(Softcore) Torture Porn in Jurassic World

Just in case I wasn’t the last person in the world to see Jurassic World it should be noted that this post contains SPOILERS. 

It’s hard to imagine that anyone went into Jurassic World not knowing what to expect and yet the death of the hapless Zara (Bryce Dallas Howard’s assistant) struck a false note. Even in a movie where the main premise is people being killed by dinosaurs the death of Zara is out of place. While trying to look after a couple of kids long after anyone else would have been justified in giving up, Zara is swooped up by a pteranodon then subjected to several mid-air drops and catches before being dropped into the mosasaur pool. Before she even has a chance to surface, Zara is gathered up again by a diving pteranodon and lifted into the air just far enough to be swallowed by the mosasaur breaching the surface. We have several close-ups of her terrified, screaming face throughout this sequence. It’s a trifle overdone for a character that has perhaps half a dozen lines. 

Let’s put it this way: the billionaire owner of the park, ultimately responsible for a genetic engineering programme to create creatures more terrifying than “plain old dinosaurs,” dies in a helicopter crash after flying through a swarm of escaping pteranodons in a sequence less elaborate than the one in which Zara expires.

Up until now, all of the deaths in the Jurassic Park movies are at least morally neutral. A lot of deaths don’t rise above the level of industrial accidents. Civilian deaths are generally just unlucky “wrong place, wrong time” affairs. A few are sporting matters, where the victims are combatants who played to win and lost (think that hunter guy from the original film). The most dramatic deaths have generally been reserved for the villains of the movies.

In Jurassic World, there are three main villains: the billionaire owner, the mad scientist, and the guy wanting to weaponise the genetically engineered dinosaurs. The owner is a moderately sympathetic character, who argues with the mad scientist about the creation of Indomitus Rex (after it all goes pear shaped, of course). The scientist points out that the owner requested “cooler” dinosaurs to maintain the park’s profitability, thereby passing the moral buck somewhat.  Normally the villains would die in appropriate manners. 

The owner, as described above, dies in a helicopter crash. So far so good. However, the scientist is whisked away safely from the island, presumably to begin work on the sequel. Finally, the time comes for the main villain, Hoskins, to die. Hoskins wants to weaponise the genetically engineered dinosaurs and therefore treats the whole disaster as some sort of proof-of-concept “opportunity.” Fittingly, Hoskins is killed after a tense couple of seconds in a standoff with one the very raptors he wanted to deploy. However, this climactic death is treated with more dignity than Zara’s. Hoskins’s hand/arm gets bitten, he screams, the camera cuts away and we see a spray of blood on the window. (An armed Chris Pratt just stands by and let’s this happen. This is not portrayed as a conscious choice—he just looks on.)

It seems odd that the most elaborate and shocking death is saved for the only woman who obviously dies in the movie, perhaps the whole series (maybe some female visitors bite it in the stampede/panic, who knows?). The character spends most of the movie chasing after Bryce’s nephews. She has been charged with looking after them because the person who is supposed to be is just too damn busy. Zara’s biggest crime seems to be her inability to keep track of a teenager and pre-teen who are determined to try and lose her in the huge crowd. I think she answers her mobile phone at one point which the boys then use as the distraction to escape.

The problem with Zara’s death sequence is that it is not befitting the character. It’s the most elaborate, drawn out, spectacular death in the movie (and, again, perhaps the whole series) and the amount of screen-time dedicated to it probably totals more than the rest of the time that Zara is on screen. Maybe it’s supposed to be shocking. Maybe it’s supposed to shake-up the conventions of the genre. That along with “Coooooooool” is about the only reason that this sequence is in the film. If so, it’s about the most cowardly way that it could have been done.

This is a piece of very expensive cinema in which no detail was left to chance. Everything that is in this movie was the result of many very-specific decisions, time, money, and effort. The filmmakers weren’t actually brave enough to kill off a character that the audience had an emotional investment in seeing survive. 


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Netflix, television disrupter?

I have just been charged my first monthly fee for Netflix Australia which means that I have finished my free month. One month in and I am pretty happy with Netflix—with one important exception. Netflix Australia has a small collection of movies available, and the inclusions and omissions are surprising. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is there, but not Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, for instance.

The real strength of the service for me (much less so for other family members) has been Netflix’s own content. In my last post I discussed a report that Apple was looking to produce its own content for a rumoured subscription service. Around the same time that this report came out, it was also announced that Netflix would not be renewing its deal with Epix. Which means a lot less movies. This news was offset by some announcements of Netflix-produced movies, a continuing relationship with Sony Pictures, and an improvement in delivering Disney/Pixar films.

All of this points to the idea that if you are going to offer a subscription service then you need to offer exclusive content, and the most reliable way to do that is to produce your own. However, as I understand it, what made Netflix great was that it didn’t have exclusive content—it had content from everywhere. The other early novelty was that it was internet based, which meant VOD essentially.

