Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘political correctness

“Good Omens” / Follow-up: Undue alterations of fictional characters

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In the meantime, I have had the time to watch the remaining five episodes of “Good Omens” (cf. [1]).

The series does not quite reach my memory* of the book, but it comes close and is very good in its own right, bordering on a “must see”. Moreover, it remains unusually close to the source, with most of what I remember left in**, not that much added, and changes in other regards that were mostly non-distorting. This even for the too convoluted, unsatisfying, and overly convenient*** culmination/confrontation (which forms the “true” end of the book and series, the remainder being more of an epilogue)—something that leaves me with mixed feelings: on the one hand, I usually strongly dislike distortions of the original; on the other, this would have been a golden opportunity to remedy the book’s greatest weakness.

*But (here and elsewhere) remember that my last reading was years ago, which means that my memory could be off.

**If often shortened, which might be a necessary evil due to run-time. For instance, in the book, Adam and his gang had a greater exposure and more time to build sympathies and an image of their individual characters, and a rival gang was cut out entirely in the series.

***While neither a deus ex machina, nor a “and then I woke up” applies, we have the same type of convenience.

In a bigger picture, and with hindsight, [1] likely aimed at a too narrow target: While “Good Omens” does a good job (excepting PC issues), many other works have been exposed to changes that go beyond both the individual characters and the issue of (specifically) PC alterations. (The recurring reader will likely understand why I jumped the gun a little.) Super-hero movies based on comics tend to be particularly bad—to the point that it might be outright misleading to speak of an adaption of the comic (let alone an individual story) and that the movies simply cannot be considered canonical. Most often, they are something in the lines of an alternate-reality canon or a “based on characters”. Then we have issues like a movie version being made the one year and an incompatible movie reboot taking place a few years later (examples include the Fantastic Four and, twice!, Spiderman—even when just looking at live-action and a reasonably “modern” era). The several examples of gender-benders and “black-washing” that I gave with regard to Marvel movies are misleading, in as far as Marvel’s problem goes well beyond sex and race.

When switching mediums, I admit, some degree of compromise is hard to avoid. For instance, when going from book to movie, we have concerns like run-time, how to (and whether to) bring over inner monologue, how to handle narration when no explicit narrator was present, the addition of features not present in a book (notably, a score), the degree to which the actors chosen actually match the descriptions in the book, … With comics, the often decades long history of individual characters and usually highly troublesome canonicity situation in the comic, it self, makes the task of making a movie unusually hard. Changes and compromises can be a necessary evil in order to make a quality adaption possible. The problem is that far too many works are brought over in a manner that sees the original version as just a rough guide-line or even just an inspiration. (To boot, I do not see it as a given that a successful book/comic/whatnot should automatically be turned into a movie/TV-series/whatnot, or vice versa.)

Revisiting what I said about “Good Omens” in [1], problematic sex and color choices continued through-out, including handing the part of the archangel* Michael to an actress. Not only is this a male name (my own name, in fact), but this is the second Michael gender-bender in a comparatively short period of time. Prior to this, I had only ever heard of a single (real or fictional) woman carrying that name—actress Michael Learned, who was often billed with an explicit “miss” to avoid miss-, sorry, mis-understandings.

*In all fairness, angels have often been depicted in an asexual or ambiguous manner in art in the past, and I might have given the series a pass, had it not been for the God issue—as I did with the movie “Constantine” and the archangel Gabriel (played by Tilda Swinton). More generally, there is a gray area when it comes to such non-human entities, and whether they should be seen as men/women or somethings that has just taken male/female guises. (I do not recall whether Michael was ever referred to by a pronoun.)

A related distortion is how Pepper (a child) showed strong signs of blindly believing in Gender-Feminist nonsense like the “Patriarchy”—and even accusing another woman* of being sexist towards her… My recollections of the “book Pepper” are of someone with a head of her own, who would be unlikely to blindly spout what her mother** (?) had told her.

*Or entity-played-by-an-actress. (Specifically, War, who was actually a woman, or using a female guise, in the book too.)

**Who might have been in the hippie and/or mother-goddess crowds.

The use of God (irrespective of sex) as a narrator found yet another area of problems when the character Metatron appeared and presented himself as the “voice of the Almighty”… As stressed, this was to be seen more as a metaphor (implying spokesman or similar), leaving God with her own more physical voice; however, the result is still absurd. Here it would have made more sense to make Metatron the narrator or to cut the character entirely. (To my recollection, he was only in one brief scene of the series, and had a considerably greater impact on the book.)

In a twist, the series (and the book) contains several points of which typical members of the PC crowd (and Feminists, Leftists, whatnot) might take heed. Note e.g. the complications caused by assuming that someone is “good” or “evil” based on group membership, rather than on the individual and actual actions. (Examples include the division into angels vs. demons, witches vs. witch-finders, decent people vs. Jezebels, and possibly a few more. In the book, Adam’s gang vs. the rival gang is likely an example.) Or consider the destructiveness of attempting to force people into a set of behaviors or opinions against their own will, most notably Adam vs. his gang. In the overlap between these two areas, the day was saved because Crowley, Aziraphale, and Adam ignored what they were “supposed” to do.

The recurring reader might recall my various delivery issues earlier this year. The deliveries in both book and series had a very different pattern, including several deliveries ordered hundreds of years in advance that arrived at the correct place at the correct time, and a delivery man so dedicated to performing his deliveries that he was prepared to (and did) give up his own life to do so.

Excursion on exceptional switches of medium:
In some cases, a switch of medium can be associated with changes that clearly improve upon the original. If additionally, the original is not yet widely known, the changes might be acceptable as per Oscar Wilde’s tulip analogy. For instance, two of my favorite TV series are based on inferior predecessors: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was preceded by a movie that was nowhere near as good—a complete* re-vamp (pun intended) made for a much better product. “Dexter” was preceded** by a book series that was vastly inferior—at least partially because of changes made, including Dexter no longer (literally) being possessed by a demon…

*However, some events from the movie, set before the TV series, have been validated in canonicity through later references.

