I’m trying a slightly different format this week: longer notes from the week, followed by this week’s links, followed by the weeknotes.
Pre-order the hard-cover printed edition
To be released on November 7, 2023. Pre-order now to get a $10 USD discount.
- Shipped from either the US, if you’re based in the US, or the UK if you’re based anywhere else.
- Those ordering from outside the US or the UK might have to pay additional customs charges on delivery.
- Print orders do not include the ebook as that would make VAT-handling and sales tax even more complicated.
- All pre-orders, even the ones after the October 15 cut-off date for inclusion in the subscribers list, will get an automatic $10 discount automatically applied at checkout and get the book for only $50 USD.
The artist labour market
These results highlight the increasing financial precariousness of artists over the past decade.
I don’t want to make “content,” I want to make comics, I want to make art, and I want to do it in a space that is mine. I’m not sure there’s a place for that anymore.
A new Authors Guild survey finds that median book and writing-related income for authors in 2022 was below the poverty level.
It didn’t use to be this hard for people in the “creative” industries to make a living.
Sure, The fine arts, avant-garde, and those with aspirations of high literature have always had a hard time, financially, but working in comics or writing used to be a middle class job.
Usually you got called a “hack” or “low-brow” by the arty-farty crowd, but with a bit of pragmatism it could absolutely work. It wasn’t the best job, but it paid the bills.
Pay in these industries have been declining steadily at a rate that’s disproportionate to other industries that require a similar level of practice or education.
The reasons people cite varies. Usually it’s a variation of overabundance—“there’s too much content”—which is true, but there is another dynamic at play as well. Even those who are successful at capturing people’s attention in all the noise are seeing their pay go down. Writers, actors, and artists who have managed to rise above the crowd are generally paid much less today than somebody similarly successful was two decades ago and this seems to be happening across the board.
The best explanation for this that I’ve seen is one of the tech industries favourite market concept: Aggregator Theory.
Coined and popularised by Ben Thompson, it models the dynamic of mass aggregators enabled by digital media such as Google, Facebook, or Netflix and how that affects the market as a whole.
Most of it is genuinely horrifying, quasi-monopoly, strip-mine all resources kind of stuff, although Ben genuinely doesn’t see it that way.
He has, though, spotted one obvious consequence of this model: it leads to the commodification of suppliers.
It’s this commodification that’s driving down lower pay for successful and unsuccessful creators alike. People buy access to media through aggregators. Those aggregators only need to fill their services with “stuff”, any old “content” will do. All value is captured by the aggregator.
It isn’t a coincidence that the largest labour strikes in the US creative industry since 1960 happened only a few years after all the major media companies in the country switched to the digital media aggregation model by launching their streamers.
Now, in their case that didn’t pan out like they expected. Turns out that, even though they could capture more of the value as an aggregator, there seems to be overall less money in it, which means they’re cut is smaller overall. This doesn’t bother Netflix, Apple, or Amazon because their cut of the previous pie was 0%, so replacing creative industry dollars with digital aggregator cents suits them just fine.
But the studios? Now they’re caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place and don’t really know what to do next.
Erin Kissane’s excellent series on a horrifying topic
All the content warnings for these posts.
- “Meta Meta”
- “Meta in Myanmar, Part I: The Setup”
- "Meta in Myanmar, Part II: The Crisis - Erin Kissane’s small internet website". . Fuck.
- "Meta in Myanmar, Part III. The Inside View".
These posts are a deep investigative dive into the role Meta (née Facebook) played in a genocide of tens of thousands and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. It really does look like Meta management saw what was happening, knew what role they were playing in it, but decided to continue to make the situation worse just because it would make them more money elsewhere on the platform.
This makes everybody involved, y’know, bad people who should absolutely feel guilty about what they’ve done.
This here line caught my eye, though:
I think that if you make a machine and hand it out for free to everyone in the world, you’re at least partially responsible for the harm that the machine does.
This is a recurring issue for software. Being non-rival and non-exclusive, software is uniquely suitable for a free or subsidised market strategy. This also makes them uniquely suitable for aggressive market manipulation by powerful players in the software market.
Google, for example, can absorb the losses from offering Google Docs for free and in doing so it effectively makes it impossible for anybody new to try to enter the traditional word processor space. Any software company whose core competencies would lend themselves to making software for writing have to find narrower, more specialised niches or apply those ideas to software outside the word processing space.
All the big tech companies do this, and we don’t see it as market manipulation because there is no market left afterwards. It’s hard to see the potential for a flourishing ecosystem after the earth has been salted.
Using free or subsidised offerings to manipulate markets is in the tech industry’s “DNA”, so to speak.