So while I love the Netflix-produced content that I have watched, I still wish that they had a better selection of movies. So I am happy to keep paying for Netflix, but I still want more.

And this brings me to my point. If Apple go down the same path as Netflix with exclusive content (and even if they don’t, someone else will) then what we are going to end up with is with a proliferation of services each attempting to differentiate themselves from the others via exclusive content. You know, just like networks do today.

Sure, we’ve gained ad-free VOD—in the short term. Once “traditional television” dies, advertisers are going to be left with a whole heap of cash to spend somewhere. And before long, our subscription-based streaming services are going to be increasing their revenue by showing ads.

So, in this dystopian television future, we will all be paying subscription fees to numerous providers who then ply us with ads for crap we neither want nor need.

Which is pretty much the situation that we were trying to get away from.

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Apple as content creators

I have often wondered why a company that is competing for our living rooms, and with as much cash to splash around as Apple simply doesn’t produce their own content. A new report on Variety.com suggests that Apple has just begun to do this. This immediately raises the question, they’re only just starting this now?

The next thing to note is that this is putatively so that Apple can compete with Netflix. This is interesting because it marks a shift in Apple’s focus in who their competitors are. Up until now, Apple has primarily been focused on competing on hardware sales. Sure, iTunes has been incredibly successful as a music retailer (much less so for movies and television shows), but the Apple ecosystem is generally intended to leverage into hardware sales.

OS X has gotten cheaper and cheaper to the point that the last few versions have been given away for free. Ditto with iWork and the various cloud services ending with iCloud. iOS iterations have always been free to iPhone users, but early on, iPod Touch users needed to pay to update. The point has been to enhance the user experience holistically to keep them purchasing new models. (And it’s also a great tactic when you are competing against a company that makes most of its money from OS and office suite sales.)

However, the fashion of the times is for subscription streaming services, both for music and video. I am sure that Apple would have preferred to keep selling songs through iTunes, but competition from streaming music services to this model has led to Apple Music. In this case, content creation is more of a by-product rather than a new way of doing business. If Apple were to get into producing movies and/or television then that would be a new way of doing business. It wouldn’t be about protecting their lucrative market (if it were then the would be no Netflix channel on the Apple TV). It could conceivably be about leveraging hardware sales if the new service was tied to a new Apple TV, but given that Apple are only just starting to talk about producing content then we should get a new Apple TV long before Apple-produced content.

So what it looks like, is that Apple are struggling to get content deals in place for the new Apple TV and subscription service and decided it would be much easier if they could offer their own content. Exclusive content is a good differentiator from their competitors. Heck, it might even just be a bargaining ploy—just the mere threat of Apple producing their own content might encourage current content providers into line. At any rate, exclusive content would provide Apple with more control over the user experience without having to be dependent on traditional media sources.

Jason Snell’s feeling is that Apple shouldn’t be producing their own content but if Apple are launching a subscription service then I am not sure that they can afford to sit this one out.

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The Nitty-Gritty

Just a few quick points:

1. Your notion of “Equality of Opportunity” is underpinned by a larger economic ideology. It defines “dreams” in a far too narrow sense by denying any value that isn’t economic. “Dreams” which aren’t economically valid are consigned to failure. To paraphrase your paraphrase, “All dreams are equal, but some are more equal than others.” 

The effect of this is to ignore values which aren’t economic, leading, ultimately, to “consumerism” in all its most negative senses. Now you can deride this as a personal ideologic assertion, and in the sense that I attribute a negative judgement to it, it is. However, the point is, it is the only situation which can obtain given the conditions you suggest. While individual opinions of this result are a matter of indifference, it must be recognised that any set of conditions which give rise to one possible outcome is a form of totalitarianism.

Choice and freedom are an illusion under economic values. That is, I am free to choose from economic alternatives only.

2. You have provided no method of demonstrating that “Equality of Opportunity” has been established. There is no method by which to observe and measure, or in any other way verify, that Equality of Opportunity has indeed been obtained. As such, Equality of Opportunity is forced to remain an ideological assertion, and a deeply teleological one at that.

3. It must be made clear that to simply see this issue at a national level is consequently to replay the whole the whole ideological error at an international scale. Rich countries are rich because they deserve it, and poor countries, well, they should try hard to become more like rich countries.

4. In my view, the ideal system is one which places the Economy subservient to the people, and not the other way around, as narrow views of Equality of Opportunity inevitably do. This is not to suggest that all aspects of an economy are to be centrally mandated, only that, given relative freedom from economic concerns people are more free to follow their “dreams.”

It is not about guaranteeing total equality of outcome but about making sure that everybody has enough to survive. It is about paying students, unemployed, carers, retirees, injured, etc. a liveable wage.

