Synthetic Pop and the Death of the Artist

Next up we'll have a Dalek barbershop quartet.

June 27, 2011

Well, I called it.

We now have fully synthetic pop stars, and not just virtual copies of anime or video game characters. I’m talking full-blown people.

Japan actually had a completely virtual pop star for about a month until her digital identity was revealed this week.

Eguchi Aimi was the latest member of Japan’s AKB48, an all-girl group that consists of several different teams of performers. She was featured in a commercial, a magazine spread, and was listed on the group’s website. For all intents and purpose, she seemed to be a real person.

Then we find out that she’s actually a composite, which really begs the question…

Japan, this group had sixty-plus members, all attractive young women who were willing to work and perform. Did you really need a completely virtual singer?

I’ll give the management credit. The fact that people were even debating whether Aimi was real or not speaks volumes to the level of detail put into her design. Furthermore, the stills, while looking Photoshopped, are nevertheless quite impressive. She sings, she takes photos, and she’ll never ask for a raise. She’s the perfect client for her creators.

Fame by ~ShimmiChan on deviantART

Of course, this doesn’t answer the question of why anyone would even make her. It’s not like they have a shortage of starlets. In fact, Aimi is a composite of other members of the group. This could easily be a test of the new technology, a stunt to show everyone just how far the programming and hardware can go.

Me? I’m terrified. Management managed to pass off this construct as a real person for a respectable amount of time, and given a year or two, the technology might easily be good enough to do away with the tiny imperfections that tipped off some fans. Think about it. Any recording company with sufficient money will be able to make pop stars on demand.

Combine that with this little study that shows there is a scientific basis for what we consider to be “catchy,” that we might be able to scientifically determine if a song will be a hit in the next few years, and we have everything we need for companies to start churning out Justin Beibers, Lady Gagas, and Rebecca Blacks. Given how Facebook and Google can target ads based on your likes, this will make it so much easier to target specific demographics.

Skynet Nokia parody by ~paulelder on deviantART

Do you think the Grammys will give the award to the programmer or the virtual person?

And if you don’t think a company will invest some money in a pop star that doesn’t eat, drink, sleep, and will do anything and everything without complaining or going on a cocaine binge…

Hi. Welcome to America. Land of the free. Home of the Whopper.

Commercialism. by *WhatIfItAllWouldEnd on deviantART

Let’s get the links out there.

  • It looks like Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero is going to be a miniseries for HBO. I have fond memories of that album. I used to listen to it as I walked around the Capitol on my lunch break. The dissonance was amazing for clearing my head.
  • Evanescence is coming out with a new album. Without sounding too hipster, I remember hearing them before they got big. Their REALLY early stuff (the albums you can only find on eBay now) is really haunting and a lot more personal, but I’m looking forward to this new one.
  • And finally, seeing as how I ripped the Miss Universe contestants for not understanding basic scientific vocabulary, someone was kind enough to further show how dumb their arguments were by replacing one little word in some of the responses. Enjoy, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.

Holograms Killed the Artist

And has three gold records.

November 15, 2010

I am a nerd. Pure and simple. I make no apologies for being able to cite Star Wars, being able to spot physics mistakes in movies, and playing D&D on a weekly basis. I embrace technology. Whenever a new development makes it possible to do something once confined to science fiction films, I get a little tingle.

Except this time. I saw the following video and felt a creepy, cold, snake coil around my neck.

A singing hologram. Hundreds of audience members singing along. A hologram that makes it possible to have Roger Rabbit-like scenes in real life.

Did I mention that, despite the live band, this is a recording?

There’s a theory called the Technological Singularity. It states that the rate of technological progress has been steadily growing and, at one point, we will in fact create machines that can think and create faster than we can. At that point, humanity’s history will end. Progress will be out of our hands. In essence, we will cease to matter.

I saw that video and instantly thought of the Art Singularity.

