A weird combination of pretty and grotesque

Friday, September 20th, 2019

Great 19th Century novelists seemed to think that physiognomy is real, and Steve Sailer suggests they had a point:

For example, the Movie Star vs. Rock Star polarity can be illustrated with famous actors. Tom Cruise’s square-jawed conventional handsomeness makes him an obvious prototype of movie star looks. And Cruise’s impressive competence at repeatedly delivering pretty good movies over an enormous span of time suggests that he really is as competent at his job (starring in movies that make at least $100 million) as he looks. I presume that Cruise is more or less the CEO of Tom Cruise movies, and he tends to deliver like a good CEO delivering another year of increased earnings per share.

In contrast, Johnny Depp, of the high cheekbones and delicate jaw, came to Hollywood in 1979 to be a rock star, a not unreasonable ambition due to how much he looked like numerous 1970s rock stars.

Rock stars tend to start as delicate, artistic, high-cheekboned, not terribly masculine heterosexuals who drive young girls wild. (How many burly rock singers have their been? The singer in Smashmouth, and probably some country rockers. But the classic rock band frontman is wiry.)

The youngest girls tend to go for the boy band practice boyfriend types like The Beatles in 1964, while the slightly older ones tend to go for the leering, concupiscent Rolling Stones in 1965 types. Tom Wolfe wrote in the mid-1960s about a Rolling Stone concert:

The five Rolling Stones, from England …, are modeled after The Beatles, only more lower class deformed. … The girls have Their Experience. They stand up on their seats. They begin to ululate, even between songs. The look on their faces! Rapturous agony! There, right up there, under the sulphur lights, that is them. God, they’re right there! Mick Jagger takes the microphone with his tabescent [emaciated] hands and puts his huge head against it, opens his giblet lips and begins to sing … with the voice of a bull Negro.

The classic rock star look is often a weird combination of pretty and grotesque, like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

But to be/stay a huge star, you need male fans. The young girl audience isn’t loyal. There is always somebody new. So rock stars often butch up their acts: Springsteen as working man, Petty as redneck, Strummer as Kiplingesque soldier of fortune.

It sounded alluring and conspiratorial

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

I haven’t read any of Brad Meltzer‘s thrillers (yet), but he name-dropped the CIA’s Red Cell program in an interview, and I was as intrigued as I was supposed to be:

Around midnight on Sept. 12, 2001, then-Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet summoned his chief of staff, John Moseman, and the CIA’s deputy director of intelligence, Jami Miscik, to his seventh-floor office in the Original Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia. In the aftermath of the previous day’s unprecedented terrorist attacks, senior White House officials were confident that there were additional plots against the U.S. homeland — and that the CIA needed to better anticipate the range of threats that officials should be prepared for. Tenet decided to form a group of contrarian thinkers to challenge conventional wisdom in the intelligence community and mitigate the threat of additional surprises through “alternative analysis.” On that evening, his instructions were simple: “Tell me things others don’t and make [senior officials] feel uncomfortable.”

The following morning, Miscik and two senior analysts formed the CIA’s Red Cell, which has been a semi-independent unit within the agency ever since. It is devoted to “alternative analysis,” which includes techniques like “what ifs,” Team A/Team B exercises, and premortem analysis, all of which are used to identify holes in a plan, model an adversary to understand their weaknesses, or consider all of the conceivable ways a plan can fail beforehand. The term “Red Cell” was chosen by Tenet personally; he believed it sounded alluring and conspiratorial. Previous comparable units had received limited time and freedom to truly think outside the box. As the recently declassified June 2005 CIA Office of Inspector General’s review of pre-9/11 analysis determined, there was only one example of alternative analysis produced by the Counterterrorism Center’s Assessments and Information Group, and its analysts “recall utilizing no alternative analysis, and ‘did not have the luxury to do so.’”

