Randomly Related Slightly Salient Stuff 5

Been busy between work, family, friends, and preparing course materials.  Probably a shorter episode this week if I can even get to it.

Just speculating long-term but I think after Act One commentary wraps, we’ll go back to topical / FAQ-type episodes, rather than the exhaustively-annotated approach.  It should help us wrap up Man of Steel with a few months to spare before Batman v. Superman.  Action is generally less open to interpretation and confusion anyways, so the pace should pick up quickly.

In the meantime, here’s some randomly related content, not just to Man of Steel, but for my own amusement, related from item to item.

  • Batman Movies Kill Count Supercut
  • Malcolm Gladwell On Engineering Hits
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • American Ultra
  • The Pull with Max Landis
  • Why doesn’t anyone recognize Superman?
  • Could We Actually Live On Mars?
  • The Martian
  • Is Batman JUST?
  • Case of the Speluncean Explorers
  • Making Decision Under Uncertainty
  • Priming
  • French Train Hero Story
  • Real Life Heroes
  • Demetri Martin

Batman Movies Kill Count Supercut | Mr Sunday Movies

Sometimes the things we take for granted as comic fans aren’t as entrenched in the larger cinematic or pop culture icon. Related to the Man of Steel, From a philosophical stand-point, it shouldn’t matter if your alleged victim comes back to life if you weren’t expecting it, yet time and time again, audiences have taken the death of entities which come back less seriously. Few perhaps remember that Darkseid himself credited Superman with killing him (“…my death at the hands of Superman.”) and that Darkseid’s death was very much Superman’s intentions at the time (“This time, I won’t stop until you are just a greasy smear on my fist!”) in the Justice League cartoon. Likewise, rarely is Superman credited with “killing” Doomsday because of his subsequent and repeated returns.

Which puts the news about Michael Shannon’s return to the DCCU as more-than-a-corpse in an interesting light. If Zod is returned to life, even if by a circuitous route, would that soften the blow for some who condemned Superman for killing? For whatever reason it seems to for some and, if so, one wonders if it was always a part of the plan and an original calculation. Was Shannon always contracted for multiple films with the knowledge that he would return (in some capacity) and help some forgive Superman?

Malcolm Gladwell On Engineering Hits | The New Yorker

Speaking about Batman, Gladwell specifically cites the next Batman film- and similar big-budget tent-pole blockbusters- as slightly immune to a fascinating piece of software that allegedly allows studios to anticipate or engineer success from purely a screenplay analysis. If you prefer reading over listening, his exhaustive 2006 article is called The Formula. If you find it intriguing there are little details exclusive to both the Festival talk and the article. It’s essentially the application of principles similar to the Platinum Blue software used for analyzing music applied to screenplays. The article is nearly a decade old and neural networks have come leaps and bounds (so much so there’s literally a Wikipedia entry for how far ANNs have come since 2006).

Gladwell tries to temper the terror of computer mitigated content by saying it works primarily for formulaic films in the $50 million range which are already aspiring to be formulaic, suggesting it doesn’t work for giant blockbusters or innovative independent or small films, further that continued adoption would result in audience backlash… but one has to wonder with a decade of improvement if “The Formula” isn’t being deployed more than we know.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. | Trailer 2

If “The Formula” is in use, it apparently wasn’t deployed or helpful The Man from U.N.C.L.E. which has been suffering in the box office and at the hands of critics. I’m not a box office analyst, nor a film critic, so I have no authoritative idea on the failure, be it marketing, spy film fatigue, etc., however, I did watch it and found it reasonably entertaining. Compared to other spy offerings like Kingsman and Mission Impossible it isn’t nearly as high-octane, but it’s more charming and given more opportunity to breath. Cavill gets to stretch a little more and might even have more lines than in Man of Steel. The performance is- intentionally- a bit of a caricature, which reminds me of Cavill’s bit-part in the criminally unknown Stardust (2007), directed by Matthew Vaughn, considered by many to be a spiritual successor to The Princess Bride.

