Archive for March, 2011

Television Killed The Film Star

The past few months I have been watching television shows to no end. I used to prefer film to television but I think it’s the other way around now. Films tend to get more money for production which consequentially results in higher quality productions. They also don’t take as much dedication as television shows: you can watch a film in one to two hours whereas shows consist of entire seasons (which are usually 12 + hours long).

Those are the reasons for why I used to prefer films. But now I find the dedication that shows demand to be exceedingly rewarding. Character development and plot lines can be so much more thoroughly developed in shows than in films. I love “getting to know” the characters over a long period of time. It makes for a more enjoyable experience. The production quality of shows has also went way up in the past number of years. This is especially true of shows produced by the likes of Showtime and Starz. Most of the shows I enjoy come from those companies. Television shows on cable and the major networks suffer from content restrictions. Showtime and Starz (and others like HBO) do not. I like my shows to include some blood, profanity, and sex jokes. Not because they are preferable in and of themselves necessarily (although that may be the case with sex jokes) but because they make for a more adult-oriented experience (darker and more complex themes and characters and so on). The only current show that I regularly watch that is produced by a major network is The Office (US). Interestingly enough, it may be my favorite show ever made, although I admit that shows of different colors and stripes can be difficult to compare. My other favorites are not for the faint of heart:

Dexter: a show about a serial killer who hunts other serial kills and murderers.

Spartacus: historical epic about the trials and tribulations of, well, Spartacus and company and the events leading to the Third Servile War.

Californication: a sex comedy about a man whose romantic troubles lead him to drown himself in alcohol and sex.

Shameless: a comedy-drama about a poor Chicago suburban family that tries to survive without parental guidance or parental help of any kind.


Romantic Pluralism

03/09/2011 4 comments

What makes someone romantically attracted to someone else? Usually the answer is broken down into two types of attraction: attraction to one’s physical features and to one’s personality. But this answer seems to leave out important factors that play large roles in romance. Take intelligence for example. Intelligence is not a physical feature but it doesn’t seem to be a feature of one’s personality either. The same seems true of the interests we have. If I like baseball and you like baseball, we share something in common. This commonality will likely make us more attracted to one another. But you liking baseball has nothing to do with your physical features or your personality. The same also seems true of our beliefs. Few would deny the relevancy of beliefs to the romantic attraction one feels toward another. The sharing of political and/or religious beliefs is often listed as top among the factors one considers when looking for a romantic partner. These are often “deal breaker” issues. But beliefs are neither part of one’s physical features nor one’s personality. It is possible, of course, that your interests and your beliefs flow out from your personality. Perhaps people with a certain personality type XYZ are more likely to have interests and beliefs of the sort XYZ whereas people with personality ABC are more likely to have interests and beliefs of the sort ABC. But this is far from obvious. And even if true, there would still be no necessary connection between one’s interests and beliefs on the one hand and one’s personality on the other. There would be no contradiction in having personality XYZ and have beliefs ABC. The problem seems to be that we lack a coherent conception of “personality.” Physical attraction is a very important and indispensable part of romance, but it is not difficult to understand what we mean by it (although admittedly there are various features involved here as well). “Personality” by contrast seems to be a muddle of conceptions, a melting pot where we throw everything non-physical into. This is a mistake because it paints a picture of romance that is all-too simplistic: it paints a picture that does not line up with the complex situation we find in experience.

So what is “personality” if not a conglomeration of all non-physical features of a person? Personality traits usually look like the following: shy, boisterous, kind, sarcastic, generous, petty, hot-tempered, goofy, stern, introvert, extrovert, and so on. These are important features that make up a person but they are only one slice of a multifarious pie. Physical features also make up a part of that pie. But so do things like intelligence, interests, beliefs, desires, and values.

The complexity of this view becomes apparent when we realize that different people weigh these factors differently. Different people will slice up the pie in various ways. If you place high priority on sharing similar beliefs, you will not be attracted to someone with starkly different ones. But beliefs for you may also take a back-seat to your interests or your values. In this case, you may not care very much if you share beliefs with this other person so long as your values are similar. Perhaps you are diametrically opposed with regards to your political beliefs, but the important thing is that you both place great value on political awareness. Other people place great weight on physical attractiveness, at times sacrificing some of the other factors for it.

