Tag Archives: internet

The TomatoMeter: Is It Ruining Movies?

Let’s not lie to ourselves. We all have that one movie that we love, but everyone else, from our friends to professional critics, hate with a passion. I don’t deny I have my share. In fact, I have more than one. Some of my favorite guilty pleasure movies involve such critically panned classics like “Dude Where’s My Care?” and “Terminator Genisys.”

I don’t apologize for loving those movies, nor should anyone else apologize for liking the movies that they like. Everybody is entitled to their own tastes in movies, TV shows, comics, and porn. Granted, tastes in porn can be somewhat revealing about a person, but that’s another discussion for another article.

The discussion I’d like to have now has less to do with our ability to love critically panned movies and more to do with what’s happening with the movie industry, which has released more than it share of terrible movies. These are strange times for Hollywood and not just because it’s much harder to hide a sordid sex scandal.

Anyone who has watched at least one movie or been to the non-pornographic parts of the internet for at least ten minutes has probably heard of a site called Rotten Tomatoes. It is to movies what a rectal thermometer is to your health. Most people don’t like using it. Many try to ignore or avoid it. Sometimes, though, it tells us important things about our general health.

I’ll try to keep the rectal analogies to a minimum because there’s a growing issue with respect to Rotten Tomatoes and how it’s effecting the industry. More than one major producer has come out and bemoaned the site’s impact on the industry. Granted, one of those voices is Brett Ratner and his credibility has taken a huge hit lately. That doesn’t make that impact any less serious.

There was a time as recently as 2007 that a movie could get a lousy score on Rotten Tomatoes and still do well at the box office. Most recently, movies like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” were the poster boy for this phenomenon. That movie earned a pitiful 19 percent on the Tomatometer, but it still managed to rake in over $836 million at the box office.

Personally, I really enjoyed that movie. I thought it was a lot of fun, despite Shia Lebouf’s goofy demeanor, at times. However, that movie might have been the last of its kind in that it failed so hard with critics, but still made plenty of money, both domestically and at the foreign box office. Later movies did much worse domestically and had to rely on international box office receipts to turn a profit.

Since then, a bat Tomatometer score can really hurt a movie’s profits. Most recently, the two movies that suffered this the most were “Fantastic Four” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Both of these movies didn’t just under-perform. In some cases, major studios singled them out as a reason for declining profits.

Even more recently, the “Justice League” movie took a major hit when its Tomatometer score tanked, even though the majority of audiences liked it. There’s already a lot of doomsaying going on that, due to the poor reception of the movie, it could end up losing a great deal of money for Warner Brothers.

Think about that for a moment. The critics hated that movie, but the audiences loved it. However, due to the poor Tomatometer score, a movie like “Justice League” is doomed to go down in history as a failure. Even if the point of the movie is to entertain the audience, which “Justice League” seemed to achieve, it’s going to fail because a handful of critics said so.

This is where the influence of Rotten Tomatoes gets kind of scary. There are a great many movies that audiences love, such as “Independence Day” and “Home Alone” that have lousy Tomatometer scores, but were still huge box office successes. They succeeded because they pleased audiences and not critics. They’re certainly not the only ones.

If those movies had come out today, then they wouldn’t have been as much a success. Today, it’s easier than ever to look up how acclaimed a movie is and judge its quality, based on its score. Some of the people who ended up loving movies “Home Alone” might never have seen it, just because of the Tomatometer.

On some levels, that’s understandable. People don’t want to pay to see a movie that sucks. We waste our money on enough crap these days. We don’t want to pay $15 to see a movie we don’t like. However, how do we even know we won’t like it until we see it? Are we really going to trust critics to do that kind of thinking for us?

Now, there will be some who never pay much attention to what critics say. Even if Rotten Tomatoes had been around years ago, I still would’ve seen “Dude Where’s My Care?” because that’s just the kind of guilty pleasure movie I love.

However, if too many studios are concerned about what the almighty Tomatometer says, then movies like that might not even get made in the first place. Sure, the world wouldn’t change much if a movie like “Dude Where’s My Care?” had never been made, but that’s not the point.

If an entire industry is going to obsess over what a handful of critics on Rotten Tomatoes say about their movie, then they’re going to focus on pleasing them instead of audiences. This has already caused some consternation among movie fans, some of which suspect that there’s something corrupt going on behind the scenes.

While I don’t usually subscribe to conspiracy theories, I don’t think this one would take a full-blown CIA operation to achieve. If a movie studio wants to spend a few extra million dollars bribing movie critics to prop up their Tomatometer score, then I can’t think of how anyone could stop them.

Sure, it’s unethical, but nobody is going to prison for that. Human nature tells us that if there’s a low-risk way to achieve high-risk returns with little chance of getting caught and only minor repercussions at best, then it probably will happen at some point. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that it has happened in the past, but those involved are smart enough not to get caught.

With the Rotten Tomatoes, though, that kind of corruption becomes even easier because the result is quantifiable. You can see it in the Tomatometer score of a movie. It’s hard to imagine such a powerful tool not getting corrupted at some point.

For now, I suspect this trend will continue with Rotten Tomatoes wielding greater and greater power over a movie’s success. That trend could easily change or reverse down the line. For now, though, I won’t go so far as to say that Rotten Tomatoes is actively ruining movies. I’ll just say that it’s setting a dangerous precedent.

1 Comment

Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, Movie Reviews

The (Kind Of) Silver Lining To Recent Sex Scandals

Given the number of lurid sex scandals that have popped up in recent years, and not just the ones I’ve mentioned, you can be forgiven for thinking that there’s an epidemic of powerful men being a dick to women. Go to any social media site or comments section and you’ll usually find angry rants that are nothing short of apocalyptic.

