Eliza Levinson on Avatar 2 and so-called TikTok cults.
You have three guesses to figure out which upcoming soundtrack brings together the likes of Diana Ross, Thundercat, Caroline Polachek, Tierra Whack, and Phoebe Bridgers.
Give up? It’s Minions: The Rise of Gru. No, I’m not kidding. As a Minion would say about that, “banana.”
This week saw the online release of the Avatar 2 trailer, which had premiered live at CinemaCon to an awestruck response two weeks ago. Unsurprisingly, the trailer isn’t especially exciting when viewed at home – one reviewer, writing for The Guardian, likened it to “being held hostage to look at someone’s holiday photos” – which is probably why the film is being exclusively released in theaters beginning in December 2022.
Three more Avatar sequels are planned to follow, though one has to hope they’ve already been filmed and animated to Pandora and back since there’s already been a decade-long lag time between the original Avatar and its sequel. To remind audiences just who, exactly, these very tall blue people are, the first Avatar will get a reprise theatrical release in the months preceding its sequel’s debut. (Something I forgot about until rereading this content: remember how the tension of Avatar relied on villains trying to sap planet Pandora of its precious natural resource, unobtanium? Lol!)
For the last few weeks, I’ve been totally obsessed with cult content, so this story in The Cut about a suspiciously controlling, religious dance management company was riveting. TL;DR: the family of Miranda Wilking, a 25 year old dancer with a significant social media following, believes she’s been indoctrinated into a cult. Wilking denies such accusations: she’s just following a spiritual path, and anyway, her family doesn’t get it – she’s thriving now.
The group in question is 7M, a combination church-slash-dance agency. This article and previous coverage in Rolling Stone describe 7M as a hyper-religious sect run by a reclusive pastor with a dubious track record and patterns of excessive control. As pointed out in The Cut, participation in 7M is complicated by the fact that many of the dancers in the group have experienced significant financial and professional success since joining – many, including Miranda, earn revenue through sponsored content, commercials for major brands, and appearances on Ellen. Miranda Wilking’s family recently posted an emotional Instagram live alleging that she is refusing to see or speak to them, part of a trend in behavior they attribute to the extreme coercion at play in 7M.
The phrase “TikTok Cult” reminded me of the whole flap about The Garden, a hippie commune in rural Louisiana that blew up (figuratively) in 2021 after a starry-eyed 24 year old participant took to his TikTok and showed off the scraggly farmland / makeshift outhouses / DIY buses and told anyone watching that they were welcome to join his utopia. Some people online were convinced that The Garden was a cult, though as someone who briefly attended Hampshire College, I would like to say that just because a motley crew of barefoot freaky people wanna hang out in a dirt pile, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a cult. Mkay?
I’ve also been intrigued by the trending TikTok sound of Mia Farrow musing it was the end of the ‘60s, the late ‘60s, and everybody was happy. And we were all so excited; it was just, like, the best of times. Posters are generally mouthing along to this with a block of text recalling better (impossibly better?) days: one such remembrance reads, “Me explaining to my kids what is [sic] was like to live in Summer 2016 where everyone had cracked iPhones, Rihanna still made music, Obama was still president, Musically was the go-to app, and gas was under $2 a gallon.” Almost every part of this post is confusing. At what point, pre-2020, was Musically the go-to app? Do we not all still have cracked iPhones? Was gas ever under $2 a gallon??!!
In cryptoland, TerraUSD (or UST) – a stablecoin, which basically means a cryptocurrency that is intentionally less volatile – crashed this week, tying in with a plummet in the value of Bitcoin to below $30,000. Unlike some other stablecoins in the metaverse, which tie their values to traditional assets like cash reserves or “highly rated bonds on a 1-to-1 basis,” UST is an “algorithmic stablecoin,” meaning that it “attempt[s] to hold [its] value through a combination of instructions encoded in software programs and active treasury management” (as explained in Bloomberg).
