A Golden Mean

I’m currently working with someone on a comic commission, and it’s going great. We’ve developed something of a friendship, and over the course of our exchange we traded a few paragraphs about Ganondorf’s nose as it relates to his character design. I had a few years of research and observation to contribute, and it was fun putting everything in down in writing. I realized, however, that I can never, ever post any of this on Tumblr.

I first joined Tumblr because I used to love reading the essays people posted there, but the general culture of the site has shifted so far to “performatively woke” that it’s become really scary to say anything that might be taken out of context.

For example, this morning I reblogged an interesting post about how Lord of the Rings isn’t really “heroic fantasy” in the way that many people criticize it as being. The context, for me, is my continual process of working through the narrative structure of the games in the Zelda series. What I’m afraid of, however, is that someone is going to read my act of reblogging this post as a defense of certain fantasy tropes with unfortunate implications in light of a recent (conversation?) (debate?) (trashcan fire?) about D&D on Twitter. A normal person would say, “That’s a crazy thing to think,” but the truth is that I’ve received disturbing hate mail for far more innocuous things.

The Discord interface continues to annoy me, and Twitter is deliberately designed to be awful and upsetting. I never thought I would say this, but I’m spending more time on Reddit these days. People posting there tend toward the pedantic at times, and the site sometimes feels like one of the last bastions of the “well actually” school of comic book guys (who are super annoying in the Zelda fandom, btw); but, for the most part, everyone is relatively sane and hate speech gets moderated out.

A week or two ago I read through an archived thread about how people in multinational marriages tease each other, and it was very sweet and wholesome. “One day I asked my Russian wife why she has to put dill on everything,” one post read, “and she got annoyed and asked me if I wanted a side of guns with my big American hamburger. I love her so much.” I’m in a line of work where almost everyone I know is in a mixed race/nationality/culture relationship, as I am myself, and it was nice to see people making silly jokes about how they resolve the tensions that can sometimes rise from different expectations, communication styles, and life experiences.

I can’t even begin to imagine what a thread like this would look like on Tumblr. There would be assumptions and accusations all over the place, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

The problem with Reddit, however, is that the person who is super helpfully walking you through the latest Zelda clone you’re playing might also be a moderator on one of the boards dedicated to political action meant to keep the American South gerrymandered in order to facilitate voter suppression. I offer this as an example because it happened to me a few months ago. About three years ago I received a similar shock when I realized that one of the stars of a Neko Atsume subreddit was heavily involved in an ultranationalist group operating out of r/The_Donald.

What I’m trying to say is that it sure would be nice to belong to a large and active online community that occupies a comfortable middle ground between xenophobic white supremacy and sending death threats in the name of social justice.

Mildly Cursed Content

How the Furby went from adorable pet to cursed object

Artificial intelligence had been a source of experimentation, speculation, and science fiction since the 1950s, but the Furby represented one of the first attempts at domestic AI mass production. With built-in sensors and infrared detectors, the Furby could learn from and adapt to its environment, which allowed it to respond to shifting conditions. Hold it upside-down, and it would tell you, “I’m scared.” Pet its back, and it would say, “Me love you.” The Furby was meant to be an endearing foothold uniting man and evolving machine, and in some circles, that earnest adoration for the toy still exists today—for example, in a few very wholesome communities on Tumblr—but outside of that niche, the Furby’s cuteness has increasingly become cursed by a culture of techno-paranoia.

Today, as AI and evolutionary algorithms continue to become integrated into our day-to-day, the Furby remains an avatar for our fears of a technological takeover. People have responded with cursed Furby content online, which either involves mutilating the toys or refashioning them into entirely new beasts.

This is probably true of every internet subculture to a certain extent, but it’s my personal opinion that the “Furby torture” people really need to find a new hobby. It’s not that I object to the creation of cursed objects; rather, I think these people are putting a lot of time and energy into something that isn’t that interesting – or even that transgressive, relatively speaking.

I’ve seen things during casual searches on Etsy that have made my skin crawl, and these cursed Furbies have nothing on the “action figure mods” and “haunted dolls” that people routinely create with a (seemingly?) complete absence of irony. This in turn makes me wonder how common and widespread knowledge of these subcultures is. Screencaps of these sorts of things turn up all the time on Reddit, so they’re a part of my daily visual landscape, but is there perhaps a meaningful generational divide between “people who see Furby microwave videos as the shallow end of a very deep pool” and “people who don’t know what Reddit is”?