On the shaming of Miss USA pageant queens, and ‘The Hunger Games’

June 17, 2013

Have you heard? At the Miss USA  Pageant, both Miss Utah, Marissa Powell, and Miss Alabama, Mary Margaret McCord, gave ignorant or incoherent answers to questions related to current events? Everyone’s talking about it (See: here, herehere, here, here, here, here, etc, etc). And two of those linked pieces come from Joe Coscarelli of New York Magazine, who decided to write short pieces ridiculing each.

Some of these articles, if not the actual video clips (which I’ve decided to not help circulate here directly, though they are embedded on some of the above links), have been circulating like crazy on my Facebook wall. Ha ha! Isn’t it funny how dumb these stupid know-nothings are? I must share their ignorance across the internet at once!

I, however, have a different reaction to this. I feel like picking on a pageant queen is not only a waste of energy but also just playing into the Hunger-Games-like system the establishment has created. It’s not Miss Utah or Miss Alabama”s fault women are systematically underpaid or that the NSA is spying on American citizens without a warrant; it’s the fault of government and corporations. Miss Utah and Miss Alabama are just the latest child sacrifices from Districts whatever seemingly used by those in power to distract us from real enemies like the big banks or our completely ineffectual Congress.

And no, I don’t mean there’s necessarily a deliberate literal conspiracy happening here. But every time the news wastes our time on mind-numbing celebrity sensationalism, that’s less time they’re talking about prosecuting the Wall Street bankers who profited off of destroying the American economy or the blatant unconstitionality of the NSA surveillance practices, or the unequal pay for women in this country. And isn’t it funny how a woman has managed to become the target of scorn in the name of a feminist issue like equal pay for women? Funny how that works out, huh.

Now to be fair, even I’ve fallen into this trap before. Several years ago, I’m pretty sure I wrote an article on this very blog skewering then Miss California, Carrie Prejean (why do I still remember her name? Argh!). And I might have also mocked 2007’s Miss Teen USA Miss South Carolina over her now infamously incoherent answer. So I’m not going to pretend I’m innocent here in this public shaming by–let’s face it–mostly over-educated liberals, of beauty pageant contestants who are asked these sorts of serious political questions for no other reason than to make a shallow, despicable contest over nothing other than which barely legal girl a bunch of random swarmy yahoos happens to think is prettier seem less despicable.

But I guess I realized what my real problem is with this after a Facebook friend suggested, “I think you’re reading too much into having a few cheap laughs at the expense of someone who deserves it.” Watching mostly over-educated liberals shame these girls is one thing. but I don’t think the news media should be using their power and influence to have cheap laughs at a 23-year old girl who merely aspires to win a beauty contest.

The reason this is such a cheap and lazy story for news outlets is it feeds off the audience’s own smug sense of self-satisfaction. Everyone gets to congratulate themselves for knowing more about at least one thing than she does. What an accomplishment! Good comedy makes targets of the powerful. I guess where I disagree with my friend is I just fail to see in what way these girls deserve it.

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On Kubrick’s alleged dual narratives and hidden messages in ‘The Shining’

September 23, 2012

Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining is a masterpiece. I think most serious film scholars, critics, and fans agree with that. But one aspect of the film that is highly debatable is the popular notion that Kubrick layered hidden messages or even whole dual narratives into the film. And many of the speculations about the meaning of these hidden messages happen to revolve around conspiracy theories.

The weird speculative theories about hidden messages in the film is the subject of a recent documentary called “Room 237” that I have not yet seen, and until recently, I was totally unaware this was even a thing. It first came to my attention earlier this year when I came across an article linking to a series of YouTube videosthat begin as if they’re objective analyses of the film, but ultimately reveal analyst Rob Ager’s true agenda late in the series when Ager eventually stops talking about The Shining altogether in favor of straight propaganda promoting his crazy gold-standard conspiracy theory. If I made a video analyzing, say, Citizen Kane that lasted the better part of an hour, and devoted at least a quarter of that analysis making a political argument about the evils of capitalism or whatever bullshit political theme I supposedly pulled from subtle symbolism in the film, and did so to the point that I stopped even mentioning the film Citizen Kane at all, you’d be right to not take me seriously.

Other than the whole gold standard thing, there are numerous other wacky interpretations of The Shining out there, as the New York Times article about Room 237 linked to above alluded to, like the theory that Kubrick worked in a hidden confession about having played a part in faking the moon landing. Some others, like the Native American slaughter motifs and Kubrick’s concerns over the Holocaust even made it onto the film’s Wikipedia page.

So is the film The Shining REALLY ABOUT Stanley Kubrick’s veiled confession of the part he played in faking the moon landing?

Is it about the slaughter of the Native Americans?

