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The "baseline" scene was actually written by Ryan Gosling

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This post necessarily contains spoilers for Blade Runner 2049. If you haven't seen Blade Runner 2049, I suggest not reading this and just going and watching Blade Runner 2049.

…so. I really like Blade Runner 2049. Like I really like it.

I learned something wild about it yesterday. I'm going to take a minute to talk through the context, but if you just want to know what I learned, skip to "Dropping In" below.

My favorite scene in BR2049 is the "baseline test" scene. Ryan Gosling's character K ("KD6-3.7"), fresh back in from dispassionately murdering a man at the behest of the state, takes what the movie calls a "post-traumatic baseline test". The test is a Voight-Kampf test being performed in reverse.

"Blade Runner" / The Voight-Kampf test

The Voight-Kampf test is a fictional test that distinguishes baseline humans from synthetic "replicants". It is a little different in the Blade Runner movies than it is in the book. In the book ("Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep", by Phillip K. Dick— I haven't read it, I've only had this explained to me)— in the book, the point of the Voight-Kampf test is that it does not work. The test is pseudoscience and the creepy questions are testing to see if you have the same value system as the parent culture. PKD is not interested in what it means to be human. He is interested in "what does it mean for a human to decide that another person is not a human?". PKD believes everyone is human and dehumanization is active work performed by the dehumanizer. In his book if you cannot give the correct answers to the Voight-Kampf questions, if you do not convince the tester that you feel the correct way about turtles, the culture literally dehumanizes you and you can be executed as a replicant.

The first movie is not interested in the same things PKD is interested in. The second movie is very, very interested in these things, but it's still in the first movie's continuity, so the Voight-Kampf still follows the first movie's rules.

You're in a desert, walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you. You reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that?

In the movies, the Voight-Kampf test "works", but it's based on different principles. In the movies the questions and answers do not matter; turtles do not matter. What matters is that the process of being asked the questions is unsettling and produces emotional responses. The questions no longer have cultural content (the questions are actually the same, but the culture in the movie is different), they're just creepy. The testee is monitored during question and answer and a computer tracks whether things like their pupil and throat movements match human regular. Someone aware of neuroatypicality will immediately identify the unfairness of assuming everyone has identical emotional responses or identical somatic responses to emotion, but the first movie (which, in my opinion, is simply not as good) hasn't thought very hard about that. The first movie does think the test is unfair, but for a different reason; the movie concludes the reason the test successfully identifies replicants is not because replicants are inhuman, or even because they are neuroatypical, but because they are children. Replicants are born in adult bodies and only accumulate two to four years of memories before getting "retired"; the "incorrect" responses are in fact simply a child's responses. The movie posits a replicant with implanted adult memories would pass a Voight-Kampff test. Fine, whatever.

"Blade Runner 2049" / The baseline test

In Blade Runner 2049 the Voight-Kampf test is no longer used, for two reasons. First off, it is no longer needed, since replicants can be identified by barcodes in their corneas. Second off it would no longer work. Replicants now have implanted fake memories equivalent to their apparent age at birth, which under the movie rules mean a 2049 replicant that takes a Voight-Kampf test would pass it. The culture has become crueler and no longer feels it needs to work as hard to dehumanize someone. It no longer bothers with the arbitrary neurotribal metrics. It simply declares a group of people inhuman by circumstance of birth.

The "baseline", like the Voight-Kampf, consists of being asked a series of uncomfortable questions. Like the Voight-Kampf, somatic responses determine your score. Unlike the Voight-Kampf, there is a "baseline", a pre-memorized text the replicant has been assigned to keep in mind during the test. The replicant's job during the test is to ignore the questions and instead listen for any words or phrases from the baseline text. The questioner says, "What's it like to hold the hand of someone you love? Interlinked". K must reply "Interlinked" and not respond in any other way. The point of the baseline test is not to fail inhumans. The culture has already decided that K is subhuman. The baseline is testing to see if someone marked as inhuman is becoming human. The baseline text, like the questions, has heavy emotional content. The environment of the baseline test is designed to maximize stress; alone in a cold white cell, the interrogator harshly barking the questions, the testee unsettled by the alien noises and unblinking eye of the monitoring equipment. It would be nearly impossible to be in that environment and not have an emotional response. But the culture has decided that replicants do not have emotional responses. The state wants dispassionate murderers for its executioners, the economy demands uncomplaining workers. The perceived emotional shortcomings of the replicants have become part of their assigned social function. So a replicant which responds to circumstances like a human is declared defective and destroyed. The culture does not even think of it as a punishment. A part is malfunctioning and it gets replaced.

The culture first stereotypes a minority, and then demands the minority perform that stereotype or else be met with violence.

"Pale Fire" / within cells interlinked

I really like this scene, as cinema. Everything about it works. In general I tend to like what my wife Christine calls "the Saying Shit portion of the movie", in whatever movie, the point where someone is suddenly seriously intoning portentous free-verse poetry you can't understand. There are some movies where the movie's plot is not ultimately able to deliver on the portentious poetry meaning anything (see 23:36-23:56 here) but which I like anyway just because the saying-shit portion is in the moment so convincing. The baseline scene is the perfect "saying shit" scene. When it first starts you have no idea what is happening. The editing and sound are maximally disorienting; all you know is suddenly Ryan Gosling is saying terrifying poetry over shots of the LAPD headquarters. You find out why only after he's finished, and the movie takes a couple more hours to completely sketch out the full horror of what is being done to K here.

What I didn't find out until earlier this year was that K's baseline text is literal poetry. It's Vladimir Nabokov.

I can't tell you how
I knew - but I did know that I had crossed
The border. Everything I loved was lost
But no aorta could report regret.
A sun of rubber was convulsed and set;
And blood-black nothingness began to spin
A system of cells interlinked within
Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
within one stem. And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

That's from "Pale Fire" (another book I've had described to me but not read). The last five lines are K's baseline. "Pale Fire", like BR2049, is a story about a man who comes to the false conclusion that he is the protagonist of someone else's story. It's about something which is real and something which is merely interpreted, reflected ("The moon's an arrant thief / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun"). It's obviously relevant to BR2049's narrative, so if (as was the case for me) you've heard of Pale Fire but failed to identify the poem, then it feels pretty obvious why in a later scene at home the filmmakers briefly reveal K to actually own and be working through a copy of Pale Fire, apparently without a lot of success. (His hologram girlfriend doesn't seem to like it, anyway.) On my first watch I thought this was a cute if slightly forced reference; now, knowing the poem's source, this detail becomes not just natural but wrenching. K is a person marked as subhuman who struggles with a desire to be free he is not even allowed to acknowledge. He has been assigned this text that he has to perform noncomprehension of. But he wants to know what it means. He is working through Pale Fire because at some level he is trying to understand the context of this thing that has enslaved him.

"Dropping in"

Anyway, here's the wild part. That scene was actually written by Ryan Gosling. And the baseline test wasn't created for the movie. It's a thing from the real world.

