This week’s look at kidz’ pop-culture features an overload of useless web-celebs, a fight over Wonder Woman, and even a talking dog. So dig in — I promise I won’t mention COVID-19 at all! (Except there, where I just did.) Thank Odin the holidays are over and our lives can go back to normal, eh?
Controversy of the week: Bunny the “talking” dog
If you don’t hang around TikTok, you might not know a talking dog lives there. Bunny the dog has gained nearly six million followers for videos where she seems to chat with her owner by hitting keys on a soundboard with her paws. As you might expect from a dog, the conversations are mostly demands for walks, but sometimes Bunny gets positively existential, like that one time when she looked into a mirror and asked “Who this?” When her owner replied “Bunny,” she hit the “help” key. I relate.
But can Bunny — or any dog — really communicate meaningfully with a human? Or is this a selective video editing hoax? Maybe an extreme example of a well-meaning pet owner inadvertently personifying an animal, like a modern-day repeat of Clever Hans, the counting horse?
A group of (presumably mad) scientists at the Comparative Cognition Lab at University of California San Diego have set out to answer those question by gathering data on 900 animals, including Bunny, and trying to determine the extent to which they can communicate with people. The research is ongoing, but I assume it will confirm my own view: “Of course dogs can’t talk; don’t be stupid.”
Viral videos of the week: Celebrities you’ve never heard of celebrate Christmas
In a brilliant piece of cross-promotion, six of YouTube’s biggest stars got together over the holidays to create a series of collaborative videos that broke the internet this week, earning tens of millions of views, shares, likes, and whatnots. In the vids, online influencers James Charles, Dixie D’Amelio, Charli D’Amelio, Larray, Noah Beck, and Chase Hudson are seen performatively exchanging gifts, having snowballs fights, making gingerbread houses, and engaging in all manner of traditional holiday hijinks.
Before you dismiss these videos with a “I would have never watched this kind of crap when I was a kid,” consider that these videos are the spiritual successor to the aspirational holiday variety shows that networks used to air back in the 70s and 80s. Remember those shows where Paul Lynde might “drop by” while Charo is wrapping presents in a studio designed to look like her home?
The main difference between those crusty “specials” and the new shit is that Paul Lynde was really funny and Charo plays a mean guitar, where these online celebrities don’t do anything. Instead of showing off some talent or ability, they merely exist: People so young, rich, and charismatic they don’t have to lower themselves to performing like a talking dog to get millions of people to watch them instead of hanging out with their real-life friends and families.
This week in movies: Wonder Woman 1984 splits the internet
The biggest news in movies and streaming right now is Wonder Woman 1984. Since its Christmas release, the super-heroic sequel is splitting opinions of critics and fans alike. On the one hand, many hardcore comic book and super-hero movie fans (aka “nerds”) dislike this flick for its lack-of-depth, bad special effects, and questionable portrayal of Wonder Woman herself. “Why can’t it be more like that cinematic classic, Joker?” they ask.
The normies and mouth-breathers of the general public, on the other hand, are more like, “Who even cares? It’s a movie about a lady with an invisible jet who fights crime. Shut up, relax, and look at the pretty colours.”
Personally, I wish the Wonder Woman movies would dig deeper into the Wonder Woman mythology, past “Silver Age” Wonder Woman, past Linda Carter’s TV Wonder Woman, all the way back to the 1940s when Wonder Woman’s polyamorous inventors, William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Holloway, and Olive Byrne created a kinky feminist icon who clearly loved tying people up with her golden lasso, no matter their gender. The third Wonder Woman movie was announced this week, so lets all hope.
This week in video games: The continuing woes of Cyberpunk 2077
Judging from the buzz on message boards and gaming podcasts, the big story in vidja games remains the continuing launch woes of sci-fi role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077. While you can’t really call the ambitious game a failure — it’s sold over 13 million copies and garnered generally favourable reviews — the launch has been less than smooth, to put it mildly. Cyberpunk 2077 shipped with tons of (sometimes hilarious) glitches, and gamers are saying it’s barely playable on some consoles, prompting both Sony and Microsoft to offer refunds and Sony to pull the game from its PlayStation Store.
The most recent news, investors have filed a class-action lawsuit against the game’s developer. In a press release, the stockholders’ lawyers contend that investors were damaged by CD Projekt Red offering statements about the game that were “materially false and misleading and/or lacked a reasonable basis.” Personally, I enjoy the drama of the fall-from-grace of an over-hyped game almost as much as the game itself.