It is about ensuring that histories other than the best-selling are recorded. 

It is about ensuring that research is allowed to progress without the goal of producing a product to be sold.

It is about making sure that wealth is kept circulating and not allowed to accumulate in relatively few gigantic pools. At the moment in WA, as I’m sure you have realised, land values and rents are tremendously over-valued. The effect of this is to make the most effective way to purchase property is to already have property. And this is the same pattern being played out in many aspects of life.

As a model of the narrow sense (the economic sense) of Equality of Opportunity, the epitome is the board game, Monopoly. Everybody starts completely equally and then has to rely on luck and skill. The game ends when somebody has collected all the wealth to the extent that nobody else can move. To suggest that the board needs to be reset from time to time (or more commonly, “Let’s play again!”) is not Socialism.


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In which I ask, How Can We Know If Equality of Opportunity Has Been Obtained?

I have been embroiled in a debate lately about Equality of Opportunity versus Equality of Outcome.

The basic form of the controversy has been that, on one side, Equality of Outcome has been presented as a kind-hearted flaw that ultimately descends into totalitarianism. Instead, so the claim goes, we should endeavour to ensure Equality of Opportunity.

My consistent opposition to this is that the myth of Equality of Opportunity is simply a justification for the economically privileged to maintain their power over society.

Now, for those that can only imagine the worst possible ills arising from Equality of Outcome you might need a stiff drink, for I am going to present to you the following unassailable fact:

Striving for Equality of Outcome is the only way to ensure Equality of Opportunity.

The reasoning arises from the basic premise that people are generally equal. I am not talking about simply in rights, but in abilities, skills, intelligence. People, regardless of race, gender, geographical location, and so, generally fall close to the mean. This is not to say that they aren’t spectacular individuals who deviate, one way or the other, from the mean, only that, for the most part, people aren’t that different. As Oscar Wilde pointed out, the brotherhood of man “is a most depressing and humiliating reality.”

Whether we take average height, average IQ, or whatever, in any group of randomly selected people the characteristics of the individuals are going to fall pretty closely to whatever point of comparison we choose.

It is to be expected, then, that when of equality of opportunity is established, equality of outcome will more or less follow. There will be, of course, individuals that are either exceptional or have had exceptional circumstances, but even those will be balanced out, to some extent, by the inverse instances.

It is only by studying outcomes that we can truly determine exactly how close our society comes to equality of opportunity. It is only by striving for equality of outcome that we can achieve equality of opportunity. Any thought about equality of opportunity which does not take into account outcomes is operating in a vacuum and will never fully grasp its goal.

For an example, Aboriginals have significantly shorter lifespans than others in Australia, face higher rates of incarceration, face higher rates of medical problems, and so on. The list is a shameful indictment on Australia, and its refusal to help its own people.

But of course, racial discrimination is now outlawed, Aboriginals have the same basic rights as others, and have had legal recognition of their prior claim to Australia. By all accounts, under the theory of Equality of Opportunity, Aboriginals are as well off as anybody else.

Except they aren’t. At this point the theory of Equality of Opportunity must now place the failure to obtain equal outcomes squarely at their own feet. That is, Aboriginal people must be inherently inferior to others who, given the same access to opportunity, have obtained more positive outcomes.

Which is of course bollocks. Racist bollocks.

Faced with this, proponents of Equality of Opportunity have two options. They can either deny that this accurately represents Equality of Opportunity, or they can deny that Aboriginals have equality of opportunity.

In both cases, my response is the same: How do you know?

In the first case, by not striving for Equality of Outcome, by what basis can you guarantee that the conditions set in place to engender equality of opportunity are not re-enforcing unconscious bias?

In the second case, what evidence, if not regarding outcomes, could possibly be presented that proves equality of opportunity has not been obtained?

In both cases, the success of Equality of Opportunity can only be measured in terms of Equality of Outcome.

In summary, Equality of Opportunity divorced from Equality of Outcome is a myth designed to make the success of certain individuals seem natural and deserved–even God-given. By completely ignoring that poverty, domestic abuse, and so on, are cycles whose natural condition is to continue, the myth of Equality of Opportunity enshrines the status quo.

Blindly and uncritically promoting Equality of Opportunity, and disavowing Equality of Outcome, simply lands us in an already existent process without any possible means of investigating anything. Without striving for equality of outcome, Equality of Opportunity is a mantra which is, at worst, endlessly oppressive, or, at best, blind to the point of meaninglessness.

Footnote: Of course I recognise that Equality of Outcome is a problematic principle. Working from my example above, Aboriginal people–or anybody– should not be pushed into an outcome which they themselves do not desire simply because the numbers are needed to achieve “Equality of Outcome.” However, I feel comfortable with the ideal at the level which requires that Aboriginal people do not die younger than the general population and are not incarcerated at levels higher than the general population. Not only should this stand for all groups of people, but it should also stand for any random cross-section.

