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The sad excuse that was Wonder Woman 84

Wonder Woman 84. Oh, good Lord.

I have not yet seen Shazam, Joker, or Birds of Prey (and probably never will, as I have better things to do), so I can’t say for sure that Wonder Woman 84 is the worst DC movie of the 21st century…but it’s certainly on the bottom of the pile. (Okay, that’s unfair. Whedon’s Justice League is the worst DC movie in the 21st century…probably the worst DC movie ever…thank god we won’t ever have to think about it again soon enough.) And just a fair warning, I don’t care about spoilers, especially with a movie this wretched. So if you want a quick recommendation: DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH THIS MOVIE.
So let’s go with what was good about DC movies before this, including the first Wonder Woman, and why this fails in every respect to meet that previous bar.
Be it the social and political commentary of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy or the heavier philosophical themes of Snyder’s work–Man of Steel is a discussion of the flaws of Plato, Dawn of Justice a discussion of the failings of Nietzsche, and Justice League likely a discussion of the errors of Ayn Rand–the DC movies for the last few years have been of heavier thematic material. I think even Snyder’s original story for the first Wonder Woman was clearly more in-depth (likely a deconstruction of Calvinism that got a little muddied by being given to a different director). They asked serious questions and dealt with people as they really would act in such overblown situations.
Not that there weren’t bad moments in the last few years of DC. Green Lantern was such a rushed joke that they forgot to write a second act, and Superman Returns was cut short before Signer’s proposed trilogy got going (probably for the best, we’d all feel weird if we liked a series of films made by Singer). But there has been an effort to make movies that were more than just stupid comic book films that boil down to pew-pew-pew EXPLOSION! “[shallow catchphrase that sounds good the first time but becomes more idiotic every time you hear it].” Not saying that’s how anyone is making comic book movies right now…but…well…you know. Most of the last ten years has been an understanding that these stories are archetypal and have the potential for significant depth, and that maybe you should try and give these stories that kind of depth. Has it been everyone’s cup of tea? Not really. But it’s not like the shallow films weren’t there for people who wanted that too.
But the idiots at Warner started thinking that “hey, maybe we can make more money if we dumb these things down.” And so you got Birds of Prey and Shazam and Aquaman and massive studio interference in (a process that seldom if ever results in anything good) in Suicide Squad and Justice League. Luckily it sounds like most of those buffoons got booted out of Warner because the quality version made money, but trying to beat Disney at its own game was doomed to fail.
But even still, we can appreciate these less cerebral films for what they are. They were never intended to be deep and so they don’t fail.
Wonder Woman 84, however, seems like the bastard child that started out deep, got ruined by studio interference demanding a stupid movie, and then had some final edits to try and make it deeper again. A Frankenstein’s monster of art that never quite figures out what it wants to be and thus fails to be deep fails to be entertaining, fails to be satisfying, and fails to be worth watching.
Let’s look at a few examples.
There is an inordinate amount of time spent on introducing the revived Steven Trevor (Chris Pine in what I will say is one of the better performance of his abysmal career) to to the 1980s. There are scenes having him try on various stupid 80s outfits and showing him the technology of the last 60 years. It is a direct parallel to getting Diana an appropriate attire in the first movie and her wonder at the marvels of the world outside Themeyscira—the problem that those served previous functions. Steve couldn’t have her wandering around London in her armor, and she refused to wear anything she couldn’t fight in, so still served a point for the plot—where as Steve trying on outfits was all about fashion, so no addition for the plot. Each time Diana stopped to marvel at babies or cars or ice cream, Steve kept pushing her forward as they had a job to do—Diana giving Steve a tour served no purpose and was them ignoring the significant issues in the world that needed to be dealt with. Maybe they’re both stupid and unnecessary, but at least they served the plot in the first movie. And while I haven’t timed them, it felt like Steve’s wardrobe changes simply took longer.
And while they’re a lot of little things like this: cheap jokes and silly moments that served no point other than fan service and the lowest common denominator of entertainment, it certainly isn’t the worst part of the film. And nothing is more disgusting than Diana’s costumes change near the end of the film into the ridiculous gold suit of armor that was designed to sell more toys and Halloween costumes than serve any real plot point.
The worst part is that this movie, for the first time in years, felt like a comic book in the childish ways it depicted people. Green Lantern may not have been written well, but it wasn’t because of the actors making the characters seem like cartoons. I mean, maybe those movies I haven’t seen have just as poorly depicted characters, but nothing I have seen is as bad as the characters of WW84. Diana, a 3,000+-year-old woman, isn’t just foolish in her desire to keep Steve without having to give up saving the world; she’s in full-blown denial. She doesn’t even spend time trying to find a loophole to control her powers and Steve (something that would have made a much better second act); no, she spends three-quarters of the film merely denying that this is a problem that has to be faced.
Then there is the villain. A cheap, two-bit conman from the worst parts of the 80s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous…there are apparent attempts to make him Trumpish, but he’s too articulate, actually likes his child when the plot calls for it (as opposed to us having to question if he’s raped his child), and has a mild ability to plan…so any superficial attempts to make him like the Orange Idiot fail to understand why the wannabe tyrant is evil and need to be put in prison. But the fact that somehow this vile person who is willing to grant wishes involving nuclear weapons and murder would at the end realize that he must embrace the truth that he really isn’t a good person and that he is harming the world and that suddenly he loves the kid he’s been dismissive of the whole movie is just far fetched, to say the least. They give us this terrible flashback montage of how he was beaten and berated as a child and just wanted to be successful at something, but this ignores the basic human psychology of non-sociopaths who do terrible things. They make compromises, they cut corners on ethics to get what they want, each time making a small justification, and then another justification with the next ethical lapse, then another and another and another. And for almost every human being in history, to realize that you have made a mistake and need to renounce those ethical breaches and work to become a better person almost always requires that a person either lose everything and hit absolute rock bottom and realize their position is the result of their rotten ethical decisions or to reach the pinnacle of everything they’ve ever wanted and realize that it’s not worth anything. The villain of Maxwell Lord is at neither of those points when he decides to renounce his evil. Thus there seems to be no justifiable reason for him to reach this conclusion other than the fact that other people are renouncing their wishes (after having seen the adverse effects of what they did, something Lord was in denial about). Maybe if his kid had died, his turning back to the light might have been vaguely believable, but he was at the height of his megalomania when he stops his insane plan. It just defies the reality that every other DC movie has tried to bring with its characters giving us the most childish comic book kind of resolution.
But there is also another dumb scene in the film that shows whoever was working on this script (and I’m going to believe that Jenkins was under pressure from the studio and not blame her…but if WW3 is this dumb, I’m going to come back and yell at her too) has no concept of how people behave. There is a scene where Lord goes to see the President and grants the President his wish to have more nuclear weapons because the President says that will force everyone else to back down. What? No, President from Truman to Obama would be that stupid. Anyone who has sat in any military tangent position for any period of time doesn’t wish they had more weapons, more troops, more guns, more soldiers…they wish their enemy had less. They’re forced to get more because their enemies don’t have less…but if you’re handed Aladdin’s lamp, you don’t wish for twice the number of nuke you wish the Soviets had zero. Sure, Trump would be dumb enough to make that wish. Maybe if he were drunk, Nixon would. But even though they didn’t try to make the President look, sound, or act like Reagan, it was still supposedly in 1984. And having Reagan ask for fewer nukes doesn’t fit the villain’s cheesy theme of wanting MORE…but it also indulges a cheap fantasy of both the ignorant left and right that all who are opposed to the left are warmongers (the ignorant left sees that as a bad thing, the ignorant right sees it as a good thing—but in both cases, neither understands the truth that war is sometimes a necessary evil because there are things worse than war). It would have taken ten minutes of plot time to have Lord grant the wife of Majority Leader in the House to wish her stupid husband was President early in the film and then have a stupid president who doesn’t know what he’s doing wish for more weapons…but the producers at Warner in the time between Snyder being fired and rehired were incapable of understanding basic human psychology that no sane person with ultimate power wishes for more violence. There are a bunch of smaller points of people not acting like actual people, but aside from the characters of Trevor and Barbara, no one acts as a normal person would act in the situations presented in this film.
Four other small points. Who the hell saw Cats and thought, “oh, I need to see more of that!”? The invisible jet was one of the dumbest plot points of the Wonder Woman canon; it did not need to be brought back. The fact that all the carnage and destruction caused by Lord didn’t seem to go away leave massive plot holes between this and the Man of Steel (like why would Perry White be so afraid of people finding out about Superman…they would have already experienced crazy shit far in excess of a guy who can fly). And most importantly, having a picture of Diana helping liberate a concentration camp is not an adequate explanation for what she was doing during WWII…what about all the years the Holocaust was going on? Was she just sitting on the sidelines? (I know there is a reason in the comics for why superheroes didn’t get involved, but this is an evil so egregious you can’t just not deal with this).

