Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘TV

Journalistic fraud II

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Yesterday, I published a text on gross journalistic fraud; today, I am met with news sources claiming that RTL* has discovered at least seven cases of deliberate manipulation by one of its employees**… According to e.g. [1] (in German), the proofs are sufficiently clear that the employee has been summarily fired. Further checks of work stretching back twelve years is under way.

*One of the largest German TV senders.

**Original sources use “Mitarbeiter”, which is vaguer than “employee” and might well refer to a non-employed collaborator. Depending on (unknown) context, another translation might be better.

While these individual cases do not necessarily say anything about the typical reporting,* they are a very bad sign—and they do make clear that we must not “believe everything written in the paper”, be it literally or metaphorically. Moreover, they point to a considerable need for media to improve its fact-checking.

*There are thousands of journalists, TV reporters, and whatnots active on a daily basis in Germany alone. Even a small percentage of fraudsters will lead to a non-trivial number of cases.


Written by michaeleriksson

June 14, 2019 at 5:47 pm

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Problems with YouTube content

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Spending some time on YouTube, I find a lot of annoyances. Spending some time looking through my drafts, I find that I had already started to write something on the topic. The below is a slightly polished version of the draft, with the reservation that I do not always remember the exact context of some complaints. The footnotes were all added during polishing, in lieu of editing the main text. The formulation as “do not” was almost certainly an error, but I am not keen on a re-write.

There is a lot of crap on YouTube, which is neither surprising, nor necessarily a problem. What is problematic: Even when the content is good, the presentation is often very poor—and in some cases showing an immense contempt for the viewers. Sadly, the more “professional” the poster or channel tries to be, the worse it tends to perform in these regards. In many ways, it is as if they have taken the worst sins of incompetent TV productions and raised them to virtues.

YouTubers (and TV producers!), please do not:

  1. Waste the viewer’s time with long intro sequences without content. There are plenty of five minute videos that start with a thirty second intro, with nothing but logos or generic information about the poster…* This is the worse when viewing several videos by the same poster one after the other.

    *In a parallel, where movies of old might have started with a brief clip for the studio, e.g. MGM’s roaring/yawning lion, many modern movies have half-a-dozen such clips for various entities, which can postpone the start of the actual movie for minutes. Result? I am annoyed and skip forward…

  2. Add background music for no good reason—but if you still do, pick something of quality and with a bit of variation. Save us from those endless repetitions of the same ten seconds of unimaginative drum beat or synthesizer cords.* Either the video has dialog and background noise that is of interest and then there should be no music at all; or not and then I would much prefer to listen to the music of my choice. Half the time, I end up having the video on mute…**

    *I have the impression that there is some repository of fairly second-rate free-for-use music provided by YouTube it self, and that many posters just pick something from this repository based on the first hearing sounding “cool”. After five minutes of repetition, it is a different story altogether. Note that this can apply to even far higher quality music: I recall being driven up the wall by the DVD “extras” for “Pirates of the Caribbean”, which all played the same portion of the movie score over-and-over-and-over-again.

    **Here I probably had my eyes on videos that relied mostly on the actual video part, e.g. wild-life scenes, pets doing weird things, or “fails”. The claim does not apply to more talk-centric videos, e.g. skits or discussions of training tips. (If in doubt, because they are less likely to be infested with poor music…) More generally, the original text is often a bit indiscriminate when it comes to type of video.

    Bad music is worse than no music!

  3. Prioritize the contents lower than the moderator/narrator/whatnot: The latter should only be seen and heard when they bring value to the content, not use the contents to attempt* to make themselves look good or cool. If you have the content, let the content speak; if you do not, pretending that you do just makes you look like an idiot.

    *They usually fail…

  4. Pollute the content with irrelevant animations, over-sized logos, or gaps between e.g. items on a list*: Use animations only when it helps clarify the content, not because you want to “pep up” the video or draw attention to yourself. Keep logos discreet, un-animated, and informative. Let the content flow; in particular, do not make a ten second pause between every item on a list or count-down.

