J*Rod

The Silent Catalyst

Age of Mistrust

Moses warning about a nuclear holocaust... I guess? Clip from SOS.

We are living in an age of mistrust, pure and simple.

The 2010s have so far been a roller coaster of drama and failed expectations, peaked by shining moments of brilliance that are quickly pulled under by the culture around them.

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As a member of the gaming community and a small-time purveyor of social media, I can honestly say this is nothing new, but it’s surprising how deep the well has been tainted in recent times. Today, I’d like to recap some of the biggest things that have happened this year and the five preceding it.

And don’t worry, there’s an optimistic conclusion at the very bottom, titled “But don’t forget...”.


Big Names

A lot of celebrities and businesses we used to deify are now showing their more complicated sides.

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First off, the Panama Papers. Just take a look at how deep the rabbit hole goes. Even WikiLeaks doesn’t come close to the sheer volume of content there.

Nickelodeon has been running on fumes. Cartoon Network seems to have ruined childhoods with boiled-down reworks of The Powerpuff Girls, Teen Titans, Sonic, and Tom & Jerry. Thanks to spinning off Disney XD, Disney Channel is even more irrelevant. Craig and Lauren seem to be let off by everyone these days.

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It must be a really depressing time for DC movie hopefuls. The Dark Knight peaked the public’s love of Batman, but the death of Heath Ledger and the Aurora shooting seem to have cast a huge shadow over matters and cursed Warner Bros. to fall behind ever since.

Disney’s reigns on Lucasfilm and Marvel mean that at least there’s some optimism and stability for their IP. The iffy side, we have to watch as a whole outline of titles and merchandise are laid out at an investor meeting. The downside, one false move in that plan could shake the foundations. Disney is also still reeling in from an alligator attack.

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Bill Cosby has a new legacy, and Hulk Hogan put Gawker into bankruptcy.

After the legal mess that was Axanar, CBS and Paramount decided to crack down on Star Trek fan films.

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Played Up

THQ is dead.

PlayStation Vita is as good as dead.

Konami betrayed everyone who liked PT and MGSV.

EA was named “Worst Company in America” two years in a row.

Sonic the Hedgehog actually got an earnest 25th anniversary celebration, even after... all this.

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Have you seen the dislike bar on the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare trailer?

What happened to Notch?!

Nintendo had pretty decent success with the Nintendo Direct shows, but they very quickly dropped in quality with the untimely death of Satoru Iwata and the simple depletion of announcements.

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Microsoft took a nosedive with the reveal of Xbox One, and stayed down with the reluctance of people to switch to Windows 10.

Remember when Steam could do no wrong? I still admire Valve, but over time the cracks have started showing. The Skyrim mod scare is still in living memory. Nobody seems to care about Source anymore, with everyone (including Valve’s own Chet Faliszek) flocking to Unreal and Unity instead of the yet-to-be-open Source 2. The accusations coming out of their VR cabal are pretty disheartening from an industry perspective.

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But at the same time, Oculus aren’t making themselves very friendly. Since being bought by Facebook, they sought to compete with the HTC Vive through exclusivity, but got forced to backtrack when they tried to enforce it.

Criticism as Art

This decade has seen a massive rise in web videos meant to entertain and educate, built on the shoulders of criticizing more mainstream works. The entire let’s play genre, as well as earnest soapbox shows like Extra Credits and comedy gimmicks like CinemaSins and Rifftrax, could never have flourished without an audience eager to dig beneath the surface of hype.

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However, this type of mindset has its downsides. The snark side of criticism often undermines the efforts of legitimately endearing efforts. Negativity and pessimism build up along with hype, and the slightest spark sets off the powder keg.

This is what happened to Bioware in the wake of Mass Effect 3, when the question of fan entitlement hit a peak, and to Mighty No. 9 (along with the reputation of crowdfunded games) after it proved to be less than impressive.

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The negativity can go the other way as well. Fandoms build on great works, before a narrow-minded vocal minority makes it turn in on itself. Victims include the likes of Steven Universe and Undertale, even while the creators of both praised their fans early on for not resorting to harassment of each other.

The most infamous hashtag on Twitter has pushed the public perception of game development back a generation. It seems a small sect of people wanted to see gaming’s answer to TMZ or National Enquirer, so they appropriated Kotaku into just that, turning the rare snippets of gossip into overblown drama and blaming the editorial staff for “starting it”.

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Prejudice

Speaking of harassment, this decade also gave rise to dangerous tactics for trolls like doxxing and swatting in attempt to shut down dissenting opinions. Many prominent activists in gaming alone have been forced to put up walls and retreat from public life for safety, and organizations like Crash Override have pledged to try and mitigate damage for those daring enough to keep speaking out.

