Te gast is Rob van Gerwen, filosoof en hoogleraar aan Universiteit Utrecht. In deze aflevering hebben we het over humor, waarom en wanneer we lachen en de kruising met argumentatie en retorica.
De eerste aflevering van De Metacast gaat over radio met Ivar de Haan en voormalig directeur Radio NPO, Jan Westerhof. Onderwerpen die onder andere voorbijkomen: luisteraar of luisteraars, stiltes, bruggetjes, de kracht van terugkerende elementen, rubrieken en niches, podcast en radio in Nederland en de betrouwbaarheid van het medium.
Gebruikte bronnen: Trust in Media 2017 – Media Intelligence service & Digital News Report 2018 – Reuters Institute.
Jan Westerhof brengt in november 2018 ‘We waren erbij’ uit. Een beeldboek, aan de vooravond van het 100e jaar van radio in Nederland, waarin de geschiedenis en beleving van radio wordt vastgelegd.
The western world used to be a much more religious, to be precise, christian world. It shaped the way we used to think and think now. ‘We’ being the dominant part of our society. I would like to explore what we expect from each other, where the responsibilities used to lie and where they lie now.
Most of us know the biblical story. Jesus is the clear chosen one. Chosen to sacrifice himself for the greater good. In ‘Looking for God in Harry Potter’ John Granger draws parallels between the bible and Harry Potter.
Harry Potter is the chosen one and has to sacrifice himself for the greater good in Deathly Hallows. He has a group of supporters, disciples if you will, but in the end he has to carry the burden on his own, only to die and then wake up again. The similarities don’t stop there, more can be found in Granger’s book.
Looking at another major films series; Star Wars, the same thing can be done. The clear chosen one: Luke Skywalker. But know it’s more playing with biblical themes than following that exact story. In particular death is explore. Life after death, fearing it. Turning evil, turning good. Pretty common themes. Maybe describing them as biblical is a bit hasty. But the important thing is that the hero is chosen, it’s destiny.
A hero can be created
Spider man was bit by accident, Captain America was a guinea pig and The Flash was hit by a lighting bolt. It’s clearly causal which means it’s something we can influence. Something that we can control, which makes the story resonate more. We want to think that we can get bit by that spider or hit by that lighting bolt. We may even want it to, granted that it comes with the same superpower package.
Heroes can be created now, which comes with great power and even greater responsibility. More importantly: heroes aren’t chosen in a destiny kind of way anymore, rather they’re arbitrarily picked.
**Mild spoiler alert**
Just look at Rey in The Last Jedi. Who are her parents?
Not only the ‘higher chosen one’ idea is fading but also the idea that is has to be a single person carrying the burden or doing all that good.
You’re not the only one
We all have or own story but in the end, we live in the same world facing the same problems. The we deal with those problems depends on who we are and that depends on what we’ve been through and how we deal with our own problems.
The fate of the universe lies on your shoulders -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2
With the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Justice League and Legends of Tomorrow. I think it’s save to say we don’t expect a single person to save the world anymore. We’re putting our faith in groups of heroes, each having their skill. Each contributing it their own way. The responsibility, burden or opportunity is divided and shared. It often still takes a special group of people but more and more ‘regular’ folk have been helping out too.
In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Jacob, a muggle helps out throughout the movie. Oliver Queen in Arrow just trained really hard to become the vigilante. The same goes for Hawkeye in the Avengers. He doesn’t have any superhuman powers and can still save the day.
The burden is ours
Earlier I talked about how causally created superheroes may resonate better with the audience. The same thing could apply to the groups of heroes containing relatively mundane people. It may work better on the audience and thus help reel in the profits.
It can also mean that people are choosing a more active citizenship approach, that we’re not eager to let things happen and want to help where we can, because we all play a vital part, superpowers or not.
A while ago I saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And as previously done in the Harry Potter movies the memories of the muggles (no-magic folk) where erased. It didn’t come as shock. But this time it got me thinking about how much memories define us.
Who are we? At a certain point in the Harry Potter movies, Hermione takes a deep breath and erases the memories her parents have of her, or rather had, to protect them from the war that was going on in the magical world. And it worked. Her parents forgot all about her and you could see Hermione being erased from the family pictures as she was putting the spell on them. Her parents forgot her and went on with their lives. The hard part is you can’t blame them, because they ‘simply’ don’t remember having a daughter.
