Categories
Films

Mistakes in Film Criticism

1. THE AUTEUR THEORY. An idea popularized some decades ago by French intellectuals — basically, the idea that the meanings of films can be derived from their original intent, and this intent is controlled and manifested by the director of the film. The most often cited example is Hitchcock, who transformed “B” pictures into great works of art reflecting his own view of the universe. A more recent example: Tim Burton turned Pee Wee’s Big Adventure into something quite a bit more than a mindless kid’s movie. Hollywood and the general public continue to believe the auteur theory. Directors who do a surprising job with mediocre material (e.g., as Dennis Hopper did with Easy Rider) are often rewarded with more ambitious projects. The director’s reputation is sometimes a factor in getting the public to see films that might otherwise be ignored (e.g., Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Oceans 11 or Ang Lee’s Hulk).

The problem with the Auteur Theory is that it simplistic. While it is undeniable that the great directors leave an indelible stamp on their pictures, their input is only one of many factors that contribute to a great film. (See Aristotle’s list of elements in drama, elsewhere on these pages.) Most frequently overlooked is an obvious factor: the script. While the industry, and most film critics, have recognized the role of directors, screenwriters have been virtually ignored. The Screenwriters Guild went on strike over the issue. The strike (1999 or 2000?) lasted until the industry finally gave in to demands for increased public recognition of writers’ creative role in the production of films. During the strike, a member of the guild appeared on the TODAY SHOW. He said that we are in a culture that celebrates actors in stories rather than the creators of stories — and he implied (quite correctly) that there is something fundamentally wrong with this.

Directors do not (in their role as directors) create the basic narrative. Their role is more akin to that of a musician who plays and interprets a composition. By “basic narrative,” I mean the linguistic narrative. Defenders of the auteur theory might argue that film is essentially a visual narrative, and since the director controls the visual interpretation of the script, the director becomes the “author” of the finished product by default. First of all, any visual interpretation, while it can embellish (or even be at odds with) the series of events depicted does not itself constitute a new and independent narrative. The script, not the images associated with it, contains the essentials of the moral life posited by the characters. In my view (again, just following Aristotle), the structure of the plot, and the moral choices of the characters in the plot comprise the most important messages of a film. Second, as I (and many other philosophers) have argued elsewhere, the concept of a purely visual narrative simply does not hold water. Images have no meaning in an of themselves. They are given the potential for meaning by a narrative or story structure. Unless the director also writes the script, there is only a limited sense in which he is the auteur of the story.

One can respond, I think, to my comments above as follows. This is not the auteur theory at all. What we mean by the auteur theory is that the director transforms a written script into a visual language and creates a new level of meaning over and above the original narrative. And this is what is both interesting and creative about the role of the director in a film.

A response to this objection: True, a director can do these things. And in some cases, the role of the director, and the new levels of meaning introduced are the most important elements of the film. The works of many of the great directors (Ford, Welles, Hitchcock, etc.) usually cited as auteurs demonstrate this. But is it true in every case? Is this the only factor we need to look at? Do we need to get inside the director’s mind rather than the writer’s mind to understand a film? My objection to the auteur theory is not that directors cannot or do not introduce new levels of meaning, but that (1) this theory cannot serve as the only tool for criticism; (2) the fundamental moral meaning of a film derives from its script; and (3) the messages delivered by films are not essentially visual — rather, the messages delivered are due to a complex of factors (again, see Aristotle’s list of elements in drama) over which the director exerts only limited control.

2. THE THEORY THEORY. This is the idea that some specific perspective, generally one founded on some scientific, cultural, religious, sociological, moral, or intellectual ideology, is required for the correct criticism of all cultural manifestations expressed through the arts. The auteur theory (above) is similar in that it demands a certain perspective, but the theory theories are grander in scale. They are derivative of some total theory — one that purports to encompass virtually every aspect of social and political life. Examples include Marxist theory, radical Feminism, or any of the myriad other similarly inspired approaches. All these share a common thread: they posit that all cultural events, especially the productions of popular media for mass culture, are essentially a form of conspiracy to control the shape of human development in according to a some (evil) master plan, and it is the duty of the critic to expose this plan in order that cultural enlightenment will be brought about (according to the critics own vision of the good).

Such theories, in so far as they are applied to criticism of the arts, suffer from several flaws. First, like the auteur theory, they are simplistic. Theory-driven critics tend to lament the fact that popular media simply supports the prejudices of the status quo. It is, of course, true that the productions of mass media reflect the norms of the culture. But it is, in a sense, trivially true. What should we expect from popular media? Surely not anything that essentially calls into question all the presuppositions an prejudices that are built into the culture in which it exists! Cultures, and the popular media that run through them, generally seek some sort of stability; they do not try to commit intellectual suicide by trivializing or renouncing the values that they hold sacred.

Second, the theory-driven critic tends to become a soldier in a cultural war rather than a critic of the arts. Theory-driven critics are right to point out that evil cultures produce popular entertainment to support their value systems. After all, Nazi Germany produced films to support its agenda. This, however, is not the point of criticism of the arts. We can distinguish between propaganda and cultural artifacts (artistic productions) that exemplify both cultural and universal truths. The theory-driven critic tends to regard all popular media as propaganda — and he tends to pit his own vision of what reality should be against that propaganda.

Third, criticism driven by grand theories tends to develop its own “principles” of criticism, based on its own version of what would be best, according to the utopian vision of the critic. For example: “this image does not support the liberation of workers,” “this image retains the aura of a male-dominated society,” and so on. Eventually, these principles become so flexible that they evaporate into an empty repetition of formulas. Examples: Freudian psychoanalytic principles as an explanation of every form of human behavior; feminist principles as an explanation for every moment depicted in every film.

