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Month: July 2023

Off to Beach but First a Movie Review

Off to Beach but First a Movie Review

Here we are at the height of summer, when the days are long and the UV radiation intense. We’re about to vacation at the Delaware shore, where we will be seeing the whole extended family, while celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday. I’m looking forward to the trip, and to being (mostly) offline for the duration. But first, let me just share some brief thoughts on the Barbie movie, which we saw on preview night.

Note: many Barbie spoilers to come, so if you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to turn back. Go see it – it’s well worth your time – and have a wonderful summer.





You’re still here! You’ve already seen the film, or you don’t care about spoilers.

You’ve probably heard mixed reviews of Barbie. Some say it’s brilliant, others call it a hot pink mess (why can’t it be both?). And you may have heard there is some outrage coming from the political right, who accuse it of being “woke” and “gay,” presumably representing all that is wrong with society today. This outrage sentiment seems to be coming mostly from Millennial men in the alt-right.

It is true that the movie makes fun of men (in the form of multiple Ken dolls), though I wouldn’t say that it’s hateful in any way. You have to consider that the setting of Barbieland is a fantasy world, an imaginary realm of dolls that girls are playing with. It’s Barbie and Ken in this fantasy land, not the other way around. And this place is absurd; all the Barbies are impossibly happy, living in dream houses that are facades, working at jobs that are completely unnecessary because where they live they don’t even follow the laws of physics. And yeah, Ken is secondary (or “beta,” as an alt-righter would put it), but that’s because this is a land of imaginary female empowerment.

Which turns out to be the point of the movie: when Barbie and Ken visit the real world, they discover that women are not, in fact, in charge. Life is messy and complicated, not a perfect dream where happiness is guaranteed, an entitlement that comes from simply existing. Whether you are a man or a woman, whatever your place in society, you will ultimately have to be grounded in yourself, and make the best of an imperfect world.

Barbie might be an inspiration, but no real woman could ever become her. Instead, women must contend with unrealistic expectations in a world of contradictions, as described in Gloria’s monologue, which is the crux of the film. Ultimately, Barbie herself rejects her plastic fantasy life, and decides she would rather become a woman in the flesh, with all that entails, including health issues, growing old, and dying. As powerful of an idea as Barbie is, she would rather be real.

I thought that the movie was, in fact, brilliant when it made its existential points. I mean, I know I’m reading a lot into it, but isn’t coming into imperfect physical form out of the realm of archetypes exactly what it means to be human?

Where the movie was a hot mess was in its plot execution. The Mattel executives with their antics seemed superfluous, and the whole patriarchy wars plot was silly. But I suppose that was the point – this film is self-consciously ridiculous, being a satire of our society as seen through the lens of imaginary play with a line of dolls representing fashionable, feminine, and highly successful career women. I suppose I might come to appreciate the plot more on a rewatch, and just the fact that I would like to rewatch the film says a lot about its quality.

Going back to Ken and his obsession with patriarchy, it’s interesting that at the top of the movie, Ken is the only character with a motivation, an important one from a plot perspective. Barbieland is not a dream world for him, as he is perpetually frustrated in his quest for Barbie’s attention. His obsession with Barbie and with winning her over reminded me of a point that Camille Paglia makes in Sexual Personae, which is that women have power over men because women keep men in a perpetual state of anxiety as they seek women’s approval. This goes all the way back to their mothers and the Oedipal complex.

That’s why men made a patriarchy! To carve out an exclusive masculine sphere of competition and achievement where men can work hard to impress women. According to the Futurama educational video I Dated a Robot, all of civilization is just an effort to impress the opposite sex. At least, that’s the benign interpretation of patriarchy. In the less friendly version of patriarchy, men dominate women with force in order to avoid the pain of rejection, and to control women’s lifegiving power. As Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood puts it, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Luckily for Barbie, plastic dolls can’t be hurt or killed, and Ken’s patriarchal temper tantrum becomes a comic spectacle that transforms into a thrilling song and dance number. But this is in an imaginary world, of course. In reality, men must develop confidence and independence to become the partners that women need. Which Ken does, in his way, though Barbie leaves him behind in the end.

l can understand why the message of this movie would gall right wingers and reactionary “feminist backlash” young men. Thanks to the successes of feminism, as symbolized by the very existence of Barbie, Millennial women are poised to be the most financially independent generation of women in history. Meanwhile, Millennial men have been falling behind, and young adults are delaying marriage and family formation. This could arguably be interpreted as a sign that feminism has, in fact, run roughshod over the traditional family, which is the gist of the complaint against Barbie as “woke feminism destroying us all.”