**In my understanding, the book and TV series ran parallel with a highly diverging continuity, but the first book or books preceded the TV series. I have read two of the books and am in no hurry to add to my tally.

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Written by michaeleriksson

June 1, 2019 at 9:45 pm

Undue alterations of fictional characters

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I have long thought highly of both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and have read their collaboration “Good Omens” at least four times (albeit not within the last ten or so years). Correspondingly, it was with great interest that I took note of the television version of this work.

While the first episode is promising, it repeated the deplorable PC-ification of characters that plagues much of today’s TV and movies: in the first few minutes, we have the introduction of a female* God, a black** Adam and Eve, and a potentially gay*** Aziraphale. The rest of the episode contains several choices that might not be outlandish but did not match my natural expectation, including an Indian looking “Pepper”—would a British girl by the real name “Pippin Galadriel Moonchild” be likely to have non-White parents? On the positive side, the character Dog was not turned into a cat… Other recent examples include a female Doctor (“Doctor Who”), a female Mar-Well and a black Nick Fury**** (“Captain Marvel”), and a black Buffy (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” reboot, still on rumor stage). Marvel Comics is indeed a repeating sinner, with other alterations including a black Kingpin and a black Heimdal (movies) and a female Thor***** (comics). To boot, there are problems with characters being altered in other ways, even when uncalled for and unnecessary, and even when allowing for a switch of medium (cf. a discussion of changes to Blyton’s works, where there is not even a medium switch).

*While a case can be made for God being a woman, the book (I checked) uses formulations like “he” and “his” in the introductory monologue that the TV version has turned into “I” (and whatnot) by a female speaker. Worse, the way this is handled raises the suspicion that the show’s makers went for a (failed) shock value, expecting a lulled into “he”-ness audience to be moved out of its comfort zone. Seeing that the frequency of female Gods in fiction has been quite high, this borders on the hackneyed. (For two off-the-top-of-my-head examples, see the movie “Dogma” and Phil’s claims on “Modern Family”.) Moreover, there are risks involved with making God the narrator, regardless of sex, e.g. in that a too high burden on infallibility arises or in that parts of the narration becomes odd—both exemplified by how the narrator speaks of what might have happened to the surplus baby.

**This could be seen as the realistic outcome of trying to combine Biblical creation stories with what science says about human evolution. However, I would be highly surprised if the original authors and readers of the Bible did not assume a “Semitic” look. (Also note the Shem/Ham/Japheth split of humanity at at much later stage.) Moreover, looking at the evolutionary record and e.g. the first use of fire and clothes, the more ape-like look of e.g. a Homo Erectus would have been a more appropriate result of such a combination.

***In all fairness, this might be over-interpretation by me and is not entirely incompatible with my recollection of the book.

****Repeating an error from a number of earlier movies—the more so, because Samuel L. Jackson just seems wrong for the part, even color aside.

*****According to claims from a few years back. As I have not followed the comics for twenty-something years, I am uncertain what eventually happened. The mere idea, however, of replacing a well-established character, with a mythological background to boot, borders on the soap-opera level.

(This counting only examples of a pre-existing character being altered and only some that occur to me at the time of writing—the list would be much longer if I had kept record; and not to mention the definitely disproportionate number of homosexuals and various trans-this-and-that, and what subjectively feels like a disproportionate number of black characters and female leads. Indeed, I have reached the point where I am almost surprised when there is not at least one homosexual in a TV series and where even erotic interactions have ceased to surprise me.)

In many cases, these alterations (or, more generally, character choices) seem pointless, unless a politically correct agenda (or an attempt to cater to those with such an agenda) is assumed. The odd one here-or-there might be acceptable for reasons like a certain actor happening to be the best choice for a certain part in all regards except for e.g. skin-color or sex, or the wish to reduce the dramatis personae*. With the current amount of change, such explanations do not suffice. Often, they are entirely unnecessary or even silly (Viking god Heimdal being black, e.g.)—there is no benefit from the female God of “Good Omens” and if a TV show about a female Time Lord was wanted, why not just make a show about a female Time Lord?** Equally, for a show about a black vampire-slayer, just go with another slayer—not the already established-as-white Buffy. In an interesting contrast, any casting of white people into naturally non-white parts*** is met with cries of “white washing” or “appropriation”, and extremists go to the barricades even for e.g. casting an NT in an aspie part****.

*A border-line example is the Peter Jackson version of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, where the male character Glorfindel is removed and his part of the story is taken over by the (also present-in-the-books) female character Arwen. Better examples are bound to exist. (And, no, I was not enthusiastic about this or a number of other deviations by Jackson either—but I can at least see the point of the change.)

**Note that the Doctor is not the one and only Time Lord in existence, and that female Time Lords have a long history on the show. (If Susan is counted, going back to the very first episode.)

***A notable example is the somewhat recent “Gods of Egypt”. While I grant that the result was a little odd, we have to factor in the likely lack of sufficiently many Egyptian-looking and English-speaking quality casting choices, that the equally great error of using English went without criticism, and that no-one prevented the Egyptians from making the movie first—but that they did not. (To boot, I have the suspicion that a casting with Egyptian looking actors would have been similarly attacked by believers in the discredited black-Egyptians hypothesis.) With older productions, e.g. the “Jesus of Nazareth” mini-series, questions of demographics would have made a “truer” casting quite hard.

****Note e.g. criticism against the TV series “Atypical”. Being a likely aspie myself, I find the criticism idiotic.

TV and movie makers, authors, comic artists, whatnots: Please stop this pointless, annoying, or even outright destructive nonsense.

Excursion on skin color vs. hair color:
Why would a change of e.g. skin color be worse than e.g. a change of hair color? First off, I dislike any type of such change that is not hard to avoid*—and this extends to hair color. However: a change of hair color could be explained by a dye job; skin color is more noticeable; skin color often has great implications in terms of character background; and e.g. comic artists are very likely to vary other** aspects of the character but will typically*** not mess with skin color, making it a fix aspect.