Here's what I learned yesterday:

I was trying to find the text of the baseline scene. There's a video on YouTube but I was looking for a transcription. Instead I found this much, much longer "full text" on Reddit, along with a comment where the poster explains they transcribed it from the BR2049 art book. They go on to explain:

Ryan Gosling actually wrote this when trying to understand his character, and used a technique called "dropping in" to analyze writing from Nabokov's Pale Fire. He approached Villeneuve about it and he added it to the film

What's this?

There's a blog post here by screenwriter Jon James Miller that explains the concept:

Dropping-in is a technique Tina [Packer] and Kristin Linklater developed together in the early 1970s to create a spontaneous, emotional connection to words for Shakespearean actors. In fact, “dropping in” is integral to actor training at Shakespeare & Co. (the company the Linklater’s founded) a way to start living the word and using it to create the experience of the thing the word represents.

The process of dropping-in involves a teacher and student, the former asking questions and the latter repeating the word in the text (in bold below). The process gives each operative word depth and dimension and allows it to come into the body. Apparently, it can also release strong emotions. Once an emotional connection is made with individual words, then phrases or sentences can be strung together and “dropped-in.” Here’s an example from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the sentence:

“May All To Athens Back Again Repair”


Do you like the month of May? May.

Do you hate the month of May? May.

Do you say “May I?” May.

Say “all the days of May?” (three times fast)

A longer description is in this account by Shakespeare & Co student Catherine Bryne (search for "Our first session of scene work"), but that's the basic idea. This is literally the baseline test.

The baseline test is an actor's exercise.

My read of the Shakespeare & Co process is it's about exploring the emotional space around a word (to mangle a Tina Packer quote from the Bryne account, "revealing the multiplicity of meanings"). An actor should ideally understand the emotional content of everything they say, and since each word receives its own emphasis we might as well take that down to the level of a particular word. Packer wants an actor to fully, intuitively understand the implications of every word they speak. So the questions in her process force the actor to consider each word from a variety of angles. The actor isn't meant to answer the questions; it isn't a test. They're only meant to internalize each question. They're meant to fully experience the emotional content that the question charges the word with. The benefit of this, I imagine, is they make explicit to themselves their own emotional associations around the word and therefore probably those of the audience, and if the "Dropping In" is being performed in preparation for a particular role I assume they're trying to experience the questions "from the perspective of" the character and therefore understand their character's relationship to each word.

The baseline test adapts this process for evil ends. The questions push the replicant toward giving the text emotional associations. But they cannot let those emotional associations be felt. The text has to remain empty syllables, or the testee dies. The testee is being taught to suppress the exact feelings "Dropping In" was designed to tease out. "Dropping In" as practiced by the Shakespeare & Co is an intensely physical process, as described by Bryne, with all participants close and touching, eye contact being maintained; Byrne describes a feeling of intense bonding with her partner in the exercise, that the combination of intimate physical contact and emotional release unlocked strong maternal feelings in her. This element too is present in the "baseline" version, but turned sinister, all physical elements used to isolate K; the framing brings K closer to no one but establishes the interrogator as distant and K as subservient. K keeps eye contact with a lens.

The correspondence is so exact that if we assume Blade Runner to be set in "our" future— or the future of the 1980s at least— it's reasonable to imagine the baseline test is not just based on "Dropping In" from a screenwriting perspective but literally, in-narrative. Shakespeare & Co was founded in 1978, which is before the Blade Runner series' timeline diverges from ours. Shakespeare & Co has intentionally never set down the technique of "Dropping In" in writing, it's only taught person to person, so it wouldn't have been lost in the 2022 digital crash. It might as well be the case someone at the Wallace Corporation (co-opting everything without thought to context in the way tech does) literally learned about "Dropping In" and adapted it to design the baseline test.

Looking between this page scanned from the artbook and this (good) interview with Denis Villeneuve it appears how this scene got in the film is the very earliest script drafts had a more sedate inspection scene where an unseen man simply interviews K and asks him to read the Pale Fire poem without emotionally responding to it. The most romantic possible way of imagining how this became the final scene would be if Ryan Gosling actually spontaneously attempted "Dropping In" on the Pale Fire poem as a way of preparing for this scene, and in the process realized how similar "Dropping In" was to the Voight-Kampf, but I can't find anyone telling this version of the story who can trace it to a specific source that worked on the movie. Villeneuve's interview says only that Gosling brought the "Dropping In" idea to him during the brainstorming phase that followed the initial script distribution and that when filming started they shot both the version from the script and Gosling's concept and decided Gosling's was better. The artbook does confirm though that Gosling did write the script for the "Dropping In" version of the scene, which as originally filmed was 7 minutes long (!)— obviously impractically long, but the editor says he loved it because he had so much material to work with he could actually edit for rhythm when cutting down to what was eventually refilmed as the brutal 40-second take in the final movie.

One final angle we can look at this from. The baseline test was derived from an actors' exercise as part of the movie production. We could imagine the baseline test was derived from the same actor's exercise in the story continuity. But there's a reading in which the baseline test is being used as an actor's exercise in the movie, by K. The formal reason for the baseline test is to detect and purge emotion in replicants. But the replicants know that, which means from a "a system is what it does" perspective what they're really being tested on, and expected to refine over time, is skill in acting. When K fails his second baseline test toward the end of the movie it's explicit that his boss must pull strings to prevent him being immediately executed, but she does do it, implying when push comes to shove the system is less interested in whether replicants experience emotionlessness than whether they can show acceptance of the assigned role (subservient to the privileged group, unsympathetic to their own group) by way of performance. At this point the text, subtext, and metatext all converge.

I really like Blade Runner 2049.

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Everybody has to self-promote now. Nobody wants to.

An illustration in shades of pink, purple, and white shows a woman sitting at a table working on art, with another, brighter, view of her shown through a mobile phone screen, with a ring light and microphone at the edges of the image.
Eleni Kalorkoti for Vox

So you want to be an artist. Do you have to start a TikTok?

When Rachael Kay Albers was shopping around her book proposal, the editors at a Big Five publishing house loved the idea. The problem came from the marketing department, which had an issue: She didn’t have a big enough following. With any book, but especially nonfiction ones, publishers want a guarantee that a writer comes with a built-in audience of people who already read and support their work and, crucially, will fork over $27 — a typical price for a new hardcover book — when it debuts.

It was ironic, considering her proposal was about what the age of the “personal brand” is doing to our humanity. Albers, 39, is an expert in what she calls the “online business industrial complex,” the network of hucksters vying for your attention and money by selling you courses and coaching on how to get rich online. She’s talking about the hustle bro “gurus” flaunting rented Lamborghinis and promoting shady “passive income” schemes, yes, but she’s also talking about the bizarre fact that her “65-year-old mom, who’s an accountant, is being encouraged by her company to post on LinkedIn to ‘build [her] brand.’”

The internet has made it so that no matter who you are or what you do — from nine-to-five middle managers to astronauts to house cleaners — you cannot escape the tyranny of the personal brand. For some, it looks like updating your LinkedIn connections whenever you get promoted; for others, it’s asking customers to give you five stars on Google Reviews; for still more, it’s crafting an engaging-but-authentic persona on Instagram. And for people who hope to publish a bestseller or release a hit record, it’s “building a platform” so that execs can use your existing audience to justify the costs of signing a new artist.

