Numlock News: October 26, 2023 • Nightshade, Britney, Barbie
By Walt Hickey
A couple of really fun excerpts and interviews about You Are What You Watch have come out! Check out this excerpt in Insider about nostalgia and reboots, this excerpt in Polygon about South Korea’s ambitious global pop culture ascendance, and this excerpt in Yahoo about the economics that drive Hollywood to produce a ton of sequels. I also did a really fun interview over at Stat Significant talking about my work, this newsletter, and the book!
Thanks to all the folks who have posted about the book on social media, it’s really made my week. If you like the book, feel free to tag me — @walt.hickey on Threads, @walthickey on X née Twitter, @numlocknews on TikTok — I would love to hear about it.
Mattel is selling a whole lot of Barbie right now in the wake of the $1.4 billion Barbie movie, with the company saying it expects that it’ll gain about $125 million in revenue this year thanks to its cut of the box office and toy sales. In the third quarter of the year, things are looking great at Mattel: Gross billings in the Barbie division are up 16 percent year over year, and the doll category as a whole is up 27 percent. Overall, sales for Mattel came in at $1.92 billion, beating expectations by about $80 million. It is unclear how much of that $80 million is directly attributable to Allan, Ken’s best friend, who can also fit into Ken's clothes.
The release of The Woman in Me, the new memoir from Britney Spears, has sent interest in Britney’s music spiking upward. Ahead of its formal release on Tuesday, excerpts in the news have been circulating. In the four days ahead of the book’s release, the Spears catalog racked up 8.89 million streams in the United States, up 21 percent compared to the previous week when her oeuvre got 7.34 million streams. Now that the book’s actually out, the expectation is that’s only poised to grow further.
The recent adoption of touch-screen tip prompts has increased the percentage of people who tip and increased the aggregate amount of those tips, while at the same time complicating an already debated question of social mores. According to a 2023 study, 65 percent of Americans said they leave bigger tips as a result of digital tipping. While self-described tipping behavior is one thing, it is indeed being seen on the other side of the ledger: From March 2020 to May 2023, earnings from tips were up 42 percent. The issue, though, is that the omnipresence of the tip prompts is souring some on the institution as a whole; a 2022 survey found 66 percent of respondents have a negative view of tipping.
A new survey from the Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of Americans feel sad about what is happening to the Earth when they think about climate change, while just 38 percent are actually optimistic that we will do something to address climate change. Lots of people surveyed understand they have some skin in the game, with 41 percent that think that their own community will become a worse place to live over the next 30 years because of climate change. Some areas in particular are generally seen as poised to have a bad time over the coming decades: 61 percent of people think that coastal Florida will become a worse place to live over the next 30 years, 60 percent think the same about southern California, and 55 percent think the Southwest will get worse. Reminding us that there is indeed an inverse to the statement that a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never sleep in, 84 percent of respondents aged 65 and older think they will have to make none or just minor sacrifices in their life because of global climate change.
Air travel involves a lot of people crammed into a generally small place, and mediating the liminal spaces of that plane presents a challenge. Namely, armrests. Who gets them. Some take the perspective that given the complete lack of an innate human compass, there ought to be rules about this stuff, namely one that says the poor, unfortunate soul in the middle seat gets them both. Others agree in part — obviously on the lack of an innate human compass part, not the other one — and handle the problem like a dying Alexander the Great, saying merely that the armrest should go to the strongest. A recent poll found that about 60 percent think that all people — aisle, middle, window — have an equal claim, while 20 percent say the middle seater gets a superior claim.
A new survey from the North American Theater Owners’ Cinema Foundation found rampant demand for concert films on the big screen, with 72 percent of 6,000 respondents indicating a desire for more concert films like Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, which has made $160.4 million in two weeks. High-quality, deliberately made concert movies are rarer than they should be, and often suffer from poor execution. Concerts and live events have become a reliable streaming feature — take Elton John’s last concert, or documentaries by and about Billie Eilish or Selena Gomez — but outside of companies like Fathom Events, which puts opera, anime and Christian-interest programming in cinemas, they’ve been rarer in movie theaters.
Salt the Earth
A tool designed by a team of researchers at the University of Chicago called “Nightshade” is designed to break AI models trained on images that the model’s creators never sought to license the rights to. The data poisoning technique is offered to publishers and artists to, at the very least, get AI image model developers to think twice before taking imagery they don’t have the rights to. In tests using Stable Diffusion, after adding 50 poisoned images to the model, when prompted to draw a dog it no longer was able to illustrate what a dog was, after 100 images the prompt of “dog” reliably produces images resembling a cat, and by 300 poisoned images a request for “dog” produces a stunning and detailed image of a cat. The altered pixels are not easily identifiable, even with software.