When “complete” critical theories are applied, they tend to subvert an authentic search for the good, the true, and the universal that may be embodied in the productions of popular media.

3. THE NO THEORY THEORY. The fall-back position from the theory theory is to take a diametrically opposed view. The “no theory” advocates say that finding the “correct” theory of criticism is not the problem. They assert there can be no “correct” theory because the concepts which underlie theory construction are flawed or outdated. The no theory advocates question (1)any type of universal theory of interpretation, (2) the idea that there are specific, original, or authoritative meanings to be uncovered by criticism, and even (3) the concept of truth itself. According to this line of reasoning, the idea that films (among the many other human productions that can be interpreted) actually have a meaning is false. A version of the no theory theory is reflected in an interesting article by Jo Smith. She states: “There is no lack or absence in a filmic encounter, no hidden meaning to be unearthed, no abstract body of knowledge to reach for to re-insert a meaning.”

The no theory theory is inherent in Postmodernism, which asserts that we should acknowledge the “death of the author” because readers (or spectators), conditioned as they are by pre-existing meta-narratives that define their social, political and intellectual horizons, clearly contribute just as much in the production of meaning as the reputed “source” of meaning, the author. Postmodernism capitalizes on the contemporary fear of “totalizing influences,” that is, of meta-narratives that control our thinking. I believe this view, while it has the benefit of making us conscious of our preconceptions, simply ignores the structure of the creative process in contemporary story writing, which follows well-known principles. One may question those principles, of course — but that is hardly the main job that needs to be done when one when one is intellectually engaged in appreciating a film. One does not need to question the rules of sonnet making when one reads and interprets a sonnet. The no theory theorists, are, perhaps, more in the right than the auteur theorists in recognizing that except in very rare cases there is no single author of a film, and they are right to caution us against over-reliance on conventional methods of interpretation. But by attempting to abolish truth and meaning they leave little in the way of possibilities for critical response other than a form of free-association with images and text. Furthermore, there seems to be a confusion in the no theory theory between having many levels of meaning an no meaning at all. To say that a sonnet has many meanings is not to say that it has no meaning, nor is it to exclude the possibility that some meanings gleaned through interpretation are better than others. Finally, the postmodern approach, in my view, is a kind of defeatism. It implies that we should give up searching for truths about the human dilemma that are expressed through art — or, worse, it implies that we should substitute our own “truth” for that of the artist’s. For additional arguments against the postmodern or no theory approach in the arts, see A. D. Coleman’s article on Cindy Sherman.

4. CONFUSING STORY CONTEXT WITH THEME. The story context of Forrest Gump is “a slow-witted man makes his way in the world.” The theme of the film, on the other hand, is a profound metaphysical issue: do we live in a world guided by chance or does God’s grace influence or control certain events? Do we live in an uncaring, mechanical universe, or is there something more complicated involved? The theme is introduced at the beginning of the film as a feather floats through the air (obeying chance and the laws of physics) and finally lands (by chance?) near the hero. Many people, even professional critics, mistake what is immediately presented (the action, setting, or context) for the theme or message of the film. Some critics, for example, objected to Forrest Gump as “a celebration of stupidity.” Such criticisms clearly miss the point. We can make the distinction another way: at one level in any narrative, there is a story line or setting; at another, there is what the author is writing about at the deepest level – his theme. The setting of The Iliad is the Trojan War, but the poem is not about the Trojan war per se. The poet uses the context of the war to address his themes: the consequences of uncontrolled anger, the folly of human pride and jealousy, and the involvement of the gods in human affairs. Similarly, Dirty Harry is the story of a cop who steps outside the law in order to track down a psychopathic killer, but one of the themes concerns justice in general: can we trust our system (or God) to bring people to justice? Now, one may argue that the vehicle chosen by an author is inappropriate to the theme. Hence, some people may think that both The Iliad and Dirty Harry seem more like celebrations of violence than serious treatments of important themes. But this is a different sort of aesthetic judgment, and it cannot take place until we have at least first attempted to differentiate story context from theme.

5. “POLITICAL” THINKING. A professor at Columbia University once informed the class that Rising Sun was a racist, politically-motivated film. The professor had not seen the film, nor had any members of the class. This fact stopped no one from passing judgment. The entire class agreed the film was racist. There should be, the professor went on to say, a review panel that would check the “messages” of any film before it was released. This “classroom moment” should have been televised: it might have later been enshrined as a defining moment for political correctness. Plainly this brand of PC revealed itself as the worst sort absolutism, with a strong attraction for people interested in obtaining moral and intellectual domination through mind control and social engineering.

This warped political consciousness is the foundation of one of the most pervasive styles of criticism in the United States. Examples abound: “this film carries the wrong message for contemporary women,” ” this film depicts black Americans in a negative light,” “this film glorifies violence,” and so on. Indeed, for some, how a film depicts blacks, women, or gays is the essential litmus test of the “quality” of a film. In any given case, such critical comments may, in fact, have some merit, but if that is the end of the analysis, then it is a mistake. One must first do justice to the essential questions relevant to the analysis of narratives:

1. What is the nature of the human character development (regardless of race or gender) that takes place in the film?

2. What is the nature of the conflict between good and evil?

3. Was the protagonist correctly motivated?

4. What did the protagonist learn as a result of his struggle?

5. What happens in the subplot? (As far as the message of the film goes, this may be more important than the plot.)

6. What universal themes are at issue?

These, among others, are questions essential to answer before one can begin to interpret the political messages that may be contained in a film.

