Category Archives: Seth On The Arts

Seth presents opinions about how others present their artistic wares.

THE BIGGER THEY ARE, THE HARDER THEY FLOP

I saw the remade The Green Hornet last night. Superhero movies don’t have a great batting average with my taste, but the trailers promised it would be a humourous encounter, so I was willing to give it a try.

In the past, I’ve found the Hornet’s star, Namesake Rogen, to be likeable and funny (more so, generally, than the scripts he’s in). In this performance, Namesake’s bumbling superhero persona is paired with a highly skilled sidekick, Kato, who can design their supercar, drive it like a stuntman, and then perform magical martial arts on the enemy. Kato (played by Taiwanese musician, Jay Chou) has his own charm, but his limited grasp on the language of the movie (English) forces Rogen’s Green Hornet to take on the primary role of entertaining us during non-action sequences.

This is the tragic flaw of the film as Rogen seems to be feeling the pressure to make his lines big and hilarious in every moment of every scene to make up for his partner’s lack of contribution. The result is somewhat painful as Rogen’s over-the-top efforts are too big to be humourous more often than chance; and so, neither is the movie.

RAVISHING DISTINCTION

I notice, from the previews, that the new movie, The Tourist (starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie), features the following conversation (approximately):

DEPP’S CHARACTER: You look ravenous.

JOLIE’S CHARACTER: You mean “ravishing”?

DEPP’S CHARACTER (confidently): I do.

Hee, hee, very funny, but I call accidental inverted plagiarism! That is, my brother has been mixing up those two words in the reverse manner for years:

SETH BROTHER: Man, I haven’t eaten all day. I am so ravishing!

SETH: I think you might mean, “ravenous”.

SETH BROTHER: Yeah, that’s what I said.

SETHBLOGS: Yes, I’m sure it was: I just hope you’ve been telling people all day about your “ravenous” self-analysis.


SETHBLOGS NOTE: As a result of comments from my readership, I have discovered that my claim that the tourist engaged in “accidental, inverted plagiarism” may be inaccurate. Please read the below comments for details.

UNAUTHORIZED ENTERTAINMENT

So, many years ago, my second-placed sister (featured in the background of styrogirls.com) and I were wandering through a bookstore, whereupon we spotted an autobiography by a famous hockey player (who shall remain anonymous, but may be featured in my “HOWE TO TRICK YOUR FRIENDS” post). The interesting thing about this autobiography—unlike any other that we’d observed before—was that it was an “Authorized Autobiography.”

“Hmm,” I said to my sister (she’ll claim it was the other way around, so don’t be alarmed), “if this is an authorized autobiography, what exactly would count as an unauthorized autobiography?”

“Yeah,” my sister quickly caught on, “how exactly would you write and publish a story about yourself without getting permission from yourself first?”

“I guess maybe you could write it in your sleep?” I said.

“Yes!” my sister said. “And then I guess maybe you might find it in the morning, and—without realizing what it was—you might instinctively send it in to a publisher without realizing it was a tell-all about yourself. Oh no! By the time you realize what you’ve done, it’s too late: the unauthorized autobiography is already out there, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Yup, it all made sense. I hope I never write an unauthorized autobiography. I know a lot of my secrets and could definitely portray myself in a negative light.

Seth celebrating his first Stumpy Cup victory. Photo submitted to Sethblogs by Seth without Seth’s permission. 

SUPPLYING AND DEMANDING EXPLANATION

So I recently took in a bit of surgery to repair an old nasal injury. I spent the recovery time under the generous care of my parents. Along with mocking my inability to wrestle with him, my dad entertained me with introductory Economics lectures on video. (I’m embarrassingly ignorant of economics, and so was delighted by the opportunity.)

The instructor-on-DVD has lots of personality, almost to the point of condescension in the first couple lectures as he explains fairly basis concepts, such as the division of labour (the notion that 100 workers can get more done if they each take on a specialized task within a project, instead of each of them trying to build an entire car on their own). I was happy to have this straight-forward concept reviewed, but once it was emphasized with a tenth example, it started to become tedious.

Nevertheless, we proceeded to the lecture on “Supply and Demand,” where once again I was ready to boast that the concept was too simple to be continually reiterated. To my headache-provoking surprise, though, it is not as simple a notion as I had imagined.

