Aquaman and Causation at The Everyman

That review I fisked last week sparked some thoughts in my mind about Progressivism and causation. The resulting essay appears today at The Everyman

First it must be noted that Aquaman is a very successful film. As of this writing, it’s made 265 million dollars in the US and close to a billion worldwide (according to boxofficemojo.com)—and it’s still going, sitting comfortably at number one in the US Box Office, while standing at a respectable 7.5 rating on IMDb. Objectively speaking, it’s not a great film by any means, but clearly people like it. Heck, I liked it, even with all its many flaws.

Now here comes the point: if it had been everything this reviewer apparently wanted it to be—a social justice driven, feminist-environmentalist tale where instructions on real-world politics and ideology served as the main themes—does anyone honestly suppose that it would have been half as successful as it is?

There are no hard and fast rules in the box office, but there are in philosophy, and one of them is this: if you change the cause, you change the effect. Aquaman is a very successful film because audiences enjoyed it, and one of the reasons they enjoyed it seems to be that it was so unabashedly escapist in its tone. If the filmmakers had changed that and instead opted for a self-consciously ‘relevant’ film like, say A Wrinkle in Time or Ghostbusters 2016 or Robin Hood, it almost certainly would have bombed just like they did.

Read the rest here.

By the way, since writing that, Aquaman has officially passed the $1 billion worldwide mark. He’s come a long way since the Superfriends.

First Post up at ‘The Everyman’

My first post is up at the new Catholic / Conservative commentary site The Everyman, which you definitely should check out. It’s only a week or two old, but there’s some good stuff there.

In our day, of course, telescopic charity has never been easier. We have television and the internet to bring us tales of want and injustices from all corners of the world to stir our heartstrings. Of course, sometimes this brings real help and attention to people who genuinely need it and who would never have received it otherwise. But there is another side to it, and it’s one that I think is too little addressed.

The fact is that modern media creates an illusion of immediacy where none in fact exists. It has a tendency to fixate our attention, whether in sympathy or anger, on people thousands of miles away whom we have never met and whom we in fact have no contact with whatsoever. But, because we so often hear about them and hear them debated endlessly on the news, we can come to feel like we are involved, and that we must show ‘charity’ to one side or another.

But such ‘charity’ typically doesn’t result in any concrete action for good or evil. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in one of The Screwtape Letters, love and hatred for distant public figures or the people we see on the news is largely imaginary; we do not know these people, they are “lay figures out of newspapers.” As private citizens, our scope for doing either good or ill to them is effectively non-existent. Outside those immediately present, not one person out of a thousand is actually going to have any effect on, say, missionary work in Africa or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nor does voting or campaigning change this; it may or may not be a good thing to do, but again any one person’s scope of action and consequent responsibility in these matters is so narrow as to not exist.

Read the rest here.

Dating a Feminist: A Fisk

I found a video mocking this list and I knew I had to have a go at it. The original is in italics and my comments are in bold.

14 Things You Should Know Before Dating a Feminist

She’s basically the most amazing person on the planet.

            Yes, that is the tagline. See for yourself. Needless to say, the article does not back this assertion up.

(by the way, Cosmo asked me to subscribe by swearing at me. Classy)

  1. You’d better be prepared to look at the world/movies/TV shows/everything more closely than you used to. There might be a movie that you really love that you never noticed was super-crazy sexist, and you need to at least be open to hearing her explain why it is and looking at it from another perspective. I dated a guy who hated when I would do this and you will never guess how quickly I dumped him because haha no.

            We’re off to a grand start: the very first thing you can expect when dating a feminist is that she’ll criticize you and/or something you love and you’d better not complain about it. Notice how she boasts of ‘dumping’ a guy who hated when she did this, as if it’s absolutely unreasonable to get irritated when your girlfriend keeps telling you that the things you like are ‘super-crazy sexist.’

            Note also that this is her idea of “looking more closely at the world:” searching for more reasons to be offended.  

2. If you don’t identify as a feminist already, you should figure out why that is before going for her. Do you think she should make less than you make for doing the exact same job? No? Then you’re a feminist. This is not difficult, Jeremy.

