being hacked, are these women not entitled to just as much privacy we as non-celebrities are? It's basically like saying, "don't bank online, use your credit cards to purchase anything on Amazon, or use e-mail. You have to this all in person and offline, all because SOMETHING embarrassing may come back to bite you in the ass." These photos were private, and short of using an analog camera, getting them printed (and possibly duplicated and swiped during the printing process), placing them in a scrapbook inside your house with steel-reinforced shell covering your house to prevent buglers to get in, what do you want these celebrities to do? They're human, just like us, and as humans, are allowed some modicum of respect and privacy.

While these photos will eventually disappear from the public mind, it doesn't matter. The privacy of these women was violated horribly, and  this whole affair will bring into question the safety of cloud storage, automated photo backup, and more horribly, lend a sense of legitimacy to the god-awful movie, Sex Tape.

This clip, however, does articulate the point that it is the woman that has to live with the consequences forever.

But this isn't entirely about what's on our phones these days. It's about women being objectified, shamed, and treated like objects. The Twitter hashtag, #IfMyPhoneGotHacked, is a prime example of this shaming, with terrifying shades of Elliot Rodger thrown in for good measure. It's one thing to view these images, even if in particularly scummy way, but it's another thing entirely to go after these women only to harass and mock them for being victims of something they could not control.

People want their own privacy, but do not care for that of others, and that's what happens when we as a society value anonymity more than pure, simple, unbridled decency

What The F*** is Going on with Video Games?

I haven't been someone who would consider himself a gamer by any stretch of the imagination for many years now. The last two consoles I owned were the Nintendo Gamecube and the Sony PSP, so that should give you an indication as to how out of touch with the industry I am. That being said, I do have regular conversations on the topic of video games with my friends who do play far more regularly than me and are far more invested in the genre than I am.

Which leads me to the burning question, what the f*** is going on with video games? Over the last 24 hours, all I could see on my Twitter timeline was tweets regarding Anita Sarkeesian's YouTube videos on women in video games, and the whole thing is rather insane. 

This multi-part video series by Sarkeesian, a prominent media critic, gathered particular attention on Monday when she posted a video about women being used as background decoration, usually in violent or overly-sexualized ways. The response from many writers in the industry, and many developers as well, was largely positive, while the response from a portion of the male gaming population was horrifyingly negative. The level of cognitive dissonance displayed by the critics of Sarkeesian is ridiculous. They hate feminists and attack people for being 'fake feminists,' which they are oddly offended by. They threaten people on the internet, and then say the people are attention seeking when they complain about being threatened.

To me, this seems to largely be about a lack of wanting any change in the video game industry, and following this, two groups seem to have emerged. One side has staunchly folded its arms and harrumphed in the most child like manner, as they view themselves to be the old guard to this hallowed institution, while the other has openly and lovingly embraced this change, as they realize that they are no longer alone.

What Sarkeesian is attempting to do, I think, is deconstruct what so many people use as a form of escapism and rebuild it into a bigger and better version of itself. And for whatever reason, so many are taking this incredibly personally, understandably so, as I can see them feeling like they're being attacked for what they like. The thing is that this isn't something to be taken so personally. Look at it this way; when a sports fan has a conversation and it turns to how players are payed more than they really deserve for tossing a puck or ball around, you don't see that fan then bypass the argument altogether and issue a death-threat, just because they don't like what they're hearing. It's not so much an issue about the money in the case of sports, but rather, an issue of how to move forward together and improve together as well.

Sarkeesian is not saying that you as a person should feel bad for playing games that are violent or use women as particular storytelling tropes. That's not the case. She's making the case that not all video games are like this. Take Monument Valley, or Journey for instance. They're beautiful, emotional, and evokative games that did incredibly well because they told a compelling story in a new and different manner. They didn't rely on the same old tired story telling found in most major blockbusters.

The particular trope of women being used as background textures, as Sarkeesian points out, is one that is fetishized in the weirdest possible way. 

 It is the collusion of violence done to women’s bodies and the fact that it is often sexualized. The idea being that a dead woman is still inherently beautiful, even if her body has been maimed, her life stolen from her, something arousing still remains available for male consumption...Developers regularly utilize the brutalization of women’s bodies, and especially the bodies of female prostitutes, as an indicator of just how harsh, cruel and unforgiving their game worlds are. In some of the most pernicious examples, dead or mutilated female bodies are used to decorate virtual game environments as a way to invoke a sexually charged creepy mood or edgy atmosphere.