In fact, I found it so confusing that I was forced to research it post-lecture. I enlisted the help of both internet and book (Economics Explained), but was baffled to discover that the particular part that was confusing me seemed to be only vaguely illuminated by each of my sources.

Eventually, after much mind-searching, the collected instruction of my resources overlapped to make sense to me (at least I think I’ve got it). And, I must admit, it’s actually a pretty neat model. So, for my fellow economic newbies (if there are any out there), I offer you the results of my study without the cost of research:

DEMAND:

“Demand,” it turns out, is not simply, “How many do people want?” It is a relationship between price and quantity demanded. That is, given a certain price, how many do people want to buy? Today, then, we can graph the quantities demanded of autographed pictures of Seth at various prices. That demand graph, is the current demand which will arc upwards as prices go down (since more people want commodities when they’re cheaper).

But, tomorrow, if a rival Seth-paraphernalia seller comes along and offers autographed “with love” photos of Seth, the quantity demanded at every price for the original “non-loving” photos goes down, and so overall “Demand” for them will have gone down.

SUPPLY:

“Supply,” in turn, is not simply how many the sellers have of a certain item, but it is a relationship between the price and the quantity supplied. That is, given a certain price, how many Seth photos are supplied to the market by the makers of Seth photos? In this case, the higher the price, the more the sellers tend to want to supply (since that’ll make them more money), and so the “Supply” curve tends to arc upwards with price.

But if, Blog forbid, Seth’s nasal surgery went badly and harmed his looks, there may be fewer quality Seth photos available, and so the quantity supplied may go down at every price, meaning that overall “Supply” goes down.

THE FUN PART:

Now here’s the fun part: the Supply and Demand curves seem to work together to set a price in the market. If, that is, there are more people wanting an item at a certain price than there are items available, then the price of that item will go up.

For instance, let’s say that the price of Seth’s autobiography is set at only $100. The quantity demanded for that item at that price would likely then be around one billion. If, though, the quantity of books supplied is only 500 million, then the sellers can raise the price until the number of people still willing to buy matches the supply available.

In contrast, if there are fewer people wanting an item than there are supplied (at a particular price), price will go down.

For instance, the world’s worst movie, The Matrix, may supply 50 copies of itself at 25 cents each. But if only 10 people are willing to buy at that price then the price will start to drop until the number of copies available matches the number of confused people willing to buy them.

In both of the above cases, once the price of an item leads the quantity supplied to match the quantity demanded then we are in equilibrium. And the interesting aspect to an economic novice like myself is there is apparently a tendency of all products towards this equilibrium. The equilibrium will often be disrupted by outside factors (suddenly, let’s say, there is an interest in giving The Matrix as gag gifts), but the price will always then head back towards equilibrium given the new Demand.

CONCLUSION:

I like it: the Market, it seems, will naturally figure out its own disagreements until it agrees with itself again.

INTERVIEWING SOLO

So a personal irritation of mine arises when comedy talk show hosts ask what I call joke-ended questions of their guests, thus leaving their conversation partners looking silly as there’s not much for them to say. If they answer the question seriously, they look dense as they seem to be missing the joke. But, if they try to add to the comedy of the question, they often look like they’re milking a line of humour that was complete at the question mark.

Consider, for instance, Jon Stewart’s recent interview with Harrison Ford (which was on my television last night). After spending his pre-interview comedy time pleading mockingly with his favourite whipping President, George W. Bush, to be a guest on his show (promising him a free McRib burger as a reward), Stewart asked Han Solo if he thought the entreatment would work.

What was Indiana Jones supposed to say to that? If he responded “No” he’s stating the McObvious, but if he went with “Yes” he would seem like he was trying to add to a joke that appeared to me to be pretty much done. Thus, it seemed that Jon Stewart was not really asking Harrison Ford a question, but instead was simply offering another punchline with a question-impersonating lilt on the end of it.

But, wait, let’s hear Harrison’s response:

“No,” he said with an assertive chuckle at the possibility of George Bush guest appearing on Jon’s show, “not a chance.”

Not bad. Somehow he delivered the straight line without sounding humourless.

“Do you think,” apparently delighted Stewart painfully followed up, “I need to throw in a McHappy Meal toy?”

Again, we were spending Bladerunner’s time on the pre-interview monologue, and I didn’t see where Harrison could go with it, and yet, amazingly, Dr. Jack Ryan didn’t look as phased as I would be.

