A question that has proved vexatious over the past few years: is it better to do as you please in life, or sacrifice yourself to help others?

Equally relevant is the side question, “does art really matter at all?”

Answers: The dichotomy in the first question — selfishness versus selflessness — is false, and art may be the only road to creating a scientifically-literate society.

There are more enough self-help gurus in the world today. Many ventures of dubious value tend to adopt the glossy show-business angle of selling a “new you”, from entreprenuerial religious figures to celebrities shilling for the pharmaceutical industry.

Everyone wants to change the world in some way, usually starting with you.

If there are so many “success” gurus and self-declared “experts” giving inspirational TED talks about your awesome brain, how is it possible that we’re not all gorgeous happy millionaires by now? Shouldn’t the privileged one-percent have edged at least somewhat closer to being the “self-made hundred percent”?

One answer is that the game is rigged to keep almost everyone at the bottom. This is obviously part of the problem.

The other part is that humans refuse to learn.

If you want to have an impact in the world, you have to effect change in the behavior of others. The fabeled “neuroplasticity” touted ad infinitum by the TED talkers is essentially fancy jargon for a very old and pragmatic word: that word is “learning”.

And learning, especially learning anything worthwhile, is hard.

It’s no surprise, then, that you can practically hear the doors of young minds closing somewhere in the early-to-middle teen years. Schools are partly to blame, as anyone who has been to school in the current system knows. The other problem is a social one, or perhaps more accurately, a psychosocial one.

Think back to when you were in your mid-teens. What was happening around that time? People around you were starting to have (lots of) sex, everyone seemed to be in a rush to create an identity and become part of some clique or other, and suddenly you realized that you were old enough to start making money. Money meant that you could get more of the things that led to sex with desirable partners. Money also could enable buying objects that could help you “fit in” better — clothes, a car, gadgets and pocket money for “cool” things like drugs and partying.

The new sexual compulsions and socially-facilitated greed eventually forms a belief system that congeals later into a nearly cultish consumerist mentality. Get rich, get laid, and get more-better-newer stuff than your peers: this is the new value system that replaces the curiosities and desires of an otherwise intelligent and inquisitive child.

By the time the average kid leaves high school, the pattern is set. Sex, greed, and the obsession for egotistical social dominance become reframed as “being a grown-up”. The rat race is mistaken for what it means to live a “normal” life.

I used to vacillate between the idea of becoming a scientist or engineer, versus an inclination toward artistic pursuits. Who made a stronger contribution to society: Einstein or Mozart? Amelia Earhart or Britney Spears (I mean, Christina Aguilera)? Alexander Graham Bell or Sidney Poitier and Jay-Z?

Again, the dichotomy is false, because the constraints arbitrarily focus on the wrong set of options.

The predominant myth of modern society is the “self-made” person. It’s a variant of the “rags to riches” story that leads poor people to dream about being filthy (as in, wealthy) in the most short-sighted and cutthroat ways. The only way to be “exceptional” is to be better than everyone else — or to steal their share in a zero-sum game. And there can only be a very small percentage gloating at the top of any given population.

Accordingly, we have fairly boilerplate mythologies spun around people like Einstein, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. The same is true for cultural icons like millionaire actors, platinum-selling rockstars and mixtape-famous rappers. Have you ever stopped and listened to the strangely similar plot points in the hagiographies of your favorite cultural superheroes? We’ve had the equivalent of Photoshopped photos long before software nipped, tucked, deleted, fuzzed and pushed pixels into pleasantly implausible shapes. The “genius” illusion is one that has inspired confused adoration and misplaced idealism (eventually giving way to cynical disillusionment) in young people for generations.

So you _still_ want to change the world…

If you want to change the world, you first have to accept the fact that you most likely will not change the world. Denial of reality leads to the distortion or willful ignorance of empirical facts. If you become some kind of persuasive zealot or denialist manic attempting to fulfill a titanic vision, the likely outcome is its opposite. Hubris leads to the de-valuing of others, which leads to ruthlessness and corruption. Even religions that emphasise pacifist ideals like “turn the other cheek” can be misused by their adherents to justify murder and genocide. The idea of a “superman” reliably creates secular religions that rationalize the displacement and destruction of anyone who is different or raises a voice of dissent.

I realize now that mobilization of a population is far more powerful and important than any individual.

Rather that one “genius” Einstein, imagine an entire society of people who are scientifically literate. Instead of one brilliant Bill Gates, imagine a culture that valued rationality and sought practical solutions for a better life both at home and abroad.

There could be thousands of young Einsteins and Gateses who never learn to care about science and technology until it’s too late — instead, they waste their professional lives building high-tech toys, privacy-destroying “social networks” and schemes to con people into clicking on ads.

To change the world, young children are really the only ones who can be trusted to learn anything at all. Adults are almost invariably trapped in the so-called “grown-up” world of sexual obsession (prudes and perverts alike), tribalistic religiosity (from organized religion to mass consumerism) and twisted irrational thinking (from lionizing corporate greed to normalizing the “fat acceptance” movement).

The only real hope may be to use art — music, films, novels, video games and other storytelling media — inviting and seducing the audience to seek a different path. Replace the dysfunctional melodrama of narcissistic self-indulgence with the lifelong beauty of seeking truth in the real Universe.

Forget the idolatry of Einstein and the pseudo-prophetic proclamations by clever self-promoters like Elon Musk. To massively change the world, society can shift in relatively small ways. Waiting for a benevolent billionaire to hand us our future is undoubtedly the worst of all possible capitalist worlds. Trying to re-make the world in our image is not only futile, it’s a power fantasy that leads to immorality and murder.

What’s most amazing is that nearly no one seems to have tried this truly revolutionary idea: use art as a means of seducing society to become more rationally-minded and scientifically inclined rather than less.

What if you wanted to become the best in the world?

0. Throw away the idea of “analysis paralysis” and face your fear of being wrong.

You’ve heard the expression before. Especially in the corporate world, many people who loathe unnecessary meetings and red-tape regulations will react to any sign of hesitation with well-practiced disdain. “What you’re doing smells like analysis paralysis. Do something! Move! Faster, faster!”

Many people confuse the concept of procrastination with the notion of “analysis paralysis”. If you’re using the idea of “weighing all the options” as an excuse to avoid taking action, the problem is not that you’re thinking too much.

Thinking is never a bad thing.
Thinking about the wrong ideas can be a very bad thing.
Charging into a topic without thinking is almost equally as bad.

Don’t Wait, Don’t Rush

The real question is, “are you afraid of making mistakes or being wrong?”

If you’re afraid, then charging in won’t help because you’ll tend to use cynical “positive thinking” to ignore mistakes rather than learn from them. This will become a stumbling block, and then a fatal flaw on the path to learning. There are a million ways to make mistakes, and an infinity of excuses to hide behind.

Sitting on the fence and “analyzing” forever (i.e. procrastinating) is also not useful because it prevents the experiences and inevitable mistakes that will ultimately lead to skill.

In essence, this article is about learning to think better in order to do better. The first, critical point is to accept the fact that you’re going to make mistakes and dedicate yourself to improving one step at a time. Your goals will draw near with accelerating speed when you see mistakes as lessons to learn, not shameful evidence of inherent incompetence. To put it plainly, you’ll get better faster after you get over yourself. More about this farther down.

Onward.

1. Name your skill.

Pick an area and be specific. Do you want to be the best jazz musician, the best 3D graffiti artist, or the best maker of boutique designs for stylish artificial limbs?

