Category: Sexism

Why (some of the)* Right Hates Elsa

I’ll start with the only place this post can start – which is where it needs to finish also:

How much does the right of Science Fiction & Fantasy hate this movie and this song in particular? A *lot*, more than perhaps you may have noticed. Sure, the new Star Wars movies have received more high profile attacks, and modern superhero comics have had there own troll-fest ‘gate’ but ‘Frozen’? Frozen has worked its way like a tiny shard of ice under the skin.

To wit:

“As I’ve told my children, Let It Go is an expression of pure Crowleyian evil “

“Do you remember hearing how Disney loved the song “Let It Go” so much that they created an entire movie to go around it? Did you ever ask yourself what it was they loved so much about it?…Disney is run by literal satanists preaching Alastair Crowley’s “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” to children.”

” Women and girls learning how to throw off all rules and inhibition is core to our new morality.  The song isn’t loved as a guilty pleasure;  it is loved as a bold moral declaration.  Stop trying to be a good girl and learn to worship yourself is a moral exhortation. ”

“The gay agenda to normalize homosexuality is woven into Disney’s movie Frozen not just as an underlying message – it is the movie.”

“So when it comes to Frozen: Elsa telling Anna that she couldn’t marry a man she just met is a funny observation of a trope that is kind of silly if you think about it.Having that man turn out to be a sociopath that tries to kill Elsa and steal the throne, because that trope was always secretly ‘problematic,’ is subversion and spits on Disney.”

“I am puzzled why the writers of Frozen wanted Hans to be the villain, for as best I can tell, they already had someone who would make the perfect villain… Elsa.”

“So how are things fixed? Does Elsa admit he’s right and strive to do better in the future? Does she vow never to cut loose like that again and learn to control herself?

No. She Loves Her Sister. And that’s it. Now she can control her powers. She never says that letting it go was a mistake.”

Note that THREE of that sample were from 2018 – this isn’t a short-lived attempt to gain attention by a cynical attack on something popular. No, indeed the Superversive articles, in particular, are by people heavily engaged with the plot of the film who seem to be trying to wrestle with what is wrong with it.

Crowley? Normalizing homosexuality? Wrong villains? Fatal plot flaws? This all from people who often claim that popularity and commercial success are the true marks of artistic quality. By that measure Frozen is high art – a Disney musical powerhouse at a time when Disney musicals were long past their peak. A film that launched a thousand lunch boxes.

The issue is not hard to diagnose. Frozen is mainly conventional Disney – in some ways even less than that. The plot is slight compared to other classic Disney films (e.g. the Lion King) and the songs (bar one) are unmemorable. Yet it does a few things and those things are interesting:

  • ‘Let It Go’ is a genuinely really good song, but it is also really well integrated into the story both emotionally, in its lyrics and in the character development of Elsa.
  • The story rejects romantic love as its central message and instead centres on the familial love of two sisters.

This being Disney, there really is zero implications about Elsa’s sexuality EXCEPT that at no point does she act out of desire for a romantic relationship with anybody of any gender. And with that we get to part of the multiple issues the right continue to have with the film.

  • Both Elsa and Anna reject a story line (and hence a role) of a princess finding the love of a prince. This element is strongest with Anna rather than Elsa. Anna does fall in love with a prince and while that helps drive the plot, this does not lead to the normal resolution because…
  • ..the prince is actually a shit bag. I’m surprised there are fewer rightwingers complaining that the film is ‘anti-man’. I guess because it is a reasonable point that at least some men are shitbags and it is a sibling’s duty to point that out.
  • Elsa overtly and very musically rejects not so much romantic love etc but ALL societal expectations of her and goes off and does her own thing. Now, the film’s ‘message’ is really quite reactionary in so far as it shows the CONSEQUENCE of this as throwing the whole kingdom into eternal winter but…
  • …instead of rejecting her descion to be independent, Elsa treats the whole eternal winter more as a technical problem to be solved.

Are the lyrics to ‘Let It Go’ amoral? Sure – the right ALMOST has a point there. Elsa, in frustration, rejects all of society so that she can act in anyway she likes. I mean, that does sound familiar – not so much ‘Crowley’ but the whole strain of ‘positive thinking’ self-help radical individualism that is peddled by multiple strands of the Alt-Right. The lyrics could *almost* be an anthem for some sections of the Alt-Right, except…

…except that it is a woman singing them and a woman rejecting not people expecting a basic level of decency & compassion but rather a mass of expectations that are literally crushing her ability to do what she is good at. And Elsa does ‘learn her lesson’ in this regard by realising that she SHOULD be allowed to be herself and make bridges and mountain top ice palaces but not at the expense of cutting herself off from her society and family.

Put another way – I think maybe ‘Let It Go’ struck a chord with these guys a bit. It caused a tiny twinge of recognition of their own feelings in a quite different character, to the extent that years later they still can’t (ahem) let it go. Yet, at the same time, the SAME message expressed their deepest fear – women following their own dreams for their own motives independent of societal expectations for the role of women.