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29 May, 2012 · 9:16 pm

A Response to “Equality of Opportunity”

(This is a response to this post: Equality of Opportunity)

Firstly, equality of opportunity is one of your favourite topics, dividing, as you do, everything into two categories: Equality of Opportunity (Good), Equality of Outcome (Bad). At any rate, it should come as no surprise that I define these categories slightly differently, as far as I think of them at all.

Secondly, your whole post seethes of the type of propaganda that permeates from any conservative stand-point: I’m doing okay, so there is no reason you can’t. This is the sort of attitude that reinforces the widening divide between rich and poor, the idea that there is a direct correlation between effort and success. The rich are rich because they deserve to be, and the poor, well they shouldn’t have been so lazy.

Thirdly, you lump together “make us all start from the same point” and “to be rewarded equally for differing levels of effort and skill” as if these two ideas share anything in common. I would say the first is quite obviously the definition of Equality of Opportunity. And you would see it to if you weren’t so aghast at the idea of using the surplus of those who have more than they could ever need to help those–the majority–that don’t. “But, but … that’s Socialism (with a capital ‘S’!),” I hear you sputter. Maybe. I prefer to think of it in terms of helping and sharing. You know, those values that we insist on instilling in our kids before urging them to forget, with greater and greater fervency as they come ‘of age.’

Fourthly, you make no mention of exactly how disadvantaged someone has to be before they are eligible for extra help. Your highly idealised account only holds for someone who has all their faculties, has at least a near average IQ, has access to services, is geographically mobile, and so on.

In fact, you ignore the worst kinds of disadvantage in focusing solely on “laws that were obstacles” (having, as you do, a bugbear about any government involvement or “interference”) and mental barriers. It is true that these are important points, but they completely disregard the material conditions of the disadvantaged.

In general, “Indifferent to Everyone” is not the great principle of “Equality of Opportunity” that you take it to be. Such a stricture is only advantageous to those that have been historically successful, and those that are capable and willing to adopt the definition of “Success” inherent in the ‘game’ as their own.

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The End of House

Some time has passed, the nerve is not as raw, and so I thought I would share some thoughts on the end of House, MD.

I have watched House ever since the very beginning. Actually, before an episode had even aired here in Australia I was already looking online at quotes from the show.

House is my favourite show ever.

It thought the final episode was quite poor. Or, rather, I thought it was a pretty good final episode with one major failing.

The ending of a television show hardly ever happens on the shows terms. Most shows get cancelled abruptly, some are allowed to peter out. Very few end because the creators feel that they have accomplished all that they can, so in some respects the makers of House were in uncharted waters.

While there are many things that need to be considered in penning the end of a successful show, to my mind the most important is that all of the major characters are settled. Death is the most obvious option, but even consigning a character to endless continuation is a viable option. Sitcoms particularly go in for the second option.

The final of Everybody Loves Raymond just faded out at a point where everything was as it had ever been.

That 70s Show attempted to bring back all the characters who had left and tried to restore them to their original relations. It wasn’t entirely successful, but they had the device of the final stroke of the clock on New Year’s Eve, 1979, to mark the end.

Seinfeld tried to go for both finality, by imprisoning the characters, and stasis, by returning to the very first conversation—an awkward balance that has left me unsatisfied ever since.

Friends, of all shows, managed it more successfully. Each character was settled. Some, such as Chandler, Monica, and Joey, embarked on new lives. The others doomed to repeat the pattern of the previous ten years. Which was actually kind of perfect for Ross and Rachel.

The only drama that I have feelings about is The Sopranos. When it first aired it was attacked viciously. What sort of an ending was that anyway? But as time goes by the disappointment eases. Death and/or gaol were inevitable for Tony Soprano, and to end with either of them would have been derided as predictable. Instead we got an ending that was life as usual (with death and gaol imminent possibilities), a similar end to Everybody Loves Raymond but more dramatically pointed.

Which brings me to House. Wilson had a death sentence, as did Thirteen. Cuddy had had a new life for over a year. Foreman was Dean of Medicine. Cameron had a job and a family. And Chase fulfilled his role as heir apparent.

Everyone was perfectly settled. Everyone, that is, except House. House lost everything, and in five months time he was going to lose Wilson. The fate of House, far more than any other character listed here, was in flux.

Of course, the chances are that in less than a year’s time House’s self-destructive tendencies will win out. In fact, without his two support mechanisms, Wilson and puzzles, a grisly end is assured.

The creators no doubt thought that bittersweet was the better way to end, and yet it feels like the show drew the curtain before the final act.

Or maybe I’m just bitter the show ended at all.

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