Never heard of it? It’s a theory I have. The number of people who create art is increasing each year. This means more possibility for new types of art, new creations, and a greater opportunity for others to get their work out. However, it also means the art world is flooded with many people and works that are, quite frankly, copies of other works. I don’t have to tell you that most works that find mass appeal do so without actually having anything behind them. Twilight, boy bands, reality TV, most pop music, and others are nothing more than candy filler, carefully calculated to appeal to the lowest-common denominator.

christian bale
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And maybe it’s me, but it seems like things are getting more and more artificial. Eventually, we will have “art” that is nothing but a machine creating beats and images designed to appeal to the masses.

It’s not that I don’t think popular music and movies and art were never calculated to some extent. As much as I want this to be a free expression of everything I want to say, I do edit these posts and make sure I say what I want to say as best as I can.

But I don’t do it to appease a demographic. I do it because I want it to sound good. I want to say and I create something that speaks to the reader and is appealing.

I saw that hologram singing, saw the crowd singing back and reacting… and it was a recording. She doesn’t exist. The talent belongs to a computer programmer who wrote the code, to an engineer who designed the holographic technology, and to a composer who wrote the music.

And we will likely never know their names.

Little Artist by *antontang on deviantART

I’m probably building a slippery slope here, but I think we don’t appreciate real artists, if we ever did within my lifetime. We focus on the end result, the bands and the flashy glitter on screen, and we don’t really appreciate the artists and designers who created the end product. Who can name a single writer in Hollywood? Who designed the graphics in the latest video game?

The Art Singularity is making art more and more artificial, more and more the result of mathematics than heart.

A few years ago, I met a writer who imagined a future where traditional art was eclipsed by “pop art” that required no talent and appealed to the attention-deficit audience of the day. Traditional artists protested by going to parks, street corners, and other public places and painting or drawing the most beautiful images they could create.

The artists then set these works of art on fire and used the ashes to make black paint they then used to recreate the original. Why? Because something made by a person has imperfections, bits of the artist’s personality, and is unique in that it will never be reproduced exactly. There will only be one. Ever.

an artist by ~atimarap on deviantART

Machines and pop art mass-produce these images and cheapen the process.

Look, I’m all for new technology and finding new and better ways of creating. I have nothing against using Photoshop or holograms or whatever else comes along. I’m just afraid that one day we’ll just have machines spit out whatever we want to see. Art isn’t just about showing us pretty things.

Art is about showing us the things we don’t want to see. It’s about seeing the artist and learning about ourselves in the process.

And now that we can expect the Robot Apocalypse to include the takeover of the art world, let’s get some links goign to soften the blow of our impending doom.

  • To anyone who thinks that models need to be a size double-zero, please take a look at these models. They probably represent more women than the waifs on fashion magazines… but they look damn good. Ladies, take note. Thin, large, black, white, blonde, whatever. You’re beautiful.
  • Ever wanted to eat some Koopa steaks? What about filet de Yoshi? Here’s a handy guide for your next 8-bit culinary adventure.
  • Speaking of pop stars, Justin Beiber has a documentary on his life coming out. The kid can’t even buy beer and he has a documentary? Thankfully, some intrepid souls went and made their own parody trailer. Personally, I’d rather see the parody.
  • Mila Kunis talks about her sex scene with Natalie Portman in the upcoming The Black Swan. You know, I like Kunis better since That 70’s Show ended. Her character got on my nerves.
  • Households with lesbian parents have a surprising amount of child abuse… Zero. Take THAT, right wing!
  • I’ve been using The Call of Cthulhu film in my ESL class because we can use the subtitles. The HP Lovecraft Historical Society is also working on a “talkie” adaptation of “The Whisperer in the Darkness.” Check out the trailer and see what you think.
  • And finally… I want this movie to be good. I really do. The music is creepy, the visuals look good, and it’s got Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez. I. Want. It. To. Be. Good.

Divine by Zero: Birthday Bras, High School Werewolves, and Army Brownies

Welcome once again to Divine by Zero, the only place where you can hear an anarchic liberal with a weird accent ramble about the crazy things in life. A few things came my way these past few days, and I have to give full blame for one of them to Stephenie Meyer.