We like to think of it as the work of singular geniuses whose motivations are purely creative and untainted by the market — this, despite the fact that music, publishing, and film have always been for-profit industries where formulaic, churned-out work is what often sells best. These days, the jig is up.

Corporate consolidation and streaming services have depleted artists’ traditional sources of revenue and decimated cultural industries. While Big Tech sites like Spotify claim they’re “democratizing” culture, they instead demand artists engage in double the labor to make a fraction of what they would have made under the old model. That labor amounts to constant self-promotion in the form of cheap trend-following, ever-changing posting strategies, and the nagging feeling that what you are really doing with your time is marketing, not art. Under the tyranny of algorithmic media distribution, artists, authors — anyone whose work concerns itself with what it means to be human — now have to be entrepreneurs, too.

“Authors are writing these incredible books, and yet when they ask me questions, the thing that keeps them up at night is, ‘How do I create this brand?’” says literary agent Carly Watters. It’s not that they want to be spending their time doing it, it’s that they feel they have to. “I think that millennials and Gen Xers really feel like sellouts. It’s not what they imagined their career to look like. It inherently feels wrong with their value system.”

Because self-promotion sucks. It is actually very boring and not that fun to produce TikTok videos or to learn email marketing for this purpose. Hardly anyone wants to “build a platform;” we want to just have one. This is what people sign up for now when they go for the American dream — working for yourself and making money doing what you love. The labor of self-promotion or platform-building or audience-growing or whatever our tech overlords want us to call it is uncomfortable; it is by no means guaranteed to be effective; and it is inescapable unless you are very, very lucky.

The August/September 1997 cover story of Fast Company was “The Brand Called You,” its headline design a clever take on the orange Tide logo. The gist: If you’re not building your “personal brand,” a term coined by the author, you’re already being left behind by the new economy, one where career success isn’t defined by moving up the corporate ladder but by individual growth and self-promotion. “There is no one right way to create the brand called You,” writes Tom Peters in the kicker. “Except this: Start today. Or else.”

The sentiment was a rather unfashionable one at the time, if not for the white-collar workers reading Fast Company, then certainly for the young people who would eventually enter their world. If there was a decade defined by its obsession with authenticity and artistic purity, it’s the 90s, an era where trying too hard or caring too much about anything was embarrassing, where “selling out” was the ultimate sin.

In his essay collection The Nineties, Chuck Klosterman defines the term “sellout” not as someone who sells something in order to get rich, but someone who compromises their values to do so. “This action was particularly bad if the compromised person was still doing the same work they’d done before,” he writes, “except now packaging that work in an attempt to make it palatable to a less discriminating audience.” Even at the time, there was pushback against the idea of criticizing artists for “selling out,” that it was a naive and hypocritical concept that punished ambition and innovation. “It was a loser’s game and everyone knew it,” he writes. “But it was a loser’s game you still had to play.”

The problem is that America more or less runs on the concept of selling out. The stigma — if it ever meaningfully existed — didn’t last beyond the Great Recession, and by the time most people joined some form of social media, Peters saw his prophecy fulfilled. Over the last decade, mass layoffs in supposedly stable industries, stagnant wages, and general disillusionment with corporate work have made entrepreneurship increasingly attractive to young people, who say they’d rather just be their own bosses. Even for those who never wanted to become entrepreneurs, larger economic shifts have forced them to act as though they are.

Take publishing, where there are only five major companies who control roughly 80 percent of the book trade. Fewer publishers means heavier competition for well-paying advances, and fewer booksellers thanks to consolidation by Amazon and big box stores means that authors aren’t making what they used to on royalties, despite the fact that book sales are relatively strong. The problem isn’t that people aren’t buying books, it’s that less of the money is going to writers.

The same is true for music: People are listening to more of it than ever, yet artists say they can no longer make a living off royalties. Instead of discovering books or music from the press or radio play, fans are finding them on algorithmic platforms like TikTok, where a single video or trend can skyrocket a title to the top of the charts. There are trade-offs to this system: while it’s more difficult to create mainstream consensus on something, theoretically, anyone can go viral and bypass the traditional gatekeepers of creative success. Artists are scoring deals and record contracts based on their TikTok presences: a 27-year-old named Alex Aster sold the film rights to a YA book concept she’d pitched on TikTok before the book even published; the sea shanty guy got both a book and a record deal out of his brief viral moment.

Predictably, the same fate has reached the publications dedicated to reviewing said works of art: As ad-supported journalism continues its slow collapse and jobs for cultural critics dwindle — in January, Condé Nast folded the music review site Pitchfork into GQ and laid off staff — we’re losing smart, well-edited and fact-checked criticism (and, crucially, the ability for those people to make a living off of writing it). Even before mass layoffs, the professional critic lost some relevancy: a positive New York Times review, for instance, used to create overnight hits, while now it barely moves the needle, one agent told me. What has replaced them is, as Israel Daramola writes, “a loose collection of YouTubers and influencers who feed slop to their younger audiences, and fan communities that engage with music solely through their obsession with a particular pop act. This has all helped produce a mass of music fans who don’t understand the value of criticism and outright detest being told the things they like might suck.”

This model of the culture industry doesn’t exactly conform to the Romantic ideal of what an artist’s life entails. Since the late 18th and early 19th century, we’ve tended to think of “artists” not as artisans or master craftsmen, as we did prior to the Romantic movement, but as solitary oracles existing on a higher spiritual plane than the rest of us, explains William Deresiewicz, author of The Death of the Artist: How Creators are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech. When the US institutionalized its cultural power in the form of museums, graduate programs, arts councils, and awards after World War II, more artists were able to make a living from their work via grants, residencies, affiliations, and academic positions. While this model was certainly a departure from the persona of the “starving artist,” it still allowed those engaged in creative labor to work largely separate from the market.

Even when corporations did enter the picture, artists working with publishing houses or record companies, for example, had little contact with the business side of things. “Before the internet came along, artists not only could let their companies worry about the money, but they actually didn’t have a choice. The companies didn’t let them,” says Deresiewicz. That was until social media, where every single person with an account plays both author and publisher. Under the model of “artist as business manager,” the people who can do both well are the ones who end up succeeding.

You can see this tension play out in the rise of “day in my life” videos, where authors and artists film themselves throughout their days and edit them into short TikToks or Reels. Despite the fact that for most people, the act of writing looks very boring, author-content creators succeed by making the visually uninteresting labor of typing on a laptop worthwhile to watch. You’ll see a lot of cottagecore-esque videos where the writer will sip tea by the fireplace against the soundtrack of Wes Anderson, or wake up in a forest cabin and read by a river, or women like this Oxford University student who dresses up like literary characters and films herself working on her novel. Videos like these emulate the Romantic ideal of “solitary genius” artistry, evoking a time when writing was seen as a more “pure” or quaint profession. Yet what they best represent is the current state of art, where artists must skillfully package themselves as products for buyers to consume.