This movie might serve some value for a drinking game. But otherwise, I can’t see why you should ever waste your time with it.

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Halloween, Movies, and Death

HalloweenIt’s October and that means Halloween. And Halloween means I pull out all of my favorite horror movies, which means I am suddenly surrounded by vampire movies (well I am surrounded by vampires all year long, but Buffy is hardly pure horror). But this brings up why is society so overly inundated by the undead lately. Vampires and Zombies are everywhere. Walking Dead, True Blood, Vampire Diaries, Twilight, another Dracula, American Horror Story, World War Z, yet another Paranormal Activity, Resident Evil Part 8000: (subtitled: Jovovich really hopes someone will think she can act and give her a real job), Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…do I really need to continue? Be it TV, books, movies we are literally surrounded by the undead. And it seems like there are a lot more of the nosferatu now than there ever has been. I remember growing up with the Lost Boys, Fright Night, that Dracula with Gary Oldman, Interview with the Vampire, and of course who can ignore Buffy (and of course there were a lot of other films and books that were ignored) but you can’t deny there does seem to be a lot more vampires and zombies now than ever before…and they’re certainly making obscene amounts of money. Now it could be that Hollywood just has found a formula that makes money and are running it into the ground like they do with anything…but it still just seems like it’s more than just that. So the question becomes why are people so enthralled with the undead?

I think I may know what it is. Society’s obsession with death. Now I know I’ve brought this up before, but I feel it needs reiterating. More and more people seem to have a bizarre, infantile obsession with death and as Stephen King once pointed out horror is the genre that deals with the fear of death. They fear it more and more. And I don’t mean in a rational, life is certainly better than death, sort of way. I mean in a way where death becomes an obsession. You see it everywhere else. You see people grieving over the departed far longer than can possibly be healthy. You see them clamoring for healthcare as if it’s a right like they were dying of a terrible disease this minute. It’s irrational. And it’s being manifested in this obsession with the undead, those who have eluded death, no matter what the cost. It’s not a conscious desire to cheat death in such a fashion, but it the subconscious association with the idea of not dying….

So rather than go into my usual rant against the preposterous fear of death (do you know there is Buddhist meditation that asks you to daily imagine a new way you could die in as much depth as possible so you will be able to handle the transition without a shock?). Instead I’m going to take my love of film and go over my 30 favorite Halloween pieces of cinema (I say cinema because some of these will be TV shows) and discuss how they aren’t the usual vicious obsession with death that most horror does.

Why 30 because I did want to save one day in which I deal with why some of the movies that won’t be making the list.

Zombie movies: Philosophically possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen (even worse when you consider that there has never been a zombie movie with even a half decent plot.) Zombies are more or less a metaphor for what people are like at our most basic level, an expression of pure violence and eating. (When actually if you want to see what people act like when their souls aren’t in control and just letting the body work on autopilot I would suggest you look at pop culture and OccupyWallStreet and certain political parties known for groupthink, yeah that one.). This is part of a large belief that we are all base animals at our core and I do not subscribe to that. On a side note, the only time I have ever seen the character of a zombie used well was in the TV shows Firefly and Dollhouse and the movie (Serenity) where the zombies (called Reavers and Butchers) were not the traditional zombies but described accurately as a perversion of humanity, not the thing we are all trying to keep at bay.

Old horror movies: They’re just too campy for me to respect. Yes, Lugosi and Karloff have their rightful place in history, but I just can’t take them seriously. (Especially since I know the books they’re based on and those movies butcher their source material).

Movies where vampires sparkle: Vampires have always been and are supposed to be metaphors for sexuality. There is just nothing sexy about a vampire who has been playing with glitter.

Slasher films: At their best they’re cheap morality plays which were best summarized by Seth Green in Scream. There is not much more to them than that. At their worst they’re just an obsession with gore and the worst in humanity. (There will be some notable exceptions to the list in the 30 movie countdown).

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Heaven is for Real…but this movie won’t even begin to convince you of that fact

Heavenreal

 

Shallow. Unmoving. Poor support of the point it was trying to make. Oh let me tell you how much I just loved Heaven is for Real.

 

In a world where there are thousands of Near Death Experiences where people who have been blind from birth can tell you what color the doctors in the OR were wearing while they had flat lined, where people come back with messages from dead loved ones with information that they could have no way of knowing beforehand, or where the person having the NDE goes completely brain dead so there is no way their brain could have just been hallucinating…we bring you a movie about a kid who never actually died and came back with information that any skeptic could tear holes in. Oh, then the movie just sucked on any standard of film making as well.

 

Let’s first deal with how bad the movie is.

 

The film follows a family, the Burpos, as they deal with the fact that their son nearly died and claims to have gone to Heaven. They deal with their own crises of faith and with being somewhat shunned by the community as others deal with their own crises of faith.

