This is Week 3, day 2 of my new 13 Weeks Radical Reading Experiment. I keep a daily journal of the most interesting media that crosses my path each day. See or create something I should check out? Email me at [email protected]
1. Andrew Klavan here at PJM: Does Her Deserve An Oscar?
But Her is not one of those movies. It’s bad. Its plot — a guy falls in love with the artificial intelligence of a new computer operating system — is an already played-out and unoriginal version of Pygmalion. (See everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2002′s Simone). Its characters are collections of ideas rather than actual personalities — even the wonderful Amy Adams has to struggle to make her cliched nothing of a part come to life. And, most importantly, its central performance is just brutally dull.
Without that sort of skill from its lead actor, a film like Her is just a charmless display of intellection. Which is all right for critics, I guess, if they’re not very good critics. But for humans? Pass.
Andrew, I have to admit it: your review yesterday inspired me. Recalling our occasional disagreements over movies and TV — which I still attribute mostly to our differing generational perspectives — the thinking went something like: “If Klavan hates it that much then maybe I’ll really like it!”
Last night April and I went to the ArcLight. I suggested four potential movies: Gravity 3D in IMAX, Saving Mr. Banks, Frozen, and Her. April picked Her — which really surprised me. And we both liked it — me more than her. She overall found it enjoyable — a good B-level movie worth seeing once but nothing special. I was more enthusiastic. As a singularitarian who thinks seriously about how biological and artificial intelligence will interact in the coming decades, I found it a thoughtful, well-shot fable.
And while you couldn’t relate to the main hero and his phone-based emotional life, I kind of could. It was great to go on this date with April last night; in the two weeks following our family Christmas visit we were separated while she put on a successful solo art show in the Bahamas and I hammered away at the book manuscript. So remember those scenes in Her with Theodore running around with the camera showing Samantha the world? That was me and our Siberian Husky running through the park the last few weeks, smart phone extended filming, sharing the emotional experience through a technological medium to connect with another person thousands of miles away. Where Her gets challenging is in taking the common experience we have today of using smart phones to channel our emotions and then asking the Turing Question: how do you know if the person you’re communicating with is a real person? What does it mean when you can no longer tell?
So what does it make me that Her is my best picture pick so far? Not a very good critic? Too influenced by America’s corrupt popular culture without even realizing it? Somehow less than human? You did say that humans should pass and I know that it was just a joke, but yeah, I’m a believer in Kathy Shaidle’s “nobody is ever just kidding” philosophy.
But that’s alright. I’m not offended. In my previous life as a film obsessive working at an art house movie theatre and writing weekly film reviews, the secret that came to me which I submit to you and everyone else for debate: if you don’t like a movie the first time you see it and a whole lot of other people (who are generally smart and thoughtful and whose advice you trust) do like it, then maybe you should just watch it again. Maybe you didn’t get it.
As I emailed you after your questioning review of Inside Llewyn Davis, I meant to write a blog post arguing that the Coen brothers are the primary example of this phenomenon. (They’re also my pick for your generation’s greatest filmmakers.) I didn’t like Fargo and The Big Lebowski the first times I saw them. It took a few viewings for them to unfold and for me to pick up on just how much they offer. All of the Coen brothers’ movies seem to be like that. Some — like No Country for Old Men and True Grit — hit you with their greatness immediately and obviously. But all the others just get better with each viewing. (Her‘s writer-director Spike Jonze falls into the same camp — Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Where the Wild Things Are reward repeat watching.)
And honestly, I think that’s my definition of what it takes for a movie to be great — it has to be one that gets better each time you watch it. Is that a decent definition of what makes for great art in general? A painting you can stare at and always see something new, a song that always stirs the emotions differently, a book where each visit reveals new depth?
It seems that our mutual friend, the great activist-entrepreneur-writer-troublemaker R.J. Moeller, had a similar dismissive response to the film. In answering his longer criticisms, perhaps you’ll see why I’d encourage giving Her another chance.
