Online Science Fiction fandom offers a weird vision of what the news may look like, after Russia wins its information war. A world of people clicking clickbait blindly, where no one has clicked beforeā€¦

Previous page…

Why the feminist agenda of Teen Titans Go! is literally pissing all over my childhood

For the purposes of this argument, the claims that there’s a top-level US government cover-up of alien space vehicles are less interesting than the mechanism by which this palpable bullshit is being propagated. The path by which the “leaks” in the DeLong documentary series made it into mainstream news is instructive. First, create a controversial or sensational talking point around some existing intellectual property that has a lot of brand recognition. Then pass it to a media platform that needs clicks. A TV channel called “History” knows that UFO conspiracy theories aren’t real history, but it needs ratings and ad revenue, which UFO material consistently guarantees. The initial New York Times piece was mainly about the existence of a government programme to look for UFOs. By the time the story had been round the news cycle a few times that aspect was forgotten, as otherwise serious news outlets ‘analysed’ and ‘reacted to’ the story, and the suggestion that aliens are among us (which is not what the first NYT piece claims, at any point).

Towards the end of state controlled news in the Soviet Union, TASS ran reports – such as the Voronezh incident in 1989 – that were obviously junk. TASS had to report lies and half-truths, such as downplaying the Chernobyl disaster three years before it reported the UFOs at Voronezh. So why not print outright bullshit? Readers would appreciate the inference. With ad revenue spread like a fine pollen over an ever-expanding bubble of content, market forces and clickbait are doing much the same thing to TV and news brands under capitalism, today, as state control did in the USSR in the Eighties. Everything is spin, so why not just give the audience what they want and sell some incontinence pads while you’re at it?

And the geeks shall lead them

Popular intellectual properties – computer games, SF franchises and super hero movies based on comic books – have become a new front in ongoing culture wars, turning audiences’ conformation biases into clicks, into revenue. “New” media is copying this business model, to propagate extremist and irrational viewpoints which make public life exponentially more toxic.

Nostalgia and pop culture are good ways to attract people to low-budget content like YouTube channels. Algorithms will link your content to bigger brands like ‘Transformers’ and ‘Star Wars’. You can also use pop culture to create talking points and fake outrage, and use clips from expensive content while having a Fair Use defence of “criticism” for appropriating other people’s copyrighted material.

I don’t want to direct more clicks at the manosphere, but if you’re really curious you can search “feminist” “SJW” and pretty much any SF or ComicCon-friendly franchise on YouTube. You will go down a rabbit hole of people who would otherwise be working in hospital radio by day and teaching karate to twelve year olds by night.

However, this video is interesting (at least to me) because it’s indicative of the mechanism by which content directed at fans is marketed; material which is parasitic on more expensive content, that the producers have made no financial investment in, but which they nonetheless can leach clicks off thanks to search algorithms.

Some guy who you’ve never heard of but who made some DVD Trek extras (remember those?) “weighs in” on the “controversy” about whether or not ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ fits with canon or not. There is no controversy about Trek “canon”. This is Trek canon, ferchissake… you think anyone writing in that universe needs to worry about being consistent with every detail of every Trek movie or TV show?

“Canon” is something which – let’s face it – only male fans tend to care passionately about, because it’s their stuff. They invested a lot of time in an imaginary universe, so now it’s theirs. Unfortunately, as people writing new ‘Star Wars’ movies in particular are discovering, you can’t make a movie from 1977 over and over again to satisfy fans for whom its become a quasi-religious artifact, and also find new audiences.

What producers of low-grade outrage videos such as these have managed very adroitly to do is to create a fake talking point (“They ruined ‘Star Wars’? But I love ‘Star Wars’! You monsters!”) These talking points then create feedback loops as people “react” to the talking points about things which are, at best, of concern to only a tiny cluster group. (There is, I see, a Trek ‘insider’ briefing one guy with a YouTube channel, to the effect that CBS is having a meltdown about screenings of the new Picard show. This will no doubt become a “story”. Every major producer of streaming content in America is having a perpetual meltdown because the entire industry is in a permanent free-fall, with subscription-based services and apps being cancelled in corporate mergers, imaginary “universes” imploding, and shows being cancelled after one episode. The real ‘Crisis On Infinite Earths’ turns out to be a Crisis of Finite Subscription Revenue).

Fake fan outrage is a good business model if you don’t have much money, but have a lot of time to figure out how to stir up melodrama and push people’s buttons. Fine if all we’re talking about is ‘Doctor Who’ but less good if the same mercenary logic is applied to what is meant to be serious-minded journalism. Yet this is what’s happening at a frighteningly rapid pace. At either contrived polarity of the political spectrum (which is more like a doughnut made from clickbait) a pro-Corbyn website pays writers on a per-lick basis, while Spiked! – mouthpiece of Frank Furedi and the Revolutionary Communist party – is bankrolled by the Koch brothers to run viral attack campaigns in defence of social media celebrities of the far Right such as Katie Hopkins, Tommy Robinson and Aaron Banks.

Along with right wing freemarket think tanks with shady backers, the BBC also likes boosting the signal of commentators from these fringe journalism outfits because they can be relied on to say something controversial. Speaking of which, Novara (a show I was on once – well, twice, because the first take was so shoddy – both of which they’ve “lost”)… is an example of one of these new journalism operations that do no journalism (Novara hasn’t broken a single new story or carried out a single investigation that I’m aware of, in years of output… instead, it’s all a very long and boring audition for jobs with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by Aaron Bastani and Ash Sarkar…)

From the hands-on-hips pose, to the “relatable” log line (“you might well be wondering if along with pastels and culottes, socialism in one country is back” … I wasn’t, no, but kudos for steering that sentence from setup to no-punchline) everything about this video would be “on the nose”, were it 2010. It’s Basic New Left politics video. Say something outrageous (“actually, keeping foreigners out is socialism”), cause a stir, then rickroll all the reaction back at your talking points = profit.

Unless a healthy market for news content emerges – rather than being free but with ads, or free but supported by free labour through bullshit internships and “exposure” – I can’t see how journalism won’t continue to go the way of “fan” commentary and conspiracy theory culture. It will become increasingly dominated by simple reductive binaries, and the outrage of marginal but insistent, belligerent voices. All in order to generate clicks and pander to viewers’ and readers’ craving for cheap dopamine hits.

Wouldn’t you know it? – Star Trek TNG did a story in 1991 predicting exactly this kind of thing happening…