I certainly don’t blame people for being angry about these scandals. What the Harvey Weinsteins, Bill O’Reillys, and Bill Cosbeys of the world have done is egregious. There are no excuses for being that unapologetically crude.

These are men in positions of power. They know, on some levels, that they have leverage that they can use to exploit others. It’s impossible to know whether they would do what they did without this power. So few people have that kind of power that it’s difficult and disturbing to know how most people would use or abuse it.

At the end of the day, though, they still decide whether or not to exploit their power for personal gain. Even if they’re able to cover it up for years, it’s still their choice and it’s all the more egregious.

As bad as these scandals are, though, I think it’s worth taking a step back to acknowledge an understated upside to this string of lurid news. It’s easy to forget sometimes that good news hides in the shadows of bad news. In fact, good news in general tends to hide behind the glut of horror and dread we’re fed every day by the media.

So what kind of good news can we possibly glean from the increasingly lurid sex scandal involving Harvey Weinstein? What good can come out of any sex scandal where a powerful man exploits his position to seduce desperately driven women? Well, if you’re willing to look beyond the infuriating details, it’s actually pretty revealing.

It’s getting MUCH harder for people to get away with sex scandals in general.

Think about it for a moment. Take a step back and look at the world we’re in now, with respect to sex scandals. Ignore, for a moment, the extreme voices from radical feminists and men’s rights activists who would use this scandal to push an agenda. The fact that everyone is so outraged by this scandal should count as good news.

Very few people are making excuses for Harvey Weinstein. Former allies are abandoning him. His wife is leaving him. The film industry that he helped expand is cutting ties with him at every turn. Despite being such a powerful, influential figure in Hollywood, this lurid scandal is costing him dearly.

Compare that to how scandals of the past often unfolded. Other than hilariously dishonest tabloids claiming that Madonna had a secret affair with Martian ambassador, most scandals rarely drew this kind of scrutiny and condemnation.

One of the most infamous examples is that of O.J. Simpson, who had a documented history of spousal abuse prior to the murder of his ex-wife, Nichole. However, despite this abuse, he was still largely a beloved celebrity figure. He was so beloved that some people just refused to believe that he was the kind of monster who would beat a woman.

If O.J. Simpson had carried out such abuse today, it would trend on social media immediately and there would be no way to sweep it under the rug. Say what you will about the prevalence of the internet, but it does carry out one important function. It makes hiding bad, sometimes criminal behavior a lot harder.

Go back 30 years and it was possible, albeit inconvenient, for someone with money and influence to hide a scandal. They just had to pay off the right people, sweet-talk the authorities, and have some damn good lawyers. When used wisely, it’s like it never happened.

Fast forward to today and no amount of money, influence, or overpaid lawyers can stop some random person with a smartphone from tweeting about a celebrity having a major meltdown or cheating on their spouse. Once it’s online, it’s next to impossible to stop.

Now sometimes, this can be a problem. Every now and then, a false rumor will start trending and lead to a lot of frustration. However, given the breadth and speed of modern media, it tends to correct itself. Once a rumor is obviously false, it tends to disappear quickly.

When it’s not a rumor and there’s a lot of digital evidence to back it up, as was the case with Harvey Weinstein, social media does not hold back. No amount of lawyers, PR agents, or hit men can stop it. Once the lurid truth gets out, people will respond and the internet ensures their responses won’t be filtered by the FCC.

This is where we, as a society, show another kind of progress. When it comes to powerful men exploiting women, we as a people have very little tolerance for that these days. We’ll tolerate a certain amount of douche-baggery, but when it becomes criminal, most people draw the line.

Harvey Weinstein is now paying the price. While I think it’s still important to see how valid the accusations against him are, the amount of evidence that has come out thus far leads me to believe that a significant chunk of these lurid stories are true. For what he did, he should pay a price.

Given the price he’s already paid, in terms of his reputation and loss of job opportunities, it sends a powerful message to powerful men. This isn’t the era of “Mad Men” anymore. You can’t expect to get away with these kinds of sex scandals anymore. Social media and the reactionary masses that use it will find out. When they do, you will pay a huge price.

In a world where powerful people can get away with atrocious behavior, some of which is downright criminal, it’s hard to have faith in people. While our world is far from perfect, I think the response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal shows that we’re making progress.

Even powerful men like Weinstein can’t hide their misdeeds anymore. People today are far less willing to turn a blind eye to these kinds of crimes. It won’t completely eliminate the kinds of lurid scandals that frustrate celebrities and titillate gossip magazines, but it will ensure that those kinds of scandals will be much harder to avoid. It won’t stop certain people, but it will help prevent them from using celebrity to hide their misdeeds.

6 Comments

Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues

Comics, Milkshakes, And (Failing To Fight) Internet Trolls

Before I say anything, I need to make one thing clear. I am extremely reluctant to talk about an issue that’s still fresh, so to speak. In general, I prefer to wait until he uproar has died down and/or the angry masses of the internet have tired themselves out over an issue. I usually find it easier to sift through the rubble after the storm has passed.

This may very well be the most hesitant I’ve ever been to talk about a particular issue. Think about that for a moment. I’m someone who has talked about sex robots, awkward boners, and his own circumcision. If I’m reluctant to talk about a topic, then it must be pretty nasty.

Well, don’t adjust your gag reflex just yet because it’s not that kind of topic. This isn’t something that just sparks revulsion or passionate disagreement. This is the kind of stuff that just brings out the worst in everybody. It’s like licking the shit stains on a toilet before they’ve dried. It just makes a bad topic that much worse.

However, I’m willing to suck in my gut, brace myself, and ignore my reluctance because I feel like this is something that needs to be said while certain people are still listening. Plus, it involves comics and the comic book industry. Other than the erotica/romance industry, few are quite so near and dear to me.