Your area of expertise can be anything. Even better if you have some sense of aptitude, or general inclination in that area — and can find a niche that may not be the first one that comes to mind. Give yourself time to think, explore and try new options until you’re comfortable enough to know whether or not a particular field or domain is the right one for you.

2. Define A Worthwhile Goal.

Your chances of reaching a worthwhile goal are higher if you make the goal specific.

Do you really want to be the best in the world?

The less ego-driven you are, the better — “the best in the world” is both meaningless and empty.

– How would you know that you were “the best”? More likely, you’ll merely join a club of hypercompetitive narcissists who thrive on the idea of oneupmanship and short-sighted triumph over others.

– What if you became the best? You’d drop dead out of ecstasy at being a “Winner”, or realize that your goal was just egotistical obsession over other peoples’ opinions of your work?

The deepest values lead to the most meaningful goals.

Instead, define your goal in terms of your deepest values. Do you care about other people, or only yourself? One important aspect of real creativity is that creative work is inherently an act of communication. The more you can take the perspective of your audience and care about them in the ways that they care about themselves, the more likely you are to connect to their desires and values. You’ll be able to see the commonalities between what the audience wants, and what you already love to do.

By contrast, a selfish egotist is trapped gazing at his or her own reflection and can only haphazardly assume that the world will think that his or her work is “the best”. Bluster and bluffing can sometimes win in the short-term. Attuning your creative impulses to the desires of your audience will ensure that you never fall too far out of touch.

3. Reduce all distractions.

The impetus for this entry was the question, “how am I better than I was last year around this time?”

Actually, I ask myself this question all the time.

The answer is that I’ve done the reverse of the typical approach. Instead of trying to shoehorn more time into my life, I’ve reduced the amount of time wasted on non-useful activities. One obvious point that everyone strenuously overlooks: use television, movies and other passive media (including aimless web browsing) as treats to be enjoyed only on special occasions. They are mental junk food unless they directly contribute to your creative work; all forms of “junk” (physical, mental, emotional, financial and time-wise) are perfect opportunities to troubleshoot and “take out the trash”, as it were.

Instead of being a good consumerist herd animal and trying to “have it all”, be a smart creative person and learn to do more with less. Life is already too short; train yourself to always strive to do more in less time. Paradoxically, this is the opposite of “multitasking”. This means you may need to get better at doing nothing at all.

4. When you’re “doing nothing”, actually do nothing.

This operationalizes the previous point at its most extreme level.

The essence of distraction is an attempt to get away from something. You might have watched TV and movies to escape from yourself for a while. Drink and drugs often — but not always — have similar purposes, especially in a social context (alcohol is called a “social lubricant” for a reason; it distracts from social anxiety by dampening the stress response).

Creativity: escape or immersion?

Creativity is, in some ways, the perfect escape, in that you’re building a world that doesn’t exist in realty. Creativity is also the opposite of escape, in that you have to focus one-hundred percent of yourself and your energy in order to do your best work. This means that it’s all too easy to almost reach the zone of creativity — and get distracted because your mind wants to escape the necessary intensity of attentional absorption.

Question: How can you reach that intense “flow” state more often?
Answer: Allow yourself to be bored.

Trust that you’re never “doing nothing”. Your so-called “unconscious” mind is always working, even when you consciously draw a blank. While you sleep, you dream. And when you’re bored, your mind is wandering in ways that will lead to your next creative idea.

If you distract yourself with television, movies or other passive media (like most of social media), those quiet whispers of new thoughts are easily drowned out, much like junk food may give you the feeling of being full while leaving you malnourished.

Focus on your creative fascinations when your mind is ready to operate intensely, and be bored while waiting for the next idea.

4. Get better by operationalizing your goals.

This is the most important part of this set of principles.

Do you remember when you just started out? You probably defaulted to the old “I wanna be the best ever” idea.

Then you learned a little more and realized that being the best will take years. There are a lot of fanatically creative people (more likely: desperately insecure people) out there. Contrary to stereotypes, many artists and creatives are willing to work really, really hard, practically all the time.

That’s the ego trap at work.

How do you escape from becoming a slave to the things you love?

One way is to think more about how to get better.

If you want to draw or paint better, you could just draw and paint all the time. Immersion definitely has its value. Jump into the water if you want to learn how to swim.

Or you could ask, “if I wanted to paint on the level of Leonardo da Vinci, what are the most basic skills that I could use to reduce the mistakes I make with every new piece?” The human body, for example, isn’t just a thing of beauty. It’s an object of scientific study. Did you know that you can learn exactly where every bone, muscle, joint, wrinkle and shadow is supposed to be? This is a subject called anatomy. Without in-depth anatomical study, all you have is hours spent guessing. In a fraction of the time, anatomical knowledge can bring precision to every human figure that you draw or paint for the rest of your life.

If you want to learn a language, the same principles are at work. Do you want to learn slowly and painfully as you’re forced to do at school? Or do you want to become a fluent communicator with real people in that language, which involves a completely different combination of structure, rote learning and cultural immersion?

Think of other areas of life where these ideas might apply.

Recap

Remember that creativity is, at its core, about continually getting better at making things that communicate to other people in a valuable way.

Here’s a more concise version that also elaborates on the previous points. Quiz yourself by seeing if you detect the differences:

1. Start from your values.

Why do you want to make these things?
In what ways do your creative impulses communicate something valuable to others?

2. Move beyond egotistical goals.

Instead of racing to be “the best” like a starving rat in pursuit of cheese, create goals that can continue to grow with your skills — always anchored by the intrinsic values that you discovered in step 1. Your skills and goals will self-sustain, getting better and better at an accelerating pace.

Learn to cultivate the “audience mind” without pandering to what’s hot right now or becoming trapped in pop-culture trends and soon-to-be discarded “cool” cliches.

3. Instead of chasing distractions, embrace boredom.

Boredom leads to frustration. Frustration leads to expression. Be ready for your best ideas to tumble out when you least expected them to arrive. Be prepared by keeping your mind open. Being bored will quickly become the most fascinating part of your day, when you realize how hard your mind is working all the time. Give yourself room to work inside the nascent imagined reality that your creativity will soon bring forth in full form for the world outside to enjoy.

4. Operationalze your goals.

Get better at getting better by always looking to learn more about “the skill of skill”. The more you refine your approach, the fewer mistakes you’ll repeat. As you deepen your comprehension and fluency in the fundamentals (which may in themselves be different from what you first assumed), the more possibilities you’ll open in the long term. Be meticulous in refining your grasp of the basics and be creative in giving yourself restrictions in order to force your mind into new ways of seeing, thinking and constructing the questions that you ask about your subject. The answers will soon begin to surprise you in delightfully unexpected ways — and may be your best hope for delighting your audience every time, whoever they may be.

Anyone who has spent considerable time online has probably heard the trusty old phrase, “Information wants to be free”.

People have used that phrase as justification for any number of diverse causes — from the John Draper and the original phone phreaks of the `70s, to Julian Assange and Wikileaks decades later. The United States’ Freedom of Information Act can (in theory) be used by citizens as a means of pressuring the government to disclose data that it might prefer to keep secret. Public records, and now, public data, can be obtained in order to hold police and politicians accountable and pull the balance of power away from totalitarian secrecy. In theory, anyway.

