Friday, 30 January 2015

30/01/15 - Theories and whatnot

Following on from last week’s peculiar Gatsby/Titanic unusualness, I thought it’d be interesting to look at a few conspiracy theories in popular culture this time.
In a nutshell, a conspiracy theory is an idea that posits a cover-up or web of lies orchestrated by a number of people in order to mislead the public, or shield them from certain events. In the case of TV conspiracy theories, what we’re looking at is a plot construct that masks the reality of the main character’s true existence. For example:

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
None of it actually happened, and Will is dead.
Think about the lyrics of the theme song, just to
refresh your memory.
Will was murdered on a basketball court in Philadelphia – that ‘one little fight’ got him killed. So his journey to Bel Air is actually him being cast into purgatory, where he confronts his demons and issues, and receives mental challenges to help him work through them. The ever-complex Uncle Phil steers him into analysing his behaviour – punishing the wrong answers, praising the right ones – in order to move him toward ascending to heaven or descending to hell. Phil is his guardian angel, helping him to make sense of it all; Jazz, conversely, is the devil, and is constantly being cast out of purgatory.
Will only sees his mother sporadically, which we can take to symbolise the times when she’s visiting his grave. The final episode of the final series sees everybody moving out of the Bel Air mansion, demonstrating that Will has finally sorted out the demons and angels of his past experiences and has found the path to redemption in heaven.

Saved By The Bell
In the show, Zack Morris has it all – he’s popular, charismatic, attractive, good at sports… he’s the all-American aspirational high school kid that everybody wants to be.
But it is, in fact, all a fantasy. Zack’s life is so horrible, so depressing, that he’s created this dream scenario in which he’s respected and admired, rather than facing the grim reality that he’s a nobody. It can all be found in the lyrics to the theme song:
‘By the time I grab my books, and I give myself a look, I'm at the corner just in time to see the bus fly by… If the teacher pops a test, I know I'm in a mess, and my dog ate all my homework last night; riding low in my chair, she won't know that I'm there…’
C’mon. As if Zack Morris is ever ‘in a mess’. He’s always on top of the situation, right? He’s fly, like the Fresh Prince. He doesn’t get flustered by school issues, he’s the man.
However… the song begins with a bell – ‘When I wake up in the morning, the alarm gives out a warning’ – which immediately jars. A warning? Warning him of what? School holds no fear for him. Hmm. And the end of the song: ‘…tomorrow it'll be alright. It's alright, cos I'm saved by the bell.’ These bells symbolise his shift from the real world to his own private fantasy.
Zack is miserable at school. He hates every minute of it. But when that bell rings, maybe he’s got a fresh chance of a better tomorrow? The theme song is the marker of the end and beginning of Zack’s reality – it bookends a dream, everything between those bells is escapist fiction.

Spongebob Squarepants
Quite a simple idea, this. Spongebob and his pals live in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. In the 1950s, the USA rather callously tested some massive nuclear weapons in the Bikini Atoll (read more about that
here). Spongebob and his cronies are all freakish mutants, brought into being by the huge fallout of that nuclear testing.

Rebecca Black – Friday
This is a song rather than a TV show, but worthy of inclusion because it’s UNCANNY. Working through the lyrics in order, we find numerous references to the JFK assassination. Why is this cheesy little popstrel so enamoured with presidential shootings of the 1960s? We don’t know. But she’s all over it, look…
‘Got to have my bowl, got to have my cereal’ – Kennedy reportedly eschewed the sausage that morning, opting for cereal instead. He was keen on maintaining a healthy colon.
‘Ticking on and on, everybody’s rushing.’ Reference to the Cold War there, sounds like ‘everybody’s Russian’.
‘Got to get down to the bus stop.’ The Monday after the assassination, JFK was due to sign legislation on public school bus transportation.
‘Kickin’ in the front seat, sitting in the back seat.’ Kennedy was sitting in the back when he got shot, of course. The internet would have you believe that his driver was named Samuel Kickin, which would validate this line neatly too. (Let’s ignore the fact that reference to the obviously fictional ‘Samuel Kickin’ can only be found in relation to this Rebecca Black theory…)
‘It’s Friday, Friday, got to get down on Friday.’ JFK was assassinated on a Friday. If he’d ducked down, he might have survived.
‘Everybody’s looking forward to the weekend.’ Hoping to find out the truth about the assassination, presumably.
‘Tick-tock, tick-tock, want to scream.’ My goodness, she’s insightful.
All the pieces fit. But why…?