Analysts lack this luxury because they are absorbed in conducting “mainline” or authoritative analysis, which is intended to chronicle and interpret reality for policymakers. This includes “setting the scene” of the political dynamics in a foreign country before elections, estimating the likelihood of an event occurring, or warning about longer-term strategic trends. As Robert Gates, former deputy director of central intelligence and then director, proclaimed: “[Authoritative analysis] is the bread and butter of intelligence…. Policymakers value, depend upon, and have grown so accustomed to it that this must always be our focus.” However, Gates continued, policymakers become drawn to speculative and unorthodox views, “because when presented with the ‘school solution,’ they know the world isn’t that simple, and they mistrust people who tell them there’s only one outcome.”

Miscik recalled that the initial goal of the Red Cell was to get fresh sets of eyes to reconsider the range of terror threats: “We wanted creative people who could take the existing reporting and put it back together in different ways.” Or, as Paul Frandano, who co-directed the Red Cell during its first four years, put it more directly, “Tenet charged us to piss off senior analysts. If we weren’t doing that, we weren’t doing our job.” By design, the initial Red Cell did not include any terrorism experts and only had one Middle East specialist. Members were individually selected for their analytical capabilities, creativity, and unique mindsets. They were a mix of junior analysts, one mid-level federal employee, as well as senior CIA analysts, a National Security Agency analyst, and a CIA case officer.

Some senior analysts were, indeed, pissed off that nonexperts were questioning their work, while others later acknowledged they were simply jealous of the freedoms enjoyed by the Red Cell — producing three-page memos bearing titles such as “How Usama Might Try to Sink the US Economy” and “The View from Usama’s Cave,” in which analysts speculated on what might be going through Osama bin Laden’s mind. One senior CIA analyst, Carmen Medina, thought that the Red Cell was “way too masculine and way too white in its early days,” which “means they were certainly missing out on some developing world perspectives.” Meanwhile, others never saw the point. As Philip Mudd, the deputy director for analysis in the Counterterrorist Center at the time, recalled, “I didn’t object to what they wrote, but I would always ask, ‘So what exactly do you want me to do with this?’”

Her creepy imaginary friend is called Captain Howdy

Sunday, September 15th, 2019

In Primal Screams Mary Eberstadt cites former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, social scientist James Q. Wilson, and Elizabeth Marquardt, author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, to document how the Sexual Revolution created Identity Politics:

A writer she doesn’t mention, however, is William Peter Blatty, author of the blockbuster 1971 horror novel The Exorcist. Those who have never read the novel, or are familiar only with its 1973 cinematic incarnation, probably believe the book to be a potboiler about demonic possession. But it is also an allegorical warning about the importance of the traditional family unit and the devastation wrought when it breaks down. Curiously, this aspect of the novel went largely unnoticed by the book’s earliest reviewers.

Back in 1971, the advent of no-fault divorce laws in the United States was seen in liberal circles as an unalloyed benefit for society. Thus, the book critics for most of the mainstream publications that bothered to review The ExorcistTime, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, etc. — treated the book as either a modern day pastiche of Poe and Mary Shelley, or else as a traditional story of the battle between Good and Evil. What’s odd about this is that Blatty made no effort to hide his social conservatism. You don’t have to be a postmodern literary detective to find it in the subtext. Blatty was not a subtle writer, and he set his message out on the page for all to see, although very few have ever remarked upon it.

The Exorcist tells the story of Chris MacNeil, a recently divorced American movie star, and her 12-year-old daughter Regan Teresa MacNeil, whom Chris calls “Rags.” The story takes place in Washington, D.C., where Chris has rented a home a few blocks from the campus of Georgetown University. She is the star of a movie about unrest on campus that is being filmed at Georgetown. Neither Chris nor her daughter have yet recovered from the divorce. And Regan has begun to demonstrate troubling behavior (using obscenities, operating a Ouija board with a creepy imaginary friend, lashing out at the adults around her) that leads Chris to seek help and advice, first from psychiatric professionals.

Every few pages, the reader is reminded about the absence of Regan’s father. Early in the book, as Chris is hanging up a dress in Regan’s closet, she thinks: Nice clothes. Yeah, Rags, look here, not there at the daddy who never writes. Regan appears to be in search of a substitute for the father she has lost, and television seems to be one of the places she has been looking. Her creepy imaginary friend is called Captain Howdy, clearly a reference to two TV characters popular with children of the Baby Boom, Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody.