The modern-day idea of information freedom took shape back when the Internet was mainly the domain of nerds sharing technical information. Dial-up modems chirped and squealed across copper phone lines, granting nerds the power to make things that other nerds would think of as ingenious or cool. This was the kind of digital place that people like Steve Wozniack, Alan Kay, Bill Joy and even Aaron Swartz could call home, despite being generations apart in chronological age.

Freedom to make cool stuff was the reason why the Internet (in its post-ARPANET days) evolved the way it did — at least, until it became a platform for the mass surveillance we affectionately call “branding” or “advertising”. The fact that the Internet required technical savvy just to get online (much less to find or do anything interesting) filtered out anyone but those dedicated enough to brave the steep learning curve.

What happens when ordinary people get hold of this “urge for information freedom”? What does it mean to the Average Jane Doe or John Q. Unknown, as can be discerned from the ways that the general public make use of the phrase “information wants to be free”?

After approximately a year of being the moderator of a community on Reddit, here is what I’ve learned.

I allowed my Reddit community to be destroyed by trolls, because honestly, I was bored with it and had amassed enough new ideas to start over. These are my notes, and they may benefit you, too, if you ever contemplate starting an Internet-based hangout, meeting place or network.

Note that my niche on Reddit was science fiction. The people in your chosen subculture may be a little bit different, although I doubt it. You can pretend that you and your readers don’t fit into the categories below. Maybe non-scifi people are a special human breed who are better than the ones I encountered practically everywhere on Reddit.

Reddit 101

In case you know nothing about Reddit, here are the basics. Reddit is basically a superset of popularity-based bulletin boards. The Reddit homepage is a massive board that showcases the most popular topics from all of the smaller boards. The smaller ones are appropriately called “sub-reddits”.

In subreddits, anyone can post a new topic. The readers, called “subscribers”, can click one of a pair of arrows to vote “up” or “down”. Topics that receive more “up” arrows rise to the top of the list for a while until newer/popular topics replace them. “Downvoted” topics are pushed down the listings until they disappear from the front page. Each page of listings holds up to twenty topics; a topic can be a link to another website, or a relatively short posting that operates like a blog entry, in that you can write anything you want others in your subreddit to read.

Below you’ll find out what I learned the hard way over the past year or so as a Reddit community moderator.

Misuse Is The Norm, Because People Hate Learning

The RTFM Principle: The average person is completely thoughtless 99% of the time, and would rather misuse technology than take a moment to figure out how it works.

Reddit’s upvote/downvote arrows are completely misused much of the time. People use the arrows to express whether or not they agree with a topic, which is actually the purpose of being able add comments. Adding comments, however, requires more thought than clicking or tapping a button. Hence, button-tapping wins ninety-nine percent of the time, even though it’s the wrong thing to do.

Whiners, Whiners Everywhere

Principle: The average person loves whining, and will do anything to defend their right to whine and complain while contributing nothing of any value.

This is the most bizarre aspect of the whole Reddit affair. Across subreddit after subreddit, the phenomenon repeated itself: the vast majority of conversations would dwell more on what people didn’t like rather than what they found beautiful, inspiring or fascinating. The most popular science fiction subreddit contains topic after topic of people complaining vociferously about the flaws of Star Wars. The flaws of Battle Star Galactica. The evils of renaming the Sci-Fi Network to be the “Syfy” Network.

It’s basically a kielbasa festival of bitching and moaning about everything in mainstream movies and television. Heaven help you if you post an original piece of work there; Downvote Hell awaits.

On my own subreddit, it was amazing to see this “whining=freedom of speech” dynamic at work. Here’s an example:

There were well over one hundred posts on the subreddit at the time. Most had one or two upvotes, maybe eight at most. Then one day, in a fit of random curiosity, I posted a topic that lampooned the oblivious popstar Iggy Azalea. The post title poked fun at her idiotic blather about how the Internet was pure evil because people dislike her (for good reason) and hence troll her mercilessly on Twitter.

Needless to say, “idiot” is a word that applies perfectly to anyone who blames the Internet itself for the actions of trolls.

Azalea’s tweet reached me via a retweet from Taylor Swift. I absolutely adore Ms. Swift (no, not that Taylor Swift, although she’s not so bad, either). And so I created a silly conversation topic making fun of Iggy Azalea and professing an undying girl-boner for Tay-Tay (it’s all in how you phrase things, darling). Everything about it was so wrong that it could only be awesomely right.

Not only did it receive more comments than any other topic, we received more subscribers than on any other single day. The herd was so confused that the cross-talk built controversy; the controversy created “value” in the form of subscribers, and the subreddit appeared to benefit handsomely as we enhanced our appearance of popularity.

All this for a fake topic comprised of people whining about a fake Australian rap star, originally retweeted from a Twitter account that may or may not be written by the real Taylor Swift.

Ridiculous. Whining for the win. I’m still laughing whenever I think about it.

Where Lurkers Roam, Reading Is Verboten

Principle: The average person dislikes reading, and dislikes thinking even more.

Here’s a quick tip about the “Subscriber” numbers. You’ll find them prominently displayed in the sidebar of most subreddits. Here’s the truth about subscriber counts: the number means absolutely nothing. People routinely click the “Subscribe” button, and… disappear. They don’t upvote. They don’t downvote. They neither post nor comment. They simply vanish, or worse, they “lurk”.

Lurking takes place when a person confuses the Internet for a television channel and sits there waiting for something interesting to happen instead of participating in any way.

Lurkers comprises at least 99% of the Internet, and they hate reading.

Have a look at the Reddit homepage. Better yet, pick any news/entertainment website offering salacious click-bait headlines. Ignore the story itself and read the comments first. Then go back and actually read the story. You’ll find that in a startlingly high percentage of the time, most commenters have never even read the story. Other commenters, exasperated, might have pointed out this fact and told the ingrate to actually read the story before commenting — inevitably to no avail.

This phenomenon is even more prevalent if you expect anyone to click a link, head to another website, read an article, then come back to add their thoughts about what they’ve read.

On Reddit, reams and reams of conversation consist of preconceived opinions spouted as if they were relevant facts. In that light, it may be better that most people lurk; when they offer their insufferably precious opinions, the outcome is either whining or superfluous piffle that adds nothing to any conversation. I resist the term “mental masturbation” because it’s just too easy, and at least masturbation actually has a purpose. The average commenter on Reddit is simply stroking their own ego for no reason at all aside from the onanistic pleasure of accruing worthless-in-the-real-world-or-anywhere-else “karma points”.

Changing The World With Cynical Apathy and Casual Disinterest

Principle: The average person is utterly apathetic and disinterested in anything beyond reactions to his or her own opinion.

As a Reddit moderator, I realized that most people contribute zero real value to a given conversation. They offer no links to primary sources (could Google be any easier to use?) and no well-formed thoughts beyond repetitive sound-bytes imitating other Redditors who have more “cool points”, a.k.a. silly sums of fictional karma.

Question: Why on Earth would anyone waste so much time on Reddit, then, or the Internet more generally?
Answer: The vast majority of comments exist solely to provoke other bored egotists to react with their own comments. If a topic foments enough upvotes and empty chatter between Redditors, it may end up triumphantly posted on the Reddit homepage.

This is why the Reddit homepage is an adorable wasteland of kitten-and-puppy pictures, and Wikipedia-level trivia about everyone’s favorite celebrities like Keanu Reeves (although I must admit, better Keanu than Iggy). Every now and then you’ll see a scare-mongering news piece or rare nugget of information; mostly, it’s snarky neckbeard humour that circulates like stale air trapped in a pressurized cabin cruising somewhere high above terra firma.

