My Dear Americans

 

Americans, this isn’t something that happened to you: it’s something you did to us.

Dear Americans,

I understand that you are angry. Some of you are angry because Donald Trump will soon be the President of the United States of America, while the rest are angry due to the fact that some of you are angry that Donald Trump will soon be the President of the United States of America. It’s a bad situation, but hopefully y’all will learn to get along in this new Trumpian world.

I myself, like many people over in Europe, were shocked and wary of the success of Mr Trump over there in the US of A, and possibly what his victory could mean for the world. I was initially shocked, then depressed, then finally set into a mode of extreme depression over the past two months since his victory was announced. Anger was not something I had experienced as part of this process, until very recently. And it wasn’t even a result of anything Mr Trump said or did, Americans, it was because of you.

While last week was a week of many classic news stories for the ages, the thing that got me unduly angry was not the stories of Mr Trumps association with Russia, it was about the early movements of the US Senate to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or to use its Sith name: Obamacare) which had provided health insurance to tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans. The story was covered in international news publications, and was given a lot of attention on Facebook and Twitter through shares and commentary by Americans and non-Americans alike. This, for some reason that I didn’t initially understand, made me irrationally angry. It took me a day or two of angry contemplation to come up with the source of my anger here, and eventually it came down to a simple question, Americans: why the fuck should we care?

Let me set my stall out at the front here: there is no reason in the world why anyone outside the United States of America should care what happens to healthcare (or any other domestic policy issue) as a result of the Trump administration. Donald Trump campaigned on a platform that criticised Obamacare and he told everyone he would dismantle it upon his election victory. Millions of Americans voted for him because of this. Now there are posts on social media calling the repeal of Obamacare as a massive humanitarian crisis. I’m sorry, but there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in this world, and America electing a guy who told them what he would do to their health system – and then implementing it – is not one of them. Whether you voted for Mr. Trump or not, this is the democratic wish of your fellow countrymen and women, Americans. Let’s not treat it as if it’s a great tragedy that suddenly occurred. He told you all what he would do, then the election took place, he won, and now he will do the things he said he would do.

I know, I know: Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote and is the rightful president. Except she isn’t, because it is an absolute fact that Donald Trump won that election, despite receiving fewer votes. And you all are probably angry about this electoral college stuff again, and will be for a few more months until you forget it again until your candidate loses an election in the future. If you’re unhappy with the Electoral College, Americans, you should do something about it. Don’t just wait until it’s relevant to your sudden partisan cause: do something about it next year, or the year after, or the year after that. You are the only ones who can. Can you guess what I’m mad about yet?

Americans, and especially those of you who didn’t vote for Trump, it may seem that you have found a lot of solidarity when conversing with people in Europe and around the world about our uneasiness with regards to the incoming president, but you are disregarding one thing that I don’t think is even clear to many people here in Europe. Americans, you all got to vote in that election. We didn’t. You were part of a process and political system that elected Donald Trump to the most powerful job in the world. A lot of you are complaining online and ranting in real life right now, but let me make one thing very clear to every US citizen: this isn’t something that happened to you. This is something that you did to us.

So your civil society and your judicial system will fall into ruin, America, and this is fine because you had an election on it, and you elected someone. So your healthcare will be privatised, so what? Too many of your citizens believe the propaganda that health insurance is communism by any other name, and they voted accordingly. So Trump will have the power to name highly conservative Supreme Court justices: so what? Americans, I don’t know if you noticed, but your country is and always has been highly conservative.

Outside the US, we shouldn’t care about any of this, because from a democratic point of view, you got exactly what you ordered. What you should actually turn around and think about, Americans, is the effect of your country’s decision on us, the rest of the world. Unlike you, we did not get a vote in that election, and yet we all will probably feel the consequence at some point. Whether it be through Mr Trump’s apparent inability to grasp the high art of international diplomacy, or his explicit inability to grasp the simple foundations of macroeconomics, it is fair to say that he will cause the impoverishment, suffering, and deaths of countless people outside of your country. None of these people had a say in your election, Americans, but you did.

Of course, it is not your fault that you were born a citizen of a country that has such an eminent position in the world, where voting outcomes such as last November could and have such a profound effect on the state of the world and conceivably alter the course of world history. But perhaps it is not too much to ask that a country in such a position, if it is going to provide a vote for every single of its citizens, could at least provide a decent level of education to each and all of these citizens, in the hope that when choosing a leader they can tell the difference between a responsible human being and a reality TV star. Americans, the scope of your country’s arrogance in aiming to lead the world, while neglecting its own education system and at the same time giving every one of its citizens a vote in your leadership is absolutely breath-taking, and is something that (hopefully) will be regarded in the future as akin to the hubris of the late-era Roman Empire. Should we help you out? Should the rest of the world send money to the USA to help fund your education system to ensure millions of your people aren’t fooled into thinking a billionaire cares about their jobs?

I reiterate, it is not your fault that your votes and opinions matter so much. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to care. Americans, you are told over and over again that your country is the greatest country in the world. While many of you liberal Americans may laugh ironically at this slogan, you were grew up hearing it on rotation, and there is no way that it is not embedded deep with your psyche. The reason that your politicians get away with using this rhetoric is because, officially, America has never done anything wrong. America was not the country that allowed centuries of industrialised slavery, America was the place that freed the slaves in the noblest war in history. America was not the country that committed the single greatest atrocity in human history by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America was the power that defeated the mighty empire of Japan. America was not the country that terrorised the second and third world for much of the late 20th century, America was the country that defeated communism and saved the free world. Perhaps if you admitted to your mistakes a bit more, your fellow countrymen and women would have a more nuanced view of the effect of their vote.

Americans, if you are still reading, I guess what I am trying to say is that while you may be angry about the political situation in your country, you are also responsible. And taking responsibility is not something that Americans excel at. You are privileged to be in a position where, in the form of US presidential elections, you can vote for a major world actor, and while in your voting decisions you do take in a lot of consideration for domestic issues such as healthcare and the US economy, you completely disregard the effect of your decision on the rest of the world. Even those of you reading this who mailed in your vote, your decision was based on domestic issues rather than the effect of the election on the outside world. You take no responsibility whatsoever for how your domestic politics effects the rest of the world, to the extent that you neglect to educate a vast number of your citizens, who are eligible to vote. As well as this, you fail to recognise any failure whatsoever by your country in the past, leading to a large proportion of your people thinking that the USA is the greatest country that has ever existed. And Americans, this rejection of Donald Trump’s presidency is just another example of your complete lack of responsibility in realising the power of your vote. You didn’t vote for him, but he is your president.

And ever since that fateful day in early November, you have been sharing your opinion online incessantly about how he is the worst thing to happen to your country and how he will destroy us all. Well, Americans, at least you had a choice in all of this. And now when it is all done, you are sitting back making sarcastic comments about how stupid your new president is. Trust us, we get it, he is stupid, we believe you. It’s probably time now to do a bit more than share jokes about him with your liberal friends. Even if President Trump accomplishes nothing in his 4 (probably 8 since your education standards sure ain’t gonna get better in Trumps America) years of power, your system has ensured that all of us around the world have to listen to him for the entire period of his presidency. The very least you could do is not make us all listen to you whine about it too.