*Getting all the details right when e.g. moving from a comic to a (live-action) movie is hard, because finding a sufficiently look-alike actor would usually involve great compromises in terms of acting ability . Hair color is easy, in as far as someone with the wrong hair can wear a wig, shave or dye the hair, or whatever is appropriate.

**Which, frankly, annoys me too. I understand that not every artist will make carbon copies of the style of others, but some take so large liberties that I have had problems with identifying known characters before they were explicitly named or I saw them in the right context (e.g. in the right super-hero costume).

***There is the incredible Hulk…

Excursion on “Doctor Who” and my viewing choices:
When the casting of a female Doctor was first reached my ears, I wrote about the possibility of ceasing to watch the show. For now, this has indeed been my choice, motivated by the combination of the politically correct miscasting*, the preceding drop in quality over several years, and the many other alternative uses of my time (including, but not limited to, many other TV shows). I reserve the right to revise this decision at a later date.

*A claim that should not seen as a statement about the actress or her abilities, which I cannot judge, but only about the distortion of the character caused and, most importantly, the motivations behind it.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 31, 2019 at 10:13 pm

A few thoughts on the word “gender”

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The abuse of “gender” for “sex” has long annoyed me, but I have taken the view that the use for “self-perceived sexual identity” (or similar) was acceptable or even beneficial—if nothing else, the latter is a separate concept and using a separate term for a separate concept is usually a good idea.* However, I unconsciously based this view on a faulty premise: that the grammatical gender was inherently a division into masculine/feminine/neuter or something along similar lines (e.g. just masculine/feminine or masculine/feminine/neuter/common; while an apparently genderless language can equally be viewed as having exactly one gender**). Using this premise, an application to similar*** divisions in other areas would not be absurd—if a good word was not already present.

*Indeed, one of my more common complaints about the PC crowd is the high-jacking of words to mean something different from what would be historically expected and/or expected among other speakers, e.g. (in the same area) that “man” and “woman” would refer to self-perception instead of biology. It would be much better to introduce new words for these new concepts. Even worse is deliberate re-/mis-definition for purposes like manipulation, as with e.g. “racism” and “rape” in some circles.

**At least, assuming that it follows a pattern somewhat similar to the typical Indo-European languages, as e.g. a version of English where “they” (“them”, etc.) was abused as a full replacement for “he”, “she”, “it” (“him”, etc.)—which is where, regrettably, English seems be heading. (The abuse as a generic third-person singular is already dominant.) A sufficiently different language might behave too differently (but is then unlikely to be relevant in this context).

***I stress that e.g. a grammatical “masculinity” does not automatically imply a physical or biological “masculinity”, which is obvious from languages with a more differentiated system than English—hence, “similar” above. This differentiation is another reason not to use “gender” for “sex”—grammatical gender and biological sex are not always coinciding. (In German, words for things can be grammatically masculine, feminine, or neutral, even when a logical neutral might be expected. Words applied to men can be feminine (e.g. “die Person”/“the person”); words applied to women can be masculine (e.g. “der Mensch”/“the human”); words for either can be neutral (e.g. “das Individuum”/“the individual”. Of course, the gender changes based on what word is used—not based on the entity referred to.)

This, however, is not strictly the case: it happens to be true in many languages, including English and German, but other divisions are possible. For instance, Proto-Indo-European might have had an animate/inanimate division. Even my native Swedish deviates through a somewhat arbitrary division into utrum and neutrum:* The members of these genders, for all practical and modern purposes, only differ in what indefinite (“en”/“ett”) and definite (“den”/“det”) article is used and whether an “-en” or an “-et” is to be suffixed in certain situations.** Indeed, they were more often referred to as “en-ord” och “ett-ord” (“ord” = “word(s)”) than “utrum” and “neutrum” in school.

*The discussion of actual Swedish grammar in school was superficial, incomplete, or even incorrect—a problem that native speakers of other languages might also have encountered. For this reason, I had simply never really reflected on the implications of the Swedish deviation until today. As an added complication, there are several different perspectives on Swedish genders (above, I discuss the most common) and the situation was historically different.

**E.g. “en sak”/“a thing” vs. “ett träd”/“a tree” and “den saken”/“that thing” vs “det trädet”/“that tree”.

Looking outside of grammar, there have been many uses of the word “gender” that also follow the line of a more general classification, e.g. that being English/German/whatnot or belonging to a certain family was discussed in terms of “gender”. Older use for sexual division (e.g. “the female gender”) is just a special case of this, and not* a precedent for a specialized use relating to sex or sexual identity. This makes it the more illogical to use “gender” when it is actually the sex (or even sexual identity) that is intended: a “Sex:” on a driver’s license calls for “M[ale]” or “F[emale]” with some clarity**, while “Gender:” might equally call for “E[nglish]”.

*Similarly, the fact that we could speak of someone being of the “female persuasion” does not make “persuasion” a good replacement for “sex”, because we can equally combine “persuasion” with other words implying group membership. Note that this applies to a wide range of other words too, e.g. “class”, “set”, “category”. (If it had just been “persuasion”, it might have been rejected as an abuse, or something to restrict to humorous formulations, for other reasons. The choice of “persuasion” as an example is based on the higher frequency of “female persuasion” over, say, “female category”.)

**Or at least it used to… However, even for those who cannot or does not want to be classified as male or female, the type of the classification is clear. On the other hand, confusion with sexual acts is highly unlikely outside of the famous joke about the girl who found her mother’s driver’s license (“Mommy! I know why Dad divorced you! You got an ‘F’ in sex!”).

