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Getting drunk in the uncanny valley
Plus: Area white guy launches beer podcast!
As of today, 11,000 TV writers represented by the Writers Guild of America are on a righteous strike over a dismal pay structure that robs them of residuals for streaming series and consolidates more power over their careers (and your favorite shows) in the hands of extremely powerful studios beholden to billionaires and Wall Street. Predictably, a bunch of dim-witted chuds flocked to Twitter today to crow about how the writers’ direct action—a carefully considered result that follows of months of stalled contract negotiations, years of preparation, and a nearly unanimous affirmative vote from its members—was stupid because the studios could simply replace their human creative labor with artificial intelligence.
This is flatly wrong for a bunch of reasons (copyright law, first and foremost), but even if you assume these squealing hogs1 are operating in good faith (I don’t), it’s also delusional, because the original video that generative A.I. softwares like MidJourney and ChatGPT are capable of cobbling together is a) derivative by definition, and therefore mostly boring2 for human viewers; and b) fairly deranged!
For a relevant example of what I’m talking about, consider the A.I.-generated “beer commercial” that went viral last week:
Not only does this suck extremely hard at making me want to drink a beer, it’s also incredibly alienating, a pastiche of disjointed appendages, unfamiliar beverage containers, and entirely too many explosions. Also Smash Mouth? The uncanny valley is a scary enough place to be; now imagine being there drunk, and you’ve basically replicated the experience I had upon first watching this “ad.” It’s dreadful, disorienting stuff, in the truest sense of the term.
That said, it’s not that hard to imagine a near-ish future where beverage-alcohol companies and the agencies that serve them look to A.I. to reduce the costs of human labor required to put together an actually compelling beer ad. Particularly since that human labor isn't union: unlike their entertainment counterparts repped by the mighty WGA, ad writers have no collective-bargaining apparatus, and thus, no way of fighting back when their bosses (or their bosses' clients) start trying to lard contracts with permissive language about language learning models and other generative A.I. tools.
Frankly, I’m kinda shocked that a fringe firm3 unaware of/unconcerned by the complicated intellectual-property pitfalls inherent to generative A.I. hasn’t already rushed to market with “the world’s first-ever beer commercial fully produced by machines,” or whatever. Copyright protections will keep big beer companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev, Molson Coors, and Heineken away from full-A.I. spots, but you can be damn sure all those companies are thinking about marketing models that incorporate human/A.I. hybridization, with as little of the former as possible. Ads cost a lot of money to run and even more to produce. If there's a way to make, for example, a Corona Light ad that's 90% worse than this classic, for 90% less, it's not hard to imagine Constellation Brands (for example!) going that route in service of shareholder returns.
Such a shift would result in job cuts, of course. Say what you will about bev-alc ad folks—I do! A lot!—but I’d argue that but sudden mass layoffs in that industry4 would be a net loss. Not only for tHe EcOnOmY, mind you, but for the American drinking public's creative diet, too. Beer ads obviously aren’t the same creative lift as serial narratives like Yellowstone or incisive jokes for John Oliver to deliver every Sunday. Most of them are actually rote, lowest-common-denominator garbage designed to get you to buy more lowest-common-denominator garbage. But even the bad beer ads are made by people whose salaries I’d much rather see paid out than funneled up to an already wealthy ruling class. And besides, good beer ads—this Guinness spot, for example, or my personal favorite from Smirnoff—are undeniably artful. They’re an important part of the American social, political, and cultural lexicon, broad and deliberately low-brow reflections of who and how we are at granular intervals of the national experience, the national character. Just because an algorithm can spit out soulless simulacra of that media doesn’t mean we must gladly swallow it.
📬 Good post alert
🎙️ Area white guy launches beer podcast
You may already know that I recently launched a new podcast with VinePair about the modern history of American beer. It’s called Taplines, and I’m very proud of it! I promise not to plug every episode here, but you can check them out on every major podcast platform here. If you like what you hear, subscribe, and if you’re feeling extra generous, leave us a five-star rating and positive review. Oh, also, every episode is available on YouTube, so if you’ve ever wondered what your fearless Fingers editor looks like from various Zoom-like angles, there’s a whole lotta footage available to satisfy that weirdly specific curiosity. In all seriousness, the whole team worked really hard on this, and we would really appreciate your feedback on it! (Unless it’s negative, in which case, we would really appreciate you not sharing it with us.)
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Please enjoy some cheap celebrity drinks #content from Fashion’s Biggest Night™️. Can’t spell Lagerfeld without “lager,” and don’t forget it!
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Here’s a representative example, just to choose one at random:
Brilliant stuff, MrPissant!
On merit, at least, though I’ll admit there’s something darkly fascinating about watching almost-normal-looking live-action video spat out by a machine. It’s novel! But though I’m a simple creature, I’m not so simple that “semi-coherent pictures and noises” is satisfying entertainment.
Like Phusion Projects, LLC (Four Loko’s parent company), or whichever Gallo division handles the company’s considerable Barstool Sports business. Naturally, Bang Energy would’ve fit this bill, but things are a bit delicate over there at the moment. Ditto Anheuser-Busch InBev—though they love a first-to-market opportunity as much as the next enormous consumer-packaged-goods portfolio firm, they’ve got some pressing matters to
continue fucking up attend to!
Or any industry, save like, defense contracting, or for-profit prisons, or fracking, or payday loans, or…