    *A great many videos are of the type “Top-10 X of all times”, “20 ways to Y”, etc. These often take a break between the actual contents of the items to play a sound, show the number of the following item, say the number (“Secret tip number niiiine!”), or similar. The break is often so long as to be boring—and to raise the suspicion that the main purpose is to artificially increase the run-time of the video…

  5. Add unnecessary sounds and visual effects.
  6. Attempt to sound “cool”, excited or exciting, whatnot when speaking. Ideally, the contents should (metaphorically) speak for themselves, without weird manipulations. (The fact that they might need a literal speaker to help them is not a reason to change this.) A typical sport-reporter is a negative example.
  7. Add padding around the video to make it fit a certain format (e.g. 1600×900). By doing so, you prevent offline media players that automatically scale the image to match the display (i.e. virtually all modern players) from doing so, while bringing no benefit whatsoever to online/in-browser players. In fact, the latter can even get into problems because they have too little view space available. In effect, you make the file larger in order to deliver an inferior product…
  8. Add replays of what just happened. Users are perfectly capable of re-winding and re-playing, with or without slow-motion.* Avoid multiple replays of the same scene especially.

    *As a minor reservation, there might be rare instances where such a replay can be justified through higher picture quality. This, however, requires both that the scene benefits non-trivially from the higher quality (most do not) and that the result actually has a noticeably higher quality. The latter will often be the case when the video draws on an original source of a higher quality than its own (e.g. through a higher frame-rate, a less lossy encoding, or a higher resolution); however, will not be the case e.g. when the video and the original use the exact same format.

  9. Abuse YouTube for non-video content. If you have sound without picture, put it somewhere else—do not add artificial images (usually stills) to make it appear like video content. Ditto photos: There are plenty of services to host photos. Making a “video” out of them just to use YouTube is idiotic and user unfriendly.
  10. Pan around a still image. It is annoying and distracting, and makes it harder for those who actually want to study the image.
  11. Use the same or similar names for all own movies, or something used by others all the time. “Top-10 fails”, e.g., is a lousy name that makes it very hard to determine what one has already watched and what not. If nothing better can be found, something along the lines of “[your name]’s fail choices for 2016” at least gives the viewer a chance. Similarly, use a name that is actually compatible with the contents: “Fail”, for instance, does not mean* “generic YouTube video”—it means that someone screwed up, usually in an entertaining manner.

    *The word “mean” was not present in the draft and I am not certain that this was my original intention; however, it is the easiest correction that makes the sentence plausible.

  12. Re-hash the same fail (or other borrowed content) that ten other compilations already have. Some overlap is unavoidable, but please try to be more original and to pay attention to the competition.
  13. Insult the viewers intelligence with demands that he “like”, recommend, subscribe, … Viewers are adult enough to make up their own minds and this type of intrusive commands are more likely to turn him away than to entice him. Explicitly calling the people who do not “like” a video losers, as at least one video did, is almost guaranteed to have a negative effect. You see less subscribers than you want to? Your best bet is to increase the quality or quantity of your contents—not harass your viewers.

    As a general rule, the imperative has no place whatsoever in advertising or material of an advertising character. Most likely the effects are neutral to negative—and in as far as they are positive, this makes the use grossly unethical!

Additionally, I quote a text on naive links written in the interim:

Youtube provides many examples of making too specific assumptions. For instance, a video that asks the users to “comment below” might become misleading even through a minor Youtube redesign. Others, e.g. “please ‘like’ this video” might survive even a drastic redesign, but would still be irrelevant if moved to or viewed in another context, e.g. after a manual download.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 12, 2019 at 8:35 pm

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“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.

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 comments after re-watching “Breaking Bad”

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After mentioning “Breaking Bad” a few weeks ago, I was motivated to re-watch the series—especially, the last season, which I had only seen once in the past.

Among the differences of the last season compared to my recollections was the relative innocence of Walter in the death of his brother-in-law (Hank), and in this the prior text was unfair. Walter and his dealings did cause Hank’s death, but very much against Walter’s will: He called in an attack unaware that one of the three intended victims was Hank, immediately (but unsuccessfully…) called it off as soon as he noticed Hank, and he later (again, unsuccessfully) tried to bargain his entire fortune for Hank’s life. This to some degree lessens my criticism of Walter. (And gives another example of the weakness of human memory. In my recollection, Hank’s death had resulted through a personal altercation between the two, possibly influenced by a prior physical, but non-lethal, altercation that did take place.)

On the down-side, Walter’s behavior in other regards was more psycho-/sociopathic or otherwise disturbed than I had remembered, which is cause for increased criticism, and his concern for human life seems to have dropped very rapidly outside his inner circle. Then again, some instances might go back to Walter simply playing a part, as he did with the phone-call placed to his wife in order to mislead the police (that he correctly assumed to be listening in). That instance was quite obvious, but there might have been non-obvious instances in the past. Of course, Walter was never as bad as the character Todd, who seemed to give human life no more value than that of an ant. Comparing him to Dexter of “Dexter”, a radical difference is that Dexter was very well aware of what he was, while Walter often seemed blind.