I re-iterate my recommendation never, ever to use “gender” when “sex” is the traditional word. When it comes to sexual identity, the question is trickier because, again, a separate* word makes sense, and I am unable to offer an alternative that is both sufficiently understandable and has a sufficient current use to not cause as much confusion as “gender”*. However, this might be an area where “persuasion” (see earlier footnote) has some possibilities, actually gaining through its more regular meaning in the area of opinions and convictions, e.g. in that the-athlete-previously-known-as-Bruce would be considered of the male sex and the female persuasion.** Possibly, some shortening of “sexual persuasion”, e.g. “sexper” or “seper”, might work as a replacement for “gender” in such an attempt.***

*Another strong argument against the abuse of “gender” for “sex” is that many will assume a reference to sexual identity where biological sex was intended and vice versa.

**Or at least was so “pre-op”. Possibly, additional terminology is needed for the “post-op” case.

***Using an unabbreviated “sexual persuasion” would be too lengthy in many contexts, e.g. on driver’s licenses. It would also risk a dropping of “sexual” in sloppy use, with negative effects on other meanings of “persuasion”—just like “discrimination” and “intercourse” has seen a drift towards using the word solely for a special case implied by a longer phrase. To start with just “persuasion” would be even worse.

Addendum to the linked-to text:
Possibly ten years ago, I wrote “The possibility that existing literature eventually would be actively re-written to adhere to ‘gender-neutrality’ is not at all far-fetched:”. Indeed not: Consider e.g. my (much later) text on distortion of Blyton, where I lament that the actual events and characters of her books, not just specific words, have been altered for similar reasons.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 1, 2019 at 7:47 am

Plato’s cave and the dangers of a limited world-view

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Plato’s famous cave provides an excellent illustration* of the dangers of e.g. censorship (cf. any number of previous texts), opinion corridors, distortion of literary works, echo chambers, and other limits on thought and perception.

*Not necessarily one intended by him, but it still fits well.

Consider someone (for now, voluntarily) sitting in a cave, facing one sole direction, and attempting to understand the world based on the shadows that move on the cave wall: How is this supposed to work? What is there to lose by turning around and trying to catch a glimpse of what happens in another direction? A glimpse of the actual objects, instead of their shadows? A glimpse of the fire? A glimpse of the other walls? Why not climb out of the cave for an entirely new set of perspectives and information? How can the wall-facers even know the extent of their knowledge and ignorance, let alone actually learn something beyond the limited and often distorted information of the shadows?

Yet, exactly this wall-facing is what many people do—most, in the case of the strongly religious or ideological (notably Leftists/PC-ists/Feminists). Indeed, they are similar to the prisoners of Plato’s cave even in that they often react negatively towards those who have seen something else or suggest other truths (also see an excursion below). The condemnation of the unseen without bothering to look at it first, is a recurring theme.

Now, I am not saying that those who do expose themselves to other walls, the world outside the cave, whatnot, will necessarily change their opinions—nor that they necessarily should (this will obviously depend on how well the old opinion fares compared to the alternatives; also cf. e.g. [1]). However, their opinions afterwards will be better—be it because they have replaced a flawed opinion with something closer to the truth, have modified the old opinion to be more nuanced, or have a greater legitimacy in believing the old opinion (should it have panned out, after all).

In contrast, the opinions of those who refuse to expose themselves to other ideas, perspectives, whatnot are next to worthless, being steeped in ignorance and too weakly tested—and those who deliberately constrain themselves prove their anti-intellectualism and misology, no matter what they might claim or believe themselves to be.

Then there are those (again, notably in the Leftist/PC/Feminist area) who deliberately try to chain others in front of that one wall. They try to censor or libel dissenters; force curricula to have an ideological character with a fix world-view; re-write children’s literature; promote ignorance of and/or distort history and scientific findings; … My feelings for them are better not put into words.

I have no objections to people who fairly promote their own opinions (world-view, ideas, whatnot)—this is the equivalent of describing the advantages or contents of a particular other eye direction or the surface world. I also raise no objections to those who attack other opinions with reasoning, factual arguments, sound science, and other intellectually honest methods.

However, very many chose very different methods, aiming at, directly or indirectly, preventing their victims from exploring other sources of information, other perspectives, etc. This is not limited to actively preventing access to these information sources and whatnots; it also includes unfair attacks (e.g. most cases of ad hominem), “science” hell-bent on proving a certain point,* indoctrination of those too young or feeble minded to think critically, and “channel flooding” through ensuring that all** channels that might reasonably be encountered by most people are filled with content supporting or pseudo-supporting the same idea. (These channels would then be akin to the wall, and the “flooders” to the movers of shadow-casting objects, who can further control and distort the perception of the world.)

*Legitimate scientists will often approach e.g. an experiment or a survey with the wish to see a certain conclusion; however, they try to build it fairly and are willing to adapt their opinions, should the results not be the hoped for. Illegitimate ones will often build the experiment/survey/whatnot so that the “right” result is bound to manifest, irrespective of the truth, and/or interpret the results in such a manner that it supports their thesis (even when someone more objective would come to another conclusion), and/or report their findings in a highly misleading manner.

**For instance, school-children will be so disproportionately exposed to the channel “school” in many areas (including history and social sciences) that agenda pushing among teachers or text-book publishers can do severe damage; college is not as extreme, with adults having more options, but poses a similar danger. For instance, until the 1990s or even later, the single most important source of news for most people in e.g. Sweden was the few state-owned TV channels, and anyone controlling these also controlled a disproportionate part of the information flow. Websites are mostly a contrast, seeing that anyone can chose to simply visit a different set of websites; however, if e.g. Google and Facebook selectively promote or penalize certain contents based on opinion, this could be seen as a further example.

