Dr Frank Weakly Reader for 7.26.2019
Censorship / Self-censorship Edition
Welcome to another edition of the Weakly Reader, wherein I create my own index (annotated and expanded, with an introduction) of my web doings for the week. Even if you follow me casually on the various “platforms” you probably missed a good bit of this stuff, because they regularly hide things, and sometimes outright censor and delete them. Especially if, like most people, you use Facebook as your gateway to the internet: I increasingly find myself deciding just not to bother with including Facebook in the posting “suite” at all. But mostly this series is in aid of allowing me to find stuff in this weirdly un-indexed and only partially searchable info-corner we have, as a society, somehow painted ourselves into.
As to self-censorship, well, read on, my friends — there’s much about that below. I have heard it said, by those who lived through it, that the real, or at least the deepest and most thorough-going, oppression in the Communist police states of the twentieth century lay not so much in direct state control of thought and behavior, but in the response of individuals in the mass collective to the terror of being identified, isolated, and punished. Even those not immediately and specifically threatened by the state would modify their behavior and publicly-expressed ideas to avoid potential “trouble,” and report on their neighbors to deflect attention from themselves and to demonstrate their orthodoxy. Sometimes, they even grew to believe in the exigent charade more than in the reality it was originally meant to obscure. (cf. this, kind of.) There was a great deal of self-policing in other words and it was more effective on a big scale than anything the actual secret police could have managed directly. This was, evidently, to at least some degree a calculated and well-theorized and -tested state policy effect, but it also seems to have taken on a life of its own among its subject victims. It is a dismal story, repeated with reliable regularity throughout history: man’s inhumanity to man, in fact, abetted by Authority, a characteristically human joy in cruelty running through a greater stream of fear and misery.
While it doesn’t compare, of course, to the horrors of totalitarianism in that form, our own Social Media Content Policing and the people policed by it, for whatever reason, display something of the same reciprocal dynamic.
Beyond a practical desire to appear to be responsive to activist groups that can cause them trouble, I don’t believe the tech “platforms” of our world really care, per se, about free speech or communication one way or the other: it’s irrelevant to their business, which is commandeering eyeballs for ads by any means necessary. They don’t have a purposeful goal of reining in freedom of expression or stifling the marketplace of ideas — why would they? But then why do they behave as if they do?
Well, one reason could be that, as I intimated above, they’re just as afraid of the mobs they facilitate as everyone else is and they think they can delete and ban their way out of “trouble” on a reactive ad hoc basis each time a sufficiently destructive cancel campaign materializes. But doubtless the most important reason is: to ensure that these advertising platforms masquerading as information “sharing” devices be free of off-putting content that might deter or embarrass advertisers. And in the undifferentiated flow of generic “content” that courses through our internet, an objectionable item, commentary on that item, discussion of the implications of that item, and stuff that resembles or evokes something vaguely to do with that item are pretty much identical in their capacity as “advertiser repellent,” even when they happen to be perfectly innocent. You don’t want to advertise your Big Macs or your Frisbees or your Suburus alongside a bunch of people saying and doing unsavory or unpopular things, or things that look like unsavory or unpopular things. That defeats the whole purpose. So, I get that. “Family friendly” I think they used to call it. It’s familiar from the TV of my youth. And it’s why we get to use these platforms “for free” like how we used to watch TV for.
(As an aside, it occurs to me to note: in those days the standards applied only to the programming on the TV, not to the conversation and social interaction of the people sitting around it. Now that we have built systems that monetize our social interaction and, accordingly, police it for ad-friendliness — to the degree that’s what it’s doing —we are much further down the road toward the “thought control” that the hippie version of a paranoid person like me had in mind when he said things like “kill your television.”)