American Ultra | Trailer 1

So another sorta-spy film is American Ultra, starring Jesse Eisenberg, which could be described as the stoner version of The Long Kiss Goodnight. Made on a shoestring budget (about an eighth of Kiss, adjusted for inflation). The action is OK, the humor is OK, the plot is ridiculous, but there is some heart and sappy romance to the film. The writer is Max Landis, so it has some of that late 80’s romantic sitcom sort of sensibility. Eisenberg proves he can be as much a cruel sociopath as a sad stoner puppy. If you’ve ever found Southpark heartwarming and had no issues with the production quality… this might be for you; it sort of has that same haphazard mix of the crass and sincere.

The Pull with Max Landis | Geek & Sundry

Speaking of Max Landis, he recently did a nearly 2-hour interview on G&S. He’s a guy who likes to talk and tell stories; he’s opinionated, contradictory, etc., but he can be fun to listen to. Among a litany of topics, Landis talks about his views on Superman and some of his approach to Superman American Alien. I disagree with Landis frequently, but I can’t wait for his take on Superman because I enjoy challenging takes which make us reevaluate the core. In the interview, Landis describes a scene where Luthor belittles Superman for showing him his face and attempting to bring him to justice without due process or actionable proof. I’m dying to know how that resolves itself because it raises issues like the following….

Why Doesn’t Anyone Recognize Superman? | Because Science

Unlike Mr. Sunday Movies and NerdSync, Kyle Hill initially attempts a realistic / scientific approach, but really leaves the viewer unsatisfied. That said, props for saying “prosopagnosia” repeatedly without stumbling! This is my typical explanation for how secret identities, domino masks, and cowls work in traditional comic book universes, but it’s not an explanation you can export onto the entire real world. The video doesn’t quite think things through like our next video does….

Could We Actually Live On Mars? – Mari Foroutan | TED-Ed

Additional reasons why Mars is clearly a poorer candidate than Earth for conversion into a Kryptonian environment. Neil deGrasse Tyson restates the essential principle in the first question of this short interview with Popular Mechanics that, “If you have the power of geo-engineering to turn Mars into Earth, you have the power of geo-engineering to turn Earth back into Earth.” Applied to Man of Steel, that means the World Engines lacked the ability to repair Krypton and thus could not transform environments that radically different from Krypton into Krypton. I love that the filmmakers thought something like that through rather that let terraforming be a magic wand!

The Martian | Official Trailer

That’s essentially my favorite kind of science fiction, the type that’s carefully self-consistent, and part of the reason I’m pretty excited that one of my recent favorites is coming to the silver screen. My favorite scifi writer is Ted Chiang (who also has a story coming to film in 2016, The Story of Your Life, starring Amy Adams) and I tracked down a copy of The Martian in 2012 on recommendations about their similar meticulous styles. The Martian was one of those self-published swerves that Gladwell’s formula wasn’t meant to predict. This will be the first “based on a book” movie I’ve watched in a while having read the novel first… I’m really hoping I don’t have that “the book was better” reaction; I’ll resist that impulse if it is at all within my own control.

Is Batman Just? | 8-Bit Philosophy

Strangely, and maybe it’s just me, but I almost never have that impulse or reaction with respect to comic book films perhaps because they are so broadly adapted and rarely intend to stick so closely or slavishly to the source material. I even give Zack Snyder a pass, despite being probably the best known for bringing panels and pages to life rather than reinventing the wheel. I think it’s also in-part because the comics themselves contain a wide swath of interpretations, adaptations, lenses, takes, and elseworlds. Unlike a Crichton, Clancy, Tolkien, etc. comics anticipate different artists, writers, continuities, and worlds in their conveyance and that variety of voices allows the audience to understand a larger, less crystalline mythology than- say- fans who get bent out of shape if a quotation, scene, or character is altered within the fixed writings of a single author. That’s why I consider this video a little suspect in trying to boil down Batman to one thing, plus its application of the Veil of Ignorance is a little tortured.