Even those who don’t follow the industry probably noticed an unusual hashtag trending in the news recently. It involved an incident with some of Marvel’s editorial staff. When I first saw it, I had no idea it was a controversy. I thought it was some new promotional effort. Marvel, and most comic companies, do that all the time.

For once, I’m sad to say that this had nothing to do with an ad gimmick. The hashtag in question was #MakeMineMilkshake and it was inspired by this innocent-looking tweet from Heather Antos, who happens to be an editor at Marvel.

I actually saw this on my Twitter feed. I thought it was a nice moment. It put a smile on my face. It involved milkshakes, comics, and cute girls in the comic book industry. I honestly can’t think of something more appealing to me without adding pizza, the beach, or free tickets to a football game.

Then, some asshole internet trolls, of which there are many, had to look at this happy little moment and mess it up for everyone. They did this by replying to the Tweet with a bunch of crude, vulgar comments. I won’t get into the substance of those comments because they’re not worth spreading. I won’t even make an assessment over how bad they were. I’ve been to the many toilets of the internet. I know how bad it can get.

However bad it was, it created a hashtag that has spread like a wildfire and burned away any faith you might have had in humanity, comics, or peoples’ ability to discuss an issue rationally. Like other hashtags before it, #MakeMineMarvel has become a catalyst for two sides of a pointless debate to whine and moan endlessly about how right they are. It’s a debate that nobody can ever win.

The hashtag, which I doubt Ms. Antos intended to start, has created this rage-filled rant on toxic sub-cultures like comics. On one side, you have those claiming that it’s full of angry young men who don’t want to see women screwing up their favorite toys. On the other, you have those who feel like they’re being demonized for comments that just a few idiot trolls made. Again, nobody wins that debate.

It was frustrating to me because, being a man, it made me feel like I’m being lumped in with the same group of assholes and I want no part of that. I didn’t respond to Ms. Antos’ tweet. I didn’t respond to anyone who asked me to respond. This was just a hornet’s nest that I didn’t want to poke.

An abandoned hornet's nest my dad found in his shed that he hadn't been in for a couple years. The head is apart of a wooden statue it fused with.

Then, the hashtag kept trending and people at Marvel and DC, two rival companies mind you, began responding to it. They even made milkshakes into counter-protest, of sorts, using it to fight against internet trolls and toxic subcultures. Considering some of the other protests we’ve seen this past year, I think that’s a fairly innocuous method.

However, the mere fact that this is even a thing speaks to a much larger issue. It’s one of those things where neither side, be it Ms. Antos or those who now despise her, can see the forest from the trees. After it started trending, Ms. Antos posted this tweet and understandably so. There are just certain parts of the internet and certain people who use it that completely warrant that sentiment.

Now, here’s where I start saying things that I know will rub certain people the wrong way. I’m going to try and be very careful with my words here.

I don’t want to start a new hashtag or anything. I also don’t want to get blocked because I follow people like Heather Antos on social media. I’ve said enough dumb things in the past and I’m trying to limit that, especially in these sensitive times we live in. I’ll do my best to be polite about it, but I’m not going to shy away from the truth. I’m just going to add what I hope is meaningful context.

With that in mind, I’d like to send Ms. Antos an important message that I doubt she’ll never read. That same message should apply to others who supported her since #MakeMineMilkshake started trending. Here it is and excuse me while I brace myself with an adamantium shield.

“The trolls have already won. You’re letting them win with every word you say about this issue. PLEASE change the way you fight them.”

I’m going to keep that adamantium shield up just in case, but I know this will probably take some uncomfortable explanations. I’ve talked about dealing with internet trolls before. I’ve also talked about professional trolls who go out of their way to start digital shit storms like this for their own benefit. What I’ve seen with #MakeMineMilkshake is basically a case-study in how not to respond to trolls.

Now, that’s not to say that Ms. Antos’ intentions are misguided. I don’t doubt for a second that she responded to the comments she got in the best way she thought possible. Maybe she didn’t intend for it to start trending. Nobody can really know whether or not something will become a thing, especially if it doesn’t involve cute animals.

Even if #MakeMineMilkshake didn’t start trending, though, Ms. Antos’ response would’ve already ceded some form of victory to the trolls. Like punting on third down in a football game, she didn’t adapt her game plan. Given how quickly this unfolded, I doubt she thought she even needed one.

The problem with turning her response into a hashtag, albeit indirectly, is that doing so gave the trolls exactly what they wanted. With every retweet, response, and cute quip, they get even more. That’s because trolls don’t deal in the traditional currencies of shame, sorrow, and basic human decency. They only understand one form of coin and that’s attention.

It may very well be the most important currency of the digital age. It may even be more than just a currency. It could very well be the life force with which trolls need to sustain themselves. Like Galactus, devourer of worlds, the hunger is never sated. Lacking heralds or The Power Cosmic, these trolls must resort to the lowest lows of the internet to feed their hunger.

With #MakeMineMilkshake, they basically got a free buffet and a complementary desert. I guarantee that once this hashtag started trending, they didn’t cower with fear, dread, or remorse. They’re probably still grinning and twirling their fake mustache. If they could make a collective statement towards Ms. Antos and everyone who came to her defense, this is what they would probably say.

“Ha! I did it! I got under her skin. I made this person who is more successful than I’ll ever be cry out for help, play the victim, and seek validation. They can call me a racist, bigoted, sexist pig all they want. It doesn’t matter. They just proved they’re a bunch of thin-skinned, hyper-sensitive snowflakes. Now, thanks to the hashtag, the world knows it! They know it and it’s all because of me! Mwhahahahahahaha!”

I concede that the evil laughter might be an exaggeration, but since this involves comics, I think it’s appropriate. Internet trolls are the closest thing most of us have to villains. Other than former child stars and the IRS, it’s hard to think of anyone more devious.