I was shocked years ago, when I learned from watching the DVD extras, that The Exorcist was written as a piece of pro-Catholic propaganda.

The supercomputer from WarGames has started reading Jung

Monday, September 9th, 2019

Jesse Walker of Reason has dug up a 1956 episode of the NBC radio series X Minus One, which adapts Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Defenders” — which I’ve covered here before. Here is Walker’s description:

It’s as though the false world in The Matrix is being run by the supercomputer from WarGames, which has started reading Jung and lecturing everyone about shadow projection.

Fiction was the most effective way to communicate the essence of totalitarianism

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Duncan White’s Cold Warriors looks at the writers who waged the literary Cold War:

He captures something essential about [novelist Mary] McCarthy, who during the Moscow Trials of the 1930s had defied New York’s Stalinist literary establishment and whose clarity about communism suffered a period of credulity during her fierce protest of American involvement in Vietnam. But a lapse is different from a lifetime of mendacity, and McCarthy’s late-career comment about the Soviet apologist Lillian Hellman — “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’” — remains the most famous line she ever spoke or wrote.

Mr. White’s massive volume begins with the Spanish Civil War, that savage proxy fight between fascism and the U.S.S.R. in the years before the brief, unholy nuptials of the Nazi-Soviet pact. The English poet Stephen Spender, handsome and well-intentioned, went to Spain out of sympathy with the Loyalists and to extract his boyfriend from an imprudent enlistment with the anti-Franco British Battalion. Harry Pollitt, head of England’s Communist Party, thought a dead Spender might make an attractive martyr, and when that didn’t work out converted his disgust over the boyfriend business into leverage for blackmail. Before long Spender “began shuffling backward to liberalism,” eventually contributing an essay to “The God That Failed” (1949), the famous volume of regretful ex-Communist essays edited by Richard Crossman.

Pollitt also distrusted George Orwell ’s motives for going to Spain. As Mr. White explains, “ Orwell said he wanted to see what was going on himself before committing to anything” in what had become “a civil war within the civil war.” When he threw in with Spain’s homegrown Trotskyist POUM instead of the Stalinist International Brigades, Orwell became anathema to Britain’s leftist editors and had a hard time finding a publisher for “Homage to Catalonia” (1938), the memoir of his Spanish experiences.

Throughout this period the Soviets were collectivizing poets and novelists into a Writers’ Union; enforcing the principles of “socialist realism”; denouncing European modernists like Joyce for apolitical experiments in form; and killing off their own new undesirables: The revered short-story writer Isaac Babel met his death after exhibiting “low productivity” of work that conformed to ideological standards. Mr. White unfolds the sordid tale of Soviet literary history through all its later decades of crackdowns, thaws and renewed panics; the shunnings and imprisonments and “internal exile” that claimed Akhmatova, Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn. Andrei Sinyavsky, who pseudonymously published fiction in Western Europe and in 1960 issued a manifesto against socialist realism, was put on trial in 1966 and sentenced to seven years in a labor camp. The New York Times, with its always keen sense of moral proportion when it came to the U.S.S.R., decried Sinyavsky’s treatment as “Soviet McCarthyism.”

The United States, Mr. White makes clear, came late but more subtly to the business of “weaponized” words. In 1950, a year after the Waldorf Conference, the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), with financing from the CIA, convened a rival artistic assembly in West Berlin. “Freedom has seized the initiative!” Arthur Koestler cried from the rostrum. Over the next two decades, while the U.S. State Department sent writers behind the Iron Curtain on speaking tours, the CIA secretly funded liberal magazines such as Encounter and helped conduct operations like the one that got “Doctor Zhivago” into the hands of Soviet readers. Russian visitors to the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair could quietly obtain a smuggle-ready copy from the Vatican pavilion.