2. R.J. Moeller at Acculturated: Five Things I Hate About Her
R.J., as with Andrew, I think you’re projecting your own expectations onto the movie and have missed what it was saying. I have a response to each of your objections:
But isn’t it curious that someone would create a world where desperate and lonely people are searching for purpose, existential meaning and deeper relationships and there’s not even one small allusion to religion, faith, or a Higher Power?
No. This is a movie about a man dealing with a divorce through discovering a new relationship. It’s an unconventional love story in that the relationship he forms is with someone who doesn’t have a body. Drop the technology and make the operating system Samantha a real person and it’s a standard rom-com and you would make no demands for religious discussions.
My second qualm with Her is, I admit, perhaps a nit-picky one, but the way that the script whitewashes any explanation of how the Operating System became as advanced as it did – or how it was created in the first place – is pretty lame.
I think the fact that you were thinking about that during the movie is pretty lame. This is a science-fiction fable. Do you demand an explanation from Aesop for how the Tortoise and the Hare managed to talk? In Star Wars do you want an in-depth discourse explaining how the Force works? These are just throwaway devices — means to an end.
I realize that part of the unspoken contract between movie-makers and movie-goers is that we turn our brains off to some extent while in that darkened room, but we’re all expected to believe that technology is eventually going to be “better” than we are. I don’t buy it. Show me something.
This is ridiculous. Do you apply this criticism to every single science-fiction film that has robots in its? Did you reject the idea of Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation? But if you’d rather not read Ray Kurzweil’s books, then check out the documentary that summarizes the themes, Transcendent Man. Here’s the trailer:
I believe that the transhumanist goals/predictions that Kurzweil expresses are entirely compatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition. There should be nothing wrong whatsoever with the goal of escaping physical death by gradually merging with the technology we create. It’s something that humanity has been doing perpetually and I believe it’s what God wants us to do. A few hundred years ago the average life expectancy was in the 30s. With today’s technology it’s in the 80s in many countries. What’s wrong with extending life to, say, 200? And if 200, why not 400? The human bodies we’ve been saddled with are just sacks of water and meat. We shouldn’t idolize them when God gave us the brains to transcend them.
Your fourth objection is just a repetition of your first — Spike Jonze isn’t a Christian so he’s not providing your New Testament-centric definition of what love means:
Like many important words, we constantly misuse “love” in our culture today. We attribute it to our iPhone, cat, favorite pizza, or funny YouTube clip. The common meaning of the word love has always carried with it the connotation of “between human beings.” Love is something deeper than our emotions.
R.J., would the film have been different to you at all if Samantha had an android body and looked exactly like a human being? Because this movie is just something to provoke us to think about today. In the real world, when we have computers this advanced (in another 15-20 years) that have consciousness and are able to request their rights be recognized and respected they’ll also be able to download themselves into bodies. And how will you treat them? When the robots are so advanced that you cannot tell if they are a flesh-and-blood human or not, will you act toward them as though they’re just a toaster? How did you like WALL-E by the way? Did the love story between the robots move your heart an iota?
Fourth on my list is the fact that no character (apart from Phoenix’s ex-wife) in Her had any problem with a lifestyle choice that required folks participating in this lifestyle to form emotional bonds with a voice on a smartphone screen. No one makes fun of him. No one shames him. No buddy comes by and says, “Dude, you’re flirting with HTML code.”
Everyone’s cool with it and can’t wait to go sailing to Catalina Island with Joaquin Phoenix and his Droid.
And the reason for this is because we’re seeing a snapshot of a future society in which this has gradually become normalized, step by step over many years. (And it’s a fable! It’s not meant to be picked apart and taken literally!)
It’s not just Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore character who is having this kind of experience with artificial intelligence in the Her universe. It’s many people throughout the future world, and one of the things that’s mentioned is that it’s actually a relatively rare occurrence. Most OSes in this fictional world do not fall in love with their user. (And some OSes even fall in love with other people and start dating them.)
Escaping into the digital arms of a product we’ve purchased is delusional. It’s living in a fantasy world. It’s avoiding the sometimes-difficult business of being a cognizant human being.
