lowbrowculture

collects stories and ideas from John Kelly

GQ's Oral History of Prince →

There were a lot of celebrity deaths in 2016, but none hit me quite as hard as Prince. My sister was a huge Prince fan, which meant I was basically a fan from birth. If there’s one comfort to be taken from his death it’s that – more than any of the other celebrities that died – Prince was incredibly private. Secretive, almost. Which means all we’re left with is everyone else’s stories of Prince. And this is a much more beautiful way to remember him, as a series of impossible-seeming, almost contradictory legends. Like this one from Van Jones, the political activist.

Van Jones: He was very interested in the world. He wanted me to explain how the White House worked. He asked very detailed kind of foreign-policy questions. And then he’d ask, “Why doesn’t Obama just outlaw birthdays?” [laughs] I’m, like, “What?” He said, “I was hoping that Obama, as soon as he was elected, would get up and announce there’d be no more Christmas presents and no more birthdays—we’ve got too much to do.” I said, “Yeah, I don’t know if that would go over too well.”

David Ehrlich's 25 best films of 2016

THE 25 BEST FILMS OF 2016: A VIDEO COUNTDOWN from David Ehrlich on Vimeo.

This is SO good. A great list, in a really great video.

SO good.

Inside the Halley VI Research Station →

Really cool 360˚ tour of Halley VI, which houses up to 70 research staff in the summer and 16 in the winter. Fascinating.

Tom Waits for No One

In 1979, Tom Waits made a music video for “The One That Got Away”. 5,000 rotoscoped frames of animation. Here’s one of the live-action videos they used to make the animation, proving that in the 70s, Tom Waits was as close to a horny cat from a Looney Tunes cartoon as any human would be.

You can read more about the production (and buy an illustrated scrapbook) from the director.

Holiday Hole →

Cards Against Humanity are crowdfunding the digging of a huge hole in the Earth. And livestreaming it.

Why aren’t you giving all this money to charity?
Why aren’t YOU giving all this money to charity? It’s your money.

So far, people have paid almost $50,000 to dig a hole.

a good bundle →

$20 for 151 of some of the best indie games on itch.io, with all the proceeds going to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Personal favourites: Proteus, Gone Home, Curtain (by Irish developer Dreamfeel), The Temple of No. Oh look, it’s just a great bunch of games for a really great cause. Just buy it.

A Platform for Trolls (continued)

I’ve been thinking a little more on the problem of giving a platform to trolls.

On the same day that Donald “I don’t settle” Trump settled his Trump university lawsuit, he also tweeted his disapproval at the way Mike Pence was addressed by the cast of Hamilton. One of these was an enormous story with long-ranging implications, the other was someone being pissy about hurt feelings. Which of these was the main news story on lots of newspapers (including hte New York Times)? The tweet, obviously.

During the summer, Twitter took the extraordinary step of issuing a lifetime ban on “@nero” – Milo Yiannopolis – for directing hate speech. This almost instantly decimated the “gamer gate” movement on Twitter1. It was like someone opened the windows and let in some air. Twitter briefly became a slightly nicer place.

Now, imagine twitter banned Donald Trump. I don’t know why, but you could easily argue “hate speech” too. Imagine the effect that would have on the news cycle. Non-issues would be avoided. “Rich white man has hurt feelings” wouldn’t generate pages and pages of think-pieces. We could focus on issues instead of imaginary ‘scandals’. Imagine how much less toxic the world would be.

Sure, Twitter’s investors would have a goddamn heart attack and never let it happen, but still, it’s nice to imagine, isn’t it?


  1. It’s not entirely dead, but without anyone actually driving or directing the clown car, its effect has been dramatically reduced.

Choice and achievements

I’ll make a bet with you: you give me a game that presents the player with a quote-unquote “moral choice” – who you fuck/marry/kill – and I’ll bet you cash money that there’s a trophy or an achievement for at least one of your choices.

Games like Mass Effect (the classic whipping boy for “choice” in games) have a black and white sense of morality. You’re either a saint to everyone you meet or you’re a complete asshole. These games have achievements for playing exclusively in one way or the other, which just encourages the player to min-max their moral compass and not necessarily make the decisions they actually want to.

This is what I loved about the recent Rise of the Tomb Raider. The bad guy is a total dick to your character throughout the game, so when you finally beat him (spoiler alert: you beat the baddie at the end of the game), you’re given the choice to either walk away and leave him to die or walk up to him and straight-up merc that prick.

By the time I reached this part of the game and I had to decide what to do, I followed my typical first instinct in these situations. I paused the game, then went online to find out if there was a hidden trophy for either decision, because if so, that’s the choice I’d make. Games had conditioned me to expect my choice to be rewarded, one way or the other. “Ding! You took the moral high ground, here’s a trophy!”

With the final bad guy in Rise of the Tomb Raider, there’s no trophy. No extrinsic reward telling you that you did a good job. So, unusually for a game in 2016, you’re free to do whatever feels right for you.

And that’s so refreshing.

A Platform for Trolls

Last Friday, Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTÉ, invited professional troll Katy Hopkins to be a guest on its flagship light entertainment show, The Late Late Show.

Although it’s subsidised by license fees, RTÉ gets almost half its funding from advertising. Meaning its revenue is directly affected by the number of viewers it gets.

And this is how we end up with people like Katy Hopkins on the Late Late Show. Someone that no-one wanted to see, no-one wanted to listen to, someone whose appearance drew an enormous 1,300 complaints. She ends up on their prime time chat show because it got people talking.

Reasonable opinions don’t go viral. People don’t tweet en masse when a guest on a TV show says something sensible.

Sensible people — people who care about things like acceptance and inclusion — were complaining about Katy Hopkins being on the show. They talked about how they weren’t going to watch the show, and everyone inside the same echo chamber of opinions repeated the same thing, over and over again.

Meanwhile, the people who were insulated from the uproar, the people who don’t know who Katy is (or worse, the people that agree with her) just watched the show anyway. Along with, I’ll bet, a lot of the people who said they wouldn’t. And then come the complaints to RTÉ and the cycle continues.

On a similar note, Mark Zuckerberg released a statement last week denying that fake news stories on Facebook had any impact on the US election. A site that relies on advertising revenue saying that content on that site can’t influence people? Bullshit, right?

Well, if the group in Facebook working to fight back against these fake news stories, it’s totally bullshit. Quoting one anonymous Facebooker “to highlight fake news articles in the news feed, to promote them so they get millions of shares by people who think they are real, that’s not something we should allow to happen. Facebook is getting played by people using us to spread their bullshit.”

In chasing controversy — for views, clicks or whatever — media outlets like RTÉ, Facebook and Twitter are directly responsible for a lowering of the standard of general discourse. They’re normalising hatred and intolerance. They give a platform to trolls because it’s profitable for them, and they ignore the wider social impact. And I don’t think that’s good enough any more.

I don’t really a solution for any of this. I’ve just been feeling really demoralized for the last week and wanted to get this off my chest. So, in lieu of a conclusion, here’s a photo of Christoph Waltz eating a hamburger to cheer us all up.

Update 20161130: Gizmodo recently ran an article about Reddit tearing itself apart. tl;dr the /r/The_Donald subreddit is driving lots of pro-Trump engagement (in all its hate-spreading glory) while driving other traffic away and alienating moderators.

An abandoned US satellite has started transmitting again →

I’m filing this one under “creepy shit that would make a great setup for a film”.