…and so on. The internet is a strange place, there’s lots of this kind of stuff. Let’s finish with a Rugrats theory that’s simply too horrible and depressing to even paraphrase here, I’ll just link to it.

There we are, then. Why not try needlessly over-analysing some television when you get home? Perhaps EastEnders is a fantastical projection of Auschwitz? Maybe University Challenge is a satire on cultural elitism? You can make anything sound true if you make up some ‘facts’ to support it, go nuts. Report back next week.

Bad Lip-Reading: NFL 2015

Two wet explosions

One harrowing, one amusing, both very wet.


Stop what you're doing - we have Spirograph on computers now. Look!

Beer Chase

A brilliant, brilliant ad from 2013.

Best fails of 2014

2014 was a great year for humanity.

One-man cover of Uptown Funk

Whistling at your mom

A neat way to shame pervs:

Friday, 23 January 2015

23/01/15 - Gatsbytanic

It’s a subject that’s been hotly debated in the gossipy common room of the internet: is The Great Gatsby actually the sequel to Titanic?
It sounds absurd, I know - but the more you look at the two films, the more it seems that we’re all actually living in a weirdly convoluted back-and-forth fiction/reality time-swirl in which our entire existences as human beings are merely providing background colour to the real truth of the universe: Jack Dawson became Jay Gatsby. That one evolving persona is the kingpin to all of culture and humanity. 

A clarification, though: we’re talking about the 2013 Baz Luhrmann version of The Great Gatsby, rather than the far superior 2000 adaptation starring Toby Stephens and Paul Rudd; that was a made-for-TV film that very few people have seen, but trust me – the casting is spot-on, it’s beautifully shot, and it pisses all over Luhrmann’s needlessly flashy effort. But you can’t argue with the cosmos, and it’s the 2013 version that very much acts as a sort of Titanic II: This Time There’s No Boat.  

So, what’s the deal with Jack Dawson? Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Titanic was a happy-go-lucky chancer who’d travelled the world despite being homeless and penniless; he latched onto Rose DeWitt Bukater having found himself on the ship by luck (you’ve seen it, you know this) and seemed pretty genuine in his affections, ultimately – supposedly - sacrificing himself for her at the end. The last thing we see of him is when Rose says ‘I won’t let go,’ then, er, lets go and he sinks into the icy depths.
Yeah, I’d be pissed off about that too. It’s no surprise that he faked his death, floated away and chose to reinvent himself.

The principal dichotomy of The Great Gatsby is that we don’t really know whether to see Jay Gatsby as a good guy or a bad guy – Fitzgerald’s genius lies in telling a human story that lures you in and then pulls the rug from under your feet… but perhaps doesn’t, you’re not sure.
Gatsby is a complex and shadowy character, claiming to be an Oxford man and a war hero, although his past is mired in secrecy. Can any of his peers ever really know where he came from, and how he came to be so thoroughly well off?
No, they can’t – because until he appeared on the Long Island social scene, he was going by the name of Jack Dawson, scratching a day-to-day existence and drawing fanciful rich poppets ‘like his French girls’. It’s pretty obvious that his last act before leaving Rose in the North Atlantic was to palm the Heart of the Ocean from her jacket pocket and replace it with a fake diamond before floating casually away.

