The sandwich ultimatum

Also: ghost tokens, content kids, and worm guys.

The sandwich ultimatum

Hello! We’re experimenting with sending this out on Saturday rather than Friday. If you prefer one day over the other, please let us know in the comments. 

This week, we’re talking about ghost tokens, content kids, and worm guys.

The content kids are not all right 


Christmas at The Sandwich House is a grueling day of work. #comedy #drama #dystopia #comedian #satire #parody #character #lilsandwich #oliviarodrigo #fyp #pov #skit #sketchcomedy

♬ original sound - Caroline

The latest platform-wide TikTok drama is all about family vlog channels, but not for the reason you might think. It’s not a matter of pros vs. antis; for the most part, all parties involved are critical of adult vloggers who exploit their children for views, often traumatizing them along the way. This is the subject of a series of videos by TikToker Caroline Easom, a comedian who portrays child vloggers in sketches about the fictitious “Sandwich family.” The series went viral last December, eventually attracting the attention of @softscorpio, a TikToker who describes herself as “an advocate against child exploitation on social media.” Last week, @softscorpio — who narrated her experience as a former child vlogger to Teen Vogue last year — posted a TikTok explaining her discomfort with “the Sandwich family” series, which she describes as “going down a harmful route” by making light of child exploitation. In the video, she claims that Easom dismissed her concerns about the series’ insensitivity in a private conversation, forcing @softscorpio to publicly withdraw her support. 

@softscorpio’s criticisms highlight a tension unique to TikTok. Multi-part “POV” sketches remain one of the platform’s most popular formats, incentivizing TikTokers to frame stories through comedy and stretch them into sagas that span several months. Regardless of Easom’s original intentions, it’s clear that many of her commenters have become more invested in character development than “advocacy.” To make matters more complicated, the concept of a “content kid” is relatively nascent, and reactions to @softscorpio’s videos point to a lack of consensus about whether or not family vlogging constitutes child abuse.

Coolest person of past half-century gets cooler

Kim Gordon’s coolness is tautological. As one of the principles of Sonic Youth, she presided over some three decades of boundary-pushing experimental music, insisting upon the relevance of guitar-based rock music even as she deconstructed it. The band dissolved in 2011 after Gordon and bandmate Thurston Moore ended their 27-year relationship, after which Gordon decamped for L.A. These changes inspired 2019’s astonishing solo bow No Home Record, which mapped her squalling guitars and cigarette-ravaged speak-sing voice to blown-out trap beats and a modern sort of placeless ennui. (One of its absolute sickest tracks is called “Air BnB.”) 

In the runup to her new release The Collective, due out March 8, the polymathic artist has taken to TikTok, launching a channel with clips of her new tracks, and TikTok, in turn, has royally taken to her. The beat for “Bye Bye” — which its creators actually designed for Playboi Carti, before realizing it was too weird for him — has inspired a new platform to freak out about the 70-year-old singer’s eternal hipness. “Kim Gordon just cured my fear of aging,” one post proclaims. Gordon even sat for a typically laconic #whatsinmybag video (top comment: “Kim Gordon doesn’t get ready, she stay ready ✨”). While it seems like every week a new trendpiece reports on TikTokkers rediscovering some old media — last week, it was “Linger” by the Cranberries — Gordon’s popularity is actually the opposite occurring, an outgrowth of the artist’s own restless efforts to not just understand but help shape what’s next.

The black sheep of the Souls family gets its birthday party

via r/darksouls2

Dark Souls diehards began their annual "Return to Drangleic" event on Feb. 26, sending players back into the mean, misty world of Dark Souls 2. Known for its hated Adaptability stat, the lullaby in its Majula hub world, and many departures from the series’ conventions, DS2 is a fandom battleground that has had its fill of flame wars. This discourse was coincidentally revived last week by an interview with Souls overlord Hidetaka Miyazaki, who said that DS2 was a “really great project.” 

But the annual Return to Drangleic isn’t about debating whether DS2 is really great or just sort of great. It’s a social event that gets the servers humming again and lets players relive the excitement of the game’s launch. This event and many others like it (Return to Lordran, Return to Lothric, the marketing-led Return to MH:World) are community celebrations, but also “enjoy it while it lasts” moments. They remind you that every online game will eventually be shut down in a cost-cutting move, then move on to an afterlife of tenuous accessibility through private servers and get-the-word-out efforts from dedicated fans.

Pacific Drive is turning into a VR favorite

In the flatscreen world, the survival/car maintenance/STALKER-type game Pacific Drive got a medium-warm reception — people were hung up on its autosave system and fiddly UI. But it’s been embraced by VR players like the influencer Beardo Benjo, who gawps at the level of detail inside your station wagon (the star of the game) and the power of the weather raging outside its windows. Exploring the game’s fractured landscape, “the Exclusion Zone,” while enclosed in the shell of a temperamental rust bucket seems like an experience tailor-made for VR. But the game doesn’t even have official VR support — it’s been ported using the Universal Unreal Engine VR Mod, a tool that can spit out a mostly-working VR version of new Unreal games, which fans then refine with user profiles and mods. Motion controls haven’t been modded in yet, but the visuals alone have made the game a hit within the Flat2VR community. 