            This probably should have been number one, though perhaps she thought the first item was less ‘provocative.’ Or she just didn’t put any thought to logical progression. Probably that.

            Anyway, here she plays the trick of trying to force the other person to accept a certain identification, which she then can claim the right to define, effectively invalidating his right to argue with her. The game goes “do you believe this ostensibly reasonable thing? Then you’re a feminist. A feminist listens to women. Oh, you want to have your own opinion? I guess you don’t really listen to women, because if you did you’d think what I say you should. That means you really think women are inferior.”

            For what it’s worth, I’ve long since figured out why I’m not a feminist, and people like her are Exhibit A.

3. You’re not necessarily going to offend her because she’s a feminist and you paid for her tea. I had a guy buy me an iced tea once and he acted like he wasn’t sure whether to pat himself on the back for being such a good guy or apologize for acting like he owned me. My tea was $1.50, dude. Calm down. If you’re doing a nice thing because you want to do a nice thing, I will love that. Who wouldn’t?

            So, this is a woman who is so unpredictable and thin-skinned that a guy becomes nervous when he tries to practice basic politeness. She then makes fun of him for it. Notice how her reconstruction of his thought process is “am I a good guy, or did I act like I owned her?”

            A healthy person’s mind doesn’t even consider the possibility that, “he paid for my drink” could mean, “he thinks he owns me” (how on Earth would that even work?). Note the ‘not necessarily’ in the title and that her justification for not being offended being ‘it was cheap.’

4. Please at least know some basic women’s history. See: Leslie Knope being pissed Officer Dave didn’t know who Madeline Albright was or me being pissed that a guy doesn’t know what riot grrrl music is.

            Yeah…when she talks about knowing ‘women’s history’ and immediately cites a TV comedy referencing someone from the Clinton cabinet, that doesn’t really convince me she knows much history. This impression is reinforced by her other example being ‘riot grrrl music.’ That sure sounds like a turning point of history.

The thing is, this isn’t just a matter of making fun of these specific examples: it’s the question of why would she pick those? Even on her own standing, surely citing someone like Helen Keller or Susan B. Anthony would hold a heck of a lot more weight; instead her idea of history is…’riot grrrl music.’ It’s as if someone claimed to be a connoisseur of cinema, and as a proof said that her favorite movie is The Last Jedi.  

            As for basic ‘women’s history,’ do you mean people like Empress Maria Theresa, Queen Isabella of Spain, Princess Elizabeth of Hungary, Queen Christina of Sweden, Queen Victoria, Czarina Catherine, Abigail Adams, etc.? Or perhaps women like Theresa of Avilla, Hildegard of Bingen, Clare of Assisi, Scholastica, Joan of Arc, Catherine of Sienna etc.? That is, any ‘women’s history’ that extends beyond the 20th century?

(Also, remember that back in number one she dumped a guy for being annoyed that she was trash talking the things he liked. Now she gets mad that someone simply isn’t familiar with her pet interests)

5. “So do you hate men?” is a “joke” she has heard about 5,000 times. And if you make it, I will think you are both uncreative and kind of a dick. Like, are you serious? It’s not 1962 (and let’s be honest, no one thought it was funny then either.)

Judging by this list, that isn’t a joke; it’s an entirely reasonable question. I also note that she doesn’t answer it. 

6. She thinks she’s just as entitled to an orgasm as you are, which will make sex really fun if you’re good in bed or very confusing if you’re not. One time I literally sat on a hookup’s bed after they’d had an orgasm and said, “I didn’t come. I’m not leaving this room until I do,” and I waited. Ohhhh, I waited

.            Uh…no comment.

7. It’s fine if you hold the door for herJust don’t act totally shocked when she’s equally as polite and holds it for you. 

            The fact that she feels the need to assure him that she will not be offended if he holds the door for her is telling. Also, note how she immediately undercuts it by insisting that it’s just as polite for a woman to hold the door for a man, showing that she’s unsurprisingly missed the point. 

And wouldn’t it have made more sense to put this one alongside the one assuring us she won’t freak out if we try to pay for her cheap tea? 