Nonetheless, I’ve been trying to find a way to condense John Rawls and his “Veil of Ignorance” in a way that clarifies the necessary empathy and compassion for the moral dilemmas, duress, fears, and uncertainty suffered by Clark and Jonathan in the tornado scene. My early drafts have tended to be philosophical lectures and thought experiments which seem half-baked and pay short-shrift to those unfamiliar with the ideas… but are painfully pedantic to those already versed. I need to revisit how I’m attacking this. It seems pointless to reinvent the wheel so well presented already….

Justice: The Moral Side of Murder | Michael Sandel

Professor Sandel walks through the classic Trolley Problem, R. v. Dudley & Stephens, etc. Though he doesn’t address The Case of the Speluncean Explorers, which is one of my favorites. I don’t think I can ask people to watch an entire lecture series just to get a 40 minute podcast, hah.  I’ve been collecting moral dilemmas because I’ve toyed with the idea of using the podcast as a simulator… giving people a choice of approximately the same difficulty and the same amount of time to make a decision, to perhaps understand the fallibility of such decision-making.  Rarely do we have the luxury to analyze our uncertainty as in the following….

Decision Making Under Uncertainty | Dr. A.E. Dessler

I’m less interested in the position than I am the calculation here. You can follow the logic, but the main thing it serves to illustrate is that isn’t at all how we tend to calculate things in the moment or under duress. Gladwell has an entire book on the idea in Blink and elaborates on it some with respect to airline pilots in Outliers. Nonetheless, I suspect I’m going to have to iterate over the tornado decisions both as an instantaneous decision and a calculated one because some critics can’t let go of the idea that Jonathan or Clark must have done some sort of elaborate mental calculus for all their choices that day. If anything, the moment was in many ways disturbingly lacking in choice (and yes, I know this is all under a diegetic lens; we’ll tackle creative intent separately because it’s a separate question… perhaps best illustrated by how Mark White opens Superman and Philosophy with an essay pontificating how Superman is just as subject to moral dilemmas as we all are and that is one of the character’s greatest strengths… then subsequent to viewing Man of Steel, he ironically hates that Superman was placed into a moral dilemma!).

How Priming Impacts Your Performance | Malcolm Gladwell

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how radically priming can affect your next decision. Using that as a lens for the conversation Clark and Jonathan have in the truck is illuminating and exactly what Mark Waid struck upon when he said he actually admired that scene despite despising the film overall. Of course, we mustn’t give the past short-shrift either.

US Soldier: How We Stopped Train Gunman | Sky News

Last episode we talked about heroes and those who intervene. Recently, we had this story of three men who stepped up. Professor Philip G. Zimbardo is infamous for the Stanford Prison Experiment and while it gave us insight into the human condition, Zimbardo was a bit horrified that revealing humanity’s darkest nature would be his legacy to the world. So Zimbardo has since dedicated his life to the study of altruism, heroism, and seeking to duplicate and manufacture heroism in others. While we don’t know, exactly, how it springs up in untrained civilians who help, Zimbardo believes he’s finding patterns which he hopes can give us a society of heroes.

Heroic Kids Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity | Real Life Heroes

Some kid heroes who aren’t letting their age be a factor.

Cast of ‘Suicide Squad’ visits young girl’s lemonade stand | CTV

Don’t let being a bad guy stop you from being a good guy.

Demetri Martin: Live (At the Time) | Netflix

In my most tenuous tie yet, if the above links made you smile or cry, here’s something to make you laugh… Demetri Martin is back! He also voices Ice Bear on We Bare Bears

Duperman | Important Things

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  1. Hello Doctor, I really enjoy all your effort and time you invest in this. I wanted to ask you another question.

    You think we will see a little of the Superman/Clark Kent persona dynamics on BvS?

