Category Archives: health

cannibal capitalism and video game streaming

Cannibal capitalism is the mediated consumption of other people’s suffering. Usually someone gets paid for this. In the NFL players and owners get money while viewers watch men exchange ritualized interpersonal violence. Traditional televised sports are ripe with injury moments and the moral judgement that soothes and justifies the suffering.

Slightly less visible is the suffering that happens in order to bring us the entertainment. The New Yorker has a nice essay on video game streamers who broadcast their games to gigantic audiences of semi-interactive fans. Taylor Clark describes the harm that many streamers face from the occupation.

“At this summer’s PAX West–a yearly convention that inundates downtown Seattle with gaming fans–virtually every streamer I spoke with voiced concerns about the health risks of overwork. “My doctor told me I was going to die if I kept doing it like this,” a young broadcaster who goes by Bria Leigh said. ‘You spend ten hours a day in the chair. And you don’t even want to get up to use the bathroom, because you’re afraid you’ll lose viewers.'”(43) – Taylor Clark, “Revenue Streaming.” The New Yorker. November 20, 2017. P. 38-44

Clark’s article contains reference to a gamer who died during a 24-hour charity stream (Brian Vigneault) and a opens with the description of Roberto Garcia AKA Towelliee, a popular streamer.  Clark describes the impact on Garcia from his years of grinding out gaming for fans.

“Game streaming, Garcia discovered, required non-stop work.  The only way to attract viewers, and to prevent the ones you had from straying to other broadcaster, was to be online constantly, so he routinely streamed for eighteen hours a day.  “That’s what I had to do to grown the viewership,” he said.  His ankles swelled from sitting at this computer.  his weight grew to four hundred and twenty pounds.” (38) – Taylor Clark, “Revenue Streaming.” The New Yorker. November 20, 2017. P. 38-44

There is a lot to unpack in the representations of video gaming and new media.  My interest is to note that this new genre of entertainment has consequences for the producers.  Streamed live, viewers get to watch and comment on (consume) the streamers with a kind of interactivity that has seldom been seen before.  The invitation is there for viewers to chat directly with the producers and create community.

But the expectation is that the streamer is there for the viewer and in some ways is entitled to the viewing.  In this relationship where the streamer depends on the views to make a living there is a certain incentive to grind through moments of suffering in order to keep viewers.

This relationship is cannibal capitalism where viewers consume the suffering of someone else through the media.  It is visible through the twitch comments and the representations of streaming participants.  It is also in the bodily cost that is above-and-beyond other lines of employment.  (No doubt that people who cut down trees for a living have swelling feet and high blood pressure from their job, but few arborists have 10,000 people watching their successes and failures live).

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Filed under capitalism, communication, health, technology, video games, videogames, vulnerability

Cannibal Capitalism: performance enhancing drugs

Cannibal capitalism is easy to spot in modern sports.   Contests are broadcast and we are encouraged to consume of the bodies of athletes and comment on their suffering.  To succeed and get paid at the highest levels, many athletes use illegal and dangerous drugs.  It seems transparent to call them ‘performance enhancing drugs’.   The performance is enhanced, often at the health and safety of the athlete.

Al Jazeera has released a potent documentary following the trail of a few illicit pharmacists and doctors who provide illegal sports drug cocktails. It is a tell-all of many recent sports heroes who it is suggested used performance enhancing drugs.

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Filed under capitalism, documentary, drugs, forbidden fruit, health, sport

Cannibal Capitalism: Barbecue taster

Daniel Vaughn reviews barbecue for Texas Monthly.  Here he describes the bodily costs to him for his constant intake of meat.

I know this sounds terrible in a world full of hungry people, but to finally be hungry again is a welcome feeling. It’s not like I get chest pains while I’m driving around the state or anything, but I certainly take cholesterol medicine and I’ve put on about ten pounds since I started the job. (Let’s be honest, it’s fifteen, and it’s not coming off.) I get heartburn every time I’m sleeping in a hotel after eating barbecue all day. You wake up tired, so you drink a lot of coffee, so you get dehydrated, and then you’re driving all day, and you get hemorrhoids.

via Profile in Obsession: Daniel Vaughn | Lucky Peach.

Cheers to the Lucky Peach, David Chang’s new excellent food magazine.

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Filed under Animals, capitalism, food, health

Ellen McIlwaine: calming power of music

I’m trying to finish a mixtape with two songs by the brilliant guitarist Ellen McIlwaine.  Looking at an old interview with McIlwaine archived on Ear of Newt I noticed this little vignette about Taj Mahal and the calming power of music.

Another blues artist McIlwaine raves about these days is her longtime friend Taj Mahal, who sang on a couple of Spontaneous Combustion tracks, including a reggae version of the old call-and-response ditty, “Mockingbird”. McIlwaine’s been wanting to record that song with Taj for a long time.