Gatsby is open about the fact that he’s ‘trying to forget something very sad that happened to me long ago,’ and given that he (as far as we know) would live on after his ‘death’ solely in the memory of one woman, he’s ideally placed to cash in his loot and reinvent himself as a playboy – albeit a tragic one with a painted-on smile.
His yearning for Rose clearly manifests itself in his dogged pursuit of Daisy – a less glamorous flower, but nevertheless a nubile young poppet in the clutches of an abusive relationship who falls for the fancy of the floppy-haired charmer. Sound familiar? It’s a tactic that works for him, even if it’s always doomed to end in tragedy…

In a nutshell, then, Dawson survived the sinking of the Titanic, made it to America, sold the sodding great diamond, then spent the next ten years building up the affluent Gatsby lifestyle – the mansion, the suits, the bonds and stocks, the parties… but it was all fundamentally pointless. He’d sacrificed his love for Rose, never managed to come to terms with the folly, tried to replace her with Daisy, but was forever haunted by the phantoms of his mistakes. And then he died in the water, just like he should have done in 1912. It all makes perfect sense.

It also stands to reason, then, that in parallel with writing The Great Gatsby in 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald also roughed out the scripts for Titanic and the 2013 adaptation of his novel, and bequeathed them to James Cameron and Baz Luhrmann respectively. Clever bastard. It’s like fucking Inception or something.
(Although he was compelled to do so by the over-arching architectural gameplan of Dawson/Gatsby, in line with the weirdly convoluted back-and-forth fiction/reality time-swirl thing. It’s actually more like The Truman Show, everything’s a lie.)

So, who is Dawson/Gatsby now? Is he living in what we perceive to be reality, or has he hopped into another supposedly fictional construct? Is he Joey Tribbiani, or Carter Pewterschmidt, or Brad Pitt, or Donald Trump, or Luke Skywalker, or your dad?
No. He is, of course, Leonardo DiCaprio. And he’s been toying with you for years.

Old folks playing GTA V

This is splendid, some of them really get into it...

Home-made 'Champagne'

Yes, that's right, love. Champagne is just carbonated box wine.

Stock Photo Parenting

'Relax on your pristine white couch and enjoy these realistic depictions of motherhood,' says the tagline. Click here!

'The moon is a planet, darling...'

Skip to the 7m17s mark for some incredible stupidity. This really is astonishing.

How to make a Subway sandwich

Detroit in the 1940s

Some fascinating photos from The Atlantic - click here to see.

Mike Bobrinskoy - Alexandra

Worth ten minutes of your time. He does a funny.

Drifting gone wrong

Nicely put together, this.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

15/01/15 - Fallacies, etc

A fun and exciting feature of living in the internet age is that you can have endless, constant arguments with people you’ve never met, over things that really don’t matter. You can, of course, fire abuse to politicians on Twitter about real issues if you so wish, but you’re also free to argue with nerds on forums about who directed the pilot of Thunderbirds, what really killed River Phoenix, or which shade of purple the mkII Cortina 1600E was available in. At time of argument, the issue under debate must become the single most important thing in the world. Never let your commitment waver.
Being an accomplished and technical liar will ensure that your bullshit spreads as widely as possible, but it’s not enough to simply make shit up and fire it into the ether; no, you’ve got to understand just how your mendacity works. For that, you’ve got to learn how to argue – and fight dirty. Really dirty.
Key to this is mastering the art of the fallacy – that is, an argument that is logically incorrect, necessarily lending it a lack of credibility or soundness, but which you can spit with enough vitriol to position yourself as an internet bastard champion. Here are some handy types of logical fallacy to try:

Argumentum ad hominem
You’ll have seen this one in the playground. You’ve basically got to attack your opponent on a personal level – cast aspersions over their genetic provenance, laugh at the colour of their hair, or remind people that this is a person who once shat themselves on the Tube when they had a gastric bug. It’ll totally undermine their argument. People won’t believe a word they say. Who wants to be associated with a Tube-pooper?

Argumentum ad ignorantium
Suggest that if something’s difficult to understand, it probably can’t be true.
Sure, electricity might make sense to some egghead scientists, but are we really supposed to swallow the idea of magic power leaping through wires and making light bulbs illuminate? That’s got to be bullshit. I don’t understand it, so it must be a lie.

Straw man
If your opponent’s argument seems flawless, you can just misrepresent it to make them look stupid – e.g. if they say ‘I love London in the winter,’ you can tell everyone that they have an unpleasant southern bias, hate the Scots, and wish for us all to be trapped within a perennial big-freeze without ever emerging, eyes blinking, into the glory of the spring sunshine. Totally unfair, but very effective.