To finish, here’s that song again but a version where Disney cut together all the multiple language versions:

*[I’ve had some concerned people on the right express concern for the sweeping headline. Not All Rightists hate Elsa and some find her quite charming 🙂 ]


Ockham, the neo-Thomist right and transgender rights

Micael Gustavsson asked a good question in the previous post and my reply got so long that I thought it should be a post instead. [A caveat – I’m not an expert on Medieval philosophy or Ockham but I have been to Surrey. Any philosophy professors or expert on the theology of the middle ages feel free to correct my errors – or anybody really 🙂 ]

//Why would it have been impossible to reach todaylevel technology based on the philosphical thinking of thinking of Thomas? Or is that maybe to big a question?//

Mainly because it doesn’t work – so assuming technological and scientific thought proceeded anyway then over time then Thomism would increasingly be in conflict with advances in knowledge. It’s not so much that William O had to invent nominalism for science to happen, just that the kind of reasoning & conceptual framework that will come about in response to engaging scientifically with the world won’t match Thomism.

In reality, the most famous divergence came with Galileo’s conflict with the Catholic church but that just highlights one spot where a central authority tried to hold onto one aspect of a broader model and picked a very silly spot to make their stand.

I don’t think Ockham set these changes in Western thought in motion – I think he was an astute thinker who spotted a whole set of flaws in the Thomist consensus. The only way for these flaws to STAY overlooked would have been for the Catholic Church to somehow prevent intellectual development in Western Europe at both a philosophical and practical level.

Put a different way: the neo-Thomist right really want things (i.e. everything) to exist to serve an underlying purpose and for categories of things to reflect that purpose and deviations of things FROM those categories & purposes are therefore immoral.

A current example is the right and its reaction to transgender people. Now let me be clear the basic issue of the right is simply bigotry and ignorant prejudice but the styles of rationalisations that the right applies neatly illustrates how the view on categories works as an epistemology and a view on ethics.

So an anti-transgender rights conservative (which isn’t all of them) might claim that:

  • there are only two sexes/gender
  • that God created those two sexes for distinct purposes
  • that when a person acts in a way contrary to the purposes of their sex that is sinful (because it is ‘unnatural’/against God’s purpose)
  • that therefore they should not be encouraged or enabled to do so

These ideas are really just bigotry but if you were casting around for a reputable philosophical scheme to rationalise them then a set of ideas that join Plato, Aristotle, St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas look attractive. This is the idea that the reason things are similar (and hence can be lumped together in categories) even though they are different (so we can tell them apart) is because the truer, deeper, more essential reality IS the category. All women are alike (in this idea) because womaness is the underlying truth. As a way of thinking it makes sense if you are classifying quadrilaterals (all square-like things are instances of the underlying deeper truth of the Platonic ideal of a square).

Now there is a whole bunch of stuff there: a metaphysics, a theory of science, a view of God and theological truth (i.e. we can reason about categories and discover ethical truths). Why do John C Wright and Vox Day like syllogisms? Because they were a medieval/classic way of reasoning about CATEGORIES.

Now Ockham called bullshit on aspects of this. Specifically he moved (reluctantly at times) towards a position called nominalism – essentially that categories are primarily convenient ways of thinking about stuff. Things are essentially different but humans can identify similarities and lump similar things together. But that lumping together isn’t the truer deeper reality. Nominalism has its problems also obviously. However, when we look at things scientifically what do we see:

  • There are not only two human biological sexes. It is not a biological fact that humans divide neatly into two simple groupings by sex. It’s not true physically and it isn’t true genetically.

Now, the existance of inter-sex people is NOT the cornerstone of transgender rights – those rights exist regardless but I’ll get back to that. I’m highlighting it because it illustrates how the neo-Thomist scheme falls apart on a contemporary issue once we engage with the actual facts of the world. Even quite strong natural/empirical categories that we encounter empirically (such as biological genetic sex in humans) that has fairly well-understood causal (in the modern sense) basis does not form categories with zero fuzziness in the boundary. If God set up this scheme then God set up a scheme in which categorical boundaries have a tendency to get fractal.

And that’s JUST sex! Gender brings in questions or societal roles, behaviour, attitudes, dress, personality etc shows no respect for neat natural categories. Of course, the empirical evidence for this is in the ‘softer’ sciences of psychology and sociology and hence easier for the right to dismiss but essentially we have a similar issue. The neo-Thomist is claiming that the categories are a TRUTH about the universe i.e. A QUESTION OF FACT and that from those facts THEOLOGICAL truths can be established (God’s intent) and from that an ETHICAL truth can be inferred (being transgender is supposedly against God’s purpose) – and they are plain wrong.

I doubt William of Ockham had and views or perspective on the issue of transgender rights and there isn’t a coherent way of saying what he would think if he was alive today because he’d be a different person BUT! Bill-O (as I feel I should call him now) was already pulling apart most of the pieces of that argument.