    MoS was about Clark Kent becoming Superman, and we only saw the mild-mannered reporter until the very last minute of the film, so you think this upcoming movie will feature a more striking difference bertween the two sides of the same man?

    • Thanks! Snyder, Goyer, Terrio, and Cavill have never been explicit about their approach to Daily Planet / Metropolis Clark, but my impression is that they’re inherently skeptical of that “disguise”, its efficacy, and its value… moreover, it has literally be done before, over the course of FIVE feature films. Given that Golden Age Clark, The Animated Series, Post-Crisis, Lois & Clark, etc. tended to not rely on that affectation, I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided that it was about time for Clark to reflect that aspect of the mythos / canon on the silver screen for the first time since the old serials. Snyder tends to point out that comical clumsy version is a Donner affectation, which suggests to me he intends to go away from that.

      The argument for it is compelling since the modern approach (post-Donner, Bryne-era “Man of Steel” and beyond) to Superman’s psychology is that the formation of his character and identity arose as Clark on the farm. He would only learn about his heritage and alien origins later and adopt them correspondingly as a factual component of his identity, but not his core self-identity. Under that construction, Superman was always a costume, a calling, a job, a hat, or an obligation… in some sense, his self, but not the center of self-identity per se (though some quibbling about this, but it’s immaterial; certainly some think of their job as their primary self-identity). Point being, for a normal, well-adjusted Clark to exist, he would have to be- essentially- himself for 40+ hours of the week… rather than a put-on false persona.

      That interpretation tended towards a more plausible psychology, which is why it’s the more prevalent modern (88 to 11-ish) interpretation even if there have been movements to attempt to capture Donner’s duality in a few modern takes. The duality is way more iconic, certainly, but less realistic and probably why the DCCU won’t be going that way. However, the filmmakers are well versed in the canon and I expect there the be nods which will give people footholds to choose to interpret Clark in that way if they want.

      Based on costumes alone, at this point we know there are a minimum of three Clark-as-a-Reporter scenes in the film so there will be some substance to work with.

  2. What the Clark Kent Superman video failed to mention is that Clark usually changes his posture, voice, and mannerisms to throw people off that he is Superman. He also starts acting clumsy because you wouldn’t expect a clumsy accident prone person to be a superhero.

    • I think Kyle didn’t mentioned it because it’s not persuasive or realistic.

      I think fans who forward this have perhaps bought into the trope a little too much that they’re letting it color their perception of reality. In reality, no one could maintain that level of disguise reliably to justify an entire civilian life without prosopagnosia.

      There are a million little reasons why, but the easiest is to simply take “acting” out of the equation. Still photography doesn’t care about posture, voice, mannerisms, etc. Superman would be saturated with still images. A purely mechanical comparison of the two would be startling and no amount of tripping over yourself would completely end the inquiry.

      We discuss this more in Episode 9.

      • Spider-boyN2Jesus

        When it comes to photography/video, I think Superman usually vibrates his face enough that his features are obscured. Pair that with Clark’s differing posture, and the comparison isn’t very obvious when comparing photographs.

        As for acting like bumbling fool “all the time” how much of his time is actually spent as Clark Kent the reporter, anyway? I guess it depends on whether he needs to sleep and/or wishes to do so…

        That also brings up the question of Batman’s duality. Will Bruce pretend to be a playboy when in the company of anyone other than Alfred or is THAT too ridiculous as well?

        Maybe Clark doesn’t have to act like a bumbling fool so much as a pushover who doesn’t stand out and is just a boring person and thus beneath notice? Obviously this wouldn’t work on Lois, who already knows his secret, or perhaps Perry White, but still ;P.

        • Again, fans who’ve bought into the tropes and let it color their vision of reality.

          The vibrating makes no sense because there’s no way he could account for every capture rate (if you oscillate at regular intervals for the capture period it would be as if you didn’t move at all) and doesn’t hold up in any visual medium because the reader is actually looking at Superman with no visible evidence of blurring. Posture is irrelevant for headshots, the primary means by which people identify one another and what would be run through biometrics. Gait analysis is a tool too, but facial recognition is trivial technology at this point.