It’s precisely the kind of work that is uncomfortable for most artists, who by definition concern themselves with what it means to be a person in the world, not what it means to be a brand. There’s been a fair amount of backlash to this imperative, recently among musicians on TikTok. For the past few years, it’s been common for indie artists to make videos asking, in a kind of faux-bashful way, “Did I just write the song of the summer?!” In December, one artist made a TikTok in which she asked her followers to imagine, say, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke posting a video like that. Ricky Montgomery, a 30-year-old musician with 1.7 million TikTok followers, made a thoughtful follow-up from the perspective of someone who’d gotten a record deal out of a viral moment, saying that even when you land the record deal or have a few hit songs, you’re still stuck on the treadmill of constant self-promotion. “Next thing you know, it’s been three years and you’ve spent almost no time on your art,” he tells me. “You’re getting worse at it, but you’re becoming a great marketer for a product which is less and less good.”

The system works great for record labels or publishing houses, who can hand over the burden of marketing to the artists themselves. But that means, as Montgomery says, “If you have absolutely no knowledge of video creation, good fucking luck.” The labor of making TikToks — and if you want to reach the most people in the shortest amount of time, TikTok is pretty much the only place to go — requires both tedium and skill. You’ve got to get used to the app’s ever-evolving editing features, understand the culture of the platform, make yourself look presentable but not too presentable or risk coming off as inauthentic, prepare for and practice what you’re going to say, but again, not too much. And you’ve got to do it again and again and again, because according to every single influencer ever, the key to growing your audience is posting consistently.

More than that, you’ve got to actually spend your time doing this stuff on the off chance that the algorithm picks it up and people care about what you have to say. You’ve got to spend your time doing this even though it’s corny and cringe and your friends from high school or college will probably laugh as you “try to become an influencer.” You’ve got to do it even when you feel like you have absolutely nothing to say, because the algorithm demands you post anyway. You have to do it even if you’re from a culture where doing any self-promotion is looked upon as inherently negative, or if you’re a woman for whom bragging carries an even greater social stigma than it already does. You’ve got to do it even though the coolest thing you can do is not have to.

You’ve got to offer your content to the hellish, overstuffed, harassment-laden, uber-competitive attention economy because otherwise no one will know who you are. In a recent interview with the Guardian, the author Naomi Klein said the biggest change in the world since No Logo, her 1999 book on consumerism and inescapable branding, came out was that “neoliberalism has created so much precarity that the commodification of the self is now seen as the only route to any kind of economic security. Plus social media has given us the tools to market ourselves nonstop.”

You’ve got to do it even though the people rewarded for “putting themselves out there” are most often the same people society already rewards. You’ve got to do it even though algorithms are biased against poor people, against people of color, against people who don’t conform to patriarchal societal norms. “We all have access to these platforms that don’t cost anything, but that’s often mistaken for ‘there are no socioeconomic barriers,’” explains Christina Scharff, a gender and media studies scholar at King’s College of London who has studied expectations of self-promotion among women in classical music. “The barriers are much more hidden: You have to know how to present yourself and how to create visuals that are appealing.” Not only that, but by doing so, you’re exposing yourself to harassment and ridicule. “It’s harder for racial minorities, women, trans people, or other minoritized groups, because if you’re already vulnerable in one way or another, that can backfire,” she adds.

You’ve also got to do it despite the many mea culpas from influencers who say influencing sort of ruined their lives. YouTubers have said the pressure of posting their lives led them to deep unhappiness, depression, and anxiety, but that they feel like they can’t take breaks because they know the algorithm will punish them. In almost every interview I do with TikTokers, they want to talk about how burned out they feel, pretty much all the time. “I had made a product out of some of the most devastating moments of my life. In its aftermath, I felt pressured to continuously comment on problems in my private life that I didn’t know how to fix,” wrote Elle Mills, a former teen YouTuber, on why she quit. “I think I am a writer and an actor and an artist,” wrote Tavi Gevinson of her relationship to Instagram. “But I haven’t believed the purity of my own intentions ever since I became my own salesperson, too.”

When Brooke Erin Duffy, communications professor at Cornell University, asks her students “Who wants to be an entrepreneur?” they all raise their hands. Considering her book centers around how careers in which you “get paid for doing what you love” are often traps for being overworked and undervalued, this is somewhat ironic.

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe her students are seeing what older people don’t want to. “There’s this sense of, ‘How am I going to learn to engage in self-branding to monetize whatever my field of expertise is?’” she says of her students. “Young people are clamoring to learn about this, and a lot of them feel that the university is unable to provide it because of the distance between what their professors know and what’s going on now.”

Leigh Stein, an author and writing teacher, views the creator economy not as an adversary to arts professions but as a tool to make connections. “I try not to be a cynic. If this is the state of the creator economy, how can I thrive in it instead of wasting time complaining about how I wish it were better?” she says. “One pet peeve of mine is writers’ reluctance to get on social media because they don’t want to share their ideas in public. It’s like, well, why do you want to be a writer? Isn’t the whole point of writing that you have ideas that you want to share? You should be sharing those ideas in public all the time.”

It’s probable that due to the inescapability of social media and advertising, young people aren’t as allergic to self-promotion as older folks were at their age. Its roots were already brewing in 2011, when Deresiewicz wrote a New York Times opinion piece called “Generation Sell” in which he marveled at the ways hip millennials in Portland, Oregon, seemed naturally predisposed to salesmanship. Unlike youth subcultures in decades prior, he found them to be polite, friendly, and disarmingly earnest — “above all, a commercial personality.” It was entrepreneurs whom these people wanted to emulate, and the small business the social and economic model in which they wanted to work.

I asked Deresiewicz if he felt anything had changed in the 13 years since he wrote the piece. Back then, he says, “I was still in that mindset of ‘selling out is evil.’” When he began research on his next book, however, “I realized that was kind of an outdated, privileged, and intensely unrealistic attitude,” he says. “Now, you don’t have a choice, and that’s why that concept has disappeared.”

That book tackles how artmaking became an inherently entrepreneurial pursuit, arguing that while social media hugely increased the number of people who pursued art, it didn’t increase the number of people who can support themselves financially by making it. A world in which artists think like entrepreneurs, he writes in the Atlantic, is one where “You’re a musician and a photographer and a poet; a storyteller and a dancer and a designer … which means that you haven’t got time for your 10,000 hours in any of your chosen media. But technique or expertise is not the point. The point is versatility. Like any good business, you try to diversify.” It’s also a world where that art is “more familiar, formulaic, user-friendly, eager to please — more like entertainment, less like art.”

Is the labor of self-promotion making art worse? It’s sort of impossible to argue this; the internet has abetted the creation and exposure of infinitely more art than ever before in human history. But with less separation between art and commerce, Montgomery says, “there’s some self-censorship that happens. If you’re a little too knowledgeable about PR, you start to become way too aware of things like posting schedules, and it’s impossible to be punk anymore.”

