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Whence coddling? Or: why is everything boring now?

This is just a quick-and-dirty thought I had while browsing the roundup thread tonight, and I figured I'd just dash it out here since I want to post something else in the big thread and not clutter it up.

Part of what spurred this was a recent video by Rimmy Downunder, who you might recognize as the Australian guy who uploads a lot of edited videos about Arma 3 and other kinds of simulationist-type games. It's an hour-long video, so to quickly summarize: if you are a big creator on YouTube, you should never ask Team YouTube for help on Twitter whenever one of your videos gets demonetized or age-restricted, because in the name of consistency, they will just go through your channel and do the same thing to all of your videos, making your algorithm performance and monetization drop even further. Contained within this video is discussion of new rules for advertiser-friendliness--specifically, the guidelines around profanity and the severity, frequency, and latency with which it is uttered in a video--changes that weren't exactly announced by YouTube, along with new policies for how YouTube reviews creators' appeals against the dings they get.

This post isn't about recent drama on a social media platform so big that it should really be regulated as a common carrier, or even about the constant frustration with inconsistent enforcement of rules, but instead, it's about the degree to which our modern society seems to be drilling down on making things all sanitized and offense-free.

Just to talk about YouTube a little more, I've been aware for a while that the entire design of YouTube--what is allowed, what is punished, and what is incentivized, whether that be through the algorithm or the automated content-policing systems they almost certainly have deployed--is set up to push creators into making the absolute safest content possible. I don't feel like digging up all the videos that talk about this phenomenon, but as an example: if you want to maximize your potential ad revenue on YouTube as a gaming channel, you need to play kid-friendly games (like Minecraft and Fortnite), say absolutely no swear words (at most, you might get away with TV-friendly minced oaths), and basically treat any copyrighted material (or even anything that could plausibly get claimed by some anonymous third party) like the plague. Add on sponsorships and upsells of patronage sites, and it makes for content you or I might consider...banal.

But again, this is about the direction we're all being pushed in. I could ramble here about how excellence and hard work aren't rewarded on a particular website, but this goes beyond YouTube and all social media platforms. Why is it that we've moved from a culture that was permissive with expression (to put it a certain way) to one where something even slightly outre is left to wither on the vine? (Okay, sure, you can find weird and shocking modern art, but probably a lot of said modern art is made to help sell people on the idea of Marxism or whatever, as opposed to something like Dilbert 3 [NSFW] which presumably isn't trying to push any message and just exists, well, because.)

Likely, you're already aware of how the modern Culture War has had its effects on pop culture and media, where any work that gets advertised on TV or pushed to the front shelves of your local bookstore or recommended online often has to fit in with modern sensibilities, so I won't rehash the history of that here. Creators often subscribe to various versions and formulations of progressive ideals, people will judge past works through the lens of today, and what was perfectly acceptable within the tits-n'-beer liberalism milieu of old is often scrutinized today.

There's also the other cultural aspects of this coddling/infantilization/whatever-you-want-to-call-it memeplex. Many Americans are becoming more and more like the hikikomori of Japan, one of the less-inflammatory ways of describing the current state of the battle of the sexes is that the male gender role has been razed and not rebuilt (this was the post that spurred this one, but this topic has come up before), and we may have accidentally re-invented segregation because it's easier to not interact with those outside our specific demographics rather than trying to interact with them and risk reputational homicide.

So, the question I have is: where did all this come from, and why? Is it what some call "safetyism," the impulse to prevent harm at all costs and take no risks whatsoever? Relatedly, is it because legal liability is treated as a mortal risk, because lawsuits can be a punishment in themselves? Is it because of the unkillable zombie Boomers who, even in their old age, and with all of the pains they've suffered in their long lives, keenly remember the trauma of troubled childhoods the most, and have used their power as the current generation of power-holders to make sure that no child ever grows up feeling hardship?* Is it some combination of all three things, where nobody really complains about the effect it has on the broader culture so long as some politician's (grand)kids are doing okay?

I'm not necessarily advocating for edginess for edginess' sake (though I think that could have value), but I think American society has somehow forgotten how to masterfully blend novelty, maturity, and creativity, and right now, it seems like the only people who take risks are the same people who can't handle them (or, at least, they tend to make a poor showing once they start doing whatever it is they do).

*Granted, some of the people responsible might be Gen Xers instead, such as YT's current CEO and possibly their content moderation team, too.

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Some of it reflects the modern youth being far more reviewable ('seeable-to-a-state') than any demographic in history, at far smaller scales, and social pressures encouraging that review. It's at least possible for every letter a kid types on a laptop to go to their parent or school IT administrator; meatspace environments are more often policed literally and figuratively to an extent that would make Victorian chaperones envious; I've written at length about MineCraft coming up with a fairly interesting approach to allow Microsoft to react to bad behavior on servers operated entirely by third parties. That shouldn't destroy an adult-and-later-teens focused environment, but various economic pressures favoring centralization (and funding and investment sources that are extremely coddling-favorable themselves) along with the aftermath of have split the visible internet more readily into a large all-ages, a small not-porn or mixed-media adult, and moderately-sized porn, and a vague gray-market environment.