 

Well first off there are the numerous financial and personal problems the family in this film had to deal with (beside the kid almost dying). None of them get resolved

The entire film seems to be about everyone, the family, the parish, the community having a hard time accepting the concept of life after death—this does little more than to portray most Christians as shallow people who cling to the church out of fear, which I personally don’t think applies to all Christians, yeah we’ve all met some people like that…but it’s everybody in this film. It’s a little bizarre that this is what is being hyped as a faith based film given that it shows most church going folk to be hypocrites when you just scratch the surface. Yeah, real inspiring.
Also I felt that the writers didn’t even recognize their own hypocrisy in the final sermon in the film (which I’m guessing was supposed to offer some kind of catharsis, though I didn’t get any) among other things chided people for pride…even though it came from a guy who throughout much of the movie refused help from a friend even though he’s $20,000+ in debt and there was no resolution to this (except maybe the paycheck they got from writing the book but I’m trying not to confuse the movie with reality).

 

But the real problem is that none of it is all that moving. From the actors I recognized I have seen them all give better performances, and none of the crises of faith I see anyone go through in this film ever seems to fully make sense to me (I don’t get how all these people who are so active in a church can all be so full of doubts and disbelief…I understand individuals having a crisis of faith, I don’t understand a seemingly entire congregation becoming hostile to what should seemingly confirm their beliefs). No single character’s story ever seems to be dealt with in detail in the film and it just is all half-assed through the run time.

 

Oh and there’s some girl in Lithuania painting pictures…I never really got the point of this and could ponder for eons what possessed the director to put this random and pointless part in.

 

Now a lot of this could be due to the fact that as an NDE goes, this kid’s story isn’t what I’d call ironclad. He never died, his story isn’t particularly consistent, and none of the information he gives is beyond all doubt that he never heard it from other people. I believe in NDE’s the soul actually does touch the afterlife and see Heaven…but I also happen to know from research that there are cases that leave no logical explanation other than a person’s soul actually did leave their body and touch the other side. There is no such certainty here. I’m not saying the kid didn’t experience exactly what he describes (or at least as well as the movie relays it) but there are so many logical ways one could also be skeptical that the movie is only going to affect people who already believe (and in my case, not even that).  I actually am a little annoyed as you can only get so many movies with a theme like this made and distrusted to a general audience…and if you really want to get people to believe in the truth that there is an afterlife, I would not put a movie with such weak backing.  Also I’m just a tad annoyed that one of the most important facts about NDE’s: that everyone goes to Heaven, Christians, Jews, Pagans, Muslims, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, everyone (because God doesn’t care about that sort of thing) seemed to get lost in a lot of talk of Jesus (I have no problem with Jesus or what he taught, but this film veered a little too much to the you only get into Heaven through Christianity bend for my tastes given that serious research into NDE’s shows exactly the opposite).

 

I have not read the book, and this movie certainly doesn’t convince me I should.
If you want a good movie that is actually moving about the life after death go watch Hereafter. If you want good well researched material about proof of life after this one I would suggest starting with Life before Life–Children’s Memories of Previous Lives or Evidence of the Afterlife.

 

 

Final Grade D-

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God’s Not Dead: Deeply flawed, but decent

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So I didn’t think I was originally going to go to this one before it hit the dollar theater but on some word of mouth recommendations (and the fact it is getting as much buzz as it is) this little pagan thought he would see if this was more than the typically bad Christian film.* It wasn’t, I would go as far as to say this is the best I’ve seen from this genre. It certainly was the best performance I’ve seen from Kevin Sorbo. But that is not to say that it is not without its flaws.

 

The central plot revolves around a Christian student (Shane Harper) Josh Wheaton** who is forced to either say in class that there is no God or risk his grade for the class. And as there is no tradition of taqiyya in Christianity he feels he cannot lie about his faith. This, in what I have to say is the worst teaching method I have ever seen, leads the rather pompous professor (Kevin Sorbo) to try and humiliate him by making him defend the idea that God exists before the class. What follows is his defense of God and how it affects him and those in his class…and a lot of people not in his class, and some people only connected by the most tangential lines…honestly I think they tried to squeeze way to many subplots into this movie.

 

Now his argument in favor of God takes three main points:

  • The traditional argument by cause…although Aquinas made the philosophical much better, and I’ve seen many others make the scientific argument much more clearly.
  • The argument from design looking at life, specifically he looks at the rather shaky grounding for modern evolution being set on punctuated equilibrium…rather than the stronger attacks on the fact that life could not just spontaneous come into existence, nor could sentience. But I was quite happy that the writers took the much more intelligent tack that even if evolution is true it still demands a God to work the way it has rather than the ignorant creationist or simplistic intelligent design arguments.
  • And finally rebutting the problem of evil and taking the Augustinian side that evil exists because of free will.

Regrettably the film didn’t actually use any of the names or terms I used above which would make it difficult for most people seeing this film to actually go and read the more fleshed out versions. So if the film wanted to convince people it may have whet their appetite for these ideas but it didn’t give them anything to work with from there. But overall the case presented by the student is one that is accurate if a bit over simplified.

 

Further I liked the point that behind every atheist is a very angry theist who is angry at God for some reason, which is more or less what I’ve witnessed in life…and what has at least been partially substantiated by research (it’s been shown they all fear him…and with following Yoda’s line of logic…) Although given the rather callous and shallow letter the professor’s character’s mother wrote to him before dying, I can kind of understand why he might have issues with God.

 

My biggest problem is this jump in logic the movie seems to make over and over again. If I show the arguments against God are wrong and show evidence that there is a God then it follows that a Protestant Christian interpretation of God exists.  Over and over again this movie implicitly makes this assumption.   Now to a New Ager like me this is where I have problems. If you destroy the opposition’s case and show that a God exists…that shows that a God exists. You still have a long way to go to prove that your particular interpretation of God exists. And this is the biggest problem I have both with atheists and Christians in this fight; they both seem to assume it’s either their side or the other side. It’s this one or the other. Atheists seem to feel that all Christians believe the exact same thing and can be lumped together and most Christians (or at least a very large portion of the more vocal ones) seem to feel that their interpretation of Christianity is obviously only the right one. As a non-Christian I look at this battle between these two groups with probably the same confusion that America looked at the side war between Finland and the USSR in the early 40’s: Guys you do know there is much bigger battle going on that doesn’t just involve your own petty differences? Right? Honestly as someone with many Thomist sympathies, I don’t think even Catholics would be particularly thrilled with the defense of Christianity in this film (but I could be wrong).

