Early Memorial Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 5/24/19: Movies And Women, Real And Imagined

Good Morning!

My father loved Sousa marches. So do I. Sousa was a genius in a very narrow range, but a genius he was. The Liberty Bell was one of my dad’s favorites. Here is a great website to familiarize yourself with the great march-master’s creations; it has instant links to each march.

1. Since it has done such a superb job ensuring world peace, the U.N. moves on to the important stuff… Unesco has issued a report claiming that having female voices in machines like GPS’s, smartphones and personal assistant devices reinforces gender stereotypes and enables the oppression of women. From the Times:

“Obedient and obliging machines that pretend to be women are entering our homes, cars and offices,” Saniye Gulser Corat, Unesco’s director for gender equality, said in a statement. “The world needs to pay much closer attention to how, when and whether A.I. technologies are gendered and, crucially, who is gendering them.”One particularly worrying reflection of this is the “deflecting, lackluster or apologetic responses” that these assistants give to insults. The report borrows its title — “I’d Blush if I Could” — from a standard response from Siri, the Apple voice assistant, when a user hurled a gendered expletive at it. When a user tells Alexa, “You’re hot,” her typical response has been a cheery, “That’s nice of you to say!” Siri’s response was recently altered to a more flattened “I don’t know how to respond to that,” but the report suggests that the technology remains gender biased, arguing that the problem starts with engineering teams that are staffed overwhelmingly by men. “Siri’s ‘female’ obsequiousness — and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women — provides a powerful illustration of gender biases coded into technology products,” the report found.

Gee, that’s funny: I thought the reason a woman’s dulcet tones were used in such devices is because they were easier on the ear than, say, HAL. Nor would it occur to me that a woman was being subservient or submissive when the female voice was coming from a lump of metal and plastic on a table.

FACT: Yes, a consumer should have the option of having a device speak in a male or female voice.

FACT: If the owner of such a device wants to insult it, make sexual comments to it, or crush it with a hammer, that’s none of the U.N.’s business.

FACT:  Programming AI to be adversarial to its owner, whatever voice the device is using, is unethical, and, obviously, bad business.

Unesco’s report is the epitome of manufactured offense.

2. List incompetence. I know this kind of crap bothers me more than it should, but it bothers me.

CBS News put a slideshow on-line called “Oscar Best Picture Winners Ranked From Worst to Best.” What was the criteria for the ranking? We aren’t told. Who put this mess together? No clue. Why is it any more authoritative than my list, or anyone else’s? It isn’t. Nevertheless, this list signals its biases and incompetence from the start.

#1 on the list is “The Broadway Melody,” from 1929. The justification for the ranking? Modern critics think the movie “has not stood the test of time.” Ya think?  How many things from 1929 have stood the test of time? Was the Model A Ford,

in retrospect a bad car because it wouldn’t meet 2019 safety standards ansd seems ugly and clunky to today’s consumers? “Broadway Melody” blew everyone away because it was the most ambition musical talkie yet produced. “This picture is great. It will revolutionize the talkies”, wrote Edwin Schallert for Motion Picture News. “The direction is an amazing indication of what can be done in the new medium.”  That’s why the film was the top grossing picture from 1929, and won Best Picture. The criticism—who is this idiot? I want a name!— is more “presentism,” judging people and things from the past by current standards. It’s unfair to the past, and makes people in the present dumber.

The next worst is the favorite punching bag Oscar winner, Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth,” because it dared to beat out the anti-American Western, “High Noon.” It’s a big, sprawling ode to the circus, with lots of real circus acts, the great Betty Hutton, and the patented DeMille spectacle of a circus train wreck. DeMille’s spectaculars were the super-hero movies of their day, and even now, I’ll watch “The Greatest Show on Earth” over “High Noon” every time, because it’s fun, and “High Noon” (Yes, it’s a great movie ) isn’t.

The list goes on with more indefensible presentism  (“Cimmeron” and “The Great Ziegfeld”), then alerts us that whoever assembled this is “woke” by ranking last year’s “Green Book” as lousy (if you recall, the movie suggested that blacks and whites could learn to like and respect each other—can’t have THAT), and irredeemably disqualifies itself for serious consideration by ranking “A Man For All Seasons” as the 18th worst Best Picture Winner (out of 92). It doesn’t give us any reasons, so one has to assume it’s because the anonymous critic doesn’t know a great movie, great themes, brilliant dialogue, and one of the most memorable acting performances in film history (by Paul Scofield as Thomas More) when they are right in front of him, her, or it.

Thus it comes as no surprise that this bone-head ranks “The Sound of Music” and “Ben Hur” as below average “Best Pictures,” and not as worthy as “The Deer Hunter” ( the political bias of the list comes into focus) and “The Hurt Locker.” I would scoop out my eyeballs with a melon spoon rather than watch “The Deer Hunter” again.