((For an example on that hard-division: my Reddit account is marked as NSFW, and I'm 99% sure it's because I posted in /r/furrydiffusion, because there's two top-level posts in that subreddit that was porn, even though mine were not. This only happened years after my top-upvoted comment every was about gay sex, which did not. Which doesn't matter for me, except when I'm trying to look for a post of my own without being logged in.))

Part of it's that a lot of the media is economic, in ways that stuff in the way-long-ago of a decade ago wasn't. There are professional VTubers, and a larger number who at least cover (some of) their production costs; while a few people worry about demonetization or age restrictions for limits to their visibility, most do want and often need the money, and that money is coming through different means and approaches than present in the 00s. PayPal could (and would) close your donation account if someone put too horny a joke in the tip jar, but even if Boxu doesn't care, someone can end up getting attention that does (cw: FFXIV 5.0 spoilers) (though contrast here, cw: FFXIV 5.x raid spoilers, dick discussion, audio references to amazingly gifted crossdressers, and be glad that I'm not linking to the earlier 'gooch press' discussion which manages to be worse).

Some of this does reflect YouTube (and The Internet) being something different socially than its technical equivalents were in the 90s and 00s. The monetized half-million subscriber accounts are more similar to broadcast or a cable television stations in their relative size and position in the media ecosystem than they are the Wacky Newgrounds Animations, and the outside pressures change to reflect that. Rimmy's analysis is a little more obnoxious-sounding than the sort of reviews that the Comics Code or Hayes Code, if less for covered content and more because YouTube can't manage to keep the rules straight for a few weeks at a time.

Even for YouTube specifically, people who bite the bullet on demonetization can get pretty weird and NSFW (cw: furry, swears, adult humour, love-bombing, gay) without getting delisted from search or banned; even with the monetization rules I know of a VTuber (cw: furry, vtuber, adult humour, sex jokes, gaaaaaaay) that's been flogging his daikamura (discount code: KNOT) for months. Tits-and-beer liberalism has been replaced to an extent by tits-and-dick-and-beer-and-weed liberalism, but it's still there and for the not-interested-in-trans-women guys, some of it doesn't even have the tits and dick on the same person. When you go to less seeable-to-a-state places, things get weird quick even stuff that normally attracts the attention of Big Corporations.

Of course, there was a point where tits-and-beer was accepted even on the cable televisions. And it's pretty noticeable when you see things on YouTube looking at the same creator's own past (cw: sexual violence joke, people taking Dragon Ball Z's plot more seriously than its author). Understandings of what's funny and what is beyond the pale changed a lot. It's tempting to notice and frame that change solely through the Culture War, and that's certainly a vector, but I don't think it's the only or even controlling one: the terror under it all is a world crafted by lawyers and for lawyers, built not only of bubble wrap but with a prohibition on popping it.

And I say "crafted by lawyers and for lawyers" because some part of the vector is legal or threats-of-legal, but I think the underlying thing is deeper than that: there's a parallel to the 'seeing-as-a-state', where individual workplaces and fields of study teach different viewpoints of and approaches to measure the world, and that this starts to adjust your understanding of the world and risk. While not every lawyer does it, the overwhelming field encourages thinking about things in the sense of things like attractive nuisance and eggshell skull, where mere responsibility is not enough, even and especially when the doctrines do not cover the specific context. If you brought the LEGO lawyers in and said neither COPPA nor general law would or under CDA230 could hold them responsible for someone making a dick in their game, and that no sane observer would, they wouldn't care. If you told YouTube that they're censoring more heavily and arbitrarily than radio stations, they'd still point to the risk of getting pulled before the Senate.

It's tempting to call it risk-aversion, but it's more loss-aversion and of that a very specific kind. Even very likely benefits get scraped and even likely downsides are accepted where the change is too seeable. You mention even likely-unsuccessful lawsuits as a harmful on their own, aka the process is the punishment, but it's not even just the courts! The Twitter stuff is almost certainly due to the political valence of that moderation (most overtly, a common complaint was about all of the slurs showing up on the complainant's following page), but I don't think that's the sort of tooling that got thrown together overnight, or even had its first test case in this circumstance.

And once a tool exists -- even if its first uses were 'good!' -- it's very easy to be guided by the beauty of our weapons.

((and... I'm very suspicious that there have been behind-closed-door meetings encouraging this at the level of law or regulation; indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the bullshit Rimmy's running into is because the behind-closed-door meetings don't want to be too specific in a form that could be leaked but still want to get buttons pushed.))