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Out in the real world, police officers across the US are being put on the stand in a recurring “black oppression” narrative rivaling the outrage of “Hollywood whitewashing”. It recently turned into Black vs Blue after a horrific massacre of officers. Shouldn’t both sides get along and just weed out each other’s extremists?

LGBT(IQA) people across the US have rejoiced in the decision of Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage, but there are still hurdles in the way. HB2 and other bathroom bills are the latest battleground for transgender rights. Proponents of these bills emphasize decency in locker rooms, and won’t back down easily. For a quick glimpse into some of the big players, check out this interactive chart.

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Dark Web

Neo-Luddites have been given a lot of fuel with the rise of social media and the criticisms that came with it.

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Like MySpace in the past decade, Facebook was the first casualty of this one. Following the unearthed drama behind its founding, it became the prime testing ground for many undiscovered effects on social interaction, self-esteem, and privacy. Twitter and Tumblr took it to the next level, and several instances of terrorism and crime involving them eventually brought up the problems of personal security.

Outside of that, several communities have been put under fire for lax security. Top on the list is the art community, with sites like Fur Affinity being hacked to death and others like DeviantArt deemed havens for drama and art theft. Reddit seems to be overtaking 4chan in popularity, but with no less infamy. Their culture has bled into countless imageboards like e621 and forums like Facepunch.

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YouTube is by far the largest center of entertainment today, but a disturbing trend has been growing there. The rise of multi-channel networks like Machinima, Polaris, and Fullscreen has set a new standard for exposure, leaving the vast majority of channels to simmer meekly beneath lucky frauds like Smosh and Rooster Teeth. YouTube Red is just the frustrating cherry on top.

Advertising on the Web is a double-edged sword: you want to make money on your own space, but you don’t want to be distracted by banners and pop-ups elsewhere. While anti-spyware, anti-trojan, anti-adware, etc. have been the go-to terms for security, today it’s all about ad-blocking. The rise of Adblock Plus has spurred an overreaction for advertisers, making adblock detectors to “punish” those who use them on paranoid websites.

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Modern Education

The biggest thing that was talked about for the Millennial generation (in which the mainstream seems to include both Gen Y and Z for some reason) is the rising cost of post-secondary education, especially the shaky business of student loans. However, what’s been neglected too often in that discussion is the oligopoly of textbook publishing, led by the big three of Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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For most courses, textbooks are decided on by a professor, department head, or committee well in advance. They’re then assigned to students as required materials, usually sold through a warehouse partner. Simple enough, but there are a lot of blatant flaws.

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First, this puts publishers in control of pricing. A single book can range on average from $70 to $400, and the costs have only increased over time. Sometimes, the price leap is justified by bundling, but the benefits are nonexistent without support from professors, and many might not even care about the extras. Some even rail against the prices for ethical reasons.

Second, it’s thankfully given rise to open textbooks and free online resources. If a teacher isn’t going to take full advantage of the textbook anyway, why not save the money and just look up the topics with those? Even Wikipedia provides a lot more information on many topics than textbooks do (though it’s still not an ideal citation source).

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Third, publishers sweeten the deal by insisting more gullible professors to use “special versions” of textbooks designed for that specific course, which usually just amount to a randomized set of questions in each lesson. These are then bundled with anything from worksheets to software.

If conditions are going to improve on this front, then solving the textbook problem will be a very important step.

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Political Divisions

No conversation about mistrust could be complete without mentioning the absolute clusterbomb that is modern politics.

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In the United States alone, it’s a mess. Three candidates for President stand out, and one has slowly been erased from the conversation by the sheer volume of the other two. No matter how much people on Tumblr try to remind everyone that Bernie Sanders’ rallies have taken on tens of thousands of people each, it won’t stop everyday people who stick to mainstream TV from not hearing a word about it.

“Kill them! Kill them both!” - Gollum, TA 3019
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They’re too busy hearing about the brand new problem arising from Brexit, which seems to be shaking up the fears of politicians and investors worldwide, as well as giving local xenophobes an excuse to harass anyone who looks funny. Even though the UK was never part of the Schengen Area, border control appears to be the top issue raised by pro-leavers next to economics.

Border control is an issue because nobody in any country wants to be held responsible when a lucky handful out of a few thousand possible would-be perpetrators, sent by an already-weakened foreign organization to mingle with millions of refugees and around one billion tourists worldwide, cause violence on an average year.