Bethany Cosentino was 22 when she started her indie rock band Best Coast in 2009, and by the time she released her first album under her own name this year, the music industry was barely recognizable. In that bygone era, she explains, you had to be reading certain blogs, going to certain venues, and hanging out with certain people if you wanted to find a cool new indie artist. There was an entire cottage industry supporting the discovery of emerging talent; now, it’s been relegated to a playlist algorithmically designed to match your existing tastes. “Anyone can upload anything to Spotify, but Spotify has every piece of music that’s ever been made in the entire world,” says Cosentino. “You’re up against the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac.”

Where that’s left her — a musician who’s had a successful career for 15 years — is basically the same place it leaves any random up-and-comer: constantly promoting yourself online. “It genuinely feels like I’m clocking into work,” she says of social media. In the lead-up to her latest record, released this summer, she says she was online for hours from the moment she woke up, using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what she needed to post. Even still, she says that as soon as her album came out, “it basically went away” in terms of commercial success. Whether that was because it was under her own name instead of her more well-known band, or because it was a departure from her earlier sound, or because she didn’t hit the viral lottery, is impossible to say. The only thing that matters now, she says, are streaming numbers, and if a record flops, the artist gets blamed for not promoting it enough.

When Cosentino expressed her frustration on TikTok in December, her video caused a cross-platform discourse over privilege, labor, and what’s expected of artists. She’s hopeful that there’s a better way to set up the system. “A lot of stuff is broken,” she says, “And nothing’s going to fix itself. Everybody needs to be proactive and figure out a way forward. Of course, that’s challenging, but I don’t think the answer is to throw your arms up and go, ‘Well, it just is what it is.’ I’m not an ‘it is what it is’ person, I want to figure out how to make it better, or how to make it at least more fulfilling for me as a human being in my one God-given life.”

Instead of spending the majority of our time on self-promotion, perhaps more of us could be focusing on finding ways to form solidarity among artists or among disciplines, especially in fields where there is no single industry-wide union that protects individual creators. We can support independently owned media, we can make it more possible for artists to survive by fighting for a health care system that doesn’t rely on full-time employment, for affordable child care, and against companies that profit from stealing the work of unpaid or underpaid artists.

The burden of self-promotion isn’t only on creative people, obviously; much like Albers’s 65-year-old mom, we’re all expected to perform this labor now. If we’re fully employed, we know that the comfort of health insurance and a salary could be gone at any moment if our company decides to pivot or lay us off. Tech platforms, too, come and go, and the audiences we build there are unstable, impermanent. But what other choice do we have?

There are plenty of people who view this as a good thing. A society made up of human beings who have turned themselves into small businesses is basically the logical endpoint of free market capitalism, anyway. To achieve the current iteration of the American dream, you’ve got to shout into the digital void and tell everyone how great you are. All that matters is how many people believe you.

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All the “wellness” products Americans love to buy are sold on both Infowars and Goop

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There are two Americas, we’ve been told.

There’s Duck Dynasty America and Modern Family America. There’s “gosh” America and “dope” America. Sometimes, though, Americans unite around a common idea. Like the healing powers of eleuthero root, cordyceps mushrooms, and “nascent iodine.”

Near the end of a profile of Amanda Chantal Bacon, founder of the “wellness” brand Moon Juice, the New York Times Magazine noted that many of the alternative-medicine ingredients in her products are sold—with very different branding—on the Infowars store. That’s the site run by Alex Jones, the radio show host and conspiracy theorist who has said that both the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Boston Marathon bombing were staged. Moon Juice is frequently recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness blog, Goop;  it’s a favorite of Hollywood celebrities and others who can afford things like $25 “activated cashews.” Infowars, on the other hand, is a dark corner of the American right, heavy on guns, light on government intervention, and still very mad at Obama.

We at Quartz have created a compendium, from Ashwagandha to zizyphus, of the magical healing ingredients both sides of the political spectrum are buying, and how they are presented to each. We looked at the ingredients used in products sold on the Infowars store, and compared them to products on the wellness shops Moon Juice and Goop.  All make similar claims about the health benefits of these ingredients, but what gets called “Super Male Vitality” by Infowars is branded as “Sex Dust” by Moon Juice.


Ashwagandha is an herb commonly used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. In the wellness world it is purported to have all kinds of benefits—everything from reducing stress to preventing cancer. According to Goop, it “tonifies the immune system,” whatever that means. (The Oxford Dictionary says that means “increase the available energy of (a bodily part or system).”) Infowars says it is “rejuvenative.” Animal studies in the lab suggest Ashwagandha may be effective for treating cancer, diabetes, and somehow, both reducing fatigue and as a sedative, but these effects have not been thoroughly tested on humans.

Goop: Recommended in Magic Potions for Clarity, Beauty, and Energy

Tonifies the immune system; inspires vigor and strength; relieves mental, emotional, and physical stress; and harmonizes mind, body, and spirit.

Infowars: Heirloom Organics Professional Medicine Pack

Ashwagandha is regarded as one of the great rejuvenative [sic] herbs of India. According to Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India, the root of this low-growing shrub is said to be effective for a host of debilitated [sic] conditions, including general weakness, impotence, infertility, and others. Ashwaganda is sometimes described as Indian Ginseng for the significance of this botanical in Indian pharmacopoeia.


Also an Ayurvedic herb, said to reduce stress, improve memory, and treat epilepsy, among other purported benefits. Goop uses bacopa in a supplement pack called “Why am I so Effing Tired;” Infowars sticks it in its “Brain Force Plus.” The science, based on animal studies, shows some preliminary—but contradictory—evidence of improvements to memory and brain function. There is minimal support for the claims about epilepsy and anxiety.

Goop: Why am I so effing tired

Formulated with a variety of vitamins (including a high dose of the B’s) and supplements—many sourced from ancient Ayurveda—this helps re-balance an overtaxed system. Replenishing the nutrients you may be lacking may improve energy levels and diminish stress.

Infowars: Brain Force Plus

Top scientists and researchers agree: we are being hit by toxic weapons in the food and water supply that are making us fat, sick, and stupid. It’s time to fight back with Brain Force Plus, the next generation of advanced neural activation.

Chaga mushroom

Most of these wellness sites provide a long list of potential benefits from ingredients like the chaga mushroom. One site promises that Inonotus obliquus offers immune system support, “soothing properties,” blood pressure normalization, “DNA damage protection,” and a few more unbelievable health benefits. Moon Juice calls the mushroom a “joy promoter.” Studies on animals have shown that chaga can “inhibit cancer progression” and “activate some types of immune cells,” but the consensus is that studies in humans are needed.

Moon Juice: Chaga

Our Chaga mushrooms contain bio-active beta glucans [these have been shown to live up to some of their promises] to support the body’s innate defense systems.

Infowars: Caveman True Paleo Formula

The Ultimate In True Paleo Nutrition with Bone Broth, Turmeric Root, Chaga Mushroom, Bee Pollen, and other Ancient Supernutrients [sic, entire sentence].

Colloidal Silver

Apparently colloidal silver is “a suspension of tiny silver particles in a liquid.” On Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow writes, “They say that active silver keeps germs at bay so I spray this in the air around me when I sit down.” The US National Institutes of Health, on the other hand, says directly that “claims made about the health benefits of taking colloidal silver aren’t backed up by studies,” adding, “colloidal silver can cause serious side effects.”

