Dystopian hammers | Simply Ranked

Plus: Milking an institution, sail and mast, just give it to Leo Romero, and more.

Dystopian hammers | Simply Ranked
The definitive weekly ranking and analysis of all the skateboarding and other online things that I cannot stop consuming and how they make me feel, personally.

Earnest is good!

Rank: 1
Mood: 🧱

There is something to be said for playing with form. Good somethings. Because even small, subtle tweaks can turn the expected into the captivating. “BRICKTOWN” by Walker Ryan (Video Essay) is a Thrasher “My War” style video, but with an extra dimension. Sure, Ryan’s monumental struggle with a single (and absurdly difficult) trick at a single spot is the centrepiece of the video and showcased in a raw and brutal manner like a “My War” typically does, but here we’re taken through Ryan’s entire history at “Bricktown” through his eyes, in his voice, and edited by his hand.

With his personal anecdotes about his relationship with the spot as the driver, the “video essay” framework allows for a level of earnestness that probably doesn’t qualify as “hell ride” but is all the better for it. Approachable, relatable — all words that came to mind, on top of “entertaining.” Especially when it comes to a narrative thread that runs throughout the piece and culminates in something quite special at the end, which you should just watch for yourself and enjoy.

What also makes this feel different is that it isn’t repeatable, not in the serialized web series sense. Ryan could make another “video essay,” but none will feel as singular as this. It’s more than a “War,” his switch-backside-360-kickflip is a career-defining highlight and the attention paid to it here is deserved. Now, can he finally get a board sponsor? What the actual hell is going on with that.

Sail and mast

Rank: 3
Mood: ⛵️

There’s nothing wrong with liking what you like. The longer you’re alive on this planet, the further your tastes will refine and the shorter your patience gets when faced with what’s opposed to them. Sometimes, however, I wonder if my particular proclivities ever hold me back from something greater — a fuller understanding of the world and the things in it. Case in point, after watching Alec Majerus’ recent video part, “Dreaming Out Loud,” with diminishing interest, it occurred to me that I would enjoy his skateboarding more if he dressed differently. Better. Better, as in, a style that I like.

That’s a selfish thought, I know. Perhaps even a mean one, especially if I share that I think he dresses like a mannequin at Zumiez. But, to be fair, he always has. It’s not like he’s tried to adopt an unnatural look or persona or anything; he’s simply a regular person who is exceptionally good at skateboarding and is wearing what is comfortable for him. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it might even be “cool” for others; it just does nothing for me. In some cases, it actively makes me not enjoy the skateboarding on screen. Which is kind of fucked up.

Why does someone’s fashion sense, or perceived lack of it, have any bearing on them being a watchable skateboarder? I’d say it’s because for all of the things skateboarding is and what we try to define it as — art, sport, Xtreme Sport, pastime, etc. — skateboarding is, at its core, a physical activity deeply concerned with aesthetics. Always has been. Whether it’s the visual mechanics of a trick, the scenic potential of a skate spot, or the clothes a skateboarder wears while doing a trick at a scenic spot — aesthetics is skateboarding.

Is that always a healthy thing? Probably not. However, it’s also what allows a person to take a skateboard and make it their own, from what tricks they do to how they look while doing them. All this to say, just loosen up the pants a little bit, Alec. Or slim down the tops. You could even have them meet somewhere in the middle. This sail and mast thing you’ve got going on is very 2012.

Milking an institution

Rank: Oi
Mood: 🐄 🤖 🤑


At PostLive’s AI summit, Meredith Whittaker spoke about what she called the “new hyped narrative around generative AI.” #fyp #generativeai #artificialintelligence #ai #tech #technology

♬ original sound - Post Live

As the public excitement and venture capital lusting about the possibilities of generative AI begins to slow, or at least come into view as a technology that’s not nearly ready for primetime or particularly useful in a day-to-day sense, we’re seeing more instances of why. Last week, MSN.com and Microsoft Start, Microsoft’s news aggregator that curates newsfeeds for its Edge browser, decided to get creative with a Guardian article, per Donie O’Sullivan at CNN.

