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Don’t Use Nic Cage to Justify Your Creepy AI Porn, You Freaks

Here in the dumbest possible timeline, we are now and then arrested by a piece of news surreal enough in the current context that we wonder how it could be explained to a person living in, like, the year 2013. A recent Verge headline, “The people making fake AI porn have been temporarily distracted by Nicolas Cage,” is a perfect example.

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In case you are still in 2013 — I’d recommend staying there, by the way — let’s quickly get you up to speed: “fake AI porn” refers to a worrying trend among the type of neckbeards who watched the early Harry Potter films and talked about how hot Emma Watson would be when she grew up. These dudes hit the jackpot when a major data breach of Apple’s cloud services exposed nude photos from Watson and dozens of other celebrities, but the backlash was severe, criminal charges were filed, etc. Lately they prefer to create famous-people porn videos, called “deepfakes,” with deep-learning neural network apps that can recognize and sort among human features, allowing the user to transpose, say, Gal Gadot’s face onto the body of a porn actress. This hobby falls into a gray area, legally speaking, and achieves a disturbingly realistic effect that puts other smut-editing trickery to shame. But how does Nic Cage fit into all this?

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Several Cagean qualities have conspired to make the actor a favorite in meme communities. For starters, there’s his ever-unhinged presence, typically turned up to 11; one critic has described him as “a performer whose truth lies deep in the artifice of performance.” That is to say, he never disappears into a role — Cage is Cage, and you don’t forget it. Offscreen, he seems no less eccentric, spending millions on castles and haunted houses and even a prehistoric cave bear skull that he accidentally broke during a game of pool with Sean Bean (the pair then solemnly buried these remains in a field). Finally, there is his up-for-anything attitude, which can’t be entirely chalked up to his financial woes: He’s equally at ease in a Werner Herzog film as the goofy National Treasure franchise and, most importantly, starred in a beloved 90s action movie premised on the sci-fi concept of surgically switching faces with your arch-nemesis.

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So it’s perfectly logical for Cage to show up anywhere and everywhere, full of that familiar lunatic energy, especially for experiments in face-swapping. From 2009 to 2013, a blog titled Nic Cage As Everyone reliably churned out photoshops of Cage as historical figures, fellow celebrities, animals, and the stars of Nic Cage As Everyone, a movie in which — you guessed it — Nic Cage plays everyone. Where other memes fade upon reaching a point of supersaturation and thereby wearing out the joke, Cage gains power with his omnipresence, and in fact NCAE grew out of the conviction that “everything in life would be better with a little more Nic Cage, the most unique and versatile actor of his generation.” You simply can’t have too much of the man, because Cage himself is “too much” defined. As with his acting, less isn’t more — more is more.

Now, to return to the celebrity-fetishizing porn bros: When they aren’t splicing Jennifer Lawrence and Christina Hendricks into graphic threesomes, they’re using the same AI tools to insert Nic Cage into mainstream films. Cage has become such iconic characters as Indiana Jones, James Bond, T-1000, Loki, Forrest Gump, and Lois Lane. There’s been discussion on Reddit’s r/deepfakes board about developing a fully Nic Cage-ified movie — the purest realization yet of Nic Cage As Everyone’s core thesis. If this feels like an innocent extension of Nic Cage memes, that’s partly by design: as the Outline reports, a contingent of deepfakers believes novelties of this sort will help normalize software otherwise loaded with the potential for ethical abuse. It doesn’t hurt that web reporters, including yours truly, are eager to investigate and explain the trend.

But while other journalists rightly fret over the uncanny, privacy-bending porn these weirdos are concocting, I think they express inadequate concern for Nicolas Cage. The guy has given us so much himself, shredded so much scenery, and brightened so many corners of the internet already. Must he also serve as the unwitting mascot for horny dudes who’d rather masturbate to digitally manipulated video collages — which I can’t imagine he’d approve of! — than the perfectly good sex scenes less-famous women were kind enough to shoot? It’s like everyone’s getting ripped off at once, and it plainly dilutes Cage’s brand, stripping him down to a set of inert, disembodied looks that want for his unique voice and gestural flair. Maybe, were it just for shits and giggles, we could let it slide. But a meme crafted under the auspices of evil, a desire to exploit and a disregard for ownership of one’s image, shouldn’t be mistaken for harmless ephemera.

In this case, it’s proof that bleeding-edge tech is commonly positioned to gratify or elevate men while dehumanizing women. As Cage memorably shouts while smashing a rapist’s head against a wall in Con Air: “DON’T. TREAT. WOMEN. LIKE. THAT.”