The "Great Flattening"
This post is a collection of a few thoughts I've had stewing in my head for a while now, first properly put into words in my DMs with @anthony. It is solely my view of things. Much of it is probably inconsistent, or based on skewed / outdated perceptions.

A pet theory of mine is that we've hit peak "independence" in art in the developed world. The internet-connection of all aspects of society has dispersed local status hierarchies, causing a brain drain away from immediately unfruitful endeavors and impairing the ability for "scenes" to develop on their own. While this no doubt creates great opportunities for a few independent artists, it condemns many, many more to languish in obscurity, demoralizing them before they can hone their craft into something unique.

This "flattening" applies to many more aspects than just cultural production. It also applies to science, economic development, and social class, depriving many of the less productive regions of the developed world (and, w/ the advent of mass immigration, the entire world) of competent scientists and managers. Consider the aspirations of elite Americans in the early 20th century...

Quote:In living memory, every major city in the United States had its own old money families with their own clubs and their own rituals and their own social and economic networks. Often the money was not very old, going back to a real estate killing or a mining fortune or an oil strike a generation or two before. Even so, the heirs and heiresses set themselves up as a local aristocracy.


The status of Harvard and Yale as prestigious national rather than regional universities is relatively recent. A few generations ago, it was assumed that the sons of the local gentry (this was before coeducation began in the 1960s and 1970s) would remain in the area and rise to high office in local and state business, politics, and philanthropy—goals that were best served if they attended a local elite college and joined the right fraternity, rather than being educated in some other part of the country. College was about upper-class socialization, not learning, which is why parochial patricians favored regional colleges and universities. If your family was in the local social register, that was much more important than whether you went to an Ivy League college or a local college or no college at all.

... as opposed to those of today's cosmopolitan elite; the class whose children engage in a drawn-out, gruesome self-sacrifice to the Moloch of "academic achievement", in which they are expected to meticulously optimize their lives from ages four to eighteen for the consumption of college admissions officers, in the hopes of going to MIT, Stanford, or one of the Ivies. The few children who pass this gauntlet "win" the "opportunity" to "earn" the "privilege" of spending the first decade of their working lives in Harvard Law School, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, or another cramped crucible of high-stress hyper-competition. The human capital that used to go to developing local politics, business, and infrastructure has been redirected to jostling over a handful of jobs in trendy megacities.

Back to cultural production: I think it's undergone a similar process, albeit lagging the class one on account of the lower barrier to entry. Think of music, for instance, and the power it had only a few decades ago. Entire subcultures would form around style of music and adopt the attitudes of what they listened to: punks, goths, emos, rivetheads, etc... these groups no longer exist, except in pastiche. Digital music and streaming services were the music-subculture killers. Sure, they allow people to discover new music from obscure nooks of the world, or many decades ago; but at the cost of divorcing the music from its original presentation and context, turning it into nothing but sound, devoid of intentionality, impossible to rally around.

Video games are the same. I'd say "independence" in video games peaked in the mid-2000s. It was a golden age of novel game concepts, community / mod-based online multiplayer, flash games, tie-ins and "gamifications" of niche subjects (admittedly with a lot of shovelware thrown in). New games releases manage to surprise me less and less with each passing year, as the breakout success of a few titles - Minecraft, CS:GO, whatever the first "Ubisoft-core" sandbox games - has prompted everyone to start imitating them.

Most AAA game titles nowadays are converging towards a particular combination of public matchmaking / gacha microtransactions / long-term RPG elements, one designed to milk as much gachabux out of whales as humanly possible while aggravating the perpetual graphics pissing contest (hardcore users buy expensive gaming rigs -> games increase in graphical fidelity to appeal to them -> barrier to entry to play AND produce these games increases, making the games studios more reliant on the hard core and less likely to take risks).

I'd like to reiterate what all of these degradations have in common: people in the middle rungs of the hierarchy - the "feudal lords", higher-ups of their own small scenes - try to cozy up to those on the very top, using the same platforms and imitating aspects of their behavior, and, in doing so, lose the idiosyncracies that made them valuable and interesting in the first place. A homogenous, "flattened" global culture is the result.

I'll leave you with this post by agnostic, which describes the decline of subcultures and "wholesome" media-centric interaction more cogently than my meandering textwalls ever could:

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Culture transforms into civilization. The top, instead of leading, starts sitting on their assess and jacking off, and everything becomes a competition of who can either distract them from jacking off, or who can perhaps suck their dick. Trolling and brown nosing becomes the only 2 modes of communication, because online society itself becomes geared to infinite status chasing.