Higher Nature: Colloidal Silver (recommended by Goop)

Our Colloidal silver contains pure, medical grade silver, which has been used for many centuries. It is produced using electro-controlled technology and pure water from a 9-stage water purification process, to achieve a very small particle size (0.0006 to 0.005 microns). This small particle size is important because it provides a much greater surface area and therefore more of an effective liquid.

Infowars: Silver Bullet

The Infowars Life Silver Bullet Colloidal Silver is finally here following Alex’s extensive search for a powerful colloidal silver product that is both free of artificial additives and utilizes high quality processes to ensure for [sic] a truly unique product that has applications for both preparedness and regular use.

Cordyceps mushroom

Another obscure fungus, this one used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is purported to “increase immune function,” act as a natural aphrodisiac, and improve stamina. According to Goop, it’s “an important Yang tonic,” which means it provides “masculine energy.” There is some preliminary evidence for the immune system thing, but other claims are unproven. Goop sells cordyceps as a dietary supplement; Infowars infuses them into its “Wake Up America” coffee.

Goop: Sun Potion

Organic, USA-grown cordyceps mushroom and is [sic] an important Yang tonic. May support the oxygenation of the whole body, mental power, muscle tone, sexual energy, and immune function. Mix 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) in warm water or tea 1-2 times daily. Great added to soups, smoothies, raw chocolate, and anytime you are looking to activate fortitude, sensuality, and endurance.

Infowars: Wake Up America Immune Support Blend 100% Organic Coffee

Certain strands of mushroom such as Cordyceps and Reishi have a history of medicinal use spanning millennia in countries such as China, Tibet, and Japan. Throughout history these are [sic] some of the most expensive herbal raw materials in the world. Only recently has western medicine begun to research all the potential medical benefits of medicinal mushrooms. The cutting-edge Wake Up America! Immune Support Blend brings ancient Asian wisdom together with modern technology.

Eleuthero root

There is some preliminary evidence that eleuthero, another ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, has various benefits, such as reducing fatigue and stress, and improving immune functions. Both Moon Juice and Infowars sell it blended with a bunch of other herbal medicines, though, so it would be difficult to isolate eleuthero’s possible positive effects. Moon Juice says it can help “fuel your physical and entrepreneurial feats.” Also, this is the one case Quartz found where the Moon Juice product sounds more hardcore than the Infowars version.

Moon Juice: Power Dust

Power Dust® is an elite blend of adaptogenic superherbs and supermushrooms that help combat [sic] the effects of stress to fuel your physical and entrepreneurial feats.

Infowars: Relax & De-Stress Herbal Extract

Relax & De-Stress Herbal Extract is a [sic] herbal tincture great for relaxing and supporting the nervous system while aiding in maintaining [sic] a healthy heart and adrenals [sic] gland function.

Eyebright herb

The two sides of our herbal medicine spectrum seem to have come to different conclusions about what “eyebright” does for the eyes. Infowars sells it in a supplement called “Occu Power,” which makes your eyes “healthy.” Goop sells it as an ingredient in eye makeup. There is no scientific evidence for its purported eye health benefits.

Goop: Vapour Beauty’s Mesmerize Eye Shimmer

This is a sheer, modern wash of gleamy color that’s as brilliant all over the lid as it is when used as a translucent, smoky touch of liner. Made with organic chrysanthemum, eyebright, and horsetail herb—the blend is Vapour’s famous Herbal Eyebright complex—the creamy stick is hydrating and packed with antioxidants to treats [sic] the delicate eye area, soothing inflammation and stimulating circulation.

Infowars: Occu Power

Occu-Power by Infowars Life is a new formulation specifically designed to nutritionally assist the natural function of healthy eyes. Arguably the most important sense, sight is the primary input to the brain. Combining key ingredients like astaxanthin, lutein, and Eyebright herb extract, Occu-Power is a long awaited ‘super formula’ now available exclusively through the Infowars Life line.


Maca is supposed to increase sex drive and male fertility. The Sloan Kettering Cancer Center says ”the evidence to support the use of maca in improving sexual function is limited,” and that “more studies are warranted.” Both Moon Juice and Infowars sell it as an ingredient in products targeting an increased libido. (Although, at Moon Juice, it is an ingredient in both “Sex Dust” and “Brain Dust.”)

Moon Juice: Sex Dust

Sex Dust™ is a lusty edible formula alchemized to ignite and excite sexy energy in and out of the bedroom.

Infowars: Super Male Vitality

As men age, they may often experience a slow-down in vitality, energy, and overall wellness. Super Male Vitality is specifically designed to assist the body in regulating proper balance to create superior vitality in males, and has been used by Alex Jones in order to maximize vitality when working up to 12 hours a day or more in the fight for freedom.

Nascent iodine

We couldn’t find any reliable scientific information on “nascent iodine.” Normal, run-of-the-mill iodine is an important thing to have in your body, but most people get enough from foods that are rich in the mineral. The “nascent” stuff is supposed to have an “electromagnetic charge” that makes it easier to digest.

Putting the question of the veracity of those claims to the side, ConsumerLab, an independent group that tests and vets dietary supplements, says that iodine in this “charged” form cannot even exist in liquid form, which is how Alex Jones and company distribute it. What’s more, the amount of nascent iodine wellness websites suggest you take—in order to supposedly maintain a healthy thyroid, usually—is way beyond normal levels for the normal iodine we usually get from foods. The US National Institutes of Health says that “adults should avoid prolonged use of doses higher than 1,100 micrograms per day.” Infowars and the “Global Healing Center” both recommend 1,950 micrograms a day.

Goop: No particular product, but recommends nascent iodine in a Q&A published on the site

Infowars: Survival Shield X-2

Experience the benefits of next level proprietary nascent iodine, developed using our Thermodynamic Pressure Sensitive High Energy Sound Pulse Nano-Emulsion Technology [sic] that allows for a highly unique nascent iodine that is both concentrated and free of unwanted additives and genetically modified ingredients.

Reishi mushrooms

More fungi with a load of supposed health benefits. Current research shows there’s no scientific evidence to support the claims that reishi mushrooms can treat fatigue or increase stamina. There is a small amount of inconclusive scientific support for claims that the fungi improve immune system function, reduce inflammation, and lower cholesterol. Reishi mushrooms are another ingredient in Infowars’ Wake Up America coffee.

Moon Juice: Spirit Dust

Spirit Dust® is an uplifting blend of adaptogenic superherbs and supermushrooms that help [sic] combat the effects of stress to expand peaceful awareness and align you with bliss.

Infowars: Wake Up America Immune Support Blend 100% Organic Coffee

Prized for thousands of years for their culinary and medicinal properties, mushrooms are more than just a low kilojoule, low sodium and high-fiber ingredient for pasta and pizzas. One of the many conditions that certain species of mushrooms have been found to heal is human papilloma virus infections, which are feared due to their association with certain cancers.