But as Erin Kissane’s series highlights, using this strategy for communications and media platforms has consequences because by doing so you are directly manipulating entire societies.
And, to paraphrase the quote above, that makes the tech companies at least partially responsible for the harm done by these platforms.
- "A Note From WIRED Leadership | WIRED". One of the benefits of being old enough to remember the 90s is that I have an immediate scepticism of anything published by Wired.
- "Target says it’s closing 9 stores due to theft. The crime data tells a different story.“
- "My Books Have Been Banned or Challenged in 16 States". “Even if the book banners do read my books, and my writing is effective and they empathize with the queer characters, their agenda is stronger than their empathy.”
- "What Happened to Separation of Concerns in Frontend Development - Jens Oliver Meiert"
- "Robin Rendle — The Cascade"
- "There aren’t really big gaps in OKLCH where it just doesn’t render any color at all. - Chris Coyier"
- "Imposter Syndrome Driven Design and a Bedfordshire Clanger - Stephanie Stimac’s Blog"
- "Why side projects are essential for creatives—and employers should embrace them | Jonas Downey"
- "Navigation API - Issue #34 - WebKit/standards-positions - GitHub". If we get both the Navigation API and transitions, then that’d mean we’ll have fixed most issues with both SPAs and non-SPA sites making the choice largely one of implementation
- "Don’t Build Microservices, Pursue Loose Coupling - DevOps.com"
- "Adactio: Journal—Websites in the dock"
- "Adactio: Journal—Crawlers"
- "Nine things automated accessibility tests can’t test | daverupert.com"
- "Who Is OpenAI’s Sam Altman? Meet the Oppenheimer of Our Age".
- "Fair Warning: For as long as there has been AI research, there have been credible critiques about the risks of AI boosterism". From 2020 but still absolutely relevant.
- "Seven lies in four sentences". “Rumors that LLMs have solved then hallucination problem are greatly exaggerated.9 months later—an eternity in current AI—it’s still common for LLMs to spout complete, utter bullshit.” LLMs are not fit for any sort of knowledge work.
I wrote the following on mastodon the other day:
Switching to career Plan N+1 (where N is wherever I was) means I need to rethink what I’m doing both on my blog/newsletter and social media. And come up with an actual plan
Probably means I’m in for a rough few months (😬️), but I do have a clear idea of what I want to try so 💪🏻️
The impetus was seeing all of my leads for longer term software dev consultancy projects fall through, one by one, over the past few weeks and months.
This warrants a change in strategy, so I’m thinking about trying something new.
What I’ve been working on are a series of online courses on using modern web platform features in ways that make your software development faster, more robust, and more effective: import maps and browser-native ES modules, Cascade Layers, Origin Private File System, workers with Atomics and SharedArrayBuffer, and more are all platform features that could, in my not so humble opinion, be used to simplify your work. Sometimes massively so. I’m planning on using Teachable for this, but I’m a little bit on the fence on how much video to include. There needs to be some video, of course. Screen capture is the best way to demonstrate a number of things.
But do the screencasts need to be a part of extended videos, or can they work as illustrations in a more text-oriented course, albeit one that’s filled with tons of examples and screencasts?
I strongly prefer the text+screencasts approach for my own learning, but the vast majority of courses out there are, essentially, video only.
I’m leaning towards delivering courses that cater to my own learning style, under the assumption that there are more people like me out there who are underserved by the current course landscape, but am also curious to hear your thoughts.
If you’re not here for media commentary, feel free to ignore everything below.
Still doing the thing where I’m comparing remakes to the original. Also watched a bunch of classic Cary Grant and James Stewart movies, but that’s a topic for another week.
The “Thing” movies
The Thing (1982) is sort of a remake of The Thing From Another World (1951). Much like the Body Snatcher movies, they are different takes on the original source material.
In this case, Carpenter’s take is incomparably superior to the fifties take. It’s not even close. The 50s movie is a competent but fairly standard take on the monster movie genre, made original by its setting more than anything else. Whereas Carpenter’s movie is just amazing. Easily one of the greatest horror movies ever made. No contest.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 and 2008)
Again, two movies ostensibly based on the same source material, but in this case the 2008 version veers more from the original short story in ways that make it obvious that it’s more of a remake than a new take.
The original is a classic call for nuclear disarmament, and it isn’t particularly subtle about it.
- An alien comes to earth.
- Gets shot as soon as it steps out of its ship.
- Asks to speak to world leaders to warn them about something serious. Gets denied.
- Goes on the run. Is hunted all over the place.
- Gets shot and killed.
- Big robot prepares to kill everybody in response to this, gets saved by a woman who learned some magic words from said alien.