“You have to just be a much nicer guy,” Harrison said with another chuckle (which left his host in hysterics). “So it’s not going to happen: no, it’s not in you.”

Both Jon Stewart and I loved this reply! Somehow, Harrison Ford had found a way out of the question-joke by not taking it on directly, and instead mocking the question right back for its ridiculousness. Mr. Stewart, are you really going to laugh at George Bush for not coming on a show that has made its career on mocking him and then ask Harrison Ford if he thinks the failed president will come on the show for a burger and toy? Fine, then the wily actor will join the joke by telling you why George Bush isn’t coming on your show.

But perhaps this was a fluke. Surely, Jon Stewart would get him with the next question-joke.

The McDonalds-based interview continued and Harrison Ford admitted that his 9-year-old son thinks the McHappy meal toys are dreadful.

Jon Stewart was intrigued because his 4 and 6 year-olds still love the toys.

“Between the age of 6 and 9,” he asked everyone’s favourite action hero, “when does that toy go from being the greatest thing that has occurred in life, that we must go through monsoons, over mountains by foot to get to, to ‘Ahh, it’s a piece of bleep: I’m not interested’?”

Perhaps this one wasn’t a pure question-joke, as it contained a reasonable inquiry for another parent, I supposed, but still it felt to me that there wasn’t too much room left for The Fugitive.

But, hold on.

“Well, I don’t know about your parenting skills,” Harrison said to another explosive laugh from J.S., “but I would suggest that somebody should have got to this maybe a little earlier. Have you ever bought ‘em a toy? Then they would see the difference…”

Wow! Don’t get these quotes wrong, Harrison seemed to like and appreciate Jon Stewart, but nevertheless, he brilliantly sidestepped the host’s standard attempts to make his guest the straight man to his continuing monologue. Instead, Harrison Ford absorbed the punchline-questions and punched them right back.

You go, Solo!

SELF-AGGRANDALISM I: Never Let Them See You Care

In the face of difficult questions, the most talented egos use impeccable sleights of language to rebrand their behaviours to seem heroic. This series is dedicated to those rhetorician-magicians.

SELF-AGGRANDALISM SERIES:

I: NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU CARE (you are here)

II: IF YOUR CRITICS DON’T BELIEVE IN YOU, NO ONE WILL

III: WINNING MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY

IV: POET KNOWS BEST

V: HUMILTY IS AS HUMILTY DOES

VI: HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE

VII: IF YOU CAN’T BULLY ‘EM, ACCUSE ‘EM


This is the story of an elite piece of artistic advertising by the swoosh-makers at Nike. But first:

THE BACK STORY:

As you likely know, Lebron “King” James (or “LBJ”) is one of the top two or three basketball players in the NBA. He’s been a superstar in his profession since, seven years ago, he transitioned from high school to play for his home state Cleveland Cavaliers in the world’s best basketball league.

From the start, he was not just a great individual scorer, but also possessed incredible vision and passing ability for someone who had skills enough that he could have ignored his teammates. And, just to add flavour to his abundance of greatness, he’s a rather handsome fellow, who contains a high level of charisma.

Strangely, though, somehow this year he has become, in the eyes of many observers, an NBA villain. You see, at the end of last season, his contractual obligation to the team that drafted him had expired, and he could sign with any new team that could afford him; unfortunately for Lebron, his decision, and the way he presented it, irked a few people.

Going in, it was estimated that several major factors would weigh in Lebron’s choice:

(A) his loyalty to his original team and fans, whom he had nearly (but not yet) brought a championship;

(B) his loyalty to his bank account—perhaps he would offer himself up to the highest bidder; and/or

(C) his pursuit of a championship—perhaps he would sell his services to the team he felt would give him the best chance of acquiring trophies.

Two years before making his decision, the King was already contemplating out loud his future options, which drew criticism from NBA legend, “Sir” Charles Barkley, who claimed that—until his contract with Cleveland was complete—that team deserved his full attention.

LBJ’s response was slightly less charming that his usual: instead of taking on Barkley’s point, James instead simply critiqued the man, himself:

“He is stupid,” said the then 23 year-old.

In defence of this slightly useless response, he had probably never before in his career encountered criticism, and so he had little idea of the proper way to deal with it.