It pains me to say it, but the trolls won this round. Ms. Antos, whatever her intentions might have been, gave them what they wanted. She gave them attention and they’re using it. They’re already turning this misguided hashtag into Round 1,283,285,206,809 of the angry alt-right versus the bossy progressive left. It’s a fight that never has any winners.

Again, I know Ms. Antos is never going to read this post. I’m not successful enough or smart enough to have that kind of audience just yet. I’m working on it, but Ms. Antos is so far ahead of me that I can totally understand her not responding to every aspiring writer who tries to add his thoughts to an overly-complex issue. She’s an editor at Marvel. She has far more awesome things to do with her time.

If I could send her a message, though, I would offer her a simple bit of advice. When dealing with trolls, you have countless ways to lose and only a few with which to win. Anything that gives them the slightest bit of attention, no matter how negative, counts as a victory for them and a defeat for you.

To defeat the trolls, the best thing you can do is ignore them. Don’t just instinctively block them, though. Let them whine, yell, and complain with the worst digital drivel they can come up with. Either they’ll get bored or they’ll make an ass of themselves. In either case, you’ll save yourself the frustration and not embolden those who would frustrate you.

If ignoring them isn’t possible, then the second best thing you can do is fight them with kindness. I know that sounds cheesy. I know that sounds like something Superman, Captain America, or Spider-Man would say in an after school special. It still has merit, though. Your capacity for kindness, even to those who insult you, shines a brighter light on the kind of person you are while also exposing the kind of person the troll is.

The worst thing you could do is take what these trolls say and turn them into a rallying cry, of sorts. That doesn’t just give the trolls even more attention. It gives them a larger target to hit. It’s the digital equivalent of Newton’s Third Law. For every action, there is an equal an opposite reaction. With respect to trolls, poking them just makes them poke back harder.

If Ms. Antos is still with me at this point, I thank her. I know there are some who have already decided to block me at this point. I’m hoping I can still reach those willing to listen so here’s my final thought.

Trolls, in whatever form they take, should never be used as a basis to judge larger swaths of a population. Using these trolls to condemn all men, comic book fans, and Twitter users is a huge mistake. It’s basically a bonus to the trolls on top of the attention because it means more will identify with the trolls than their victims. That’s the last thing you want and the last thing the internet needs.

I don’t doubt for a second that there will be other misguided hashtags like #MakeMineMilkshake. I suspect there will be far worse trolling down the line. That’s because people are always going to say stupid shit, both online and in real life. It’s just part of the package that is the human condition. It’s how you react to it that determines whether you’ve saved the day or aided a Skrull agent.


Update: Well, I wrote this post under the assumption that Ms. Antos, or anyone else who is many times more successful than me, would ever read it. I was wrong and I’m more than relieved to say that. Ms. Antos did actually read this post. As a result, there’s something I need to clear up. Several hours after I posted this, Ms. Antos issued the following tweet.

I sincerely thank her for her response and I apologize for the impression that my post had given. In reading it over again, I realize I had implied that she was the one who started the #MakeMineMilkshake hashtag. She did not. I never thought she did, but I implied otherwise. For that, I sincerely apologize. Apparently, I was not careful enough with my words. I’ll try to be mindful of that in the future.

3 Comments

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes

The Attention Economy (And Why It’s Ruining The Internet)

Here’s a little pop quiz that most people will probably fail. What is the most valuable asset in today’s modern economy? Go on, take a few minutes if you have to. I know it sounds like an easy question to answer, but it’s still worth thinking about.

Is it gold? Historically, it is one of mankind’s most valuable materials.

Is it money? That makes sense. People call it the root of all evil for a reason.

Is it knowledge? Smart people can be pretty damn successful.

Actually, it’s none of these. Even money, that one major driving force behind every major heist movie, is not nearly as valuable in today’s economy as it was 50 years ago. If anything, it’s losing its value and becoming an increasingly esoteric concept, so much so that we consider bits of computer code to be money.

There is, in fact, one other asset whose value exceeds them all. We know this because businesses, artists, and even horny people trying to get laid go to obscene, if not annoying, lengths to get it.

That’s right. I’m talking about that most precious of assets that drives the entire modern economy. I’m talking about attention.

Yes, that word deserves bold and italicized fonts. It’s just that important. It may seem like hyperbole to those still used to picking out pocket change between couch cushions. It’s not like you can tip a stripper with attention. However, give it just a little bit of thought. It won’t take much to realize just how important it is. It doesn’t just drive the economy. It drives (or hinders) our love lives.

I know this because it ties directly into my ongoing efforts to be an erotica/romance writer. It also ties into my efforts to make this blog a successful supplement to those efforts. There’s a good reason I try to avoid overly boring topics and talk about kinky things that both raise eyebrows and moisten panties. It’s a way for drawing attention to my work. It is, without a doubt, the greatest challenge I face as a writer.

Talk to anyone who has ever worked in marketing, whether it’s selling books or diamond-encrusted dildos. They’ll probably say the same thing, although the people selling dildos will probably have better stories. The hardest part of selling anything is getting peoples’ attention.

I know I keep referencing this same famous movie clip, but it’s just that powerful. It keeps finding new ways to be applicable to so many things, from making money to finding love. There’s a reason why Alec Baldwin won an Oscar for it. It’s the same reason why you don’t hear from a lot of other Baldwins these days.

Between the bragging, bullying, and brass ball props that Baldwin’s character uses, the most important part of his distinctly de-motivational speech is the A.I.D.A. method he describes. That’s attention, interest, decision, and action. Every major marketing method follows this model to some extent, but it’s that first step that is most vital.

It’s also the step that is most difficult, especially in the era of 350 channels, YouTube celebrities, and internet memes. For most of the modern era, we had only a handful of TV channels, newspapers, and methods for disseminating information. It used to be that a few strategically placed commercials during the Super Bowl would be enough to generate the attention you needed.