Yours,

The Rest of the World*

*(as interpreted  by Cian)

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2016: This Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Introduction

Who would have thought that we were living through a golden age? Possibly the most depressing thought about what is going to happen to the world in the coming years is the fact that pre-2016 will now be fondly referred to as ‘the good old days’. The days where you could laugh off extremist and racist views as those of a dying minority, safe in the view that progression was inevitable and common sense would win the day. The days where you could watch a video on YouTube called ‘Zeitgeist’ and wonder to yourself who on earth would believe such nonsense. The days where you could call George W. Bush one of the stupidest people in history. Well, those days are gone, because 2016 was the year the internet was made flesh, as complexity, nuance and logic were completely disregarded and replaced with lies, conspiracy theories and reality TV stars.

Even still, at possibly the darkest hour in a few generations, time must be made to review the inane and irrelevant things that occurred this year in movies, TV, music and memes. That is the purpose of this post, and I will do my best to stay on-topic. I’ll be back at the end for more depressing thoughts. Here’s a tip: if the text is in blue and underlined, it’s clickable and will explain what I’m talking about

2016

THE YEAR IN MOVIES!

Movies of the Year (unranked): Arrival, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Neon Demon, Rogue One, Captain Fantastic, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,

Biggest Let-Down: Ghostbusters. There is a theory going around that Sony themselves were the ones to highlight the sexist comments posted on social media about the new all-female Ghostbusters, in order to give the movie marketing a narrative that didn’t revolve around how bad the movie was. I believe this theory.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: The Brothers Grimsby. Most comedies these days are absolute garbage, so I have no idea why this one got such terrible reviews. I was laughing throughout.

The Annual “Lesser of Two Evils Award” for which movie was the better of two movies that had exactly the same plot: Captain America: Civil War was the best movie this year about a pair of superheroes being manipulated into fighting each other by sinister forces. On the other hand, I barely remember anything about it, which tells me that although Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was bad, it was not necessarily as bad as we all thought at the time.

Amnesia Award for instantly forgettable movie: Several times throughout the year I saw a description of the movie Demolition, starring Jake Gylendhall, and decided that I should sit down and watch it. A few minutes into it, I would realise that I had actually watched it last January.

The (Spoiler-free) Official Verdict On the new Star Wars Movie: I said it this section last year that it has taken me a few years to get on board with the new system of possibly experiencing a new Stars Wars movie every year until I die, but this is what’s going to happen so we might as well get on board. Rogue One is fine, if unnecessary. The opening hour or so is quite boring, but the last 45 minutes or so make up for it. Also, the final scene gives hints as to how the Star Wars series will deal with the death of Carrie Fisher.

Film ad of the Year: The Sun’s front page on June 23rd, combining the newspapers love of leaving the European Union and also its love of Independence Day: Resurgance, which was to be released on June 24th.

The movie was released by 20th Century Fox, which is a subsidiary of News Corporation, which also owns The Sun. Corporate synergy has never combined so many terrible things. (Later on in the year, The Sun would repeat the idea by showing a still of Donald Trump from The Simpsons on its front cover once Trumpy was president-elect. The Simpsons is also produced by a company owned by the News Corporation).

THE YEAR IN TV!

TV Show of the Year: The Crown. It took me a while to convince myself to sit down and watch this show about a young Queen Elizabeth II in 1950’s England, but once I did, it had me in thrall like no other TV show since The Wire. It’s not bingeworthy, and you will not be able to take more than two episodes at a time, but I was at work and looking forward to going home to watch anoth episode.  Set in a time period that we don’t know a lot about, and documenting a class of people that mostly we just assume we understand, in my opinion this is Netflix’s greatest show.

Sitcom of the Year: Bojack Horseman. If I hadn’t watched The Crown, this would be my TV Show of the year. I said it in this section last year, it’s one of the smartest TV shows around today .

TV Disappointment of the Year: The Walking Dead. I only watched the new season because my girlfriend made me put them on the TV for her.

THE YEAR IN MUSIC!

Song of the Year: Portishead – S.O.S.

If ever a song could define 2016, it’s this one: A depressing cover of a song that older people may remember fondly from the early 1980s.

Performance of the Year: The Swedish hosts in the Eurovision.

 

Here’s some 2016 music that I actually listened to and liked this year. Most are from movies, TV shows, and memes, which shows how in tune I am with modern music. All I can say is that you can make fun of Kanye all you want: he makes great songs even when he is quite obviously going through a nervous breakdown.

THE YEAR IN SPORTS!

Game of the Year: Liverpool 4-3 Dortmund. I am still upset that Klopp is not currently the Arsenal manager.

Goal of the Year:

Robbie Brady, Italy v Ireland. I was left speechless twice in two days in June 2016. The first time was when Robbie Brady scored this goal to send Ireland through to the knockout round of Euro 2016. Once the game ended, all I could do was try as best I could to say goodbye to the people I was watching it with in the pub. I went home and began making travel plans to go to Ireland’s next game in France (and against France!), the following weekend. I’m glad I didn’t book anything, because two days later, the Brits had voted for Brexit, and I was in no mood to celebrate anything.

Contrarian Statement of the Year: Leicester winning the league wasn’t a fairy-tale for me, it was downright depressing. All those years of getting depressed about Arsenal’s failure meant nothing, as Leicester showed any old team could do it if they play well. Arsenal can’t even complain about being outspent by their rivals anymore.

 

THE YEAR IN INTERNET!

Tweet of the Year: Those poor stateless kitties. The most poetic illlustration of the absurdity of Britains decision, in one simple tweet.

Tragedy of the Year: The Death of Torrentz. To a certain type of person, Torrentz was an important part of daily life on the internet. A visit in the morning defined what movie/tv show could be watched in the evening. Many people have not recovered from their decision to liquidate, despite the emergence of torrentz2, which is a vastly inferior product.

Stupidest Meme of the Year: Uplifting lists of good things that happened in 2016. Scientific discoveries, pandas multiplying, disease eradication etc. are great, but people who write these things have missed the point. None of those things “happened” in 2016, they were simply the results of decades of work funded by the system that we soon will regard as the good old days.

THE YEAR IN REALITY!

Thing of the Year: The Internet. Like Anakin Skywalker, the internet was supposed to bring balance to the force, and no one really imagined that this would be a bad thing. One would have thought that by making all the information of humankind available to everyone that this would be a good thing, a new enlightenment that freed minds all over the world. Alas no, as all it resulted in was that different people believe in different facts.

Person of the Year: Vladimir Putin. I actually gave him this award in my 2014 version of this review, and all I wrote here was “because the whole world has gone to shite anyway”. How funny was I two years ago? And who would have thought that Russia would end up winning the Cold War?

Idiots of the Year: Liberals. While the world changed around them, the liberal heroes of the internet argued about how to construct a sentence that was in no way offensive. Like many liberals (myself included), we trusted enough in our opinions to know that what we wanted to happen in both Brexit and the US election would just happen. Liberal smugness like this is why the Right hate the Left. To win an argument, it isn’t enough to know that you are right. The Right think they are right too, if that makes sense. There are two extreme groups on the internet: the alt-right, and the always right. Neither are very pleasant.