Selenium is an element found in trace amounts in all animals, including humans, and is required for cellular function. Infowars says the element “supports a healthy thyroid gland, supports the immune system, is essential for metabolic pathways, and much more.” Some of these claims are backed by evidence, though many are not. The claim that selenium defends against cancer is also dangerously inconclusive. “Clinical trials show that selenium may not help prevent cancer; it may actually increase the risk of aggressive and secondary cancers,” writes Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Goop: Balls in the Air

This antioxidant-rich (beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E) regimen plays defense so you can play offense, helping to unburden inflammation in the body, ensuring that all systems operate at full capacity. Formulated with a blend of building blocks that boosts the body’s production of glutathione—the master detoxifier—this regimen is designed for women who function at an intense pace, and want to keep it that way.

Infowars: Bio-True Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace mineral that supports a healthy thyroid gland, supports the immune system, is essential for metabolic pathways, and much more. Selenium even plays a role in the natural function of reproductive health, DNA production, and eyesight. As a powerful antioxidant, selenium helps fight free radicals and may even be considered a super antioxidant’ [sic] because of the way in which it may support other antioxidants.


The science on this tar-like substance found in the Himalayas is scant. One study found it increased testosterone levels. Another said it might have some benefit in helping control Alzheimer’s, but adds that “more investigations at the basic biological level as well as clinical trials are necessary.” Alex Jones sells it in his Z-Shield drops, with “proprietary science” behind them, saying it defends us from the “toxic substances” that “bombard” us. Over at Moon Juice, it is yet another ingredient in Brain Dust.

Moon Juice: Brain Dust

Brain Dust® is an enlightening blend of adaptogenic superherbs and supermushrooms that help combat [sic] the effects of stress to align you with the cosmic flow for great achievement.

Infowars: Z-Shield

More than four years ago, our team of doctors, chemists, master herbalists and nutraceutical experts set out to develop a toxic metal and chemical defense support formula that didn’t cut any corners. Now, after years of deep research and the development of new proprietary processing technology, our team is proud to announce the launch of Z-Shield: The next big game-changer in the Infowars Life line of super high-quality formulations. Z-Shield is designed to help you fight back with natural ingredients that don’t hold back.

Zizyphus (sometimes referred to as “ziziphus”)

Infowars calls this a “nourishing tonifier” and recommends using it to calm your kids down. Both Infowars and Moon Juice market it as a sedative, though there are “no human studies on the sedative or anxiety-reducing effects of Jujube” (though some studies on rats have shown promise), according to <a href="http://Examine.com" rel="nofollow">Examine.com</a>, an online encyclopedia that analyzes evidence on supplements. Getting a good night’s sleep may remain a zizyphean task.

Moon Juice: Dream Dust

Dream Dust® is a tranquil blend of adaptogenic superherbs that help combat the effects of stress to soothe your tension for deep, nocturnal rest.

Infowars: Child Ease

Children today live in a stressful world. Over-stimulation can affect their behavior and concentration. Child Ease™ by Infowars Life™ is a special blend of herbs that has been specifically designed to soothe the mind and bodies of children. Our new formula uses soothing botanicals like chamomile, lemon balm, and catnip, with the nourishing tonifiers hawthorn, zizyphus, gotu kola extract, and amla. We have even added additional herbs and key nutrients that have been traditionally used by cultures around the world.


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Half of recent US inflation due to high corporate profits, report finds | Inflation | The Guardian

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A new report claims “resounding evidence” shows that high corporate profits are a main driver of ongoing inflation, and companies continue to keep prices high even as their inflationary costs drop.

The report, compiled by the progressive Groundwork Collaborative thinktank, found corporate profits accounted for about 53% of inflation during last year’s second and third quarters. Profits drove just 11% of price growth in the 40 years prior to the pandemic, according to the report.

Prices for consumers rose by 3.4% over the past year, but input costs for producers increased by just 1%, according to the authors’ calculations which were based on data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and National Income and Products Accounts.

“Costs have come down substantially, and while corporations were quick to pass on their increased costs to consumers, they are surprisingly less quick to pass on their savings to consumers,” Liz Pancotti, a Groundwork strategic advisor and paper co-author, told the Guardian.

Since pandemic inflation spiked in 2021, a high-stakes debate has played out about its sources. Many progressive economists pointed to corporate profits – or “greedflation” – and supply chain issues as a driver of high prices, while their more conservative counterparts singled out government stimulus cash and high wages.

The report’s authors scoured corporate earnings calls and found executives bragging to shareholders about keeping prices high and widening profit margins as input costs come down.

The findings come as the Federal Reserve has hiked interest rates to their highest point in 20 years. The report casts serious doubt on the need for further interest rate hikes, and instead calls for stronger policies to rein in “corporate profiteering”.

Prices rose in 2021 as labor costs jumped and supply chain shocks from the pandemic and the Ukraine war snarled shipping traffic and left energy supplies in question. But those issues have in many cases been fully sorted out or are easing, and the labor market has stabilized. Many commodities and services producers’ prices have actually decreased, the report notes.

Nearly 60% of the drop in key goods and services’ inputs was driven by large declines in energy costs, such as jet fuel and diesel fuel, while transportation and warehousing costs have fallen by nearly 4% since June 2022 peaks.

Still, prices remain high. Consumers are still paying about 25% more for groceries, the report notes as an example.

Corporations maintain high prices by exploiting cost shocks caused by events like the Ukraine war and coordinating price hikes, said Isabella Weber, a University of Massachusetts Amherst economist who was not part of the paper.

The shocks create an environment in which it is safe for firms to increase prices as they expect their competitors to do the same, said Weber.

“This is a form of implicit collusion,” she said. “Firms do not even need to talk to one another to know that a cost shock is a great time to raise prices. But when costs fall, price setting firms do not have any incentive to decrease prices.”

If no firms launch a price war, Weber added, then companies “hold the line” on prices and widen margins. She pointed to food processors as an example.

The paper zooms in on the diaper industry, of which Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark control 70% of the domestic market. Diaper prices have increased by more than 30% since 2019 from, on average, $16.50 to nearly $22.

The rise was partly driven by an increase in commodities like wood pulp, a major component of diapers. Wholesale wood pulp prices soared by 87% between January 2021 and January 2023, but last year prices dropped by 25%.

Still, diaper prices have not come down with lower costs, the authors say. Groundwork examined earnings calls and found executives at both companies boasting of widening profit margins as input costs decreased. A drop in inputs accounted for about one third of Kimberly Clark’s profits, company executives said.

P&G executives said in their July earnings call they expect $800m in windfall profits because of declining input costs, suggesting they won’t bring down prices.

Meanwhile, workers aren’t faring as well – corporate profits as a share of national income are up by about 29%, and workers’ share of corporate earnings is still down from pre-pandemic levels.

The Biden administration has taken steps to strengthen supply chains, Pancotti noted, and Joe Biden recently called on corporations to stop “gouging” consumers as input costs fall. But she and Weber called for stronger action, pointing to other nations with forms of price control in place.