8. She will debate anyone she meets who says they aren’t a feminist or expresses anti-feminist sentiments. It might be your dumb-dumb friends, it might be a random guy who said something shitty at a bar we’re at, but it could happen. I never pick fights with anyone, but I’m also not afraid to calmly call someone out for saying something bigoted and frankly, you shouldn’t be either.

            Not putting money on her debating skills, especially given that she immediately assumes any non-feminist must be an idiot. Also, note: “I never pick fights with anyone, but I’ll insult and attack anyone who says something I don’t agree with, even if he’s a stranger.” And she expects you to do the same, or else she’ll think you’re a coward.

9. You’d better be aware of what male privilege is and that you have it. One time my guy friend said to me, “Oh man, male privilege sounds nice. Wish I had some of that. Haha,” and I almost threw him across the room. It’s real. If you’re a guy, you have it. Next topic.

            A summarized version of this and the previous entry are “you had better not challenge or question anything I believe, however asinine.”

            Notice how she boasts of being completely infuriated when a man dared to say that his own experience doesn’t match her pre-conceived beliefs. She then bluntly declares “all men have privilege” and moves on. This despite spending most of this article detailing how she doesn’t think men have the right to disagree with her on anything.  

10. Any lingering anti-feminist beliefs you may still have can and will be challenged. And rightfully so. Ideally, you’d just take an interest in feminism on your own because everyone should, but if you’re going to be dating me, I’m definitely going to call you on the bullshit you may knowingly or unknowingly still say from time to time. Thank her for this. She’s going to save you from making a horrible rape joke in public (aka making any rape joke in public.)

            So, she’s going to snap at you for saying something she doesn’t agree with, you are not allowed to answer back (see previous two entries), and you ought to thank her for that.

            Also, note the assumption that either you kow-tow to being corrected on every minor violation of feminist orthodoxy or you’ll “make a horrible rape joke in public.” There is nothing in between. 

11. She’s happy to teach you about feminism if you’re happy to learn. If you think Beyoncé can’t dance in a revealing outfit and call herself a feminist, you are wrong, but I’m happy to explain to you why that is if you actually want to know. Why? Because I like you.

            Again (this is about the third time the same point is made), “shut up, stop thinking, and swallow whatever nonsense I tell you and be grateful for it.” Note the patronizing and patently false “because I like you. You’re stupid and pliable and do what I say, so I like you.”

12. Never, ever, ever tell her about how men are discriminated against too. This isn’t a competition for which gender had been treated more unfairly, but if it were, women will win every time.

            Love that; “this isn’t a competition, so just admit you lose.” 

            Yet again, she’s insisting that you should never challenge her beliefs or point out any inconvenient facts or allow your own experiences to contradict her precious theory. She doesn’t even want to hear about anyone else’s challenges or hardships: just shut up and listen to her problems (or, more likely, the problems of other people that she’s read about and applied to herself). Yours don’t count.

           And as noted with number two, the logical progression in this list is terrible; she jumps all over the place. This should probably have gone right after the one about ‘privilege.’

13. If you seriously believe we’re all equal and feminism is unnecessary, keep walking. Also, what are you even doing with your life? Clearly it is not “reading literally any news website.”

            The really funny thing is that she thinks ‘not reading literally any news website’ is a reason to question what someone is doing with their life. There is nothing better in life than feminism (sounds like an exaggeration now, but just wait), and life has no meaning if you are not obsessing over it.

14. She really, truly believes in equality for all.Feminists are the most amazing people on the planet because we believe in equality for all genders, races, sexual orientations, you name it.

            (“What? No, unborn children don’t count. Why would you even ask that?”)

            Seriously, would you want to date someone who believed anything less? No? Then it’s good that you picked me.

             Let me just repeat that:

            “Feminists are the most amazing people on the planet because we believe in equality for all genders, races, sexual orientations, you name it.”

            Ah, so feminists are “the most amazing people on the planet” because of something they believe? All you have to do is to believe in the right things and that makes you better than everyone else?

            So, feminists who ‘believe’ in the correct things and write articles about it are more amazing than, say, Marines laying down their lives for people they don’t even know?