The “Kardashian Award” for News We Shouldn’t Care About But Was News Nonetheless: Post-election/referendum protests. Many thought these were important, and that it could have led to something. It was just clickbait. A quasi-intelligent version of fake news, offering a glimmer of hope through archaic loopholes and laws, while ignoring the political situation completely. Brexit’s gonna happen, Trumpy will be president. You don’t have to accept it, but for gods sake why did you click on all that stuff about the Electoral College possibly revolting against Trump?


Conclusion

Well, I tried as much as I could to leave the current state of the world out of the mini-rants above, but as you know, the events of this year completely permeated every aspect of our culture, both on- and off-line. Here I have not even mentioned the carnage of Aleppo, nor the horrors of terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Germany, or even the continuing suffering of refugees all over Europe. None of this is likely to improve in the near future, as well as the state of affairs with regards to climate change. Some of you may have noticed that I have been publishing less on this site recently, and all I can say is that this is a result of the events of this year. The things I write about really are not very relevant or interesting in comparison to things that have occurred in 2016.

That’s not to say I haven’t been writing: I just don’t see the point in publishing. On the night of the Brexit referendum, I wrote a blog about how Germany (I moved there this year) was a quasi-fascist state. I went to bed without publishing it, and I’m glad I did, because by the time I woke up, the United Kingdom was a bone-fide fascist state. A few weeks ago I wrote something about how Westworld was disappointing, but in this climate, who cares? I didn’t publish that either, but I hope to get back on track in 2017 with my usual aim of a new post every two weeks. Thanks to all of you who have read this far, or indeed anything I have written in 2016 or before. I’m not going to say 2017 will be better, but at least we are all now awake to what is happening. It’s not a joke anymore, but that’s not to say it can’t be funny. Have a great 2017, everybody!

 

For those who would like a trip down memory lane, here is my review of the year in 2015, 2014 and 2013.

Update of the Megafranchise

 

The state of play in all the big Hollywood blockbuster megafranchises, from Marvel to Monsters.

If you have been following this blog for more than a year or two, you will know that periodically I take a time out from my usual format blog posts (which are usually about me showing how clever I am) to discuss the big Hollywood trend of the next few years: the megafranchises. For those who didn’t read these previous posts, or who don’t want to, a megafranchise is different from a normal Hollywood movie franchise in that it involves a single story played out over a series of interconnected movies, using many different characters who may also star in their own movies, and these movies will also be connected to the overall story of the megafranchise. The best example of this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which since 2008 has carefully built a world around several key characters (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America), and every few years lets them all team up in movies together to get the real overall plot out of the way. Other movie studios saw how profitable this franchise model was, and a race began for each of them to create their own megafranchises.

When I first wrote about this topic back in October 2014, it was because a few other players had just announced their intentions to create megafranchises to compete with the MCU: namely the Star Wars Universe, and the DC Universe (Batman, Superman etc.). Back then, I noted that by spring 2016, all the big megafranchises will have released a major movie, and therefore this would be a good time to do an update on the model as a whole. So here I present an update on the world of megafranchises. I mentioned that there is pressure on every studio to possess one of these cash cows, and not everyone can own a Superman, a Spider-Man or a Skywalker, so there is a lot of clutching at straws by some studios to forge whatever character rights they own into potential megafranchises. I have therefore put each of the current 9 announced megafranchises into ordered tiers, categorised by likelihood of success. I devote a lot of time to the DC Extended Universe, because at this time, it really needs to be talked about.

 

 


Part 1: The Literal Megafranchises

The top level of megafranchises contains many of the most well-known entertainment brands in the world: Batman, Superman, Chewbacca, Spider-Man and the Avengers. Even if a movie from one of these megafranchises is terrible, the overall brand is so strong that the series is unlikely to be affected substantially.

 

DC Extended Universe

While developing a sequel for 2013’s Man of Steel, the writers and producers were suddenly asked to expand the story they were working on, and include more characters from the DC Comics Universe. Warner Brothers, the movie studio that owns the rights to these characters saw what a success Marvel/Disney had made of teaming up superheroes in the Avengers, and they wanted a piece of that action. DC Comics had Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and many more in a super hero group just like the Avengers, called the Justice League of America, and Warner Brothers wanted a Justice League movie as soon as possible. While Marvel spent four years and around 7 movies (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America etc) building up to the original Avengers movie, the plan here for DC was to lay all that groundwork into one movie, which was the recently released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In it, we are introduced to a grumpy new Batman, a heavily-accented Wonder Woman, and some YouTube cameos from the rest of the Justice League.

A few weeks before release, rumours started coming from Warner Brothers that BvS was not very good, and definitely not good enough to springboard the Justice League to Avengers level. This was a problem, because the studio already has already filmed two more movies in the megafranchise (Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman), and was already shooting the first Justice League movie. The investments were already made, so there was no real choice in the matter: the movie had to be released, and everyone involved in making it had to pretend it wasn’t a pile of garbage. The critical and public reception to the movie has confirmed that it really was a pile of garbage.

To understand Batman v Superman, and Warner Brothers decision to skip a few movies in developing a universe before throwing us in and expecting to care about it, is to understand the pressure all the other movie studios are under to develop a megafranchise to compete with the MCU. If you don’t have one, you just aren’t a major player in Hollywood. The DC Extended Universe will be given a few movies to redeem itself, although it doesn’t look likely that it will succeed.

What’s next?: This summer’s Suicide Squad.

And after that?

dc

 

Star Wars Sequel Trilogy & Anthology Series

The ridiculously successful recalibration of Star Wars into The Force Awakens surprised most people, and the future looks bright. The real test for this burgeoning megafranchise lies not with it’s direct sequels, but in its expansion beyond the main storyline. When Disney bought the rights to the Star Wars universe in 2012, their stated mission was to release a Star Wars movie every year, possibly forever. They didn’t want to release direct sequels every year, but rather to release a couple of standalone movies set in the Star Wars universe in between the sequels. The first of these spin-offs comes this December with Rogue One. The success of the Star Wars megafranchise depends on how the public reacts to this Star Wars story that probably doesn’t involve a Skywalker. After Episode VIII next year, the next spinoff will be a young Han Solo story in 2018. The new Han Solo is rumoured to have a cameo in Rogue One, so be prepared in the next few months to be outraged at which completely inappropriate young actor will take over the role.

What’s Next?: Rogue One, this December

And after that?

sw

 

 

Marvel Cinematic Universe

These guys invented the megafranchise, and they have perfected it. While I am not the greatest fan of the MCU (I prefer my superhero movies to be a bit more complex and pretentious), I am a big fan of how they have built there world over the past 8 years or so, movie by movie, and even through their TV shows. The issues that drive the recently released Captain America: Civil War, were plain to see in both the Jessica Jones and Daredevil TV shows, neatly setting up the themes for the macro stage In the big movies. On the other hand, I imagine 50% of the cinema-going public will be completely shocked when they realise that Guardians of the Galaxy exist within the MCU, and will definitely end up in future Avengers movies. The MCU is both big, and small. Apparently they plan to keep going forever.

What’s Next?: After Civil War comes Benedict Cumberbatch in November as Doctor Strange.

