Digitizing Camp: Training a GPT-2 on "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"
“A sensibility (as distinct from an idea) is one of the hardest things to talk about; but there are special reasons why Camp, in particular, has never been discussed. It is not a natural mode of sensibility, if there be any such. Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” –Susan Sontag, Notes on Camp (1964) Sontag, whose essay was (and continues to be) revolutionary, would perhaps blanche at the way the word “camp” has entered the wide vernacular of common slang. In her writing, she defines Camp as something ephemeral and whimsical, yet also firmly grounded in the contemporary politics and queer theory at the time. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one of the most beloved and celebrated pieces of Camp art. It began as a West End stage show and was eventually adapted into a movie in 1975. Across the country and, in fact, the world, Rocky Horror inspired a “shadow cast” tradition, where performers recreate the film, lip-synching and dancing along in costume as it plays on a screen in the movie theater behind them. Moviegoers are encouraged to participate by dressing up, singing along, and heckling the performers with call-outs throughout the evening. Rocky Horror shadow casts are meant to be an empowering, inclusive, and liberating experience. After performing in the Rocky Horror shadow cast that took place on-campus at Kenyon this semester, I was curious to see if a computer could capture the “sensibility” of the film, to use Sontag’s word. At first blush, I would assume that a script so odd and unpredictable like Rocky, with incongruous musical numbers, inconsistent speech, and an alien subplot introduced three-quarters of the way through the film, would be too intangible for an AI to accurately replicate. However, I have learned a lot this semester about the capabilities of artificial intelligence, and I have found it astonishing. Using the cutting-edge technology known as GPT-2, the AI was trained to write short segments of film scripts that emulated the Rocky Horror script. I found that GPT-2 was in fact capable of writing short exchanges that could ostensibly have been part of the film. However, this was very dependent on the parameters used to generate the text set with GPT-2.
Groustra, Sarah, "Digitizing Camp: Training a GPT-2 on "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"" (2021). IPHS 300: Artificial Intelligence for the Humanities: Text, Image, and Sound. Paper 25.
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