A few random observations on other topics:

References were often made to percentages (notably, purity of meth), e.g. comparing numbers like (possibly) 70, 90, 95, and 99 percent. These comparisons seemed to be made from a perspective of “99 percent is ten percent better than 90 percent”* (with variations). However, there are many instances when a reverse perspective gives a better impression of a difference—“1 percent short of the full 100 is ninety percent better than 10 percent short of the full 100”. Which perspective is more appropriate specifically for meth, I leave unstated; however, I would strongly recommend being aware of the reversed perspective in general. For instance, is a bowler who hits a strike 90 percent of the time roughly as good as a 80-percenter, or is he roughly twice as a good?

*Ten percent of 90 percent is 9 percent of the original measure, respectively 9 percentage points. Unfortunately, the dual use of percent can lead to some confusion here. I try to lessen it by keeping the percentages-of-percentages in letters and the “plain” percentages in digits.

During the later stages of the series, I found myself thinking of Walter as a man with a barrel—and immediately associated him with Diogenes*. While some similarities between the two can be argued, there might have been more opposites, including Walter’s barrel containing millions of dollars (and his low living standard being forced upon him), while Diogenes spurned riches for a life in poverty.

*Although his commonly mentioned barrel was actual a wine jar (or similar).

As mentioned in another text, the fifth season had been fraudulently split in Germany, into a fifth season and a last season, each covering roughly half of the true fifth season. Looking at the actual DVDs, I find that the “last” season carried the absurd title “die finale Season”, instead of the expected “die letzte Staffel”. Not only is the use of both “finale”* and “Season”** non-standard and likely taken over from English for the sake of sounding English, cool, or whatnot, but the use of “Season” implies a renewed and entirely unnecessary borrowing of a word that already exists as “Saison” (albeit from French). Thus, if this road had been taken, it really should have been “die finale Saison”, which, while stilted and unnatural, at least could pass for (poor) German. Unfortunately, such excesses, where existing and established German words are arbitrarily replaced, are quite common, as e.g. with buying “ein Ticket an der Counter” instead of “eine Karte an dem Schalter” (cf. a more generic discussion).

*Off the top of my head, I can recall no use of “finale” to imply “last” outside of DVDs. Use of “Finale” (as a noun) to imply e.g. the final game of a knock-out tournament is relatively common, but more “native” solutions are usually preferred, e.g. “Endspiel”.

**The correspondent of “[TV] season” is without exception “[Fernseh-]Staffel”. References to spring/summer/autumn/winter are preferably “Jahreszeit”. Other cases, like “bathing season” and “opera season”, can be translated with “Saison”, but are probably solved differently in most cases e.g. as “Zeit” (time, time period) or “Spielzeit” (opera/theater/whatnot season).

Written by michaeleriksson

May 29, 2019 at 12:33 am

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TV, ethics, crime, and the portrayal of men

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My recent watching of a part* of the third season of “Santa Clarita Diet” brings two major problems with television** to my mind—-problems shared by much of society:

*The developments brought my interest to a halt: Neither do I wish such unnecessary annoyances in my life, nor do I wish to support series with such problems.

**At least over the last two decades of the U.S. dominated main-stream television. It might or might not be/have been better in the past, in other countries, or outside the main stream.

  1. There is a lack of ethical and moral reflection, a too strong belief in “we are the good guys”, an abundance of the-end-justifies-the-means thinking, excuse finding for harmful behavior, denial of the rights of others, double standards, and similar.

    For instance, the protagonists of “Santa Clarita Diet”, the zombie Sheila and her (human) family murder people to satisfy Sheila’s need for human flesh—and do so with little reflection, in an always-sunny world of smiles and laughter… They might not like doing what they do, but when push-comes-to-shove the sole life of Sheila and the well-being of the family is prioritized over the lives of many others. That, e.g., it might be best if Sheila died and the others lived, is not truly considered. Consider, analogously, if someone in need of a transplant killed a potential donor to get his organs—and did so again and again, every few weeks, for a life-time.

    To the degree possible, they try to limit themselves to “bad guys”, but their standard is odd and there is no awareness of the “Who decides?”* problem. Unlike the eponymous protagonist of “Dexter”**, they do not limit themselves to murderers, or even just hardened criminals. One of their main sources had been a local group of Nazis, who were effectively eaten for having the wrong opinions. Notably, none of the Nazis had killed Jews or invaded Poland. To the best of my recollection (but I might be wrong), they had not even committed any crimes that the protagonists knew off. Their last intended victim was an allegedly abusive husband, who was picked without clear evidence, without a chance to tell his side of the story, and based on a “her side” that left me skeptical. Again, contrast this with Dexter, who tries to make absolutely certain before he kills someone—and who was deeply distraught when he once screwed up and put a non-murderer under the knife.