Excursion on Swedish anti-Feminists and similar groups:
A particularly strong parallel can be found in the journey and treatment of most Swedish anti-Feminists: These, like I, usually grew up with a considerable amount of Feminist indoctrination (through school, news papers, political propaganda etc.), they eventually found that the Feminist world-view, even Feminist self-portrayal, did not pan out (by a mixture of critical thinking and exposure to alternate opinions/non-ideological science), and were then derided as ignorants in need of enlightenment by the Feminists when they tried to point out the many Feminist fallacies to others… This matches the scenario by Plato of a former wall-facer who is moved to the surface and considered deficient upon his return—for his failure to see the world in the same way as the remaining wall-facers.*

*A minor flaw in the analogy is Plato’s description of the returning explorers as being temporarily limited in sight until their eyes have adjusted to the darkness again. I am far from certain that I agree with this portion of his (metaphorical) discussion in any context, and it is likely intended to apply only in the context of education and politicians (or possibly the ideal vs. the mundane, or similar) to begin with.

Excursion on Plato:
At least the linked-to piece (covering Book VII of his “Republic”) is yet another example of writing that is poor, long-winded, and has a too low information density. The ever repeating, mindless, agreement by Glaucon is a particular nuisance—not merely introducing noise, but also being outright annoying after a while.* A much better approach to the dialogue format (if such a format is used at all) would be to have Glaucon go into opposition and force clarifications and/or stronger arguments. As is, such opportunities are limited to variations of him not understanding or understanding incorrectly—and even those drown in the constant amens.

*In a twist, this type of agreement is contrary to the spirit of the above. It is also a long way from the reputation of the Socratic method… (The rest of the “Republic” is on my short-term todo list, but I have no other direct experiences with Plato’s writings.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 26, 2018 at 10:43 pm

Distortion of literary works / Enid Blyton

with 5 comments

While I have always been strongly opposed to censorship, political correctness, intellectual dishonesty, (mis-)editing of the words of others, and similar, there is a particular area that troubles me with an eye on my own contemplations of becoming an author of fiction—presenting distortions of the works of dead authors as if they were the actual works.

For instance, I recently stumbled over the Wikipedia page on “The Famous Five”, and was distraught to read:

In modern reprints, George still wants to be a boy, but the statement that her short hair makes her look like a boy has been removed as it is now considered offensive to assume that girls need long hair to be considered feminine. Anne’s statement that boys cannot wear pretty dresses or like girl’s dolls has been taken out. Julian and Dick now help the girls with cleaning the house and washing dishes.

This increases the series of children’s’ books* that have been distorted in an irrational and destructive manner, contemptuous of both the author and the readers. (To boot, the claim “now considered” is a further inexcusable lack of encyclopedic standards on behalf of Wikipedia. A correct claim would be that e.g., depending on what applies, the “censor’s** considered it offensive” or “some population groups considered it offensive”.) Not only are such distortions despicable in general, but here the reasons appear to be particularly weak. I note, concerning the hair, that in such young people it can be the only physical differentiation and that judgments like “looks like a boy” and “looks like a girl” have to be measured against the time in which they occurred. To boot, George almost*** certainly otherwise dressed and whatnot as a boy, making the hair just one piece of a puzzle. Removing references to the hair thoroughly distorts the original intentions. Similarly, removing Anne’s statement distorts her character and misrepresents the times. This is especially bad, as it removes the contrast between the boyish/unconventional George and the girly/traditional Anne, weakening the two characters and the “group dynamic”. That the boys help with house-work again misrepresents the times and risks a character distortion—how do we know that they would have helped, had they lived in today’s world? Worse: I strongly suspect that these changes, especially the last, is not so much a matter of wanting to avoid offense as of deliberately influencing modern readers to hold a certain set of values—an utterly inexcusable reason for an already inexcusable act.

*Other examples include “Huckleberry Finn”, “Doctor Dolittle”, and the Swedish “Ture Sventon” and “Pippi Långstrump [Long-Stocking]”—among the at least dozen cases I have heard of. (The true scope of the problem is likely orders of magnitude greater and afflicting many more languages.)

**I call a spade a spade—these people are no better, arguably worse, than regular censors. (To “call a spade a spade” is another example of how unjustified censorship is common: Here, “spade” refers to a digging implement in a saying that goes back to ancient Greece. Still, there are people who consider it offensive because the same sequence of letters, much more rarely, has been used to refer to Black people…)

***It has been a very long time since I read one of the books, and there is some minor room for a combination of character being misremembered and contents not matching what would be reasonable based on first principles.

I note that the motivations give in other contexts tend to be very poor. For instance, Swedish censorship and distortion have been directed at the word “neger” as being offensive—however, unlike the English “nigger”, “neger” was never offensive. This changed at some point in the 1980s or 1990s when the PC movement presumed to declare it offensive. This with no reasonable motivation and likely based on a mindless analogy with the English “nigger”—if the one is offensive, then so must be the other…

A particular perfidious version, inexcusable beyond the inexcusable, is the claim that certain changes were made because “we” are sure that this is what the (long dead) author would have wanted—a presumption so moronic and/or dishonest that I feel like punching the speaker in the face.

Such changes, worthy of the Ministry of Truth, are a crime against the author, who sees his work distorted, and a crime against the reader, who is refused the opportunity to read the original work and whose view of the world of old is potentially distorted. Indeed, for a member of the politically correct who actually had a brain, would it not make more sense to let the children see that the world was different in the past and draw their own conclusions? Would it not be better that a girl noted that Anne did house-work and that Julian did not—and questioned the “why”? To look at Anne and George and ask who she would rather be? For the girl-who-wants-to-be-boy* (or vice versa) to look at George and how she had the courage to go against convention even back then? Etc.

*However, I am uncertain to what degree George’s wishes were comparable to some modern cases and to what degree she just wished for a more boyish life-style, considered girly-girls silly, whatnot. Not only are my contacts too far back, but I doubt that Blyton would have been explicit on the topic (if it even occured to her).

As for myself, I have not yet made up my mind on whether to become an author of fiction, and chances are that I would never have a sufficient and enduring popularity that such concerns would actually be relevant. However, I state now and for the record that I absolutely and categorically forbid such distortions of any of my works, current, past, present, and irrespective of type. If I am alive, I will exercise legal options; if I am dead, I will come back to haunt the culprits. The latter especially if someone presumes to try that utterly inexcusable excuse “we know that this is what he would have wanted”—you now know that it is not!