The writers sent abroad by State (Mary McCarthy among them) were hardly middlebrow boosters of Dwight Eisenhower, and a sophisticated irony resided in how “the dynamics of the Cold War made the [U.S.] government the champion of difficult elitist art — that of James Joyce, Jackson Pollock and William Faulkner — in large part because it was banned in Moscow.” Frank Wisner, who directed the CIA’s covert cultural ops, knew that liberal essays published in Encounter would have more credibility and democratic impact than right-wing huzzahs for America. Indeed, Peter Coleman ’s history of the CCF, “The Liberal Conspiracy” (1989), points out how the organization “kept its distance from political conservatism . . . magazines like the American National Review were considered outside the pale.”

The most mournful realization generated by “Cold Warriors” involves the since-diminished potency of literature itself, particularly the novel. Mr. White argues that Koestler’s “Darkness at Noon” (1940) revealed to Orwell “that fiction, rather than journalism or memoir, however scrupulous, was the most effective way to communicate the essence of totalitarianism.” Before long Koestler would be pronouncing “Animal Farm” a “glorious and heart-breaking allegory.” Even the Queen Mother read it. A few years later, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949) became “not just a novel about the emergent Cold War” but “a part of it.” Orwell may have disliked attempts to turn him into a mascot for capitalism — something that Solzhenitsyn, too, would have to resist — but it was the wide appeal of serious-minded fiction that made him such an attractive ally. Mr. White’s book opens with the CIA, in 1955, making “copies of… Animal Farm rain down from the Communist sky”; they’d been launched toward Poland, in “ten-foot balloons” from West Germany — a genuinely strategic act, not just a gesture.

A star shines at the hour of our meeting

Friday, August 16th, 2019

Lee Pace, who played the elf king Thranduil in the Hobbit movies, tried to greet Stephen Colbert appropriately:

Netflix is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce big-budget films

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

Netflix is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to produce big-budget films:

Earlier this month, Netflix agreed to spend nearly $200 million to make the Dwayne Johnson action movie “Red Notice,” which will be filmed next year at exotic locations and also stars Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, the people said. In addition, a person familiar with the matter said, Netflix plans to release later this year “6 Underground,” a Michael Bay-directed action film that is costing about $150 million, and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

The latter film might be the company’s riskiest bet. “The Irishman,” a historical drama likely to appeal only to adults interested in serious subject matter, costs as much as some all-ages action-adventure movies because of cutting-edge visual effects that allow stars including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci to appear at different ages. People close to the picture said Netflix’s total commitment is at least $173 million, with some going above $200 million, making “The Irishman” the most expensive adult drama in recent history.

Netflix has previously said about one-third of its total viewing is movies, rather than television series.

[...]

Netflix has been picking up many film projects Hollywood studios didn’t see as commercially viable at the box office, at least at the same budgets. Recent examples include Sandra Bullock’s post-apocalyptic movie “Bird Box’” and the jungle-heist flick “Triple Frontier,” starring Ben Affleck. Neither was a standout with critics, but “Bird Box” drew 80 million viewers during its first month and “Triple Frontier” has been watched 63 million times since its March release, the company said, making them Netflix’s first and fifth most popular original films, respectively.

Netflix bought the rights to “The Irishman” after major studios passed because of concerns that it was too expensive for a drama, a genre that has struggled at the box office in recent years. The producers were in the midst of raising independent funds to make the film when Netflix entered. “Without Netflix, ‘Irishman’ would not have been made,” said one of the people close to the movie. “I just don’t see [other] studios wanting to dive into these projects any more. I think they are staying away from the riskier, more mature films, especially dramas.”

The Duffer Brothers explain every major movie reference in Stranger Things

Saturday, August 10th, 2019

The Duffer Brothers explain every major movie reference in Stranger Things:

The dark side of Japan’s anime industry

Sunday, July 28th, 2019

According to this Vox piece on the dark side of Japan’s anime industry, animators there don’t make a living wage, despite being in great demand:

Shingo Adachi, an animator and character designer for Sword Art Online, a popular anime TV series, said the talent shortage is a serious ongoing problem — with nearly 200 animated TV series alone made in Japan each year, there aren’t enough skilled animators to go around. Instead, studios rely on a large pool of essentially unpaid freelancers who are passionate about anime.