 

And after that?

mcu

 

 

 

Part II: The Wannabe Megafranchises

Not all megafranchises are created equally. Warner Brothers (DC) and Disney (Star Wars & Marvel) were lucky enough to own the rights to highly lucrative and well-known characters to build worlds around. The other big movie studios were not nearly so lucky.

 

Universal Monsters Shared Universe

Universal Studios big plan to compete with the three big players is to build a megafranchise around a few characters they have owned for the best part of a century: the classic horror movie monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Invisible Man. The last time I wrote about this, I said that if they were able to keep their costs down, they might be able to compete at a lower level than their more illustrious competitors. They didn’t listen to me, and have gone the opposite way entirely, hiring an A-List actor in each of their announced movies so far. Tom Cruise will fight The Mummy next year, Scarlet Johansson will do things with The Wolfman, Angelina Jolie is wanted as the Bride of Frankenstein and Johnny Depp will appear as the Invisible Man. Universal’s dream is that they all end up in the same movie together one day. I doubt that will happen. In fact, I doubt even The Invisible Man movie will happen. And they’ve already paid Johnny Depp.

What’s planned?

universal

 

Godzilla/King Kong Monster Mash

Inspired by Universal’s idea of having monsters fight each other, Legendary Pictures plan to get themselves into the mainstream is to have two monsters they own the rights to fight each other, and then possibly team up and fight other things. First up is a King Kong prequel, titled Skull Island. These guys have only announced 3 movies so far, so their restraint could make them a success.

What’s planned?

gkk

 

X-Men Shared Universe

20th Century Fox’s plans to build a shared universe in the X-Men world took a strange turn in February when they released Deadpool, which turned into the most successful movie ever in their entire (not yet mega)franchise. Before this, there was a lot of pessimism about the idea of multiple, interconnected X-Men movies: the Gambit movie had been shelved, and Jennifer Lawrence had said that this years X-Men: Apocalypse would be her last showing as Mystique. Now J-Law wants more, and Fox have ordered a Deadpool sequel, and are looking into more characters (apart from Wolverine) they can build a megafranchise around. This is going a lot better than that megafranchise Sony tried to build around Spider-Man in 2014.

What’s Planned?: Another Wolverine movie, a Deadpool sequel, and a Gambit movie sometime in the future. We will know more after X-Men: Apocalypse debuts.

 

 

Part III: The Wannabe Wannabe Megafranchises

While the above second-tier megafranchises at least had something to go on, the next level down is scraping the bottom of the barrel. All are currently in development, but I doubt many of these will develop into megafranchises, or even a first movie.

 

Hasbro

Paramount doesn’t have a lot of faith in the Transformers megafranchise, so at the same time it is developing a similar ‘working group’ around several of Hasbro Toys characters. GI Joe and Micronauts are the most famous of these, and it’s all downhill from there. If a movie from this ever sees the light of day, there will be slightly more optimism about it than any future Transformers output.

Transformers

Yes, Paramount are trying to build a megafranchise around their terrible Transformers movies. They did this by having an open call for ‘Transformers Universe Scripts’, open to all screenwriters in Hollywood.

Valiant Comics

Sony Pictures is the notable absentee from the studio rundown so far. They has a troubled history with megafranchises: they wanted to build one around Spider-Man, but then the North Korea email hack happened, and some of them were about major studio producers not liking their current Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) too much. After that, Garfield wanted no more, and Sony decided to lease Spider-Man to the MCU. This is why you see Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. It’s because of Kim Jong-Un, and that Seth Green movie that pissed him off. Anyway, Sony’s latest idea is to buy the rights to all the characters of another comic book publisher: Valiant Comics. The plan is to build a megafranchise around these characters in the same way that Marvel did, and DC tried. I had never heard about Valiant Comics before this deal was announced, and I haven’t heard of them since the deal was announced, and that was over a year ago.

 

 

The Outlook?

We’re at a point now where all the MCU competitors are discovering that building a megafranchise is not as easy as Marvel made it appear. Marvel, DC and Star Wars will be with us for at least another 5 years, but the rest of the potential megafranchises I wrote about above will probably not exist if I ever write about this again. The next pivotal moment in megafranchises will be Tom Cruise appearing in The Mummy next summer. It is on his lithe, 50 year old shoulders that the success of the next big megafranchise rests on. I’m just wondering if he has his usual contractual clause put in where he is obliged to have at least one shirtless dialogue scene. At least he will look young compared to The Mummy.

Previous megafranchise posts:

Original post: https://curvesofindifference.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/rise-of-the-megafranchise/

Update 4/15: https://curvesofindifference.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/return-of-the-rise-of-the-megafranchise/

Viennese Vignettes

After five long years in the beautiful city of Vienna, the time has come and I am preparing to move to pastures anew. I can’t leave without a final summation of what it is to be an expat/immigrant/outsider in this great city, so I present here an unnumbered listicle of things a person should achieve by the time he/she leaves Vienna. This is part bucket list, part cultural commentary, and part passive-aggressive rant about easily resolved white people problems. Littered throughout one may even encounter a piece of solid advice that will make living here easier. There are around 50 of these little tips about how you know when you know your way around Vienna. If only I could think up a catchy title to reflect that! I usually try and make these posts accessible for all readers, but this time I apologise: if you haven’t lived in Vienna for at least a few months, you will be completely lost here. To paraphrase Ultravox, it will mean nothing to you. Anyway, I’ll be back at the end.

viennese vig

Greet someone with “Grüß Gott“.

It’s how to politely say hello to a stranger in this part of the world. Literally it means ‘Greetings to god’. If that’s confusing, it’s because the greeter is asking you to greet god for him/her should you see him first (in heaven). It’s polite, it’s alliterative, and it is an everyday reminder of our futile mortality, so I’m a big fan.

 

Never learn to speak German fluently.

You don’t need it: all the people you meet will speak English better than you anyway. For the rare moments you encounter a non-foreigner, simply pointing and acting generally unfriendly is more than enough to communicate an action or idea to an Austrian.


Play football with Wiener Kickabouts

The premier football group in Vienna for foreigners who want to play with foreigners, and Austrians who hate Austrians. If you want to play regularly, play with them.

  

Watch football games at the Shebeen.

Less touristy than many of the other sports bars, there can be quite an atmosphere when big premier league teams are playing. #ViennaHack: When in a big group, remember what you order, as the bar staff will generally try and charge you for drinks unpaid by other groups. Advice: never be the last group to pay up after a football game.

 

Go to a Wiener SportKlub game.

David Alaba aside, Austrian football is terrible. Celebrate it by supporting a third division working class team while drinking warm Ottakringer on cold seats. Preferably aim for the Derby of Love, one of Central European footballs most contested sporting rivalry’s.

 

Play kickball with Vienna Kickball.

Spend a Sunday afternoon standing around a park drinking beer and asking people what the hell Kickball is. A good mix of expats/foreigners make up this group, and the leadership is a good mix of overt cynicism (hungover Christoph) and over-enthusiasm (Toma when he sees snow). Join up here.

 

Use Vienna CityBikes.

It’s like owning a bike, except without any of the responsibility. Check out this handy graphic here.

  

Feel guilty when the marathon is on.

