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You Can’t Believe Your Eyes

Posted by Axis on May 19, 2021

Three Things This Week

1. The Original Problematic Fave

What it is: The person who ran a popular Tumblr account called “Your Fave is Problematic” in the early 2010s has revealed in an op-ed for the New York Times that she was a high school girl at the time, using the account to sort through grief after her older sister’s death.

Why it’s illuminating: As Liat Kaplan, the Tumblr account’s owner, reflects on her own actions as a harbinger of “cancel culture,” we get a peek behind the curtain at how quickly our culture rewards certain types of accusations, and how social media tends to take a poster’s authentic expertise or authority for granted. Your Fave is Problematic was quoted in multiple media outlets and lauded as having some sort of inside hook into the world of celebrities. In reality, the account was the work of a single seventeen-year old girl who was good at Googling things and who happened to feel very sad, very alone, and very angry at the unfairness of the world. It’s important for our kids (and for us) to understand that the behaviors that certain segments of the internet so energetically embrace can sometimes be a cry for help.

2. Tom Cruise, He Isn't

What it is: A sophisticated set of deepfakes on TikTok featuring Tom Cruise called attention to how realistic (and proliferant) this technology has become.

Why it’s so meta: If you’re not familiar, deepfakes are media that utilize sophisticated AI technology to convincingly mimic a person’s appearance and mannerisms. Deepfakes can be so lifelike that it can be hard to tell the difference between the real person and the computer’s impression of them. The person behind these Tom Cruise deepfakes doesn’t seem to want to trick you into believing Tom Cruise is really on TikTok (the first hint being the username that posted them: @deeptomcruise). In fact, the person believed to have created the account has been quoted as saying that people shouldn’t be afraid of deepfakes, but should instead learn to be more critical of what they see. One of the TikToks depicts Cruise doing a magic trick as he dramatically insists, “This is the real thing. It’s all the real thing,” which seems like a nod to the questions this technology raises about what’s real, and what isn’t.

3. Trending in the Right Direction

What it is: The #CancelPorn trend is accumulating likes on TikTok, closing in on 170 million views.

Why it's encouraging: Many of the TikToks tagged #cancelporn typically follow the same formula: an eye-grabbing headline or still image, followed by a gotcha moment (i.e.: “now that I have your attention…”) and then a more serious infographic or meme about how porn exploits and endangers young women. These TikToks then end with a call to “Cancel P*rn,” branded similarly to “The Truth” campaign to help teens quit smoking and vaping. #CancelPorn appears to be engineered by an account called @crunchycody, who claims to be the “CEO of #cancelp*rn'' and consistently posts about how the porn industry benefits from the cruel exploitation of underage women. Many of the talking points in these TikToks come from an expose on PornHub that ran in the New York Times several months ago, which means that the accusations leveled against that platform have staying power with activist generation Gen Z. Perhaps most encouraging of all are the teen girls on the hashtag who insist that “more people should be talking about this'' and recognize that porn distribution is disempowering and objectifying for young women like them.

Slang of the Week

fire: used to describe something exciting, incredible, or fun. Sometimes simply indicated by the 🔥 emoji. (Ex: “Have you heard the latest TSwift track? That song is straight fire.”) 

Oh, the Places We'll Go... 

Dr. Seuss Enterprises recently announced that it would no longer be publishing six Dr. Seuss books that were recently deemed racially insensitive. Very quickly those same books started selling for hundreds of dollars as some began to see them as the relics of a pre-fascist era. Dr. Seuss, many believed, was only the latest victim of cancel culture."

In fact, the decision to stop publishing those six books was not forced upon the company. As Dr. Seuss Enterprises explained to the Associated Press, “[We] listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics and specialists in the field as part of our review process.” In other words, they asked the people who were using their products what was helpful and what wasn’t, and decided to make changes?

Still, the decision brings up important conversations about what role the past should or shouldn’t play for the present. In an Atlantic article critiquing the decision to rename San Francisco’s Abraham Lincoln High, Gary Kimaya suggests that “judging past figures by the standards of the present is both untenable and ethically suspect”. Philip Nel, a children’s literature scholar, points out that what it meant to be anti-racist in Seuss’s day is different from what it means now: “During the same decade The Cat in the Hat was published, Dr. Seuss was both speaking out against racism and recycling racist caricature in his books.” Even more, according to Art Spiegelman, Dr. Seuss drew “virtually the only editorial cartoons outside the communist and black press that decried the military’s Jim Crow policies and Charles Lindbergh’s anti-semitism”. It turns out Seuss was as much a critic of his time as a product of it.

In light of that, here are some questions we hope may spark discussion:

  • When should offensive content be banned? When does that go too far?
  • Are we all just a product of our times? How can we be more than that?
  • What do you think about the quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?

Keep the Faith!

The Axis Team

PS: Did you know the Culture Translator is crowd-funded by people like you? Help us expand the CT with a tax-deductible donation!


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