  • First and foremost, happy birthday to the bra. Yesterday, the bra celebrated 100 years. Ladies, raise a toast for this wonderful piece of underwear. And gentlemen, also raise a toast to this wonderful piece of underwear.

  • The army released the recipe for brownies it uses to make these tasty treats for the troops… and it’s 26 pages long. Apparently, if you follow the directions exactly, you can make brownies that last for years. Anyone want to try this and comment below to tell us how they taste?
  • Science Daily released a report that states that exposure to certain bacteria can actually make you smarter. Specifically, exposure to something called mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria found in soil, can boost learning ability. I don’t buy this report at all. How can you explain nerds’ increased brain-power? We RARELY go outside! Sunlight burns.
  • And once again my state proves it’s on a crazy race with Arizona. In San Antonio, police arrested a man who had decals on his car that marked him part of the sheriff’s department in Baxar County but in the nation of the Republic of Texas. Police are charging the man with false identification, not impersonating a police officer. Why not charge him with the latter? Because doing so would mean that Texas officially recognizes the existence of the Republic of Texas, a make-believe country some die-hard conservatives here believe is the rightful nation in these parts. They don’t believe the “official” state laws apply to them and so just pretend they’re citizens of this Republic. It’d be like investigating Fox News for improper journalism. That would imply they actually do journalism.
  • We don’t hear a lot of good stories about the oil spill in the Gulf, but an 11-year-old in New York named Olivia Bouler has raised thousands of dollars by selling her drawings. There’s even a Facebook page about it. This is great because it shows the impact a single person can make on something as massive as this, but it also upsets me that a little girl’s drawings of birds have more fans on Facebook than I do… I somehow feel my manhood has been threatened… She must be stopped.
  • Speaking of funny/ horrifying things having to do with the spill, did you know the government employees in charge of inspecting the drilling were watching porn, drinking, and doing meth? Oh, and they were taking bribes, were childhood friends of the people who owned the rigs, and very likely have to kill puppies to reach climax.
  • Speaking of children, two brain trusts decided to give their baby Pop Rocks. How did it go? Well… just watch. This kid looks like he just walked in on his parents making him a little brother when the candy pops or something.

  • Republicans, meet the internet. We’re crazy. House Republicans set up a website a few days ago called America Speaking Out. The goal was to have everyday Americans suggest the course for policy so they wouldn’t feel like the Republicans were ignoring reality. Unfortunately, when you ask the internet for advice, you get advice like this.

“End Child Labor Laws […] We coddle children too much. They need to spend their youth in the factories.”

“How about if Congress actually do thier job and VET or Usurper in Chief, Obama is NOT a Natural Born Citizen in any way […] That fake so called birth certificate is useless.”

“A ‘teacher’ told my child in class that dolphins were mammals and not fish! And the same thing about whales! We need TRADITIONAL VALUES in all areas of education. If it swims in the water, it is a FISH. Period! End of Story.”

“English is are official langauge. Anybody who ain’t speak it the RIGHT way should kicked out.”

  • And finally… I know Stephanie Meyers is behind this. Somehow. A new trend in San Antonio schools is for kids to identify themselves as “werewolves.” I’m not making this up. They wear collars and identify with wolves. You HAVE to see this video to believe I am not just making things up.

That’s it for today. Stay tuned tomorrow, because some idiots on Facebook are launching “Everybody Draw the Holocaust Day” in response to “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” I wish I could say I didn’t have to explain why this is wrong… but I do.

Link and share, please.

Radio Gaga

Think Freddie Mercury will haunt me for using this title?

March 19, 2010

I don’t like Lady Gaga. Don’t really like her music. What I have heard and seen of her smacks of the kind of “entertainment” that does nothing but flash pretty colors across the screen or play something repetitive over the speakers.

And yet, for this article, none of that matters, because a fellow artist, Miss Gaga herself, is being attacked for art. I will not let this stand.

Cue dramatic music.

Sandy Rios is the president of Culture Campaign, a conservative Illinois-based group whose purpose, according to the official website, is “To engage Christians in actively living out and declaring biblical truth in a secular, humanistic American culture.”

Anyone else find it funny that they didn’t capitalize “biblical”?

She went on Fox and railed against Lady Gaga’s new video, “Telephone,” and called it poison. The clip has a lot of shotgun points calling on everything from fear of sexual predators, a disgust of the video’s homosexual overtones, nudity, sex, and a concern for the welfare of the innocence of children who might watch it.

Someone invoked the innocence of children in a discussion regarding artistic censorship? Well paint me red and call me Eleanor!

Sandy goes off in seven different directions, some of them non-Eucledian, so let’s break down some of her more fervent claims.

“This time, we have to speculate on whether or not she has a male member or not, and whether it’s been cut off or not […] and then we’ve got Beyoncé and Gaga… gay lesbian lovers? I mean, it’s disgusting!”

This one’s actually two separate arguments: hermaphrodites and homosexuals are disgusting.

Sure. Let’s ignore that hermaphrodites are a naturally occurring group. Some people, however, choose to undergo sex-change surgeries because they don’t feel as though their bodies are representative of their gender. And gender, unlike what Texas school books will now teach, is different from sex. Either way, the only disgusting thing Rios seems to find is the discussion of genitals. Just hear her voice as she talks about the rumor that Lady Gaga is actually a transgender woman.

The rumor started some time ago, but the only instance of it in the video is one of the guards talking right after they strip her and mentioning that, well, she really didn’t have a penis.

And do I even need to get into why discussion of homosexuals is NOT a disgusting topic? Rios’ entire argument at this point is that mere knowledge of these things is something that will harm society. Even if she were right, even if the knowledge of homosexuals and hermaphrodites did do something to society’s collective brain that turned the world into some Mad Max-inspired wasteland, the knowledge of such things still has value. They exist, and therefore must be acknowledged.

But they’re not dangerous. Knowledge is never dangerous. Only the application of knowledge can bring harm. Which brings us to this…

“This is poison for the minds of our kids, and for our minds for that matter.”

“Poison” implies that it is harmful in on itself. What is harmful about seeing this video? Granted, I don’t like it, I was actually a bit bored, and I can’t find any correlation between the lyrics and the storyline in this ten-minute video. It’s fluff.

marvin the martian and daffy duck
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But it brings understanding on some level. This is popular with a large demographic. Someone with a scientific mind would, therefore, have more data to use to bring about understanding of popular culture. It sounds geeky, but that’s what it is. It’s data. It’s only poison if there is a direct effect between watching the video and something harmful happening.

If I inhale cyanide, it’s going to kill my cells and cause permanent damage to some very vital organs. If I go to the McDonalds’ drive-through and get into a car accident, I’m not going to claim that cheeseburgers cause automotive death.

“I don’t know if Madonna ever did a video where […] she feigned to have a male member and they feigned perhaps cutting it off […] It’s the kind of thing we shouldn’t even be discussing, much less thinking about from my perspective.”

Oh Sandy… Just because you don’t want to think about it, doesn’t mean it’s going to go away. I know it works for all the other problems in your life like annoying friends and children, but Lady Gaga’s on all the televisions and radios.

Okay, that was really snippy. Keep this one in mind, though, because while the statement above is really, really stupid, it’s going to get downright mental in a bit.

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“Our world is filled with sexual predators […] I don’t know if you know this, Megan, but they’ve done surveys to find out the men who do these kinds of things to these young girls, something like 85% of them, are involved in some sort of porn. So you may not watch it, your kinds may not watch it, but I’m telling you the man next door who’s a sexual predator probably does watch it.”

Know what else most sexual predators watch? The news. Most of them have driver’s licenses, too. I’m also sure many of them were breast-fed. Statistically, most serial killers are white men. We should ban white men that have driver’s licenses, were breast-fed, and watch the news so we can spare the world of more sexual assault.

Sorry ladies, Johnny Depp has to go. Sandy Rios said so.

Johnny Depp
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A connection between two pieces of data is not evidence of a corollary. I’m fairly certain the data Rios mentioned is accurate. Most sexual predators probably do look at pornography, but did the pornography cause them to become sexual predators?

To put it another way, how many people watch porn?

So… how many sexual predators do we have in this country? I’m going to assume it’s much, much, MUCH lower than the number of people who actually watch pornography. It’s the same for people who think rap lyrics need to be censored because the music promotes violence. The evidence? Violent people listen to it, so the music must cause it.

Could it be, perhaps, that the music has an appeal to, among other groups, people with a propensity for violence much like pornography has an appeal to people obsessed with sexual acts?

Yeah. I also go to the bathroom when I wake up in the morning. Think sleeping causes me to take a leak?

jack nicholson
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“Some things are illegal. Pornography in certain forms is illegal […] Not everything is lawful.”

Rios is referring to a comment made about this exhibit.

She is right about one thing. There are certain limits on what we will or won’t allow. Child pornography is banned, and for good reason. The people involved, children without an understanding of what they are being asked to do, have no say in the act. They are actually harmed by this, which is different from other forms of pornography in which all parties are explicitly aware of what is being asked of them.

But pornography is still legal.

It’s also the reason we don’t video tape rape. Or allow rape. Sex is legal. Forced sex is illegal. Oddly enough, selling sex is also illegal, but that’s another article. The point is that it’s a matter of choice. No one was forced to perform in this video. No one is forced to watch it. And everything that was done was legal. Except for the mass murder at the end.

I still don’t get what that was all about, but I’m positive everyone walked off the set.

Psst! They’re not really dead, Sandy.

lady gaga by *chemcial23 on deviantART

“When I travel in other cultures, teenagers in many cultures still have retained that innocence of youth. Not so here. Our kids have these wooden stares. Kids are into being cool. There’s nothing they haven’t seen. It’s like we have raped them of their innocence and the joy of youth and childhood. I think we can do better than that.”

She shoots, she scores!

What, may I ask, is the joy of youth and childhood? Is it running around? Being fed information on a need-to-know basis? Not having any responsibility while also not having any power over your own choices? Please, Jedi Master Sandy. Enlighten me.

no voice for the children by *Miss-Deathwish on deviantART

I’ll tell you. The joy of youth and childhood is exploration and learning. Kids learn by playing. It’s one of the tactics educators use to make learning more accessible. We’ll play games with the kids. Sometimes they won’t know they’re learning. Learning new concepts, applying them, basically, EDUCATION is the joy of childhood.

Our kids have that blank stare because we don’t encourage that. Either that, or, if they’re kids you’ve been watching, Sandy, it’s probably because they can look right through your crap and are wondering how someone so award-winningly stupid made it this far in life without accidentally killing herself with a toothbrush.

“You cannot hide it, trash it, put it in a new drawer, turn off the TV at every point, but you have to learn to teach your kids to make judgments at every point.”

Sometimes I wonder if the people I write about know the kind of ammunition they give me and everyone else who works to elevate art and crush censorship and hypocrisy.

Let’s summarize. We need to ban videos and images like “Telephone,” but we need to instruct our children on what to do by sitting down with them, watching this content, and teaching them how to make the proper choices in life.

I know, I know. She could be arguing that this is a necessary step only because music videos and images like this exist. Still, even if she is, she’s essentially setting forth a plan of action to make sure children are informed about content like this should parents not want their children exposed to things like this.

She’s making my argument for me!

What a jerk!

lady gaga and eminem
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Why do I even write more than this? If there’s a way to shield kids by teaching them your twisted world-view, Sandy, and if said world-view is going to deter them from watching this kind of stuff later in life or liking it, why ban it?

I think she’s just a lazy parent. There, I said it.

I don’t like Gaga. I think she’s all show. While there are artists who were dressing like this years ago who do have an understanding of art, Gaga does what she does because it’s a show. That’s it. There’s nothing deeper than what I saw in the video. If you find something, if her music and videos bring you a measure of joy, by all means, keep watching and listening. If it brings that bit of good into your life, it’s doing something positive. It’s not for me, though.

I just don’t think someone watches a Lady Gaga video and thinks, “You know, that ‘rape’ thing sounds interesting. Think I’ll try it.”