No episode for this week. I’ve got a Microsoft meeting for work, a stack of midterms to grade, power through the DVR for Fall television premieres (The Flash Season 2 starts tonight!), and New York Comic Con this weekend. Which is just as well, because it lets me react to the news likely to break soon (we’re already getting trickles of information for The Flash movie and Lex Luthor), before we go back to general topic episodes like martial arts, Krypton, the Batman, Lex Luthor, gadgets, etc.
Here’s some RRSSS content:
- Nietzsche on: The Superman | School of Life
- John Skelton’s “Speke Parott” | The Skelton Project
- Train Meets Tornado| unknown
- “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?” | xkdc
- “If a meteor made out of diamond and was traveling at the speed of light…” | xkdc
- Confirmation Bias: Your Brain is So Judgmental | Big Think
- Why Studios Must End Their Mega-Budget Obsession | Variety
- The Guy Who Predicts Whether A Movie Will Bomb, Months Before It’s Made | What’s The Point
- Final ‘Hunger Games’ Most Anticipated Fall Releases Ever | Variety
- This robot will beat you in rock-paper-scissors every single time | Tech Insider
- Red Enhances Human Performance in Contests | Red Advantage
- The Man of Tomorrow | 99% Invisible
- The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch | Jonathan Gottschall
- Watch Uranium Emit Radiation | Cloudylabs
- The (Multi) Universe(s) | RadioLab
Nietzsche on: The Superman | School of Life
This is a particularly kind interpretation Nietzsche’s Übermensch, but worth a quick review if you’re not familiar with the origin of the superman as an ideal or term. Consistent with the last podcast episode, Siegel and Shuster’s Superman was an invention that challenged a preexisting idea. There’s certainly a time and place for being comforted, tradition, told everything is going to be alright, escapism from reality, and you’re wonderful just the way you are with Superman… however, I think my needs in that arena are better met by other things and people, and I find Superman most compelling as a mechanism for imagination, challenging reality, and wondering “What if?”
This is not an all or nothing proposal (Magical Realism Is Still Realism – Salman Rushdie | Big Think ), but I think Superman’s appeal would broaden if he wasn’t pigeon-holed into a quasi-religious ideal expected to only comfort, sooth, parent, perfect, inspire, and be aspired to… and allowed to represent challenging and interesting “What if”s to allow our imaginations to process complex moral, philosophical, and scientific ideas… instead of just being told we’re right, good, and safe. The very idea of Superman existing and tackling real-world issues – as first presented (see Ridley Scott Interview | Empire Podcast; opines Superman was dark in the beginning, other thoughts about Superman and superheroes and doing such a film) – is an acknowledgment that the world has addressable issues. If the conflict, setting, and hero are completely escapist, it limits the work’s ability to meaningfully inform our lives. Maybe.
Again, it’s not all or nothing (see How the teddy bear taught us compassion – Jon Mooallem | TED; why we use animals in cartoons to process morality). There’s value in going back to beginning to find your inspiration and get over a creative roadblock (see Sting: How Do You Get Over Writer’s Block | TED; after a decade of creative stagnation, Sting revisits his past and is inspired to create “The Last Ship”). It is not discarding your changes or experience over the years but applying them to a past you couldn’t process or experience or appreciate the same way at the time.
John Skelton’s “Speke Parott” | The Skelton Project
This is supposedly approximates what the English language sounded like 500 years ago. Consider that in the context of interstellar colonization, how language might diverge, and the necessity for universal translators even if meeting people originating from your own world.
Train Meets Tornado | unknown
“More powerful than a locomotive.”
Collateral effects of extreme speed.
This robot will beat you in rock-paper-scissors every single time | Tech Insider
Super speed reaction opens the door to criticism for imperfect actions and choices.
Red Enhances Human Performance in Contests | Red Advantage
Digitally swapped colors to see how judges would score.
This presents one possible reason for audiences over-estimating Kal’s fighting performance. Even trained judges exhibit a bias towards red over blue (and colors over black-and-white). How much more prone to such biases would the lay audience be?
Confirmation Bias: Your Brain is So Judgmental | Big Think
A brief review of confirmation bias and the impact of initial impressions. Helps explain why so many have difficulty with a different view of Superman and why Batman v. Superman may still receive mixed critical reception even if qualitatively superior. Nonetheless, also how many will be won over eventually. Those impressions can factor into audience engagement figures and anticipation tracking by consulting firms like Piedmont Media Research, which I’ve talked about in the past.
Man of Steel over-performed by their initial engagement score, but I think they make veiled suggestions in the 538 podcast that Batman v. Superman has a lower-than-expected (by executives) engagement score. Of course, they recently posted that Mockingjay Part 2 is tracking higher anticipating than The Force Awakens to the incredulity of many. I’m keeping an open mind, but that’s a challenging figure. Nonetheless, while Piedmont’s algorithm is good, something like a 0.7 correlation, it’s not a perfect predictor by any means and certainly room to defy tracking scores. This Summer was particularly different than tracking predicted.
Why Studios Must End Their Mega-Budget Obsession | Variety
The Guy Who Predicts Whether A Movie Will Bomb, Months Before It’s Made | What’s The Point
Final ‘Hunger Games’ Most Anticipated Fall Releases Ever | Variety
Overcoming expectations can be difficult especially when espoused as absolutes despite being external to the thing presented. Nonetheless, those expectations can be reframed into an advantage (see Episode 3: Stereotype Threat | Hidden Brain; Pro poker player Annie Duke relates how gender stereotypes hurt and help her game) which seems to be exactly what Batman v. Superman has done by embracing the controversy as inherent in the character, situation, and world.