Those days are deader than analog cables and betamax. Instead, you have hundreds of channels containing countless shows, stories and sites doing anything and everything to get every last second of your attention. Is it really that surprising that the gratuitous violence/nudity on “Game of Thrones” and iconic franchises like “Star Wars” have become the new standard?

These things get your attention. These things get people talking. It’s only after you have someone’s attention that you can even begin to plan on how you’ll get them to pay for your product and/or have sex with you. In an era of so many choices and so few opportunities, attention might as well be encrusted in polished diamonds.

It’s because that attention is so valuable, so much so that it’s become the main currency of the modern era, that the internet is changing and not necessarily for the better. Spend more than five minutes on the internet, whether you’re checking your email or watching porn, and chances are you’ve run into a little something called clickbait.

In the attention economy, clickbait is akin to the muggers who beat up sick orphans while drunks throw pennies at them. It is the clogged toilet and overflowing septic tank of the internet. They are sites, ads, and shady tactics meant to draw you away from productive activities, like checking your email or reading this blog, and into some buggy, browser-crashing site meant to extract your attention and credit card information.

We’ve all seen them. The names of the sites and the annoying ads they post are ridiculous. Sometimes, it’s painfully obvious. However, it’s still tempting at times to click on them and that’s exactly what makes clickbait so evil.

Like it or not, people need to make a living. Websites need to make money. I need to make money. I can’t tell sexy erotica/romance stories without a roof over my head, food on my plate, and a reliable internet connection. That’s why I promote my novels every chance I get. I haven’t resorted to clickbait yet, but it is tempting. It’s also very frustrating.

I’ve seen the same internet as everybody else. I’m just as annoyed by the abundance of clickbait as everyone else. It’s hard to even trust the text within a link these days. At the same time, however, I can understand the intent behind it.

People are trying to make money. They can’t do that unless they get the attention of customers. The problem is that as the size and prevalence of the internet has increased, our capacity for attention has not. We humans only have so much brain matter in our skulls. That brain can only give a finite amount of attention to a handful of things at any given time.

Until we can start augmenting our brains, which Elon Musk is working on as we speak, this limitation isn’t going to change. We’ll still only be able to give a certain amount of attention to ourselves, mass media, and each other. As such, the amount of clickbait we see on the internet is only going to increase. The sheer absurdity of the headlines is likely to increase as well. I’ll give everyone a moment to shudder.

It’s unavoidable, but understandable. The internet may seem infinite, if only because of the varieties of porn it stores, but it’s not. It can’t run itself for free either. It needs to make money somehow and nobody seems to want to pay for it. Why else would some people resort to Kickstarter, which is basically digital begging, to fund movies?

We’re all guilty of it. I certainly am. I’ll whine constantly about pop-up ads and video ads on a site, but refuse to pay the extra $10 for the “premium” version that removes the ads. While some feel that kind of service is exploitive on the same level as price gouging for medicine, it makes sense. Again, the people managing these sites need to make money and nobody seems keen to want to give it.

The internet will continue to evolve, as it always has. That evolution will be driven primarily by a desire to turn a profit. Unfortunately, no profits can be made unless someone gets enough attention first. As evil and annoying as clickbait may be, we have only ourselves to blame for its existence. At least for now, it’s here to stay. The best we can do is grit our teeth, read some sexy novels, and endure.

6 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

How Professional Trolls Hack Your Brain

Here’s a quick non-rhetorical question. What do Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, Lena Dunham, Bill O’Riley, John Oliver, Alex Jones, and Sean Hannity all have in common? Other than being richer, more successful, and more well-connected than you or I will ever be, what could possibly tie them together in a way that would help them get along at a barbecue?

Take all the time you need. I know this is one of those questions that’s not going to have a very satisfying answer to anybody. I also know it’s one of those questions that pisses people off, even before they answer it. This is the internet. People get pissed off for far less.

Are you done? Well, knowing full-well that I’ve already pissed off plenty of people, here it is. They’re all trolls who use the exact same tactics to make themselves successful and relevant. They may not do it overtly. They may not even admit to it, but on some levels they understand what they’re doing and why it works. Sadly, it works very well.

Now when I say they’re all trolls, I don’t mean to imply that they’re the kind of internet trolls that harass people on social media with insults, death threats, or pictures animals eating their own shit. Those kinds of trolls are a different breed. Granted, they’re annoying and should be ignored at all cost, but these professional trolls are on another level in that they make a damn good living doing what they do.

What these professional trolls do is as brilliant as it is disturbing. Pick any notable public figure who says controversial things. It can be Milo Yiannopoulos making derogatory comments about Muslims. It can be Lena Dunham saying she wished she got an abortion. Just think about any controversial thing that any controversial figure has ever said.

Whether it’s entirely planned or one of those instances where they don’t shut themselves up fast enough, the results are the same. People get outrage. Hashtags get started. Protests erupt. Venomous hate clashes with vocal support. There’s basically all this noise full of anger and passion.

As all this is going on, Milo and Lena are probably laughing to themselves at how much free publicity they just got. Anyone who has ever been in show business, media, or publishing will probably agree. The hardest part of success in Hollywood is getting publicity. There’s only so much of it to go around and people have a very finite attention span. Being able to get free publicity is like being able to play a game with cheat codes.

Now we’ve all heard there’s no such thing as bad publicity before. That sort of sentiment pre-dates the internet, going all the way back to the days when Ozzy Osborne bit the head off of a bat. Today, there’s one key difference that takes this phenomenon, gives it an unlimited supply of crystal meth, and sticks a nine-inch needle in our collective brains.

That difference is immediate access to information. From the internet, to our computers, to our phones, and into our pockets, we no longer have to wait for the evening paper to hear about these atrocious events. Thanks to social media, alerts, and annoying text messages, we can know about them mere minutes after they happen.