Excursion on other distortions:
Unfortunately, the general problem of distortion is not limited to e.g. censorship and children’s literature. Notably, newer German editions of older texts often come with the claim that the orthography has been “behutsam angepasst” (“cautiously adapted”) or similar, in order to match modern German—and this even for works that were written as late as the 19th century… This might be less harmful than the above, but still brings risks and disadvantages—and most changes are pointless in that the average reader could take the old spelling in a stride.* (A better solution would be to add a few corresponding notes. For truly extreme examples, a parallel original and “translated” text is an option.) For instance, one reason to read older books is to get a feel for the historical language, which is no longer possible. For instance, any such change risks an unintended distortion.** For instance, it is possible that the author deliberately chose a more traditional spelling over a more new-fangled one, in which case the alteration is in direct contradiction to his will.

*A notable example is the common use of “th” in many cases where today “t” is used, e.g. “Thal” vs “Tal” (“valley”). Consider e.g. the extinct Neanderthals vs. the valley Neandertal—at the time of their discovery, the valley used the “th” spelling, which is preserved in the anthropological name, while it uses the “t” spelling today. (And, yes, Neanderthal is correctly pronounced with a “t” sound—not with a lisp.)

**E.g. because two words that used to be spelled (slightly) differently are now spelled the same or vice versa, because some rhyme or play on words does no longer work, or because some spelling choices might have been very personal. (The latter especially in times when the orthography was less standardized than today.) An interesting example is the disappearance of older words, word cases, whatnot. Consider e.g. a modernized version of Shakespeare that replaces “thou” with “you”, etc.: This would lose a lot of nuance as to who is in what relationship to/with someone else and how the relationship might change over time.

The problem is not necessarily limited to dead authors either (but is particularly perfidious there, because they cannot defend themselves). Translations are a horrifying source of problems, at least in Germany, where I have encountered many efforts so awful that they should have led to a summary firing. The German translations of Terry Pratchett’s books have often been disastrous (cf. portions of a text on Pratchett’s death)—and do not get me started on German movie translations… While this is often the result of mere incompetence, e.g. ignorance of what a certain word/phrase/reference/… means,* it can also be deliberate. Notably, there is a school of translators who attempt to hide the fact that a work actually is a translation at any and all cost… (Including rather losing a play on words than giving an explanation of it, or rather re-writing cultural references to some highly approximate local equivalent.) This is an anti-intellectualism and dishonesty that is truly deplorable.

Excursion on Blyton:
Blyton might have mass-produced works with little literary value and might, by reputation, actually have approved in exchange for a bit of extra money. None of that matters: The editors have no such actual approval; the distorting effect for the readers remain (cf. above); the works have, irrespective of literary value, a great following and have been loved by millions (implying that any change is likelier to do damage than to do good); and, above all, if this is accepted for one author, what protects other authors? Indeed, even “To Kill a Mocking-Bird”, widely considered a work of considerable literary accomplishment, has been targeted by the PC crowd. It is important that not one inch be given to these people.

Excursion on tomboys and Feminists:
A peculiarity when it comes to e.g. Feminists and tomboys vs. girly-girls is that “tomboy” is often described as some type of insult or framed in a context of boys/men looking down on the tomboys who “should” be proper girly-girls instead. This repeats a pattern of ignorance and over-generalization about what men are actually like and what they actually think about women—I very much preferred George to Anne at that age, I have preferred girls/women with boyish/mannish interests later in life, and the same applies to a very sizable portion, likely a majority, of the male population. Yes, when it comes to sex and romance, there are many cases where a certain femininity in behavior and style can be attractive; no, when it comes to playing, socializing, whatnot, the tomboy and her adult successor tend to do better. For that matter, too much femininity and/or stereotypically female behaviors are a turn-off in romance too. (Too much make-up, too many shoes, too much emotionality, etc.—the likes of Carrie Bradshaw are not a good ideal.) Of course, even a boyish girl/woman can be quite physically attractive, aesthetically pleasing, and even feminine—this is not an either–or area. (Consider e.g. Evangeline Lilly in “Lost” or Keira Knightley in “Bend it like Beckham”*.) When a man says “tomboy”, it is more likely to be a compliment than an insult.

*Incidentally, a good example of German mistranslations: It was renamed to the alleged English title “Kick [sic!] it like Beckham”… Also a good, if fictional, example of how men tend to view tomboys—compare the positions of the two fathers and the two mothers towards the respective daughters and their “boyish” interests.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 18, 2018 at 8:22 pm

What the PC movement gains from silencing Dead White Men

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A very dangerous aspect of some modern excesses of political correctness is the almost whole-sale rejection of anything “Western”, “traditional”, “classical”, … The danger is not* because of typical Conservative counter-arguments about having a common frame of reference or cultural understanding, knowing where we came from, … No: The two much worse, overlapping problems are the following:

*While I do not consider such arguments without merit, they are, with reservations for history, a lot less relevant today, with changing norms and societies, rapidly changing cultural (in senses like fiction and who-is-who) frames of reference, heavy migration, whatnot. For instance, my native Sweden and adopted Germany have very different sets of authors that one “should” know about—and to have a discussion with a modern German teenager, I might be better off knowing something about “Game of Thrones” or Kanye West than about Goethe and Schiller…

Firstly, there are enormous amounts of insight to be found in older works—and, unlike modern works, they have typically been strongly pre-filtered for quality and long-term relevance.* It is neigh on impossible to come up with a thought so truly original than no-one else has published it in the past. Many are even so old and established that they are anonymous adages.** Similarly, more or less any event of today can find at least an approximate parallel in history, making a solid knowledge of history an immensely valuable tool for understanding the current world, including seeing potential dangers. A related issue is that ignorance of history makes it impossible to view historical events, persons, ideologies, whatnot in a reasonable light, especially compared to other events, persons, ideologies, whatnot of the same or another era (including today). Those who denigrate old thoughts, the teaching of history, whatnot, just “because it is old” (“[…] Western”, “[…] by Dead White Men”) slow their own intellectual growth, hinder their understanding of (even) modern society, and are often unable to understand the past in a reasonable context.