Concerns and tensions about Microsoft’s use of AI in its news content boiled over on Tuesday when Britain’s The Guardian newspaper accused the company of damaging the paper’s reputation after it published an article from the outlet on its site.

To power its highly trafficked news portal, Microsoft has established licensing agreements with major news organizations around the world, including The Guardian and CNN, that allow the tech giant to republish their articles in exchange for a share of the advertising revenue.

Last week, The Guardian published an article about Lilie James, a 21-year-old woman who was found dead with serious head injuries at a school in Sydney, Australia.

James’ murder led to an outpouring of grief and prompted a national conversation in Australia about violence against women.

But when MSN republished The Guardian’s story, it accompanied it with an AI-generated poll asking readers, “What do you think is the reason behind the woman’s death?” And listed three options: murder, accident, or suicide.

Yeesh. However, even as someone who doesn’t frequent MSN.com or Microsoft Start, this wasn’t a surprising story to encounter; it was just another to add to the pile, as the CNN story details.

In August, MSN featured a story on its homepage that falsely claimed President Joe Biden had fallen asleep during a moment of silence for victims of the catastrophic Maui wildfire.

The next month, Microsoft republished a story about Brandon Hunter, a former NBA player who died unexpectedly at the age of 42, under the headline, “Brandon Hunter useless at 42.”

Then, in October, Microsoft republished an article that claimed that San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston had resigned from his position after criticism from Elon Musk.

The story was entirely false.

Some of the articles featured by Microsoft were initially published by obscure websites that might have gone unnoticed amid the daily deluge of online misinformation that circulates every day.

But Microsoft’s decision to republish articles from fringe outlets has elevated those stories to potentially millions of additional readers, breathing life into their claims. Editors who formerly worked for Microsoft told CNN that these kinds of false stories, or virtually any other articles from low-quality websites, would not be prominently featured by Microsoft were it not for its use of AI.

Reading about this latest Microsoft AI gaffe coincided with a recent and surprising Google search (sorry, Bing). While googling Dylan Jaeb, as one does, I was served a Jaeb-related TransWorld Skateboarding article — but delivered through Microsoft Start. It’s not clear how long TransWorld has had its chum box-style articles featured in Microsoft’s janky AI aggregator, but it’s safe to assume their parent company, The Arena Group, has had a licensing agreement for some time, as their March 2023 investor presentation estimates that 62% of their total distribution/syndication in 2022 came via MSN.com (across all of their platforms).

As TransWorld’s recent reanimation publishes hundreds of posts a month, most of which are an aggregation of industry news and existing media from other outlets (that then gets aggregated by Microsoft), it paints an increasingly bleak picture of their current purpose and what conglomerates like The Arena Group do: TransWorld now exists to feed the content ecosystems of Microsoft, Apple, and others. Whether their posts are of quality doesn’t matter; it’s about cranking them out for clicks and advertiser dollars — a sad reality for many once-prominent outlets and the media industry as a whole1.

I wonder how long it’ll be before a TransWorld article regurgitated by Microsoft comes with an AI-generated poll of its own?

Dystopian hammers

Rank: 1 billy
Mood: 👯👯‍♂️👯‍♀️

Earlier this week, we got an interesting and exceptionally bleak look into the future when SAG-AFTRA revealed a clause that The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers refused to remove from their “last and best” offer in that latest round of negotiations with the guild, who had been striking for better pay and working conditions since July, per The Hollywood Reporter.

When SAG-AFTRA responded to the studios’ latest contract offer on Monday, artificial intelligence protections for high-earning members remained a key sticking point.

Multiple sources familiar with the state of the negotiations tell The Hollywood Reporter that SAG-AFTRA has pushed back on an AI clause that is included in the studios’ latest offer. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is seeking to secure AI scans for Schedule F performers — guild members who earn more than the minimum for series regulars ($32,000 per TV episode) and feature films ($60,000). The companies’ suggested clause would require studios and streamers to pay to scan the likeness of Schedule F performers. SAG-AFTRA is seeking to attach compensation for the reuse of AI scans, as AMPTP member companies would also need to secure consent from the performer. The language in the AMPTP’s offer would see the studios and streamers secure the right to use scans of deceased performers without the consent of their estate or SAG-AFTRA, according to a union-side source.