Humanity is remarkable in that we’re not doomed to a single mindset. We have been given the power, ability, and free will to change. Jon Mooallem relates a story of how radically American attitudes towards bears changed (in part because of the Theodore Roosevelt / Teddy Bear story):
For us, in retrospect, it feels like an obvious fit, because bears are so cute and cuddly, and who wouldn’t want to give one to their kids to play with, but the truth is that in 1902, bears weren’t cute and cuddly. I mean, they looked the same, but no one thought of them that way. In 1902, bears were monsters. Bears were something that frickin’ terrified kids. For generations at that point, the bear had been a shorthand for all the danger that people were encountering on the frontier, and the federal government was actually systematically exterminating bears and lots of other predators too, like coyotes and wolves. These animals, they were being demonized. They were called murderers because they killed people’s livestock. One government biologist, he explained this war on animals like the bear by saying that they no longer had a place in our advancing civilization, and so we were just clearing them out of the way. In one 10-year period, close to half a million wolves had been slaughtered. The grizzly would soon be wiped out from 95 percent of its original territory, and whereas once there had been 30 million bison moving across the plains, and you would have these stories of trains having to stop for four or five hours so that these thick, living rivers of the animals could pour over the tracks, now, by 1902, there were maybe less than 100 left in the wild. And so what I’m saying is, the teddy bear was born into the middle of this great spasm of extermination, and you can see it as a sign that maybe some people deep down were starting to feel conflicted about all that killing. America still hated the bear and feared it, but all of a sudden, America also wanted to give the bear a great big hug. …
There’s a cultural dimension to how we think about animals, and we’re telling stories about these animals, and like all stories, they are shaped by the times and the places in which we’re telling them. So think about that moment back in 1902 again where a ferocious bear became a teddy bear. What was the context? Well, America was urbanizing. For the first time, nearly a majority of people lived in cities, so there was a growing distance between us and nature. There was a safe space where we could reconsider the bear and romanticize it. Nature could only start to seem this pure and adorable because we didn’t have to be afraid of it anymore. And you can see that cycle playing out again and again with all kinds of animals. It seems like we’re always stuck between demonizing a species and wanting to wipe it out, and then when we get very close to doing that, empathizing with it as an underdog and wanting to show it compassion. So we exert our power, but then we’re unsettled by how powerful we are. …
So 200 years ago, you would have Arctic explorers writing about polar bears leaping into their boats and trying to devour them, even if they lit the bear on fire, but these kids don’t see the polar bear that way, and actually they don’t even see the polar bear the way that I did back in the ’80s. I mean, we thought of these animals as mysterious and terrifying lords of the Arctic. But look now how quickly that climate change has flipped the image of the animal in our minds. It’s gone from that bloodthirsty man-killer to this delicate, drowning victim, and when you think about it, that’s kind of the conclusion to the story that the teddy bear started telling back in 1902, because back then, America had more or less conquered its share of the continent. We were just getting around to polishing off these last wild predators. Now, society’s reach has expanded all the way to the top of the world, and it’s made even these, the most remote, the most powerful bears on the planet, seem like adorable and blameless victims.
In the above story, the animal itself has not changed (beyond their number) but the narrative around it has completely changed. This is interesting both from an in-story perspective and out. Outside the story, in reality, Man of Steel is not so far afield where Superman is or has ever been and Batman v. Superman may contextualize that in a way to allow people to understand and accept that. Inside the story, diegetically, this shows how the majority of the public can reconcile past demonization into something beloved and adored given the right narrative. It doesn’t mean that there will never be Superman detractors or protesters, but within the world, Superman can go from alien monster to be exterminated by the government… to empathizing with and showing compassion for a lonely underdog.
The Man of Tomorrow | 99% Invisible
A podcast about design approaching Superman from a skeptical point of view.
The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch | Jonathan Gottschall
I haven’t finished reading this one yet, but it’s proposing some interesting ideas which may be generally applicable to why we like violent superheroes and violent movies and the value of such rituals. Perhaps some insight into how feudal societies and cultures arise and why modern peaceful man is perpetually fascinated by fighting. I need to finish reading this and think about it because it’s insightful but also unsettling how much I identify with some of it. I want to do an episode about martial arts, fighting, how Jor-El could win, etc. but not there yet.
Watch Uranium Emit Radiation | Cloudylabs
Making visualization of radiation more tangible. Consider that if Superman see the entire spectrum, that every time he encounters Kryptonite, he can see the radiation emanating from it, impacting his very being, unless and until his senses start to dull and it becomes a visibly inert rock which he knows is pouring pain into him. Kryptonite is on my mind because of the recent Forbes viral marketing profile on Lex Luthor.
I’ll do a full analysis or podcast on it at some point, but honestly do not have the time right now. I’m glad I predicted the inherited-money transitioning to a new-money explosion since it reconciles the trucks in Man of Steel with the technology-driven direction of Batman v. Superman. However, with respect to Kryptonite….
The (Multi) Universe(s) | RadioLab
Why does Kryptonite have to come from Krypton? Ultimately it is matter undergoing some processes which might be found elsewhere in the universe aside from the destruction of Krypton. The episode of RadioLab extends the idea of mathematical arrangement in a thought experiment that anything happening based on an arrangement of particles will- mathematically- find themselves arranged the same way somewhere else in an infinite universe (including the possibility of another you!). I’m not suggesting anything so profound, but simply that whatever creates Kryptonite could create it elsewhere without literally having to be the same planet Kal-El came from.