While this is a marvel of modern technology and communication, it does have a downside and it’s one that the professional trolls of the world have exploited to the utmost. That downside has to do with how stupid our collective brains are.

By that, I don’t mean that people themselves are stupid. I may be in a minority, but I believe that people, in general, are fairly decent and competent in their day-to-day lives. When I say our brains are stupid, I’m referring to the overall functionality of the hardware involved.

This goes beyond caveman logic, which I’ve cited many times before on this blog. This even goes beyond humans being wired for survival and reproduction rather than logic and reason. This is a byproduct of nature being too much of a blunt instrument rather than a scalpel. In this case, it makes professional trolls rich, successful, and famous.

They do this by hacking an unfortunate quirk in the human brain and using it to their advantage. It’s called “Misattribution of Arousal.” Unlike other convoluted scientific phenomena, this is exactly what it sounds like.

Have you ever been on a roller coaster? Have you ever been really scared by something? Well, if your brain is in working order, it got you extremely aroused and alert. You were afraid, excited, anxious, or euphoric. You could’ve felt any number of emotions at the time.

From your brain’s perspective, though, it’s the goddamn same thing. You’re aroused. There’s a stimulus you need to respond to. That’s all there is to it. As brilliant and complex as the human brain is, it’s still a pretty crude organ. It can’t do math worth a damn. It can easily be tricked by the David Copperfields of the world. It can, however, be tricked into getting aroused for all the wrong reasons.

This is what professional trolls do. They do or say something that gets people aroused. It’s not enough to just get their attention. I’ve already covered how attention is a big part in the “Always Be Closing” approach to success. However, attention only does so much. Adding arousal to the mix does something far greater.

When your brain is in a state of arousal, it doesn’t care much for specifics. It just knows its aroused and needs to respond to something. When you have instant access to information that upsets, angers, or thrills you in any way, that triggers arousal. That arousal, even if its the bad kind, causes the release of dopamine and this is where it gets really dangerous.

For those of you who aren’t caught up on neuroscience, you should still know what dopamine is. That’s the feel-good, everything-is-awesome chemical that our brain uses to reward us for doing things we like. Naturally, it’s a big part of our sexual response. If your brain is swimming in dopamine, that means you’ve had amazing sex.

Now the outrage/interest/arousal we fell with professional trolls doesn’t release quite that much dopamine into our brains. However, it does release some. It releases enough to get a response and due to the crude wiring of our brains, that’s more than enough.

That means that, on some levels, we like being outraged or upset by professional trolls. We like the feeling we get when we despise certain people, groups, or ideologies. Anger, hate, and fear all trigger the same arousal. Our brains enjoy that arousal to some level and thanks to modern communication, it’s far easier to get today than it has ever been in human history.

It’s uncharted territory. If these professional trolls were around 40 years ago, they would probably have a much harder time building an audience. They could say some of the most horrendously-offensive things anyone could possibly say, but it wouldn’t get a lot of attention because word would spread too slowly. The internet, along with social media, is changing that in a big way.

The professional trolls are maximizing that change to their benefit. They’re finding all sorts of ways to anger, upset, or inspire us, even if it’s stressful. Again, our brain doesn’t care. It still arouses us. It still gives us a non-trivial dose of dopamine. That’s all it takes to get people going.

It’s the hidden, unknown, unacknowledged secret that we’re just starting to understand. Whether you’re a die-hard social justice warrior or an outspoken supporter of the alt-right, you use the same methods as the professional trolls. You say and do what you need to do to get people aroused.

It doesn’t matter if it’s true or honest. You don’t even have to believe it on some levels. There are probably many figures out there who, in their private moments, know that what they’re saying is wrong or foolish. They just don’t care though because they’re not looking to say something right or uplifting. They’re trying to get people aroused and worked up.

Now I don’t know which professional trolls feel this way in private. I believe that on some level, they all really believe in what they’re doing. I also believe that on some level, they understand that some of it is misguided and flawed. There’s this vast gray area of understanding that’s hard to grasp and we’ll probably never know for sure just how much these professional trolls believe their own rhetoric.

Whatever the case, this is the world we live in now. We’re all very much at the mercy of the flaws of our collective brains. It’s hard to say where we’ll go from here. I don’t see the methods of professional trolls changing anytime soon. What they’re doing works. It’s making them money, getting them attention, and earning them fame. Until that changes, they’ll keep doing it.

There’s a lot more I can say about this topic and the science behind it. I’ll probably do a few other posts on it, if only to explore the implications for my own efforts to become a successful erotica/romance writer. Until then, I’ll leave some of the other details the brilliant people at Cracked.com.

A while back, they did a podcast on this subject. They bring up some pretty interesting/disturbing points about professional trolls. I don’t agree with their sentiment on every issue, but I do think they make some valid points. For anyone who is generally annoyed by professional trolls, those points are important to understand, if only to maintain a healthy perspective on why trolling works so damn well.

10 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

A Quick Guide To Dealing With Internet Trolls

The late, great Benjamin Franklin once said, “[I]n this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” That little pearl of wisdom has held up remarkably well over the years, especially when democrats are in charge or when despots need more money for their gold-plated toilet seats.

However, if Mr. Franklin were alive today, he’d have to amend that quote in a very specific way. While it’s still true that the only certainty is death and taxes, there is one other inescapable force that makes even the forces of nature tremble. It’s a force so powerful that it can reduce the best of us into wounded puppies begging for a band-aid.

What is this force, you ask? Get ready to embrace the horror because it will affect us moving forward. In fact, it’ll affect us more and more as the pace of technological advancement accelerates. It conjures dread, fear, annoyance, and frustration. It is the ultimate shit stain of the internet and technology in general. They are the true beasts of the 21st century.

Yes, I’m talking about Internet Trolls.