When a film wants to get a rise out of the viewer, or to illicit anger in the character, they might kill or seriously injure the family, or adopted, pet, such as a dog. But in a fully immersive world, that sometimes might not cut it, so developers often turn to women to get that similar sense of anger to justify the sense of righteousness later down the road. All Sarkeesian is asking, in her videos, is why does it have to be a man saving a woman? Why not allow for a role reversal? For instance, look at Tomb Raider. It's a series with a strong female lead loved by both men and women. Why do we have to limit ourselves in a world where there are no limits?

It goes even deeper than though. Often an argument is made that, "but men are also idealized and made to seem more than what we actually are!" It's not necssarily a bad thing or wrong to sexualize and idolize the human body, but the issue here is that it's the men doing the idealizing of both men and women in gaming, and that's a serious problem.  

I think the answer to all of this comes down to demographics, and subsequently, money. As my best friend said,

It's also a for-profit world. Even if we could imagine ourselves being 22 in 1989, how many black female gamers could we have counted compared to white male gamers? It may have shifted in the years since, but for big companies more about money than games they will create the digital world that will net the biggest profit. Game devs don't take risks like they used to. The midtier games have completely fallen out, there is only Indie with a cutesy making-of backstory or AAA don't-fix-what-ain't-broke sequel, everything else is doomed to fail. Couple that with a previous console generation that lasted 7 years, and is still going, and companies going out of business after one bad game, despite a prior fantastic track record you have to appeal to the largest common denominator. That is, the white male gamer. They'll incorporate other demographics, but only if resources/motivation permits.

While I tend to agree with his point of view in regards to the video game industry, I saw a few flaws in his argument. No one is saying make a game that would outright exclude men, or outright exclude women. That wouldn't work, and like he said, would spell certain financial disaster for said company. But it's not 1989 anymore, and there are huge pockets in the community are seriously underrepresented, or not even represented at all. No one is saying that a change has to be made overnight, but a change does have to be made eventually.

Perhaps it also has to do with the most people who play video games, or table-top games, or games in general, feeling like they HAVE to be defined by this one particular hobby of theirs. It's understandable, given the particular history behind video games. In the past, it was gamers versus jocks, in which gamers had to band together to feel united by what they loved. This entrenchment mentality has only grown, so now it's gamers versus women. So much of the nonsense revolving around Sarkeesian in particular has to do with gamers needing to feel like a put-up minority in the grand world of entertainment to justify their identity. They feel like their identity cannot exist unless they are in some form of perpetual crisis, being threatened by an external force.

The problem with this approach, and with the culture of gaming in general, is that again, like most other forms of media, it's entire basis is built upon crass consumerism. Sure, there are pockets that go to conventions and dress up as their favourite characters, and contribute fan art to various forums, and feel a distinct sense of community "culture", but it's a system meant for consuming. When a "culture" is built around this premise, there are no walls for entry. Anyone can join and participate, but the "true believers," or the hardcore, most dedicated of fans, often feel the need to gin up reasons to feel attacked. "I was here first!" or, "You only like Iron Man because Robert Downey Jr. is handsome," or, "You can't be a true fan because you don't know this piece of obscure trivia that really has no relevance to the overall plot or universe, nor has any relevance to being a fan or not!" Those are often the most common attacks on new entrants into any particular fandom, and more notably, gaming.

This all stems from gamers still thinking that gaming is still largely a subculture, when in fact it's no more a subculture than movies are today. What was once a subculture has turned into a multi-billion dollar corporate industry. Everything, from the games and consoles themselves, to the ancillary products like DLC and merchandise - it's hyper-consumerism at it's finest.

Being a hardcore, or casual gamer, has nothing to do with the overall genre of game you play, but rather how you approach games as a whole. There are hardcore players of Candy Crush Saga, who pour hours into the game and spend hundreds of real world dollars through microtransactions, and there are casual players of games like Demon Souls or Call of Duty, who play it to kill of some steam, and not because they're invested in the game. And the problem with consumer culture is that it makes people feel a sense of ownership, or even a sense of dominance, over something to ubiquitous. In the case of Sarkeesian, it's as if an army of tiny Archie Bunkers is fighting back against the non-existent threat of women in gaming. It also doesn't help when you have sites made by gamers that focus on how gamers are attacked and victimized, yet completely skip over the fact that gaming is still an overtly sexist, often racist, sect of the entertainment spectrum. However, after reading Devin Faraci's excellent blog post, I can see how it's so easy to be drawn into the dark side of Gamer Gate, especially if you're an ignorant fifteen year old (and almost all of them are).