But advertising optimisation aside, it seems that once you introduce official authoritarian policing into any field, such as, in this case, free expression, the reciprocal self-policing dynamic (and the concommitant report-on-the-neighbors ritual savagery “Lord of the Flies” mob behavior we’re so familiar with) inevitably will arise. People will begin to enjoy using weapons of suppression against each other, turning their enemies in to the Authorities for recreation and self-preservation, demanding punishment for sin and wrongthink and congratulating themselves on their own purity and righteousness. And in turn, people, often the same ones, will want to avoid trouble on their own doorstep. The police, and the mob, are trouble. So you avoid this or that word, this or that expression, this or that topic, in hopes that they won’t notice you, that they will leave you alone. e.g. on the internet, you begin to comment on some item in the news or on a matter of public import and then backspace to the beginning of the little window and close it, thinking better of the whole thing, thinking, this could end badly. Who needs the aggravation? Keep your thoughts, feelings, your commentary and your artwork to yourself unless you’re sure it’s entirely and unassailably anodyne and orthodox. And advertiser-friendly.
This is known as a “chilling effect.” It’s getting worse, I believe. It makes “discourse” less clear, less useful, and far less interesting, and it will, if it goes far enough, be the death of art. But we all know how it works. I don’t like censoring myself, but it is increasingly the prudent thing to do, and, in view especially of the fact that there is nothing of worth to be gained from contesting the system and its ad hoc, machine-shaped status quo (outside of personal edification derived from the mere fact of having done so) there often isn’t another practical choice. More on that below.
— SHOWS: yeah, we still play shows, and we’ve got a few coming up, two newly announced: MTX in Sacramento on Friday 9/20, and Dr Frank solo in Minneapolis on 9/22.) Along with the Punk the Burbs Fest in Lisle, IL on 9/21 that makes for this “tour”:
Friday September 20: MTX with Kepi and Motorcycle, Blue Lamp, Sacramento, CA. Get tickets here.
Saturday September 21: MTX at Punk the Burbs Fest 3, Basecamp Pub, Lisle, IL. Get tickets here.
Hard to believe it’s been three years since we last played Sacramento, but apparently it has. And I can’t think of the last time I’ve stepped foot in Minn. And how about that poster by Matt Shrugg!? Destined to be a collector’s item, surely. Anyway, should be a good time.
Tix for the new shows go on sale Friday 7/26, 10 AM local times, just about at Weakly Reader “press time.” See links above.
More shows will be announced soon ish by the way so watch this space.
TALES FROM THE MTX SIDE
— Sounds Rad’s PUNKEMON-laden Lookout parody logo featured in last week’s Sounds Rad Friday Feature. Pretty cool.
— Scan it and See: the true story behind MTX, Lookout Records, UPC codes, and the hippies who hate them.
— It cries on your shoulder, then kicks you in the pants: the Vancouver Sun’s review of Love Is Dead, from Jan. 11, 1996. Four stars.
— The Mr T Experience — “I Was Losing You Along”: Dina, who made the video, reposted it saying: ‘I spliced this video together out of public domain movie footage starring Cary Grant. I liked the conceit of showing scenes of people falling in love while Dr. Frank sings “I was losing you all along.”’
— Song for Odin: the Mr T Experience — “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” live at the Rivoli in Toronto, October 1997, by request (sort of.) Here’s the “minor secrets” write-up, in which I had some fun with tiptoeing around certain terms and turns of phrase that could possibly trip the Social Media censorship and community standards wire. (As happened last week all over Facebook; see below under “Dr Frank’s “hate speech” saga.)
I say “had some fun” but it was also a sincere attempt to avoid trouble. If you’re on the run, you might as well have what fun you can. So, rather facetiously but not really all the way, I alluded in delicate terms to… well I’ll just quote it here…
After the vocal track was done, as you can hear on the recording, Kim let out one of her famous rock and roll screams, which was great to get on tape. Someone asked, how do you DO that? (Which is an apt question — that scream is like a force of nature, the summoning of which must take some doing.) Kim said, “oh I just imagine I’m being…”
Okay, hang on here. There was a time when I’d have told this anecdote without batting an eyelid, that is, without thinking twice. But these are different times. One must choose one’s words very carefully. What she said was that in order to summon the otherwordly rock and roll scream for which she is justly famous, she would imagine a situation in which she was involved in a certain… intimate activity, involving an element of considerable size. (If you want it in plain English, Facebook and Social Media is not the place to look: check the Weakly Reader on Friday, maybe.)