I’ll give everyone a moment to either cringe in horror or roll their eyes. Some of us have experience with internet trolls. Some of us may have even done our share of trolling in the past, although we’ll never admit in public that it qualified as trolling. Like a kid trying to get out of chores, we’ll make any excuse not to be associated with this horror. That doesn’t make us any less guilty of it.

I freely admit that I’ve done my share of trolling in the past. I’m not proud of it, but I’m only human. I’m passionate about a lot of things and I hope that shows in my erotica/romance novels. If it doesn’t, then I’m not doing my job.

We humans are passionate creatures. We always have been. We probably always will be on some levels, despite the efforts of movies like “Equilibrium.” It’s only recently that we’ve had a tool, namely the internet, to convey our passion all over the world about every possible subject from sports to pets to how we style our pubic hair.

I don’t consider this a bad thing. I’m not those who think the internet makes people into monsters or trolls. I believe that humans always had these sentiments to some degree. We just never had a chance to express them on a larger scale. The internet helps us reveal the breadth of our passions. There’s going to be the good and the bad. We can’t avoid either, nor should we.

So in many respects, internet trolls are like the sewer systems of a city. It smells, it’s ugly, and it’s flowing with shit, but it needs to be there. It needs to function for the city to function. You can whine about it all you want, and some people do, but you can’t escape it.

If we can’t escape it, then how do we deal with it? How do we deal with these digital demons that attempt to suck the fun out of anything and everything we hold dear? It’s actually easier than you think, at least for the non-famous population. For the famous crowd, it’s a little trickier, but not by much.

Since I can’t relate to famous people that much, I’ll stick to what I know before I dare to speculate. I’ve been on the internet for over 20 years and I’ve seen it grow and evolve, from the early AOL days to the fall of MySpace. In that time, I’ve picked up on a few techniques to combat internet trolls. Here are just a few:

  1. Assume there will be trolls wherever there’s an opportunity and don’t get overly upset when they show up
  2. Never assume a troll is being one hundred percent sincere, nor should you assume that the troll is one hundred percent knowledgeable either
  3. A troll that makes threats is serious, but a troll actually carrying out these threats is exceedingly rare so keep that in mind
  4. Above all, deny the troll any and all forms of attention or reactions, as this is the primary fuel in which a troll operates
  5. Apathy is the most potent weapon against internet trolls

There are probably more techniques that are unique to certain situations. There’s probably a whole host of tips and tricks to deal with certain trolls that go to much greater lengths to harass others. Those cases aren’t typical.

How can I be so sure of this? Again, apply a little caveman logic and it’s obvious. Human beings have a lot of remarkable mental and physical traits, breasts and balls being some of the most notable. However, when it comes to our attention span, human beings are incredibly lacking.

The average human attention span is not that great and some even argue (albeit not very effectively) that it’s shrinking due to technology. A troll operates at the very basic of levels in terms of human capacity. That means a troll’s attention span should not be overestimated. The internet is full of so many distractions, cat videos being just one of them. A troll that doesn’t get a reaction isn’t going to stay interested for very long.

In the end, the greatest weapon that any of us can use against internet trolls is apathy. That is a troll’s ultimate kryptonite. When a troll goes to such great lengths to harass and demean, but earns nothing but a blank gaze in the end, it’s downright toxic. Their brains simply cannot process why they are wasting time and energy that could be better spent hunting for tigers and seeking fertile mates. It’s caveman logic at its finest.

This is a sentiment echoed by those who have a somewhat larger social media presence. Being a lifelong comic book fan, I frequent comic book message boards and social media. I see a lot of trolling, to say the least. Comic book fans are a passionate bunch, as we learned during the Avengers: Age of Ultron controversy surrounding Black Widow.

This leads me to Tom Brevoort, an accomplished editor at Marvel and a genuinely interesting guy. I’ve met him in person at comic cons. He’s great at what he does and the way he deals with fans is nothing short of astonishing. A couple years back, he responded to a question that effectively proves my point.

When Mr. Brevoort was asked, “What does Marvel fear more? Angry fans or apathetic fans?” he responded as follows:

“Apathetic fans, definitely. When fans are angry, we’re selling comics.”

That’s a refreshing bit of honesty from someone who often has to be coy about his business. It also emphasizes the power of apathy, both in terms of dealing with trolls and dealing with public visibility. That saying about there being no such thing as bad publicity is somewhat accurate, but it’s incomplete in that it ignores how human passions operate.

So with that in mind, use these techniques whenever necessary. If you’re a celebrity, it may be somewhat trickier because internet trolls can sometimes turn into dangerous stalkers, which is an entirely different problem that I’m not equipped to deal with. For those like me, who are a long way away from being famous, this should help make your internet experience more tolerable.

2 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

Why People Sext (According To Dilbert)

Every generation does something unusually kinky that horrifies the older, more uptight generation that has spent considerable energy hiding from their kids that they once wore bell-bottoms and danced to disco music. I don’t deny my generation did some kinky things, many of which still play out in music videos, but I try to keep things in context.

For that very reason, a context for “sexting,” also known as the sending of dick pics and tit shots, still baffles me to some degree. Maybe it’s a sign I’m getting older. I’m in my 30s now. I can’t claim to be young, dumb, and inexperienced anymore. Being on this planet for 30 years gives me too much experience to have excuses.

Regardless of whether or not I’m becoming and old fart, sexting is a thing. According to a 2012 study in “Computers and Human Behavior,” over half of a sample size of young college-age students had engaged in sexting in some forms. Over half of any population means it’s not a fringe behavior. This is happening and it’s becoming common to a degree that’s dangerously close to what bell-bottoms were in the 70s.

So why do people do it? Why is exchanging sexy pictures a thing? Granted, there have been some legal issues involving sexting, but most of those cases involve individuals who are underage. Some involve exploitation and coercion. That’s an actual crime, right up there with forcing someone to wear bunny pajamas to a Rob Zombie concert.