In a sense now they’re not even parents anymore. Which begs the question: do you have to be able to remember, to be? Do your memories shape you as a person? Are you just an empty shell without them?
If I’d ask you who you are. You’d probably tell me your name. And if I’d ask you to introduce yourself. You’d probably start talking about your profession, school or work. But what if you don’t remember those things? What if you don’t remember the things you went through or are going through right now. It would be like you’re a blank page. Like you were just born, fresh, without memories, experiences or an identity until you’d open your eyes and look into the world and your first and oldest memory would be created.
Now in this scene only a part of the lives of Hermione’s parents is erased. But even though is ‘just’ a part it shows us a glimpse of how easy it could be to either forget or be forgotten in this big world. We all want to be remembered. Leave our mark. Some don’t mind whether it’s good or bad things they’re remembered for and some do. And even though leaving a distinct mark shouldn’t be a problem because we’re all unique, we are all unique. The quality becomes a ubiquitous thing which lessens it’s value. It shouldn’t and yet still it does.
Again, who are we? We could be, our personality, the choices we make or the things we go through. Our personality is shaped by what we went through, who we met, where we grew up. And just like that, our personality affects who we meet and so on.
It’s all so connected, but let’s say we are our experiences. In that case when does a person truly know you? Say a stranger you’ve never met, knows everything and I mean everything about you and what you have been through in your life (in the least stalky way possible). Would that stranger really know you? If not, what makes you, you if it’s not your experiences?
If you can be you without your memories it implies everybody has a ‘constant’ thing defining them before you have any experiences or after you lose them. A constant thing. Something immeasurable challenging it’s existence.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
How can and do we learn? In Fantastic Beast the memories of the muggles were erased because they aren’t supposed to know of the magical world. We fear what we don’t know, we always have and still do. Look at the refugee crisis. We don’t know the people in need and the feeling of empathy is often clouded by fear. The muggles weren’t to eager to bond with the magical folk because they were probably terrified of them. Terrified of the unknown. But also of the power the unknown people have in this case.
Magic is powerful. People with magic are powerful and I get that ‘normal people’ like you and me (assuming you’re a muggle) would be scared as hell if we found out about of world like that.
Before wizards went underground, when we were still being hunted by muggles, young wizards and witches sometimes tried to suppress their magic to avoid persecution. So instead of learning to harness or to control their powers, the developed what was called an Obscurus – Newton Scamander
An important theme in Fantastic Beasts is accepting or suppressing your identity. An Obscurus is created when you suppress your true magical identity. It’s a sort of a dark outburst. The character that developed an obscurus in the story felt misunderstood, underappreciated and unaccepted.
So,how can we learn? How can two worlds learn to live with each other if one world has gone underground in hiding? We learn they were forced to, that they were being hunted by the muggles. They were hunted by fear, god knows it does crazy things to people. But is hiding and erasing memories really the answer?
How do we learn? There are a few ways that we learn things. By trial and error. We touch a hot pan and remember not to next time. We learn by imitating, conditioning and adaptation. But how do we learn to live in an unknown situation with unknown people and things?
With every form of learning memory seems pretty important. You can’t do something you did or purposely not do something if you don’t remember ever doing it in the first place. You can’t get used to something if you don’t encounter it. And make every time you contact it the first and last. Even if people have an insight and choose to accept something, they might not in the future because they simply won’t remember having in the past. Conditions might different and they might never have that insight again.
Our personality and the way we behave around people changes all the time. Constantly really. It’s rather fragile, which is pretty scary. I’d rather not think I’ll go dark side, the second shit hits the fan. But no one knows. Circumstances affect who you become, good or bad. But not remembering those, mean you stay the same. You grow from your experiences. Do those experiences have to be good?
The good, the bad, and what makes us human. Westworld is a series about androids living in a western theme park. The androids were created by humans. And when they were created they gave them a cornerstone memory, the memory their identity was built around.
It’s my cornerstone, isn’t it? The thing my whole identity is organized around.
Your memories are woven into your identity.
Those cornerstone memories were often bad. A traumatic experience. If you would take that away, they would fall apart.
I’m wondering whether I have a cornerstone memory. Do you? Can you think of a memory, a point in your life that changed everything? Were you the one that caused it, or did someone else? How much of your personality depends on that moment happening? And finally is it a good or bad (cornerstone) memory?