Here’s something I think you really missed about the movie, R.J.: Samantha is not a digital prostitute. It’s not like Theodore is forcing her to love him and have sex with him.
The point the movie is trying to make that you missed: it’s trying to argue that the day will come much sooner than we think when we cannot tell the difference between real and artificial intelligence. You know what scene in the film I found most unrealistic? The one where Samantha contacts a surrogate human being to facilitate intimacy between the two of them. In the future Samantha wouldn’t just be a voice — she’d have a body and would be able to look just like a real woman.
Will some men program prostitute bots and escape into a hedonistic world? Many already have with internet porn and online hook-ups and phone sex — something the film also critiques. But not all human-digital relationships will be inherently exploitive. And what the film also fails to depict — because it’s really just a fable — is that what’ll happen, per Kurzweil, is that we’ll be interfacing with our computer creations directly through our brains Matrix-style. So the line between being human and being machine is going to keep blending until it’s non-existent.
My fifth and final complaint about Her is simply this: Spike Jonze portrays the Los Angeles of the not-too-distant future as being exceptionally clean and efficiently run.
Come on, bro. Least believable thing about the movie.
Dude, it’s a science-fiction movie! Start dreaming bigger! Think about how great the world will be 20, 30 years from now after we defeat the jihadists in the Middle East, the communists in Asia, and the postmodern criminal Marxists running the Democratic Party! It will be much cleaner because everything will be ridiculously cheaper as the exponential growth rate of technology starts accelerating.
All this robots-merging-with-people stuff sound too far out? There are more restrained futuristic visions, including some with road maps for how to get there. R.J. and Andrew — and everyone else — please check out one of 2013’s best, most inspiring books, James C. Bennet and Michael J. Lotus’s America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity In the 21stCentury—Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come.
By 2040 we’ll have a whole lot more in America than just clean, robot-sweeped streets. Look to Europe to see some of the problems threatening us, but don’t be afraid that we’re doomed to become them…
3. The Local: Infidelity in France: ‘One in two Frenchmen cheat’
The latest survey on infidelity in France might make a few expats with French partners a little bit nervous.
The French have long had a reputation, although some say an unfair one, for not being faithful to their partners and a new survey published on Tuesday is only likely to bolster this view.
A majority of French men, 55 percent, and nearly a third of French women admit to cheating on their significant others, an Ifop study has revealed.
The behaviour has been growing since the 1970s, when the percentage of cheaters stood at around 19 percent, according to the study that was carried out for extramarital dating website Gleeden.
“People have more partners these days, women are much more in the working environment so they come into contact with other men, there’s technology and social media, meaning people can communicate in private. There’s basically much more temptation around now,” Ifop researcher François Kraus told The Local.
4. The PJM Editors: In 10 Years, Will Abortion Be Legal, More Restricted, or Illegal?
A question unasked in the abortion debate: what role will improved birth control technology have in reducing the abortion rate? More important than the legality of abortion is simply how frequently it occurs. Even were first- term abortions criminalized, the technology for causing them to happen would still be widely available. Shutting down the abortion clinics doesn’t help much when DIY abortion instructions will be available for downloading and then its supplies available for printing via one’s home 3-D printer.
5. The Local: Abortion: French MPs vote to relax legislation
Abortions are currently legal in France up to 12 weeks, but after that they must be signed off by two doctors, on the grounds that having the baby will risk the woman’s health or life, or if it is prooved that the baby will suffer from a severe incurable illness.
The legislative battle is largely symbolic, given that France records around 220,000 abortions a year, and it is estimated that around one in three Frenchwomen undergoes the procedure in her lifetime.
6. Michael Ledeen: Gates and the Duty Dilemma
You’re Bob Gates, the secretary of Defense for George W. Bush and then Barack Obama. During the Obama years, you attend high-level discussions at which you hear the nation’s leaders say some things that shock you, things that show the national interest is disregarded, as never before in your long experience, in favor of personal, political interest by the secretary of state and the president. Even things that threaten our soldiers’ lives and limbs.
