Thinking about Authenticity vs. Deception on TikTok 

I like my social media to be text-focused. I’m not camera shy, but I don’t like that to be my primary form of exposure to the world. TikTok isn’t for me, and fair disclaimer: I still have no experience with it. However, when I reflect on my preferences, I remember one significant difference between the internet experienced by Zoomers vs. previous generations: the sheer deluge of disinformation that proliferates in more recent times. In this respect, the desire for a social media platform that emphasizes personal-feeling videos might allow for a slightly better (but inevitably imperfect) defense against bad actors.

One of the challenges of appealing to younger people on TikTok is that they value authenticity. It’s a nebulous term to be sure, but sleek traditional marketing campaigns can fall short for people who feel distrust when things look a little too polished. This is not to say that TikTok is free from scam artists and propagandists—far from it—but when I began to think more about the nature of text-based online communication, I recall the sheer number of fake accounts that are created to spread false information.

A white supremacist can grab a stock photo of a black person and then engage in digital blackface to share harmful political and social messages. Bots use artificially generated profile pictures to create entirely fake personalities to amplify some poisonous ideology, and if people aren’t looking carefully, one can be fooled into thinking they’re authentic. In contrast, it takes a lot more work to pretend to be black on a video platform than it is on one where all you need is a stolen or fabricated headshot. Deepfakes are an issue, but they’re not at the point where they’re nigh-impossible to spot—at least not yet.

Of course, TikTok is not immune to disinformation. It just disseminates differently, and adjusts itself to an online culture that is not only more video-based but also focused on being “short and sweet”—little nuggets of “wisdom” and “knowledge” that are anything but. I have my concerns about the way TikTok’s algorithm might be even better at sucking people down rabbit holes. That said, I think the difference in this moment in time might be that the imposter who’s claiming to be someone they’re not has to at least put in more effort to pull the charade off.

Any 5-Year-Old Can Tell You Why Summer Wars is Great

As of late, it seems like podcast after podcast is discussing Summer Wars. Speakeasy podcasters Hisui and Narutaki use the movie as an impetus to talk about how getting taken out of a movie causes you to more readily notice its faults. Andrew on the Veef Show talks about how the hype for Summer Wars is met by backlash, while also stating that he finds the movie to be good but not great. Anime World Order’s Daryl and Gerald also disagree on the merits of the movie. Overall, the two big questions seem to be 1) Why do the people who love Summer Wars love it and 2) Why do the people who hate it do so?

Now I am on the side of thinking the movie was fantastic, so the best I can tell you about why critics deride it is hearsay and conjecture, but I can tell you about why I think Summer Wars is a very strong movie on par with Hosoda’s previous work, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

Summer Wars‘ greatest strength comes from its overarching theme, centering around the idea of closing gaps, be they generational, technological, or even familial. A super advanced online world is contrasted with old-fashioned ways, the celebration of family is contrasted with the desire to move beyond the home, and young is contrasted with old. But in every case, Summer Wars doesn’t say that one is better than the other, instead giving a message that each is equally useful and that everyone can work together for the common good. It’s a very optimistic view of where we’re going as a society and as a planet, and I think that optimism is what keeps people cheering and praising the movie.

A lot of reviewers seem to neglect mentioning these themes, and I find that to be quite odd. It’s pretty much the heart of Summer Wars and for all of the praise and the criticism, how is it not mentioned more often? And it’s not like the themes are particularly subtle to the point of invisibility either. When I went to the New York Children’s International Film Festival showing of Summer Wars, there was a Q&A session with director Hosoda. In every case, it was the kids who nailed the most important theme of the movie, as well as a lot of the lesser themes. Now, these kids had to be fairly smart, being able to keep up with the subtitles on-screen, but they were still about eight years old on average. Surely the great minds of the anime internet can’t be outdone by a bunch of elementary school kids, right?

Re-reading my glowing review of the film, I am forced to realize that I too forgot to mention the overarching theme of Summer Wars and so am just as guilty of obfuscating the discussion as anyone else. Looking at my own words, I get the feeling that I was so caught up in trying to describe the enormous amounts of effort clearly put into the film and its potential for wide appeal through juggling many different elements that I simply forgot to actually say why I think the film is great. Perhaps everyone else experienced the same problem, like a collective mind fart from thinking too much about anime without actually thinking about it.

And so in the end, we were bested by third graders.