In France, the government intervenes in price negotiations among retailers and producers. Earlier this month, with the government’s support, the supermarket chain Carrefour banned some PepsiCo products from its shelves because of “unacceptable price increases”.

Absent strong government intervention in pricing, the 2025 expiration of the Trump corporate tax cuts presents an opportunity to rein in corporations via the tax code, Pancotti said.

“We’ve decided as a country that we like to have very large, powerful corporations and we are OK with them being very profitable,” she said. “We need to take a really hard look at how our tax code incentivizes corporate profiteering and ask: ‘Do we as a country want to do something about that?’”

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39 days ago
I was assured Biden did the inflations

> P&G executives said in their July earnings call they expect $800m in windfall profits because of declining input costs, suggesting they won’t bring down prices.
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40 days ago
I’m going to hurt something laughing at that “surprisingly less” quote
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Utah Governor Absolutely Positive That Social Media Harms Kids Despite Study After Study After Study After Study After Study Saying He’s Wrong

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Okay, look, at this point, we need to start calling out those in positions of power who insist that it’s unquestionable that social media is harmful to kids when the don’t present any evidence at all to back up those assertions. Because as we’ve been documenting, every single study that comes out these days seems to say the exact opposite. I know that I’ve posted this a few times lately, but I’m going to do so again, because it’s important to understand just how the research consensus is shaping up these days:

  • In the fall of 2022, the widely respected Pew Research Center did a massive study on kids and the internet, and found that for a majority of teens, social media was way more helpful than harmful.
  • In May of 2023, the American Psychological Association (which has fallen for tech moral panics in the past, such as with video games) released a huge, incredibly detailed, and nuanced report going through all of the evidence, and finding no causal link between social media and harms to teens.
  • Soon after that, the US Surgeon General came out with a report which was misrepresented widely in the press. Yet, the details of that report also showed that no causal link could be found between social media and harms to teens. It did still recommend that we act as if there were a link, which was weird and explains the media coverage, but the actual report highlights no causal link, while also pointing out how much benefit teens receive from social media).
  • A few months later, an Oxford University study came out covering nearly a million people across 72 countries, noting that it could find no evidence of social media leading to psychological harm.
  • The Journal of Pediatrics published a new study in the fall of 2023 again noting that after looking through decades of research, the mental health epidemic faced among young people appears largely due to the lack of open spaces where kids can be kids without parents hovering over them. That report notes that they explored the idea that social media was a part of the problem, but could find no data to support that claim.
  • In November of 2023, Oxford University published yet another study, this one focused specifically on screen time, and if increased screen time was found to be damaging to kids, and found no data to support that contention.

That’s not to say there isn’t some sort of mental health crisis going on these days. Almost every expert believes there absolutely is. It’s just that the rush to blame it on social media is simply unsupported by the data. If anything, as the Journal of Pediatrics study shows, it’s the lack of open spaces where kids can be kids without parents watching their every move (which predates the rise of social media) that may contribute the most to the rise in mental health issues among children. Thus, the simplistic, and almost certainly wrong, argument that social media is to blame may even make the problem worse, because social media has become the one place left where kids often can just be kids without parents hovering over them.

Much of the research above — including the APA and Surgeon General’s report — also find that for many teens, social media is actually very useful and helpful for their mental health, in giving them a place to explore, figure out who they are as a person, and to interact with people beyond the narrow set of folks they might meet otherwise.

However, many of the studies also agree that for a small — but still important — group of teens, social media can exacerbate existing mental health problems, when they seek to use it alone as a kind of medication, allowing them to go deeper. And it’s quite clear that we should be looking for, promoting, and encouraging efforts to help those at risk teens, and provide better tools and resources for them.

But that’s very different from insisting (and regulating) social media as if it is universally bad for kids.

That’s all preamble to what this post is actually about. Utah Governor Spencer Cox has already made it clear he hates social media. He signed one of the first bills in the country that (unconstitutionally) tries to ban kids from social media, and mocked those who pointed out it was unconstitutional (we’ll soon find out, as Utah was just sued over that law).

So, I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise when he goes on TV and claims that he’s absolutely positive social media is bad for kids.

“I think it’s obvious to anyone who spends any time on social media or has kids — I have four kids. I’ve seen what’s happened to them as they’ve spent time on social media, and their friends, that this is absolutely causing these terrible increases, these hockey stick-like increases that we are seeing in anxiety, depression, and self-harm amongst our youth,” Cox, the chair of National Governors Association, said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” that aired Sunday.

Now, if Meet the Press were actually concerned about accuracy, its host might have, you know, pointed out all the studies that say otherwise, and questioned Cox on how his anecdotal insistence can possibly stand up to all of those studies. But, that’s not how the mainstream media acts these days (and especially not those that have a vested interest in slamming the internet).

Cox went even further, though, insisting not only does it harm kids (despite the evidence to the contrary), but also that big tech knows this and doesn’t care:

“They know this is harming our kids,” Cox said of big tech companies. “They’re covering it up. They’re doing everything possible to take advantage of our kids for their own gain. And we’re not going to stand for that. And so we’re still pushing forward.”

Now, it’s always possible that some companies are doing this, but from what I’ve seen, the opposite is true. The research that has come out to date has shown companies studying this stuff in order to figure out ways to minimize the harm.

Of course, with some of the spin on things like Meta’s internal research (which, again, was to look at ways to minimize any harm), which was falsely portrayed as Meta “covering up” or “ignoring” harm caused to kids, it’s actually now going to drive these companies to do less research, and do less to stop any harms. Because politicians like Cox, and media outlets like NBC, are still going to spin any such research as “proof” of “covering it up.”

The whole thing is stupid beyond belief. The evidence shows what the evidence shows, and it’s that right now there’s a giant moral panic going on. There is no evidence that social media is inherently bad for teenagers. There is a ton of research suggesting it’s helpful for most kids, and that any interventions should be clearly targeted to the small group of at risk kids.

But, Spencer Cox is absolutely positive he’s right, apparently because of what he has observed with a tosample size of his own kids. Maybe, given all of these studies, it suggests that Cox has been spending so much time raging about culture war moral panics when he could have, you know, taught his kids how to use the internet properly.

Notably, the other guest on that episode of Meet the Press was the governor of Utah’s neighbor to the east, Governor Jared Polis from Colorado. And despite the GOP constantly insisting it’s the party of “parents’ rights” and “keeping government out” of everyone’s business, it’s Polis who argues that Cox is doing the opposite, and suggests he (correctly) thinks these are issues that parents themselves should deal with:

“I think the responsibility belongs with parents, not the government,” Polis, the vice chair of the NGA, said during the joint interview with Cox.

“I certainly agree with the diagnosis that Governor Cox did, and I have some sympathy for that approach. But I do think at the end of the day, the government can’t parent kids,” he added later.

Polis is still wrong regarding the diagnosis. The evidence pretty clearly says that. But he’s correct that this is an issue for parents and schools, not for the government to step in and effectively ban children from the very social media that many of them find so useful.

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50 days ago
51 days ago
Bend, Oregon
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51 days ago
Um, Mike, 'schools' are the government.
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