Culture News

Ja Rule Needs a Friend (Who's Not in Prison)

At a recent show, the rapper urged the crowd to scream obscenities a him. Was this a cry for help or he just realized it's not 2000 anymore?

So, Ja Rule wants to clear the air with his fans.

On Friday, he paused his New Jersey show to ask if anyone had happened to watch the documentaries that painted him as a predatory con artist. The crowd generally responded with the sound that precedes a drawing and quartering in a town square. But Ja Rule was pleased, saying, "Ya'll might be a little mad… so get it out your system, 'cause we ain't gonna do this the rest of the year! Get your middle fingers up!" And like everyone's favorite camp counselor who smoked excellent weed, he made sure the crowd was flipping him off before he led a chant, "Let me hear you say… fuck you Ja Rule!"

After he finished the show without more fanfare, the anti-Ja Rule chant was posted to Instagram, where people were generally confused for the following reasons:

A) Ja Rule still has concerts?

B) Is Ja Rule 50 Cent now?

C) What songs does Ja Rule perform in 2019?

D) How much does Ja Rule miss Jennifer Lopez?

E) Wouldn't New Jersey chant "Fuck you" to anybody?

Ja Rule seems lonely for friends these days. With Fyre Festival's planners facing a $100 million class action lawsuit and Billy McFarland serving a six-year prison sentence for fraud, everyone involved in the giant con, including Ja Rule, has pleaded the fifth. But while Hulu's documentary only hinted that the rapper was deeply involved, Netflix highlighted Ja Rule's insight both before and after the fiasco. Both features have reignited public backlash against those involved, including the 42-year-old rapper, whose bland and pandering apologies convey a man who just wants to be liked.

In the immediate aftermath of Fyre Festival in 2017, Ja Rule took to Twitter to assuage people's worries about the young attendees' safety and, above all, deny any responsibility whatsoever. He posted, "We are working right now on getting everyone of [sic] the island SAFE that is my immediate concern...I'm working to make it right by making sure everyone is refunded...I truly apologize as this is NOT MY FAULT...but I'm taking responsibility I'm deeply sorry to everyone who was inconvenienced by this."

As of January 2019, no Fyre Festival attendee had received a refund from the festival organizers. A few had managed to successfully file disputes with their credit card companies to remove Fyre Fest charges as fraudulent. But in his defense, Ja Rule has been busy this year, as he'll soon begin touring with Ashanti. While he may not need the money as badly as the people who lost thousands at Fyre Fest, he does need his fans; they're his only friends who aren't in jail.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

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The Drug of Escapism: Why Gamers Can't Stop Watching Porn

Porn videos games and video game themed porn are suddenly on the rise.

One of the biggest things that sets Millenials and Gen Z apart from previous generations is their relationship with technology, a common critique being that video games have replaced real life for many young people, particularly young men.

It's true that many 20-and-30-somethings began playing video games when their brains were still malleable.This was before psychologists began raising concerns about the effect it may have on the brain, concerns that are now backed by a mountain of evidence. Frequent video game playing has been connected to a myriad of issues, including decreased life satisfaction, loneliness, decreased social competence, poorer academic achievement, increased impulsivity, increased aggression, and increased depression and anxiety.

These concerns have only been further highlighted in cultural conversation by the sheer number of people who play video games: 67% of Americans, to be exact, a number that has grown exponentially in recent years. Perhaps even more startling, according to Pew Research Center, 72% of men younger than 30 report playing games often. Scariest of all, Douglas Gentile, a psychologist who's been studying the effect of video games on the brain for decades, estimates that roughly 8.5% percent of young people who play video games in the United States are addicted — not including the number of people who are inevitably underreporting how much time they spend playing.

video game addicts

There's also plenty of evidence that video games can be a positive thing for brain development. According to Psychology Today, playing video games can help children develop "perception, attention, memory, and decision-making," as well as "logical, literary, executive, and even social skills."

But regardless of what side of the evidence you choose to believe, there's a new factor to consider in the conversation about video games' psychological effects: their relationship to porn. Most notably, according to a study by Laura Stockdale and Sarah M.Coyneif, playing an excessive amount of video games greatly raises your chances of becoming addicted to porn, and, likely, vice versa. This is because both sources of stimulus, primarily visual and aural, affect the same pleasure center in the brain, specifically the ventral striatum which helps elicit the good feelings you get when you do something good, can be done in the same environment (alone, in a technologically connected room), and are both sources of immediate satisfaction and escapism.