This causes a glut in these types, until nobody does what they should anymore, and society itself becomes a cursed combination of a circlejerk and a dodgy ass dive bar. Eventually, it all falls apart.
The flattening of streaming is is largely a function of scale. Very small ones can feel like little social clubs, but they can start to feel like a chore just like IRL. Absences are noted and it can feel uncomfortably intimate if it's a day with few viewers. They don't provide any of the benefits of local communities, just a bit of entertainment. One of many reasons why streamers tend to quit if they don't grow their audience quickly or arrive with a captive audience.

There is however a critical mass that streamers reach after a certain amount of viewers that creates what one streamer called the "ladder climber" phenomenon. The ladder climber tries to stand out: Frequent donor, chat janny, plays with them in games, hangs out in their Discord, always replies to them on Twitter. They try to reach beyond the typical parasocial relationship and become the streamer's real friend. A tangible hierarchy is formed when a sufficient number of these people exist. This behavior isn't inherently malicious. Anyone could become online friends with a streamer who has 10 regular viewers. The problem comes when a streamer reaches a viewership large enough that one might think there's something to gain by being the streamer's top guy.

These ladder climbers tend to be losers IRL or mentally ill. They find themselves in a position at or near the top of a large social hierarchy for the first time in their lives and wonder how they can exploit it for personal gain. Often, they try to become streamers themselves and use this community to seed their own viewership. They think "he's just playing video games. I could do that. He's only famous because he got lucky." The reality is that the streamer they leech off of is often more talented, creative, charismatic, and/or dedicated than themselves. Even when the streamer feels obligated to promote their climber-streamers, most never gain any long-term regular viewers, especially from outside the community. However, the viewership isn't important to them as long as it's non-zero. Being one of the streamer's top guy is reward enough, any revenue acquired from streaming is just icing on the cake. In extreme cases, the ease of making chat rooms online allows them to create little conspiracies within these groups to backbite each other. I've heard of one case where several climbers made a Discord chat to talk shit about people in the community, then some of those people made a smaller room to talk shit about some of the people in that chat, and some of those people made an even smaller room, and so on - a full backbiter Matryoshka doll.

The larger the streamer grows, the less an individual stands out. Chats go unnoticed in the swarm of emote spam. Girls start arriving and command attention. Donations need to be pricier to stand out. Sub alerts become smaller and quieter. Chat janny becomes a full-time job with no monetary compensation. The hierarchy doesn't scale with the viewership and flattens out. The average fan is now invisible. The ladder has become a hero cult. The unique interaction that makes streaming content so engaging is lost and the stream has devolved into an e-celebrity creating pseudo-television.
I suspect the Dunbar number has something to do with that.
(04-08-2022, 01:05 AM)Chud Wrote: [...]

I agree that the changes you describe are occurring but I don't think they're for the worse long-term. Culture has grown increasingly homogenized since the advent of mass communications. The subcultures you describe were all stillborn and from the time they achieved popularity little more than marketing schemes. While the internet has accelerated homogenization to an unprecedented degree, it's not in a different category than what was already accomplished by radio and television, which led to the same complaints about "divorcing the music from its original presentation and context, turning it into nothing but sound, devoid of intentionality, impossible to rally around." This divorce occurred the moment you could purchase a record instead of having to hear music live or play it yourself. Little if any popular music (anything that can be traced back to the beginning of 'rock and roll' in the 50s, including rap/metal/industrial etc) comes close to nearing the same heights classical reached. The same appears to be true of other artistic mediums, but I'm not as well acquainted with them so I could be wrong. Gaming is a massive waste of time and should be treated like pornography. Any critique of the current monoculture applies to any point since the rise of mass communications and the modern entertainment industry, even if it's worse than it's ever been.
Sorry I barely read anything here so I'm not 100% sure what I'm replying to, but I'm pretty optimistic. The internet is great bcz you can have a bunch tiny independent groups with their own culture in a kind of anti-globalization sense (discord groups, twitter circles) + we can see neetdom is flourishing. We're in a bit of a rough spot right now, but I think in like 20 years we'll start to a great period of artistic achievement.
While this is entirely true, it's worth noting that the winner-takes-all nature of any mass market only hollows out the "middle" of the bell curve distribution. Average sized generalist businesses like mom and pop retail gets brutally outcompeted by walmart, but extremely niche or informal bespoke shops remain. A similar effect applies to subcultures in mass communication: while the vast majority of it is subsumed by the winner-takes-all market in the great flattening as OP described, small groupchats, private servers and obscure forums like this one remain.

And indeed, many ideas or people that become "mass scale" come from these low level groupchats.