This tendency to believe that he could do no wrong may have also influenced the royal star as he approached his decision before this season as to where he would play. The finalists, he assured us, still included Cleveland, but also, amazingly, the Miami Heat where another of the league’s top three players, Dwayne Wade, had already set up camp along with recently acquired free agent superstar, Chris Bosh. So, if LBJ signed there, too, the team would be stacked with talent not usually seen outside of an all-star game.

Some of us thought the idea of three superstars colluding to form one superpower team for the sake of winning a championship was somehow missing the point of the accomplishment. Winning the league’s top honour seems meaningful to me because great players are pitted against great players in a grand struggle for supremacy, but if you get there by putting all the best players on one team, that seems like a less difficult matter, and so therefore makes winning “a championship” a less valuable prize.

Indeed, the afore-insulted “stupid” Charles Barkley noted that he, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson would not have signed up for the same team in their era: they preferred to play against each other.

Nevertheless, most accepted Lebron’s right to choose his team. However, some still resented how he did it. Instead of making his choice and then—for curtesy’s sake—letting the runners up know, he staged a one-hour primetime television “reveal” interview in which he would announce his “decision” to the world that he would be… inspirational music, please… defecting to the Miami Heat.

He explained proudly, you see, that he was taking less money to give himself the best possible chance of winning (although, don’t worry too much for poor James: the endorsements acquired in his new situation should make up the difference pretty quickly).

It’s funny to me how in the sports world the selfish pursuit of winning (i.e. pursuing winning for oneself at the expense of one’s former teammates and fans) is somehow considered noble. I don’t really get why greed for glory is any more beautiful than greed for money. They’re both just about providing Lebron James with a happier life.

Regardless, as the now dubbed “Big Three,” Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade showed themselves off in a lavish welcome to winning party at Miami’s home rink, Charles Barkley was once again shaking his head. He argued that James’ television announcement again showed disrespect for the King’s ex-team, who Barkley said deserved to be told of his decision privately before James started dating his new city.

The snubbed city agreed with Barkley’s assessment and burned various Lebron products in effigy, while their majority owner, Dan Gilbert, wrote to the fans:

“You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. … I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE. You can take it to the bank… This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown ‘chosen one’ sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And ‘who’ we would want them to grow-up to become.”

Wow! That was a bit much (for instance, I’m not sure exactly how James’ decision was cowardly, nor why career-commitment to one’s first employer is the prime measure of a role model), but I can understand the guy who’s losing the most by Lebron’s decision wanting to rally his fans to stay loyal with a firey retalliation.

But wait! Lebron James actually felt bad about leaving Cleveland.

“I never wanted to leave Cleveland,” he explained. “My heart will always be around that area. But I also felt like this is the greatest challenge for me, is to move on.”

Sorry, to be a nag, Lebron, but, um didn’t you say that you were going to Miami because it gave you the best chance at victory? Yeah, I think that was you who said: “I feel like this is going to give me the best opportunity to win. And to win for multiple years. Not only just to win in the regular season, or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row. I want to be able to win championships, and I feel like I can compete down there.”

So, wouldn’t the bigger “challenge” (that you seem so interested in) have been to stay with the team who wouldn’t given you the biggest chance at perpetual league dominance?

So, all of this is to set up—for those who weren’t previously in the Lebron loop—Mr. James’ new Nike commercial, which responds eloquently to all of the hurtful criticism he’s received for his defection.

THE ART:

Let’s watch, and then we’ll come back to me for comments.

Note: when Lebron says hello to “Chuck,” he’s winking at the above-mentioned Lebron-critic, Charles Barkley.

Wow, I must say: that was very good work, Nike writing staff.

As you have hopefully just enjoyed, Mr. James takes us through a series of earnest rhetorical Lebron-spoken questions. “Asks” he:

What should I do? Should I admit that I’ve made mistakes?Should I remind you that I’ve done this before? Should I give you a history lesson? What should I do? Should I tell you how much fun we had? Should I really believe I ruined my legacy? What should I do? What should I do? What should I do? Should I have my tattoo removed? Want to see my shiny new shoes? Should I just sell shoes? My shiny new shoes. Or should I tell you I’m not a role model? (Hi Chuck.) Seriously, what should I do? Should I tell you I’m a championship chaser? That I did it for the money? Rings? Should I be who you want me to be? Should I accept my role as a villain? Maybe I should just disappear? Should I stop listening to my friends? They’re my friends. Should I try acting? Should I make you laugh Or should we just clear the deck and start over? What should I do? Should I be who you want me to be?

