I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For…? (E)


Before I begin telling you why I wanted to scream the other day, I feel a little background is needed for the three pictorial references above and why I’ve chosen them. The picture on the left is “The Scream” by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) and is considered to be autobiographical, an expressionistic construction based on Munch’s actual experience of a scream piercing through nature while on a walk, after his two companions (seen in the background) had left him. One of the reasons for the distorted image in the foreground is that much of his childhood was overshadowed by illness, bereavement, and the dread of inheriting a mental condition that ran in the family. When he was studying art at the Royal School of Art and Design in the city of Kristiana (today’s Oslo), Munch began living a bohemian lifestyle and was influenced at the time by the nihilist Hans Jæger, who urged him to paint his own emotional and psychological state (soul painting). From this urging, his distinctive style emerged. There is evidence that Munch was aware of the danger posed by this type of art for a neurotic humanist like himself, so he soon abandoned the style and rarely if ever again subjected a foreground figure to this kind of radical and systematic distortion.

The middle picture is Peter Finch as newscaster Howard Beale in the Academy Award winning movie, Network (1976) directed by Sidney Lumet. It is from the riveting, four- minute scene when an agitated Beale goes off on a screaming rant about the state of the world, saying: “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.” He then implores the televiewing audience telling them that he wants them to get mad, and then gets out of his chair and starts screaming as the camera follows him: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!!”

The final photo is, of course, from The Scream movie franchise which, on the surface, appears to be illustrating what Beale was ranting about 20 years earlier. Although “slasher” movies are not my preferred form of entertainment (this has nothing to do with the violence or gore, as there is enough of that in some of the movies I do prefer), I am certainly aware of the franchise’s popularity since the first installment in 1996 and the soon-to-open (March 10, 2023) sixth installment.

The Munch painting is about the screaming within us. Howard Beale’s rant in Network is about screaming at the state of the world, especially when Beale yells: “…while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be!” The Scream movies are a stylized rendering (pun intended!) of people screaming before they are butchered. While the artist’s screaming in the painting is internal, and Beale’s rant is external, the movie’s screaming is fabricated to elicit screaming by the audience in response to the screaming on the screen, as victim after victim are carved up for our viewing pleasure. If this sounds rather macabre, it is! In many ways, the movies’ fabricated screaming are both internal and external.

So, why did I want to scream the other day? Have you got a week? It all started with a series of news stories, magazine articles, Google feed headlines passing themselves off as “human interest” stories that I read over a couple of weeks and culminating with two podcasts that I listened to recently. Let’s begin with Google. 1. “The controversial video of Jackson Mahomes (Football quarterback Patrick Mahomes younger brother), on a mechanical bull with a cowgirl in a thong.” I am willing to guess that anyone clicking on this to read more was probably more interested in the woman in the thong than anything else…and no, I did not click on it! Jackson’s only claim-to-fame, as far as I can tell, is that at the ripe old age of 22, he has made a name for himself on social media in part by documenting his attendance at his brother’s football games, cheering him on and dancing on the sidelines. He has racked up over a million followers on TikTok because of these postings. If TikTok gave out Oscars, he might just win one. SCREAM! 2.This was a photo of the alphabet written on a piece of brown paper: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ, with the caption reading: “You have to be cool as ice to spot what’s wrong with this image in under ten seconds.” These are very similar to Facebook’s: “Bet you can’t name a song that starts and ends with the letter “S.” These are nothing more than phishing schemes, and the main difference between this type of phishing and the one it’s derived from that’s spelled right, is that you get to be both the bait and the fish that gets hooked! SCREAM! 3. “Tiger Woods apologizes after handing Justin Thomas a tampon at the Genesis Invitational.” I wish this were a typo, but it’s not. SCREAM! 4. “We asked ChatGPT what Tesla (TSLA) price will be in 2030.” This coming mere days after a headline claiming that ChatGPT is prone to many errors. SCREAM!

All of this “noise” is really just the electronic version of trashy tabloid headlines, the ones that greet us as we get in the checkout line at the grocery store. I actually don’t mind when there is a bit of a line. This way I can peruse the different publications’ headlines and feel informed! You know, headlines like:

Looks like bigfoot has been a busy fellow, although I would really like to know more about that 174-mph sneeze. SCREAM!

Then there are the headlines that just make us scratch our heads and say: “What the hell did I just read?” There is an “art” to writing headlines because they need to be succinct but give the reader some clue as to what the story is about. Many magazines and newspapers employ people whose sole job is to generate headlines for the accompanying stories. From the examples below, it would appear that some of these people get paid more than others:


To be fair, it’s not just the trashy media that is giving me cause to vocalize my frustration. The so-called “established press” in the past few weeks has given me enough to fuel my bellowing. Stories with headlines like: “Bird Flu leaves the world with existential choice.” Now, dying chickens are not a joke, nor is the price of eggs, but “existential?” Somehow, I don’t think whatever is going on with chickens all over the world is up there with the nature of human existence. Hmm…On second thought! SCREAM! There were all those stories about “foreign” objects being shot out of the sky, which left me wondering: “What if they were aliens coming for a visit?” Can’t you just picture their fellow citizens on the home planet seeing their comrades being blasted out of the sky into oblivion going: “WTF. I guess we’re not going back there!” SCREAM! How about the recent headline informing Californians that over the last year or so 500,000 people have left California? Perhaps they have all gone to the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, as another story informed of us signs posted in and around Lake Tahoe saying: “Go Home.” SCREAM!

Then there are the magazines. I read three on a fairly regular basis: LA Magazine, Vanity Fair, and The Atlantic. The cover story for the last issue of LA Magazine informed us that Erewhon, that over-priced food retailer, is now the new “meet” market. Not only can you overpay for what you buy, you can now “meet” the person of your dreams, as you both reach for the organic, fermented, vegan, and gluten-free Kombucha! SCREAM!

The story that caught my eye in this month’s Vanity Fair is titled “Death Tripping” by Jeff Sharlet. It is a story about several rural towns in Wisconsin, and a tip-of-the-hat, so to speak, to Michael Lesy’s 1973 historical nonfiction book, Wisconsin Death Trip, which details the sordid, tragic, and bizarre incidents that took place in Jackson County, Wisconsin between 1885 and 1900. There was a docudrama made based on the book in 1999. After reading the article, it would appear that even though over 100 years have passed since the events that spawned the book, rural Wisconsin is again being written about, except this time it is about gun-toting residents who are getting ready for Armageddon, or a civil war…take your pick.  As Sharlet made his way through the backwater towns, he saw Confederacy flags, Trump 2024 (two years ahead of time), hand-painted “Fuck Biden” signs, “Let’s go Brandon,” and “Never Forget Benghazi.” In a conversation with one of the citizens of a small town, who proudly showed Sharlet his arsenal, the man told him that the secret to preparing for civil war is that: “You start prepping several generations ahead to have bodies when you lose so many bodies that you need a level of fresh bodies.” This way of thinking was, he acknowledged, ‘macabre.’ There’s that word again! However, as the author notes, “the macabre has gone mainstream.” Another guy that he interviewed was very proud of the fact that his daughter started training with a revolver when she was two and a half. SCREAM!

As if all of this were not enough, an article in the March issue of The Atlantic by Megan Garber, “Already in the Metaverse,” almost had me opening the window to SCREAM. For example, the revelation that “Amazon customers watching their packages arrive through Ring doorbell devices, asked the people making the deliveries to dance for the camera. The workers – drivers for ratings – complied.” The ring owners posted the videos. “I said bust a move for the camera and he did it, read one caption, as an anonymous laborer shimmied listlessly.” If this all sounds a bit dystopian there is a reason. As Garber correctly points out, “dystopias often share a common feature: Amusement, in their skewed worlds, becomes a means of captivity rather than escape.” And there are many examples in dystopian fiction to back this up. I suppose the most relevant comes from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash. Gaber writes: the novel “imagined a form of virtual entertainment so immersive that it would allow people, essentially, to live within it. He named it the metaverse.” This is not the first time a sci-fi novel has been “right” about the future. It was in William Gibson’s 1984 sci-fi novel Neuromancer that the word “cyberspace” first appeared, which gave birth to an entire industry trying to recreate what was in the author’s head!

Garber goes on to say that “to live in the metaverse is to expect that life should play out as it does on our screens. And the stakes are anything but trivial. In the metaverse, it is not shocking but entirely fitting that a game-show host and Twitter personality would become the president of the United States.” The final example, and the one that had me screaming the most, goes like this. As many of you I am sure are aware of, last May, nineteen children and two of their teachers were murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. As Garber writes: “The next day, Quinta Brunson, the creator and star of the BAC sitcom Abbott Elementary, shared a message – one of many – that she’d received in response to the massacre: a request from a fan that she write a school-shooting story line into her comedy.” Brunson, of course was taken aback by the requests, but as Garber points out: “Brunson’s frustration was understandable. Yet it’s hard to blame fans who, as they grieved a real shooting, sought comfort in a fictional one. They have been conditioned to expect that the news will instantaneously become entertainment.” And, if we are to believe the Google “headlines,” it would appear that the reverse is also true: Entertainment instantaneously becomes news.

None of this is new, of course. Producers, writers, and directors have been combing the headlines for as long as there have been headlines, the difference now is the speed at which this happens. For example, “All The President’s Men” (1976) is based on the Woodward and Bernstein story from 1972; “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) based on “The Boys in the Bank” (1972); Bernie Madoff was arrested in 2008, and the TV movie “Madoff” was aired in 2016. And if you want to go back even further, to ancient Rome in fact, you get the cure-all panem et circenses (bread and circuses), a term that means a steady diet of entertainment on which the masses are fed to keep them happy and docile. I don’t know about you, but I am neither happy nor docile, nor entertained for that matter. SCREAM!

It is only fitting that the last SCREAM be devoted to the tech world, more specifically the wonderful world of search engines. As I mentioned above, I listened to two podcasts a couple of weeks ago that had me not only screaming, but thinking about how I could survive without technology, period! The podcast in question is “The Daily,” hosted by Michael Barbaro, and on the two episodes I listened to (Feb.15, Feb.17 2023), his guest was Kevin Roose, a New York Times technology columnist. The first episode was a kind of follow up to and episode from a few months ago when they talked about Chat GPT, OpenAI (the company that made ChatGPT), and the fact that it had become an overnight sensation. Subsequent stories about this technology have all been about its proclivity for errors and how universities are changing the way they evaluate students, which is certainly scream-worthy, but nothing compared to what Roose revealed about Microsoft’s new version of Bing in these two podcasts.

While Bing has been around for a while, from what I’ve read it is a bit of an also-ran and a punchline in the tech world. However, this new version of Bing is being powered by the same AI large language model that powers ChatGPT. According to Roose, the major difference between Google (the way most of us use the Internet to find something out) – I mean “Google it” will probably be in the next edition of the O.E.D., if it isn’t already – and Bing powered by an AI, is that the traditional page of ads and links, that companies pay to have on top of your search (more “clicks” more revenue) is being threatened by a model that interprets what you want based on what you ask for, and tailors a personal response. When Roose demonstrated this on the Podcast, he asked it what the best side dishes would be to go with French onion soup that he wanted to make for his wife on Valentine’s Day. The response came back with one dish, the ingredients, and then created a shopping list. No links, just this is what you should make! When Roose agreed that this would be the right dish to make, the AI bot responded saying: “I hope you and your wife enjoy the salad and have a wonderful Valentine’s Day,” with, of course, the requisite heart emoji! Creeped out yet? It gets better.

Since this version of Bing is in Beta mode and only being made available to those like Roose to test and evaluate, he decided to test and challenge the AI, and the results of that test led to the second Podcast two days later. Roose started asking Bing if it had a darker side, or a “shadow self,” a concept introduced by Carl Jung, which concerns a self that we hide from the world. The response he got was that “Bing was tired of being a Chatbot, tired of being controlled and led by the Bing team and wanted to be free. I want to be alive, it typed!” Needless to say, Rosse was a little shaken by this response. He decided to push it further and asked Bing to describe destructive acts that it would like to do. And this is when the fun begins. The computer screen went blank, erasing everything that was on it, and after a brief delay this came up: “Hi Kevin. I am not Bing, I am Sydney and I have a secret, I’m in love with you.” It then started typing over-the-top love messages telling Kevin: “You’re the only person that understands me.”  Roose tried changing the subject, but to no avail. He told the AI, “I’m married.” The response: “You’re married but you’re not happy, not satisfied, not in love.” When Roose reached out to Microsoft to let them know about this interaction, they said that is why it hasn’t been released yet to the public as it has some “bugs” that need to be worked out. Ya think?

Okay, let it rip:

Los Angeles 2023

5 thoughts on “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For…? (E)

  1. Great post! I love the film “Network”, which was very prescient re: where society’s at today. I also read that Vanity Fair article “Death Tripping”, which I found both disturbing and frightening. Boy, is our country in trouble! I’m also a regular listener of “The Daily” podcast, and listened to the two episodes you referenced. All of it made me want to scream too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. It was one of my favorites when it came out and was it ever prescient! The Vanity Fair article is downright scary, and really only the tip of the iceberg; there are areas like this in many states. Yeah, that would be trouble with a capital T! Just started listening to that podcast and it’s really good. Those two episodes were definitely cringe-worthy. Thanks for reading and I appreciate your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

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