I think it all has to do with the gelatin sphere.
April 2, 2018 3:57 AM   Subscribe

The Soft Truth. A short story by Leigh Alexander.
posted by Gin and Broadband (12 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
"The red badge blossoming over the little green phone icon frightened me even more than seeing myself shopping for avocados."

This is a relatable feeling.
posted by moonmilk at 7:15 AM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

what is this i don't even

(said not judgementally but plaintively, begging for someone to explain this thing to me, because it's beautiful and I can't understand it, it only seems to make a halfway kind of sense if I let the images wash over me without looking at them, god, I wish I'd taken a lit class anytime after 8th grade, I wish I knew at all what this story was about.)
posted by MiraK at 8:25 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow. I loved this, but suddenly I have the urge to type "satisfying videos" into YouTube.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:26 AM on April 2, 2018

My take is that it's a meditation on the similarity of recent societal trends where we care more about what's attention-grabbing than about what's actually true or valuable. Algorithmically-generated videos use thumbnails that entice people to click for ad revenue despite the content of the thumbnail not occurring anywhere in the video. Trump (serving here, I think, both as himself and as an extreme example of all public figures) makes wild claims that get him attention despite them not mapping to anything actually real. And people focus on something dumb somebody said online once and come to hate them or fire them despite it not really being who that person is.

The other part of the trend is that we like to see destruction. The most satisfying videos are the ones in which the objects are melted or cut apart, the most attention-grabbing Trump quotes are where he's attacking somebody, and the result of digging up online dirt is that the person must be unfriended or fired. The narrator's job was to destroy people, and once fired her quest is to see the gelatin sphere destroyed. (And of course there's some live-by-the-sword-die-by-the-sword in there because she loses her job the same way she got others fired.)

The doppelganger may be meant to represent the 'real' version of the narrator, which would make the narrator the person who was manufactured to be fired a la https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/the-new-york-times-fired-my-doppelganger/554402/ - my main support for this reading is that the narrator says she was "wrong at work" but envisions the other self as "worthy of uncomplicated compassion." She buys into the narrative that because of whatever it was she said online she's unworthy - she rejects the "free speech" defense and also loses compassion for the girl at the laundromat in a similar situation.

By that reading - and based on the doppelganger's actions at the end - the point may be that people who just made one stupid joke or misstatement are still worthy of compassion - that judging people based on one thing they said is just as wrongheaded as falling for Trump's soundbites or algorithmically-generated video thumbnails. The narrator is wrong to reject both the laundromat girl and herself - humans are worthy of compassion but she's treating them the same way she treats the gelatin sphere. We shouldn't demand to see these people destroyed for our own satisfaction.

That's just my reading, though. :)
posted by DoctorProfessor at 9:06 AM on April 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

I love the porosity between the story and the "ads." It took me a while to twig to the fact that that the images I was scrolling past were not actually algorithmically-chosen ad placements.
posted by BrashTech at 9:27 AM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

MiraK, I think that’s exactly the way the story is trying to make you feel.
posted by rikschell at 9:46 AM on April 2, 2018

This is a great story. Thanks, Gin and Broadband.
posted by straight at 10:33 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here's a clickable link to 'The New York Times Fired My Doppelganger' by Quinn Norton since it's in my clipboard at the moment.

I'm still trying to figure this one out. I did go and watch the video though and it was good. Search YouTube for '1000 degree mesh' as she does.
posted by lokta at 10:56 AM on April 2, 2018

Also found she's in the UK so may have seen our annoying TV ad for Experian which dramatizes the concept of a digital doppelganger (I'd been idly wondering).

Wire mesh video link :)
posted by lokta at 11:01 AM on April 2, 2018

Awesome story. It reminded me of several similarly great stories by Juan José Millás, e.g. "Other Persons" (Sci Hub link).
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:35 AM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Last night I broke out in hives and had to take two antihistamines. I hope to come back and read this when my own brain doesn't feel like a gelatin sphere. Thanks for posting it.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 12:20 PM on April 2, 2018

I'm interested that Alexander is unfamiliar to many Mefites in this thread. Her other recent work is worth seeking out, especially Reigns: Her Majesty.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 1:35 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

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