Along with being an impressive and entertaing commercial, it magically tricks the viewer into filling in the blanks of Lebron “Nike” James’ argument. This is as clever as any great piece of incomprehensible art that asks the viewer to fill in the substance of the message.

PATRON: Excuse me, I’m not sure what this large blue triangle is meant to say. You can you give me any insights?

ARTIST: It means whatever it means to you.

PATRON: Oh, I see. I guess it kind of reminds of my struggles with geometry in school, and how I felt like I couldn’t make it fit together.

ARTIST: Beautiful! Exactly!

Lebron’s not going to tell us why he left Cleveland—maybe it was for the money (and if we’re big fans of money, we’ll settle on that answer and be satisfied); maybe it was because he’s a “championship chaser” (wow, that’s very poetic, and again implies some honour in his departure). Regardless, what exactly did we expect of Lebron James? He never claimed to be our role model. He’s just a man made of flesh and ego like of the rest of us. Indeed, as he repeats this question throughout the soliloquy, the fact that there is no obvious answer seems to imply that there is no obvious flaw in his behaviours.

Most brilliant, ghostwritten-James seems to be indicating that, in the end, he doesn’t really care what we think of him. He’s gotta be him. If winning championships for his family and friends is wrong, then he doesn’t wanna be right.

We can dress him up in a villain costume (as they do in the commercial) if we want, but he’s still gotta be himself.

I especially like that, in spite of his implied ghostwritten insistence that he doesn’t care what we think of him, when he asks, “Should I not have listened to my friends?” he can’t help making an argumentative answer, “They’re my friends.” But, other than on that one point, he doesn’t care what we think!

It’s a wonderful script that we can all learn a lot from: there’s really no point in continuing to dislike Lebron—it’s not going to bother him in the slightest. In fact, his rogue lack of interest in our opinions should make us kinda like him.

Oh, but wait! Wasn’t the whole thing a shoe commercial? Which means it’s meant to sell shoes. So… Nike of Lebron does, in fact, care what we think of Lebron James. They were using reverse shoe psychology on us! Those clever Just Doers.


SELF-AGGRANDALISM SERIES:

I: NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU CARE (you were just here)

II: IF YOUR CRITICS DON’T BELIEVE IN YOU, NO ONE WILL

III: WINNING MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU’RE SORRY

IV: POET KNOWS BEST

V: HUMILTY IS AS HUMILTY DOES

VI: HOW TO AVOID QUESTIONS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE

VII: IF YOU CAN’T BULLY ‘EM, ACCUSE ‘EM

INTOXICATING OSCAR WILDE

I’ve just started re-reading a book, Oscar Wilde: His Life and Wit from 1946 by Hesketh Pearson, that I didn’t finish previously because it fell apart (literally—its binding came undone and it’s now a six-piece book), and I didn’t want to damage it further. But the call of the Wilde (oops :)) has proven too much: I must find out what happened to him!

I’m only a prologue in, but I’m already having a great time once again.

The book was published, forty-six years after Wilde’s death, by a man who interviewed friends of the great wit (“Oscar,” to us) who, in turn, could remember specific conversations with the hero of the phrase:

“[I find] that alcohol, taken in sufficient quantities, can produce all the effects of intoxication.”

Wow: it’s intoxicating to be reading the second-hand account of real-life interactions with such a significant conversational figure. Indeed, many situations and anecdotes that provoked some of Oscar’s great lines are provided. (I recall from my previous reading of this book that I will get to learn the provocation for Oscar’s, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.” I assure you that the moment I re-discover it, SethBlogs will be the second to know.)

But the book is not just great because of Oscar Wilde: his story is told by Mr. Pearson with charm and wit deserving of his subject. Consider his description of Oscar Wilde’s father, and lady-charmer, Dr. William Wilde:

“He was taken up by society and especially liked by women, which pleased him well… But accidents will happen, even to doctors, and in due course several children appeared without the advantage of their father’s name.”

I’ll keep you posted on this developing story.

HOW I MET YOUR INDEPENDENT HUMOUR

I’ve been giving the sitcom How I met Your Mother a chance lately and I like it so far.