This isn’t like smoking crack. As far as the law is concerned, it is legal to willingly exchange naked pictures of yourself. Just make damn sure the participants have been on this planet long enough to exceed the arbitrary threshold of adulthood that society imposes.

So why do we do it? What’s the appeal? To me, a guy in his 30s with an internet connection and a love of writing erotica/romance, it just doesn’t make sense to me. The internet has an almost infinite number of boobs and dicks on it. It’s really not necessary to persuade someone else to send you pictures of their bodies. A simple Google search is really all you need.

I liken it to being at a fancy restaurant and ordering a steak. However, instead of bringing you a stake, the waiter brings you a picture of a steak. It still looks good. It still looks appetizing. It’s still a fucking picture though. It’s not going to fill the same need.

I personally have never sent someone a picture of my penis. Instead, I just show them how long my ring finger is, which is a more subtle way of letting someone know you have a generous endowment. If I find a lover who is into sexting, I’ll probably feel different. For now though, I’m still confused.

Thankfully, others have thought about this so I don’t have to. Scott Adams, the creator of the famed comic strip, Dilbert, has a knack for making sense of absurdities that have little to no rational explanation. His wry sense of humor has inspired me a great deal in recent years. It has also helped me shape the course of this blog.

The writings of Scott Adams, as well as his hilarious Dilbert cartoons, have helped inspire the phenomenon of “caveman logic” that I’m so fond of citing. Most recently, I read his book, “How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big.” It was the most fun I’ve had reading a book that didn’t involve graphic depictions of female anatomy.

As such, when Scott Adams has something to say about sexting, I tend to listen. Last week, he did an article called, “D*ck Pics Explained.” Naturally, it got my interest and not just because it made me think about my own penis. Here’s the main crux of his interpretation:

Our sex drive is so strong that it largely eliminates the option for rational behavior. And as you know, the hornier you get, the stupider you are. Once a guy reaches a critical level of horniness, his rational brain shuts off and he becomes primal. And when he’s primal, he sometimes signals his availability for mating in the most basic way possible: He displays his junk in full preparedness.

If you think the men doing this behavior are extra-dumb, or extra-rude, that might be true. But it is just as likely that such men are extra-horny. That gets you to the same decision no matter your IQ because the rational brain is shut down during maximum arousal.

It is also true – as far as I can tell from discussions with women over the years – that sometimes a dick pic actually results in dating and sex. I realize how hard that is to believe. But sometimes (maybe one time in 500) it actually works. You would think those odds would be enough to discourage even a man with a temporarily suspended intellect, but that view ignores the basic nature of men: We’re risk takers when it comes to reproduction.

Okay, now I can understand it to some extent. I understand why sexting is still a thing. I’m a fairly healthy man and I can say without reservation or shame that I’ve been at that critical level of horniess before. It has led me to do or contemplate things that makes my brain want to kick my ass. It’s never gotten me into too much trouble, but it has led to some awkward situations that I prefer not to describe.

This interpretation is part of what Scott Adams calls the “Moist Robot Hypothesis.” It’s basically the idea that human brains are like robots, but they’re moist and fungible. Granted, they can’t be programmed as easily as a non-moist robot, but it can be hacked to some degree. In fact, the internet is full of brain hacks to exploit, which says a lot about the sub-par programming of our brains.

Flawed or not, the hypothesis is similar to caveman logic. It emphasizes the fact that we humans have two biological imperatives: survival and reproduction. Rational thought and a clear understanding of reality don’t always jive with those imperatives. That’s why critically horny men and women are prone to doing stupid things.

I’m not nearly as smart or as successful as Scott Adams, but I am working on that success. As such, I hope he’ll forgive me if I tack something onto his assessment. I agree in large part with his explanation for sexting. However, I would add another layer to it and it’s an extension of both caveman logic and the Moist Robot Hypothesis.

Due to our biological imperatives, which are at the forefront of our brain’s programming, there’s also a powerful need to adapt. Adaptation is a basic part of evolution for all creatures, be they human or pond scum. Think of it this way:

  • Does wearing tie-dye T-shirts and listening to Bob Dylan increase your chances of having sex? Then chances are, you’ll adapt accordingly.
  • Does wearing bell-bottoms and listening to disco music increase your chances of having sex? Then chances are, you’ll adapt accordingly.
  • Does sending naked pictures of yourself to a lover increase your chances of having sex? Then chances are, you’ll adapt accordingly.

See a pattern here? Notice how I didn’t mention the degree to which your chances of having sex will increase. It can be exceedingly small, but so long as it’s more than zero, that’s enough reason to adapt your behavior and conduct accordingly.

There’s another factor in play that inspires adaptation. That involves distance and technology. Thanks to the growth and prevalence of instant communication, long-distance relationships are a bit more viable.

I know this from personal experience because I met one of my ex-girlfriends online and a lot of our relationship was long-distance. Were it not for Skype and email, we never would’ve found each other and she never would’ve taken me on a memorable trip to Victoria’s Secret.

In this context, sexting can be seen as an adaptation of sorts and one that’s become more necessary to some extent. According to the Journal of Applied Communications Research, between a quarter and half of all relationships among college students are long distance. Naturally, college students are still going to get horny, regardless of distance. Their caveman brains/moist robot brains will require them to adapt.

This capacity for adaptation shows just how creative we humans can be when it comes to fulfilling our biological imperatives. In evolutionary terms, we’re no different from our caveman ancestors. We’re still wired to eat, hump, and survive. We just change our tactics in accord to our circumstances and adapt accordingly.

At the moment, some are adapting to new technology and distant connections by sending naked pictures of themselves. It’s not necessarily a logical adaptation, but since when does logic apply when you’re horny?

8 Comments

Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights