Why “Her” Will Never Appeal to Me

Wow a blog post! That’s right! In the middle of a busy semester I figured I’d take a short break from thinking about important things and instead shower you with trivial and disjointed thoughts about movies! Yay! Buckle up, we’re going for a trip!

 

When I saw the trailer for Her in theatres before Catching Fire, I couldn’t help but sigh. My feelings for the admittedly brief glimpse of the film that the trailer provided are more than just the usual passing annoyance, disinterest, and general sense of disillusionment with a film about yet another straight white man. Don’t get me wrong, that’s certainly part of it; straight white men, I am sick of hearing your stories all the time. Sorry, not sorry. But no, it was more than that.

“Her” makes me angry.

That’s probably pretty confusing for a lot of people. Most people who are uninterested in the film are just that — uninterested. Not actively angered by it. Certainly not enough to write a blog post about it. So why is this particular film eliciting a reaction like that from me?

Well, in short, “Her” rubs me the wrong way because it presents a concept that goes against my core understanding of human relationships. Maybe that’s like a “yeah well duh but that’s what it’s about!!! It’s supposed to make you question what love truly is!!!” Yeah well no, let me tell you why. It’s a long road and there are many facets to my distaste for this film concept, so bear with me.

What, do YOU think, is the fundamental aspect of being human? Apparently someone was arguing that like, when AI can have “flaws” just like humans then “how is it so different” or whatever; I don’t know, the usual stuff that’s thrown around when talking about AI. So is it that, the presence of “flaws” (and whatever that entails exactly)? Is it the ability to love or feel emotions? Not in my opinion.

What really defines humans is free will. The 100% completely free ability to choose. Because what that entails is totally arbitrary, nonsensical decisions. We don’t understand what exactly free choice entails. Even for mundane things like “what makes us like music”. Boy I could talk about that all day, I’ve been doing my research. There are all sorts of theories from all sorts of fields as to what influences our tastes. And there are some damn good theories. But they only explain general trends in our taste. They are completely unable to account for each individual decision.

Each of those theories holds some solid arguments; maybe they are all right. The human brain is vastly complex, and our decisions are affected by vastly complex experiences. Emotions. Memories. Social context. Specific situations we happen to be in at the time. What makes us love someone but not someone else? If we can’t pinpoint exactly what influences our decisions and how much, how would we be able to duplicate that with AI?

Because free will sometimes makes no sense. Humans are not computers. Sure our brains seem like a big huge complex computer system, with neurons firing in specific patterns, etc etc. But we haven’t figured out exactly how our decisions are made, and I don’t think we ever will. The decisions humans make are sometimes arbitrary. Sometimes we will make one decision one day, and a completely contradictory decision the next. They do not follow a clear-cut pattern.

You can’t duplicate the way our brains work without understanding it first. And we clearly don’t understand it. So AI may seem to imitate free will, but I don’t believe they are or will ever be truly duplicating it. Our entire life’s experiences seem to go into each decision we make, along with our emotions at the time, and that’s something that’s hard to replicate. Throw in other factors that we’re not even entirely sure about, and there’s pretty much no way you can really, actually copy it.

So problem number 1 with these movies for me is that they go “imagine if robots become just like humans!” and I pretty much feel that just. No. Sorry.

Okay, we get it, shut up Jenn, why does that even matter? Did you hate every single sci-fi movie about AI as much as this one? No, definitely not. There’s more wrong with it.

When we love a human, (hopefully) we love them in part for their humanity. We love the essence of their being human. Part of loving someone is loving their ability to be 100% their own complete person who makes their own decisions and has their own life experience. I mean, people who want their partner to no longer have the ability/desire to make decisions is abusive, we can all agree on that. But if AI can’t fully replicate free will, their ability to make decisions the way humans do is lacking. So if someone loves an AI the way they would love a human (instead of, for example, a pet; in which the importance of complete human free will isn’t as much of an issue)… aren’t they missing something integral in a relationship?