So what could have just been a fun summer blockbuster and product promotion movie has turned into a flashpoint in the Culture Wars. I guess that’s what Warner Bros. gets for hiring an intelligent director. Personally, I don’t think the problems facing young people today should or could be fixed by “restoring patriarchy.” I think most people agree with that sentiment, which is why the movie is a smashing success at the box office, and the haters are on the fringes.

The primary reason the young generation isn’t forming families has nothing to do with the culture; it’s because of financial insecurity. Fixing that issue requires reforms to our economic system, with new laws and tax structures. Barbie doesn’t address any of this; instead, it promises that you can find fulfillment in life, provided you are grounded in youself. In a way, it is an apology for the current system, which focuses on the individual as a self-reliant unit, thriving in a consumer economy. This is an understandable worldview for Mattel to promote. After all, they have dolls to sell. But if Barbie is undermining society in any way, it’s not by being woke, but rather by supporting the neoliberal economic regime, which for decades has been eroding away the middle class.

Well there, I’ve probably put way too much thought into Barbie. But hey, if a movie makes you think, then it’s done its job. Aside from its message, the film also has wit, charm, and tremendous visual appeal. I expect it will be awarded for its impressive art design. There are tons of recreations of toys and outfits from the Barbieverse (is that a thing?), plus fun original songs by top pop artists, and sly references to other films.

That’s it from me, soon we are off to beach. Maybe we’ll see Barbie again while we’re there. Stay cool, folks, and remember – you are Kenough.

Stuck in the Big Tech Era

Stuck in the Big Tech Era

The rapid-fire success of Threads as a Twitter substitute is more evidence that in the realm of digital media, this Crisis Era belongs to a limited number of Big Tech players.

After “the Twitter troubles” began, numerous upstart sites attempted to dethrone the platform, taking over its particular social media niche. You may have heard of some of them: mastodon, tribel, bluesky, truth social. None were able to reach the size of the established platforms. Then along comes Threads from Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta company and bam! – instant giant new platform.

The logic is simple. It’s a lot of work for users to lift and shift their social media presence from one platform to another. For example, it took me years to build my tiny Twitter following. Having to start over from scratch on another platform that might fail is not an enticing proposition.

But since Threads is linked to Facebook and Instagram, it lets users start with whatever base of followers they have on those other sites. It comes with the established reputation of those other big platforms. You know Facebook isn’t going anywhere any time soon. So jumping to Threads makes a lot more sense, if it’s really necessary to escape a sinking Twitter.

In previous posts, I’ve reviewed a couple of authors who wrote about waves or cycles in technology, where new disruptive technologies shake up existing monopolies, only to eventually congeal into their own monopolies. It happened with radio and television, which for a good while were dominated in the United States by the “Big Three” networks. It’s happened again with the Internet.

After the cultural disruption that came with the 60s and 70s, the media world became much more fragmented, especially with the rise of the Internet. But once Internet usage became a commonplace, consumers started flocking to major brands, drawn to the convenience and reliability which they provide. Thus, only a small number of platforms for social media and video streaming have been able to thrive. Many of those platforms are consolidated under one corporate conglomerate, such as Google+YouTube or Facebook+Instagram. So, we now live in the era of “Big Tech.”

Criticism of Big Tech and concern for the dangers of allowing them their consolidated power abounds, and that criticism is warranted. Big established corporations are motivated to stifle competition. They have the ability to manipulate public perception to favor their interests (did you know that Western Union helped decide the 1876 Presidential election?). They can operate freely outside of the processes of democratic government, but with as much or more power as government has, unless democratic government can be brought to bear to restrain them. But that is so very, very hard to do. It’s so much easier to just check the terms of agreement box and join up with everyone else.

Face it, Big Tech is here to stay, for at least a generation. So maybe it’s best to ride the current monopoly wave, and like and share with the rest of your network, knowing that some disruptive new technology will come along – eventually – in the future.

Summer Update

Summer Update

And just like that, it was halfway through 2023.