In that respect, the users of Reddit are like characters in an endless webcomic created by the masterminds behind a hipster version of Seinfeld. Or maybe, an ironically post-hipster take on Friends. Or maybe, Sharknado with Samuel L. Jackson from Snakes on a Plane. Beware that Reddit-humour is infectious and you might mistakenly try to export it to the real non-neckbeard world. Would you really want to hang out with your unwashed hordes of aimless Reddit-friends in real life?

Grazing Reddit For Hours? Welcome To The Herd

Principle: The average human is a herd animal.

We now know that the average person is an apathetic lurker. We also know that he or she also loves to complain.

So who’s left?

The other creatures grazing Reddit for hours are the proud members of the herd.

The herd, more than anything else, is the functional downfall of Reddit.

The herd will only move as a single unit. Hence, inertia rules: a topic that has no upvotes will tend to remain so. A topic that gains upvote momentum will tend to skyrocket within a certain window of time. A topic that’s downvoted and complained about by one troll, will also tend to be gored and buried by the stampeding herd.

This dynamic completely destroys any pretense of “democracy” or “freedom of speech” to be found on Reddit. Instead, you have something more akin to mindless tribal gamesmanship or drive-by gang warfare tactics. On Reddit, the mob (or perhaps more aptly, the blob) always wins.

And this is why my subreddit was doomed — we tried to do something different. It’s practically impossible to change the way the game as played if people couldn’t be bothered to learn a new set of rules. Ultimately, you end up with the herd roving from pasture to pasture, whining about anything that isn’t “high-concept” enough to be instantly recognizable, while downvoting anything that doesn’t match their existing expectations. Then the inconsolable bovines of Reddit cry on each other’s hulking shoulders with fake outrage that there’s “nothing new left in the world” except blockbusters and remakes.

There would be no blockbusters or interminable strings of superhero reboots if not for the inherently hypocritical and mindless herd.

Information Should Be Worthless, I Mean, Free

Principle: The average person knows nothing about capitalism and therefore is willing to have his or her privacy destroyed for the sake of “free”.

Another feature of the herd is that they are easily led to believe easy lies at the expense of difficult-yet-obvious truths. The most important truth that I’ve learned is a reinforcement of the obvious fact that nothing of any value in life is free.

No one will moderate a community very well if they’re simply throwing time away to battle trolls and attempt to stir lurkers from their customary apathy. So the moderators on Reddit tend to do a poor job, arbitrarily censoring some content and allowing low-quality pieces to be posted. Some members are banned while some are allowed to continue bullying others.

When our subreddit made the rules transparent, trolls whined that the existence of rules was itself an impingement on their “freedom of speech” and began a downvoting campaign against us. When we stated why some posts were allowed and explained exactly what kind were not, the trolls whined louder about how a focused subreddit was the work of a “tyrant” who was trying to destroy the “freedom of information”.

Freedom of speech and freedom of information have been perverted to mean that idiots on Reddit can destroy any community by taking the “victim” role. They can then incite fake outrage for the sake of bullying into submission anyone who tries to do something different. The average person would rather be tricked and manipulated from behind the scenes (i.e. surveillance, I mean, “advertising”) rather than be told community rules and guidelines without sleight-of-mouth misdirection or intentional ambiguity.

Fixing Reddit. Is It Possible? Should We Scrap It And Start Over?

Reddit’s discovery features are also broken, so very few people even know when a new subreddit has been created. To counter that, I started sending private messages to readers of other sci-fi subreddits — one message only, saying essentially this: “hey, we exist. Come have a look if you want.” I also set up a Patreon account to take donations toward building a better website just for us.

Since any form of “spamming” is outlawed on Reddit, a troll complained loudly enough that our community was obliterated by the administrators. Without any other means of telling potential readers about us, the subreddit would never have grown at all — as is the case with the vast majority of Reddit’s communities. What Reddit has on its hands is a conundrum that they seem unable or unwilling to solve.

Two simple fixes would repair at least some of Reddit’s flaws:

1. Allow moderators to disallow downvotes in order to discourage trolls.

It’s baffling that this isn’t an option for moderators to turn on or off. The only plausible answer might be the fear of stifling “freedom of speech” and “freedom of information” which, as we’ve seen, are basically a sham at worst and a false argument at best. At the very least, this would give moderators the ability to shut out some of the noise that can ruin a subreddit at the click of the “downvote” arrow. Allow mods to do as they wish if they’d prefer to encourage upvotes rather than facilitate angry lurkers, perpetual whiners and hateful trolls.

2. Create an effective way to notify Redditors of new subreddits that match their interests.

When the herd receives a message from the site itself, it’s a “recommendation”, whereas a message from an individual is “spam”. Use the herd’s cognitive bias of blind faith in authority to help subreddits attain at least some visibility. From there, a subreddit can grow without the omnipresent spectre of complete ruin by the wrathful Gods of Reddit, who unknowingly are doing the bidding of trolls rather than assisting creative experiments in community-building.

The profiteering army of Steve Jobs-wannabes and cynical “hackers” like Mark Zuckerberg have, in a sense, equalized the playing field. Now anyone and everyone is on the Net, literally numbering in the billions. They are in many ways nothing like the ones who started the revolution in global communication, yet they often use the same terminology. Radical ideas have become “gentrified” as the “market sector” has “matured” and simultaneously devolved to the level of empty corporate marketing jargon.

Privacy, as a principle of self-protection, becomes gutted and pushed aside, derided as anachronistic in a public-relations war against anyone who “has something to hide” (which, incidentally, is everyone, including you). Sharing is no longer optional, yet people compulsively push themselves at each other in fetishistic obsession for the illusion of instant celebrity, driven by a new kind of social anxiety. Dissent now means being exiled from the worldwide monoculture of bland selfies and fashionably “edgy” behavior, quietly sponsored by whatever brand is crowding your eyes and clouding your mind with ads at the moment.

Reddit had the potential to do better than that. I have a feeling that Aaron Swartz would agree, and maybe even Wozniak, too (though definitely not Steve Jobs, as Jobs’ contribution to tech was that he turned computers into glossy high-status toys). Shills, trolls and the herd are the opposite of what makes the Internet great. Hopefully my notes can help you to see what’s happening from a different perspective and maybe even help create a better way. As for me? I’m still just getting started. My goals are still alive and my sense of purpose is stronger than ever. Maybe we can make something cool and useful together.

Fan reactions ranged from dismay to outrage as news broke that Hollywood would adapt the 1995 cyberpunk anime classic Ghost in the Shell.

A natural next thought arose in this nascent age of crowdfunding and Internet-based collaboration:

What if we could take matters into our own hands and create something better than anything Hollywood would ever dare to produce?

Early discussions about the “GITS: Alive” idea often centered around the cost of producing a live-action Ghost in the Shell film. The film clearly requires a strong element of special-effects expertise, as seen in the anime’s approach to technology in the year 2029.

All dreams in cinematic form eventually awaken to the reality of one word: money.

The effort could be fully funded from the start. That would be the ideal scenario.

If not, there are other possibilities.

What if “GITS: Alive” begins life in the short-film format?