And here we get to why the concept makes me angry: maybe that’s the point. If someone who otherwise is attracted to humans finds themselves in love with an AI instead of a human… is it because that AI is missing the essence of humanity? No offense to our imaginary future AI brethren, but I’m pretty sure with 7 billion people on the planet you can find a human who’s just as awesome as that AI (I mean, there isn’t even only one person on earth we find awesome, so there’s no way an AI replicating human-ness is going to be like so totally way more awesome than any human ever), so what makes the AI so attractive? I’m not talking about people like the woman who fell in love with and married a bridge, or the man who’s dating his car. That’s a different kettle of fish. I’m talking about the people who are convinced their one true love is this almost-but-not-quite-human. But it’s more than that. It’s the story that’s being sold to us.

It just seems too… convenient.

In a society where women are constantly dehumanized, objectified, belittled and attacked for having opinions, a man being in love with a woman who is quite literally objectified and not human hits a little too close to home. Wow you’ve happened to fall in love with the one woman who doesn’t quite have free will! You lucky bastard! Yeah, but this is a movie, not a true story.

Which kind of makes it worse for me. It’s a movie; it’s trying to sell us this idea. Everything about it just squicks me the fuck out.

There are far more men in movies than women (especially when it comes to white men vs. women of colour). The past three years have actually seen a decline in representation in blockbuster movies. This movie doesn’t even have to have a real female lead. Convenient!

We live in a society in which we see women turned into objects, and women are told constantly to be quiet, to be smaller, to take up less room, to not rock the boat, to not step out of line, that their “no”s and “yes”es (but especially “no”s) aren’t quite as important as men’s. And now hollywood is selling us a story all about a white man and his little computer girlfriend who literally isn’t quite human, in a way that is sort of weirdly the ideal for women? Convenient!

In a movie that is trying to sell us on relationship dynamics that I consider to be incredibly iffy at best, I can’t help but feel there’s a reason it’s about a man and not a woman.

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The Quick Fix: Disability in Media

It’s July 2011 and the teaser trailer for the final instalment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy has just been released. Theories fly from every corner of the internet. There is a brief moment in the mini-trailer in which Bruce Wayne is seen with a limp and a cane. Are we seeing the after-effects of his back being broken on Bane’s leg? people wonder. Will the movie spend a portion of its screen-time focusing on Wayne’s life after his ordeal with Bane? Does he have a cane for a completely different reason, a mark of passing time and changing bodies that will complicate the plot arc of his return as Batman?

Now it’s 2013 and we all know that none of those theories were correct. We see Wayne limping around with his cane for a few scenes before Alfred tells him he needs to suck up all his angst (and mobility issues) and be Batman again. Wayne slaps on a ~~**MAGICAL KNEE BRACE**~~~, his mobility issues disappear, and are never mentioned again.

Oh, and then of course he gets his back broken. But don’t worry guys, he’s put in a prison-pit-thing and in a montage of working out and grunting and pained expressions, he’s all good again! But it was HARD! It did take WEEKS! Maybe even MONTHS! Wait, some of you were sort of expecting it to have some kind of lasting impact? Pfft, sure OKAY, yeah we’re going to make Batman disabled YEAH RIGHT GUYS THAT’D JUST BE STUPID.

Let’s go back in time a little more. Avatar was by no means a groundbreaking movie in any sense other than its computer generated imaging and special effects. But it most certainly was a very popular movie. A movie in which the main character is disabled, but spends the vast majority of screen-time trying to escape from his disabled body. Despite his disability, the main character still manages to spend most of the movie in not only a totally-abled body, but a super-abled body. As the main protagonist, we are of course meant to relate to him and be sympathetic to his feelings. If we were in his place, we think to ourselves, we would want to escape too. We don’t blame him for running off wearing his avatar. After all, we’d do the same, wouldn’t we? A whole lot of people saw that movie. A whole lot of people were supposed to sympathise with those sentiments.

In the fifth season of Supernatural, Bobby is paralysed from the waist down and becomes wheelchair-bound for basically the entire season. The fact that his disability wasn’t fixed by the end of the episode, or even the next one, gave me hope for the potential it presented. We got to watch Bobby coping with and working around the necessary changes in his life that came with being disabled, and at times it even made us think about accessibility as he struggled to do the things he used to be able to do and go places he used to go with ease. But in the end, with a wave of Crowley’s powerful demonic hand, Bobby literally gets up and walks out of his wheelchair, perfectly healed.