6. EMOTIONALISM.“I liked it.” “It made me laugh.” It made me cry.” These and other similar reports on how a movie made us feel are sometimes mistaken for criticism. But reporting one’s emotions is not the same sort of activity as reflectively judging the overall quality of an artistic production. Critical, reflective, activity is always at one remove from emotional involvement. Of course, how an artistic production makes us feel is an essential part of criticism, but it must be part of other considerations. It is perfectly possible, for instance, to accept that a film has profound emotional impact (because, for instance, of powerful imagery or the sentimental nature of the story), but judge that the film is not, overall, a good film (because of lack of nuance, poor acting, predictable story, etc.). On the other hand, a film might lack emotional impact, but still be a very good film in most other respects. Confusing these issues is, perhaps, a less common mistake than others.

7. ELITISM. There is, for some people, a temptation to believe that whatever the hoi poli enjoy and endorse should not be enjoyed or endorsed by a “certain class” of people. So, for example, some people judge European films as invariably better than American films — simply because (so they believe) such films are not produced for a mass market, but are specifically intended for intellectuals. This attitude overlooks several important features of popular media, and of American films in particular. Many (if not most) great works of art have always been, and continue to be, produced with the intent of creating popular (as opposed to “class targeted”) art. In particular, the narrative arts are usually intended to be appreciated on many levels, by every “class”(Shakespeare, anyone?). While European “art” films that make it to this country often appear (on the surface) to be more intellectually sophisticated, it is not true, as a rule, that popular American films are always less sophisticated (and therefore for a lower “class”). The apparent differences in sophistication between American and European art films is often more a matter of how the films present their themes. The intellectual issues addressed in the themes of American films are usually covered over by more tangible elements that tend to increase audience involvement, such exciting plots, grand spectacles, or convincing demonstrations of the techniques of method acting. For those who wish to make the effort of analyzing the deeper layers of meaning present in many American films, there is plenty of material to satisfy the intellectual. The Auteur theorists, to their credit, accepted this truth and developed many techniques for the appropriate analysis of American films.

Categories
Globalization

Calculating GDP

By studying this page, you will learn

  • How to calculate the GDP
  • How to understand money flow in the GDP – Exercise 1 includes 4-question GDP Money Flow Quiz
  • How to calculate GDP in a practice example – Exercise 2 includes 1-question GDP Calculation Quiz
  • How to use U.S. government information to verify the formula in the real world – Exercise 3 includes links to U.S. GDP data

Tutorial: How to calculate the GDP

The basic formula for calculating the GDP is:

Y = C + I + E + G

where 

Y = GDP

C = Consumer Spending

I = Investment made by industry

E = Excess of Exports over Imports

G = Government Spending

This formula is almost self-evident (if you take the time to think about it)!

GDP is a measure of all the goods and services produced domestically. Therefore, to calculate the GDP, one only needs to add together the various components of the economy that are a measure of all the goods and services produced.

Many of the goods and services produced are purchased by consumers. Therefore, what consumers spend on them (C) is a measure of that component.

The next component is the somewhat mysterious quantity “I,” or investment made by industry. However, this quantity is mysterious only because investment does not have its ordinary meaning. When calculating the GDP, investment does NOT mean what we normally think of in the case of individuals. It does not mean buying stocks and bonds or putting money in a savings account (S in the diagram for Exercise 1, below). When calculating the GDP, investment means the purchases made by industry in new productive facilities, or, the process of “buying new capital and putting it to use” (Gambs, John, Economics and Man, 1968, p. 168). This includes, for example, buying a new truck, building a new factory, or purchasing new software. This is indicated in the diagram by an arrow pointing from one factory (enterprise) to another. In essence, it shows the factory “reproducing itself” by buying new goods and services that will produce still more goods and services. NOTE: There is a money-flow relationship between personal savings, S, and investment, I, but this does not figure directly in calculating the GDP. See Exercise 3 below.

The next component is E, or the difference between the value of all exports and the value of all imports. If Exports exceeds imports, it adds to the GDP. If not, it subtracts from the GDP. Thus, even if a nation’s people work very hard to produce products for exports, but still import more than they export, the nation’s GDP will be negatively impacted. This is one of the reasons trade deficits are frequently a political target. Because the balance of trade can be either positive or negative, we can rewrite the equation, showing the components of E, using X for Exports and M for Imports:

Y = C + I + (X - M)+ G

You may see the formula for the GDP written this way, and it may be easier for you to remember in this format.

The final component is G. The government buys (with your tax money) goods and services (G). These purchases are a measure of those goods and services produced. Be aware that many people make the mistake of thinking that the money paid in taxes and spent by the government is “lost” and therefore subtracts from the GDP. Tax money may indeed be spent inefficiently but this fact has no bearing on the calculation of the GDP.

Exercise 1: Understanding Money Flow in the GDP Components

Study the diagram below. Be sure you understand how the total income and expenses of Joe Worker ultimately make up the Gross Domestic Product.