You can misrepresent the facts by muddying the terminology. Exploit the double meanings of words to your own advantage.
‘When I told my kids about this idea, they were really engaged.’ ‘Your kids are engaged? To each other? Christ, I’m calling the Daily Express…’

Misleading vividness
You can use flimsy anecdotal evidence about your own experiences of the thing in question in order to discredit the argument.
‘Of course you can’t die bungee-jumping – I’ve done it loads and I’m fine.’

Gambler’s fallacy
Also known as the Monte Carlo fallacy, this is a misguided belief that if something’s happened a few times, it’ll keep happening. Like, if you have three cats that all die from cat AIDS, you can never have another cat because it’ll happen again.
Or, conversely, that if something’s happened a few times, it’ll definitely stop happening – like, if you’ve stopped at three red lights in a row, the next traffic light must be green.
There is no order in the cosmos. But you can pretend that there are patterns if you find it helpful.

False dilemma
In a false dilemma, only two possibilities are presented as, er, possible. There’s no room for anything else.
‘You’re either a Republican or a Democrat,’ American voters are encouraged to believe. Ignore the Libertarians, Greens, Communists, Objectivists, Modern Whigs, they’re not real.
Refusal to acknowledge deviations from your two proposed realities is the only way forward.

No true Scotsman
Diminish your opponent’s power by questioning their purity or properness. The name of this fallacy comes from the notion that Scotsmen don’t put sugar on their porridge. ‘I put sugar on my porridge,’ they might say. To which you respond ‘Aha, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on their porridge’.
The Daily Mail does this all the time. It seems to work.

Burden of proof
Let’s say you’ve told a lie. Someone on t’internet has called you out on it, suggesting that it’s clearly a load of horseshit. Your response is to suggest that it’s up to them to prove you wrong, rather than you to prove yourself right. Saves a lot of work. Quite often they can’t be arsed.

Slippery slope
A pseudo-logical device in which certain events are perceived to be a given if something else has happened; e.g. anything Nigel Farage says about immigrants (‘if you let a hundred in, we’ll be flooded by ten million and none of us Brits will have any jobs’, or whatever).
Harness those non sequiturs, make them work for you.

Fallacy of origins
Making up shit about provenance, genetics, or geographical location can be a handy tool in the internet bullshit scrap.
‘What, you heard that on the BBC news? You can’t trust the BBC, they’re the ones who employed Jimmy Savile.’

Special pleading
You’ve basically got to assert that you’re an exception to a commonly-held belief or rule, without explaining the exception.
What does Uri Geller say when you question his ability to bend spoons? Probably something like ‘You just have to believe that I can do it’.
Just be pig-headed. And shout LOUDER.

Argumentum ad passiones
You don’t need to have any grounding in fact or logic as long as you’re able to make some form of relatable emotional appeal. That’s why so many thickos are voting UKIP – they don’t understand what they’re doing, but they’ve seen that bloke having a pint on telly and he seems to be a friendly smokescreen for their inherent casual racism. He’s helping us, isn’t he? That’ll do. Job done. Next…

Questionable cause
You need to suggest that a relationship (real or otherwise) between two things means that one has caused the other. Check out
‘Spurious Correlations’ for plenty of stimulus.

Argumentum ad populum
In 1959, RCA Victor released an album entitled ‘50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong’. Fast-forward thirty years or so, The Simpsons parodied this with a poster for Laramie Cigarettes: ‘50,000,000 smokers can’t be wrong.’
Just because lots of people are doing something, it doesn’t mean it’s right. Still, it’s an easy manipulation technique.
Of course, your teachers always used to say ‘If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, you wouldn’t, would you?’ To which the answer is ‘Er, yes, probably. There must be a reason why they’re all doing it. Is the cliff on fire? Is there a lion up there?’

Complex question/loaded question
An easy tactic here to catch out the unsuspecting. Ask a question that contains an implied answer, so that it can’t be answered without suggesting guilt or culpability. Try loudly asking ‘Isn’t your brother a paedophile?’ There may be no truth in it, but it doesn’t matter what they answer – everyone in earshot will be thinking ‘Ah, right, paedo brother. No smoke without fire. Add that to the file.’