Supernatural does, of course, have a smaller audience than either of the aforementioned blockbusters. And in each case, the way the plot point of disability is dealt with and the way the character responds to their disability makes a lot of sense. After all, Batman is supposed to overcome anything, a soldier WOULD understandably hold a lot of resentment towards his body becoming wheelchair-bound, and Bobby is a similar personality type to that of a soldier. Many disabled people in the real world voice frustration with their bodies and even feelings of being betrayed by their bodies, etc. Those feelings are real, and they are valid, and they are legitimate.

But the fact is, these are not the only movies and TV shows portraying disability in this way, and they do not exist in a vacuum. Disability is repeatedly portrayed as an obstacle for the character to overcome, a burden for them to bear with great reluctance until the writers save them with a totally convenient magic cure. Characters are repeatedly portrayed as wanting to escape from their disabled bodies, and we are meant to sympathise with those feelings. When a type of body is constantly portrayed as being a disadvantage, as being something less-than-perfect, something that people strive to escape, that has real implications for people who have those bodies in the real world.

The use of the “quick fix” for disability in these media means that the long-term effects of living as a disabled person never have to be dealt with. It means TV show writers and movie makers can wash it off the whiteboard and carry on with the plot without a hiccup and without having to factor in a new aspect of plot or character. It means the makers of these shows and movies never really have to deal with the realities of having made a character disabled, they don’t have to deal with the complicated issue of yes there will be accessibility differences now and other uncomfortable, inconvenient, but totally important plot and character changes.

If Being Disabled isn’t like, totally the character’s entire identity and their entire point of existence, then it seems to be considered a barrier and an annoyance that should be swept away as soon as possible. But it severely limits the plot and character possibilities when we never get to see a person honestly and realistically portrayed as disabled. When disabled people are only ever either A Lesson to Be Learned or quickly fixed before it makes anything complicated, that’s an entire group of our population being completely erased and overlooked. And, as we should all know very well by now, that is a dangerous thing to do.

I am in no way an authority on disability rights and issues, and I in no way intend to be one. I have only recently started learning about disability; over the past year I have started following blogs and other online media regarding both mental and physical disability rights and justice. Because of my place of privilege as an able-bodied and neurotypical person, I have unfortunately had the option of not thinking about disability rights for the majority of my life. I am now making the effort to learn about my privilege, and share my awareness with other able-bodied people. I find that voicing my basic understandings of new concepts, flexing my writing muscles, giving a new topic some air-time in my writing, helps me to develop my understanding of said topic. Thus, this post is not meant as some Look I Know Everything About Disability Issues Aren’t I a Cool Ally kind of strutting, but as an exercise to help my little seedling of awareness sprout some more leaves.

If you want some help sprouting your own little seedling, here are some of the blogs I’ve been following (some are about physical disability, some are about being non-neurotypical) and of course a Scarleteen article for good measure:

http://icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com/

http://blog.cripchick.com/

http://feministsonar.com/

also just this whole tag: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/disability+rights

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/politics/no_big_deal_sex_disability

Breaking News: Black Character Actually Played by Black Actor This Time!

I’m amazed.

I just watched the trailer for a new Wuthering Heights movie.

HEATHCLIFF IS ACTUALLY BLACK THIS TIME!

Except sadly, the only reason I think this happened is because it’s not a big-budget Hollywood production. So don’t worry, Hollywood is still as racist as ever, HURRAAAAYYYY.

When I read the book I had always thought it was pretty fucking obvious that he was a black guy, and that (along with the inevitable-because-yay-racist-society lower-class-ness) was why Cathy’s feelings for him were frowned upon. Although Emily never outright writes “he’s a black dude and everyone’s fucking racist”, but I thought it was pretty obvious from the description of his dark skin and the way everyone treated him like utter piss even when he’d been fancied up a bit. But in every big screen adaptation? Well, let’s have a look, shall we?

Hello, I’m Heathcliff, and I’m white as fuck!

Hello, I’m Heathcliff, and I’m also white as fuck.

Hey! Guess who I am! And guess what colour I am?!

Because god forbid there be an actual black actor on screen, as a MAIN CHARACTER? HEINOUS. And not only that, but as the MAIN LOVE INTEREST, too? That’s just out of the question.

Except now someone finally admits it — hey this book is about interracial relationships and how a racist society shunned people who had them!

(if the video doesn’t show up for you, here’s the link -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HjdVKA1AuQ)

Hurray! Fucking FINALLY! THANK YOU! Now Hollywood, follow suit already!