  1. Joe Worker receives a salary from his place of work, as well as additional income from other work, stock dividends, and interest on savings.
  2. Joe spends most of his money on personal consumption, which includes not only purchasing items such as cars, food, and clothing, but also making rent and utility payments, paying for monthly consumer services such as phone and cable, covering health care costs, and even contributing to charity. All of these expenses fall under the broad category of “Consumer Spending” when used in calculations of the GDP. These expenditures comprise about 2/3 of the U.S. GDP.
  3. Joe pays a substantial portion of his income in various local, state and federal taxes. These taxes can vary considerably. Federal income taxes, for example, range from about 4% to 26%, depending on total household income – see the Taxes Game).
  4. The money that Joe gives to the government to spend on his behalf converts some of Joe’s labor into substantial public goods such as roads or schools that contribute to the Gross Domestic Product. The Government expenditures (“G”) in the formula are therefore added to the GDP. In recent decades, federal government spending has comprised from 18% to 23% of the U.S. GDP.
  5. If Joe helps produce soybeans, computers, or medicines that are sold overseas, the items he makes count as exports. But the money received in payments for these items comes into his country (the direction of the arrow in the diagram shows the money flow into Joe’s country). This money is added to the GDP.
  6. Imported items count in just the opposite way: money is leaving Joe’s country. When raw materials, such as oil or chemicals that are used in the manufacture of finished goods are imported, these costs are subtracted from the GDP. [Note: The cost accounting is different when Joe shops at Walmart. Since many of the items he buys at Walmart are imports these count as “consumer spending,” increasing the GDP but also count as imports, decreasing the GDP by the same amount. In other words, buying an imported finished good does not change the GDP because nothing new has been produced in Joe’s country.] In recent years, U.S. imports have exceeded exports, resulting in about a 2% reduction in U.S. GDP.
  7. Foreign countries receive funds when Joe Worker buys their products. But these countries also invest in Joe’s country (the U.S. in our example). For example, they may buy shares in public companies. The result is that the outflow created by the by the purchase of imports is balanced by an inflow of investment money into the U.S.
  8. Joe still has a little left over to put into savings and to perhaps to purchase stocks or mutual funds. Although not part of the GDP calculation, this money contributes indirectly because it contributes to the supply of money banks and money managers have available to support corporate investment.
  9. Banks and money managers use Joe’s money to lend to corporations or to buy stock in corporations, which the corporations use to make new “investments” (“I” in the formula), such as a new factory, or any other means of substantially expanding or improving their business.

Note: Understanding the Role of Personal Savings

Let’s look at the role played by personal savings. The diagram indicates that personal savings (what we normally call “investment”) is actually a source of revenue for industry. This is because the money you put in the bank is loaned to businesses so that they can put it to work. The bank system uses the personal savings of individuals to give industry its reservoir of money to work from. This is why economists say that the amount of Savings is always going to be approximately equal to the amount available for Investment. Savings and Investment can become out of balance when there is more demand for investment money than what is available from domestic savings. In that case, more money is borrowed from foreign sources. Because additional Savings has the effect of supplying more money to industry, some economists have argued that if we want to correct the negative effect of the trade deficit (since it is subtracted from the GDP), we should encourage Savings, which will indirectly boost Investment.

Questions Based on the Diagram

At this point, you should be able to answer the following questions.

1. What portion of the U.S. GDP is accounted for by Consumer Spending?

2. What percent of the U.S. GDP is “lost” or subtracted from the total due to the trade deficit?

3. How does the money “lost” due to the trade deficit find its way back to the U.S.?

4. How is “Investment” defined on the diagram?

Are you confident about your answers? Check yourself with the Money Flow Quiz!

Exercise 2: Practice Calculating the GDP

Atoll K is a small island nation. Its population total is 400, and it has 100 wage earners who earn an average of $50 per year. Each wage earner spends a total of $40 per year buying goods and services of which $3.00 goes to buying imported goods. The island exports a total of $800 worth of goods. The Government tax rate is 10% and all government money is spent on building infrastructure and supporting schools. There is only one industry (uranium mining) on the island and it employs every wage earner. The industry spends $600 each year on new mining equipment. What is the GDP? Check your answer with the GDP Calculation Quiz!

Exercise 3: Using U.S. Government Figures to Verify the Formula

In this example, we shall use the actual GDP figures for the U.S. in 2000. The U.S. Government Printing Office has historical data for the U.S. from 1959 to the present. Click HERE to open the link to the GPO page with the data for GDP 2004. On this page, click on the link for the PDF file for Economic Report of the President (2004). This document, named “ERP-2004,” is quite large (416 pages). Go to the entry for Table B-1: Gross domestic product, 1959-2003. The table is spread over two pages: pages 284-285 of the document. Carefully review the entry for the year 2000. If you are adept at moving data and eliminating unnecessary information, you can generate a chart like the one below simply by editing the government-supplied chart. Notice that the GDP calculation in the chart uses the same headings we gave above in the formula for the GDP. Our example calculation, made by plugging the chart entries for the year 2000 into the formula is shown below.

  Y    =    C    +    I     +    E   +    G
9817.0 =  6739.4 +  1735.5  -  379.5 +  1721.6   

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Categories
Films

Aristotle’s Six Elements of Drama

Pages related to this topic:
Recent Best Films
Narrative Structures in Films: A Mindmap
Thomas Mann on film: Text from “The Magic Mountain”
Mistakes in Film Criticism

During the last century, an astounding phenomenon has occurred: the world, particularly the Western world, has developed a universal language. This is the language of films. Since the 1920s and 1930s, French, Italian, German, British and American films have been mainstays of international cultural and artistic expression. American movies, in particular, have been enormously successful, appealing to audiences worldwide. Internet media, broadcast media, and print media carry stories about the latest Hollywood releases in addition to the all-important trivia surrounding the lives of the various stars. Cultural differences begin to disappear in the melting pot of the universal language of film narratives.

It is the enormous international popularity of American films that have led some to conclude that this must be the result of the dread scourge of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: cultural imperialism. Guilt by virtue of success. This kind of thinking is shallow at best. The narrative structure of popular dramatic art forms has not changed essentially since the days of Aristotle. It is by virtue of adherence to formulaic artistic criteria and the judicious use of defined narrative elements that all films, American and others, achieve their success. Good popular films are art forms like odes, sonnets, or fugues: they have specific formal requirements. Their artistic merit – and their popular success – is a result of meeting these formal requirements.