(Of course, the premise is a wee bit troubled: the idea of dedicating a plot to explaining to one’s future children how one discovered their mom is nice, I think, for a defined timeline such as a movie, but in the case of an open-ended TV series, it seems too difficult for the writers to keep each episode on point considering they don’t know when exactly to bring the mother in, and so in turn they don’t know how exactly to relate each show to her eventual arrival. Instead, as far as I can tell from my few initial viewings, the show has quickly become just as much about following and laughing at the surrounding characters as it is worrying about the initial basis for the show.)

But, as my sisterly advisor to HIMYM explained to me, if you don’t worry about the loose-premise-connection, it’s a decent sitcom.

To that end, I would like to compliment some writing I enjoyed in a recently-viewed episode, wherein one of the characters (I believe it was Lily) was explaining to another character why her friends Robin and Barney might have difficultly dating. The dialogue (I’m paraphrasing) went a little something like this:

LILY: The problem is they’re both… honey, what’s the nice word for “selfish”?

MARSHALL: “Independent”.

LILY: Yes, they’re both independent.

Hee, hee, well played, HIMYM.

I think it’s a well-delivered point that one person’s criticism can with, slight re-wording, become another person’s compliment. Let me try coming up with some other words that could be “HIMY-Mothered” into compliments:

MeanAssertive
Loud and ObnoxiousGregarious
WeirdQuirky
Off-puttingProvocative
LazyRelaxed
ArrogantConfident
IgnorantFan of The Matrix  (Okay, I guess that one was a lateral move, hee, hee.)
Slow-wittedIntrospective
ForgetfulAbsentminded (professor)
IrritatingStimulating
ChildishYouthful
Homicidal Over-population-reducing

It’s harder than I imagined: my favourite is still the original “selfish” to “independent”: so my humbled compliments to the HIMYM writing staff. In fact, double that, because I am reminded of News Radio (one of the top 5 sitcoms of all time until Phil Hartman’s departure), and its wordplay regarding the different versions of pretty.

LISA: …I did not ask for this stupid award.

BETH: If I were you I would be upset, too, I mean, you? Cute? Come on.

LISA: Well… I’m not entirely… uncute. I… why are you being nasty about this?

BETH: I’m not being nasty. You’re pretty. You’re very pretty, in fact. But cute? I don’t think so.

LISA: Well, I wasn’t aware that there was a difference.

BETH: Of course there’s a difference. Pretty means pretty. Cute means pretty, but short and/or hyperactive, like me.

LISA: Ahuh. Well, what’s beautiful?

BETH: Beautiful means pretty and tall.

LISA: Gorgeous?

BETH: Pretty with great hair.

LISA: Striking?

BETH: Pretty with a big nose.

And so on for my amusement (see the video below for the full scene).


Note: A portal to the future that takes place after I finally finish viewing HIMYM is now available! Will I support my above assessment, or will there be a SethBlogs vs. SethBlogs battle. Tune into this link to find out!

THE MATRICKS

No Seth-rant collective would be complete without a charge against The Matrix.

This movie (I only saw the first one) may be a decent action-flick, so you are forgiven if you simply find it entertaining; my objection is to those who describe it as “philosophical.”

Yes, the movie’s premise is based on a standard philosophical contemplation (that the world, as we know it, may not be real, but instead some projection in our minds). However, in its treatment of this notion, The Matrix quickly sidesteps any philosophical obligations. Given, for instance, that The Matrix-universe is one in which the dark and dreary real world has been replaced with a cheerier matrix, an interesting question could be provoked: is it better to be happy in a fake world or unhappy in a real one?

Some of us at this keyboard believe experience is the most important part of sentient existence, and so we may want to argue that The Matrix-world was worth keeping up in lieu of the dreadful real world. It wasn’t as though the fake-offering was put up to cover up crimes against humanity; instead, all inhabitants lay peacefully in their projected-upon slumbers. But I’m happy to be wrong: maybe truth in existence is more important than contentment, and so, if philosophers were writing the movie, they may have tried to make an argument for why the matrix was a flawed existence (maybe it limits human potential, or leaves us helpless against sudden environmental changes). I would have liked that.