    *“Who decides?” is one of the most useful questions to ask before e.g. pushing for the death penalty, condemning opinions as evil (as opposed to factually wrong), enforcing a certain way of life, etc. All too often, people who are absolutely unqualified take it upon themselves to make such decisions—be they ignorant, stupid, ideological fanatics, … Even those of much greater intellectual development should tread very carefully in such areas.

    **“Dexter” has somewhat similar problems in principle, and I contemplated giving it as another example. However, the attitude of Dexter is very different, he is much more aware of his actions and the moral issues around them, he is much more conscientious, etc. Indeed, he does not just focus on murderers—but on murderers who slipped through the cracks of the justice system and might well have been executed, had they not. (As Lord Montague put it: His fault concludes but what the law should end, / The life of Tybalt. [1].) From that point-of-view, the main issue with Dexter is not necessarily murder but vigilantism. Similarly, the tone of the show is much darker and is much more likely to leave the viewer with incentives to think about right and wrong, means vs. ends, etc.

    Cop shows provide a great many examples, including investigations that use illegal methods or unwarranted and disproportionate violence (the paradoxically-named Temperance of “Bones” is a good example). Interrogation techniques are often grossly unethical, as e.g. in many scenes of “Castle”.

    Supernatural shows, notably “Buffy”, often have a very blanket division into “us humans” (good) and “the non-humans” (evil, feel free to kill at sight). For instance, a major plot-point in the Buffy–Faith relationship and Faith’s development is the killing of a minion of evil who turned out to be a human (rather than the vampire of Faith’s assumption).

    Two shows particularly worthy of mention are “Breaking Bad” and “The Americans”: While both do give some attempts at thinking of ethics, they are not that thorough; and they both give good examples of how trying to achieve (what the protagonist considers) good brings a lot of evil.

    “Breaking Bad” shows a man in a somewhat similar situation to Sheila: Walter suffers from cancer and tries to earn sufficient money to secure his family and/or save his own life through cooking meth—and as things get out of hand, he ends up with death after death on his tally*. The victims eventually include his own brother in law, a DEA agent and family man. While I understand both why he, as low-earning chemistry teacher, was moved to cook meth and how he lost perspective over time, my sympathies grew smaller and smaller through-out the show: a better man would at some point had sat down and realized that the consequences were too severe for too many people to justify his actions. Even his family would likely have been better off, had his early suicide attempt succeeded (gun that jammed? safety on?).**

    *As in: he killed them, ordered them killed, assisted in their killing, … As opposed to: the more indirect deaths that might have resulted through meth abuse.

    **It is, however, conceivable that the world as a whole benefited through the conflicts and disturbances on the drug market. Because these arose as side-effects, I do not give him credit on his karma account.

    “The Americans” deals with two Soviet agents, deep under-cover in the U.S., who fight actively in the cold war. They take any human life, even that of an ally, when it is needed to support the cause or to protect the safety of the family. There were some points when it seemed that they might leave off their ways, but, ultimately, they did not. The husband was somewhat prepared to question his own behavior, but the wife was a fanatic till the end. (With reservations for late events: I stopped watching early in the last or late in the penultimate season.)

    As an aside, the number of shows dealing with criminal protagonists in the recent one or two decades would likely have been unthinkable in earlier eras of television. To me, the potential value of the different perspectives and scenarios is sufficiently large that I will not object on the “criminal” factor alone; however, when combined with weak ethical thinking in the series, it could contribute to lack of ethics in the overall population: I need money—I’ll cook meth! That guy is a problem for me—I’ll murder him! Etc.

  2. Men, the men’s rights movement,* and similar are often portrayed in a manner that deviates extremely from reality, shows great prejudice and ignorance, and might sometimes even raise suspicions of deliberate attempts to manipulate opinion.

    *To avoid misunderstandings, I stress that while I have great sympathies for at least parts of the MRA movement and their goals, I do not consider myself one of them. However, as an intelligent, well-informed critical thinker and a proponent of reason, I do identify as anti-Feminist.

