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The Week in MEL: Robots that write, hats that don’t suck and dreams that can be streamed

“Talking to this bot about its own existence is blowing my mind a little,” tweeted Sarah Johnson in response to MEL’s Essay Bot, which texts with readers about bots (what else?). Created by journalist Kyle Chayka, the Essay Bot offers a choose-your-own-adventure approach to reading an essay, explaining to users why “Bots aren’t really bots at all” while gladly collecting data about them.

Why, dear readers, did you spend so much time engaging with the bot’s witty but mass-produced texts? Many mentioned “loneliness” as a motivation for prolonged interactions. “Useful” was the personality trait most desired by a bot, followed by “commanding.”

“‘Cute’ came last,” Kyle wrote. “Most users agreed that bots are mostly a convenient way to disguise human labor. In fact, some users felt sympathy for the poor bot. ‘Working retail enough, I certainly feel like a bot to some customers’ … was probably my favorite response.” But it was perhaps novelist Robin Sloan whose tweet best summed up our Essay Bot experiment: “In the future, you will~literally~argue with essays.”

Read Kyle’s intro and conclusion to the project. Text ESSAY to 203–872–5806 to meet the Essay Bot.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

MEL staff writer John McDermott puts (bad) fashion into action at the Kentucky Derby, trying on for size the identity of fedora bro for a julep-filled weekend. Read the full story here.

THREE QUESTIONS

“Social change happens when people don’t give a fuck,” Cyd Zeigler tells Staff Writer John McDermott on the latest episode of the MEL Interview podcast. Zeigler, co-founder of the website Outsports and author of the upcoming book Fair Play, certainly gives zero fucks. A brilliant contrarian, he says what he thinks, which generally isn’t what you’d guess and which has helped push forward the acceptance of gay athletes throughout the sports world ever since Outsports started in 1999.

Why don’t you think sports like baseball, football, basketball and hockey are homophobic?

We focus so much on homophobia in locker room sports. But that’s not it. I don’t hear anything about homophobia. All I hear is the overt heterosexism in sports and everything around sports. That’s actually the biggest hurdle that gay athletes face. It’s not the homophobia but the constant heterosexism. The constant talk about women and sex with women. It dominates locker room culture. It’s not that these sports are anti-gay, it’s that they’re so pro-straight.

But prior to the NFL draft, it came out that a coach from the Atlanta Falcons had asked a draftee about his sexual orientation as if that would somehow affect his draft stock or the team’s perception of him as a player. So it would seem like there’s more homophobia there than you’re letting on — at least within the NFL.

Even within that question, you’ve put a value of homophobia on the question that the coach was asking. I just don’t think that somebody asking someone else if they’re gay is a bad thing.

Those interviews are meant to suss out any potential issues that may arise from drafting this player so they ask very pointed questions. They’re not necessarily germane at all to their athletic ability, so why else would he ask it if it wasn’t for the organization being concerned about a possible PR debacle of drafting a gay player?

These interviews, the Wonderlic Test and the NFL Combine itself are so overblown by decision makers in the NFL. One of the things these coaches want to do is get cute. They want to trip you up. They want to see how you’re going to perform under pressure. They’ll ask you questions about women, drugs, sex, race, religion and everything else. Just to see how you’ll react. The Falcons probably think asking a question about whether a player liked men was this coach’s dumb choice to see how the player would react. So I think the assumption that the root of it was homophobia continues a false narrative that the root of sports is homophobic.

Listen to the full podcast here.

THE MEL MOVIE

What if the perfect dream weren’t fleeting? What if, instead, it could be replayed or remixed whenever and however you wanted? Making this happen is essentially the business plan of the Kiev-based company Luciding, which aims to become the Netflix of sleep. Last year, MEL Films spent some time at Luciding, trying out its signature product, the LucidCatcher — a headset that supposedly gives you control of your dreams via a minor electrical shock to your brain during REM sleep. The result is our latest mini-doc, Kiev Dreamers.

What the full film here.

THREE MORE PIECES TO KEEP YOU RELEVANT

Waze and Dads: A Love Story

Dads always hated asking for directions — until now

Into the Black: How I Cut My $118,000 Student Loan Debt in Half

After realizing she might never own a home, Kelsey Kronmiller started slinging ornaments on Etsy to help pay down her debt

So You’re Dating a Sex Worker

Seven ways to support your bae

CLOSING SHOT

Every year queer cowboys (and the people who love them) descend on Palm Springs, CA for a rodeo. MEL sent photographer Raphael Chatelain to document the scene last weekend, which included the standard bucking broncos and one seriously psychedelic nun.

Check out the rest of the photo essay here.