*Similarly, that the music of a few decades back appears to be much better than today, is partially a result of the weaker music of then having been filtered out much more strongly over the intervening years than has the weaker music of today.

**A common problem, independent of the PC crowd, is that these are often viewed the wrong way: A proponent might try to “prove” a point merely by citing an adage; an opponent might denigrate them indiscriminately, seeing that they often focus on only one aspect of an issue or a special case. The best gain, however, is when they are seen as “food for thought”, as pointers to some aspect of an issue that we might have overlooked or not considered sufficiently. Generally, the point of exposure to others ideas is not to adopt these ideas—but to use them as stimulation for the development of an own web of ideas.

Secondly, this rejection is a vital part of the survival of the PC movement: People who are well-read in the “forbidden knowledge” are much more likely to see the dangers and errors of the PC crowd than others. A particularly interesting aspect is repeated warnings against censorship, poor reasoning, intellectual dishonesty, and similar. For instance, this text was prompted by encountering a statement by Goethe:

Gegner glauben uns zu widerlegen, wenn sie ihre Meinung wiederholen und auf die unsrige nicht achten.

Translation: Opponents believe that they refute us, when they reiterate their own opinion and ignore* ours.

*Depending on exact intent, especially with “achten” not being a likely modern formulation, I am hesitant in the exact translation. Possibly, e.g. “do not pay attention to” or “do not respect” comes closer to the original intent. The overall sentiment remains the same, however.

This so well matches so many encounters I have had, especially with Feminists, who (a) appear to consider it more important to suppress dissenting opinions* than to give arguments against them and in favor of their own, (b) often argue by mere assertion (or mere slogan), (c) seem to believe that a lie repeated often enough is the truth. Large parts of the German Left appear to believe that the best way to push an opinion is to march along the street and scream it at the top of one’s voice. Excesses in U.S. colleges include systematic disturbances and sabotage of speeches given by not-sufficiently-kosher guest lecturers, including such absurdities as circumventing a ban on disturbances in the lecture hall by using strong loud-speakers immediately outside the same…

*In a parallel to the contents of this text, I have often noted that even perfectly factual statements run a severe risk of being censored on e.g. Feminist blogs, for no other discernible reason than mere dissent. Factual arguments, statistics, etc., appear to increase the risk of censorship.

What if these people stopped for a minute to think about the above quote, draw appropriate conclusion, and adapted their behavior correspondingly? Clearly, it is better for the success of such movements to prevent exposure to such thoughts—or to discredit them by Goethe (or whatever author) being a Dead White Man.

Or consider history: It is so much easier to be on the far Left, when all one knows is the atrocities of Hitler—but not those of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. It is so much easier to paint Blacks as disadvantaged and slavery as a White-on-Black atrocity, when comparing the U.S. Blacks of 1840 with modern society instead of the Whites at other times in history, when not making comparison to other historically disadvantaged groups (notably the Jews), and when not being aware of the greater history of slavery (be it concerning Blacks or generally). It is so much easier to propose censorship, restrictions on occupations, indoctrination, whatnot, without having to make comparisons to e.g the McCarthy-era or any number of dictatorships (not to mention “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, moving on to literature by Dead White Men).

The simple truth is this: If people are exposed to “heretical” ideas, allowed to read “dangerous” books, take the time to think for themselves, …, a certain type of movement will be very hard to sustain. Examples include large swaths of the Leftist and PC movements in e.g. the current U.S., Sweden, and Germany; various (past or current) dictatorships, notably the Marx-inspired ones; various religious organizations and sects; …

Excursion on alternatives:
Could not the same insights be gained from other sources? Often they can; however, why go looking for something that is already under our noses? Especially, when that already available will in most cases be objectively superior to the replacement? For instance, when we already have a certain college course, taught for decades and based on an even longer academic history, why throw it out? If we have a literature requirement, is it not natural to focus on those works actually available natively and in the local language?* If we want to draw general lessons from history, why not look to countries** where historians have gathered detailed knowledge covering a long period of time? Etc.

*Not only will the availability of material in the local language be far larger where local authors are concerned, but we also have to consider that even a good translation is invariably different from the original, that even a good translation will leave issues of prerequisite cultural/societal/whatnot knowledge, that even a good translation is usually inferior to the original, and that most translations are not good… To boot, leaving the Western world, most countries have weaker or considerably weaker literary traditions.

**In addition, it is usually preferable to have a stronger focus on the local country, seeing that the local history will often contain information more useful in understanding the current local society. (Benefits from being local will, obviously, require different choices from country to country, from area to area, from cultural sphere to cultural sphere—and are only a pro-something-Western in the case of a Western country.)

If it turns out that this-or-that other source provides some alternative insights, there is nothing wrong with using it in addition. If it turns out to be better, it might even be used instead—I do not advocate a focus on the Western for the sake of having something Western, and a study of e.g Chinese history, literature, philosophy, …, might give equal benefits*. However, the same cannot be said when we look to e.g. Nigeria. Moreover, this is nowhere near what many of these extremists suggest: They appear to start with the assumption that anything related to Dead White Men is evil, and see its abolishment from e.g. school curricula as an end in it self, giving preference to untested and very likely inferior alternatives.

*Barring pragmatical issues, e.g. the aforementioned translations, or local relevance.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 3, 2018 at 11:27 pm

Poe-litically correct mad-houses

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I have long marveled at the absurd excesses, extreme irrationality, and virtual insatiability of large parts of the PC crowd, e.g. among Swedish feminists or in U.S. colleges.* The problems in higher education are especially depressing, because colleges and universities are supposed to be about truth, knowledge, rationality, freedom of speech and opinion, intellectual development …—an example for all of society. Starting in the 1960s and heading downward ever since, they have been slowly turning into the opposite of this—a center for pseudo- and anti-intellectuals, those pushing ideological agendas over truth, those trying to indoctrinate the younger generation instead of teaching it how to think critically, those wanting to silence their opponents by any means, …** In some cases, the transformation is more-or-less complete by now.

