This is the demon edition I guess. Last week I got halfway through writing a thing about two AI-related scandals I saw described as “demonic”, but couldn’t finish before I needed to publish and go to bed. Then in the meantime, the Grammys put a whole new satanic panic on our hands!
So, sorry if you don’t like demons I guess. In other news, Twitter went down again this week, which makes this newsletter a challenge to compile. There has been less and less content on there and I’m doing my best to diversify to keep this thing rolling, but I won’t lie it’s been a challenge. Even so — despite all odds! — I’ve made this week’s edition nice and long to make up for last week’s short one.
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Sam Smith and Kim Petras unleash Unholy satanic panic at the Grammys
Demons, demons everywhere! Sam Smith and Kim Petras performed their single Unholy at the Grammys this week dressed all in red wearing devil horns.
It’s an old strategy to invoke satanic imagery and generate outrage. Right-wing and Christian media dutifully played their part, warning that “Satan continues to claw in on the music industry” and “the days have become so evil [Satan] is parading his presence in broad daylight”.
It’s not lost on me that the deluge of criticism was partly because Sam Smith is nonbinary and Kim Petras is trans. But for what it’s worth, most of the gays on my timeline also didn’t love it. Instead they were rolling their eyes and making fun of Sam Smith’s plastic hat.
I particularly liked’s (sadly paywalled!) take on the confected outrage:
These people are not devils, nor are they approximating anything even close to one. … Christians dreamed up a red, horned cartoon super villain, called it Satan, and now we panic anytime someone shows us a picture of it.
Overall I think I’m with Kristina Hart, who is generally just kind of tired of statnic schtick in general and would like to see more glitter instead.
Palate cleanser before more demons
High Hat is a book about “a hardboiled Pope with a night job, the Vatican’s only private eye.” Click through to read the blurb, prologue and opening pages!
Algorithms, deepfakes and demons
I want to point your attention to the this edition of Garbage Day, which tackles two of the most controversial events on social media last week: YouTuber MrBeast’s cataract surgery video and Twitch streamer Atrioc’s deepfake porn scandal, both of which I saw described as “demonic” at the time.
I’ve written before, inspired by Sam Kriss’ review of The Internet is Made of Demons, how social media encourages us to dehumanise each other instead of acting with empathy online. Although we fear that in future computers could replace humans with algorithms and deepfakes, these algorithmic systems have already convinced humans to act like computers. Real people can be difficult to distinguish from bots online because bot-like behaviour is incentivised.
In this video, MrBeast has been incentivised to do charity in this way because in an attention economy, it drives engagement and ultimately increases his own revenue. As life-changing as I’m sure it was for the people he helped, the video still feels dehumanising.
@LolOverruled elaborates on his first tweet, “I don’t know what to tell you if ‘a single rich guy paid for life changing surgery for us, and it’s easy to do this’ doesn’t set off any kind of alarm in your head” — the implication being that nobody did this good, easy thing until there was a self-serving incentive to do so.
Viewers react with horror partly because it reveals the extent the American healthcare system is broken, but also because the incentives have coaxed MrBeast to undermine the nature of charity itself.
The women affected by the Atrioc deepfake porn scandal were literally dehumanised — transformed into erotic simulacra without their knowledge and against their will.
To a certain extent, I think new tech — particularly things that appear to function without human input — is always described as demonic at first. When a disembodied entity in your magic box can instantly draw an artwork from nothingor sustain a coherent conversation on any topic imaginable, instinct says maybe that’s a demon.
But the demons described in these tweets aren’t literal, they’re economic. Like social media, this technology isn’t inherently evil, but the invisible hand of the market — acting seemingly on its own! — incentivises people to make tech with the potential for harm, and then incentivises users to make sure that harm occurs.
REAL biblically-accurate angels
TikTok biblical scholar Dan McClellan agrees, coming down firmly against the claim that biblically-accurate angels are covered in eyes. I still like the meme though.
Dream ecumenical pilgrimage or nightmare blunt rotation?
The Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury and Moderator of the Church of Scotland went to South Sudan. There are photos of all three of them on the papal plane, which seems like something that shouldn’t be allowed to happen — like how the Royal Family can’t all fly together in case they crash?
Anyway, here’s a pic of the Archbishop of Canterbury posing next to a picture of himself as a demon.
Law and Order Reliquary Crime
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The holy Chrussy
Here’s an interesting thread from Weird Medieval Guys about depictions of Christ’s side wound and its relationship to genitalia.
If you have read to the bottom, please like this post! And if you can think of someone who might like this edition too, please share it.
But this material isn’t coming from nothing; there are huge datasets of human-made art and words fuelling the outputs of these machines. Some would say that’s worse! (You mean to tell me we put all of humanity’s creative endeavours in the soul furnace, and all we got back was value for shareholders?)
almost entirely unrelated to this great post but I read this poem today https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/10-02-2023/the-friday-poem-youth-group-leader-by-jordan-hamel which feels like an interesting corollary to Jesus at the Gay Bar. It was making me think about the meme of the "youth pastor voice" and why youth pastors in general seem to have quite a widespread cultural recognition - perhaps because youth groups are a place where people who are figuring out their Christian faith are very actively encouraged to bring more secular friends, and it's fun and social and parent approved even if there are definitely heteronormative guilt tripping purity culture elements too... maybe this is something I need to look into more myself but just thought it was interesting!