“I saw him do ‘Mockingbird’ with Etta James on TV once,” she says, “and I thought, ‘Goshdarnit, I’m gonna ask him to sing on this.’ ’Cause I used to volunteer at a children’s hospital, and one time there was a child in a lot of distress, and I didn’t know exactly what I was gonna do—I was still new. But I picked him up and started singing ‘Mockingbird’, and he got really quiet. I looked down at him after a couple of lines, and his little head was goin’ back and forth. So I figured it was a cool tune, and I started doin’ it on stage.”

via Johnny Winter showed blues traveler Ellen McIlwaine how to go in her own direction | earofnewt.com.

I can’t find her doing Mockingbird, but here is one of my favorite tracks, “Weird of Hermiston:”

And here is McIlwaine live at the Ottowa folk festival.

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Fighting the trolls: Lindy West engages

I like Lindy West’s pop culture analysis.  She writes for a few online spots like Jezebel.  Feministing noted that she had been harassed by a troll who opened a twitter account in the name of her deceased father.  This is the feministing quote:

Lindy, who you might know from her writing at Jezebel and GQ, was trolled by someone who set up a Twitter account in the name of her dead father. She wrote about how awful that made her feel, and to her surprise, he wrote to her again – but this time, to apologize.

Then, she called him and interviewed him about what had gone through his mind when he decided to do what he did. And recorded it all. “It felt like if I could just get the specifics,” she says, “gather them up and hold them in my hands — then maybe I could start to understand all the people who were still trolling me.”

They talked for two hours, and by the end, she’d forgiven him for the terrible things he’d done – the meanest thing anyone has ever done to her. She understood what his life looked like at the time that he was trolling (he’s since stopped, he says) and she felt sorry for him. Still, she says, it’s disturbing to know that there was nothing wrong with him per se. “It’s frightening that he’s so normal,” she says. He’s not your idea of a monster, and unlike a fairy tale troll, he certainly doesn’t live alone under a bridge. He has women coworkers, and a girlfriend, and women friends. “They have no idea that he used to go online and traumatize women for fun.”

via “It’s frightening that he’s so normal.”.

In a Jezebel essay, West notes her reasoning to humanize and engage with trolls:

I feed trolls. Not always, not every troll, but when I feel like it—when I think it will make me feel better—I talk back. I talk back because the expectation is that when you tell a woman to shut up, she should shut up. I reject that. I talk back because it’s fun, sometimes, to rip an abusive dummy to shreds with my friends. I talk back because my mental health is my priority—not some troll’s personal satisfaction. I talk back because it emboldens other women to talk back online and in real life, and I talk back because women have told me that my responses give them a script for dealing with monsters in their own lives. And, most importantly, I talk back because internet trolls are not, in fact, monsters. They are human beings—and I don’t believe that their attempts to dehumanize me can be counteracted by dehumanizing them. The only thing that fights dehumanization is increased humanization—of me, of them, of marginalized groups in general, of the internet as a whole.

via Don’t Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode..

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Filed under communication, critique, feminism, gender, hacking, health, kindness, representation, resistance, rhetoric, sexism, technology

Americans are vampires: Ebola edition

I ran across a Boing Boing post where they point out that two American missionaries who contracted Ebola appear to have saved by an experimental treatment.  CNN describes the situation:

Its a story that could have come from a cinematic medical thriller: Two American missionary workers contract Ebola. Their situation is dire. Three vials containing a highly experimental drug are flown into Liberia in a last-ditch effort to save them. And the drug flown in last week appears to have worked, according to a source familiar with details of the treatment.Dr. Kent Brantlys and Nancy Writebols conditions significantly improved after receiving the medication, sources say. Brantly was able to walk into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after being evacuated to the United States last week, and Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

1.   Starting in March 2014, Ebola started to be seen in West Africa.  More than 1600 Africans have shown up sick with more than half of those infected dying.  None of these people got a last-minute salvation.

2.  Everyone in the world has to be terrified of Ebola.  It is one of the most scary diseases I’ve ever heard about.  The notion that a pharmaceutical company in San Diego had a treatment that seems to have worked that was never shared with dying African people is offensive.

3.  I can only imagine what this looks like to people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

4.  The cure had to be pried out of the hands of a for-profit pharmaceutical corporation.  Turns out the months of Africans dying wasn’t sufficient incentive to release the treatment.   So how did these two white American missionaries find out about this miracle treatment?  CNN explains that the missionary charity (Samaritans Purse) made the connection:

As the Americans conditions worsened, Samaritans Purse reached out to a National Institutes of Health scientist who was on the ground in West Africa, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”The scientist was able to informally answer some questions and referred them to appropriate company contacts to pursue their interest in obtaining the experimental product,” NIAID said.The experimental drug, known as ZMapp, was developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which is based in San Diego. The patients were told that the treatment had never been tried before in a human being but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

5.  You might call these Americans vampires.  Back from the dead saved by the magical blood of the sacrifices of those who came before them:

The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mices blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.

via Ebola drug likely saved American patients – CNN.com.