Here are a few options:

1. It could begin as pitches often do: with an idea, images and/or storyboards and a trailer. Shoot a dynamic and exciting few minutes’ worth to get fans and potential investors salivating to see the rest.

2. GITS:Alive could have the “best” scenes filmed and released first in order to woo and awe the viewer into wanting more. Release each subsequent scene as a mini-feature that builds momentum for the next. A faithful adaptation needn’t worry about “spoilers”, since the fans have seen the original anyway. The crucial attributes are craftsmanship, smart-yet-faithful adaptation of source material, and believably acted characterization.

Each mini-feature would be the promotional vehicle for the ones to come, with a focus on tight budgeting in order to reach the ultimate goal of funding a completed feature-length film. The sooner that objective is reached, the sooner the film’s remaining scenes can be shot, edited and compiled into a finished product. Most films are lensed out of order regardless, so this way of building scenes could work equally well.

Another way to film in the “mini-feature” style would be to construct each part as its own small “episode” with beginning, middle and end (“to be continued…”). For the final work, editing and any necessary “in-between” filming can smooth the contiguous narrative arcs to manifest a single cohesive storyline.

3. GITS:Alive could be condensed into a single short-film version. The already-written full-length script could be refined into a five, ten, or even fifteen-minute piece. It would hint at what could be possible with a proper budget and creative latitude required for a true telling of the GITS story. Once further funding is procured, the production commences with either a series of short films (see option 2 above), or full-on from start to finish using the feature-length script.

Here are a few early nominations for a potential group of independent creators in the visual/film worlds who could bring a Ghost in the Shell to life.

Visual Design/Interface Design: Project 2501

Why? See Project 2501.

Project 2501. Homage to Ghost in the Shell.
Project 2501. Homage to Ghost in the Shell.

Co-Director: Ash Thorp

Why? Thorp is the visionary behind Project 2501. His aesthetic sensibility captures the tone, beauty and style of the anime with the auteur’s impeccable attention to detail. Given that Project 2501 was a global collaboration, Thorp has also shown leadership skills and the ability to complete a complex visual project.

Co-Director: Joseph Kahn

Why? See Power Rangers bootleg.

Kahn’s willingness to go as far as necessary down the R-Rated road is essential to a Ghost in the Shell film. If you’ve seen the anime, you know that the action is not the kind that can be toned down to the equivalent of PG-13. The Power Rangers Bootleg short film shows that a decent story needn’t sacrifice the necessary violence that was a masterfully conceived aspect of Ghost in the Shell.

Director of Photography/Technical Director: BLR VFX

Why? See Keloid.

Watch the film. Now remember Ghost in the Shell. The style and subject matter are so similar, they could almost take place in the same fictional universe.

Caveat: BLR VFX may no longer exist. It’s likely that the original BLR members have heard of GITS — and would want to join the team for a live-action film.

Producer: Adi Shankar.

Why? Mainly because of Shankar’s awesomely weird tendency to dress like Brandon Lee from the Crow — while offering a solid introduction into the world of indie film financing. Shankar also produced the Power Rangers bootleg.

Cast:

This is the next question.

A few names have already been mentioned.

More ideas coming soon.

For at least a week, I tried to dodge that headline, but it kept popping up when I was least prepared to defend against its pull.

It sat hidden in plain sight on my usual crawl through daily news. My eyes skimmed past and I didn’t click.

The headline haunted the “Read More” sections below articles I’d just finished reading. Through a feat of self-hypnosis, I became perceptually blind in the same way that you can look directly at banner ads and eventually see nothing. Uncomfortably numb, I still didn’t click.

Then I randomly perused a Twitter account that had no reason to post a link to the story. There it was, baiting me to have a look. Excruciated curiosity finally overcame me — I had to remove the splinter from my mind once and for all.

And yes, it was as bad as I thought.

Unsympathetic Creatures

The article was nominally written about the culture of shaming that infests the Internet. That in itself is a fine topic to write about, as you’ll see while you read more below.

For some perplexing reason, though, the author chose the most unsympathetic creatures possible (note: humor — they are human creatures, still) as the protagonists of the story:

Victim One: The Ironic Twitter Hipster

– One “victim” incited the Internet Vigilantes through an unwise tweet. She “ironically” bragged, while sitting on a plane to South Africa, about how white people don’t get AIDS. She, obviously, is white; the majority of South Africa (and the world beyond), is not.

It was a joke, see? It wasn’t actually racist. It was ironic. No, it was snark. It was a brilliant commentary about white privilege. Right? Do we feel better now?

Victim Two: The Innocent Cemetery Desecrator

– Another person posted a photo to her Facebook page of herself making obscene gestures at a war memorial. A cemetery, to be exact.

It was part of a series of pics of “disobeying signs”, though, see? It didn’t dishonor those who died to protect the country where she lives. It was just another sign.

Victim Three: The Runner

– A third brilliant prankster arrived at a Halloween party dressed as a victim of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings.

No “explanations” could possibly excuse that particular feat of sartorial genius.

The article’s author nonetheless chose to mine their stories for sympathetic portrayals. Perhaps the common thread was that the victims lost their jobs as a result of Internet furor. Maybe they all seemed to be begging for the comically overused “diagnosis” of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Regardless, it is difficult to cultivate compassion for racism, disrespect of those who died heroically (regardless of whether the cause was just or not), and those who lost their lives as a result of heinous crimes.

Only one of the “social media victims” stood out as having truly been victimized.

Dongle Joker Versus Thought Policewoman

A man sat with his friend at a tech conference. Speaking directly and only to his friend, he made a silly joke about a dongle. For nerds, the word “dongle” has a weirdly universal and hilarious connotation of “penis”, and that was the crux of the joke.

In front of them, though, sat a woman. That particular woman apparently forgot the aspect of free speech that protects silly dongle jokes between male friends. So what did she do? She whipped out a camera and posted the Offender’s picture (with “dongle” joke as caption) far and wide across the Internet.

The Dongle Joker, a married father with three children, lost his job because of the resulting social media backlash.

Somewhat poetically, however, the scorpion’s tail stung its owner as well: a mass of retaliating maniacs (“Men’s Rights Activists”?) hounded her equally as effectively as the Fake Feminist Thought Policewoman had brutalized the reputation of The Dongle Joker.

Solution For Creatives: Turn Off The Internet?

The incongruous aspect of the article was that there are so many people — celebrities and otherwise — who haven’t said or done anything egregiously imbecilic, yet are bullied online regardless.

The worst of it is often reserved for creative people, or those whose opinions deviate from the norm in a given social group. The “fringe” types risk rejection for the sake of making something new or doing things differently. Those are the people whose efforts matter, and whose stories are worth telling when the horde turns on them with fangs bared.

A publicist (in the wrong profession, clearly) who tweets desperately obtuse AIDS jokes while Twitter-panhandling for cheap laughs? A Feminism 101 flunkie whose ingrate mentality metastasized into a need to play “Thought Police” against a random guy who transgressed against her womanhood by using the word “dongle” within earshot of perhaps-female strangers?

No.

The article completely ignored (with one exception, noted above) the real victims of social media bullying. In doing so, the author also completely missed the point of how Internet Vigilante flash-gangs have blunted and diminished the potential of the Net as a way of connecting people and exploring ideas. Creative people who are scorned for speaking up, or worse, who transform into agents of faceless conformity in fear of being bullied — those are the ones to highlight in articles about the abuse of social media.