    Consider the last episode of “Santa Clarita Diet” that I saw (at least a portion of—I switched off mid-episode):

    Sheila and her husband lured the aforementioned allegedly abusive husband to a fake “men’s rights” meeting, lead with questions like “How have you been hurt by women?”, implied that the (fictive) other members have restraining orders, pointed to squeaky voices as a reason why women would be disliked, and the victim then went off on something like “I try to tell my wife that she is wrong all the time, but is she grateful?”—all of which have nothing do to with the men’s rights movement and displays more common prejudice about men than about women.

    The connection between men’s rights and dislike of women, being abusive, and whatnot is not only misleading—it is outright offensive. A much better and much more realistic take would have been to let the protagonists spout their prejudice and then have the victim reveal himself as quite contrary to that prejudice.

    For those who actually look at the facts and numbers (not at Feminist propaganda) there are very real issues* for men in today’s society that are constantly bagatellized. More or less any of the females issues is given significant weight, including some that only exist in Feminist propaganda.** Indeed, there are issues where men are the disadvantaged party and Feminists still paint women as the disadvantaged…*** As with any movement (especially an ostracized one), there are some nut-cases and extremists among the MRAs; however, by and large, MRAs try to be the voice of reason in the debate about men, women, and equal rights, to bring in a different perspective, to look at facts instead of prejudice and propaganda, … Still, ever again, those who attempt to be the voice of reason are ridiculed as the voice from the loony bin…

    *The below implicitly contains some examples. For many others, please read up.

    **Including alleged and/or misinterpreted income disparities, the Swedish hate-rhetoric of “men’s violence towards women”, the invented U.S. college rape epidemic, “rape culture”, and whatnot.

    ***Including domestic abuse (cf. below), allegations that rape or rape victims are not taken seriously enough (while the rights of the, often innocently, accused suffer), that women are treated more harshly in court (while family courts favour them massively and they routinely receive much more lenient punishments in criminal trials), etc.

    Worse: Looking at a larger time frame of the series, we now have MRAs as the possible replacement source for Nazis, effectively putting the two groups on comparable levels of “evil”.

    Of course, the meme of the abusive husband is it self a common misrepresentation. On TV, domestic abuse is usually a one-sided affair of husband abusing wife, and the proportion of victims and perpetrators is ridiculously large, In real life, few men are abusers, about half of all domestic violence is reciprocal, and men are the victims and women the perpetrators slightly more often than vice versa.

    Similarly, the proportion of men on TV, who, e.g. as bosses, are unfair towards women because they are women is extremely out of proportion with what I have seen in real life—it is as if someone was trying to imprint the existence of “discrimination”, “Patriarchy”, and whatnot through TV to over-come its absence from real life… A particularly absurd example is an early scene of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, where an absolute caricature, a Feminist masturbatory fantasy, of a male Patriarch talks down to Sabrina over an alleged* sexual harassment incident. I turned the (otherwise also unimpressive) show off then and there. I have not kept record**, but I have a suspicion that some TV shows try to build up a female protagonist as a “strong woman” through pitting her against such straw-men and giving her an opportunity to stand up. Usually, it fails, because either the male character or his behavior is too exaggerated or unusual, which makes the makers of the show look bad (instead of the female protagonist good) or it forces the female character to make assumptions that could equally be the result of her own prejudice—in which case she looks bad e.g. through jumping to conclusions or being unduly belligerent. (And potentially sets a negative example for real-life women, making them too jump to the conclusion of “sexism” instead of e.g. “greed”, “general ass-holery”, “misunderstanding”, whatnot.)

    *The scene was also unfortunate in another regard—it provided a perfect opportunity to push issues like the need to talk to both parties of a conflict, to not automatically believe friends over non-friends, the need for the presumption of innocence, and similar: Sabrina’s friend complained about one or several sport’s team members having (IIRC) looked up her skirt in Sabrina’s absence—and Sabrina promptly rushed to the principal’s office and demanded that the entire sport’s team be interrogated. In contrast, she did not, e.g., go talk with the team members to hear their story or to limit the number of suspects. Instead of having the principal giving her a kind talk, pointing out how to proceed better, the show makers presented the aforementioned caricature, who ridiculed her, suggested that she might want to leave school, and failed to mention the legitimate concerns about e.g. presumption of innocence. Similar missed opportunities are, unfortunately, quite common on TV.

    **Among the many somewhat similar (but none so extreme) scenes that I have seen over the years, the first (?) respective episode of “Stargate SG-1” and “Fringe” springs to mind.