The androids are supposed to be as human-like as possible and I think a big part of that is the bad that comes with the good. It shapes us just as much, maybe more. Bad things happen, unfortunately about as often as good things do. My final question: how unfortunate is it if it’s one of the things that makes you you?
In this next piece I want to talk about control and religion. With the help of a couple of lines from Mr.Robot said by the main character Elliot. Lines like: “F*** god. I need a better scapegoat.” and “I don’t listen to my own imaginary friend. Why should I listen to yours?”
Well, he has a point. Why should he believe in something that he can’t see? It makes no sense. On the other hand his comparison is a bit flawed. An imaginary friend is someone, somebody actually sees. The problem is no one else does. It’s different with religion, no one sees god. And if you do people will think you’re mad. Do note the irony.
With the rise of science, religion started to fade. And it’s been fading ever since. Because now we can predict things like the movement of particles and the weather. Now we gained a sense of control over the universe and with that our lives. No longer are we part of a bigger plan, we create our own plan. Now we’re fully in control. Or are we?
I think a point that is being made in Mr.Robot is that we’re not as much in control as we would like to think. Even though we can predict things and create a well structured society. Even though we stay in the lane and drive under the speed limit, we still get hit by that car, as a character in the series puts it.
The car is a symbol for an uncontrollable and inevitable factor, that we just can’t factor in. Or at least not yet. With the innovations in science it feels like we’re getting more and more control over things that we couldn’t dream of before. We can make all kinds of decisions, concerning for example genetic alterations, that question morality and make us feel divine.
We can create artificial and virtual worlds but there are still things we can’t comprehend. There is still an uncertainty. Something that doesn’t make sense in a world where everything does. And even though we are (naturally) further than we’ve ever been before, it seems like an ‘old’ theme like control and religion is not yet solved. Should you see as something that is solvable in the first place.
It gets really interesting when you start to think about the control we have in worlds that we create ourselves. For example Westworld. In the series, Westworld is mostly created by Dr.Ford (played by Anthony Hopkins). The power and sense of control he has is incredibly interesting. You can see a bit of that in the video below.
“In here we were gods and you were merely our guests.”
Dr.Ford says this in an extremely daunting way. It sounds unnatural yet in the scene it’s sunny and there is green everywhere. A contradiction, that amplifies the scariness of his line a little. And also describes my thoughts on creating our own worlds, it’s awesome in the most daunting way.
Ford is entirely in control of Westworld because he created it. He knows it like the back of his hand. Better even, imagine he created his hand.
It makes sense we would feel completely in control in artificial worlds. But how about the digital world, the internet. We created the internet. It’s a world where everybody, at it’s core can create. Just like you can create things physically, you can digitally. Creating and predicting are things that cause a sense of control.
Let’s go back to Mr.Robot. We have Elliot, the main character. He is struggling with staying in control. The only time he remotely feels in control is when he’s programming.
When he is creating and knows what will happen when he presses those keys. And the computer executes his every command. It’s this part he is so in control of that keeps him sane enough and allows him to live with the chaos in his life. It’s the internet that keeps him sane.
The digital world connects us with people on the other side of the world. Just imagine what people would say in the middle ages if we would show them this. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Because I’m thinking sorcery. Magic. Witchcraft even.
They would probably look at it as something unholy, in any case unnatural. Those days are well past. But it’s still interesting. Often you hear things like: “without the internet we’d be back in the dark ages’. I’m not sure about that, but it would sure destroy any collective connectivity we have. And it might cause people to feel like they are thrown into the deep waters of unknown individualism. Which may in turn feel like you’re left to your fate and that would definitely not boost your sense of control.
What is control?
I have been tiptoeing around this question. I think there are few kinds of control. The kind where what you do has meaning. More like an influential control. And then there is the kind where you’re the one that decides what to do, you have a free will and are in control of your choices. I’ve mostly been talking about that last kind, whether we’re the one’s really creating our own lives.
But I’d like to leave you with one more thing. Riddle me this. If everything is your choice. There are still things that happen to you. Like the car I was talking about earlier. But in an artificial world. Or a virtual one for that matter, those ‘random’ things shouldn’t exist because it’s all planned and created by us, right? But aren’t those worlds still in this world? Does it matter that it’s a perfectly planned out world in a world full of chaos? And if it does my final question is: Should anything I said even apply?
There is one line in the fifth episode of Westworld that I still find infinitely interesting. One line that made me pause the episode. A line from one of the female characters in the series, Dolores: “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel”.