- Alien gets revived by alien tech, warns Earth leaders that they are heading towards self-destruction.
- Implied “fuck you all, I’m gone” at the end.
A key part of all of this is that the alien is obviously not a threat—the alien equivalent of a skinny diplomat with a scientific background—which shows just how disproportional the humans' violent aggressions are.
The remake doesn’t understand any of the original. The alien is not there to warn humans to change their ways. The Keanu alien is now literally plotting to destroy the Earth and only convinced to not destroy the Earth by the love that a woman has for her homicidal (really!) stepson.
I’ve rarely seen a remake misunderstand the original as badly as this one.
The Blob (1958 and 1988)
Both bad. One is bad but with Steven McQueen. The other is bad but with better effects. The remake veers away from the “nobody believes the kids” trope that was already insufferable in Enid Blyton’s era but substitutes it with every cliché in the book. This means that the remake is a lot more fun. It’s bad, but enjoyable.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and You’ve Got Mail (1998)
I need a caveat here. I have a bias against Tom Hanks.
The reason is simple: he acted in one of the most misguided, misbegotten, distasteful movies ever made, Forrest Gump.
A loathsome movie that mocks history, mocks important historical figures, trivialises the Vietnam war, the Vietnam war protests, the AIDS crisis, poverty, and several different forms of disability. It’s that sequence from Back to the Future where history is rewritten so that rock and roll was invented by a middle class white kid from the future extended into an entire fucking movie.
I hate Forrest Gump and I’ve hated it with a passion since the day I first saw it in 1994. Tom Hanks will forever more be The Guy Who Thought Forrest Gump Was A Good Idea. This means that everything he did after that movie should be met with scepticism, much like you should be sceptical about letting anybody involved with making the Chernobyl power plant build a new one.
The times I’ve given Tom Hanks a chance after Gump is generally when he’s collaborating with exceptional talent like Steven Spielberg. It took me years to watch Sleepless in Seattle (excellent) and I gave that a chance because of Meg Ryan. Same thing with Catch Me If You Can.
I’m mostly over it now. I still haven’t watched Castaway yet, but have watched many of his later movies. Usually several years after they come out, but I get there. I rarely have the urge any more to shout at the screen: “What made you think Forrest Gump was a good idea, TOM? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?"
So, as a reformed Tom Hanks hater, a while back when I first started this compare-the-remake effort, I figured watching a remake he’s acted in and then compare it to the original would be fun.
It was not.
The movie You’ve Got Mail is a remake of a James Stewart movie from 1940, The Shop Around the Corner, itself based on a play.
You’ve Got Mail is detestable. The hero is heroically working for a big box bookstore chain trying to destroy small bookstores.
That’s literally his goal for most of the movie and those who oppose this goal are portrayed as naive and unrealistic.
This was a recurring theme in movies at the time. Other People’s Money with Danny DeVito and Gregory Peck plays the exact same note, although DeVito had the decency to play up his character’s sociopathy. Michael J. Fox pulled this in a couple of his movies.
Meg Ryan plays the owner of a small bookstore that gets destroyed by Hanks’s chain.
They correspond and strike up a bit of an online romance without knowing who the other is. Tom Hanks finds out who he’s corresponding with and uses this knowledge to manipulate her into liking him more, turning into an outright stalker for a substantial part of the film.
Her shop goes bankrupt. They get together. Capitalism is awesome.
There’s so much more wrong with this movie but going into it all would fill an entire book. It has a few funny moments and clever lines but, as it happens, every single bit that genuinely works about You’ve Got Mail is lifted directly from The Shop Around the Corner. The funny scenes and clever lines? All from the 1940 movie.
And that movie is just great. Even without the favourable comparison of an outright horrible remake, it’s up there as one of James Stewart’s better romantic comedies. It’s heartfelt but with a number of funny moments. Stewart’s character and Sullavan’s are co-workers who are pseudonymously corresponding via letter. James Stewart is first to discover who he’s corresponding with but doesn’t use this to manipulate her, instead a conflict rising from his boss’s misunderstanding becomes the main crisis.
I’ve mentioned this a few times, but it’s noticeable that many 80s and 90s movies are more overtly misogynistic than many 30s and 40s movies. A lot of it is down to selection. Many of the 40s movies that are still watchable today are loved because they were unusually even-handed at the time whereas many people my age grew up with chauvinistic 80s and 90s movies and are only really noticing these issues today.
Not so coincidentally, we are about as far in time from the 80s as the 80s were from the 40s, so I’m hopeful that in a decade or so, we’ll only be remembering the more even-handed and less misogynistic movies from the 80s and 90s and that bullshit like You’ve Got Mail or Sixteen Candles will be forgotten.