Culture Slash #2 – a fitful column by John Shirley

ENDLESS SURVEILLANCE BY OUR OWN DEVICES. Will our electric toothbrushes soon be reporting on our uvulas? My friend Jim Baldwin told me: “I got a bluetooth speaker and when I tried to connect it to my phone, it won’t let me continue unless I give it access to my contact list and phone call history. It’s just a fucking speaker. I’m taking it back.” He also says: “There are insulin pumps where you have to send your data to some corporation in order to stay alive.”

CNN ‘SHALLOW PERSON NEWS’ Headline: “Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West reveal name of their new baby” – the Kardashians and Kanye West care about this. Their close friends and family too. Who else cares? Nobody with a real life cares. I’m fairly sure most people don’t care. Why is this a news story?

THE EMBOLDENING. “IT’S ALRIGHT TO BE WHITE” – that was on a big banner stretched from a pedestrian bridge over a freeway, as we drove into Vancouver, Washington a few weeks ago. Above it, a large group of people—white of course—waved US Flags and grinned at us. MAGA hats were spotted. We had to be told it was alright to be white by the white racists of Vancouver? Is this their oh-so-clever play on “Black Lives Matter”? The latter being a slogan people like this insist on misunderstanding. They know perfectly well that “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t imply that the lives of “differently complected” people don’t matter. But willfully pretending not to know something is part of the white nationalist playbook. They would say, “It’s Alright to be White”  is not racist but in fact it’s a passive aggressive device, a linguistic “cut-out” for stimulating racism.

VOICE MENU BLUES. You can always tell when someone nearby is talking to one of those voice activated bots that asks you questions before you can talk to a real person on the phone. You hear the person in the next room going, “NO!” and “YES!”, at an increasing volume. And often, “NO, dammit, I said NO. Speak to representative! Shit!” as they try to get the thing to understand them.

DEEP FAKERY. And I quote: “If 2016 was the election of ‘fake news,’ 2020 has the potential to be the election of ‘deepfakes,’ the new phenomenon of bogus videos created with the help of artificial intelligence.” So the Washington Post rightly reminds us. Deepfakes can make a video of anyone—yes, you—“pulling an Anthony Wiener” or even murdering someone else, and other people won’t be able tell it’s fake. It could be used by a government–or an amoral President–to show images of, say,  enslaved women in a caravan of immigrants, or immigrants waving Jihadist flags and carrying guns. It would look real. It’s the glories of digital technology, reaching new levels of treacherousness. I will hereby boldly declare that I warned the world about this in the 1980s in a section of my A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy. Yes, I predicted it. And here it is. . .

WaPo goes on: “A significant chunk of the U.S. electorate dabbles in conspiracy theories, encouraged by a president who promotes them himself. Millions of Americans consume “news” from outlets that pump out lie after lie. And the groups most likely to be fooled are those who have low levels of media literacy and are unable to discern questionable sources from reliable ones. If better forgers are coming, we, as citizens, need to ensure that voters are educated to become better detectives.”

DECEPTION IS PART OF OUR PUBLIC LIVES. No, I don’t mean deception in politics. Not in this instance. Scroll down on CNN  and you see, under the main stories, a series of pieces you can open all about–supposedly–health, or finance.  If you open upCardiologist: “This is what happens when you eat a steak”Cardiologist: “This is what happens when you eat a steak” “Cardiologist: This is What Happens When you Eat Steak” you’re instantly routed to a hard-sell dietary advertisement. Pure advertisement. Very sketchy, too–oozing exaggeration; reeking of superficial use of some of the facts.  But the linking window at CNN looks like all the legit CNN news windows. Same style of headline font, same everything. Except:  Up in the left hand corner of this deceptive section of the page it says, “Paid Partner Content”–which most people are probably not going to notice–or not think about. It’s not that clear. It doesn’t say “advertising pretending to be news articles”.  Many news sites have these ads pretending to be articles. Sometimes it says something like, “Recommended news from our friends”. Oh yeah–that’s clear. And adblockers usually don’t work on these ads as they look like the rest of the publication.  If you need to have ads on your site, fine, but stop pretending they’re not ads–that’s just sleazy–and stop pretending they’re all respectable advertisers. Many are pure scammers.

But egregious deception–far more deceptive than “girls might like you if you wear Axe Body Spray” hints– is now strangely accepted in American society. I regularly get junk mail aimed at deceiving elderly people into thinking it’s an official document. “Oh, that looks like a government envelope! I’d better open it!” Inside it’s some predatory company wanting to get you deeply in debt. They may have a warning in big red letters designed to look official: Deadline for Response In Two Days. Which is to frighten people into thinking that they’re receiving an Official Warning from some govt department and  they’re in trouble unless they go along. One we received recently said that the envelope contained Official Property Tax Valuation. Yes, they used the word Official. Inside, it was an attempt to get you to put your house on the line for a loan based on its worth. (Which technically applies to property taxes)…

I know these kinds of things are false before I open them–which I do just to see what this particular scam is–but not everyone knows. Many elderly people are not up to date,  and sometimes they’re easily frightened; relatively easy to deceive. Yet these are actual legal businesses. Why do we accept them, as a society? Because our society has no real moral center.

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