It looks like anyone can do it, doesn’t it? Maybe next year, but for now, let’s just wake up for the finish on TV, and then back to bed.

 

Be the slowest person running on the Prater Hauptallee.

You’ll have a lot of competition, but you can do it.

 

Shout at someone while cycling.

You know best. Ruin that tourist family’s day!

 

Never go skiing.

It’s for tourists and middle class families, so skiing is none of an expats business.

 

Win Quiz Dreitausand!

The best quiz in town. It’s run monthly throughout most of the year at club Transporter. No pop culture reference from the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s or even this decade is too obscure for these quizmasters. If you win, treasure it. Because it won’t happen too often.

 

Get 3 leisurely drinks in during Happy Hour at Johnny’s Pub.

It’s daunting, but you can absolutely do it if you time it properly. Get there for 18h for your first pint, finish it by 18:30 for pint 2, then at 18:50 order number 3 while pretending you were on your way to the toilet. Bingo: you’re nicely drunk by 19:30 on a weekday for around €6. But tip the barman, for god’s sake.

  

Drink a cocktail made by Percy on the Donaukanal .

Drinking your warm cans by the canal is one thing, but the best beach experience in Vienna is a little shack run by authentic Caribbean man Percy just across from the Bratislava Twin Liner Port. He’ll sing you reggae songs while making you a rum cocktail, and then you can relax on beach chairs in the dirty sandbox they provide as seating.

  

Get kicked into a bar at 10pm.

Vienna needs her sleep. So if you’re drinking outside a bar around the curfew, you could well find yourself being forced inside. Bitte Pssst!

 

Sneak beer into the cinema.

The soundtrack of watching a film in a Viennese cinema is of quiet moments in the movie being  punctuated by a cacophony of cans being cracked throughout the theatre. Just do it: no one cares, because they’re doing it too.

 

Mix gassed water with white wine.

It took me years to realise how to make Austrian white wine drinkable.

 

Eventually realise and accept that you drink alcohol absolutely every day.

They have champagne for breakfast here, for Christ’s sake. Only those raised here can possibly avoid a small bout of alcoholism.

 

Bring unsuspecting people to Adlerhof.

Tell them it’s just a normal bar. Don’t explain anything. Works best with people you don’t know too well.

 

Wait for the fun to start at Schikaneder.

It won’t, but you’re not going to be the one who admits it.

 

Know what your personal price-ceiling is with regards to Wurstelstand Beer.

It’s €2.80. Anything more, and they are having a laugh. Don’t encourage them.

 

Go to a bar without reserving a table

You’re not going to have a good time, but try and fight the system anyway!

 

Get pissed off at having to wait 5 minutes for an U-Bahn.

Completely unacceptable. No other words.

 

Accept that the U3 is Vienna’s best U-Bahn line.

It’s got the main bus station (VIB), the Westbahnhof, the main shopping street (Neubaugasse), the tourist centre (Stephansplatz) and the main link to the airport (Wien Mitte). No other line can compare.

 

Come to regard the 13A as the U5.

It’s frequent, it’s fast, and it fills the hole where the U5 should be. It just happens to be a bus.

 

Get your kaisekrainer with mayonnaise instead of mustard.

I ordered it by mistake once, but have never looked back since. The sausage men will look on you with disgust, but don’t be ashamed, for it is delicious, and they live in a hut on the side of the street.

 

Say on facebook that you’re interested in every free event there is.

Free outdoor cinema, free ethnic festival, free concert, free puppies. Everything’s free in the summer, but there’s gonna be too many people there, so just drink a few cans by the kanal instead.

 

Swim in the Danube.

It’s dirty, smelly, and tastes like mould, but in a land-locked country you take what you can get.

 

Have a good hour or two at a Donauinsel BBQ, before the mosquitos come out and eat you alive.

As the sun goes down across the water, you’re eating a burger, with your fourth beer in your hand, and you reflect on life’s inner meaning. Because in 10 minutes you will be living in a war zone.

 

Wander far away from the U-Bahn stations on the Donauinsel.

Stay around the population centers to be safe, but just once, walk or cycle 15 minutes further than you usually go. After a pleasantly empty buffer zone, you will encounter the flabby, middle-aged, intensely proud, and incredibly sunburned naked enthusiasts of the FKK.

 

Watch amateur freestyle German rap battles at Einbaumobel on Saturday nights.

Watch it once for the experience, but don’t go back. They are terrible. But you can pay whatever you want for the beer. #freispende

 

At least once, avoid getting involved in the Great Ice-Cream Debate.

Everyone’s vegan hipster ice cream crap is just as terrible as everyone else’s. Eis Greissler be damned!

 

Only go to museums when they’re free to enter.

You’ll see how much people of this city appreciate art every first Sunday of the month, and on the Austrian National Holiday, as well as in the occasional free opening of an exhibition at the Albertina. They love art here. Just not enough to actually want to pay for it.

 

Get bullied into ordering early in the bakery chains.

They’ve got 100 different products, all with unique names, and the name signs are all in front of the wrong products. Yet I’m supposed to know what I want within 3 seconds of entering Anker.

 

Get unnecessarily stressed as supermarket closing time approaches.

If the clock passes 19:30, and you haven’t yet gone to the supermarket, you are in deep trouble. Just be glad it’s not 18:01 on Saturday……

 

Yell “KASSA BITTE!”

In order for this to be authentic, the person shouting at the staff to open another checkout counter must already be consuming the one can of beer he/she came in to buy.

 

Never expect to go shopping for something specific and find what you are looking for in the first place you visit.

Consumerism never really came in here, and this is reflected in the supermarkets and big electronic stores. Shops have the things they sell, and others have the things they sell. It’s your job to find the right one. And don’t bother the staff in each shop about what you’re looking for, either.

 

Give your tram seat up for a woman carrying a small dog.

She probably lists it as a dependent on her tax forms.

 

Complain about -15° in the winter, 40° in the summer, and everything in between.

Humans weren’t meant to live in places with such temperature changes. Just stay at 19°, and everyone will be happy. Everyone goes on beach and ski holidays anyway, we don’t need extreme weather here.

 

Find out what’s going on with Puber.

If you don’t know what that is, then google it. It will ruin the city for you forever, though.

 

Have lunch at the UN.

If you don’t work there, get a friend to invite you. They sign you in and after a big security check, you can walk around the place as long as you hold your friends hand. Make your friend pay for lunch too: he or she is nothing but a rich, tax dodging bastard.

 

Live off the state.

Make socialism work for you! Feeling tired, bored with your job? You pay the taxes, so you have earned a break. Make everyone else pay for your extravagant lifestyle for a few months.

 

Fear the reckoning of the Jahresabrechnung.

It’s that time of year, and you’re starting to regret using that cheap fan to cool yourself all through August, aren’t you? Maybe you didn’t need to have the heating on in late February, and maybe energy saving bulbs are worth the extra few Euros over those cheap shitty ones you always buy. The days before the Jahresrechnung are like waiting in line on Judgement Day: we know what we did wrong, we just hope none of it was as important as we think.

  

Lie to the Rauchfangkehrer.