Is it about how the sinister elite plotted to rid America of the gold standard (the one true currency…somehow)?

In one word:  NO.

I know the weird iconography in the film has led many pattern-seeking people to go anomaly hunting and find all sorts of alleged “hidden meanings” in The Shining, but it’s just a product of the psychological phenomena known as pareidolia. We’re driven to see patterns, particularly when presented with ambiguous stimuli such as amorphous shapes. This is why it’s easier to see images in things like clouds than in most other things we might be looking at. It’s this pattern-seeking tendency that allows us to see coherent objects and subjects from the millions of pixels in films to begin with. If Kubrick did have hidden messages in The Shining, it almost certainly had nothing to do with the gold standard or the slaughter of Native Americans, etc. It’s just a great film by a master artist that happens to be full of weird, ambiguous imagery and dialogue that can be endlessly analyzed and used to find almost any interpretation the viewer is looking for. It’s like Yoda’s cave; what you find is ultimately what you brought in with you.

Further reading about the documentary Room 237 from Aint It Cool News’ critics Quint and Nording.


News From Around The Blogosphere 5.23.11

May 23, 2011
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1. Actor Paul Giamatti identifies himself as an atheist – Yup, in keeping with centuries of Jewish tradition, Mr. Giamatti doesn’t believe in any gods. He even goes further than many other celebrity atheists in that he’s not afraid to even use the label “atheist.”

2. Australian distributor of Power Balance bracelets goes out of business

The Australian distributor of the controversial Power Balance wristbands will be placed into receivership today, with the owner of the business saying that sales have “evaporated” since the business provided undertakings to the ACCC to stop claiming the wristbands could improve balance, strength and flexibility.

Power Balance Australia owner Tom O’Dowd has exclusively told SmartCompany that while he had been “naive” in thinking that the business would not by [sic] subject to laws surrounding the regulation of health products, the ACCC’s aggressive stance against the products effectively killed off any survival hopes.

3. 60 Minutes reports on Lance Armstrong scandal – Last week, I defended a piece by 60 Minutes about the cult group calling themselves Sovereign Citizens, but this week, I’m taking issue with one of their stories. Now I haven’t been following the investigation into possible use of performance-enhancing drugs among professional bicyclists, nor the particular accusations against Lance Armstrong. But it seems to me, at least as it was presented on 60 Minutes, that the real story here is an abuse of government power. From what I could tell, the entire investigation has turned into a witch hunt based not on any empirical evidence, but on nothing more than hearsay.

Now maybe Armstrong cheated and maybe he didn’t. I have no clue, nor any commitment to either conclusion. Certainly, as with any professional athlete, there is a clear motivation to cheat…at least as long as one  can keep it a secret, as exposure would almost certainly destroy one’s career. But if federal officials couldn’t even nab Al Capone for anything other than tax evasion, why is it that they can potentially bring down Lance Armstrong without anything other than the testimonies and conspiracy theories of people who may have a grudge against him?

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You’re pitting WHO against Stephen Hawking?!

May 18, 2011

"Suck it, bitch!"

The other day, the world’s most famous living physicist Stephen Hawking made headlines with an off the cuff remark he made about heaven:

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he told the newspaper.

“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

And all of a sudden, people went ape shit, and several people called out the genius physicist for his statements. So who were these brave intellects who entered the ring against Stephen Hawking? Evangelical and former child actor Kirk Cameron, for one.

According to Cameron:

“”To say anything negative about Stephen Hawking is like bullying a blind man. He has an unfair disadvantage, and that gives him a free pass on some of his absurd ideas. Professor Hawking is heralded as ‘the genius of Britain,’ yet he believes in the scientific impossibility that nothing created everything and that life sprang from non-life,” the former TV star tells E! News.

I do agree on one point. Hawking does have an unfair advantage…actually knowing stuff.

Then ABC Nightly News with Diane Sawyer pitted Hawking against a random 12-year-old kid who we’re told had a near-death experience where he gained access to easily accessible information. ABC even framed the story as one versus the other. It’s almost like this kid had some sort of internet or something.

Then a religious physicist named Scott M. Tyson criticized Hawking with a bunch of logical fallacies, which Steven Novella details in his latest article. And finally, there is some writer for The Guardian who states that he’d stake his life that Stephen Hawking is wrong, which PZ Myers references in his piece explaining how not to argue with Hawking.

I’d love to be able to say there was no clear winner in any of these battles but just look again at the people going up against one of the greatest physicists of our time: an actor, a journalist, a 12-year-old kid? It’s sad that not only do these laypeople think can contend with Hawking but that the media seems to think they’ve got what it takes to be fair opponents. That’s like a boxing match pitting Mike Tyson against…well, a 12-year-old.