 

But I think this shows a larger problem that is not just specific to Christianity (nor do I think all Christians suffer from it). This film, which ostensibly should have been there to try and offer arguments for atheists and agnostics to give up their beliefs and accept God, does a poor job of it because it implies that if you believe in God you must be a Protestant. You would do a much better job by just proving that a God exists. Once that door has been opened philosophically then if you truly believe in your interpretation you should trust free will and faith (which was a central part of the argument in the movie) to bring people to the truth. By saying that if you have to accept everything or nothing you’re committing just as egregious a logical sin as atheists, and tactically making a very poor move. And I say this is a larger problem because you’re seeing the same problem in a larger political sense, where populists are currently demanding that all who are in the Republican party must be ideologically pure or we can not have them at all…and it is this attitude that drives voters away and keeps the party from winning time and time again…and if Christians* like the producers want to make a case for God they might do best to just try and prove the existence of a God by itself before they make the case for their interpretation of a God as making someone accept both at the same time might in many cases be a bridge too far.
One of the most jarring things of the whole film is that near the end one of the atheist characters in the film is confronted with death and makes a death bed conversion. Luckily there is a minister there to help guide this character back to the faith in their last minutes…and it’s not too subtle that God had a major hand in making sure the minister was there at that place in that time to help save that soul. Even as a pagan I didn’t have a problem with this because I do believe this is how God works…what I had a problem with was that between the writing and directing the scene comes off in a very cold and callous way. Immediately he begins preparing this character for death even though the correct thing for someone to do would have been CPR to save the character’s life. It comes off a little heartless. The fact the very next scene has the cast of Duck Dynasty insulting this character after they’ve already died is possibly one of the worst directing calls I have ever seen (honestly if you just flipped the order of the scenes it wouldn’t have been as bad) but apparently the director felt like insulting the dead.

 

 

On a final note I did appreciate the film showing that China is a repressive tyranny and the religion of peace is anything but.

 

If you’re a Protestant you’ll probably be able to overlook some of the glaring philosophical problems and downplay the bad writing and actually enjoy the film (again I’m not entirely sure how much the Protestant interpretation will grate for non Protestant Christians)…if you’re not a Christian that philosophical jump between God’s existence and Jesus died for you might be a bit much to overlook and ruin the enjoyment.

 

I give the whole thing a C-.

 

*That is not an insult to Christianity…that is an insult to the absolutely pathetic writing and production values faith based movies have had for the past couple of decades. Let’s be honest, Lifetime laughs at the production values of faith based films.

**I still am not sure if the fact that his name bears a great deal of resemblance to a very famous atheist is intentional or not.

***Again certainly not the entirety, but an awfully large number with access to mass media.

 

 

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Movies that understand economics #20 and 21: Atlas Shrugged & The Fountainhead

Review of Atlas Shrugged Part ISomehow I would be remiss not to mention the movies based on Ayn Rand’s novels when discussing movies about economics. The problem here is that while the movies, like Rand herself, have a solid understanding of the broad strokes of economics (liberty, limited government, low taxes and regulation lead to innovation, adaptation and prosperity), they don’t seem to actually get why this actually works. Rand’s understanding of economics is a lot like most people’s understanding of how the CPU of a computer works (“uh…uh…there’s some ones and zeroes and, and, and it translates into ons and offs and…um…uh…it just works. Why do I need to know why it works it just works.”) And, granted, that could make Rand seem really ignorant…but keep in mind that there are people who don’t even get that it works. How stupid do they have to be? (Krugman, I mean you and your mentally challenged drivel.)
But for all of her flaws she does have some correct ideas.
Probably because they seem to be having one problem after another with Atlas Shrugged (I am holding out zero hopes for part three, so I hope I won’t be disappointed…) it might be best to turn to The Fountainhead. Where, though somewhat shorter than in the book, the case for intellectual property is made in very clear terms. (It’s particularly interesting that some modern libertarians seem to be against the very necessary protection of intellectual property rights.)

Howard Roark: Thousands of years ago the first man discovered how to make fire. He was probably burned at the stake he had taught his brothers to light, but he left them a gift they had not conceived of, and he lifted darkness off the earth. Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision. The great creators, the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors, stood alone against the men of their time. Every new thought was opposed. Every new invention was denounced. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered, and they paid – but they won.
No creator was prompted by a desire to please his brothers. His brothers hated the gift he offered. His truth was his only motive. His work was his only goal. His work, not those who used it, his creation, not the benefits others derived from it. The creation which gave form to his truth. He held his truth above all things, and against all men. He went ahead whether others agreed with him or not. With his integrity as his only banner. He served nothing, and no one. He lived for himself. And only by living for himself was he able to achieve the things which are the glory of mankind. Such is the nature of achievement.
Man cannot survive except through his mind. He comes on earth unarmed. His brain is his only weapon. Howard RoarkBut the mind is an attribute of the individual, there is no such thing as a collective brain. The man who thinks must think and act on his own. The reasoning mind cannot work under any form of compulsion. It cannot not be subordinated to the needs, opinions, or wishes of others. It is not an object of sacrifice.
The creator stands on his own judgment. The parasite follows the opinions of others. The creator thinks, the parasite copies. The creator produces, the parasite loots. The creator’s concern is the conquest of nature – the parasite’s concern is the conquest of men. The creator requires independence, he neither serves nor rules. He deals with men by free exchange and voluntary choice. The parasite seeks power, he wants to bind all men together in common action and common slavery. He claims that man is only a tool for the use of others. That he must think as they think, act as they act, and live is selfless, joyless servitude to any need but his own. Look at history. Everything thing we have, every great achievement has come from the independent work of some independent mind. Every horror and destruction came from attempts to force men into a herd of brainless, soulless robots. Without personal rights, without personal ambition, without will, hope, or dignity. It is an ancient conflict. It has another name: the individual against the collective.
Our country, the noblest country in the history of men, was based on the principle of individualism. The principle of man’s inalienable rights. It was a country where a man was free to seek his own happiness, to gain and produce, not to give up and renounce. To prosper, not to starve. To achieve, not to plunder. To hold as his highest possession a sense of his personal value. And as his highest virtue, his self respect. Look at the results. That is what the collectivists are now asking you to destroy, as much of the earth has been destroyed.
I am an architect. I know what is to come by the principle on which it is built. We are approaching a world in which I cannot permit myself to live. My ideas are my property. They were taken from me by force, by breach of contract. No appeal was left to me. It was believed that my work belonged to others, to do with as they pleased. They had a claim upon me without my consent. That it was my duty to serve them without choice or reward. Now you know why I dynamited Cortlandt. I designed Cortlandt, I made it possible, I destroyed it. I agreed to design it for the purpose of seeing it built as I wished. That was the price I set for my work. I was not paid. My building was disfigured at the whim of others who took all the benefits of my work and gave me nothing in return. I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone’s right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy, nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim. It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing. I came here to be heard. In the name of every man of independence still left in the world. I wanted to state my terms. I do not care to work or live on any others. My terms are a man’s right to exist for his own sake.

As I said she gets the broad strokes. That liberty, limited government and the human mind should be valued. But anything more detailed than:

My name is John Galt. I live in a place we call Atlantis, and I think you’d fit in there. It’s a place where heroes live; where those who want to be heroes live. The government we have there respects each of us as individuals and as producers. Actually, beyond a few courthouses there isn’t much government at all. Bottom line, Mr. Wyatt; if you’re weary of a government that refuses to limit its power over you, if you’re ready at this moment to claim the moral right to your own life, then we should leave, and I’ll take you there. I’ll take you to Atlantis.