          Being a serious journalist able to secure front-page bylines, earn Lois’s respect, and be known by the EIC by name is extremely time consuming. We’ve discussed this in the most recent episode. Even if Superman can fudge documents with his powers, he can’t fake first-hand reporting and individual interviews. Investigative journalists are highly accountable because they have to talk to people all-the-time. He has to be able to get people to trust him and to talk; and that requires a reputation which can’t be built in the shadows and a personality that is personable and gets people talking (people don’t place their trust in bumbling and clumsy… if your disclosures may get you compromised or killed, you’re not going to relate your story to someone whose inability to move brings incompetence to mind). Even an anchorman- like Brian Williams- who’s distant from his investigative days, has to resign his post over a misstatement because we hold journalists accountable to that degree. If Clark wasn’t himself for the bulk of his career, he’d be a no-name that no one talks to, meaning his stories and career would suffer.

          It doesn’t bring up the question of Batman because his core identity is Batman. All of his relationships and Bat-Family are through the Bat. Bruce is ephemeral, unknown, and a lie. Clark maintains his closest relationships AS Clark (AND Superman), that integration of identities sets them apart and why Superman goes crazy without Clark but Batman tends to find Bruce borderline disposable. Bruce doesn’t have to maintain the integrity of the playboy identity beyond superficial and temporary interactions, Clark has to actually build a reputation that gets witnesses to talk, creates a relationship with his coworkers, makes him a part of his city and community, etc.

          Clark will likely have at least one clumsy / bumbling moment as a nod to the canon, but otherwise will probably just be himself. I don’t buy the “don’t stand out / boring / beneath notice” stuff imported from tradition because, under a realistic lens, all you have to do is look at Clark. He’s noteworthy and looks a lot like the planet’s number one celebrity. If you take photographs of Cavill in both roles to absolute strangers living under a rock, none of the will fail to identify them as the same actor. You can have anecdotal failures to recognize, but not over the entire course of Clark’s career in a building full of journalists interacting with people on a daily basis.

          Pretending otherwise is lying to oneself.

          That said, that’s likely what the film will ask us to do. Batman as a credible concept is trope driven. So this isn’t the starkly realistic world / universe of Man of Steel anymore. If we’re going to allow the dozens of tropes required to allow Batman to be a viable entity, it’s completely forgivable to allow Superman a tradition he’s had from the beginning. Of course, something a lot of Superman fans forget is that throughout the Silver Age the disguise DIDN’T work on Lois and she spent much of her misbegotten adventures trying to prove Clark and Superman were one in the same in a singing frog trope where she knew but no one else would believe.

  3. Hi Dr Awkward,

    i have a question to ask?

    Based on this article: [redacted], it try to explain the reasons why dc comics recently lost a lot of sales and lost a net profit of 2 bliion.

    My question is dc character like superman and batman can open to changes and reinterpretation?

    I find out many fan complaint about dc comics is that they make changes too much of the dc hero to the point that they are no longer the same iconic heroes that resonated to readers for 75+ year.

    To be honest i don really read much of the comics. But take example like the common criticisms on man of steel. They said superman version in man of steel is too out of character or that it is not superman they know. They claim that dc comic should not change the core character of the dc heroes that make them special.

    What seriously are you telling me that fan don want superman or batman to undergo any major changes in order to remain relevant? Why? I don understand why superman or batman need to be very limited by their archetype and what they represent. Are you telling me that superman should not have any human flaw and conflict? Are you telling me that superman should always be a perfect flawless hero no matter what the complicated situations he is facing?

    • Leon, $2 million (not billion) revenue (not profit).

      It’s because of the move to Burbank and the soft reception to Convergence, nothing to stress about.

      If you listen to the podcast, I think you know my opinion on varying takes.

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