At the entry level are “in-between animators,” who are usually freelancers. They’re the ones who make all the individual drawings after the top-level directors come up with the storyboards and the middle-tier “key animators” draw the important frames in each scene.

In-between animators earn around 200 yen per drawing — less than $2. That wouldn’t be so bad if each artist could crank out 200 drawings a day, but a single drawing can take more than an hour. That’s not to mention anime’s meticulous attention to details that are by and large ignored by animation in the West, like food, architecture, and landscape, which can take four or five times longer than average to draw.

[...]

According to the Japanese Animation Creators Association, an animator in Japan earns on average ¥1.1 million (~$10,000) per year in their 20s, ¥2.1 million (~$19,000) in their 30s, and a livable but still meager ¥3.5 million (~$31,000) in their 40s and 50s. The poverty line is Japan is ¥2.2 million.

[...]

Anime’s structural iniquities stem back to Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy and the “god of manga.” Tezuka was responsible for an endless catalog of innovations and precedents in manga, Japanese comics, and anime, onscreen animation. In the early 1960s, with networks unwilling to take the risk on an animated series, Tezuka massively undersold his show to get it on air.

“Basically, Tezuka and his company were going to take a loss for the actual show,” said Michael Crandol, an assistant professor of Japanese studies at Leiden University. “They planned to make up for the loss with Astro Boy toys and figures and merchandise, branded candy. … But because that particular scenario worked for Tezuka and the broadcasters, it became the status quo.”

How much work can a young animator produce in one year for $10,000? I’m tempted to come up with a project.

Storytelling begins with a kind of empathy

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

Storytelling begins with a kind of empathy, Neal Stephenson explains, in his conversation with Tyler:

I think that part of it begins with empathy because, in order to tell somebody a thing, you need to know and understand what it’s like to not already know that thing, which seems kind of obvious.

Little bit of a tangent here. For a while, my kid was on a soccer team, and we had a group of parents who would organize going to these different soccer games all over the city, each one at a different field. These different parents would write emails. This was before mapping systems were good, so parents would take turns writing emails, telling you how to get to the soccer field.

The range of skill was amazing. You would get people who just couldn’t do it, couldn’t make a very simple description of how to go from point A to point B, and others who wrote these amazing, almost like little short stories about it.

I started thinking about it then, and thinking that the thing that distinguished the people who were good at it was that they were capable of putting themselves in the shoes of somebody who didn’t know how to find that field and imagining what it would be like to try to navigate that route. And those people were good at it.

There’s no reason to trot out the old cultural chestnuts

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

Screenwriter Tony Tost is spooked by how a living, breathing cultural memory is seeming to evaporate:

My pet theory is that the reason so many younger Americans have apparently no awareness of singers, movies, TV shows, or writers from before their teenage years is because their parents (my generation) have been over-indulgent in letting them only access culture that’s directly marketed to their age group. Streaming technological delivery systems probably contribute to this: for a lot of families there’s no reason to trot out the old cultural chestnuts because the newest freshest thing is right at their fingertips.

So it’s no wonder younger folks don’t have any cultural memory or taste for aesthetic adventure. In pre-school their parents played the most recent kids’ music in the car for them instead of the older music the parents actually wanted to listen to. And at home the kids only watched kid-centric youtube channels or superhero or Pixar movies instead of suffering through dad’s weird favorite old movies. So when the kids hit elementary school, they only have ears and eyes for whatever was being marketed to their age group that year. The same thing carried forth to junior high, high school, and beyond. So at what point would they have discovered who Akira Kurosawa or Billie Holiday or even Robert Redford might be? Every step of their development they’ve been trapped in the pre-packaged bubble of the new.