            More amazing than the Missionaries of Charity ministering to dying children in the poorest regions of the world?

            More amazing than scientists making biomechanical arms for amputees?

            I guess so. For the feminist it’s “I thank thee, myself, that I am not like other people. I believe in equality.”

            Hell, the Pharisee in the parable was more amazing than that. He at least had actual works to boast of.

           This reinforces the idea that Leftism is the true heir to Puritanism: same principles, just applied differently. What you believe, not what you do, determines what kind of person you are. Only in this case, rather than the glorious truth of the Gospel, the saving faith is the asinine speculations of self-righteous academics high on Marx.

            Also, note the claim of belief in equality for all, despite the fact that most of this list has been variations on telling men that they have no right to question feminism, cite their own experiences, or even get annoyed when feminists attack the things they care about. I wonder what this writer’s views on double standards might be?

            But the most disturbing thing about this whole essay is the fact that she evidently doesn’t realize just how unpleasant, arrogant, and self-righteous she comes across as. Several entries are dedicated to telling men that their own experiences and hardships do not matter to her mind, and that they need to shut up and be grateful when she ‘corrects’ them or tears down something they care about. And her entire justification for all of this, and why she evidently expects men to want to date her, is that she has the correct beliefs.

            This is why I would recommend men being very careful about dating self-described feminists. Not so much for the content of their beliefs (though the ‘my ability to compete in the workplace justifies killing my own children’ thing is, shall we say, a stumbling block) as for the way so many of them seem to think that their views give them the right to be as cruel, capricious, and rude as they like. So many feminists seem to think that men have no right whatever to so much as question their views or even to talk about their own hardships. Men have ‘privilege,’ you see, so their struggles, experiences, and observations do not count. But if you dispute anything the feminist says, that means you’re ‘dismissing the experience of women’ and ‘mansplaining.’ 

Basically, feminist ideology encourages women to be simultaneously hyper-focused on their own grievances while dismissive of any that the man might have, and to make utterly unreasonable claims regarding what the man can and cannot say or do. I don’t even have to cite examples, because this attitude is fully on display in the above list, not only undisguised but held up as something the writer is proud of. Whatever the justification behind it, and whether adopted by men or women, this kind of attitude is deadly to relationships.

           I don’t care about social structures or ingrained power systems: it is not unreasonable to ask that you act like a decent human being.

            I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if ‘equality’ means anything, it means the same rules of conduct apply to all. That means you don’t get to simply dismiss someone because you think he has ‘privilege,’ and that you don’t get to be rude because someone else who shares a chromosome with you was treated unfairly at some point (or even because you yourself were once treated unfairly. It’s called being human).

            It also means that when you write a repulsively self-righteous piece like this, you get called on it.

Apu and Charlie Chan Syndrome

I’m long since finished with ‘The Simpsons’ outside of the occasional re-run, but I had to comment on this.

Apparently, the show has decided to drop the venerable character of Apu in the face of ‘controversy’ over his ‘blatantly racist’ portrayal. Said ‘racist portrayal’, as far as I can tell, amounts to that he has a ‘stereotypical Indian’ accent and works in a convenience store.

This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, but why is it that a certain segment of commentators seem to regard any non-White character with an accent to be a racist caricature, regardless of how the character is actually portrayed? I remember back when I watched ‘The Nostalgia Critic’ he did this all the time; like calling Fisher Stevens’ character in the ‘Short Circuit’ movies a racist stereotype because he…had an accent, I guess? Despite the fact that he’s portrayed as a perfectly decent human being and even takes over the role of human protagonist in the sequel.

I remember back in my corporate days we were forced to watch a video on ‘diversity,’ wherein we were shown a talk by an Asian gentleman who started off speaking with a very thick accent, then abruptly dropped it for a Midwestern-style voice. The idea, apparently, was that it was racist for us to assume he would speak with an accent. I pointed out that we only assumed that because he was in fact speaking with an accent.

Really, do the people who complain about this think that no one speaks with thick accents? Or do they think that finding accents funny is somehow ‘racist’? Because it’s not like anyone laughs at British, German, French, Italian, Texan, Minnesotan, or New York accents, right?