And you’re really pushing it. She understood capitalism and individualism worked and any form of collectivism and socialism didn’t. And if you’re looking for a moral pick me up, her quotes can work quite well…if you’re looking for a technical answer as to why they work…you might want to dig into other economists and movies.

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Movies that understand economics: #7 Morning Glory

Morning Glory

“Daybreak needs what I need, someone who believes that it can succeed. Trust me, I know you don’t have any reason to believe in me, but I work harder than anyone else. I’m in first, I’m out last. I know a shitload more about the news than someone whose daddy paid them to smoke bongs and talk semiotics at Harvard and I devote myself completely to my job. It’s what I do. It’s all I am. I… You can ask anyone.”

At this point I’m pretty sure you think I’m losing my mind (or that I am really desperate to find movies with economic premises)*–how is a silly comedy (that has a romantic subplot, but not enough of one to call it a romantic comedy) going demonstrate economics? Just trust me that I do know what I’m talking about. For those that don’t know the film, Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller an inexperienced executive producer who has been given the very undesirable job of bringing the worst morning news show in history up in the ratings…and her genius idea is to bring a veteran hard news anchor, played by Harrison Ford, who doesn’t want to be there, on to the very light news morning show. Hilarity and infighting ensues. But buried in this pure entertainment story are a few economic truths.

innovation

On the left are industries that live under the rules of adapt or die. On the right are organizations that don’t live with that fact…see the difference.

The first is the most basic of all economic principles at the heart of capitalism: adapt or die. The entire central plot is about brining up a failing TV show in the ratings. And the only way this happens is by throwing out old rules and changing the format of the show. This includes more sensationalism, making deals with celebrities that no other show would ever make, having the anchors bicker on air because it brings in more ratings. Adapt or die. Every company on earth (when they’re not being bailed out by morons who don’t understand capitalism) faces this basic principle. And it’s a good thing. As shown in the movie it forces the people on the TV show to adapt, to innovate, to come up with new things that work. It forces the show and the people, people who had previously given up, to come up with new ways of doing things, to be better and create things that work. Adapt or die, it is what turns $50,000+ worth of equipment in 1985 taking up probably half a ton of mass, into your smart phone that cost you $300 and about a pound of mass.

And this ties to the last two movies and the idea of creative destruction. As most companies try to avoid being the victim of creative destruction they have the choice to grow and not die. Which the show in this movie does. It is what drives a healthy economy, the need to survive forces us to grow and produce better and cheaper products.

And tied to this is this principle of adapt or die is the idea of being a leader. No organization or person can grow without being willing to make decisions.

One of the best descriptions on leadership goes as follows:

The difference between a good administrator and a bad one is about five heartbeats. Good administrators make immediate choices … [that] usually can be made to work. A bad administrator, on the other hand, hesitates, diddles around, asks for committees, for research and reports. Eventually, he acts in ways which create serious problems … A bad administrator is more concerned with reports than with decisions. He wants the hard record which he can display as an excuse for his errors … [Good administrators] depend on verbal orders. They never lie about what they’ve done if their verbal orders cause problems, and they surround themselves with people able to act wisely on the basis of verbal orders. Often, the most important piece of information is that something has gone wrong. Bad administrators hide their mistakes until it’s too late to make corrections … One of the hardest things to find is people who actually make decisions.—Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune

jimmy carter sex offender

The movie covers the importance of reporting the truth when others won’t.

And the character of Becky Fuller displays this trait perfectly. Within minutes of taking her new job she is bombarded with not only a huge amount of choices but also a grossly inept employee…but rather than saying things like “I’ll get back to you” and consult others she makes choices right there based on her own judgment. And rather than deal with a clearly toxic and useless employee she just fires him because he is absolutely worthless. She makes judgment calls and works with the fallout rather than blaming others. No company, no organization, no individual can progress without this; making immediate choices and working with the fallout. No economy can survive or grow without such leaders. A shame we don’t have anything like that on Pennsylvania Avenue.

*both may be correct to one degree or another, but that doesn’t negate my point about this film.

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Movies that understand economics # 2 The Terminal

The Terminal

 

 

The Terminal.  Given the writers, director, or lead actor, it’s quite frankly a miracle that this movie understands even that money is used to buy things let alone the numerous economic principles it does seem to get.  I’m chalking this up to one of those monkeys at typewriters moments.

 

But one of the clearest moments that this movie demonstrates economics is with the concepts of incentives, opportunity costs and comparative advantage.  Yes I know your brain is probably already trying to run away…but stay with me for a second.  In the film Victor Narvoski is held in the terminal of JFK airport because of a snafu in regulations.  He has no money, but can’t leave. But he finds that there is a system in the airport whereby returning a cart for luggage to the dispensers where they originated will give a quarter for each cart.  The quarters are offered as incentives to perform this mildly annoying task (the same reason your salary is an incentive to do all the parts of your job, even the parts you don’t like).  However, to most of us, a quarter isn’t a big incentive, thus we have no reason to waste our time putting the thing back for just a quarter (this is opportunity cost, the idea we can use resources only once, in this case, time, and we will probably get more satisfaction out of reading, or sleeping or just resting than we will out of a quarter).  However, Victor has a huge incentive to get quarters, because quarters mean food.  Also, because he doesn’t have anything else to do, whereas most people in an airport do, he has a comparative advantage over them, he can spend time getting lots of carts and returning them, whereas other people do not.  Incentives drive everything, if you don’t have the incentive to do something, it won’t get done…which is probably why Welfare shouldn’t offer about 45,000K a year in benefits…because if you do offer that much in benefits no one has any incentive to work if they can’t make more than that.

One of the things that The Terminal implicitly understands is the incredibly harmful nature of government, bureaucrats and arbitrary rules. The movie literally begins with a group of Chinese immigrants with fake passports being captured (why were they running…probably because China is a despotic hellhole, what will happen when they’re sent back?  Well if they’re lucky, death. Real refugees are seldom so lucky from a nation that has actually crucified people in the last century.)  This is what governments do, they hurt people. (Let’s not even talk about how ICE’s primary function seems to be keeping refugees and qualified workers out of the country while ensuring that welfare seeking illegals and cartels can get through.)  Of course this whole movie is about one power hungry bureaucrat making a man’s life a living hell…because they can.  And if you think such a mentality just exists in movies, ask the millions of people who are now without health insurance because one brainless bureaucrat believes she doesn’t work for the American people. What does this have to do with economics?  Everything.  Governments are needed for  economies to maintain a civil and criminal court system; to catch, prosecute, and incarcerate criminals who violate the rights of others; to maintain contract laws; to ensure a bare minimum of regulation to ensure a functioning economy…but when bare minimum use of power needed to make the system work ceases to be the goal, and it switches to power for the sake of power (which is what every petty bureaucrat wants) then economies cease to work.  Case in point back to the quarters for carts things…the idiot in charge of the system would rather pay someone (at New York City union rates, which is probably more than anyone who reads this earns) rather then let a man earn money for food.