I think we deprive our kids if we don’t make them put up with listening or watching things that only the adults really like. Older and adult art forces them to get out of their comfort zone and deal with a little ambiguity and thematic density and encounter shit that wasn’t manufactured for their immediate effortless consumption. It might even make them develop what John Keats called “negative capability,” the capacity for “being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” With older art, they have to find value and pleasure in something that wasn’t necessarily made for them. I think that’s healthy as hell. And because it’s not happening very much anymore, I’m afraid we’re producing emptier, more fragile, less intellectually and aesthetically adventurous adults.

Why do you need to bring a clean-limbed fighting man all the way from Earth?

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

We waited 100 years for Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars to be made into a movie, and I waited another seven years for it to come to Netflix before checking it out. I vaguely recalled that John C. Wright might have a good explanation of where exactly it went awry:

John Carter is the prototype, archetype, and stereotype of what a earthling hero should be: stalwart, honorable, manly, devout, courageous to the point of recklessness, but carrying the civilized values of Earth to those older planets, like Mars, whose inhabitants of dry sea bottoms and super-scientific ancient cities have forgotten the finer and nobler sentiments of civilization in their eon-old decay, or carrying the civilized values of Earth to those barbarian and younger worlds like Venus, whose inhabitants of dinosaur infested and cave-men haunted swamps and cycad jungles have not yet learned them.

What John Carter is not, and never has been, is a reluctant hero, someone unwilling to fight. That point is emphasized over and over again in the books, even from the first scene where Carter rushes headlong into an armed Apache camp to recover the body of his friend, tortured to death at savage hands.

The book very carefully shows the progression from captive to war-leader among the barbaric and savage six limbed Green Men of the dead sea bottoms of Mars. John Carter, in one feat of arms after another, impresses the Tharks, obeys their savage rules and violent customs, and rises in their ranks, earning first their reluctant and then their enthusiastic respect.

Likewise, the savage calot or Martian dog Woola, Carter treats with compassion and respect, and wins the simple and savage creature’s simple and savage love.

One of the most touching and moving things of all, however, is the discovery of Sola, the one Green Martian women of all the race who knew the love of her mother and the identity of her father. It is carefully explained in the book that the Tharks and other Green Men raise their eggs communally, weeding out the weak ruthlessly, and distributing the hatchlings to nurses who have no motherly affection for their charges. The inhuman system breeds the whole race, deprived of family love, a deep seated cynicism, bitterness, and lust for death, an unparalleled savagery.

And John Carter from the outset of his advent on Mars is willing, nay, eager to fight to the death with a grin on his lips and a light in his eye, for trifles of honor or for the all-important love of his life, whom he loves at first sight, and awkwardly cannot bring himself to woo, the incomparable Dejah Thoris.

The one thing John Carter in the books is not, is unwilling or unready to fight.

The John Carter in the movie is so exactly opposite this that I was dumbfounded.

[...]

The notion of a reluctant hero is not itself a wrong notion. But it is so wrong, so very wrong, for the formula of a Space Princess novel.

Let me tell you the formula:

In a Space Princess novel, or a Planetary Romance, you take an Earthman who is supposed to represent every man, especially every man who feels hemmed in by the growth and overgrowth of civilization.

You transport him by plot device to an unknown and alien planet, but not a scientifically realistic alien planet, where he would no doubt fall over choking on methane gas or freeze instantly in sub-arctic cold, no, the planet, for some reason that need not be explained, is as similar to the ancient Rome or ancient China or ancient Babylon as you can possibly get away with, so that you can have opulently rich cities in one spot and barbarian hordes following herds of space animals covering countless miles of prairie or steppe. You can have rayguns or radium guns provided they are not the weapon of choice: the weapon of choice is the sword.

There is a princess, who is not merely gorgeous, she is the most beautiful woman on two worlds, and the Earthman, without knowing anything about the customs, rules, politics, wars, laws of physics, lay of the land, or whathaveyou falls instantly and totally and absurdly in love with her, and slaughters her enemies like a Cuisinart blender on overload, spraying gallons of blood and severed limbs in each direction. Space Princess is abducted, preferably by a blackhearted villain eager to violate her honor and marry her against her will, so the hero has all the most primal motivations every primate can understand.