Isn’t considering a thick accent an ‘offensive stereotype’ insulting to people who actually talk that way? Doesn’t it imply that there is something wrong with them, if the portrayal of such an accent is taken as an insult?

As for Apu, the people behind this ‘controversy’ apparently missed the fact that part of the joke of his character is that he’s ridiculously overqualified for his job, possessing a genius IQ and a prestigious degree from an Indian university. The satire is that he’s stuck working behind a check-out counter because he’s Indian despite being qualified for much higher-paid work, but he still has an obsessive work-ethic. In other words, they’re complaining about the very stereotype he’s designed to make fun of.

There’s also the fact that he’s no more ridiculous than any other character on The Simpsons and much less than some. Again, he has a genius IQ, a killer work ethic, is a crack-shot, maintains a lush roof-top garden, and is personal friends with Paul McCartney. He’s cleans up at a bachelor auction and is as respected a member of the community as anyone (which, given the community in question, isn’t saying much).

This is what I call ‘Charlie Chan Syndrome’; where a character is assumed to be a racist caricature because of superficial qualities such as having a thick accent, regardless of what the character actually does (named after the ‘Charlie Chan’ film series, which featured an intelligent,  courteous, and professionally respected Chinese-American detective traveling the world and outsmarting predominantly white opponents, yet are often described as ‘racist’ somehow). This apparently only applies if the character is non-European. Thus a wise, polite, somewhat funny Chinese detective with a thick accent is racist; a wise, polite, somewhat funny Belgian detective with a thick accent is not.

This is a point we today often miss; how a character is objectively written, what he does and says and how he interacts with the story, is what determines what the character is, not what may or may not be going on in the world when the character was written. Charlie Chan is not a racist caricature because his race is never (at least in the films I’ve seen) portrayed as making him in any way inferior to those around him. The fact that he is played by a Swede and has a thick Chinese accent is irrelevant to that point. Likewise, the fact that Apu was written and voiced by a white man is irrelevant to the question of how he is portrayed on the show (you can legitimately ask why someone was cast and not someone else, or what the motives of the writers were, and so on, but that is a separate issue from what actually is portrayed on screen).

Anyway, The Simpsons has long outstayed its welcome, and as far as I can tell has been on a downward spiral for a while, but if they’re going to start rolling over and giving in to this kind of controversy, their end cannot be far off. More concerning is simply the fact that this kind of nonsense is actually taken seriously in our society.

Smile Fun With Captain Marvel

After writing my Captain Marvel trailer rundown I listened to some more commentary on the whole ridiculous ‘don’t tell women to smile’ thing. Among other things, apparently star Brie Larson personally responded to the ‘smiling Captain Marvel’ memes by going after the fans for being ‘sexist.’

If they’re not careful, “No Smiling” will be the film’s unofficial tagline.

No smiling 2.png

A lot of a film’s success is the attitude of the people involved, and if the lead actress feels the need to get angry at fans for poking fun at the trailer, then that’s really not a good sign. She could have played along, posted smiling pictures or herself, or said something like “man, they left out all the happy bits!” That would have caused the whole thing to be a net gain for the film and probably gotten a lot people who weren’t impressed by the trailer onboard. I’m sure someone like Dwayne Johnson or the ever graceful Gal Gadot would have done that, or at the very least have shrugged the whole thing off and gotten back to promoting their film.

In any case, I couldn’t resist having just a little more fun with the topic:

Smile2.png

 

(And for the record, my money is on the pony)

New Essay Up at the Federalist

Don’t particularly care for the title they gave it, but such is life. This one is a semi-sarcastic examination of the idea of ‘The Age of Faith’ as it applies to the modern age

Sample:

We’re not taught how to reason in school: we’re just presented with “right answers” and told to put those down. Science textbooks don’t delve into the complexities of research, competing theories, the long, hard process by which accumulated facts slowly create a clearer and clearer picture of the workings of nature. They just list the facts, laws, and theories as ready made, sometimes with an understated sneer at those who initially doubted them for failing to give the right answer.