 

The film is filled with examples or stories of people’s lives being ruined by bureaucrats. And it should be noted the general sense of fear that everyone has towards them.  (Luckily there is also a scene that explains exactly what you should do to all bureaucrats.)
And this whole situation is caused by the fact that no one anywhere in this bureaucracy was willing to use common sense for an unusual situation.

 

One final point I would like to make about economics shown here is the seeming nature of chaos in an economy.  Most people look at economics, at the flow of money, of stocks, of property, goods and investments…and see chaos.  It’s much like the terminal of an airport.  It seems like pure chaos.  But the fact is everyone in that airport is going somewhere with a plan, a departure time, and a destination.  It has the appearance of chaos but there is a very well defined order, it’s just that the normal limits of the human mind can’t see it.  The same is true of economies…lots of people see economies and see only chaos and disorder and believe since it is so disordered there needs to be more control to make it run better.  Let me ask has DHS and the TSA made an airport better?  The same is true of economies—just because you can’t see the order doesn’t mean it is not there, and your attempting to control chaos that doesn’t exist will always, always, always backfire.

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Movies that understand economics #1 Bedazzled

Elliot Richards: “This doesn’t prove anything. I could have done this myself. I even had to pay for it.”
The Devil: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Now unfortunately the nature of Hollywood and the fact that it exists on a different plane of reality (one where the economy is run by unicorns and movies that make 50 million above cost somehow were losses) a lot of the economic facts of this series are going to be more accidental truths stumbled upon by the writers and directors than intentional bedazzledmoves to show us how real economics works. However, I might be able to say that director Harold Ramis, who brought us Groundhog Day with its clear understanding of the idea that all skills can be learned with time and effort or what is really valuable in life, and Ghostbusters with its very insightful moments that the EPA is populated by dickless idiots and correct observations like, “You’ve never worked in the private sector, they expect results.” But who knows, maybe I’m reading intent where there was none…regardless, the movie Bedazzled, the story of a hapless loser who sells his soul for seven wishes from the Devil, does offer us some excellent economic lessons.

1. TANSTAAFL
Anyone familiar with Robert Heinlein’s classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress should find the acronym above very familiar. TANSTAAFL. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

It’s one of the most basic lessons of economics. EVERYTHING has a price. Even if you don’t pay for it now or even ever…someone will pay for everything.

Our clueless hero, Elliot Richards, in Bedazzled learns the hard way that just wishing for things doesn’t work (despite the Devil warning him very clearly that there is no such thing as a free lunch).

Everything you want comes with a cost. And whether it is time, effort, blood and sweat…or just your soul…every cost will be paid. And I think this movie is very clear about this.

Richards: I don’t want another wish. […] I really don’t want it.
The Devil: What do you mean you don’t want it, you get seven wishes.
Richards: Well there are things that I want but nothing you can give me.
The Devil: What is that supposed to mean?
Richards: Well um last night when I was lying in jail I was talking to this guy. I realized that wishing just doesn’t work. All my life I’ve wished to be better looking, to be richer successful, talented, whatever. And I always thought wouldn’t it be great if someone could just wave a magic wand and make that happen. Well, I realized that it just doesn’t work by magic.
The Devil: I think I’m going to be sick.
Richards: I’ve been starting to think it isn’t really how far we go in life anyway, it’s how we get there that really matters.

Everything comes with a cost. And any time you think that there is something without a cost that you are getting something for free…be very worried because that is where the costs are the highest. Because it is often either being paid for by someone else…or it is taking something away from you that is more valuable (but less tangible) than just money or property. And, in the long run, the soul pays all debts.

Even with charity. Someone gave you a hundred dollars out of charity…it still costs them a hundred dollars and the loss of the opportunity to spend it on something else…now they may get paid back in the psychological happiness that comes from personal charity, but they will get paid back. And you will pay the cost of feeling either indebted to that person or to be worthy of the act of charity. (It’s why a welfare state is so dangerous, it strips the act of charity of all the psychological benefits and costs and merely costs the middle class their money to pay people who will not work for a living.) and thus will never “earn” anything or appreciate it and they will in the end be the bigger looser.

There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

2. Contract Law is Sacrosanct (and always read the contract)

deal with the devil

This is what a deal with the Devil looks like.

Modern society and economics is based on contract law. Be it anywhere from the social contract to your cell phone contract. And, all pun intended, the Devil is in the details.

The Devil: “Let’s look at your contract.”

It is part of the joke that the contract for Elliot’s soul is a 2,000+ page legal document printed in small font legalese. (Pro tip…anytime any kind of legal document is 2000+ pages it is the work of the Devil and should not be signed or passed).

Obamacare regs

This something worse than a deal with the Devil.

Contracts are so important that even the Devil has to abide by them, as there is an escape clause in Eliot’s contract, and as much as she hated it, she had to obey it. (Another pro tip: don’t trust anyone who fails to honor contracts; they will screw you any chance they can find.) That’s how important contract law is, even the Devil follows it. Modern economics are based on contract law and to all the anarchists out there who think you can run an economy without contract law necessary to enforce it, you’re beyond stupid. Anarchy at it’s best.

The other point here that the movie makes clear is that you should always read the contract. If you don’t read the contract and just wait to see what’s in it only after you have entered into it, you will always, always, always get burned….as Elliot finds out in how badly his wishes turn out…and as America is finding out right now.

3. Trade is only an exchange of value for value.

The Devil: Seven utterly fabulous wishes for one piddling, little soul?
Richards: […]“If it’s so useless then how come you want it so much?”

One thing to understand about modern economics is that in any legal, consensual exchange both people must receive what they consider an exchange of value for value (in fact an exchange only take place when both parties feel they are improving their situation). And if people want something, or are willing to give you something, then that means you are exchanging something of value.

True this is a variation on the free lunch principle, but it needs repeating.
If someone is willing to give you free phones or food or promises of healthcare you may want to ask why they’re giving you these things and what they want in return…and what the long term consequences of such an exchange are.

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Things the Government and Hollywood can do to lower ticket prices

Movie ticket prices are high…as the Entertainment Editor of Elementary Politics I regrettably know this better than most 1888635_623836521024148_812367747072020643_nhaving to pay money to go see movies I actually know will suck (Go and read some articles on Elementary Politics…if we get enough readers I can probably get a press pass into films).

But there appears to be some doom and gloom on the horizon. The first is that, as we all know the last few years have seen deeper and deeper slumps in box office turnout. It gets even worse when you look at supposedly important names like Spielberg and Lucas* telling us that we can soon expect $25 tickets. Now I think $25 may be little overblown (even with inflation under the Obama), and might be a little bit of Spielberg forgetting the studios might not want to fund him because his last six movies have all been terrible. Still the fact is movie prices are still going up. And this comes with the rather idiotic question what can the government do to stop that…yes I’ve actually heard people ask variants of this question, because there are some idiots who feel the government needs to fix all of their problems.movie tickets

But rather than asking what can the government do, I’m going to ask the more important question what can the government stop doing to help reduce movie ticket prices? There are already a horde of policies and regulations in place that are helping to drive the price of your movie ticket up (along with the price of just about everything else) and if the government stopped doing these things you would have far more reasonable prices and far less inflation.