Instead, The Matrix writers (the Wachowskis) forwent argument and simply announced that the correct answer was that truth is always the most important; this they did very efficiently by simply designing the character who disagreed with them to be a raving murderer. Yup, instead of a genuine investigation as to which side would be the better way to exist (perhaps with a consequence that demonstrated why they thought their way was superior), the writers simply announced that good guys, by definition, would be on their side (pro-truth), while bad guys would be on the other (anti-truth). And that solved that.

Now, of course, action movies often need good guys and bad guys, so I can understand the need to have them pick sides, but, if the movie is meant to be philosophical, then shouldn’t it offer more than just a philosophical landscape with heroes and villains at either end? Shouldn’t the story also attempt to ask a few questions whose answers are comprised of more material than simply “white hat for ‘good’ and black hat for ‘bad’”?

But perhaps I’m being too restrictive about what qualifies as philosophical. In that case, I suppose the following subjects have also been sufficiently captured in the corresponding films:

Marine Biology: Jaws
Einstein’s Theory of relativity: Timecop
History (i.e. “a long time ago”): Star Wars
Brain surgery: The Man with Two Brains
Dentistry: Austin Powers

I’m a fan of several of these movies, but I don’t watch Die Hard for an analysis of modern policing methods: I just go there to be entertained. Similarly, if The Matrix weren’t so self-satisfied in its tone (and publicity interviews), it could be an entertaining adventure, but please don’t expect to be watching philosophy in action.


If you are looking for an entertaining, yet philosophical film (of similar subject), consider The Thirteenth Floor. At least, it made me think without diagnosing me as good or evil based on my responses to its questions.

LAW & WANDER

I love the television show, Law & Order (the original). SVU’s okay, and Criminal Intent’s annoying, but gimme the straight-up Law & Order, and you’ve got a fan in me.

My mom discovered it for me in the early 90s: I remember her commenting that it was a different kind of cops-and-law-show because the characters behaved much more like real people than usual.

Upon adopting the show myself a couple years later, I was riveted, especially by the legal battles, which seemed to focus on the nitty gritty details of the American legal system that must be navigated in order to prove a villain guilty. (I can’t prove that the show is legally accurate, but I can suspect it on the basis that, when I took a community college law course for interest’s sake, the lawyer-instructor claimed it was the most realistic law show on television.)

So, when it was announced that Law & Order: UK was coming to a television near me, I was intrigued: all the law and order I wanted, plus cool accents (and hairstyles) on the barristers. But then I learned that, as with the transition of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office from Slough, Britain, to Scranton, USA, the first several episodes of the citizenship-changing show would have scripts that would mirror almost exactly plots of the original show. This displeased me because:

(A) to my taste, it didn’t work out for The Office as the characters behaved differently in those first few episodes than their true original natures once the brilliant writers were free to give them original thoughts;

(B) I was craving new L&O adventures instead of redos of previous adventures (after all, those beloved re-runs are already always available when I need them); and

(C) my suspension of disbelief would be damaged by parallel universes wherein the characters had identical stories (and so, instead of following a plot for turns of law, I would simply be comparing it to its clone story).

So I lost interest in Law & Order: UK.

But, yesterday, on a random of strike of my remote, I happened across the show and I decided to honour it with a few minutes of my time (it was near the episode’s conclusion, anyway). It was indeed a familiar plot, and a very good one, too, and so I watched to what I thought was the signature Law & Order final comment.

(Usually, at the end of each show, one of the good guys says something pithy or profound to leave us pondering as the haunting credit “Executive Producer Dick Wolf” arrives on a dark background. For instance, there was the time that Assistant District Attorney, Ben Stone, was asked if he’d accept a dinner invitation from his recently beaten, but always condescending rival, and Ben (my hero) retorted, “Only if he orders crow”.)

But, on this episode of Law & Order: UK, the grand concluding line was not followed by an executive producing boast! Instead, we spent a good minute watching one of the characters wander around London with music playing in her background. Um, no, Law & Order is not a music video. I’m sure the character had some interesting thoughts about the case she’d recently lost, but since I couldn’t read her mind, watching her stoic face was not useful to me.

Moreover, and more importantly, given that this was a copy of an original Law & Order episode, they must have had to cut some of the brilliant details of the parent show in order to add in the walk of the pensive! No!

I may give L&O: UK another chance (I might even consider a full episode), but they’ll have to eat crow first. (Hmm, it sounded better when Ben said it).

Executive Producer Seth McDonough