"A lot of these kids - and they are, without a doubt, largely kids - are simply ignorant. They don’t understand the world, and that includes everything from how gaming websites work to how people interact as adult, sexual humans. Their confusion about this stuff leaves them susceptible to conspiracy theories trotted out by the truly evil members of the #GamerGate posse..." - Devin Faraci

Video games by their very nature are a form of escapism. They may hold some truths, but are inherently acts of fiction. By not allowing video games to grow and mature beyond graphics and racier content, anti-Sarkeesians are doing more damage to an industry that they claim to love than what Anita could ever even hope to do herself.

The biggest question that comes to my mind is, why? Why are we so stuck and dead set on playing the same games over and over again, in slightly varying settings? Who would want that? It would be so damn boring. Change is hard, yes, but it does bring forth amazing new things. For example, look at Octodad. It's a completely random game that came out of the far left field, and it looks phenomenal.

It's new, fresh ideas that bring people together (and drive them apart apparently as seen by the conversation on Twitter this week). It's new ideas that allow you explore brand new, previously untouched worlds, and that is what gets people so excited. Case in point, the Moto 360. It's so simple. We already wear round watches, and square smart watches look ugly, so let's make a round smart watch. And it's all anyone can talk about, BECAUSE it's so different in such a familiar way.

Think about how excited you got buying a new game because you got to explore something brand new to you. How often can you say you've had that experience in the last five years? Personally, I can't, (because again, I don't play all that much), but it's an experience I remember quite fondly.

Look at how much fun this seems. Sure, it's an ad for a console that mainly sold first person shooters like Call of Duty and Halo, but it still managed to instil that child-like sense of wonder and happiness inside of me. It made me want to do something similar in real life. And that's the whole point about this - games are meant to be fun. They're meant to bring people together to launch shells, nukes, and punches at each other and rage quit when we lose. They're meant to cause meaningful discussion, but not divide people. They're not meant to anger people to level of actually issuing death threats. The video game industry, something in its relative teenage years, still has a lot of growing and maturing to do. It may not happen in sync with how we as people grow and develop, but given enough time, hopefully it will.

Perhaps in order to achieve the level of nuance we need in this discussion, we should look elsewhere, to books and to movies, and see how they overcame this very same issue of using women as background textures and items for men to use to propel themselves throughout the story. What I do know, and fully understand, however, is that most games follow a typical line, use lazy writing and misogynist stereotypes in order to appeal to the base line of supporters.

If I've learned anything in my 22 years of life, it's that if we want to move forward with anything, we need open discussions & open minds. However, I do think that another big crash similar to that of 1983 is imminent, and hopefully that allow both video games and developers alike to hit the reset button and start fresh. 

It's okay to disagree with Anita Sarkeesian, and it's even okay not to agree with her points and arguments (particuarly when she makes an argument comparing games from the 1980s to games of today, as both are a product of their respective generations). However, it's not okay to threaten anyone, online or not, with rape, mental or emotional assault, or even death. All of this has taught me that we need more people like her questioning why things are the way they are, and challenging us to be better versions of ourselves.

Why We Love Origin Stories

“Why is ever superhero movie an origin story?” That is the most common complaint I hear whenever I talk to my friends about superhero films, and recently, has been a question that I’ve been pondering myself.

The question of origins is a fascinating one, and holds a universal and undying appeal. Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we here? Because as humans we are naturally inquisitive and curious, we keep asking ourselves these questions, often times without any real answer. So, what is the solution we came up with? We make stuff up. The way humankind has answered this question of our origins has often been through the analogy of individual origins. The universe, (uni-verse, meaning one poem) is an individual, only bigger. We imagine stories of great beings creating the universe, fighting for our very souls. That is how mythologies, and superheroes are born, through us wanting to not only understand ourselves, but as a need to better ourselves.

We love origin stories for that very reason, because it shows us the very moment wherein our favourite characters go from being just-like-us, to being better, faster, & stronger. After all, that was the original idea behind Superman, to be the man of tomorrow — a source of endless inspiration. However, whenever we want to set up a new universe for an already established character, we invariably have to go through the steps of how they got to where they are. It’s always the same formula, one of three steps, with one or two minor tweaks to the original story. And despite this, and the numerous times we’ve read and viewed the same origin story, despite know what’s going to happen within a certain degree of accuracy, we still seek that familiar comfort.