The “ghost token” at the heart of AI is a phallus 

Twitter user @pourfairelavide came across a discovery by AI researcher Matthew Watkins that blew the mind of any psychoanalyst who could make sense of its technical jargon — in other words, about an airport shuttle’s worth of people. Watkins’ post, which analyzes GPT-J (an open-source large language model similar to GPT-3), refers to the idea of a “ghost token” at the model’s “centroid” — what he describes as GPT-J’s understanding of “the average thing,” the locus from which its definitional logic flows. 

Watkins found that, among the model’s most specific definitions, GPT-J is most likely to express this token as “a man’s penis,” echoing the role of the “phallus” in Lacanian psychoanalysis. To Lacan, the phallus is a “signifier” that plays a vital role in the process of discovering sexual difference, which Lacan characterizes as an irreconcilable experience of lack that serves as the foundation of being. As a signifier, the phallus effectively serves as the “ghost token” for a person’s understanding of their relationship to everything else. It’s admittedly an imperfect comparison — after all, Lacan’s “phallus” is distinct from the concept of a penis as a gendered or biological organ — but the Lacanians can have this one. 

🚨New unbothered reaction meme incoming 🚨

Probably the best thing to come out of Jpegmafia’s continued dissolution into a troll who has alienated both his original audience (by working with Kanye) and whatever new audience he may have earned from doing so (by immediately picking fights with both Freddie Gibbs and Madlib) is this tweet that exaggerates Gibbs’ utterly unbothered reaction. Descend into the rap-beef slapfighting at your own peril; we provide it here merely as context to better understand and so appreciate the perfection of the Luke Blovad clip’s use, replete with pitchshifted Clairo, dopey tricks on a trampoline, and a taco-night date. Blovad, a skater-influencer whose entire thing is basically dressing like that and being a little bit annoying, has a zillion similar examples on TikTok, pretty much any of which are a good thing to use next time someone asks you if you are upset about something. 

The music-production shitposter’s toolkit is expanding

Last month, we posted about the guy who recreated Kendrick Lamar’s Damn “from memory at 5 am.” OREWAYASUKE has since tackled a handful of other Kendrick, Kanye, and J. Cole records (at 3:37 a.m., at 1 am, while eating ramen), all similarly simultaneously impressive and half-assed. For years now, Spectre (145K subs) has done slightly higher-gloss reproductions of records like Yeezus, American Dream, and For All The Dogs using only his voice as the raw materials. And the music producer Nickster had a viral hit two weeks ago recreating Daft Punk’s “Face To Face” with more modern samples. Obviously, mashups and remixes have long been a staple of internet content, but all of these have a similar lulzy tone to their obsessive reconstruction, giving the thing a more sardonic — and attention-getting — edge.

Chum Box

via Max0r
  • The Elden Ring DLC’s promo screenshots included a pic of a fun worm guy.
  • Kids are using the VR game Gorilla Tag to do comedy bits that take advantage of the game’s oddly expressive arm-walking locomotion.
  • The streamers Kemonofriendzone uploaded another two-hour compilation of the most mind-altering YouTube Shorts they could find.
  • Jeff Gerstmann tried out the infamous “GameScent” device, which made his room smell “like creeps have been vaping in it all night.”
  • Like other fighting games, Tekken 8 has a replay feature that captures players’ inputs, which means their frenzied attempts to break King’s chain throws are shamefully visible in highlights like this one.
  • Half-Life 2’s City 17 seems to be popping up everywhere these days, thanks to Gmod memers like Ciunics and videos like “Metrocop Mistakes Acorn for Gunshot.” The setting was last seen hosting racist Chinese restaurants and the party of the year.
  • A characteristically dense new Max0r video on Baldur’s Gate 3 will make your eyes melt.
  • Death of a Wish, a frenetic action-RPG from the devs behind 2018’s Lucah: Born of a Dream, is out March 11th. Expect the screen to throb with cultic nightmares rendered in a vivid hand-drawn style.
  • The developer of Obra Dinn-style deduction game The Roottrees Are Dead is remaking it to remove the AI art in the original release.   
  • Game translations have become a weirdly loaded front of gaming culture wars, but this thread about Unicorn Overlord is a good analysis of how videogame prose gets so purple.
  • Tumblr CEO Matt Mullenweg published and then quickly deleted one of the most powerful lists of Tumblr usernames ever posted to the internet. “catgirlhairball” is the tamest entry on the list; it gets much worse.
  • Over at Tone Glow, Joshua Minsoo Kim’s recent interview with Moonshake’s David Lance Callahan produced an illuminating anecdote about My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless days.  
  • The 1992 soundtrack of Tetris for the Philips CD-i is amazing.

That’s it for this week. We’ll be spending next week removing the AI art from this newsletter.