The damsel (in distress) is a classic theme in movies, literature and video games. ‘The damsel’ mostly is a beautiful woman that’s trapped and needs a man to save her. Think snow-white needing a prince to kiss her etc. With Dolores’ line she flips the story the people of Westworld had in store for her. She isn’t the female stereotype anymore. But did this sentence really need to be uttered? Do stereotypes need to be broken this way? Dolores after all, showed us she wasn’t the damsel anymore by actively saving herself and the man that was supposed to save her. Did explicitly telling us which stereotype they were breaking, add any value?
The reasons we break stereotypes like these are pretty clear: they don’t fit in the modern view of the world and the people in them, both during and after all kinds of feminist waves. You can even see that in the Prince, cookies commercial:
“Princess, I’m here to save you!”.
– “Don’t bother prince, I can do it myself.”
The way we break stereotypes is much more interesting. Take the movie adaption, The Legend of Tarzan for example.
**Mild spoiler alert**
At a certain point Jane is kidnapped and her hostage-taker says: “I need you to scream for me.” She replies: “Like a damsel?”
Now this is a entirely different situation from Westworld. Jane really needs saving by Tarzan, she really is a damsel in distress. She refuses to scream like one but still is. She doesn’t change the story or break any stereotype. But by commenting on it, it does give that illusion.
In Westworld they actively referenced the stereotype they were breaking whilst breaking it. But there are other ways of doing this. Take The Flash, a series that is breaking stereotypes as well, except they do it in such a subtle and passive way you don’t recognize them as a stereotype unless you really search for them. Stereotypes around women in science and interracial couples.
Breaking stereotypes in a passive way, makes them unrecognizable, ‘normal’ if you will. They’re fully integrated in the story, which in turn will make them fully integrated in our society as well. The moment you don’t look up from, for example, interracial couples the stereotype is truly broken. And constantly referring to the stereotype your breaking, whilst breaking it (a more active approach), keeps it alive in some sense.
Breaking stereotypes in real-life
How can stereotypes be broken best in real-life? Movements that strive to break stereotypes can’t create a society where those stereotypes no longer ‘apply’. They call for change and a better world but the associations that are being made won’t just disappear. They have become a part of our perception of the world, conscious or not.
So let’s say the phase of acknowledgement and recognition is over and the phase of change is here. If we want to effectively break a stereotype our perception of the world needs to change. When does this happen best, by actively breaking a stereotype or passively?
You can choose for an active approach because you want to make your watchers, listeners or followers aware of the fact that you have a different vision on society and the people in it. In other words, it can work a statement. But we’re past the phase of acknowledgement, so what else is it good for? You can win people’s support with it. Which, granted, begins to sound a bit sketchy. Would that even matter? If people do something good, do the intentions matter?
In this case I think they do, because breaking stereotypes with commercial or political intentions in mind won’t get us further than the first phase of breaking a stereotype, acknowledgement and recognition. Simply, because it doesn’t have to.
On the other hand, we have the passive approach. Complete passivity soon begins to feel like denying the existence of a stereotype. It can feel like it’s ignored. Which puts us back at the first phase of acknowledgement and recognition. A balance between the active and passive approach is probably best. What that balance is, is naturally the next question.
In Westworld’s case the viewers are made aware that is a series, in which females are no longer damsels in distress. Which adds to the story. Dolores is actively rebelling against the story-line the people of Westworld had in store for her. With such an active rebellion, actively breaking a stereotype makes sense.
The following is the result of the fifth episode of Westworld. It was pretty good and I think it’s one of the most interesting series (Mr.Robot is pretty interesting too by the way) that’s being aired at the moment.
Westworld is about an artificial theme park that shares the same name. It’s roaming with androids (robots similar to humans). You can hardly separate them from the humans unless you shoot at them. Because ‘real’ people can’t get shot in Westworld. The androids are there to fulfill your every need, which is why they are also called hosts.
There was instant criticism on the fact that androids were being hurt and shot for pleasure. People would have a ‘need’ for this and because they couldn’t do this in the our real world (with equality and all) they have to do it there. Sort of the discussion about the ‘catharsis’ function video games would have.
In the second episode a new person is introduced to Westworld. The following thing is said:
– “This place is the answer to the question you’ve been asking yourself.”
– “Who you really are”.