3.  Here’s how extremist wackos will manage to alienate feminists’ sane male allies. (You know, like me. ) At the Cannes Film Festival this week, Quentin Tarantino was asked by  a female reporter from The New York Times  why actress Margot Robbie wasn’t given more to say or do in his latest film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” He said,  “Well, I just reject your hypotheses.” What I would have said: “ I tell the stories I want to tell and feel I can tell effectively.  The characters speak lines that advance my creative vision. I don’t count words, and a character doesn’t have to speak the most lines in a movie to be important and memorable. What a stupid question.”

Yes, they are counting lines now. BBC News:

Female characters in Game of Thrones speak about three times less than male characters in the show, according to new data given to BBC 100 Women…The data by research group Ceretai suggests that across all eight seasons, male speech amounts to about 75% of all speaking time in the series… Lisa Hamberg, co-founder of Ceretai, told the BBC that by analysing Game of Thrones, they wanted to make viewers aware of the wider problem of how women are portrayed in the media.

“We are not doing this to make people stop watching, but to make them aware of the fact that it’s an unfair representation of the world”, she says.

“The world”? There are dragons and monsters in “Game of Thrones.” It’s not supposed to be a representation of the real world. However, in the real world, men do talk more than women. This is the justification for some sexist professors limiting male students’ participation until all the women in the class have had a chance to speak.

Take heed: this mysandry and discrimination will never stop, and eventually, men will stand up to the madness. California has installed gender quotas on corporate boards, some Democrats are demanding that legislatures have at least 50% female members, and gender quotas for lines in movie and TV scripts makes just as much sense as either of these “reforms.” [Pointer: Jim Treacher]


49 thoughts on “Early Memorial Day Weekend Ethics Warm-Up, 5/24/19: Movies And Women, Real And Imagined

  1. Jack wrote, But such collective, e-poll numbers are meaningless.

    Reminds me of this story fragment,
    Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

    “Barabbas,” they answered.

    22“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

    They all answered, “Crucify him!”

    23“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

    But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

  2. Jack, I would like a definition of the narrow scope which you consider Sousa to be a genius. Indeed he is most well-known for his 137 marches, but he also wrote several operettas, among them “El Capitan,” a particularly fun romp, whose material was also used as themes for his march of the same name. He was a statesman of sorts, traveling worldwide with his band, and was well-known in many circles beyond the musical world. I saw a presentation a couple years ago by JP Sousa IV and was fascinated by the tales he told of his great grandfather. Sousa’s autobiography, “Marching Along,” is a great read, and I now have a signed-by-a-Sousa copy in my library!

    • He’s a genius in the narrow range of the American March, which differs from European marches in several respects, thanks mainly to Sousa. I’ve heard and SEEN El Capitan, in part because of my interest in the operetta form. Sousa was an undisputed #1 in the march, and also 2,3,4,5, and 6. The best piece in El Capitan is–Surprise!—the El Capitaan March. In operetta, Sousa was a competent workman, not a genius. He was no Victor Herbert, nor Rudolf Friml, nor Sigmund Romberg; even Leonard Bernstein managed to compose a better operetta (Candide)than any of Sousa’s. The American operetta was a long-term failure anyway—not as funny or entertaining or easy to produce as Gilbert and Sullivan, now just an occasional nostalgia piece or oddity. There isn’t a single Sousa song that made it into the American Song Book, while Herbert, Romberg and Friml have several each. But his marches still dominate the genre after a century, with no competeition on the horizon. THAT’S genius.

  3. I became a Sousa fan way back in high school JROTC. The Liberty Bell is one of my favorites as well, although years of watching Monty Python created a correlation that is hard to shake. My favorite to march to was always The Thunderer, but Semper Fidelis is a close second. The Marine Band has several videos on YouTube that allow you to see as well as hear the fine musicianship in the Sousa recordings.
    1. When accessory automobile GPS units became ubiquitous, I bought one that gave the user a choice of voices for the audio directions feature. After some experimentation, I chose one of the male voices because it was the easiest for me to hear and understand at reasonable volume levels. During a trip with friends, a self-described feminist who was a passenger in my vehicle suggested, in all seriousness, that I chose the male voice because I didn’t want a female “bossing me around.” I laughed, but had I not been raised a gentleman she might have found herself reclassified to pedestrian status. Manufactured offense indeed.
    2. I loathe the anonymous and almost unanimously annoying rankings of this type. I seldom read them anymore, in order to limit my blood pressure rises and cranial detonations. The rankings of “Ben Hur” and “A Man for All Seasons” tell me all I need to know about this list.

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