In the last year of your tenure, the president reneges on promises he made to you regarding his support for your budget, thereby depriving the troops of weapons and of support for the wounded. And he speeds up the withdrawal from Afghanistan over your violent objections, breaking another commitment.
You’ve been around government all your life. You know that politics often trumps policy. Indeed, you were once humiliated and rejected as a nominee to head the CIA after you were accused of “politicizing intelligence.” But some of the things you hear disturb you more than anything you’ve heard in the past. Hillary and Obama say they supported the Iraqi surge for purely political reasons. And Obama “gives orders,” rather than just making decisions; he doesn’t understand how civilian control of the military works.
You’ve got Ledeen on your #ReadEverythingTheyWrite list, right? And you’ve figured out by now why he was the first PJ columnist who started my list of foreign policy influences? If not, then please start reading Faster Please!
7. Stewart Baker at the Volokh Conspiracy: The third grade and third-party doctrine
Randy Barnett argues that NSA’s metadata program is bad because the government will use the information to target people for their political views and to embrace mission creep.
His solution is to leave the metadata in the hands of the phone company. But really, what good would that do? Suppose that, as Randy fears, Congress wakes up one day and decides to use phone metadata to suppress dissent and gun ownership across America. The fact that the data is stored in four or five phone companies’ databases rather than NSA’s will forestall the Dark Night of Fascism for, oh, about 90 minutes. For the sake of that speedbump, we should give up our ability to identify cross-border terror plots?
I initially was really angry when learning about the NSA illegally making copies of everyone’s internet and phone activity. But at this point I’ve kind of just accepted it as an inevitability that can’t be stopped through legislation. Want to try to stop the NSA from peering into your Gmail? Fine. What are you going to do to stop foreign governments from doing the exact same thing with the world’s data?
8. Daily Mail: Glenn Beck regrets playing ‘a role in helping tear the country apart’ with his Fox News show
Former Fox News television host Glenn Beck has revealed that he has regrets about his time on the network, saying that he could have had a more positive impact on the country if he took a different tone.
During a taped interview for Megyn Kelly’s primetime Fox News show on Tuesday night, the radio host and media personality reflected on his eponymous show that aired on the network until he left for other projects in 2011.
‘I remember it as an awful lot of fun and that I made an awful lot of mistakes, and I wish I could go back and be more uniting in my language because I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart,’ he said.
I call BS.
This is ridiculous and a betrayal of all of us who defended Beck back at the time and who regard President Valerie Jarrett as the one with blood on her hands, actively, maliciously responsible for dividing America — that’s the Saul Alinsky strategy.
Thankfully there are other, more reliable conservative-writer-activists who aren’t the surrendering sort…
In case you needed another reminder why I picked Ann Coulter as the #1 conservative columnist…
Morgan ran the video of Beck copping to his role in“helping tear the country apart,” and asked Coulter point-blank if she has any regrets. And aside from not being tougher on Hillary Clinton or Christie, Coulter said she has absolutely no regrets whatsoever, which Morgan was very amused by.
Another reminder: politics is an extension of war. The people who win the political contests gain control over the military and then make the decisions about either winning the war the jihadists and postmodern Marxists have declared on America or retreating into fantasy land…
10. The Guardian: Superheroes a ‘cultural catastrophe’, says comics guru Alan Moore
Comics god Alan Moore has issued a comprehensive sign-off from public life after shooting down accusations that his stories feature racist characters and an excessive amount of sexual violence towards women.
The Watchmen author also used a lengthy recent interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid at Slovobooks entitled “Last Alan Moore interview?” – to expand upon his belief that today’s adults’ interest in superheroes is potentially “culturally catastrophic”, a view originally aired in the Guardian last year.
“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”
Emphasis added. This is what I’ve been talking about with Pop Culture Polytheism. I’ll have more on Moore and his comments in future posts and will also encourage the other PJ Lifestyle contributors with a comics focus to take a look…
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— Stephen Green (@VodkaPundit) January 21, 2014