To understand the formal elements utilized by the contemporary film industry, it is useful to review the elements of drama introduced by Aristotle.

ARISTOTLE’S SIX ELEMENTS of drama are Spectacle, Character, Fable (Plot), Diction, Melody, and Thought. These elements (slightly modified and re-interpreted for contemporary audiences) remain essential to modern films. Aristotle claims that, contrary to what one might expect, Plot or “the form of action” is the most important element. This is because, in Aristotle’s view, the purpose of life “is a certain kind of activity” and drama ought to depict certain kinds of activity that we may learn the results of these forms of activities. Aristotle would reject the contemporary view (supported by insidious propaganda that acting is a high art form and by the public’s fascination with the lives of actors) that the depiction of Character is central or most important. Aristotle’s arguments for the primacy of Plot over character include the following:

“Character gives us qualities, but it is in our actions — what we do — that we are happy or the reverse” (Poetics, 1450a18).

“In a play accordingly they do not act in order to portray the Characters; they include the Characters for the sake of the action” (Poetics, 1461a15-20).

He concludes that Character is of second most importance (Poetics, 1450b1). Character does interplay with the other elements, but its primary importance (especially in films) it that it introduces morality. As Aristotle says, “…character is what makes us ascribe certain moral qualities to the agents” (Poetics, 1450a4). The third element is Thought. One must be careful in discerning this element, for this is not what the character says that may reveal elements of the character, but what a character says regarding important intellectual themes — or, as Aristotle puts it, “all they say when proving or disproving some particular point, or enunciating some universal proposition.” [In contemporary films it is sometimes asserted (with justification in some instances) that the director of the film actually controls “what is said or asserted.” This is done not through the dialogue, over which he has limited control, but through subliminal suggestion through the language of images alone. This idea of the correct way to determine the ultimate meaning of films is often referred to as the auteur theory. I reject, in part, this theory. See my Seven Mistakes.]

Below is a summary of the above three elements and the remaining four  elements, with examples, as they apply to contemporary films:

1. Plot: The Searchers — Horrible event befalls man; man initially chooses revenge, but finally chooses redemption and forgiveness.

Note: It is not always easy to describe how plot relates to theme and what I call story. It has been argued, correctly, following Aristotle, that there are only a few basic plots. If we state the plot of The Searchers as “man chooses revenge against INDIANS,” we have a different, more specific, understanding of the plot. Such a specific understanding cannot be considered a basic plot. A basic plot introduces THEMES. In this case, the basic plot of “horrible event befalls a man” introduces the theme of the POSSIBILITY of forgiveness. It does not introduce forgiveness as a narrative actuality, until that point in the plot where the character makes a moral choice. It remains as true today as in Aristotle’s time — and Hollywood writers generally accept it this — that a good story (film) MUST have specific “plot points,” or moments when the character makes a moral choice. By adhering to this rule, Hollywood writers can be said to accept Aristotle’s idea that plot, rather than character, is central. Further complexities of this issue go beyond the scope of my comments here. See my Seven Mistakes for more information.

2. Character: Rocky — Following Aristotle, we could ascribe moral characteristics to Rocky and how his character fits into the action as follows: Rocky is a man who has lost his self-respect. Fate (being selected by Apollo Creed as an opponent) allows Rocky the chance to regain his self-respect by working hard and taking on a seemingly impossible task (going the distance against the world champ). It is only through actions that Rocky can rebuild his character; he cannot simply will himself to have more self-respect. Hence, Rocky demonstrates Aristotelian character-building through action.

3. Thought: Forrest Gump — an example of a film showing how a character who has limited cognitive abilities may nevertheless be used as a mouthpiece for ideas relevant to a philosophy of life. Forrest says, “Life is a box of chocolates,” meaning “you don’t know what possibilities life has until you embrace them” or “do not despair because life seems to be a game of chance — that’s where the fun comes in!” Forrest Gump is, in fact, a metaphysical speculation on the role of chance in the universe (see Seven Mistakes, item number 4). Sometimes the hero states a more profound philosophy, such as the reasons we might have for self-sacrifice, as Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) does at the end of Casablanca. Another technique used by writers is the use of “throwaway lines,” in which characters can provide thought, or a conceptual background, in a film that may otherwise seem devoid of it. The Avengers (2012) has a number of these lines (see current home page). Additional reflections, largely from a Platonic rather than an Aristotelian perspective, on how philosophical concepts can be expressed in films are provided with my Mind Map of Narrative Structures.

4. Diction: In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle calls for finding the “mean” or “middle” between extremes of character. In a similar fashion, in his Poetics, Aristotle suggests that extremes in diction be avoided. He calls for a mixture of poetic speech (use of metaphors, etc.) and common speech. Poetic speech adds interest and common speech provides clarity: “We need then a sort of mixture of the two. For the one kind will save the diction from being prosaic and commonplace, the rare word, for example, and the metaphor and the ‘ornament,’ whereas the ordinary words give clarity” (1458a25). Most films use prosaic speech throughout. In this sense, they probably fail to reach Aristotle’s standards for high art. A few films have adopted stylized speech throughout, such as True Grit (A). Some film adaptations of plays may represent what Aristotle had in mind, for example, Night of the Iguana (A), with Richard Burton. While we regard almost any film adaptation of Shakespeare as an example of high art, the language used is probably too inaccessible to current audiences to meet Aristotle’s “clarity” criterion.