1. First and foremost we need to ignore Senator John McCain (who never met a line of the Constitution that he felt like defending) in his call to regulate cable TV even more. And after that we need not regulate anything else to do with the entertainment industry. I’m sure there are probably a few (very few) laws that should pertain to the entertainment industry, but right now I can also guarantee you we have dozens, possibly hundreds we don’t need and that need to be scrapped before we need any new laws. At this point new laws and regulations only create new headaches and roadblocks for business, industry, innovation and creation.

There is a minimum level of laws needed in society. We are nowhere near that level and need to take a machete, a chainsaw, and possibly a nuclear weapon to the stack of laws we do have at present.

2. End all public funding at all levels for all kinds of subsidies, tax breaks, or incentives. This might seem counter intuitive for why it would raise the price of your tickets. Subsidies only ever result in getting more of something people don’t want. Movies make money when they’re good…so if the only reason you’re going to make it is because you can get a tax break or a right-off or a subsidy in creating content that is sub-par and will in the end reduce the profitability of the market…which in turn has to be made back by charging higher prices for tickets. (Not to mention it creates crap like NPR and PBS which despite its claims of being educational actually make people dumber).

3. Conversely taxes should just be lowered in general. Be it the flat tax or the fair tax, it is irrelevant, but if taxes were just lower you would find more money to invest in films, better, cheaper technology to make films, and lower costs all around for production. Tax reform always benefits everyone, without question, without exception.

4. Another obvious one: Get rid of Obamacare. If you don’t think the production companies and the distribution companies and the theater chains don’t plan on passing their massive costs of Obamacare onto to you through ticket sales, you’re delusional. If prices do rise to $25 a ticket, then Obamacare will be to blame for at least a third of that rise.

5. Sue China for copyright infringement. China has committed billions, perhaps trillions of dollars of patent and copyright theft. Certainly they’re not the only foreign offender but they certainly are the biggest. (It’s ironic that it is very likely that all the money we have borrowed from China was only made by not paying us for use of patents and copyrights) and the entertainment industry takes billions of dollars in losses every year because of this (losses they pass off to you). Now while the Chinese government per se isn’t doing the actual pirating, they have created, fostered and in many ways encouraged the environment in which such violations run rampant and it needs to stop. While this is an issue that hardly affects only the entertainment industry, that is one of the most obvious ways it affects you and if they tightened up their system (and god forbid paid what they owe) you would see profits over here soar and prices drop in response.

 

6. Conversely America’s copyright laws are a little insane. In a push driven mostly by Disney, Congress extended copyright law to insane levels. Currently it’s life of the artist plus 70 years or 95 years from publication for works owned by corporations. That’s insane. I know Disney has a lot invested in keeping Mickey to themselves…but guys you have to let go at some point. Copyrights do help inspire creation…but when taken to an illogical extension they can also hurt innovation and creation (don’t believe me, go and read some of the insanity that has come about because of the copyrights surrounding Superman). Correcting this problem would mean that soon theaters could get their hands on good old movies at a very, very low cost and show them at almost pure profit, which means they don’t have to make the other ticket prices as high just to break even.

7. Get rid of minimum wage laws. Every usher and every person behind the counter at every theater is being paid at least $7.25 an hour. They’re not worth $7.25 an hour. Based on the service I usually get, they’re not worth $3 an hour. But regardless of what I think they’re worth, it is a simple fact of economics that minimum wage laws hurt the economy. They cause fewer people to be hired, they prevent people from getting experience, they lower service and they drive up costs.


If you got rid of minimum wage laws you would see lower ticket prices. You would also see a drop in the unemployment rate and a massive rise in the economy at all levels.
8. Get rid of ethanol. Ethanol is possibly one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done in this country. It takes 1.2 gallons of fuel to create one gallon of ethanol. So not only is it a waste that causes your gas bill to rise (and thus the cost of EVERYTHING else to rise including your movie ticket) but you’re also wasting tax dollars on this because not only is it a Ethanolwaste, but we subsidize it as well. You pay for it to be grown and then you pay to use it…and it’s worthless. Another fun fact about ethanol is that the heavy production of it has caused the worldwide cost of corn to go up, which not only exacerbates issues of global famine, but probably doesn’t help the price of the popcorn either.

9. While Congress really should get rid of all subsidies and trade barriers let’s look specifically at the ones dealing with sugar. We subsidize sugar production in the U.S. (causing the price to go up) and have stiff trade barriers that prevent cheaper sugar from getting in. This in turn leads to just about everything at concession stands costing vastly higher amounts than it otherwise would.

10. Finally let’s end the government protection of the teacher’s union. What does this have to do with the cost of your theater going experience? In terms of cost not so much, in terms of getting your money’s worth a lot. If we had an even halfway decent education system do you think movies like Grown ups 2, R.I.P.D. The Internship or White House Down would ever have been made? I doubt it, because there wouldn’t have been as much of a market for them…yes intelligent, educated people can enjoy movies like this, but an intelligent educated populace wouldn’t provide a market for as many pieces of crap to be made. And the simple fact is that there is probably no bigger threat to American education than the teacher’s union. End all of their bargaining power, disband the unions (because professionals don’t have unions), and as far as I’m concerned try the union leadership for treason and give them the maximum sentence, because they have done massive and unforgivable damage to this nation in protecting their hack union members who have no business whatsoever being in a classroom.

Now that’s what the government should stop doing…but to be fair there are some things Hollywood should do.

PrincessBride

Why has this not been re-released? This would make more money than you can imagine.

1. Release old movies. Why has there not been a re-release of The Princess Bride in the theaters? Or Casablanca? There is next to no overhead cost and you would sell tickets like crazy. Disney, you could re-release a movie every month from your vault (even if we changed the copyright laws) and it would still take years before you made a full cycle.
I think people would rather pay money to see something older and good than new and dumb.

2. Stop paying actors outrageous salaries and start paying your writers better. As the last few years have shown, people aren’t going to see movies because of their favorite actors. If actors aren’t drawing people in then they’re not good investments. Neither is CGI. In the end the most surefire way to get people in the seats is to tell a good story. Pay your writers better.

3. Hollywood, get some goddamn accountants! Real accountants, not the crazy people who have made Hollywood accounting seem more complex than the US tax code. Get some people who will pinch pennies and tell you no, that’s a bad investment, no, the actor can’t have this many riders in their contract, no, we don’t need this lavish a catering truck at the shoot, no, no, no.