As promised, here is that answer, as verbatim as I remember it:
Actually, sorry I’m not going to risk it. I typed it and backspaced all the way back. Medium is the last searchable permanent repository for writing and other content that I currently have available to me, and the fact is that the “permanent” designation is a wish and a prayer rather than an actuality. The Medium people or their robots could make this entire account, and years of writing, go away forever with a click, if they felt like it. I don’t think they burrow deeply into text looking for improprieties to use as a pretext to ban stuff the way Facebook et al. do. And they say they allow “erotic writing.” But I have had preview images messed with here. You just don’t know, and it’s not a hill I feel like dying on at the moment. Plus I’m, you know, trying to use this situation to make a point about censorship / self-censorship.
As I said, it’s a different, suddenly and newly Puritanical world. Not so long ago routine vulgarity, ribald language, jokes of the sort I’m too scared to type out here now, were just fine among adults. A few years ago on my old blog I wouldn’t have even considered self-censoring naughty words like that; it simply wouldn’t have occurred to me. Sometimes, of course, it’s okay and you get away with it. In fact, paradoxically, these new Banning Machines that burrow into our “content” to make it “safe” do so in an overall cultural and media context of unprecedented coarseness, truculence, and vulgarity. The problem is, you never know, and can never know, when you’ll fall afoul of the machines and their allegedly human auxiliary assistants or just be left alone. It’s the not knowing that causes the anxiety that encourages auto-overcorrection as above. If there were clear rules, you could follow them. But none of these platforms ever has clear rules, at least, none that they will share with their users.
Anyway, you’re smart people. You can probably work out pretty much what it was from the description. It was funny, as you can probably imagine, especially with the nonplussed Kevin sitting silently amidst the general merriment. And as I said, there was a time when you could say such things among adults in the studio control room and write about them on your blog, and no one cared all that much. I’m not sure anyone, as in an actual person, cares all that much even now. But for some reason, we program our Etiquette and Safety Enforcement Machines to scour our discourse and to hunt out and delete improprieties and punish those who have uttered or written them. It’s like George Carlin never existed.
— …and finally: it’s your Friday morning “Institutionalized Misogyny” from Bryce Shell, on YouTube. (Yes, there are two such covers out there on the internet: last week’s may be found here.) More covers on my YouTube channel on this playlist.
FROM THE DESK OF: DR FRANK
— Die Vegas: I had no new Medium type post ready this week, so I linked to this literary anecdote. I mentioned that I had an additional anecdote, a spoiler of sorts. Go ahead and read the linked essay if you haven’t. I’ll include the further text at the bottom of this (Dr Frank) section below.
— Dr Frank’s “Hate Speech” saga: when Facebook banned my Song for Odin™ post about “Hell of Dumb” as being in violation of its “community standards” it sparked some thoughts, about censorship, machine-policed ethics and etiquette, self-censorship in a field without stated parameters, and the difficulty of construing a public record after the fact when chunks of it go missing. See the essay at the top of last week’s Weakly Reader for some of that action.
Also see, e.g., this post about having been censored, which, as you can see if you go there, itself got censored! This time, as “hate speech.” And this time, unlike with “Hell of Dumb,” I was offered the opportunity to appeal. I think this is because of the “hate speech” designation; from what I gather, mere “community standards” bans don’t warrant a second look like machine-detected “hate speech” does. (This also an example of one of the things I was complaining about, that without explicit parameters people are left to speculate as to what the mysterious policies might be: my dichotomy between “hate speech” and “community standards” rests solely on a sample of the two instances in which this has happened to me. There’s no way to check whether this is true or not. I just guess it.)
Anyhow, the appeal was successful (adding to the confusion when the post came back up in the timeline after so much commentary, of course — once again showing how bad this system is at being a platform for facilitating communication.) Whether it was the phrase “men are hopeless creatures” or some other turn of phrase that sent the Banning Machine into overdrive we will never know. I suspect it was that, but it could have been anything. It could have been nothing at all, just a random sweep with no basis. Policing speech of any kind is bad. But leaving it to retarded machines that mistake kittens for nipples and ban only the former (cf. tumblr) and scoop up quotations from St Augustine as “hate speech” because of the word “men”? Why on earth did we entrust our entire information and data infrastructure to these people? One of the dumbest things we’ve ever done as a society.