The rush of resources and last-minute miracle part of this narrative is worth talking more about.  But also the sacrifices of the mice, monkeys and the dead Africans have to be considered when thinking about these two saved missionaries.

I think this makes visible the hierarchy of human bodies — the idea that some people count more than others.

Worth noting that the Wall Street Journal reports that one of the Americans was also given a blood transfusion from an African Ebola survivor.

Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol began receiving supportive care as soon as they were diagnosed, according to their respective charities. Dr. Brantly also got a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived Ebola under Dr. Brantlys care, in the hope that antibodies would help him, too, fight off the virus. Both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol received an experimental serum, the charities said, though they didnt specify what the treatment was.

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

6.  Some people might ask: ‘don’t you think it’s worth it? Having a potential cure for Ebola is more important than any of these complaints about how the drug got made or released?

I would respond that the harm is done.  Any attempt to justify this kind of hierarchical violence is probably worth noting in itself as evidence of a pernicious desire in the questioner to defend the pharmaceutical company.

Of course I wish for a cure for Ebola and am glad that a treatment seems to be in the works.  I hope for an immediate and full distribution of this new treatment to everyone who has Ebola.

I haven’t seen any leader or press report advocating that the drug should be shared with other dying people.

It is always worth thinking about how we do things.   Few would deny that injustices are done in the name of best intentions.   And we should examine how CNN and the Wall Street Journal write about a phenomenon.

The Wall Street Journal  reports that the death rate of those who get Ebola is one reason why researching a cure isn’t a priority:

There are several vaccines and drug treatments in development and testing for Ebola, but none have been approved by regulators. Commercializing them is a challenge given that Ebola is a rare disease, said Thomas Geisbert, who works on potential Ebola vaccine platforms as a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.”Ebola is very rare—there is not a financial incentive for large pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines for Ebola,” he said. “Its really going to require government agencies or a foundation.”

via U.S. Ebola Virus Patient Being Treated in Atlanta Faces Crucial Days – WSJ.

7.  I’m glad that someone helped to save these two people’s lives.  Here is hoping that same impulse counts for everyone else in the world.

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Filed under Animals, capitalism, colonialism, communication, disaster, drugs, health, media, race, representation, rhetoric, technology

Harm reduction, EDM & ‘Molly’

Longreads suggested the tell-all essay on so-called molly and Electronic Dance Music festivals written by Shane Morris.  It is a good read with snappy prose and a strong argument that the EDM festivals are locations where lots of people seek drugs from one-time drug dealers who may sell them almost anything.

But I’m more taken with his follow up essay where he not only answers many of the criticisms and also suggests a series of solutions.

Much of what he suggests is harm reduction – trying to make risky behavior (of almost any stripe) less likely to result in damage.  But it is also a sincere plea for bystander accountability and a change in the culture of drug-users and those promoters who make money on festivals.

I’m only saying that it’s time the EDM community starts acting like the family it espouses itself to be. No more secrets. No more “turning around and pretending you didn’t see that happen.” No more fearing what might happen if you ask for help. No more pretending people aren’t getting hooked on Molly. If everyone in the EDM community collectively decides to help themselves, rather than bending to legislation, we can fix this. If we advocate a culture of safety, health, and honesty, we can correct the course of this ship before it maroons itself on the rocks.

Part I. We need a return of safe, “cool down” areas to EDM events. If we all acknowledge that people are going to do drugs, and it’s just something that happens, then we should also be able to acknowledge that every person deserves to be safe, healthy, and well. If you’re not feeling OK, there needs to be a place you can go and sit down, chill out, drink water, maybe even get a bag of ice and put it on your head.

via Finding Molly: Reconstructing Dreamland | Bro Jackson.

Morris also suggests people “call out the idiots promoting overconsumption,” and for transparency (including drug testing kits for prospective users).   He also commits to making his own music events more safe and offers up “safe word” as the catchphrase for a campaign of communication:

Here is his explanation:

In BDSM circles, using a safeword means things have gotten too much for you to handle, and you need to stop, without judgement. In that regard, I feel its purpose is well served here as well. If you’re at an event, and things have spun out of control for you, a friend, or perhaps a stranger you’re just looking out for–you should be able to remove yourself from the situation and know your safety is the primary concern, without fear of repercussions or judgement.

via Finding Molly: Reconstructing Dreamland | Bro Jackson.

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Filed under communication, dance, do-it-yourself, drugs, health, music, punishment, vulnerability