In upcoming entries, I hope to explore the dynamics of how gang mentalities arise online, some of their most common tactics, and how to deal with them while keeping your peace of mind. I know what it’s like, because I’ve been through it at least twice. You don’t need to claim “PTSD” to know that your words can be twisted, taken out of context, or even fabricated to amuse those whose lives are generally meaningless except for the desire to antagonize others. In the “Taxonomy of Trolls” series of posts, I’ll show you what I’ve learned about how to ignore, deflect, and even fight back against abusive behavior.

P.S. Second Thoughts.

On second thought… maybe this post was enough. I have a small library of techniques of my own, but maybe it’s better to focus on new creative projects instead. Trolls and bullies are essentially desperate for validation and attention. The simplest way to beat them is to ignore their stupidity and do more of what matters. At the same time, though, I can look back to a naive period of my own and see that others could be helped by knowing what I’ve learned…

…but blogs are just crowdsourced entertainment for most readers.

Should I even bother? I don’t know. I can’t afford to waste time. There’s too much to write elsewhere, and even other topics for this blog as well.

Maybe I’ll be cajoled into writing more when the next celeb quits Twitter — or the next teenage girl commits suicide due to Internet bullying.

Who knows how far an anonymous set of words can reach? I wish I could answer that question first.

One of the Web’s unique aspects is the sheer number of voices contributing to the conversation. Even in news stories from well-known sources, everyone seems to have a different approach.

Actually, that’s not true at all.

Most people seem to see an approach that appears popular, and endeavor to copy it as closely as possible.

Hence, clickbait begets clickbait, given that well-written headlines are far more challenging to duplicate.

This entry will help you take a few steps to remedy the imitative tendency and find your own voice when writing headlines.

Learn Your Limitations So That You Can Overcome Them

As you know by now from reading this blog, I write. In fact, I’m taking a break from writing something else in order to get this set of ideas out of my head — so that I can get back to work on that other piece of writing. I don’t call myself “a writer” because “Hi, I’m a writer them”-types tend to talk, drink coffee and pose in trendy cafes rather than actually writing anything.

Still, despite a lifelong lust for words, it took about a year to learn how to “feel” a headline and flesh it out quickly and painlessly. Luckily, I do love to write, so wrestling with a prickly headline is more fun than playing peek-a-boo with a two-year-old. Compared to a novice, I’m an expert. Compared to a mastermind, I’m a tadpole.

These are notes, written as much for me as for you.

RTFM

Keep reading if you want to gain some tidbits of what I’ve learned thus far. Save yourself from the typical road of wasted time, duplicating my past mistakes in your own experience. The tips below can help shortcut your journey toward becoming a decent headline-writer. This is a skill whose value becomes ubiquitous in a world increasingly dominated by clickable links and attempts to monopolize an ever-diminishing slice of the reader’s attention.

Who knows, it might even help you write a better online dating profile in time for next Valentine’s Day.

Know Your Audience

Two points stand out in regard to audience selection: subculture and smarts.

1. Seek the Subculture
Did you notice that I mentioned Valentine’s Day in the previous section? That’s because you probably know of it, even if you don’t celebrate the holiday. Your headlines will likewise need to match the cultural and/or subcultural tastes and niche knowledge of the intended reader.

2. How Smart Are They?
If your audience is an “intellectual” group, you can write smarter headlines.

It’s also likely that your audience will be a group of chuckle-seeking dummies (see: any comment section beneath a cat picture). The Internet is brimming with Chuckleheads, like crabs in a barrel. They generally will accuse you of being “elitist” or “trying to sound smart” for using multisyllabic words, metaphors or anything less blunt than chalk etched into a brick wall.

If you’re dealing with dummies, you’ll have to dumb down your prose to their level.

Rule of thumb: when in doubt, dumb it down. Even “intellectual” people often have their smarts set to the “off” position much of the time.

You’ll see more about how to turn on the right type of reader a bit farther down.

Shape Your Headline

Should you give the reader: A) a tantalizing tease of what’s to come, or B) give a broad overview and hope that it whets their appetite for more?

If the headline describes a piece that takes a position (“the newest installment of Star Wars will be the best ever”), know that many Chucklehead-types will nod along, comment, Like, Favorite and upvote (or downvote) without bothering to read the piece itself.

Entire discussions can arise based on people’s assumptions and preconceived opinions.

General rule: give the reader enough information to entice him or her to find the rest by clicking on the link.

This leads to the 800-pound Chewbacca hiding in the corner like Sia singing at the 2015 Grammy Awards (I always wondered what Chewbacca’s knees looked like from behind… somewhat slender when well-shaven… but I digress): how to avoid clickbait purgatory?

Ways To Avoid Clickbait Purgatory

0. Avoid the impulse to include hammy stylistic flourishes.

Eschew eyeball-grabbers that smell like a Gawker affiliate (io9 and Jezebel are probably the best-known) or the Huffington Post.

This one is actually tricky because some of those techniques are great organizing devices for articles. For example, using bullet-points (“Five Reasons Why Minestrone Is The Best Comfort Food Ever”) can be useful. If bullets are all you’ve got, though, the article or blog entry may need more substance — or it may simply be unfinished.

The more practice you have at avoid hammy headlines, the more space you’ll give your mind to be creative.

1. Define your goal

If you want the typical reader (who will Like/upvote/etc. a headline without bothering to read the rest), state an unsubstantiated opinion as a fact.

Example A1: “Believe The Hype: Bill Cosby Is A Rapist Because Some People Say So And Some People Are Women.”
Example B1: “Five reasons Why Yoda Has More Fabulous Hair Than Luke Skywalker”

If your goal is to give the reader a reason to read beyond the headline, give information that opens a more interesting question in the reader’s mind. This question will only be solved by clicking through and reading more.

Example A2: “Bill Cosby and the folly of crowds: How many rape accusations are needed for the Internet to convict a celebrity on heresay alone?”
Example B2: “Yoda was the mentor that Luke lacked, reflected even in the character’s choice of hair versus Darth Vader’s impenetrable helmet. Explore the design of Star Wars’ most inscrutably beloved characters.”

In some formats, headlines like these may be split in two by a subhead. Note how they start a story that can only be finished by continuing to read.

2. Write a longer headline

This goes back to the question of “knowing your audience”. Generally speaking, I select intelligent readers by screening out the dummies through the use of longer headlines.

People suffering from Internet Attention Deficit Disorder (also known as ‘Chuckleheads’) will generally misread and misinterpret regardless of how well you craft your headline. From them, you’ll hear such excuses as “I skimmed it and got the gist”, “I took a quick look, and this is what I think…”, etc. You can safely ignore the majority of such “skimmers” and “thinkers”, as they merely repeat their talking points at anyone within range.

Solution: find better readers. One way to do that is to screen the good ones in, and automatically weed out the dummies.
How? Write a longer, more literate headline. There is no limit to the length of the headline, so this is a question of the writer’s skill, the chosen format and readers’ tolerance.

See the note below about being “awesome” for a caveat about how not to overdo this screening technique.

3. Take your time

Write several drafts. A headline is the same as any other type of writing. In some ways, the headline is more information-dense than any other kind of prose: you have to say the most in shortest period of time.

The first three drafts will focus your brain on the task at hand and develop the background of related words for you to play with in crafting the finished product. Really play with the words and concepts.

Once you’ve compiled a few test-lines, experiment with condensing the ideas from multiple words to a single one. Combine ideas and trim away extraneous cutesy bits, distracting parts, or words that slow down the eye.

