Trending off Tragedy

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This widely circulated post made its way around Twitter and Facebook yesterday. It made people feel good, it was a lesson in morality. It got 11,000 shares in 11 hours on Facebook, and close to 5,000 RTs on Twitter.

And it’s totally fake.

Never mind that the story pictured above uses long block quotes, indicating the authors incredible memory — but I’m curious as to how she can ID a Romanian or a Gay man on the F Train. Did she ask them? It isn’t mentioned. Most surprising of all is that if this belligerent man did board an F Train, nobody would acknowledge him. New Yorkers encounter crazy and belligerent people all the time and make a habit of ignoring them out of concern for their own safety. I’d know, I’m writing this post from an F Train right now. Nobody would stop a train for this mans behavior.

So? What’s the big deal if it’s fake, it made people feel good.

It is a big deal for the intention of the post and posts like it. The author wanted to insert themselves into the headlines.

When people write these fake stories or create these fake memes, they’re deliberately taking advantage of a tragedy in the headlines to make their post trend. More specifically, they’re trying to make themselves trend.

As the post went viral, the author on Facebook relished in the attention from friends and family — “you’re famous” “remember us when you make it big.” She even had a fan girl moment on Twitter as MSNBC journalist Chris Hayes retweeted the screenshot of her post.

This is narcissism. If the first thing you think of after a tragedy is how to write a Facebook status or tweet that will garner attention, you’re everything that is wrong with social media.

Instead of sharing fake stories written on behalf of someone craving attention, how about sharing real feel good stories?

There are countless examples of people coming together after the horrific tragedy in Orlando to take a stand against hate. We don’t need to share fake stories when there are real profiles in courage to share and celebrate.

So think before you share a story that is obviously fake, whether it made you feel good or not. We shouldn’t be enabling someone’s narcissism. This isn’t the first fake post to trend off tragedy and it won’t be the last. But let’s make it the last time we share it.

On Writing Science Fiction Well

All genres require diligent research on the part of the writer, but none more so than Science Fiction.

Working in development, one thing I look for in reading a script is how well-researched the writer is. If the subject matter is convincingly conveyed, then the story will generally flow better. Having a well-researched script or story is all about world building. In making your world more believable, your research should inform that world to make it more convincing.

With that said, I want to use this post to go over some reasons why this is more important with the Science Fiction genre, along with some common mistakes made writing it.

Science Fiction Done Right

As a writer of science fiction, you’re truly dealing with a blank slate. There is no template for which to build your world on, because for the most part that world does not yet exist. Yet, to make your world convincing it should still conform to a certain understanding of science available and trends that could impact such a future.

The best science fiction writers also use current and past events of cultural and political importance to inform their work. From Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov to Neill Blomkamp, science fiction writers try to dissect societal problems using the genre.

Philip Dick’s When Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the book that became Blade Runner) tries to address a future where artificial intelligence is a potential threat to humanity. Asimov is commonly credited with the “three rules of robotics,” which tries to dissuade fears of rogue AI by proposing a humane foundation for the basis of a sentient android; a subject which would be explored at length in I, Robot.

Science Fiction need not always inform the future. South African filmmaker Blomkamp is well known for his film District 9, which profiles apartheid through the POV of a government worker and the alien refugees he is sent to study in a segregated community. Blomkamp more recently worked on Elysium, which addresses how future technological advances could fuel wealth inequality.

What all these films have in common is a well-researched story that addresses something larger than the CGI effects it may or may not employ.

What separates these works from the kind I tend to pass on are three common mistakes…

Misunderstanding Science

A relatively new field in science and technology, it’s easy to see why misunderstandings could arise with science fiction subjects like artificial intelligence. Currently, most AI relies on machine learning. Most writers commonly mistake machine learning for full AI.

The difference is that machine learning is programmer-based, whereas strong AI is sentient and thus learns on its own. This is why many computer scientists use the terms AI vs. strong AI, sometimes also referred to as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

While machine learning is an important step to getting programs to learn on their own, it is not the final result. It is still reliant upon programmer input. Commonly, I see Machine Learning programs presented as AI, and vice-versa.

A good example of this done well is the movie Ex Machina. Writer Alex Garland does an excellent job of using actual industry terms and coding to show us what actually constitutes an artificial intelligence. Both the script and the final film are incredibly well researched and presented in a believable way.

HER is also a less technical illustration of AGI presented well.

As a writer, you should attempt a well-versed understanding of the field of science which you plan to write about. Half-assing the subject matter or avoiding it entirely is not a convincing illustration of your world. If you don’t know your topic in and out, it will show. Make the reader believe what you are trying to convey.

World Building Overload

Many people who try to write science fiction tend to imagine giant set-pieces and stunning visuals first and foremost. The problem with this is that it often comes at the expense of character or story, and it’s also EXPENSIVE. While visualizing the world is an essential component of the genre, it is important to keep it in perspective. Spending too much time on visualization detracts from critical space that could be spent building the backbone of the world: story.

We don’t need non-essential descriptions of a room. While this is the case in most genres, it also applies to science fiction. The more the writer tries to describe something, the more he/she may also fall into clichés. Keep it simple.

Where possible, a good way to enhance your world is to include unique devices or references that may touch upon familiarity.

A good example of both of these things can be found in Blade Runner. The Voight-Kampf machine plays an important part in the story in how it assesses whether someone is a man or machine, but it also reminds us we are far into the future.