Excursion on other portrayals:
Unrealistic, exaggerated, or whatnot portrayals are obviously common in general*, which can be a more general problem when people draw too much on TV (or other fiction) rather than own experiences, science, whatnot. In some cases, e.g. concerning very rich people, fiction might be the dominant source of information (or “information” ) that most of us encounter. My own field (IT, software development) is distorted in a ridiculous manner on most occasions, and might leave outsiders with extremely naive opinions.

*Including of women, nerds, jocks, scientists, … as groups; and e.g. of the frequency of murder and love-at-first-sight as events.

In some cases, such portrayals can have a degree of justification to get the plot moving, for comic effect, whatnot. However, care should be taken, especially when deviating from reality (as with e.g. domestic abuse): it is one thing e.g. to exaggerate a stereotype that broadly matches reality—an entirely other to push a stereotype which does not match reality. (As a special case: Pushing a false stereotype to fit an agenda is obviously inexcusable.) Similarly, using exaggerations that are recognizable as exaggerations and stereotypes that are recognizable as not-necessarily-true can be a legitimate way to achieve a comedic effect. For instance, “Modern Family” drew many laughs on obvious exaggeration—and did so over the entire line of characters, including men and women, heteros and homos, adults and children, U.S. citizens and immigrants, book worms and party people, … Even here, however, there must be sufficient truth in the (pre-exaggeration/-generalization) core that the core is recognized (or the humor will not be funny) and that the truth is not turned on its head (or ethical issues arise).*

*However, room must be left for individual weirdness, e.g. in that having a single specimen from a certain group displaying a certain behavior can be funny without reference to stereotypes and without being harmful. Doing so with two or more people on the same show is different because it would imply a norm for the group. (Ditto if the same behavior is displayed by several group members on different shows.) For instance, Doc Brown (of the “Back to the Future” franchise) works well as a stand-alone character—he is a scientist and a screwball. However, if one or two other scientist, behaving the same, had been added to the movies, this would have risked the imposition of a norm for scientists—he is a screwball because he is a scientist.

Unfortunately, not all these groups* of portrayals are harmless. Looking at the case of a wife-beating husband, e.g., we have a harmful stereotype that does not match reality and which is taken at face value by most viewers—it helps with creating or cementing a misguided world-view. (While, in contrast, the stereotype of a man who forgets his wife’s birthday, while not necessarily more truthful, is neither very harmful nor taken at face value in the same manner.)

*Looking at any given individual portrayal as a stand-alone choice, it might be beyond reproach, e.g. because there are men who beat their wives (even non-reciprocally), which would make a ban on such portrayals unfairly limiting. However, when the same show has an undue frequency of such portrayals (e.g. when the topic of wife-beating arise with multiple men throughout the run) or when the overall media repeats such portrayals again and again in undue proportions (e.g. in that wife-beating husbands outnumber husband-beating wives ten-to-one or that the frequency exceeds the real-life frequency in an undue manner), then we do have a problem. This applies in particular when the portrayed character belongs to a group rarely featured. (Contrast e.g. the effect of having an individual gay character being a child molester today vs. forty years ago: today, it would be seen as an individual flaw; back then, it might have been seen as a gay flaw.) Also cf. the previous footnote.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 11, 2019 at 10:39 pm

American Vandal

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I have just watched the first season* of “American Vandal”—another proof that it is possible to do something original and worth watching even today, and that there is no need to just dust of every old franchise**, hoping that the “brand value” outweighs the lack of quality and originality.

*Whether this terminology reflects reality remains to be seen. From the closed character, I suspect that the series will remain at one season, and considering its shortness, it might be better labeled as a “mini-series”.

**Something I have spoken negatively of in the past, e.g. in [1].

It is not the best made series ever—not even close. However, it does bring something new to the table, and it does so while giving food for thought. This most notably in the area of due process, but also concerning privacy, the benefits and dangers of social media, press ethics, and organizations sweeping their problems under the rug—all areas where I have considerable concerns about current developments. (Cf. a number of older posts.) Some of these areas are discussed below.

!!!Here be spoilers!!!

A particular disturbing part, obviously, is how one character, Dylan, was originally expelled from school based on scant* evidence, by an entity that served as judge, jury, and prosecutor in one, and how his “conviction” was almost a foregone conclusion based on his previous behavior**. While this example is fictional, it does reflect common practices in the U.S., where there, for instance, have been cases of colleges expelling people under similar circumstances, often in word-against-word situations, using “preponderance of evidence” (or another too weak standard). Considering the effects of a college*** expulsion and the damage than can accrue through e.g. social media and reputation damage in today’s world, the consequences are potentially horrifying—often far worse than the alleged crime or even “crime”. When it comes to actual crimes****, it is vital that proceedings follow a level of due process, rights of the accused, whatnot, that is comparable to that of a real criminal trial—better yet, leave this to the actual justice system, and then make decisions, e.g. regarding expulsions, based on what the results of the justice system were. Even when no crime is present (e.g. with a pure behavioral matter), it is vital that the (real or virtual) roles of judge, jury, and prosecutor are sufficiently separated from each other, and that the “accused” is given sufficient opportunity to defend himself.