There is one other element. The hero has to be an Earthman who is disgusted with the lack of honor found on modern earth, and who therefore fits in well, nay, fits in perfectly with the glorious barbarian codes of honor of the far world to which fate casts him.

Got it? Good. That is how you write a Space Princess yarn.

The one thing, I would say, the only thing, you cannot have in a Planetary Romance or Space Princess novel is a reluctant hero.

[...]

Unlike the real Carter, the movie version, whom I will hereafter call Anticarter, voices the cynical comment that the human race is corrupt, and is willing to jump through windows and turn horse thief to avoid a fight.

Because the movie makers have politically correct gunk between their ears instead of brains, when the Apaches do come on stage, a panicky White Man shoots one of them during a parley, thus showing the White Men are both cowardly, and dishonorable, and undisciplined, and the Injuns are the victims.

Well, at least the Indians get to kill a few White Men to show that they are not the helpless victims the PC niks would like them to be.

Once on Mars, John Carter spends half the film trying to go home, not because he had anything at home, but because he has found a cave of gold, and wants to return to his empty life and spend his money — perhaps the least noble motivation every devised in the history of moviedom for an alleged good guy. Even Han Solo the pirate had a bounty to pay off.

I forgave all my misgivings for exactly one second. When Dejah Thoris, her airship shot down over the Thark territory, falls screaming, John Carter, whose Earthly muscles allow him to make prodigiously superhuman leaps under the lesser gravity of Mars, leaps hundreds of yards to catch her in midair. Landing, he then faces the scores and scores of foes, places the maiden behind him, and says, “Stay behind me ma’am, this could get dangerous.” And draws his sword.

I swear my chivalrous heart swelled with pride to bursting. For a moment, I was deceived into thinking the movie makers actually understood and even liked John Carter and what he stood for.

It was as if I heard trumpets blare, and a voice call out: And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods? For thee, my princess crowned, this sword I lift, or this life lay down.

But, of course, it was a hoax, a joke.

Xena the Warrior princess, Amazon, the equal of any man with a blade, shoves the stoopid male chauvinist pig to the side, and with the same realism of a story in which a dainty female cheerleader tackles the biggest professional linebackers in the NFL, makes mincemeat in short order of the baddies.

The line is repeated later in the movie, when Dejah Thoris tells Steve Trevor (or whoever it was — it sure aint John Carter) to step behind him. This was gratuitous, just to rub my nose into the “PC-fact” that chivalry toward the gentler sex is stupid and ugly, and women are as tall, and strong and hairy and aggressive as men, and love bloodshed just as much.

And the line was repeated to emphasize the fact the Hollywood, and all right thinking people, mock and hate the notion that men want to protect our lady wives, mothers, sisters, and fair daughters from the misery and ghoulish slaughter of combat.

(Note on neologism: a “PC-fact” is like a “fact” in that it is asserted with every authority that can be invented or garnished, but unlike a fact in that it is not merely untrue, but a an insolent and deliberate opposite of the truth.)

Don’t get me wrong, Dejah Thoris in the book is no shrinking violet or fainting damsel. Barsoomian women always carry a dagger or a radium pistol, and are not afraid to use them, and there is at least one scene (it is Tara of Helium in CHESSMEN OF MARS) where a masher trying to impose upon the honor of the gorgeous half-unclad Martian princess ends up with the girl’s stiletto in his liver, dead in one stroke.

Martian women are not supposed to be weak sisters. They are “with your shield or on it” style Spartan women. But the Martian Men are supposed to be Spartans and Apaches, this is, the most ferocious fighting men imaginable, training in arms from before they can walk, and none of them dying of old age in bed. If you want to show a Martian princess slaughter a room full of blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers from France, fine, I’d believe that. But not fighting warriors of Mars from the blood-colored planet of the war god and emerging without a nick on her perfect skin or her hair mussed.

But, being a modern movie, there were females in combat, the very persons no real race dying of loss of planetary water would expose to combat. They were in the background and foreground of several scenes, well displayed in their bosom-shaped chest plates and a full head shorter than the male soldiers around them. Every time my eye fell on one, I was jarred out of the movie.