In this case, it’s no big deal, as I readily admit. But it is unpleasant being accused baselessly of “hate speech.” They seem to be doing more and more of it, to more and more people, with less and less cause. I imagine this is a brute force, scoop-’em-up-and-sort-’em process, largely machine-driven. This model and its long-term implications are bad for communication, for our society, and for information in general, even when it affects me only slightly, so I feel it is worth documenting and above all ridiculing. Maybe people will get tired of it one day and abandon the platforms. Here’s hoping.
— Dept. of True if Recycled Anecdotes:
Someone in my building playing some very aggressive hardcore and I was surprised that anyone that hip & “scene” was living here, but then I realized it was a carpet cleaning machine.
So this is new since I’ve been away from touring: drunk rednecks hassle punk band in late night diner saying “what you lookin at, Big Bang Theory?”
— a high school Rolling Stones shirt (Tattoo You tour, 1981) repurposed.
— St Christopher and me: I am fond of St. Christopher not only because his medal has protected me through my travels throughout almost my entire life (and here I am, living proof in my capacity as a person who is not dead); but also because of the tradition that he had a dog head. More on cynocephalic saints here.
— No news is good news: for those following the YouTube copyright troll chronicles, there haven’t been any new fraudulent claims against my material over the past week. This activity usually goes in waves. I’ll get a whole flurry of them, then it’ll die down till the next time. Not sure what accounts for the “schedule” there.
But it occurs to me, now that I’m bringing it up, that the methods of Big Publishing here are broadly similar to the operating procedure of the Social Media Content Banning machines mentioned above. They cast a wide net, instructing their robots to scoop up as much material as possible and just figure the innocent stuff will (probably) (eventually) get out of jail and back to the rightful owners via appeals and such. So no harm done. And if not, if this or that item is improperly deleted or this or that song attributed to someone other than its owner, what’s the big deal? Well, from the user’s point of view, it is kind of a big deal, or it can be, but of course we’re not the ones in charge here.
And like Facebook, Warner Chappell or SONY don’t really have any reason to care if the results are accurate. (In the case of Facebook there’s a case to be made that they care even less than that, that the whole apparatus is a blind to make it look like they have a functional policy enforcement system to mask the true goal of selling everybody’s personal data to foreign governments and criminal enterprises — but that’s a whole nother story.) The method is: scoop up a big chunk, to be sorted out later, or not, because (I suppose) that is the way that is easiest for the automated systems to operate.
Because, for all the talk about sophisticated AI and machine learning and such, these robots are very crude and don’t tend to work very well. They can’t tell kittens from nipples, or hotdog from not-hotdog, with any reliability. The only thing they can do well is scoop up the preponderance of the kittens, the nipples, and the hotdogs with the not-hotdogs, in one case for the banning of, in the other for the claiming ownership of, and then… well, the next step can just sort itself out.
Thus my song “What Do You Want?” still languishes in a great big pile of stuff at YouTube misidentified as maybe owned by Beyonce and SONY ATV. I appealed. I’m sure they’ll just let the term expire and the claim will be automatically released. And if there’s other stuff in that great big pile whose owners don’t know it’s there and don’t know enough to file an appeal, as there surely must be? What’s a misattributed song here and there, really, in a great big pile of approximately close-enough attribution? It’s just not a good system.
— Die Vegas addendum: I once told this story at a Porchlight storytelling show. I can’t remember what the scheduled topic for the evening was, though I believe the story I was slated to tell was the one about almost getting killed in the van in a snowstorm in North Carolina. (Or maybe it was the one about staying in the Polish gulag… can’t quite remember.) But when I realized that Dave Eggers was himself in the room that night, I knew I had to tell this one. So I told the Die Vegas anecdote as a kind of non sequitur intro to the main story, which I launched into without further preamble or ceremony after I finished. (It got a big laugh from the audience after a brief pause while they worked it out, by the way: the most gratifying kind of laugh you can get, really.) The time limit was ten minutes, and I knew I’d never have time to finish the main story. When the time was up, I just stopped in the middle and said thank you.