5. Melody: Can be unnoticed (most films), or central to the impact of the film, e.g., the title theme from Star Wars (A). Today, composers of film scores are often considered major artists in their own right (John Williams, Max Steiner, Bernard Hermann, Elmer Bernstein) and some film scores are evaluated independently of films (see Digital Dream DoorWikipedia’s 100 Years of Film Scores, or Classical Music at About.com). The best films seek integration of the music with visual impact and major plot points. In many recent films, music often telegraphs emotional content, often to the detriment of particular scenes. Actors, directors, and producers rightfully fear having music overwhelm scenes or even entire films, throwing the film out of balance from an Aristotelian point of view. Major plot points are sometimes punctuated with specific musical events. For example, a bell chimes when Rocky (in one of the subsequent films) announces that he will fight again. Older films often utilize the power of silence: when a distraught mother calls her daughter’s name in M (1931), we only hear an echo from cold brick walls and see the child’s balloons drifting silently away. Musicals fall into a different category and deserve a more detailed discussion than can be provided here.

6. Spectacle: Visual Impact, the feeling of participating in large, grand events. Lord of the RingsBen HurSpartacus (Spartacus is an excellent example of a film in which all six elements are of high caliber). Currently, many films promote spectacle as if it were the most important element and the primary reason to see films. Dialogue (i.e., expressions of Thought) often recedes into the background, as screentime is dedicated to special effects. It is instructive to compare contemporary films with some of those in the past that succeeded in developing effective drama with minimal spectacle. Lifeboat (1944) is an excellent example of an artistic tour de force achieved without spectacle. Additional commentary and screenshots from the visually spare landscape of Lifeboat are available here.

Additional comments on some features of popular culture, with examples from films and comics, are available here.

Categories
Globalization

Definitions of Globalization

The following definitions are useful in the study of globalization. They may be studied and used in academic settings. Read these definitions carefully. When you are finished, Take the Quiz for this page.

Definitions of Globalization:

1. Joseph Stiglitz, an economist, and winner of the Nobel Prize defines Globalization as follows:

Globalization “is the closer integration of the countries and peoples of the world …brought about by the enormous reduction of costs of transportation and communication, and the breaking down of artificial barriers to the flows of goods, services, capital, knowledge, and people across borders.” (from Globalization and its Discontents)

2. Thomas Friedman, a political reporter for the New York Times, defines Globalization in terms of PARADIGM SHIFTS. We can compare the contemporary world to the world of the Cold War prior to the fall of Communism (1989). The following is a partial list of contrasts derived from Thomas Friedman’s book The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

Paradigm Shifts from the Cold War to the Age of Globalization

Cold War Globalization
Division Integration
(of nations, markets, and technologies)
the Wall the Web
8% of world’s countries
have free markets
28% of world’s countries
have free markets
Different cultures Global culture
Weight (megatons) Speed (megabits)
Power of nations Power of individuals, markets

3. In the early 2000s, the UC Atlas of Global Inequality (no longer, apparently, in operation, but see https://ccrec.ucsc.edu/ for the updated site) used the following definition of Globalization:

“Globalization, global integration: ‘… a widening, deepening and speeding up of interconnectedness in all aspects of contemporary social life from the cultural to the criminal, the financial to the spiritual’ (Held and McGrew 1999: 2). Several dimensions of globalization can usefully be identified. These dimensions can often be analyzed separately even though they may have powerful interconnections. Economic globalization means the greater global connectedness of economic activities, through transnational trade, capital flows, and migration. Environmental globalization could include the increasingly global effects of human activity on the environment. Cultural globalization may highlight the connections among languages, ways of living, and fears of global homogeneity through the spread of North American and European languages and culture. Political globalization may include wider acceptance of global political standards such as human rights, democracy, labor standards, environmental standards, as well as the greater coordination of actions by governments and other institutions across the globe.”
— Source: UC Atlas of Global Inequality

Note that in the above definition, Globalization is divided into four aspects or dimensions:

  • Economic
  • Environmental
  • Political
  • Cultural

Also, note that the definition cites Held and McGrew who emphasize

SPEED

as one of the general features of Globalization.

The UC Atlas definition emphasizes that while

SYSTEMS ARE BECOMING MORE HIGHLY INTEGRATED,

these trends are also leading to potential

FEAR AND CONFLICT.

In your own research on globalization, you will find it useful to note how speed, systems integration, and fear and conflict are continuing to develop.

Categories
Globalization

Global Consciousness

Think locally, act globally — John Naisbitt

Background: Some Preliminary Considerations for Understanding Global Consciousness

In the sense of being aware that we now live in “global village,” virtually everyone today has some form of what might be called “global consciousness.” Today, the events that intrude on daily life are no longer limited strictly to one’s own village, city, or nation. Everyone knows that there can be direct influences on their lives from events on the other side of the globe. Virtually everyone feels, in one way or another, the forces for both cooperation and strife that Globalization has unleashed. On the one hand, cooperative international trade has created new wealth and opportunities for hundreds of millions. On the other, political, moral and cultural differences are causing conflicts around the world. And many people, as Thomas Friedman has pointed out, are aware of cultural icons of our global village — “Super Individuals,” such as Madonna, Michael Jordan, Osama Bin Laden, to name a few — who have fame and influence worldwide.

In addition to this general awareness, many educational systems around the world now support a version of relativism that urges us to be aware that there many cultures and moral systems in the world and to “celebrate the differences” by studying these alternate systems. While this popular version of relativism offers little in actually understanding or dealing with, the complex issues involved in Globalization, it might also be called a form of global consciousness.

Global consciousness, as we shall understand it for the purposes of this course, includes, but also goes beyond, these general forms of awareness about our interconnected world and our being ready to accept the fact that there are many moral and cultural systems. Our concept of global consciousness also has different emphases. First, global consciousness, as we shall understand it, is primarily about finding unity, not differences. It finds ways in which people, political systems and cultures are the same. Second, it engenders not only a sense of belonging to a greater whole but of being willing to take some responsibility for action within that greater whole.