Moreover, it is implausible to suppose that these various factors of attractiveness are completely independent from one another. Very often the physical attractiveness of another person will increase if it is found that they share similar interests or beliefs with yourself. It is also possible that physical attraction could be so great that it leads to a convergence of interests and beliefs. Furthermore, the pie that we initially slice up–by assigning different percentages to the different factors–will likely change with experience. Perhaps we start with physical attraction taking up half the pie, but as we age that portion may slowly give way to the other factors. Or the reverse may happen. I suspect that all logically possible scenarios (the various possible pies and their development over time) have had or do have counterparts in the actual world.

So what is the best possible pie? I don’t know. I don’t even know if there is a best possible pie. Some pies are probably better than others: a view that places one hundred percent priority on physical attractiveness will not be as good a view as one that disperses each factor more evenly. This is because any view that places all priority on physical attractiveness will not capture the complexity of goods that people contain. People are more than their looks and to only value looks is to overlook an important feature of persons. Romantic pluralism is thus about two different things: the plurality of factors involved in romantic attractiveness and the plurality of possible pie distributions that are equally good.

People are complex. We should not expect the reasons for attraction to be any less so.

Categories: Philosophy Tags: ,

Condensed Thoughts

1) According to one thinker, the best evidence we have that our current understanding of space and matter are incomplete is the existence of consciousness. Consciousness is somehow non-spatial yet it must be contained in space (unless we propose that it exists is some other dimension). Contrary to current thought then, perhaps consciousness is not non-spatial. We only think that it is because our current understanding of space is incomplete. Matter is also a problem. Somehow matter has the power to produce consciousness: it has certain conscious-causing properties. But we haven’t the slightest idea how this is possible. Hearts and kidneys are also organs that are made up of cellular material but they don’t produce consciousness. Only brains, as far as we know, have this power. But brains are just as material as anything else. So we must not fully understand what matter is if our current understanding of it cannot explain how it has this power.

2) “Certainty” seems to have at least two meanings: one psychological and one philosophical. In some contexts certainty is but a mere psychological state, one that bears no relation to what one knows or a thing’s truth-value. For instance, two thinkers can be equally certain about mutually exclusive claims (the sun will rise tomorrow vs. two suns will rise tomorrow). Here certainty is just a confidence level in the truth of some claim. One can be more or less certain.

Certainty also plays a role in some theories of knowledge. These theories hold that knowledge can be obtained if and only if there are arguments that logically rule out all possible alternatives except one. On this account, certainty about some proposition is just another way of saying that that proposition cannot possibly be false. If some proposition cannot be false, then one is certain about the truth of that proposition. And on some accounts, only if one is certain can one have knowledge. Here certainty cannot be more or less. Having certainty is just being able to logically rule out all the alternatives.

3) One of the reasons why I cannot frequently watch and listen to political media is because at least ninety percent of what is said is spent attacking or defending against the outrageous claims made by others from across the spectrum. This is how it goes. Mike makes some overly harsh or unjustified claim. Rather than ignoring the claim, Rachel from the rival news organization feels compelled to comment on it–most likely because it serves as an easy target and thus as easy political points by straw-manning the opposition–but possibly because she wants to stand up for what she sees as the morally right thing to do. Twenty minutes of that particular show is then spent on demonstrating the obvious falsity or inappropriateness of said claim (which usually involves hiring a guest commentator to help further spell out the obvious). Mike has a few ways he could respond: by (1)  rescinding or apologizing for his claim, (2)  clarifying his claim, or (3) ignoring Rachel’s comments entirely, awaiting for the day when Rachel (or someone of her political party) makes an outrageous claim for him to trash. Usually the last option is taken.

Given that there are a limited number of profit-producing news stories–and given that the political media is now a ferocious animal that never sleeps–the resort to this pattern of commenting on the outrageous is  more than frequent. What else, after all, could they focus on? Well, lots of things. But again, those things don’t earn them ratings. So the political media ends up propagating the same vicious cycle, the result being that political discussion becomes linked in the minds of the ordinary viewer with something akin to religious warfare.