After the show, Dave Eggers corralled me with great enthusiasm and told me how wonderful my story had been and how I had exactly the right idea on how to tell a story and how he had learned something from my performance. It was a bit of a relief because I didn’t know him and hadn’t been sure whether he was the sort of writer who would have a sense of humor about such things. (Few do, in my experience, in fact, though Eggers seemed like a good egg and was quite alright.) “Just tell the story as is,” he said, “and stop when your time is up. For isn’t life like that?” I didn’t know what to say, but it gradually dawned on me as he ruminated further on what life is like that he hadn’t actually heard my Die Vegas story like I thought. He must have come in late. It was disorienting after having accepted compliments for it, but not for it, as it turned out. And, I suppose, life is indeed like that.
(Maybe I’ll add this as an addendum to the Die Vegas post, if I remember…)
OTHER PEOPLE’S MUSIC
— New Steel Panther song with lengthy dramatizing video. It’s not safe, for work, or for anywhere really. And neither the song nor the storyline make much sense. But I love them (and Lexxi as stripper is hilarious.)
— Good morning world: Dicky Lee — “Laurie (Strange Things Happen)”; Sunday Valley — “Folded Flag”; Nick Cave — “Christina the Astonishing”; the Damned — “Smash It Up Parts 1 and 2”; Cilla Black — “Surround Yourself with Sorrow”
— …and finally:
— Behold: a rather confused comic referencing the Malleus Maleficarum; St. Margaret of Antioch with dragon; Captain Crossbones; C. B. Romance?; just a real nice painting by Malcolm Liepke, posted by our friend Floria; Mary Magdelene in the cave, by Hughes Merle; Mother Joan of the Angels; Carlo Dolci’s portrait of Christina of Bolsena; effect: he is a big nerd; girl with strategic fruits and vegetables; The Judgment of Midas by Jan van den Hoecke (1640); test; Gavin and Andy; the graveyard has eyes.
— … and finally — one of the most “liked” and shared thing I’ve ever posted (if only people would do that with one of my songs or essays) — Become that Douche:
IN THE NEWS
— The saga of George Washington High School and its (apparently) doomed mural continues. “Liberalism and ‘wokeness’,” I said, “are in irresolvable conflict here, it seems, and I’d still guess that ‘post-liberalism’ has the edge.” You can’t fight ideology with common sense. It is impervious to argument, which is why I predict that the destruction will go through. We’ll see, though.
— 1st Amendment ftw: 9th Circuit affirms student paper has a constitutional right to mock “safe spaces”.
— The Harvard Professor and the Paternity Trap: this is the craziest story I’ve heard in a long time, like a James M. Cain novel but with an “intersectional” overlay. I said the movie should be made by Eli Roth, but I bet the Coen brothers could also do it proud.
And, just when you thought it couldn’t get weirder, it turns a deeper shade of weird. Too bad James M. Cain can’t write the script, John Huston to direct.
— Canadian police accidentally livestream double homicide press conference using cat filter.
— Oakland’s Octopus Literary Salon cafe space is in peril of being rent-slammed out of existence. This is sad, and I wish it weren’t so, but it also doesn’t seem preventable. When the rent is too damn high, it’s too damn high. Best of luck to them though. Here is the gofundme.
— 40 Years to a Less Powerful Vocabulary: the average American’s vocabulary has shrunk over the past four decades.
— Magical seals in an English Book of Hours and in other texts at the British Library blog.
— Rod Dreher on mobs and on demons metaphorical and actual, is worth a look if like me you are interested in and terrified by that sort of thing. (My post with devils illustration here, the illustration because I didn’t like the link’s preview image of Pres. Trump loading on all my pages.)
— Gary Casparov tweeted on the latest in the New York Times’s de facto “Up with Communism” series. Or as he puts it: “Pravda on the Hudson is back, touting the forced ‘equality’ of a Communist prison state. It isn’t a hot take, it’s the propaganda that was in all my Soviet schoolbooks.”
— Rutger Hauer died, so I posted this photo of him (from the Dutch TV series Floris.)
And that’s a wrap, if wrap means what I think it does. But, for those who have made it all the way down this far on the page, here’s a picture of the classic “stiletto,” banned from interstate commerce by the Federal Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 and limited to possession only in the home by California Penal Codes 17235 and 21510:
See ya next week.