To understand this notion further, consider the following historical example from an earlier form of Globalization. In 212 C.E., the Roman Emperor Caracalla issued a decree making all free residents of the empire citizens of Rome. This included most of the area shown in the map below — the greater portion of the known world at the time.

Map of Roman World, 200 C.E.
The Roman Empire at 200 C.E., showing major trade routes. Source: http://college.hmco.com/history/west/mosaic/chapter3/mckay184_map.html (Houghton Mifflin Company)

Caracalla’s edict served, at least on paper, to make many of the residents of this vast area political equals, subject to the same laws. This edict was not just a change in the legal system. It had a profound psychological effect on the way the peoples of this region thought about themselves. Regardless of their prior religious or cultural backgrounds, they now had, as Roman Citizens, reasons find political, moral, and economic interests in common. Not coincidentally, there were at that time well-developed trade/communication routes that greatly facilitated this psychological shift. This shift in self-awareness, in turn, became an integral part of the economic life of the region.

Today (thankfully), we have no one to issue edicts to declare that we are all citizens of the world — but we do have an even more complex system of communication, and prototypes (however inadequate) for world governance already in place. One aspect of global consciousness, as it develops in our time, will, therefore, most likely be a spontaneous “grassroots” phenomenon, taking the form of increased awareness, that our “home” — the circle of our immediate concerns — encompasses the entire earth. The map below indicates roughly the same geographic area and one mode of the contemporary communications infrastructure that links it. Despite the “competing” languages and cultures, the new Europe, much like the old Roman Empire, has already become economically, and to some degree spiritually and culturally, unified. This, of course, is only one phase of a worldwide phenomenon now spreading to every region of the earth.


Telecommunications Traffic Flow Map © 2000 – TeleGeography, Inc.
See http://www.telegeography.com/ for source and http://mappa.mundi.net/maps/maps_014/ for brief discussion of this and other maps.

Communications fosters community — a sense of home. What do you consider your “home” — your city, nation, region, or…. (see picture below)?


Earth photographed from space, Apollo 17 mission. Source: NASA

Toward a Contemporary View of Global Consciousness

The above description of global consciousness will no doubt be unsatisfactory to many since it might be criticized as being entirely too vague and nothing more than a feeling. Let us, therefore, expand on the notion of finding unity and specify more concretely what we mean. Global Consciousness, as we shall refer to it, involves, among other things, the following:

1. Awareness and understanding of the unifying conditions of human life worldwide.

  • Universal needs: food, clothing, shelter, health
  • Universal Human Rights: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to education regardless of gender, race, or economic circumstances
  • Emerging shared values and standards of justice: international laws, international courts, sanctions against terrorism
  • Emerging models of regional, transnational, economic development: cooperative rather than confrontational or competitive national economic policies

2. Awareness of the global implications of local actions.

As John Naisbitt pointed out, in today’s interconnected world the old saying “the flap of a butterfly’s wings one place creates a hurricane somewhere else” has become literally true. This is why he says we can put a new twist on the old phrase, “think globally, act locally.” We should understand that it is basically impossible to “act locally.” Our local actions always have global repercussions.

  • Cutting down rainforests reduces world oxygen supplies
  • Economic protectionism means jobs lost in another country
  • Support for single-commodity economies (e.g., oil) creates unstable conditions worldwide

3. A critical perspective on differences among cultural practices worldwide.

This means attempting to discern which differences matter in judging the value of a particular set of culturally-defined practices and which do not. One might argue, for example, that wearing a headscarf is a cultural difference that does not matter, while the practice of female circumcision is a cultural difference that does matter.

4. Awareness of changes in psychological, cultural, and economic modalities that may govern changes in 21st century personal, corporate, and national life.

  • Models of strong tribal/national identity that cause unnecessary conflict may be abandoned in favor of alternative modalities of personal identities, such as Cosmopolitanism.
  • Corporate cooperation, rather than competition, may become necessary for large research and development projects (e.g., hydrogen economy)
  • International intervention in the internal affairs of nations may increase as the rights of “sovereign” nations and the concept of “national autonomy” may no longer be understood to include the right of a nation to violate the universal political and economic rights of its citizens
  • National borders may disappear as economic growth of transnational corporations encourages dissolving artificial barriers between nations

5. At least at some level, a commitment to new forms of global political cooperation or global governance.

As you know from your study of other modules in this course, critics of Globalization have pointed out that the current structures of the U.N., IMF, and World Bank are undemocratic. While one can debate whether or not the current structure is sufficient for our immediate needs, it seems certain, given the rapidly expanding nature of global communications, that the future will call for some other form of governance.

There are, at present, no specific exercises for this module. Feel free to contribute your thoughts on this topic. Do you think global consciousness is a good thing? Or do you think ties to one’s own people, place, or nation ought to take precedence over global consciousness?

Categories
Globalization

The Complicity Problem

In this Mini-Course, you will learn the essentials of the U.N. position on a worldwide problem: the treatment of workers in third-world countries. The issue is sensitive because citizens (corporate citizens and consumers) in the first world do not want to feel responsible for working conditions that seem harsh or that ignore human rights. If you are involved in sales or customer relations in the first world, the information here may help you answer questions such as: “What is your company doing to protect the rights of the overseas workers who make the products you sell?”