He wakes you up at 6AM, has a look around your apartment and then very seriously tells you that you need to get your chimney serviced. You tell him that’s what you thought he is here for. He repeats his request, and hands you a business card. You tell him yes, you will call them today. He leaves, and you go back to bed.

 

Get used to the smell of horseshit.

The First District sure is charming. In pictures.

  

Be prepared for a fight at Hofer/Lidl.

Its Balkan rules in these supermarkets.

 

Go to another country to use the airport.

Michael O; Leary knew what he was doing when he set Ryanair up in Bratislava.

 

Never answer the doorbell, for fear it’s the GIS man.

It’s only €14 per month, but it’s your €14 per month, and it’s worth the lies, deceit and anti-social behavior.

  

Get terrified whenever a fellow foreigner mentions something you don’t understand about the MA35.

“Oh, what were you doing at the MA35?”

“I was just getting my 35qx29b renewed. It only took a few weeks, and they only fined me €136,278 for doing it too late. I was so lucky.”

 

Watch Before Sunrise.

And imagine how different that movie would have been if the two young lovers had wandered around Vienna during the winter. There sure as hell would not have been two more movies.

  

Live south of the Wienfluss.

Refer to everyone else as Northern Barbarians.

 

Eat cake at Café Central, while making awkward eye contact with the piano player.

Maintain his gaze all through the entire score of The Third Man.

 

Don’t panic when you lose your keys.

A few years ago it would be the end of the world, but now, you have a guy for this. While 99% of schlusseldiensts won’t illegally cut your keys, you know a place where it can be done in minutes. No forms, no hundreds of euros, just a normal service: the way it should be.

  

 

 

FIN

Some minor white people problem issues, but what can you expect when you reside in the most livable city in the world? You have to complain about something, and complaining about monotonous perfection is how you know you have truly become an Echte Wiener (just joking, they will never accept you, EVER. Console yourself by bringing up Austria’s role in World War II. In schools here they were taught that Germany invaded Austria, and occupied it just like they did to Poland. Inform them of what the rest of the world learned in school!). Don’t be afraid to leave me a message below, on facebook or on twitter about your own personal Viennese Vignettes. This was an amazing city to live in, and I will definitely miss this place and all those I met in Vienna. It meant something to me. Oh, Vienna.

 

 

Star Wars: A Newer Hope

I am part of an aging generation that still remembers when there was a movie that was actually called Star Wars. Before Disney, before the prequels, before the special editions, the first way that George Lucas began to tinker with his legacy was by gradually changing the name of the movie originally released as Star Wars in 1977 to initially Star Wars: A New Hope, and finally by 1981 the movie was officially Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. None of this mattered however, as in the early 1990’s when I was growing up and becoming aware of the film series, no one paid any attention to the word “episode” in what was then the Star Wars Trilogy, and the movies were simply known as Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Despite the marketing and rebranding attempts of Lucasfilm over the previous decade and a half since the now “Original Trilogy” ended, it was not until the late 1990’s that the word “episode” became forever associated with the franchise. This was because a movie marketed as Episode I appeared, and now it is commonplace to refer to the movie formerly known as Star Wars as Episode IV. As I grew up calling the movie Star Wars, it has been difficult for me to make the transition to calling it Episode IV, or even A New Hope. Since there are now 7 movies in the series, and the promise of many more to come, it is difficult to call the movie Star Wars and have people understand which specific movie you mean, therefore it is inevitable that the movie’s title will finally be specified as what Lucasfilm always wanted it to be.

I first saw the movie I then knew as Star Wars on television, which in the days before the internet was the primary way of finding out about anything. On television it was punctuated by commercial advertising breaks, which were very annoying, so I asked my parents for the VHS of the movie that Christmas and could therefore watch uninterrupted. In 1997, it was the 20th Anniversary of the movie (and Lucasfilm needed to remind younger viewers of the series since they had Episode I in production), so they released the so-called ‘Special Editions’ of each of the Original Trilogy into cinemas over the course of three months. I went to see all three. Later that year, the Special Edition Trilogy was released on VHS, and I bought that too. As technology moved away from magnetic media and towards digital, the trilogy was released on DVD in 2004, and I bought them then too.

A Newer Hope

Now, I count watching a movie with ad breaks in the middle as paying to watch it, so therefore by my count I have paid to see Star Wars (and the other movies in the Original Trilogy) five times, and bought the damn thing three times. I am not even going to list here all the Star Wars merchandising I have bought during my lifetime, as it would probably run into four figures, and probably funded the purchase of a single green screen in the production of the prequel trilogy. I really have thought about this a lot over the past two weeks or so, as in the build-up to The Force Awakens I wanted to rewatch the Original Trilogy so as to be able to recognise details in the new movie that referenced its predecessors.  Yet the last time I bought Star Wars was in 2004, and the world is now a very different place. First of all, I have bought a total of one DVD since 2005, when broadband internet finally made it possible to download files of 700mb+ in a reasonable amount of time. I have three copies of Star Wars in my bedroom, yet my bedroom is 2,166km away from where I currently live. Also, I currently possess the technology to play only one of the three different versions of that movie that I own (VHS tragically died sometime in the last century). I obviously feel like I have rewarded the creators of that movie enough and paid them accordingly, so I had absolutely no qualms about downloading it illegally via torrents.

I was fine with that, and they would never know, so it was all good. Then I was searching on YouTube for the trailer for The Force Awakens, and saw this in the search results.

Starwars

For those who don’t speak German, or can’t work things out based on context, it is the option to watch Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for €16.99, on YouTube. This annoyed me on several levels. Firstly, €16.99 for an almost 40 year movie, to watch in a web browser must surely be a joke. This is the equivalent of two months of unlimited Netflix streaming, or the cost of a 3D IMAX viewing of the newest movie of the franchise. If you go further into the ‘offer’, you will find that this copy you paid for will be owned by you, unlike the Netflix content that you simply borrow. So for €16.99 you can own the right to access a YouTube video whenever you want, which sounds suspiciously like YouTube not understanding what the internet is.

The cost aside, the main thing that annoyed me about this was that just like me, basically anyone over the age of 25 has already paid to see Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) at least once. Anyone around the age of 50 paid to see it in the cinema, anyone around the age of 40 watched it on TV and suffered through the ad breaks, and anyone under 40 more than likely had a video or DVD copy too. The only people who have never paid to see those movies are probably under 15, and therefore incapable of paying for anything. In all honesty, on rewatching the original Star Wars movie this month, I found it has dated terribly and most of its enjoyment nowadays comes from nostalgia, and therefore no child will be convinced to engage with the franchise from that movie alone. The scale is small, the acting is old-fashioned and the pacing is more like a 1970s detective drama rather than a modern blockbuster. Even I found it boring at times, let alone a millennial child raised on the Transformers and Avengers movies.