Yesterday, CoinDesk broke the news that Do Kwon – the CEO responsible for UST – was also partially responsible for “the failed algorithmic stablecoin Basis Cash” in 2020. Unmasking Do Kwon’s involvement with Basis Cash isn’t purely out of journalistic curiosity: since anonymity is a respected hallmark of the web3 space, the writers at CoinDesk explain that they elected to reveal the developer’s identity because UST’s “death spirals” are “wreaking havoc across the broader cryptocurrency market.”
It’s my last DIRT roundup before we segue into a ~ whole new era ~ ! Stay tuned for posts by our new contributors (Drew Austin, Safy-Hallan Farah, Katy Kelleher, Will Gottsegen, Austin Robey, Bijan Stephen) and correspondents (Ana Kinsella - London, W. David Marx - Tokyo, Lisa Kwon - LA, Isabel Slone - Toronto, and me - Berlin).
~Catch up on Dirt~
— Drew Millard praises The Righteous Gemstones and considers its parallels to his own upbringing
— in Tuesday’s roundup: a German influencer gets gecancelled, acceptable lies and more
— we’re growing! Read the announcement about Dirt’s major new round of funding here
— look out, film freaks: David Cronenberg and Yorgos Lanthimos release details about their upcoming projects — what is Shortbus, “the erotic movie banned from Amazon Prime for being too horny”? i-D dives in — this week in American political inanity: lawmakers in the US are planning to regulate ads on streaming services that are too loud for viewers “tired of diving for the mute button.” This would be cool if American politicians were simultaneously attempting to pass legislation that was actually, y’know, important — following its disappointing performance, Netflix revealed that it may roll out its “ad-supported tier” before 2023 — Oscar winner Ariana DeBose will guest star on multiple episodes of Westworld’s fourth season — at PAPER, Sandra Song tries to figure out whether TikTok creator Yiddiez will ever go back to posting her popular “Fat or Cap” videos — musician Anderson .Paak will direct and star in K-POPS!, a film about “a washed-up musician who travels to Korea to write for K-pop stars, discovering that his long-lost son is set to front one of the country’s hottest new groups.” Paak’s son, Soul Rasheed, will costar — RuPaul’s Drag Race judge Ross Matthews married Dr. Wellinthon García. Drew Barrymore was their flower girl — Young Thug and Gunna have been arrested on 56 counts of gang-related charges — after a few weeks of silence, Kanye West released a new video for “Life of the Party” from his latest album, Donda (Deluxe). The video features “deepfake performances from photos of West’s childhood” — UK punk band Black Midi is releasing a new album (Hellfire) and going on an international tour — according to The Verge, “podcasting will be a $4 billion industry in two years”
Dispatches from the Metaverse
— undeterred by a cataclysmic drop earlier this month, Bored Ape Yacht Club is continuing to expand its offerings, now branching into breakfast cereals — standing in for Queen Elizabeth in the regular Queen’s Speech address, Prince Charles references the UK’s plan to “support[...] the safe adoption of cryptocurrencies” — reports of gender-based online harassment swirl around this year’s Bitcoin conference — as Bitcoin’s value dips, Chinese crypto exchange KuCoin got a significant uptick in investment, “boosting its valuation to $10 billion” — following a protracted lawsuit with the ACLU, facial recognition software Clearview AI “agreed to permanently ban most private companies from using its service” — at NFTNow, Langston Thomas does a deep dive on the space where TikTok meets web3
— Kalush Orchestra performs “Stefania”, representing Ukraine at the Eurovision semi-finals (May 10, 2022) — “Get Sun (feat. Arthur Verocai)” by Hiatus Kaiyote — Ziwe asks Chet Hanks about his use / knowledge of Patois — “Photographing Odesa, a Ukrainian City Unlike Any Other” by Zoe Whitfield & photos by Yelena Yemchuk for i-D — “Two Turntables and the Goldman Sachs Revolt” by William D. Cohan for Air Mail — Fair Chance (Floating Points Remix) EP by Thundercat — “Degrees of Light” by Taylor McFerrin — by Eliza Levinson