This is perhaps why "high-low vs middle" is such a common dynamic: in a system dominated by the highs, the lows proliferate and fill in gaps that would've otherwise gone to the middle.
Monopolies are something that people fear due to instincts and childhood brainwashing, but in my experience and theorizing this is how it goes: Most companies are filled with incompetent, stupid, unambitious, sclerotic fools who are content to inefficiently push out subpar products and services. Eventually a young capitalist genius rises through the ranks of one of these companies or starts his own and generates incredible revenue. With this revenue he can afford to hire competent and smart people who were disenfranchised and underpaid at trash companies for two to three times what they were making before. Suddenly every boomer shit business loses everyone with two brain cells who were the only ones barely keeping the business afloat and they collapse. Then people whine about “monopolies” despite cheaper and higher quality products and massive wealth transfer from the old and stupid to the young and smart. This is more or less how economics works in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and this is definitely how it works in the real world. God wins. You might be able to become one of these young capitalist geniuses if you throw off the chains of limiting beliefs and Richard Spencer podcasts.

I hate how people feel the need to glorify average/median people. They are horrible trash reddit subhumans. If I ever say something positive about “normies” please realize that I am talking about people quite far to the right of the bell curve. Fraternity/sorority people, people with millionaire parents and grandparents, athletes, students at good universities who had good ACT/SAT scores, waitresses who make 50 dollars per hour, etc. This is who I consider a “normal person”. Not the fat low IQ bum that works at Quiznos and watches Philip Defranco videos and shares those low IQ person spongebob memes about “when a thing happens”.

90% of people are objectively morally bad and they are why civilization is lurching and stumbling. They deserve much worse than what they are getting. They would put a knife in your back for 500 inflated ass dollars, but would never go on a diet or buy bitcoin or take Vitamin A and Iodine before getting pregnant so that their kids have a chance of being less shitty than they are. Fuck em.
I'm sure that you are correct about Rand saying that about monopolies, but she probably meant that as in "literally no competition possible". In the parlance of commoners, companies like FAANG, chipmakers, Wal-Mart, Bitcoin, Microstrategy, Microsoft, "robber barons", Tesla, etc. would be considered monopolies in that they ruthlessly destroy inferior competitors and dominate the market. This is no different than how the heroes in Atlas Shrugged operate, although they are idealized, would never accept any subsidy and so on. Rand would love Bitcoin, which is designed to be a complete monopoly on money itself.

The mainstream story on "competition" is quite naïve and unempirical. The products and services offered by Amazon are far superior to what was there before it. Google is still fast, free, and extremely useful despite being a literal monopoly. CPUs and GPUs are only made by two companies, yet they compete ruthlessly and their products get faster every two years. Bitcoin is great. Number of competitors =/= competition. You could imagine a situation where there are many mediocre competitors that collude with the government to prevent their market share from going to one of their superiors. This is how it is in Atlas Shrugged. This is how teachers unions (and arguably other types of unions) work. This is how democracy works.

Unrelated to this debate and not really pro- or anti- monopoly, but I found this to be a fascinating perspective:
I also believe companies have a cycle to them like empires, war --> wealth --> decadence --> collapse, rise and fall of Rome, etc. and this is why the world is not owned by one nation or one corporation.
Jim said how large companies, like all large organizations, tend to stray leftist and increasingly bloated and dysfunctional. This is usually how big massive monopolistic companies break and allow competitors to rise in times of crisis, in natural conditions
(05-25-2022, 05:10 PM)Chud Wrote: a "sexual market failure" enabled those weirdos to get together
Another corrosive element that destroyed subculture, even moreso than the internet, was the flattening of the sexual market. Part of the appeal of any subculture was in the built-in "sexual market failure" - they allowed less apt men to have a chance with women of a similar leaning. Sure, most were sausagefests, because women are more "normal" than men; but they gave you a chance nonetheless. Now it's taboo to approach women outside of "official" channels (Tinder et al.).

I think much of the vicarious nostalgia Zoomers feel for "goth girls", emo, scene, etc. is because of this.
(05-25-2022, 05:27 PM)Chud Wrote:
(05-25-2022, 05:10 PM)Chud Wrote: a "sexual market failure" enabled those weirdos to get together
Another corrosive element that destroyed subculture, even moreso than the internet, was the flattening of the sexual market. Part of the appeal of any subculture was in the built-in "sexual market failure" - they allowed less apt men to have a chance with women of a similar leaning. Sure, most were sausagefests, because women are more "normal" than men; but they gave you a chance nonetheless. Now it's taboo to approach women outside of "official" channels (Tinder et al.).

I think much of the vicarious nostalgia Zoomers feel for "goth girls", emo, scene, etc. is because of this.

I'm reminded that I personally watched subcultures wither away in real time when I was in high school all the way up through my University years.

The goths and emo/scene kids were almost completely gone by 2009-2010. They had a brief flash from 2004-2008 but by the start of the next decade they had slowly withered and the monoculture was in full swing. I have to think that social media had something to do with it because cliques could real time share their perceptions of the culture and instead of it being a slightly delayed input to output state in regards to clothing/music/hobbies it became almost instantaneous. Trends became very easy for the attention starved (women) to follow and this had to have led to more crowding around accessible fashions.

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