*The only evidence against him that was not, at best, circumstantial was a testimony by a witness, which was offset by conflicting testimony by an alibi giver. Neither witness had any obviously superior credibility.

**Dylan was a highly problematic student, and I do not rule out that his past behavior might have been enough for an expulsion. However, he was, as eventually transpired, innocent of the vandalism for which he actually was expelled.

***However, note that the series deals with a high-school expulsion. This is bad enough, but less disastrous both because there are more opportunities to gain back ground and (usually far, far) less money invested at the particular school. To boot, people who are expelled from high-school are rarely among those likely to do well in college, implying that the career effect is considerably smaller: We are still typically talking unemployment and/or low-wage, dead-end jobs, considering the low value of a modern high-school diploma.

****As was the case here, specifically the spray painting of 27 cars with stylized penises.

A somewhat tricky question in the series is that of false accusations—paralleling the considerable problems in the real world with especially, rape, child-abuse, and domestic-violence accusations: While Dylan was originally expelled and facing (real) criminal and/or civil charges*, the “witness for the prosecution”**, who seemed*** to have lied outright, did not face such repercussions—his sole fear being a beating from Dylan. It is possible that any attempt at action against him would eventually have failed due to problems of proving intent; however, it appears that an attempt was not even made. Similarly, in the real world, women who make false rape accusations are often let go with a slap on the wrist, while their victims could have faced many years in jail—and often see their lives ruined even when acquitted. Under such circumstances, there is a severe risk that the system is abused e.g. to maliciously hurt personal enemies who have not committed a crime.

*He was proved innocent by video evidence before the real trial in the real justice system started.

**Whether he should be considered the accuser or just a witness can be disputed, but from the details of the show, the difference is likely uninteresting for the current discussion. (However, in most other cases, witness and accuser are quite different things.)

***At least for some time: A later hypothesis involved a suspect with some similarity in looks, and assuming, as was claimed, that the perpetrator wore a hood, an honest mistake is conceivable. However, this hypothesis only arose some time after the “acquittal”, was not necessarily presented to the school, and certainly remained a hypothesis. To boot, the witness had originally spoken with considerable certainty. (I do not recall the exact formulations used, but it was on the level of “I saw Dylan do it”—not e.g. “I saw who did it; he looked like Dylan”.

As a counter-point, we have the question of witness pressure: The “witness for the prosecution” later spoke of having been under a lot of pressure to say the right things. If that was the case, and if he modified his statements to comply with the pressure, someone of his age should be seen in a more forgiving light. However, we then have to condemn the proceedings even more: Witnesses are unreliable enough as it is and when they additionally face pressure to give the “right” answers, testimony is worth very little. It is vital that witnesses are induced to say what they actually remember—not directly or indirectly moved to say what the prosecution wants to hear. Here we again see the importance of dividing the roles of the “court” appropriately, so that the prosecution is neither judge nor jury. Further, where there is a prosecutor to exert pressure on witnesses, there must be a defender to press back. In this specific case, we had the additional complication that the witness was another student, and therefore in a dependent role visa vi the school staff making the decisions, implying that thoughts like “I must keep Mrs. X happy, or she might give me a poor grade!” could have crossed his mind. Such problems could have been alleviated by hiring external specialists to handle the investigation and decision. Consider as comparison a real trial where a witness is employed as a house-keeper by the DA handling the case…

The problem of organizations sweeping their problems under the rug, has probably not featured in my previous writings to any notable degree. A few words on the topic*: There are many types of problems that can arise when there is too little distance, objectivity, self-criticism, whatnot, present in how an organization deals with complaints and internal problems. The most obvious is that it might be so keen on preserving its imagine towards the outside world that it deliberately does not address problems in the appropriate manner. However, we also have to consider constellations like a superior receiving a complaint about an employee with whom he has developed a friendship, an investigative board containing people with personal ties, a biased treatment due to the feeling that that the target of a complaint is “one of us” and the complainer is “one of them”, the target of the complaint being able to influence the proceedings through inside connections (e.g. through giving someone false verbal information that the complainer never even knows of, let alone has an opportunity to refute), etc.