Prominent Stanford University psychologist, Phillip Zimbardo, conducted an in-depth study into 20,000 young men's relationships with video games and pornography. He said of the experiment: "Our focus is on young men who play video games to excess, and do it in social isolation - they are alone in their room. Now, with freely available pornography, which is unique in history, they are combining playing video games, and as a break, watching on average, two hours of pornography a week." He goes on to say, "It begins to change brain function. It begins to change the reward centre of the brain and produces a kind of excitement and addiction. Young men -- who play video games and use porn the most -- are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety."

As these commingled addictions develop, they soon (similarly to drug addictions) require greater and greater degrees of stimulation to get that same chemical release. But since these two addictions seem to affect similar demographics and often coincide with one another disproportionately, there's something that sets them apart from other forms of addiction. According to Zimbardo, porn and video game addictions are "arousal addictions," which differ from drug and gambling addictions in that the attraction is in "the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content." So while drug addicts need increasing amounts of a substance to get high, they still crave the same substance over and over, while arousal addicts need an increasing intensity and variety of stimuli, as well as more and more.

This leads to a desire for increasingly intense stimuli, leading addicts to more violent and bizarre video games and porn in pursuit of novelty. Fascinatingly, and perhaps disturbingly, while these addictions are interwoven, they used to require separate stimuli to satiate — but even that's changing. In an inevitable progression, the two addictions have begun to seamlessly merge in the form of pornographic video games and video game-themed porn, allowing an addict to satiate both needs simultaneously, setting off a veritable fireworks display of dopamine responses — at least until the viewer becomes desensitized. For example, Fortnite-inspired porn is apparently so widely consumed that "Fortnite" was one of the top 20 most-searched terms on Pornhub in 2018, and in 2016, when Overwatch rose to popularity, searches for Overwatch porn jumped by 817% in a matter of months.

porn video games

Perhaps even more distressing is the advent of porn video games, where players take an active role in the plot of the explicit content they're viewing, perfectly intermingling the already connected addictions. While some of these games show consensual sexual intercourse, many do not. For example, RapeLay, produced in Japan, is a game where a player plays as a disembodied penis to simulate rape of a woman and her child daughters over and over again. There was a massive outcry against the game when it was released, ultimately causing Amazon to stop selling it — but not before millions and millions of people purchased the game.

As an article on the topic in Men's Health points out, this trend of combining two similar and symbiotic addictions is understandable as video games already often feature hyper-sexualized characters, porn is being watched more and more on video game consoles, and animated porn allows for a level of fantasy live-action porn can't reach. If your brain is lighting up in a similar way when you play video games and when you watch porn, of course you'll begin associating the two. Throw in the feeling of power that comes with having control over the results of the stimuli, as a player does in porn video games, and you have a perfect chemical spider web, one that ensnares young men in an endless and isolating cycle of escape.

There are legitimate physical issues that can result from addictions of this kind. There's evidence that it can lead to debilitating sexual dysfunction in young men, called porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), a term coined by Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, an associate clinical professor of urology at Harvard Medical School — an affliction that can get worse as a video game addiction feeds off a porn addiction in a vicious cycle of dopamine release. Many doctors are reporting that more young men than ever before are coming to them with ED, and they think the cause is, at least in part, because of this rise in virtual escapism in young men. "I have absolutely seen a pretty drastic increase in ED rates among young men, especially in the last two, three years," says sex therapist Vanessa Marin. "My average client base is starting to get younger and younger."

man on phone during sex

Even more troublingly, Zimbardo concludes that the effects go even deeper, and that this toxic combination creates a "generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment." Of course, this estimation doesn't take into account countless other factors at play in the lives of young men, not to mention the risk that comes with shaming people for sexual exploration. As Dr. Marin goes on to say, "We're not having any conversations about what are healthy ways to engage in porn. So no one has a general sense of what's healthy and unhealthy when it comes to porn. And of course it's not black and white either, but I do see a lot of younger men engaging in porn in ways that aren't healthy, in ways that make it more difficult for them to connect with partners and make it more difficult to engage in their own healthy sexuality."

Perhaps the same can be said of video games, that are treated dismissively by parents, as a quirk of young men that should be, for the most part, discouraged until outgrown. Perhaps, the culturally polarized narrative surrounding video games and porn is part of the problem, and the conversation we need to be having is how young men can indulge in video games and explore their sexuality, without the shame that can often foster addiction — and without letting it consume their lives.

Film Reviews

Netflix's "Fyre" Is a High Class Documentary

5 ways Fyre is higher quality than Hulu's Fyre Festival documentary.


Hulu may have released its Fyre Festival documentary first, but Netflix's Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened is of a higher class.

Despite the questionable ethics of both production teams, director Chris Smith does justice to the Netflix legacy of well-structured documentaries with a human interest payoff. In contrast, Hulu's co-directors Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason aim to make lofty connections between Fyre Festival and millennial ethos that are sound on paper but a messy visual argument.