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Related to that is gun control, the second line of defense. The running theme is that the US is the only country in the world without a reasonable degree of it. There are strong arguments on both sides, but the recent Pulse nightclub shooting brought the issues to light once again.

The sit-in by House Democrats that followed is a small part of a larger lack of foresight on the part of everyone involved. From the lack of existing gun control in the first place to the alleged Democrat fundraising scam, neither side is backing down.

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The System

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A term popped up in this image shared by someone on Facebook as I wrote this article: controlled opposition.

It’s a term with roots in a quote by Vladimir Lenin (“The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.”) and is associated with conspiracy theories. While those connotations aren’t the best, there’s a cause for links to modern politics, both in the US and elsewhere.

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The 2012 election cost $6 billion total. A good fraction of it came from economic sectors like finance and real estate, meaning Wall Street. Both parties get roughly the same support from them, and the difference comes down to the fact that you know people literally gamble on the outcome.

It’s practically a given that media bias reaches much deeper than just the anchors and pundits. Overhype has amplified two opposing mindsets on issues. Certain ones like college funding, LGBT support, healthcare, and retirement are used to further divide them along generational lines.

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Nothing seems to be in favor of all the people. To the mainstream, independent parties may as well not exist, because God forbid we have another Bull Moose debacle and hand the election to a total joke.

It’s at the point right now where the most sensible thing to do is stage an armed protest, lynch everyone at the top, and start from scratch. But you’re not supposed to say that, because suddenly it means you’re being unrealistically barbaric, you’re committing treason on the “perfectly functional” election system, and if one of them ever did get attacked then suddenly you’re a prime suspect.

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Suddenly, you’re part of the problem.

*sigh*

We haven’t solved anything. Not yet.

Not until we start breaking down the problems into their bare essences and talk about them away from all the hype and fear.

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Not until political critics realize that there’s no way to undo decades of globalization without serious consequences.

Not until we are united again.


But don’t forget...

...it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s still a lot to celebrate about the world we live in right now!

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We have the capability to mingle with half the entire world’s population in every continent (including Antarctica) using not only the World Wide Web, but also chat programs and gaming platforms. There’s an eager community for virtually every topic in the known universe (and plenty of multiverses), and it’s so much easier to be informed about all of them.

There are computers of all shapes and sizes, from the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero to the $1.2 billion Fujitsu K, with smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, servers, consoles, and much more in between. Most major apps and programs today are compatible with whatever you have.

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Entertainment is more diverse than ever before, and color and fun are starting to come back to the mainstream side. The bleak aesthetic that dominated for a long while is steadily losing steam, and “heartwarming” and “colorful” are becoming more popular as it does.

Thanks to efforts of preservation both by fans and studios, it’s much easier to discover old movies and shows, and learn about what life was like back in the day. Remember that younger generations are no less informed at the same age than older ones, so expect Gen Z and beyond to be just as familiar with them in their adulthood, if not more.

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Curiosity is fueling more discovery on multiple levels. More work is being put into subjects like genealogy, genetics, and paleontology. Even when it seemed for a while that NASA would be shut down under Obama, it still lives on thanks to lobbying and collaboration with private companies like SpaceX.

Several major channels and producers on YouTube including Vsauce, Brady Haran, Tom Scott, CGP Grey, and Crash Course have been a new beacon for education. A good fraction of what are considered memes on Tumblr have become insightful discussions about topics like smear drawings (via The Dover Boys and Overwatch).

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Social media, while imperfect, is now its own mainstream in many ways. Innumerable groups and communities are being made every day for all different reasons. More long-lasting relationships are being made long-distance, whether platonic or romantic.

It’s now possible to physically change one’s biological sex.

Just think on that for a moment.

Not just being able to identify as a different gender, but to embody it. HRT and SRS are at the point where more and more transgender people are able to reshape their identities from the ground up. 700,000 was the estimated number of openly transgender adults in the US alone five years ago, and now the estimate is 1.4 million!

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And that’s only a small section of the much broader LGBT(IQA) population that’s been growing exponentially this decade. What might’ve once been considered synonymous with pedophilia is now a valid path for people to take, to the point where anyone can raise a family.

Prejudice and backlash are being called out, and the world is making room for acceptance. All we need now is some real common sense to let bygones be bygones and focus on what really matters: life, liberty, and happiness.

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We’ve still got a long way to go, but by the end of this decade, let’s aim to trust again.

Jacob “J*Rod” Salas is a silent catalyst and media generalist.
Member of Generation Y. Army brat. Wannabe historian.
First draft timestamp: 2016-06-24 16:56

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