So what is to be done? Any adult buying a digital copy of the original Star Wars movie will feel cheated because they have probably paid for ownership of the same product multiple times over their lifetimes (and probably feel that more iterations are still to come), and any child will not be satisfied watching a movie that was the spaceship of its day, but is now nothing more than a slowly paced taster of things to come. At this stage, almost 40 years after it was made, I think the time has come for the powers that be to put the oldest Star Wars movie out to pasture and release it into the public domain. That movie should be free for anyone to watch anytime. Most of us grew up with Star Wars shoved down our throats: it is impossible not to be aware of it, and that is especially apparent in the past few weeks during the build-up to the release of The Force Awakens. Everyone knows Star Wars, everyone gave money to Star Wars, and through constant discussion of the movies everyone advertises Star Wars. Children buy the toys, play the videogames and watch the animated TV shows that expand upon the original story, so there is no excuse for trying to milk them of every last bit of money by forcing them to pay for a movie they won’t enjoy. Similarly there is no reason to lie to older Star Wars fans by telling them if they buy a particular version of the movie, they will own it: we all have owned it, and we all know now that there is no such thing as owning a piece of media.

The makers of the movie I originally knew as Star Wars have changed practically everything about the film since I have been alive, even so far as to dictate to us a new name that it must be called. They re-released it multiple times and charged me for the privilege of possessing each version. They diluted the franchise (probably irreversibly) by producing prequels to explain plot points that nobody needed explained. The least they could do is stop trying to extract money from us for the dated masterpiece that started it all.

Erasmus & Me: 10 Years On

It’s been ten years now since I finished my Erasmus exchange semester, and like for many people, the exchange is something that I knew at the time was an extraordinary experience and something I still look back on now as the greatest single period in my life thus far. I spent five months, from the end of January 2005 to the end of that June, living and studying in Tilburg, which is a small town of around 200,000 people in the south of the Netherlands, not too far from the Belgian border. The town itself is nothing special, merely a regional hub which contains a decent university and all that you would expect from a no-nonsense northern European town: bars, bicycles, everything closed on Sundays, and everything built around a train station. The Erasmus program however made it special by grouping around 100 international exchange students from all over the world together, and giving them the freedom to party, travel, make friendships and gain new experiences, all the while helping each other make sense of the new and alien culture they were all experiencing together: a sleepy Dutch town (or wherever you spent your Erasmus exchange). It doesn’t sound like much, but my categorisation of the experience as life-changing is not uncommon at all, and regularly throughout this year I have attempted to sit down to try and find something worthwhile to write about the legacy of my Erasmus experience, ten years on. The other day, while attempting such a brainstorming session, I realised that though I had always thought of the experience as life-changing in an abstract (and pretentious) sense, I had never fully grasped just how much the Erasmus programme had literally changed my life.

PaperArtist_2015-07-29_20-37-57

First things first, and with 10 years of hindsight, I realise now that while my Erasmus experience may have been a whirlwind of new experiences, cultures and people, it was in reality a very carefully controlled whirlwind. At the time, back in 2005, it literally felt like I was dropped out of nowhere into a completely different society and had to fend for myself. The real story was that in an Erasmus exchange, and especially at the beginning, you basically have someone holding your hand the entire way. I arrived in Tilburg and already had a place to stay for the semester, arranged weeks before by the university and its dedicated Erasmus Student Network (ESN), a group of student volunteers who were there simply to help in any matters related to integrating into Dutch society. I will add here that though the Dutch have their own language and are therefore not native English speakers, the level of English spoken by the average person on the street rivals that of any English speaking country in the world, so language was rarely an issue. ESN also organised parties and events to help us all meet other exchange students and thus facilitated in the making of new friends and experiences, which would have been much more difficult without their mediation.

The people you meet and the friends you make are what frame your experiences, and therefore they are the main part of what can make the Erasmus program so rewarding, as it seems like you are meeting people from all over the world, from all backgrounds and all cultures. Again, with ten years of hindsight, my view of this has shifted somewhat. I met many amazing people on Erasmus, and I have travelled and visited many of them since, and remain very good friends with a few to this day, yet to imagine that we all come from different cultures and backgrounds is a complete fantasy. The Erasmus exchange program seemed very inclusive, yet the entry barriers made it really a very exclusive event. Firstly, it was a university program, so in order to qualify each participant must have spent at least two years in higher education. Secondly there were significant costs involved in travelling to and living in a different country for a number of months. The entry fee for an Erasmus exchange is an education, and a not-insignificant amount of disposable income. This entry fee significantly limits the type of people who you can meet while on an Erasmus exchange program, to such an extent that I would go so far as to say that really you can only possibly meet people with a very similar upbringing to yourself, but simply born in a different country. The people you meet may have slightly different customs and cultures to you, yet otherwise the socio-economic class differential is quite small. The ability to participate in an Erasmus exchange puts you in a certain, small, traveling, upper-middle class elite such that now, 10 years later, when I meet an educated Turkish person abroad, I know that we have at least a second-degree common acquaintance. Again, I am not saying that the people you meet on Erasmus are not amazing, I am saying that it was a much more controlled experience than it seemed at the time.

This critical view of the Erasmus program is one that has been weighing on me the past year or so: this idea of it at the time being so transformative, yet in hindsight seemed merely like a group of similar people playing in a sandbox while thinking they were freely roaming the desert. There were amazing experiences, yes, and lifelong friends made, yet was it really so life changing? I mentioned the sandbox allegory above because this is the image that really made clear what the Erasmus program had actually done for me, and how it had truly benefitted me so much that I can really say that my Erasmus experience changed my life. Erasmus programs are sandboxes; they are small, controlled areas of an alien environment where those of similar standing can interact and make sense of that alien environment, on their own terms, and with careful guidance if necessary. The alien environment in this case is a country with a vastly different culture and language, and you get through it by interpreting it with the help of very similar people to yourself who are experiencing the same thing, and if this fails you have the actual aliens (the ESN!) to fall back on.

Before I went on my Erasmus exchange, I had never even entertained the idea of living in a non-English speaking country. The furthest points my imagination could take me to were a move to London or the USA. I literally could not conceive of a way to live in a society where I did not speak the language – it had never even crossed my mind. Barely a year after my Erasmus exchange ended, I was living on the other side of the world in Taiwan. A year after that, I went back to the Netherlands to complete a Master’s Degree. The next year I interned in Barcelona. The next year I lived in northern Italy. The next year I moved to Vienna. I am fluent in no language but English, my mother tongue, yet since I finished my Erasmus exchange ten years ago, I have spent less than two years in total in an English speaking country, with six months being the longest continuous period. Erasmus may have been a sandbox, but for me it was a sandbox where I learned that my world was not limited to the places where I could speak the language, and my entire decade since then has been driven by this lesson, a lesson that I am not sure would have been learned without my Erasmus experience of playing around in the sandbox of a provincial Dutch town, where everyone speaks Dutch, but perfect English if I needed to ask them a question. My Erasmus friends and I did just fine navigating our way around Tilburg, mostly without the ESN, and this made me confident in knowing I could move anywhere in the world without fear. This, as well as the great friends I made, is the lasting legacy of my Erasmus exchange, as I sit here writing this in Vienna ten years later, admitting that the experience literally changed my life.

No True Godsman: A Simple Model of Morality and Exclusion

Facebook statuses aren’t really known for lingering on in the memory, yet a few days ago I saw one that really stuck with me and has been bouncing around my head ever since. The status was about a friend of mine who was sick of religious people who constantly updated the definition of their own community through a perpetual rejection and exclusion of members who could sully the good name of their group. Or, in simpler terms:

I was unfortunate enough to be a part of a conversation today about sexual assault committed by followers of a religion (not just Catholicism). Somebody threw out the familiar line “Oh, they can’t have been real [insert religion here]”. Regardless of your faith/lack thereof, I ask you all to stop saying this. Don’t push all your shitty people on me and my non-religious friends. Instead, imagine for a second that they ARE [insert religion here], they’re just bad at it and, moreover, are just shitty people. Shitty people exist in every community, yours included.