I am over three months into my new remote job, and things are going swimmingly. It’s interesting because I get to work for a new kind of company (agricultural sector as opposed to finance), and also pick up on a new corporate culture. The IT department there isn’t very mature, in part because it has been expanding rapidly (how I got the job, essentially), so I get not only to prove my chops but also to help the folks who aren’t as seasoned as I am to understand the software development lifecycle. It’s very gratifying that my experience is being put to good use, and to know that despite my advanced years I am still relevant in the workforce.

Aileen, meanwhile, is working on the summer Arts Bubble musical, which this year will be City of Angels, a satirical noir comedy (not to be confused with a Nic Cage movie of the same name). As usual, she is committed 100% to all aspects of the production and putting in tons of work. Equally committed is our son, Tiernan, who is cast in his first lead role, as the hard boiled private eye from the movies. I hope you will be able to come see it (many friends and family already have confirmed they will, thank you all). The show dates are July 14-17; message me for details if you want to attend. But note that opening night is sold out. Woo hoo!

Our other son, Lionel, has just come back from a month in France, where he took a French immersion course with his University, and had a taste of life in another culture. This included going clubbing and he had some interesting stories there. He’s becoming such a worldly young man. Back home, Gavin continues his relentless work maintaining the region’s water infrastructure. He is a wizard with programming PLCs, which are these logical circuit board thingies that basically hold our entire civilization together. Aileen goes over to his house more often these days, since that’s where the best computer is, which is great for Potato, the cat who lives there, since it means she gets more attention now.

There is still a big hole in our heart and home that used to be filled by our sweet kitty, Sashimi, our magical girl. Aileen made this portrait of her after she died. It’s hard to believe it’s already been almost two months. Have we really moved on?

Is it ok to move on?

Is it ok to die?

We all will. Already this year two FB friends have died from cancer. Another, a very dear friend from back in the day, is sick and currently hospitalized. The clock is always ticking, ticking away to midnight.

Last night we watched a video on YouTube that informed us that the Doomsday Clock is the closest it’s ever been to midnight: 90 seconds away. The war in Ukraine is not helping here. The video we watched was actually about how scarily sophisticated A.I. is getting, and speculated on whether it might just decide to destroy the human race. It really terrified Aileen and gave her nightmares. I tried Stevesplaining to her that A.I. chatbots aren’t sentient beings with a will, just really impressive pattern-seeking algorithms, but I don’t think I reassured her.

In any event, just because A.I.s are “merely” computer programs doesn’t mean they won’t be put in charge of everything and then God knows what will happen. And if that doesn’t get us, we just might end up cooking to death anyway when Earth turns into a Venus-like planet. All we can do is carry on with our usual business while the summer broils us.

Oh dear, sorry to end on such a heavy note. Here’s a poem about cats by Jane Hirshfield to hopefully lighten your mood. Have a great summer, everyone, if you can. And come see our show!

You Really Should Read “The Self-Aware Universe”

You Really Should Read “The Self-Aware Universe”

In multiple posts on this blog I have referenced a theory of unitive consicousness as the best explanation for how it is we are alive in the Universe. If you’re interested in learning more about this theory, the place to start is the book below, which I summarize in this brief review.

“Consciousness is the agency that collapses the wave of a quantum object, which exists in potentia, making it an immanent particle in the world of manifestation.”

Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe (1993)

This simple and powerful idea is at the heart of the book The Self-Aware Universe, in which physicist Amit Goswami proposes a monistic idealist interpretation of quantum mechanics, and connects science with mysticism and religion. He explains the physics in simple terms for the layperson, with ample figures to help with understanding. His proposed theory does away with the paradoxes of quantum physics which arise when a purely materialistic theory is applied. It also reintroduces meaning and morality to existence, huge problems for materialistic science to grapple with and a major reason for the rift between science and religion, a rift which is so damaging to society.

Goswami attempts to heal this rift with his new approach to science which acknowledges the reality of consciousness. He explains his philosophical approach with reference to past philosophies, and cites experimental results which support his view. He goes into dense discussions of the experimental data and how best to interpret it, but also has light-hearted mock encounters with historical philosophers to provide background.

This book is a must read for anyone serious about understanding the nature of reality, and their place in the Universe.

An excellent synopsis of Goswami’s theory of the self-aware Universe can be found here:  The Self-Aware Universe Synopsis.