Suggestions For Headline Experimentation

Your eyes and mind should slide across the headline from start to finish. Smooth the words until they flow.

A “melody” of words and “harmony” of the whole will allow the reader to remember the message. Listen for it and learn to feel the rhythms of the spaces as well as the words.

Find a small morsel in the piece itself and magnify it for the headline so that the reader can delight in noticing it for the second time.

Try understating a point rather than screeching it at concert volume.

Use alliteration liberally — then break it or hint at it rather than running on with similar words.

Before: “An Enticing Expedition Into Nanotechnology’s Potential To End The Energy Crisis”
After: “Energy Industry Flirts With Nanotechnology’s Little-Known Crisis-Ending Capabilities”

Rather than repeating the “en” sound, you can use variation by adding an “ee” (as in “party”) sound to keep the reader guessing until the last word. The first line isn’t too bad and I would refine the second example further; you get the main idea.

4. Be less “awesome”

If you’re new at the skill of headline-writing, see every headline as an opportunity to be concise and descriptive — not to tell jokes or be clever.

Don’t be slick or gimmicky. Accept that someone, somewhere, will whine that practically any interesting headline is “clickbait”. Learn to hear it when you’re slipping into a slick character in order to sound cool or affect unearned expertise.

5. Be less “funny”

Allow humour to shine through the subject matter. Don’t force a “joke” into your headline. On the Internet, no one can hear you laugh as you type. Readers will often miss even the most golden punchline. Better to leave out the funny bits unless they impart valuable information about what your audience is about to read or see.

If the piece itself is funny, your headline will describe the piece and thereby can also (yet not necessarily) be funny. Otherwise, it may be worthwhile to show readers what you thought was fascinating — if you feel that excitement, there’s a chance that the reader will, too.

6. Go away and come back

I just went away to watch Sia perform at the Grammys. When I came back, one of the headline examples begged me to nip and tuck a few words.

Never underestimate the power of distraction in refreshing your brain. Embrace the unexpected, especially if you find yourself obsessively grinding at an idea. Take a break, go away and come back later.

7. Get excited and love your subject.

Even if it’s only for the length of the headline, fall in love with the subject. Act as if it could be the one thing that you woke up to think about all day. Allow it to absorb your attention for as long as it takes to hear the melody and harmony come together in a headline that could possibly bring music to the mind of your reader. Rarely will everyone see the same things you see. The best you can do is give them a chance to find out for themselves. After all, the whole purpose of a headline is to invite the reader to enjoy something you’ve found or created from scratch.

Get excited, get inspired, and write. Your headlines (and mine) will only improve with time.

Maybe even your online dating profiles will improve, too, quickly enough to find a better Valentine in the next 365 days. Or, you might just re-ignite an enticing flirtation with someone you already know; if so, be sure to tell me the story — starting, of course, with a properly tantalizing headline.

By Morgaine Bergman, one of the “little people”:

It is not celebs we should be celebrating, but the work they create. Yes, we should be supporting the development of talent and anyone who is ‘great’ at their job should have job security and make a good living; but no one should earn obscene amounts of money or live in ridiculous luxury, because no one (and no job) on earth deserves that kind of compensation. Ridiculous wealth can only be had by exploiting others, it cannot be earned ‘honestly’.

In my mind, the ideal world would be one in which works are celebrated and admired and not the people who made them. People should only be admired for good character (i.e. good morals, ethics, and values, not popularity). One can be gifted and still be a horrible person. Why should that be rewarded? We should each be treated according to the character our words and actions reveal about us, and what good character should earn us is respect, not adulation.

In the perfect world, artists should be able to share and exchange ideas whether or not their work is known. The wider the dialogue, the better! Experienced artists should be helping new unknowns, not living as pampered sideshow exhibits while the next generations wilt and wither for lack of guidance. Society’s great artists, inventors, and scientists should be able to interact with others normally, without worrying about being ambushed by stalkers or being exploited by media. In this ideal world there would be no ‘celebs’ or ‘fans, and the media would have no cause to chase them. People would interact normally, with respect for each others’ privacy, boundaries, and basic humanity. I don’t think that world is unattainable. I don’t think we can’t reclaim it; I think the mega-corporations want us to believe we can’t, because their wealth relies upon preserving the status quo. This more normal society is much more common in other parts of the world, where everyday life hasn’t been ‘commodified’ as it has been in America.

However we do it, we have to change the way we’re interacting and reclaim our humanity, because at present we’re complicit in making our own hell out of what might have been paradise.

How can this tweet become future-present reality? How can we make real a “sleek, hauntingly resonant feature-length homage” to genre-defining Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell?

Don’t Hold Your Breath… Waiting For Hollywood

Project 2501. Ghost In The Shell.

First: don’t hold your breath waiting for Hollywood. From Dragonball to Akira, the major movie studios are experts in mangling manga and anime.

A petition exists with over 27,000 signatures, but that won’t get a better movie made.

Instead, one goal may be to involve members of the Asian film community who are experienced with American independent film. Examples: Russell Wong, Kelly Hu, Dustin Nguyen and even popular younger actors like Sung Kang. See the 2006 indie film “Undoing” to enjoy Wong, Hu and Kang working together, under the direction of Chris Chan Lee. Ever since his role coolly upstaging Johnny Depp as a heartthrob undercover detective on the show 21 Jumpstreet, Dustin Nguyen has also learned hard, valuable lessons in navigating the landscape as an Asian-American actor.

Perhaps we could even attain the blessings of luminaries in the Asian film and social activism communities such as George Takei, the original Sulu from Star Trek. Keep reading below in the “Questions” section for more directly from Mr. Takei himself.

Finding The Funds: Chinafication of Ghost in the Shell?

In a conversation about how to quickly get moving on this project, someone mentioned appeasing a Chinese sensibility in order to secure funds.

Ever since Iron Man 3 and the innumerable recent Transformers films, Hollywood has built trend of “Chinafying” summer blockbusters for the sake of following the money. The Chinafication of Hollywood is an unfortunate acquiescence, not to Chinese culture, but to the dominance of greed in light of the mainland government’s inexcusable human rights abuses against artist-activists such as Ai Wei Wei.

A fascinating point to note, however, is to see the city in which Ghost in the Shell was visually set. The “city of the future” that plays such an integral role in embodying the spirit of the film is no other than Hong Kong. Considering Hong Kong’s historical and current fight against mainland government control, this setting for GITS may be even more spot-on than a “pure” Japanese location. As China grows in economic power and global influence, much of Asia (perhaps even including Japan) has a stake in the outcome of Hong Kong’s struggle to maintain autonomy while situated in the jaws of the voracious red giant.

This live-action Hong Kong walkthrough reveals its eery shot-for-shot relationship with the landmarks, objects, locations, and visual sensibilities of Ghost in the Shell:

In a sense, Ghost in the Shell was not a stylistic blend of China and Japan. It was an ingenious combination of Hong Kong and Japan. As long as Hong Kong retains its cultural identity, it will never be absorbed into China. Likewise, if Ghost in the Shell is to retain its identity, it must similarly defy Hollywood’s destructive magnetism (although the stakes are not quite so high for a live-action anime… or are they?).

Questions and Thoughts

Project 2501. Ghost In The Shell.

Q: “Motoko Kusanagi is a cyborg. She could take any form. She could be an old woman in a young mecha-body, or be played by a young woman inhabiting an aged cyborg. Why not make her a pretty young American like Ms. Johannsen?”