– My friends Facebook status

Now, I have never heard of this kind of argument from a religious point of view, yet I am very familiar with the thought process behind it, as it is pretty famous in philosophical circles. What my friend had come up against was a classic logical fallacy known as the “No True Scotsman”. The fallacy’s name comes from the prime example used to explain the concept.

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”

Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

– I stole this from Wikipedia

So you can see, this discussion could go on forever, and Person A will always be right, because their argument is based on some subjective opinion of what a Scotsman is, that they can update at will, and exclude from the reference group any counterexamples. Person A is not just moving the goalposts, he won’t even tell Person B where the goalposts are.

If we think about it hard enough you could probably all think of a time when you were frustrated with this type of argument (or more than likely we have all done it ourselves), and there is nothing new about formally explaining something that you probably will now say you have known all your life. Yet my friends experience with religious people using this argument above stuck with me, as it introduced the concept of morality into the equation, and the desire that certain groups define, and indeed pride themselves on comprising solely of universally moral and good people. What I am going to try and (quite literally) prove to you here is that this idea makes things very interesting indeed.

A Simple Model of Morality and Exclusion

Let’s say a group Y exists. The group contains n members, where n is some number above zero. It could be 10, it could be 20, it could be 3 million: it doesn’t matter. Each of the n individuals is represented by {{x}_{i}}, where i=1,2,....,n-1,n. A group is not much more than the sum of the attributes of its members, so we can express the value of this group in the expression below:

Y=\sum\limits_{i=1}^{n}{{{x}_{i}}}

That’s the formal mathematical notification, but we can expand this to get rid of the Greek letters and have this, which means exactly the same thing:

Y=\sum\limits_{i=1}^{n}{{{x}_{i}}}=({{x}_{1}}+{{x}_{2}}+{{x}_{3}}+....+{{x}_{n-1}}+{{x}_{n}})

So we have an expression for the total value of group Y. Now let’s assume that this group values one thing above all else: moral goodness. They pride themselves on how good they are, and believe that every other person in the group has a similar level of goodness to them, making the group whole. We will represent the goodness of an individual {{x}_{i}} with {{g}_{i}}, where {{g}_{i}} is a value between -1 and 1 (-1\le g\le 1), where the closer the individual {{x}_{i}} is to 1, the better the person that individual is. Conversely, the closer that persons is to -1, the worse a person is.

{{x}_{i}}={{g}_{i}}

This represents the goodness of individual i. So we can now rewrite the value of Y based on the moral goodness of its members

Y={{g}_{1}}+{{g}_{2}}+....+{{g}_{n-1}}+{{g}_{n}}

For the sake of simplicity let’s say that all members of this group are assumed to have the same level of g, {{g}^{*}}>0 which might be the goodness level achieved just by living life according to their prescribed rules etc. If we assume this, then we can simplify further.

{{Y}^{*}}={{g}^{*}}+{{g}^{*}}+....{{g}^{*}}+{{g}^{*}}

{{Y}^{*}}=n{{g}^{*}}

The value of {{Y}^{*}} simplifies to two expressions: the number of its members multiplied by their theoretical constant level of moral goodness.

The funny thing about moral goodness is that it cannot actually be observed directly. We cannot for certain say that the individual {{x}_{i}} is a good person, all we can say is that all the information we have about him up to that point indicates that this is the case. Therefore we can assume that {{x}_{i}} is a good member of the group and should continue as a member. There can only be a theoretical level of moral goodness {{Y}^{*}}, and faith must be maintained within the group about the true nature of each other member, that {{g}_{i}}={{g}^{*}} .

Bad behaviour, on the other hand, is completely observable, particularly when an individual, which we will designate as {{x}_{b}} performs some despicable act such that he can no longer be referred to as a morally good person. Once this act is committed, the individual has revealed himself to be a false {{g}^{*}}, as his actual value of {g} is not more than zero, and has in fact a negative value of {g}, where g<0. We will designate this negative value of g as {{g}_{\psi }}.

Because of this revelation, our group goodness value has changed:

Y=(n-1){{g}^{*}}+{{g}_{\psi }}

Everyone else still has their constant level of goodness {{g}^{*}}>0, while our bad person {{x}_{b}} has been separated out because he is of a different moral integrity  {{g}_{\psi }}. I’ll remind you here that  {{g}_{\psi }} is negative and will therefore drag the groups goodness down. Obviously in a group that values moral goodness above all else, the individual {{x}_{b}} must be removed and excluded from the group, as he is No True Godsman. Therefore our updated value for the groups morality is

\tilde{Y}=(n-1){{g}^{*}}

Discussion

Let’s now compare the different values for Y we have had so far.

{{Y}^{*}}=n{{g}^{*}}

Y=(n-1){{g}^{*}}+{{g}_{\psi }}

\tilde{Y}=(n-1){{g}^{*}}

It’s clear that {{Y}^{*}} is the highest value of all our Y’s, and that after all the revelations of wickedness, we are left with a group goodness level that is below our originally perceived theoretical level

{{Y}^{*}}>\tilde{Y}

We must not forget however that the individual who was removed from the group was always a bad person, we just did not realise it at the time, and Y* never actually existed, and all we had before the unpleasantness was Y, the second of our three Y values given above. Think about this and compare it to our new value {\tilde{Y}}. Since {{g}_{\psi }} is negative, this means that \tilde{Y}  will always be greater than Y.

Y<\tilde{Y}

The groups goodness has actually increased as a result of the expulsion of a member who revealed himself to be bad. Further, this will always be the case, as any further hidden non-{{g}^{*}}’s who are revealed as such will be removed and therefore increase the moral goodness of the group as a whole. This might sound like quite an obvious and innocent statement, but think about how someone can actually reveal themselves to be a bad person. They will never reveal it voluntarily, but only through bad behavior and acts. If a group values the unobservable moral integrity of it’s members above all else, it will always be good for the group if it’s secretly bad members perform an act so depraved that it reveals them as what they are: a non-{{g}^{*}}. It is only through horrible acts that the group can actually edge closer to what they truly want: maximising their Y, and therefore their moral goodness.

Conclusion

So, to use these stylised facts on the situation that offended my friend and prompted his Facebook status, he could have argued that this ‘[insert religion here]’ who performed a sexual assault actually did [insert religion here] a favour by telling all the ‘true’ [insert religion here] that the assaulter was no [insert religion here] at all, and that this was good for the [insert religion here] community as a whole. That sexual deviant was living amongst the [insert religion here], passing as a [insert religion here], and now because he revealed his true nature, [insert religion here] is all the better for it. Therefore anyone in that religion should be happy that it occurred. The application of logic to a logical fallacy will always reveal its true nature, and what I hope anyone who read this far gets from this is that it can lead to interesting results, and will more than likely end up backing the offender into a tight, (hopefully) logically sound corner.