Tuesday, September 29, 2009

PC Punching

I stumbled back from my office last night, saturated with staring at computer screens. I cracked open a bottle of beer, made a quick cucumber and tomato salad to go with the bread, french cured duck sausage and Normandy cheese that I'd bought from the market at the Merchant City Festival over the weekend, and collapsed. Determined to focus my eyes on something farther than arms-length away, I turned on the TV and scanned the channels. It turned out that there was nothing on (amazing, for that never happens - ever) so I settled for the one film that was playing - Mr and Mrs Smith.

The film was exactly as I'd imagined - almost entirely lacking content: barely one-dimensional characters, almost no plot, and filled with flashy action sequences. No surprise there. However, one thing struck me as strange. The film was full of violence, directed fairly isotropically, for the most part. There were visualisations of numerous people getting shot. Bodies were flying from explosions. However, the interesting thing occurred during the centrepiece fight between Pitt and Jolie where, after almost blowing each others' heads off several times, they end up brawling. At this point, something curious happened in the realm of direction. They'd tumbled for some time, bashing each other against walls and objects, and Jolie repeatedly punched Pitt in the face. However, though Pitt didn't seem overall to be at a disadvantage, he very conspicuously never landed a blow to Jolie. It seemed that the director was deliberately avoiding showing personal, unarmed violence toward the woman. Then, to prove the point, Pitt wrestled Jolie to the floor and, though he kicked her several times, the kicking occurred out of sight, behind a sofa. After receiving several kicks she retaliated with a blow to the groin. The fight ended without a single visual instance of Pitt hitting her. I remind you - you'd seen Jolie hit Pitt numerous times, and would later see her hit a captive character around the head with a hotel-room phone.

I assure you that no one finds violence against women more abhorrent than I do. However, this was not a scene of a man taking advantage of his relative strength, and attacking an undefended woman. Throughout the entire movie, these two characters are portrayed as hardened assassins, of comparable abilities (in fact Jolie's character reports having killed 5 times as many people as had Pitt's). But, when the entire point of a movie is to show cartoon violence, when it's OK to show people being shot dead, or killed in an explosion, it strikes me as very strange that a deliberate decision was taken to not show a punch being delivered to from one skilled assassin to another, just because the latter is female. It strikes me as even stranger that, given the above, it's OK to show that the woman has been kicked repeatedly when she's down, just as long as it's behind a sofa, so no one actually sees it.

Am I missing something here, or does this really just make no sense at all?

Monday, September 28, 2009


I once participated in a rather heated discussion with an advocate of cold fusion. This debate, of course, turned out to be an utterly pointless exercise, as the advocate descended predictably into nonsensical argument, and what amounted to name calling, in order to defend his position. However, one of the points raised was that of academic freedom. This is something that proponents of pseudoscience (cold fusion, intelligent design, for example) frequently rely upon, in an attempt to undermine the arguments put forward by the populous of the genuine scientific community. That is, if scientists don't agree with what they're saying, it must be because the scientists are not open to new ideas, as they are hemmed in by the scientific stigma and oppressive regime of their university. To this, I simply reply with an extract from my contract, which exemplifies the attitude within the academic field:

"The University acknowledges and accepts the intellectual and academic freedom of academic staff to think, write, act, speak and teach, in order to be able to contribute to their subject areas and the advancement of knowledge. Academic freedom is defined as ‘freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial and unpopular opinions, without academic staff placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs’. The University commits itself to sustain an environment within which academic freedom can be effectively exercised. Within their institution or discipline, academic staff should be bound by proper regard for their colleagues, for the University’s interests, and by the usual rules of professional academic engagement."