Why not, you ask? Because there are plenty of alternatives. It would be great to cast a GITS film with unexpected actors — after there exists at least one adaptation that’s faithful to the original.

Q: “But the characters in the anime look white to me. Why does it matter to cast Asian actors?”

Japanese actress Kikuchi Rinko.
Japanese actress Kikuchi Rinko.

For Hollywood to cast a white American woman when there is a multitude of capable Asian actors (American and otherwise) is yet another example of the pervasive phenomenon known as whitewashing in the U.S. film industry.

One major purpose of an independent Ghost in the Shell film is to enable Asian actors to play undeniably Asian roles. Although African-Americans have managed at least to play (largely stereotypical) roles involving black characters, Asian people are still largely ignored. One example, oddly enough, came from the Wachowski siblings’ Cloud Atlas, in which the city of Neo Seoul (South Korea) was populated almost entirely by everyone but Asian people. Worse, the non-Asians wore insultingly silly-looking prosthetics that gave the actors an appearance of being… non-Asian actors wearing insultingly silly-looking prosthetics.

It’s long past the moment for films to start casting real Asian people in Asian roles. If a film would go to the extent of making its characters look “sort of” Asian, they might as well use Asian actors — they’re not fooling anyone with Vaudevillian eye prosthetics and stilted “trying to be Asian-ish” performances, anyway.

Specifically for Ghost in Shell, the characters’ ethnicity matters because the story is Japanese, takes place in Japan (a fictional Hong Kong-like Japanese city), is designed within the context of Japanese culture and yes, the characters are Japanese people. The round-eyed anime style does nothing to change the fact that this is a modern Japanese story. A faithful live-action adaptation would be immersed in the cultural nuances that made the original film unique.

There’s already an American Ghost in the Shell. Its name is The Matrix, and it’s nothing like Ghost in the Shell.

The Wachowskis may have pitched the first Matrix film to producer Joel Silver as a “live-action Ghost in the Shell”:

Even though lead actor Keanu Reeves’ grandmother is Chinese Hawaiian, the film itself is American (some might even say, Chicagoan).

Enter Project 2501

Project 2501. Ghost In The Shell.

At the same time, it’s a pleasure to note that the lead actor/model in Project 2501’s homage, Christine Adams, is in fact hapa — of both Japanese and American ancestry. Mixed-ethnicity actors are an indication of the future of our world.

More than the mythology of race (there is only one human race, and we all belong to it), culture does matter. A Japanese story cannot simply be re-scripted as an American one without becoming a different story. The universal themes will still be there; you don’t need to be Asian to appreciate the impact of Ghost in the Shell and enjoy the original anime. It might even be interesting to see a Japanese version of the Matrix. In any case, a live-action Ghost in the Shell would inevitably be a Japanese story first and foremost, as Japanese culture was the foundation for both the manga and the 1995 anime.

It is, of course, ironic that the closest we have (2015) to a live-action GITS is Project 2501, a global collaboration spearheaded by American visual designer Ash Thorp. This note would be incomplete without a quote from Kusanagi Motoko herself: “the Net is vast and infinite”. Such an Internet-connected, worldwide collab of gifted and dedicated artists may hold the key to unleashing the true spirit of Ghost in the Shell. And Ash Thorp has shown the vision, willingness and ability to lead that collaboration. Film is a different animal, but the ability to marshal a group of individually-minded creatives is a skill that not everyone can claim to possess.

Q: “Movies are all about the money. That’s why Hollywood chose Scarlett Johanssen. You can’t blame Hollywood for wanting to make a profit.”

I’ll invite George Takei to tackle this one.

[ Transcript ]

Q: “Japanese people wouldn’t want a live-action Ghost in the Shell. Look at the lack of action movies in Japanese cinema, for example.”

For counterexamples, see the manga-turned-film series Gantz and Gantz: Perfect Answer. These films not only showcase brilliant special effects, they are also identifiably Japanese through the actors’ choices in portraying their roles. Hollywood could not have done a better job unless they re-wrote the story to take place in the United States. If they were to do so (as Mr. Takei noted in the video above) they might as well make a completely different movie. The same is true of Ghost in the Shell.

If we want the world to see a faithful, high-quality live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, there is no point in waiting for Hollywood. We’ll have to assemble a team of skilled professionals (I nominate Ash Thorp’s Project 2501 as the nucleus of that team), and create a production that is true to the vision of the original anime.

The passion is real. The vision exists. The anime is our blueprint. We even have a reference for the visual design of the film (see Project 2501). And the time is now.

Project 2501. Ghost In The Shell.

Actress Halle Berry was the inspiration for Fox in Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ original graphic novel Wanted, upon which the 2008 film was based. Eminem’s close likeness was also given a co-starring role in the novel, although neither actress nor musician ended up playing their intended characters on the silver screen.

The Em Connection appears again in Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium (2014), in the role that was eventually offered to Matt Damon. Eminem apparently insisted that Elysium be filmed in Detroit; it was ultimately shot in Mexico City and Vancouver.

What’s more interesting is the way that Damon describes how Blomkamp enticed him into taking the lead:

In late 2010 he met with Damon in a New York diner. “About 15 minutes in, he pulled out what was essentially a homemade graphic novel” of the movie, Damon says. “It absolutely blew my mind.” That book, which also featured detailed illustrations of weaponry and future-tech, was the result of a yearlong back-and-forth between Blomkamp and illustrators from New Zealand effects house Weta and conceptual artist Doug Williams. The look of the film hews closely to those drawings. “I talked to Jim Cameron about Avatar early on,” Damon says, “and what struck me about Neill was the same thing that struck me about Cameron: The world had already been created. It existed in their minds.”

The Eminem Connection isn’t an issue of whether Halle Berry would have been a better Fox in Wanted, or if Em could have carried Elysium on his shoulders. Notice the powerful impact a graphic novel can have when communicating visual ideas (you may also remember the prior entry that inspired this one). From Neill Blomkamp’s “homemade” concept art to the completed work of Wanted, the humble ‘comic book’ format has grown as a unique platform that easily stands on its own.

Aesthetic relativism is known by its “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” mentality, in which art is reduced to ‘personal expression’. “With each new generation, standards declined… until there were no standards,” notes artist Robert Florczak. “Without aesthetic standards, we have no way to determine quality or inferiority. Here’s a test I give my graduate students, all talented and well-educated. Please analyze this Jackson Pollack painting, and explain why it is good…”

Watch the video to see the results of the test.

Florczak continues (excerpted remarks included below):

“Not only has the quality of art diminished, but also the subject matter has gone from the transcendent to the trashy. Where once artists supplied their talents to scenes of substance and integrity, from history, literature, religion, mythology, et cetera, many of today’s artists merely use their art to make ‘statements’, often for nothing more than shock value.

Artists of the past also made statements at times. But never at the expense of the visual excellence of their work.

It’s not only artists who are at fault. It is equally the fault of the so-called ‘art community’: the museum heads, gallery owners, and the critics… It is they who champion graffiti and call it ‘genius’; promote the scatological and call it ‘meaningful’. It is they who, in reality, are the naked emperors of art. For who else would spend ten million dollars on a rock, and think it is art?

An art gallery, after all, is a business… if the product doesn’t sell, it won’t be made.

Let’s celebrate what we know is good, and ignore what we know is not.”