The iconic skyline in the film doesn’t overly emphasize its height or darkness; it emphasizes its saturation in ads. Specifically, the ads are in Asian text. This was written at a time in the 1980s when Japanese electronics were dominant in the American consumer landscape. The Asian ad-saturation presented both a familiarity, but also a social anxiety at a time when Americans were concerned with the beginning of mass-importation from the Far East.

Remember that your script if made will eventually attach a director, cinematographer, FX producer and production design team. So try not to get too bogged down in the details early on.

Clichés and Stories That Don’t Say Anything

This is probably the most grating of all the mistakes I find when reading science fiction scripts: genre clichés. If you’re a writer, you should be giving me something new to read and imagine, not a re-imaging of your favorite films of the genre, or themes.

Some quick examples of clichés I find: labs in a far off place for no apparent reason, see also space settings because “Space!”; mad scientists/corporations bent on world domination; sentient computers/robots bent on world domination; scientist who fears his/her creations; post-apocalyptic climate dramas; military controlling new technology to weaponize it; Male POV – one day I’d like to actually read a script featuring a female.

In addition to clichés are the films which aren’t really films. There is no quicker way to loose me as a reader (of any genre) than to write something which lacks any apparent narrative – like a big bombastic CGI imagining. Ask yourself why you’re writing this. What is the apparent conflict? If the conflict is any of the clichés above, just don’t write it. It’s been done a million times, and probably better.

Takeaways

What makes science fiction such an alluring genre to read and watch is to experience something new, something unsaid – something futuristic. Having a passion for the genre will always show in the writing, and the research will come easier.

Science fiction is not for everyone.

It is a very difficult genre to write well, and to avoid clichés. If you’re going to write it, I hope this post is helpful. Just know that with any writing, conveying your topic with mastery is important, in science fiction it is essential.

A Guide to Internet Assholes 101

It doesn’t take more than a few moments scrolling through your timeline on Twitter or Facebook before your realize “wow — there’s a lot of assholes on the Internet!”

Sure, but are you one of them?

Surely, you’re not. It’s always easy to police tone in your own head. After all you didn’t mean it that way — or did you?

Your opinions are easier to digest because you already agree with them. This self-confirmation bias and ease of communication across social platforms lends itself to a whole fuckton of Internet assholes, and like it or not at one point or another you and I may have been one of them.

So I devised what I call “The Guide to Internet Assholes 101” as a helpful guide to avoid continuing to be one.

1. Twitter Bullies (see also FB/Reddit bullies)

The obvious Internet asshole. Whether you agree or disagree with him, the first person that likely comes to mind is Trump. However, this asshole exists on the Left and the Right (and beyond politics) and needn’t have millions of followers to qualify. All that is needed is a large enough platform to allow a pile-on effect (where the bullies followers join in on the bullying).

I encountered one such asshole today, a member of social justice Twitter. Since I’m not an asshole, I won’t name them. However, they made an inflammatory characterization of a respected Progressive and I politely disagreed in my tweet, which featured an autocorrect typo. They proceeded to latch onto that instead of addressing my reply, and insulted me to their 50k followers. Bullying quickly ensued. I would have liked to reply, but they blocked me after their hit-and-run attack on me.

This is Twitter bullying 101. Despite her goal of social justice, she is of no help to that movement by belittling everyone in her path. Her goal and the goal of those bullies like her is not to engage, but to serve as a sort of flamethrower, insulting and arguing with people as a part of their brand. Their brand is asshole.

Next!

2. The “I Disagree!” Asshole.

This one comes in all forms. Most common in egg-accounts and those accounts with sub 20-follower counts, their main agenda on social media is to argue pointlessly with those who will never agree with them. Essentially this is troll behavior because it is pointless. It is a form of harassment.

At the end of the day, these people aren’t looking to debate or positively engage, they’re just looking to say “I disagree!” as pettily and annoyingly as possible to get a rise out of the person they disagree with. Assholes, all.

3. The smug asshole

Most common in comedians who wouldn’t even disagree with being characterized as an asshole, this is also a universal category of Internet asshole.

Delivering sick burns for Internet high fives, this intelligent prick delivers put downs to smug satisfaction. This guy or gal is all about not only feeling superior, but showing they are. They relish in their intelligence and flaunt it to where it comes across as supremely smug. Sure those “I disagree!” trolls often prove easy fodder for this kind of (often funny) smug put-down, but it doesn’t make you any less of an asshole than they are. We know you’re smart, but you can be smart without also being an asshole.

4. The I’M RIGHT! Asshole

Among the most insufferable assholes of the entire net is the person who can never loose an argument.

Let’s say you’ve gotten into a respectful debate, one where you exchange your POV, presumably backed by some facts. Now you’ve won the argument, according to others as well, but Jeff45621 can’t admit defeat. In a land where facts and figures do not apply, good old Jeff is ready to fight to the death knell even after everyone else has already left the debate. He’s still posting biased links and stupid YouTube videos long after.

You blocked him, but in his wake 3 new egghead accounts popped up to continue the assault. Hey Jeff! Get a life, asshole.

****

I’m sure I could find more examples, but this is just a 101 guide and not at all comprehensive. It’s merely a primer on Internet asshole that certainly seems to get at quite a few repeat offenders. If you saw yourself in any of these examples, reevaluate yourself because chances are people think you’re an asshole. Even if proud of that, that branding comes with a lot of social responsibility and you better respect that even if you don’t always respect others.

over and out! — MK