4. Stop hiring directors who can’t make money. Guillermo del Toro and Paul Thomas Anderson do not make money (in fact while some of their films have made a profit I believe they are in the red for their overall careers). (I personally don’t get Scorsese, I don’t think he’s ever made a watchable film, but at least he brings in a profit, I just don’t understand how). But time and time again you see Hollywood give too much money to hacks because they’re ‘great directors.’ If you want to make vanity pieces fine, do it on your own dime; don’t do it so the studio takes the loss and passes that onto the theaters and then onto me.

5 Support a la carte purchasing in cable. It will reduce your competition and the number of channels you need to advertise on (and it’s actually the advertising budget of most films that makes them take a loss not the production costs).These are just a few of the things the government and Hollywood can do, but in the end it boils down to two things, government needs to get out of the way and Hollywood needs to be focused on giving us a higher quality product.
*I say supposedly because let’s be honest, these two schmucks have more a reputation for making good movies than an actual history of making good films. I’m sure someone will take offense to that but go look at all the movies Spielberg has actually directed and take an honest look at how some of the worst films in history are on that list.

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Movies that show the rich as good #2: Meet Joe Black

“Should I be afraid?”
“Not a man like you.”

Meet Joe Black is a great movie for several reasons. A powerful love story. An insightful look at what life is about. And oddly enough a story about a businessman making sure his life work remains great. (Also the only time in history the IRS was even tangentially heroic…and not, you know, worthy of the treatment at the end of Braveheart).

Meet Joe BlackNow some might think that the story about the businessman trying to keep hold of his business when he knows for certain he will die in the immediate future is really a secondary plot line—that the love story of Death (Joe Black) and Susan is far more important than Anthony Hopkins business tales. And people who edit movies for TV and in-flight movies would agree with those people. However the director Martin Brest thought that it so ruined the movie that he got the Director’s Guild to agree that his name could be removed from the cut without the business story line—the Director’s Guild receives hundreds, some years, thousands of requests to have directors names removed because the director was unhappy with the result…virtually all of them are denied.* So that this was granted tells you that this plot line involving Hopkins’ character of Bill Parish is absolutely important.

Why? Or as Death puts it:

Joe Black: Bill, why at this juncture are you letting yourself be so concerned by business matters?
William Parrish: I don’t want anybody buying up my life’s work! Turning it into something it wasn’t meant to be. A man wants to leave something behind. And he wants it left behind the way he made it. He wants it to be run the way he ran it, with a sense of honor, of dedication, of truth. Okay?

Because this film shows us that life isn’t just about love. It is about life. The big and the small things (like peanut butter). And this movie shows the depth of love, not just romantic love, but the love of parents and children, of friendship, of siblings, and of life itself. Love is one of those massively important things…but so is accomplishment. In fact, if you look at the needs of people’s accomplishments, achievements, the attainment of goals is, according to psychologist Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, is the next thing we need to achieve in our quest for Happiness.

Now the liberals out there are probably rolling their eyes when they hear attainment of goals or achievement, as theyMeet Joe Black Dance think that you attain goals you must do so by taking from others. They see a world of static wealth and prosperity, where if I am to be successful another must fail, where if I am to be wealthy another must be poor, where if I am to be happy another must be miserable. Which is why they must tear down the strong, the successful, the happy, because in their warped mind those people are taking strength, success and happiness from others. Reality tends to be quite different. Whereas historically most economic and political systems have done the liberal thing and only shifted money and resources around, or at best created wealth at an astoundingly slow rate…capitalism literally creates wealth where it did not exist before. It takes work, ideas, creativity, individual and cooperation, risk, and planning to create wealth…but capitalism is the only system that can sustain long term innovation to create wealth out of what was previously worthless. Wealth thus has no limit, so long as there is liberty and drive to keep creating it. It parallels the other thing we seek for constantly in life: love. Just because I love my spouse doesn’t mean I have to love my parents, my siblings, or my children, or my friends less…they may all be different kinds of love, but an increase in one does not diminish the others. And the movie is quite clear; we need love in our lives:

Bill Parish: Love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without. I say, fall head over heels. Find someone you can love like crazy and who will love you the same way back. How do you find him? Well, you forget your head, and you listen to your heart. And I’m not hearing any heart. Cause the truth is, honey, there’s no sense living your life without this.

To make the journey and not fall deeply in love, well, you haven’t lived a life at all. But you have to try, cause if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived.

But again back to the Maslow’s hierarchy, life isn’t complete with just love, we also need accomplishment. And the character of Bill Parish certainly has accomplished as the founder and chairman and CEO of a multinational media empire. As he discusses his business he states:

Meet Joe Black ConfrontationSee, I started in this business because this is what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t going to write the great American novel, but I also knew there was more to life than buying something for a dollar and selling it for two. I’d hoped to create something, something which could be held to the highest standards. And what I realized was I wanted to give the news to the world, and I wanted to give it unvarnished. The more we all know about each other, the greater the chance we will survive.

Sure, I want to make a profit. You can’t exist without one. But John Bontecou is all profit. Now if we give him license to absorb Parrish Communications, and he has his eye on a few others after us, in order to reach the world you will have to go through John Bontecou. And not only will you have to pay him to do this, far more important, you’ll have to agree with him.

He veers almost into the territory of an Atlas Shrugged hero there…Yes I love making money, but I love making my creation more and you could offer me all the money in the world to scrap what I have built and I would throw it in your face. He is a man of morals which are more important than just money. Which is something else that correct philosophers from Aristotle to Maslow understood, while there are charlatans that can make money, they often can’t keep it going and can’t create. Yeah there are terrible businessmen out there, but the majority of the rich, from the so called Robber Barons to Mitt Romney the rich who come to their money through work and achievement are among the most generous people in the world (Please see Who Really Cares by Arthur C. Brooks for further proof).

And it is this mixture of accomplishment and love and morality that makes the character of Bill Parish so admirable that even Death views him as someone to learn from.

The man from whose lips fall “rapture” and “passion” and “obsession”? All those admonitions about being “deliriously happy, that there is no sense in living your life without” all the sparks and energy you give off, the rosy advice you dispense in round pear shaped tones. […]It requires competence wisdom and experience, all those things they say about you in testimonials. And you’re the one.

And as we see through the course of the movie as he cares for his family and their happiness more than his business, and the achievements he has made more than just buying another day or two of his life, why when right before Death takes him he asks, “Should I be afraid?” The obvious reply to someone who has built and accomplished and loved the only answer can be, “Not a man like you.” Bill Parish stands out as a man who has excelled in every aspect of his life…and it’s amazing that Hollywood would show such a character as being.

Meet Joe Black Death

*If you ever see a movie directed by Alan Smithee, there is no Alan Smithee. That’s the name the Director’s Guild puts on films they allow the real director to distance themselves from. Producers or a studio have to ruin beyond the telling of it a director’s film before this is ever granted.

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Filed under Capitalism, character, Death, Faith, Fear, Individualism, Long Term Thinking, Love, Movies, Movies for Conservatives