[...]

Again, don’t get me wrong: the Martial Maiden is a trusty, tried and true trope of the epic genre. From Camilla to Britomart to Supergirl, I have no objection to reading about or seeing cute little girls cutting heads and limbs off of men bigger and bulkier than they are. All I ask is that there be some explanation to overcome my suspension of disbelief. Let the girl have been trained by the Ancient Masters of Tibet, or a blessing from their father the war-god Ares or from the Primordial Slayer, or make her from planet Krypton (or Argo, if you insist) or give her a magical golden lance. Anything will do.

But if you make the Space Princess face a problem she can solve by herself, for what the hell reason do you need to bring a clean limbed fighting man all the way from Earth, across the abyss of space?

The marvel of advancing through life’s stations

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019

Much of our pop culture is made by and for folks who rate high on openness, the sort attracted to novelty — world travels, new drugs, and so forth — but not country music:

Emotional highlights of the low-openness life are going to be the type celebrated in “One Boy, One Girl”: the moment of falling in love with “the one,” the wedding day, the birth one’s children (though I guess the song is about a surprising ultrasound). More generally, country music comes again and again to the marvel of advancing through life’s stations, and finds delight in experiencing traditional familial and social relationships from both sides. Once I was a girl with a mother, now I’m a mother with a girl. My parents took care of me, and now I take care of them. I was once a teenage boy threatened by a girl’s gun-loving father, now I’m a gun-loving father threatening my girl’s teenage boy. Etc. And country is full of assurances that the pleasures of simple, rooted, small-town, lives of faith are deeper and more abiding than the alternatives.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

The top 20 most watched shows on Netflix include only a few “originals”

Monday, July 8th, 2019

I’m not sure I’d say that ‘Stranger Things’ helps illustrate the flaws in Netflix’s strategy:

Last year, Netflix shelled out more than $12 billion to purchase, license and produce content. This year, that figure will rise to $15 billion. It will spend $2.9 billion more on marketing. These costs come as Netflix is expected to report $20.2 billion in revenue in 2019, according to analysts surveyed by Refinitiv.

[...]

From 2012 to 2016, Netflix subscriptions in the U.S. grew about 5% each year and spiked by 10% in 2017. However, in 2018, domestic memberships only grew about 3.6%.

Internationally, Netflix has grown its subscriptions to nearly 81 million, up from just 1.86 million in 2011. Since 2015, the company has seen double digit growth in this area. Altogether, the company has just under 150 million subscribers.

Also, of the top 20 most watched shows on Netflix, six are “originals,” but only one of those are actually owned by the company, according to data from Nielsen and Pachter.

Top 20 Shows on Netflix in 2018 by Minutes

I knew I was odd, but I guess I don’t watch any of Netflix’s top shows.

How would fifty guineas for a night’s work suit you?

Friday, July 5th, 2019

I was listening to Stephen Fry’s narration of “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb,” when the young (unemployed) engineer at the center of the story was offered 50 guineas for a night’s work:

The guinea was a coin of approximately one quarter ounce of gold that was minted in Great Britain between 1663 and 1814. The name came from the Guinea region in West Africa, where much of the gold used to make the coins originated. It was the first English machine-struck gold coin, originally worth one pound sterling, equal to twenty shillings, but rises in the price of gold relative to silver caused the value of the guinea to increase, at times to as high as thirty shillings. From 1717 to 1816, its value was officially fixed at twenty-one shillings.

When Britain adopted the gold standard the guinea became a colloquial or specialised term. Although the coin itself no longer circulated, the term guinea survived as a unit of account in some fields. Notable usages included professional fees (medical, legal etc), which were often invoiced in guineas, and horse racing and greyhound racing, and the sale of rams. In each case a guinea meant an amount of one pound and one shilling (21 shillings), or one pound and five pence (£1.05) in decimalised currency.

One pound in 1892 has inflated to well over 100 pounds today, so 50 guineas would be worth over 6,000 pounds in 2019.