Both documentaries acknowledge the media storm of schadenfreude that resulted from one attendee's now-iconic Twitter post of the festival's "gourmet" dinner: "Literally slices of bread, cheese, and salad with no dressing." Of course, on the surface, the spectacle of rich, entitled millennials paying exorbitant ticket prices for a luxury music festival in the Bahamas and ending up sleeping in FEMA tents amused the public. However, both Hulu and Netflix examine the serious repercussions of the scandal and what it signified about our culture.

Here are the five key points that Fyre hits home better than Hulu's documentary.

1. Netflix Shows What Hulu Only Tells

At first, Hulu scoring an exclusive interview with Billy McFarland (conducted before he was sentenced to six years in jail for fraud) seemed to give it an advantage. However, Fyre Fraud's cobbled together footage from over eight hours interviewing a "compulsive liar" gives the narcissistic conman exactly what he seeks: attention with no substance. On the other hand, the clear upside of co-producing Fyre with Jerry Media is Netflix's extensive behind-the-scenes footage, which spans from the festival's early planning stages to McFarland's release on bail in a fraudulently acquired penthouse.

2. Ja Rule Knew

Among both documentaries' many scenes of McFarland and Ja Rule partying on the beach, Ja Rule's oft-repeated toast captures the naivety and blind-sightedness of the inexperienced festival planners: "Here's to living like movie stars, partying like rock stars, and fucking like porn stars!" However, while Fyre Fraud leaves a little room to speculate whether or not Ja Rule was kept in the dark about the disastrous planning, the interviews and recorded phone calls featured in Fyre show his frank denial of the facts he was exposed to.

In fact, the release of Netflix's documentary drove Ja Rule to post a slew of tweets that claimed he "had an amazing vision to create a festival like no other" but he was a victim, too. He posted, "I too was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked, lead astray!!!"

3. Everyone Denies Who Really Planned the Festival

Aside from Ja Rule's back and forth about his level of involvement, the festival's marketing company, Jerry Media (a.k.a FuckJerry on Instagram), has been accused of co-conspiring in the fraud. This is the first point of direct contention between the Hulu and Netflix productions, as Furst and Nason feature a former employee of Jerry Media who recounts how the company propagated a known lie–including deleting all Instagram comments that alluded to the truth.

In stark contrast, Netflix co-produced Fyre with the remaining members of Jerry Media. They claim they were also victimized and misled by Billy McFarland, with their interviews dotted with passive language like, "It was decided by someone...I don't know who."


4. The Disaster Up Close

For a real dose of schadenfreude, Netflix is the way to go. The combination of behind-the-scenes interviews and attendees' first-person footage paints the full, collapsing picture of the luxury villas and personal yachts the guests expected. However, Fyre's extended coverage of the fallout also highlights the more serious reality that hundreds of young adults were stranded on an island with no food, water, or transportation home. Footage of the campsite after nightfall with no light sources shows how rightfully the event was later described as "post-apocalyptic."

Page Six

5. Bahamians Were the Real Victims

To give Fyre Fraud its due, Hulu's documentarians use Fyre Festival as a dowsing rod to uncover the source of status and social media obsessions. In Furst and Nason's words, "McFarland's staggering ambition metastasized in a petri dish of late-stage capitalism, corporate greed, and predatory branding, all weaponized by our fear of missing out." One interviewee makes a pointed comment aligning Trumpian politics with the festival's deception: "It's a good time to be a conman in America."

However, Chris Smith's team tackles the human interest angle of how much the Bahamian economy and local workforce were damaged and exploited. Fyre underlines the dozens of laborers who worked nearly day and night for empty promises of pay. Interviews even detail how some of the festival planners felt the need to disguise themselves in order to escape the area, because in the immediate fallout, "mobs" of workers were demanding overdue pay (they never received any).

RolleThe Tribtune

One of the most memorable interviewees is Maryann Rolle, the owner of Exuma Point restaurant who unexpectedly received Fyre Festival's first wave of guests with less than half an hour's notice. This was due to the fact that the intended campsite was drenched, unprepared, and inhospitable on the first morning that guests arrived. Rolle seems genuinely pained during her interview, saying, "I had ten people working with me directly. They were just preparing food all day and all night, 24 hours. I had to pay all those people. I went through about $50,000 of my savings that I could have had. They just wiped it out, and never looked back."

In fact, Gabrielle Bluestone, one of the producers of Fyre, took to Twitter the day after the documentary was released to share Rolle's (legitimate) Go Fund Me page to pay back the expenses incurred by Fyre Festival. As of Monday, donations totaled at over $137,000.

Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.

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