*See a number of older posts, or sites like www.mindingthecampus.org and www.thefire.org, for examples and deeper discussions. Also note an excursion at the end. If you think that I engage in rhetorical exaggeration, please read even a handful of articles on such topics from other parties first—you will find that I do not. (Notwithstanding that the mentioned sources do not necessarily give a complete overall image of the college situation, as they focus on particular types of abuse and rarely have a reason to mention positives.)

**In all fairness, the faculty is, at least outside social sciences, the place where the sensible people are still most likely to be found. Students and administrators often appear to be the larger problem; and the three reinforce each other’s behavior. To boot, the destructive tendencies do not necessarily reflect majority opinions in any group—maybe they do, maybe it is more a matter of who cries the loudest wins. (And can these people cry!)

The point has come where I often even doubt whether mere ignorance, stupidity, intellectual dishonesty, hypocrisy, a “the end justifies the means” mentality, whatnot, are enough to explain the situation—or whether at least some of the involved people might actually suffer from severe mental problems.

As I contemplated* grabbing an online copy of “Alice in Wonderland” to explore the topic of insanity by transforming it into a portrayal of U.S. colleges, I stumbled upon something usable as is, with only a minor switch of mental perspective: Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. In brief, it tells the story of a (as it transpires) less-than-bright young man, who visits a “mad-house” in the hopes of educating himself on a new (fictional) system of treatment—“soothing”. Soothing takes an extremely tolerant approach to the behavior and self-/world-perception of the patients—to the point that someone who believes himself a chicken is treated like a chicken.**

*I might or might not. This will depend on how much time I have available, how long it is, and how well the overall story can be made to fit. (I have not read it since a teenager, leaving me a little vague on these details.)

**In all fairness, unlike e.g. U.S. colleges, this is partly with the intent of making the patient return to a more conventional perception, e.g. in that someone being given only corn to eat might realize that he is not entirely a chicken after all.

Our unnamed protagonist finds himself in the company of the superintendent, Monsieur Maillard, and a young woman. After the departure of the latter, he expresses some curiosity as to whether she was one of the patients, but is reassured that she was a niece of Monsieur Maillard’s. He receives some information about the system, the history of the mad-house, and whatnot—but is also told that the soothing system has been replaced by one largely of Monsieur Maillard’s invention, with influence by Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.

The protagonist is not yet allowed to see any patients, but is invited to dinner “[…]where a very numerous company were assembled — twenty-five or thirty in all. They were, apparently, people of rank—certainly of high breeding[…]”. As dinner progresses, various stories of patients are told and absurd events occur that have some very clear implications to a rational reader, but, sadly, not to the protagonist. This includes the young lady from before attempting to undress in front of the rest of the party…

Monsieur Maillard eventually tells a story of when the soothing system misfired, strongly contributing to its abolition, and the patients took over the mad-house, showing rather less consideration to their former keepers than had been shown in the other direction: “The keepers and kept were soon made to exchange places. Not that exactly either — for the madmen had been free, but the keepers were shut up in cells forthwith, and treated, I am sorry to say, in a very cavalier manner.”

Further said about the how the leader of the revolution kept the new state of affairs secret: “He admitted no visitors at all — with the exception, one day, of a very stupid-looking young gentleman of whom he had no reason to be afraid. He let him in to see the place — just by way of variety, — to have a little fun with him.”

Shortly thereafter, in the timeline of the dinner, the “lunatics”/keepers stage a break-out*, take back control, and reveal further parts of the story, including that they had been tarred-and-feathered and locked up for more than a month.

*This, regrettably, has not (yet?) happened in the real world.

The story concludes with the protagonist’s lament “[…] that, although I have searched every library in Europe for the works of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, I have, up to the present day, utterly failed in my endeavors at procuring an edition.”; however, I am certain that things have changed since Poe’s days and that any modern college library will contain these or many similar works…

Excursion on insatiability:
A particular absurdity is that the less* actual reason for a complaint is present, the greater the complaints are. This includes, e.g. accusations of racism, intolerance, hate speech, … The reason appears to be that the goal-post are continually moved to more and more extreme positions, even after an absurd state has been reached. Consider e.g. Swedish feminists who, as arguably the most privileged and advantaged major group in the world, still complain about oppression, discrimination, and whatnot; or the U.S. idiocy of micro-aggressions, which can make any interaction between a White straight man and someone not a White straight man into a grave offense; or objections to hoop ear-rings worn by the “wrong” people; or fits being thrown over the casting of a “binary”** person in a “non-binary” film role.

*From the point of view of the Leftists/PC crowd/SJWs/… Other parties can have quite a lot to complain about, including racism, intolerance, hate speech, … by these groups.

**I.e. someone who identifies as purely man or purely woman and does so in concordance with biological sex. (I am uncertain whether heterosexuality is also required.)

Excursion on other works of literature:
Much of what goes on is disturbingly similar to some works by e.g. George Orwell, Franz Kafka, Anthony Burgess, and Ayn Rand. The extreme attempts at thought-control and extermination of even the slightest hint of dissent, as well as the ever sinking threshold for thoughtcrime and sexcrime, might leave the impression* that “Big Brother” has been taken as a deliberate role model. (A separate text on this might follow.) The quasi-Orwellian slogan “Ignorance is Enlightenment” also catches many of the problems…

*More likely, it is a natural development paralleling the problems that inspired Orwell—at the hands of those ignorant of his works. Litmus test: When you hear “Big Brother”, do you think surveillance or thought-control?

Written by michaeleriksson

August 10, 2018 at 4:51 am