Tu quoque
Classic schoolyard stuff, this. Don’t try to defend yourself with anything as petty or finicky as a fact – simply fight criticism with criticism.
‘You’ve done a really poor weld on that sill, it looks dangerous.’
‘Fuck off, look at your welding. That’s going to kill someone.’

Argumentum ad temperantiam
Beware the ‘middle ground’ – even a burgeoning argument bastard like you should avoid this one. Let’s say person A is insisting that eating at Burger King causes blindness. Person B counters that such a concept is absurd. Person C, growing weary of the debate, decides that eating at Burger King sometimes causes blindness, and insists that this is the real truth in order to shut everybody up. Stupid persons D & E believe C, and an urban myth is born.
Lazy arguing, this. Rubbish.

Argumentum ab auctoritate
Oh, this one’s quite fun. If someone’s pushing back hard against whatever your argument may be, simply cite a similar argument from a celebrity, notable scientist, or other authority. (It doesn’t really matter if they actually said it.)
‘Yes, of course gravity is a myth – everyone just has really heavy feet. No, shut up, I read a thing where Tom Cruise said it, and he knows a thing or two about clumpy shoes.’

Appeal to nature
Claiming that things are good because they are natural. ‘All natural ingredients.’ ‘Zero additives.’ A mad form of logic, of course – pure, natural heroin might not do you a lot of good, whereas you do things all the time that aren’t natural (flying, wearing glasses, being vaccinated, shitting indoors) that don’t harm you.

Fallacies of composition & division
A fallacy of composition posits that if something is true when it relates to a part of a thing, it must also relate to the whole. ‘Atoms are invisible. James Bond’s Vanquish is made of atoms. Therefore, James Bond’s Vanquish is invisible.’ This was possibly the thought process of the writers of Die Another Day.
Conversely, a fallacy of division suggests that if something is true of the whole, it must also be true of all of its parts. ‘Google’s driverless car can drive itself unaided. Google’s driverless car has wheels. Therefore, one of the car’s wheels can drive itself unaided.’
If all else fails, belligerently repeating non sequiturs over and over again will see you through.

Texas sharpshooter
Picking and choosing which bits of data might support your argument is a game as old as time itself. A poster for Mamma Mia might feature a quote that says ‘Amazing’ in huge letters, although the full quote might be ‘It’s amazing how I sat through all of this without punching someone’. Although there’s more to the Texas sharpshooter – you need to ignore the data you don’t want, and really accentuate the bits you do. What if Rolex started shifting more units in Malawi and Rwanda? Can we assume from this that these are wealthy countries…? We can if we’re prepared to ignore all the poor people.
(The name, incidentally, comes from the image of the Texan shooting holes in the side of a barn, then painting a target around the strongest cluster. A lesson for us all, there.)

Begging the question
You find a lot of this on the internet – circular arguments in which the answer is tied up in the original premise. You can get the whole thing done in one statement of truism – ‘opium induces sleep as it has a soporific quality’ – or you can draw it out a bit, in a sort of ‘Jesus was never wrong, and we can explore this by reading this particular passage of the Bible in which Jesus is quoted as saying that Jesus was never wrong’ way. (n.b. the modern usage of ‘it begs the question’ generally actually means ‘it raises the question’, which is entirely different; the origin of ‘begging the question’ in the traditional sense dates back to a 16th-century mistranslation of the Latin
petitio principia, meaning ‘assuming the initial point’. Y’know, in case it comes up in a pub quiz or something.)

The fallacy fallacy
Thanks to the frequently illiterate nature of online arguing (just scroll down to the comments under any YouTube video for evidence of this), the ‘fallacy fallacy’ is the strongest form of internet shouting. It’s based on the notion that if an idea is poorly argued, it’s probably wrong. If they sound a bit thick, they’re probably talking shit. This is the strongest weapon in your arsenal: condescension. 

There you are, go and cause some mischief. You bastard.