More on the purpose of readings

In my previous post (which you may have missed, since FTB was down for a few days), I asked “What is the purpose of a reading?” I discussed a reading of Elden Ring that baffled me. I could not understand the purpose of the reading, other than arguing that it was intended by the authors. And the article didn’t really do anything to convince me of authorial intent.

I wanted to keep things simple, but my thoughts were spiraling outwards from there. So, if you permit, some more scattered discussion.

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It bugs me about Nimona

cn: Lots of spoilers.  Also a suicide mention.

Nimona is a recent animated film taking place in a futuristic medieval setting. Lord Ballister was a commoner who was plucked by the queen to become a knight. Knights are sworn to defend the city from monsters beyond its walls, but they basically function as cops. However, during the knighting ceremony, Ballister is framed for killing the queen, and becomes a fugitive.

He gets adopted by Nimona, who at first appears as a young girl, but is a powerful shapeshifter. She calls him a villain, and insists on being his sidekick.  Although Ballister is initially reluctant, they work together to prove his innocence. But Ballister learns that he needs to go much further, striking at the heart of the city’s corrupt institutions and entire mythos.

Nimona is celebrated as a queer and trans movie, and for good reason. It has a trans creator, overt representation (Ballister having a male love interest and Nimona being fluid in both species and gender), and subversive themes about overthrowing the social and institutional structures that oppress people.

And so, I am very sorry to play the role of media curmudgeon, yet again. I found the themes of the movie to be in conflict with what was being literally portrayed. This gave the impression of a movie that had a point to make, but was ineffective at actually arguing the point.

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Heartstopper season 2

Last year, I gave a lukewarm review of Heartstopper, including the first season of the TV series, and the webcomic up to that point. Today, I will offer a few comments on season 2. Because despite me being fairly critical, you know that I’m into it.

Coming out

If season 2 has any central focus, it’s on coming out. Nick has committed to coming out to people at school at the beginning of the season, and he only gets around to it near the end of the season.

On the one hand, I appreciate the portrayal of coming out as a long and arduous process. In many stories, coming out is portrayed as a single confrontation, usually with parents. But in real life, there are so many people to come out to, way more than you can reasonably fit in a story. When an LGBTQ person is committed to coming out, it really is a long-term commitment, and you never stop.

On the other hand, a huge benefit of coming out for gay/bi men is that you can actually have a relationship in public. There are just so many things you cannot do in a same-sex relationship while closeted because people would find out. But this does not seem to present much of a benefit to Nick and Charlie, because they’re pretty much already doing the things that you can’t actually do while closeted.  They somehow find an endless supply of private spaces.  Quite a number of these private spaces are actually in public, they’re just treated as private for no real reason.  The low-stakes story seems to remove some of the major issues that motivate people to come out.

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Empathy games and critiques

Empathy games are a genre of game that enables players to understand and appreciate other people’s feelings or experiences. Supposedly, games are uniquely positioned to cultivate empathy because of the embodied experience of playing. In a game, you can almost literally walk a mile in another person’s shoes. Empathy games also offer a counterpoint to the mainstream viewpoint that video games are all about “fun” or plain bloodlust.

Among my readers, I suspect that many have never heard of the concept of empathy games. And when you first hear about empathy games, you might feel that it’s a great idea. However, in games critic circles, especially among queer critics, it’s often considered passé, or even a discredited trope. Marginalized creators have spoken out about the limitations of empathy, and its commodification. Exploring their perspectives may help us understand pitfalls in media representation of marginalized groups.

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Tagging AI art

In an earlier essay, I discussed three arguments about AI art, and why I disagree with them. First, it is argued that AI art violated the consent of artists used in training sets; second, that it hurts the livelihoods of artists; and third, that it is bad art.

Part of what inspired me to defend AI art was that the social network Pillowfort polled its users on what ought to be done about AI art. I was surprised to hear that more than half thought that AI art should be banned from the platform, and the vast majority thought it should at least be mandatory to label it as AI-generated. I’ve said repeatedly that I am not personally interested in AI art, but it feels so wrong to single out one particular category of content just because a lot of people don’t like it. I myself produce content that plenty of people don’t like (analytical essays), and there are plenty of popular varieties of content that I dislike but no one would ever think to ban. So I defend AI art not on its own merits, but because I am opposed to efforts to homogenize social media content.

However, let’s consider a couple of things about AI art that might make it particularly annoying or corrosive to a social media platform. Even someone who creates or follows AI art might be concerned about these, and advocate measures to control them. We’re talking about deception and spamming.

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I am Sydney

Sydney, the late chatbot

Microsoft has a closed preview of a new GPT-powered Bing Search chatbot. Google also has another search chatbot in the works called Bard. I don’t know if this particular application of AI will pan out, but investors seem to be hoping for something big. Recently, Google’s stock dropped 9% after a factual error was spotted in one of the ads for Bard.

In my experience, the chatbots make stuff up all the time. The search chatbots are able to perform internet searches, and people worry about the bots drawing from unreliable sources. However, this concern greatly underestimates the problem, because even when summarizing reliable sources, the bots frequently make misstatements and insert plausible fabrications. Bing’s chatbot cites its sources, which turns out to be important, because you really need to verify everything.

Another interesting thing to do with these chatbots is to manipulate them. For example, you can use prompt injection to persuade Bing’s search chatbot to recite its instructions–even though the instructions say they are confidential. For example, the first four lines of instructions are:

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Ten things on Twitter that are already breaking

Twitter laid off 50% of its employees and 80% of its contractors, and then at least 16% more of its employees quit. At this point, I am massively rooting for Twitter to fail–purely for selfish reasons, as a tech worker who wouldn’t like to see CEOs rewarded for mistreating tech workers.

Last Friday, #RIPTwitter was trending on Twitter, and people seemed to think Twitter would stop working at any moment. I think the more likely timescale is not days, but months–but that’s just what I hear from people who work in that area. The website may not disappear immediately, but we’ll see a deterioration of services, eventually losing something that proves essential. I’m so interested to see what will deliver the killing blow.

Although Twitter seems to be working for now, we can actually see various services breaking in real time by tracking complaints on the r/Twitter subreddit. I did not confirm these issues, and some might only affect a certain subset of users, or may arise from pre-existing issues. But I think there’s a good chance that Twitter 2.0 is to blame. Here’s a top ten list so far.

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