Take, for example Superman: Red Son, wherein Supes doesn’t crash land in a Kansas field to be taken into the home of the most enlightened farmers ever created, but instead due to pure chance, in the collective farmland of Ukraine. Rather than fighting for, “truth, justice, and the American way,” Superman becomes the, “Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin.” It’s a small change, but the series had to establish the origin of the now Soviet Superman, as that would impact the rest of the character’s life in that altered universe.

The three steps, as mentioned before, are Chance, Trauma, and Destiny.

The most well-known example of chance is Spider-Man, in which Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive/genetically engineered spider that grants him super powers. Chance shows us how random, adverse events that can happen to any one of us, not just superheroes, such as getting involved in a near-death experience, can cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path.

The second is trauma, a trope which lies at the heart of Batman’s story. Bruce Wayne dedicates himself to fighting crime after seeing his parents murdered. While he took the most extreme route in terms of dressing up and going after the criminals one-on-one, again, us non-heroes have plenty of examples in which people have gone through stress-induced growth, resolving to help others, such as become social activists.

Lastly, is the idea of destiny. This is where a characters, such as Neo from The Matrix, or Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, realizes that they are The Chosen One as outlined by some prophecy or other story-telling tool. Often, the characters are reluctant to accept this fate of theirs, but in the end dive into it, assuming a great deal of responsibility that compels them to grow at a faster rate than they want to.

So, why is it that we like origin stories so much? I think it’s because at the end of the day, we identify with one or all of these life-altering forces in some way or another. At some point in our lives, we have all had to, or will have to, assume a great deal of responsilibity, more than we’d like, because of chance, trauma, or, if you buy into the idea, fate. The origin stories, at their core, provide us with a source of inspiration and ways to cope with adversity. They provide us with comfort, because we can identify with what the characters feel and think, as they are a projection of what we wish to be, and what we wish to do. They allow us to find meaning in loss, and let us discover our strengths, so that we too may better the world. We like origin stories because they allow us to tap into one of our own powers; empathy.


Why Apple Buying Beats Makes Sense

It looks like there rumor of Apple purchasing Beats that was floating around yesterday was confirmed by Tyrese Gibson and Dre himself in an expletive laden video posted to Facebook. I'm slightly worried because that totally worked out for HTC during their partnership. Buying Beats to get into music is like if Apple bought Starbucks to get into coffee: low quality product with an insanely high profit margin based purely on the popularity of the brand name.

It seems that whoever buys out or partners with Beats is doomed to fail almost immediately. AT&T, HP, HTC, and next, Apple, verifying the unpopular opinion that they are indeed in a rapid downward spiral, and while I dislike Beats for the simple reason of it not being high-quality audio for it's absurd price-point, I can see why Apple would want to buy them for a few reasons.

The first being that there Beats logo and flat wire headphones have replaced Apple's white earbuds as a sort of status symbol. No longer is it just enough to have an iPhone. You need to have an iPhone AND Beats. Think about it. Apple is all about image. Beats is all about image. People who buy either product are all about image. From a business standpoint, and financial, it makes perfect sense for Apple to acquire Beats, even if the product that they are buying doesn't make sense for a consumer to own, especially when compared to similar products from competitors that are significantly better for audiophiles, and at a much cheaper and affordable price point. Then again, Apple has never focused on affordable price points, so regardless, this is a perfect move for Apple that makes sense.

Secondly, iTunes Match and iTunes Radio, much like their predecessor, iTunes Ping, have been considered radical disappointments in the music streaming industry. Whatever is it, Apple can't seem to build their own music service to match, let alone compete, with the likes of Pandora, Rdio, and Spotify. Having Beats and Beats Music onboard would certainly help, especially if they were to merge it directly into iTunes. Trying to find new music on iTunes is an awful experience, something that Spotify excels at. The other big problem is that with Apple, your music is more or less locked in, with no way or transferring it to other platforms. Spotify alleviates that, by letting you switch from iOS to Android and back, because it's all in the cloud. If Apple were to release a version of iTunes for Android like it did Windows, with Beats Music baked in to help you discover new music, I think Spotify, and similar competitors, would have serious reason to worry.

The final reason is that the iPod and Apple's entrance into music is what saved them from total failure the last time. It makes sense that Apple would want to take the lessons they learned then and re-apply them now, to keep up with the ever changing demands of the music industry. People want options, and I think Apple is finally about to give them a viable one.

EDIT: The Apple/Beats acquisition has been confirmed today (May 28, 2014). Read more here.