*Since I am filling a deficit, I will remain mostly abstract. If we look at events in the series, I can point to e.g. the illegal failure to upload certain complaint acts to a public server, an attempt to shut-down an independent investigation/documentary, when it threatened to put the school and/or some staff members in a poor light, suspensions (detentions?) being handed out for potentially (depending on interpretation) having critized the principal, …

A particular disastrous example from my personal experiences, where problems were almost guaranteed and remedies highly unlikely due to a massive conflict of interest: Being faced with a blatant breach of contract, I simultaneously sent a bill to the perpetrator and contacted its trade association with a complaint and a request for intervention. In a horribly misguided system, this trade association on the one hand provided arbitration, certifications of quality, and similar, on the other legal service to its members. The result was that the perpetrator took the bill, sent it to the legal branch of the trade association, which immediately gave the opinion that the bill was void and all related claims baseless*—and thereby tied the hands of the rest of the organization with regard to my complaint and any chance of intervention—if another branch had given support to my complaint, it could have caused severe credibility problems for the legal branch, had I taken legal action to receive payment.

*Beware that such “opinions”, by their very nature, have no actual legal value, give little information on the true estimation of the involved lawyers, and cannot, seeing that the lawyers at this juncture only know a fraction of the information, be a complete legal evaluation. To act in his client’s best interest, a lawyer will have to officially side with said client in a near blanket manner, even when the facts at hand, relevant law, and his actual opinion would go in the other direction. There are cases where the situation is so clear, that he is forced to chose another first official stance than a (real or metaphorical) “not guilty”; however, this is rare. The result is that irrespective of how well or poorly founded the complaining party’s claims are, the legal branch would have started with a blanket rejection, and the hands of the trade association would be tied. The complaining party is, almost by necessity, wasting time by approaching such a trade association.

Correspondingly, any organization who wants its complaint management to be taken seriously, must take steps to minimize such problems (a complete prevention is likely not possible). This could include e.g. making sure that there is a special complaints branch, that supervisors/investigators/whatnot with too strong ties to the target of the complaint recuse themselves, that external helpers are brought in (especially when larger amounts of money are concerned, the heads of the organization are involved, or the matter is otherwise unusually important), … While the presumption of innocence must be preserved in terms of treatment and consequences, the potential guilt must also be kept very clearly in mind during any investigation.

(A more specialized post on the misbehavior of German governmental institutions and their blanket rejection of any type of criticism might follow, especially with an eye on the IRS, the incompetence of which is currently again costing me a load of time. It appears to be a universal law that the more incompetent an organization is, the less willing it is to accept criticism.)

A few words on the final scenes of the series:
After his acquittal, Dylan goes through a brief high and then faces repeated disappointments, including that a very hostile* teacher, who had pushed heavily against him, and even (very incorrectly) attributed the crime as directed mainly against her, personally, failed to give the type of apology that he had pictured. He now misguidedly does commit an act of vandalism against her, by painting a penis on her drive-way.

*Her hostility is not unreasonable, considering their previous history.

It follows a brief sequence on how the expectations of others, the roles we have been pushed into, and similar, can lead to poor decisions, even deliberate attempts to fulfill negative expectations—Dylan thought that others saw him as a villain and correspondingly behaved like a villain. While this is likely only partially true, there are at least two thought-worthy aspects to this issue. Firstly, that we should be careful with our expectations of others and the effects they can, at least sometimes, have. Secondly, that we should beware of potential influence from others through expectations, that we should deliberately counter such expectations (at least when negative), and that we ultimately must take responsibility for our own actions, even if they arose under such influence.

In a disturbing parallel to a recently discussed real case, it is claimed that the police brought him away in handcuffs in the middle of the night, over something as trivial* as a this. Now, I do not know whether this could have happened in the real world; however, I re-iterate how important it is that law enforcement act in proportion to the crime. Not only could this easily have waited until the following morning, it might even have been prudent to just ask him to come to the station at a given time. While I do not agree with the practice of some law enforcements** of letting all crimes below a certain level just slide, this is one case where the main issue might even be considered a civil matter between the two: He pays damages, apologizes, promises to never do it again, and we call it a day.

*To be contrasted with the original vandalism, were a figure of a hundred thousand dollars of damages was mentioned. In the act he actually committed, the cost of cleaning or repairing the drive-way is unlikely to exceed a few hundred dollars, possibly being far smaller.

**Including, in my impression, the German police.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 30, 2018 at 5:26 am