Sorry media but it wasn’t even close. The winner and still champion is Hawking, who only wins this battle of wits on the grounds that he’s way smarter than you and is a leading expert in the subject.

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson is my god

January 7, 2011
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Thank you Lord Tyson for taking our minds off American Atheists’ horrible billboards, David Silverman’s poor TV performance, and Bill O’Reilly’s ICP-level stupidity.

Rebecca Watson has written a great response to the this failure of a billboard campaign by American Atheists as has Staks at Dangerous Talk. Of course I planted my flag first on criticizing this campaign a month ago here and here. The former earned me the title of “faithiest accommodater” by one commenter who apparently put on their crankypants that day.  Well, welcome fellow faithiest accommodaters who feel there’s a difference between blunt, unapologetic, but articulate intellectual criticisms of religion and just being an asshole who nobody’s going to want to hang out with.

As I said before, advertising isn’t about making arguments; it’s about selling a product. And if you want to sell a product like atheism in the month of December, you ought to be associating yourself with positive humanist values like good will towards your fellow human beings. That wins friends and influences people. Plus there’s that bonus of actually having helped people. Something I hear we atheists are all about and yet I see little of from the American Atheists.

And if you still REALLY want to get under the Religious Right’s skin, as one group of atheists learned this holiday season, you’re going about it all wrong.

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Andrew Wakefield is a fraud!

January 5, 2011

Andrew Wakefield is a fraud. To many of you out there, this is not news at all. But today the British Medical Journal released the first of several close examinations by journalist Brian Deer that exposes Andrew Wakefield’s now retracted 1998 study published in the Lancet that analyzed twelve children as not just bad science but deliberately fraudulent.

Among many distortions, Wakefield altered the medical information of all twelve children including changing the dates their symptoms were first reported to fit his predetermined conclusions. For instance,  although the children were reported in the study to show their symptoms almost immediately after receiving the MMR vaccine, their medical records show some developed their symptoms earlier while others not for many months after vaccination (not unlike Jenny McCarthy, who claimed that her son appeared to lose his very soul almost immediately after vaccination but recently admitted it was many months later that his symptoms appeared).

And suddenly this has created a media firestorm on the side of good for a change. Everyone’s talking about this and it’s being called by many to be the biggest scientific fraud of this generation. Orac is even calling it the greatest scientific fraud since Piltdown Man. Dan Harris and Diane Sawyer were harsh in their report on ABC World News tonight. Then Sanjay Gupta went on Wolf Blitzer’s show and firmly declared the study a fraud. Elliot Spitzer and Sanjay Gupta interviewed JB Handley on CNN and were pretty tough on him. Handley said they hadn’t done the research and Spitzer blunted stated, “I think we have.” It was pretty awesome.

But nothing was better than when CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta, got the exclusive privilege of interviewing Wakefield himself and just ripped him to shreds.Not since Jon Stewart was on Crossfire was there a more epic smack-down on television.

Cooper pulled no punches, reminding Wakefield mid-conspiracy that it’s not just Brian Deer calling him a fraud but the entire global medical community and chastising Wakefield for using this interview to just plug his book. Unfortunately, Cooper wasn’t able to respond to Wakefield’s now frequent claim that his research has been repeated in five other studies around the world other than to simply say that this claim is false. But for those who are curious, here are the embarrassing facts about those five studies. Then after the interview, Cooper invited on Seth Mnookin, author of the new book The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. Cooper said Wakefield refused to be interviewed with Mnookin there to ask questions, so now he and Gupta were just going to talk to Mnookin after the Wakefield interview. And I really started to think Anderson Cooper has been paying attention to skeptical blogs because they hit on just about every point, including whether the media has played into the perpetuation of the myth that vaccines cause autism by presenting a false balance.

This may have been the single biggest nail in the coffin on the anti-vaccine movement yet. It’s just a PR disaster for them. Just look at their flimsy response.

This idea that the entire world is against them and in on an evil conspiracy is, as Mnookin says, just laughable. And this is just a slam dunk victory for good science reporting and skepticism.

[UPDATE 1/7/11: Today, Brian Deer himself (the man Wakefield calls the “hitman” hired to take him out) made several CNN appearances that can viewed here and on Anderson Cooper here.]

[UPDATE 1/11/11: Seth Mnookin talks on American Morning here and Sullivan fact-checks Age of Autism’s defense of Wakefield here]

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Documentary Comedy ‘Gawd Bless America’ looks awesome!

December 22, 2010

I am so seeing this movie. It looks like Jackass for skeptics:

It already looks a cut above Bill Maher’s Religulous just looking at the approach this guy, Blake Freeman, is using. Though I find it strange I’ve never heard of him before.

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