It’s almost like people can only find out who they really are, their true self and identity in a not so ‘real’ world like Westworld. A world without limits and rules. It’s like we can’t find out, who we really are now because we’re limited by the rules of society around us. Westworld looks like a state of nature. Not entirely but pretty close.
There are a few unwritten rules or rather behavioral codes that make the fact the theme park is in the Wild West more logical. The social structures in the Wild West, were really different from how things are now. Especially the position of women. They were inferior to men, which is a reason android-women can for example get raped there.
The Wild West and its behavioral codes create a social climate where ‘real’ people can do whatever they want. If the artificial world was set in the future or present, after all kinds of feminist waves, I would expect there to be unwritten rules befitting that time and some things just wouldn’t be ‘accepted’ even in an artificial world.
Westworld is a series on HBO. After Game of Thrones HBO is more than used to the sex and violence and Westworld is not different. But many say it’s a different situation and I couldn’t agree more.
With Game of Thrones there is sex and violence for its own sake but with Westworld they criticize the dehumanization of people by showing the effects it has, in flashbacks of traumatic experiences. The interesting part is that they aren’t ‘dehumanizing’ humans but androids. So it’s not really dehumanizing, is it?
Ethical questions like these often arise in the series. Questions that are interesting for our ‘real’ world. Because of developments on, for example virtual reality. Besides these ethical questions there are other questions like: what makes us human? Does dehumanizing androids dehumanize us? In other words, do you loose a bit of yourself when you dehumanize someone or something in an artificial world? And if you say we don’t loose a bit of our humanity when we play video games, is it the fact that you’re ‘really’ there and everything just looks and feels so very very real the thing that sets both situations apart?
Westworld is a pretty interesting series at the moment. And right now it feels like the arrival of this world brought a world of possibilities. Possibilities in storytelling but mostly the possibility to think about previously unimaginable situations.
It was a grey Sunday afternoon that turned brighter, once I watched a lecture (from Dan Hassler-Forest) on how superheroes fit in the society, in which the the hero gained popularity. How the Captain America comics were released after the second world war as a hero that was the defeating the Germans. How the Batman movies, gained a lot of heat after Bush declared the war on terror after 9/11.
Batman shows the sides to the political decisions that had to made back then. Decisions like spying on your citizens and torturing to gain information. He is faced with the same problems. How far can he go to protect his people? What is morally justified?
In the Dark Knight, Batman is spying on all of
Gotham City to look for his enemy. He is one of the ‘darker’ superheroes. And at the same time one of the most interesting.
It’s many years later now. And a superhero that conquered the television since 2014 is The Flash. The Flash is about Barry Allen. He works at the CSI and one day gets hit by lightning as a result of a particle accelerator explosion. This accident gives him a lot of speed, he becomes the fastest man alive.
The series is based on comics from DC Comics and it’s not the first time it was adapted for television. In 1990 the first season of a previous tv adaptation was released. This was also it’s last season. I accidentally watched an episode a while ago. I thought it was one giant flashback (pun intended) and after half an episode figured it out.
In 2014 DC Comics tried again. And with the technology available today it turned out great. It looks awesome. But content wise the rebirth of this superhero is far more interesting. The series starts with a particle accelerator explosion and the scientific aspect doesn’t stop there. The main part of the characters have a scientific background and they often use ‘new’ (scientific) theories to explain how things happen. You would almost think it can all really happen. Science, after all consists of a lot of unproven and not disprovable theories.
If we go back to how superheroes fit in our society The Flash does perfectly. Also in the society of the 90’s by the way. The Flash shows us the possibilities of science, how far we have come and everything we can do. The superhero was ‘modified’ by accident but they also deal with modifying on purpose. Which plays a huge role in our society today with the developments on genetic modification.
The series shows us how science is something to invest in because it can save lives and make the world a better place. How it can lead to differences in power and ‘villains’. And how rational thinking and science can in turn solve that. Science has a lot of value in the series and in the world we live in today.
The Flash also shows us how scientist can be social and funny and breaks the stereotype (wears glasses, is isolated) in the most wonderful way. It also breaks stereotypes like women in science and interracial couples. The series does this in a passive way. They don’t actively reference to the stereotype they are breaking when they are breaking it. Which in my opinion makes it that much stronger.
We don’t constantly get reminded of the stereotype and it isn’t kept alive. In stead it’s so integrated and not seen as abnormal that it will in turn be integrated in our society as well.