Good show. If you need an even more obvious metaphor that corporations only consider you a resource they’re willing to mine at all costs and not a living, breathing human person — even after you’ve died — you won’t find one. Thankfully, and in another big victory for labour (which is on a hot streak), SAG-AFTRA announced on Wednesday that they’d reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP, which includes, per the guild.

…a contract valued at over one billion dollars in new wages and benefit plan funding, we have achieved a deal of extraordinary scope that includes "above-pattern" minimum compensation increases, unprecedented provisions for consent and compensation that will protect members from the threat of AI, and for the first time establishes a streaming participation bonus. Our Pension & Health caps have been substantially raised, which will bring much needed value to our plans. In addition, the deal includes numerous improvements for multiple categories including outsize compensation increases for background performers, and critical contract provisions protecting diverse communities.

That rules. It also made me curious: has anyone in the skateboarding industry tried to sneak that type of AI fuckery into a contract? The idea has had to at least been thrown around, right? I mean, how else will brands keep juicing Tom Penny’s image after he’s gone?

Just give it to him

Rank: 1!
Mood: 🏆

I hope we all haven’t forgotten that at the beginning of the year, Leo Romero, a professional skateboarder for nearly two decades, released what is probably his best video part to date. One that you could probably dub his “magnum opus” if not for the fact that Romero appears to be skating just as hard now, if not harder, than he was back in March, as evidenced by the video Emerica Footwear released to celebrate his new shoe the “Skater.” What I’m saying is, make him SOTY again. What’s the harm? It’s not like you’d be wrong, Thrasher. The field is wide open. Just give it to him. I think we’d all appreciate that.

Something to consider: “On skateboarding, solidarity, and Palestine.” By Maen Hammad for Skate Jawn.

A good thing: This photo of Juno Matsuoka by Daniel Hare for Closer — lookit that foot! The knee!

Another good thing: This Northern Flicker with its tongue stuck out hung out on my balcony for a while the other day. I hope it’s doing okay.

Just one more good thing, I swear: This conversation between writer and comedian Rob Delany and one of my favourite writers, Patricia Lockwood. They talk about Delany’s book A Heart That Works, which is about his young son who died of a brain tumour. It’s heavy at times, for sure, but also quite beautiful, funny, and moving in the way the duo talks about grief and anger and everything else that comes with loss.

Tricked you, you beautiful yet gullible bastard! Here’s another good thing: Joseph Shabason talked to Ben Komins over at Jenkem about his re-score of Toy Machine’s Welcome To Hell.

A podcast thing: I chopped it up with the Vent City crew about my THPS book, gaming in general, and my childhood infatuation with Billy Marks. Great folks, nice time!

A poster’s delight: More Bluesky invites! Three of them courtesy of the kind Simple Magic reader, Alec.

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  • bsky-social-yjc4k-g6tcn
  • bsky-social-dspyz-4r7tl
  • bsky-social-ajakw-xz4x4
  • bsky-social-rhku2-umue7
  • bsky-social-kzr6m-bzdkn

A repost (of myself): Earlier this week, I looked into why more PRO and AM skateboarders are embracing YouTuberdom.

Until next week… if you find yourself with the opportunity to romance a Mind Flayer in Baldur’s Gate 3, just give it a go. Who knows where love might take you.

I wrote a book about the history and cultural impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and I will keep posting about it at the end of the newsletter for the foreseeable future. Apologies. Right, Down + Circle is in stores now and you can also order it from your favourite local bookshop, my publisher ECW Press, or all of the usual devils (Amazon, Barnes & Noble). I think you might like it.

Also, if you like book clubs, you can join the inimitable Ted Barrow in reading Right, Down + Circle on his Berate The Birds Patreon, which you should also subscribe to because it rules. He’s almost through the thing now, so you’ve got some nice stuff to listen to while puttering around the house.

Also, also, the Birdman himself has finally read the book (or at least took a photo of it). So if that doesn’t convince you to buy it, that’s okay. There’s no pressure. I just appreciate you reading this newsletter.

  1. There are some bright spots, though.