It’s like this with most aspects of our lives. When was the last time you actually heard someone lay out the reasons why, say, racism is wrong, or democracy is good? We don’t make arguments, just statements of faith based on what we’ve been taught to say.

The trouble is that this kind of faith-based approach is very fragile (which is one of the reasons the old Christians didn’t use it). It’s apt to breed resentment and rebellion, and to crumble if the observed facts don’t seem to match the received doctrine.

We’re sometimes told with horror that half the country doubts evolution. Well, why shouldn’t they? They’ve been taught it as a matter of faith, not as a scientific fact dug out of nature through observation and reason. They’ve simply been told, in essence, “This is true and you’re a bad person if you don’t believe it.”

We should only expect some people to rebelliously turn their backs on it for that reason alone. Then again, there’s the fact that anyone of basic intelligence can see where evolution, as it is usually taught, seems to contradict the observed world around us. It doesn’t make sense that the vast variety, beauty, and efficiency of the natural world came about simply by random mutations that happened to be beneficial (I am told modern evolutionists generally think the situation is much more complicated and interesting than that). So, when forced to choose between the rather patronizing faith that’s been shoved down their throats or their own good sense, they choose the latter.

Read the rest here.

A Thought on Aretha Franklin

More specifically, on some of the responses to her death.

I’m a Detroit native, and for that city the death of Aretha Franklin is as the death of a home-grown President or war hero. She was a major and beloved figure in the city’s history and culture, all the more so because, unlike many of her contemporaries, she continued to make her home there after she made it big. Personally, I don’t have much interest in her music, but that hardly matters; the woman left behind a staggering artistic legacy and brought joy and inspiration to millions, and that counts for a lot.

The trouble, and the reason I’m writing this, is that I keep hearing commenters who seem to think that isn’t enough. They keep trying to talk about how she ‘changed the world’ or ‘changed the complexion of American music and society.’ Meaning no disrespect to her (and I suspect she’d agree with me), but this is nonsense. Black female singers were not at all uncommon or unpopular before Miss Franklin. In terms of breaking down barriers, Marian Anderson, a generation before, was probably much more instrumental than Aretha Franklin.

This is a problem I notice a lot when a major entertainment star dies; people feel the need to insist that their work had a significant social or political impact. That it ‘changed the world’ somehow, rather than simply being an excellent example of the craft. I remember the same thing was done when Prince died: articles about how he ‘changed the world.’

The problem with this is not just that it’s faintly ridiculous, but that it is actually rather insulting to the field of entertainment. It seems to imply that the real purpose of entertainment, the thing that makes it worth celebrating, is the effect it has on the socio-political landscape. Not whether it brings joy or inspiration or comfort to people, but whether it moves the social needle in the preferred direction.

See, to my mind the fact that Aretha Franklin was a fantastically gifted performer whom millions of people loved to listen to is far, far more important than any supposed social impact her music had. The latter will always be dubious at best (how can you possibly say objectively what effect a certain brand of music had on people’s opinions or behavior? Individuals would be hard pressed to definitively say that of their own lives, let alone some armchair commentator speaking about thousands upon thousands of strangers), the former is undeniable. The latter is, when all is said and done, ephemeral: social issues come and go (despite the best efforts of some parties to keep them on life support for as long as possible), but art and music remains. It may not always be as popular, but if it touches hearts in one generation, it will do so for as long as it is remembered. Great entertainment and great art are immortal, or at least much longer lived than socio-political matters.

Moreover, being a singer was her profession; the celebrate the fact that someone did her life’s work so well seems far more to the point than celebrating third-party speculation about how her work may have affected some other issue.

Basically, what I am saying is that entertainment has value independent of and superior to any kind of socio-political effect it may have had. I think most people would agree with me on that, but one would hardly know it from the way we tend to honor the passing of great entertainers. This is part and parcel of our tendency to subordinate all other concerns to the political, causing us to devalue the actual virtues of a artist’s work in a desperate grasp to talk about the same tired issues once more.

In any case, Mrs. Franklin left behind a great body of work that will likely remain beloved for generations to come, which is an enviable legacy. May she rest in peace.