1. The complicity problem arises when one is directly or indirectly facilitating wrongful acts. For example, if you are selling goods made in China by a company that treats its workers poorly, you might be accused of complicity in violating worker rights. Although you might treat the workers directly employed by you very well, you are indirectly contributing to the poor treatment of workers by doing business with a company that has little respect for worker rights. Can you absolve yourself of this kind of complicity by taking it upon yourself to thoroughly inspect the working conditions provided by your supplier? It might seem so. Suppose you can give your supplier a clean bill of health in good conscience. What happens if your supplier, unbeknownst to you (and perhaps also you supplier) contracts to get some of your work done by subcontractors who are much less concerned about worker rights? Are you still guilty of complicity? How far down the supply chain should you be required to inspect working conditions? Even if I am responsible for checking out my supplier, am I responsible for checking out my supplier’s supplier? Furthermore, should not there be a distinction between what individual corporations do and what countries do as a matter of cultural practice or law? Should one person (or corporation) really be held responsible for the practices that may pervade an entire nation? These are among the initial questions one might ask about complicity.

2. The U.N. did not have good answers to these kinds of questions until recently. A basic framework for answers was provided in the 2008 “Ruggie Report.”

3. The U.N. approach to the complicity problem divides the responsibilities of moral actors (states or corporations) by distinguishing between PROTECTION of rights and RESPECT for rights. Once this distinction is made, it is easier to see which parties (moral actors) are primarily responsible for which aspects of human rights. The U.N. report asserts that states should protect the right of freedom of speech by ensuring there is no government interference with mass media. And Corporations should show respect for human rights by allowing workers access to means of filing complaints. (Note, however, that this distinction between the duties of states and corporations is NOT a strict or “sharp.” Corporations have additional duties that do not allow them to “hide” behind that idea that they can do nothing about the policies or cultural practices of the states in which they have business operations. See point 6 below.) In addition to providing protection and respect for human rights, the U.N. also asserts that a means of remedying violations of human rights must be available. These means should include both state and corporate channels for reporting violations and ensuring that they are justly corrected. Thus, the overall approach to human rights is three-pronged: protect, respect, and remedy.

4. “Respect” is an ambiguous word. The U.N. attempts to remove some of the ambiguity by further describing what “respect” means in the context of corporate activities. As shown below, respect means exercising due diligence in a three-step process.

5. For example, if you were involved in the textile industry in China, you should exercise your due diligence by evaluating the potential impacts of your activities in a variety of ways. In other words, you should carefully evaluate all the possible consequences of your actions as they relate to human rights in the broadest sense.

6. While there is a difference between State and Corporate responsibilities toward and human and labor rights, corporations cannot hide behind the fact that they need only “respect” rights in order to escape their responsibilities. They cannot, for example, choose to only “respect” selected rights. Corporations cannot escape their intrinsic responsibility not to harm. As a result, corporations should take care not to create serious harm regarding ANY forms of human or labor rights.

7. Be aware that actual legal cases have shown that corporations have been taken to court for alleged violations of virtually every Labor Right.

8. These responsibilities are deep and meeting them is time-consuming. Yet, the U.N. report did NOT explicitly state that each corporation is responsible for respecting labor and human rights ALL THE WAY DOWN its own supply chain. This is a crucial point for corporate citizens of the first world wishing to defend their labor policies in other countries. We have then, and answer to one of our initial questions. Is each corporation responsible for inspecting the labor conditions all the way down its supply chain? The answer is “No.” Each corporation is responsible only for the first level down — at least, this is the interpretation supported by our analysis here. But note the reason for this limitation! It is assumed that the obligations of corporate due diligence, respect for human rights and the duty not to harm extend to ALL corporations. This means, in effect, that human rights are automatically protected ALL THE WAY DOWN if each and every corporation performs its duties. Again, the reason for this result is that the “rules” are supposed to be universal. That is, EVERY seller should see to it that its supplier is not abusing labor rights. Therefore, the chain of responsibility automatically goes to the bottom. This, at any rate, is the logical result of the U.N. recommendations if they are universally followed. Can one trust this logical result? Can one “hide” behind the assumption that every moral agent in the supply chain will perform their moral duties? Perhaps the best answer is that one should exert reasonable and prudent efforts to ensure there are no violations of labor rights. In many cases, this will involve, primarily, investigation of immediate level suppliers and not those two or there levels down.

9. To conclude, when people ask about the protection of labor rights in your business, one might say something along the lines of the following: “Our corporate duties extend primarily to respect human and labor rights, but we do not create or protect them in the way that states do. In accordance with the U.N. Ruggie Report, we make reasonable efforts to ensure our direct suppliers comply as much as possible with international labor rights laws, to the extent that these are granted within China or elsewhere. We perform our “due diligence” by carefully examining the impacts of our actions in foreign countries. Furthermore, we understand our duty, as corporate citizens and moral agents not to harm others and we seek to avoid any actions or policies that might. We have corporate means of reporting and remedying violations of worker rights.”

Categories
Thinking

Critical Thinking

Use this link to take you to a page on the old MindTools site. The old page contains a short slide show. You may need to click on the button to start the slideshow and then enable Flash on your browser to view the show.

This is a very brief introduction to six of the standard errors in informal reasoning:

Ad Hominem Argument
Argument from Authority
Cum hoc Fallacy
False Dilemma
Fallacy of Division
Equivocation

There are MANY resources available the will help you understand these fallacies. Do not be deceived by the apparently simple nature of these fallacies. The examples used are selected to make the principles clear. In actual arguments, it is often very difficult to detect errors in informal reasoning. Some philosophers also question whether or not all of these fallacies are really as incorrect as they are often made to appear. Understanding them in depth and making awareness of them a permanent part of your analytical skills is really a lifelong project. This page will be replaced with new material in the future.