  • His nominalism points to categories as being empirical observational things that will have exceptions, complications, and non-neat boundaries. We live in a world in which there is a platypus and birds are tiny singing dinosaurs.
  • His fiedism separated theological truths from logical and empirical ones. I.e. if God exists then God transcends logic (God is more powerful than logic and isn’t constrained by it) but therefore you can’t logic God.

Now, as I said I don’t want to overstate the fact that biological sex is not a neat category as a reason for transgender rights being important. That isn’t the actual positive reasoning. Rather, it is the fact that biological sex is not a neat category that demonstrates that the neo-Thomist argument CANNOT be correct. It is a metaphysical scheme that falls apart when brought into contact with OBSERVATION – which is what happened repeatedly since Plato first came up with the idea. Ironically it was Aristotle (who Thomas Aquinas venerated) who began chipping away at the scheme. It wasn’t a bad idea as such and Platonism had a good run in mathematics until at least the 19th century.

To move away from biology and sociology, you can see how this divergence works in chemistry. Neat categories of four elements gives way to a plethora of elements. The periodic table itself isn’t a fatal wound because there are lots of natural groupings but the inherent fuzziness (e.g. elements that are nearly but not quite metals) pushes against it. Atomic theory kills it dead – the commonalities between elements arise not from them all being in the same category but rather similarities at an atomic level lead to common properties. Having the quality of a metal becomes something that can be described without recourse to the quality of being a metal.

Anyway, this article on William of Ockham is a good read:

Also Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, which is a great read regardless is very much tied up in the times and ideas of William of Ockham as prototype for modern rationalism. The protagonist, William of Baskerville, shares the same first name with the addition of the allusion to Sherlock Holmes but is also an English Fransciscan and contemporary of William of Ockham. The background to the story involves a political dispute between the Pope and the real life Michael of Cesena head of the Franciscans in which William of Ockham was involved.


Review: Ghostbusters Versus Timothy


CF: So Ghostbusters, what did you think?
Timothy: Overall I felt the  duffel bag could have been larger.
CF: Seriously, it was the only way to get you into the cinema.
Timothy: Ah, the ‘No Cats’ rule again.
CF: Specifically the ‘No cats called Timothy because he keeps shouting at the characters in the movie’ rule again.
Timothy: I believe my fellow patrons enjoy my ad-hoc commentary.
CF: Well, unfortunately, some less appreciative patrons have complained sufficiently often that you’re are permanently banned.
Timothy: Phillip Steins
CF: I think you mean ‘Philistines’
Timothy: No, that’s the manager’s name: Phillip Stein.
CF: Back to the film?
Timothy: Well all I can say is that I’m glad you took me to see the original movie and not the horrid all-girl version.
CF: This was the “all-girl” version.
Timothy: I’m pretty sure it wasn’t. I would have hated the all-girl version.
CF: We’ve been through this Timothy, remember? The lesson on how to tell human males and females apart?
Timothy: It’s a bit hazy and I think it involved beards.
CF: Well I wish I hadn’t mentioned facial hair at all as it got quite complicated.
Timothy: Frankly, you are all disgusting.
CF: But seriously, I don’t get how you can push your anti-feminist nonsense when you can’t actually tell men from women. Do your views extend to the cat world?
Timothy: Don’t be absurd. For starters we ascribe gender by scent and the complexities of cat social dynamics are far superior to humans.
CF: So you confine your prejudice solely to human women, who you can’t actually tell apart from human men?
Timothy: My ‘prejudices’ as you but it are derived by sheer force of logical reasoning.
CF: Actually from sheer force of you reading too many right wing websites.
Timothy: Brietbart understands where the young cat about town is coming from.
CF: I mean this in the nicest possible way, but you are a thoroughly incompetent misogynist.
Timothy: Back to the classic movie? I feel we may have drifted from the topic at hand and into the field of verbally abusing cats.
CF: This was the remake.
Timothy: Oh you poor deluded soul.
CF: You’ve never seen the original.
Timothy: I did today, although it was from tiny holes cut in a canvas duffel bag. What is a duffel anyway? Duffel bags, duffel coats, can you duffel anything?
CF: I think it is a nautical term but we digress again. Best character?
Timothy: Holtzmann.
CF: I concur.
Timothy: Holtzmann was everything a manly cat looks for in a hero. Smart, sound engineering skills, cat-like reflexes and inventive in choice of weaponry.
CF: Personally I liked her mix of oddball personality and sense of humour. She combined aspects of both Egon and Venkman.
Timothy: I’m assuming those people are Communists.
CF: No, those are two of the original Ghostbusters.
Timothy: Absurd. Manifestly Holtzmann is an inherently original character and not some chimeric blending of two Communist writers who probably looked like hipster baristas.
CF: Well I agree that Holtzmann was quite a distinctive character and funny too.
Timothy: I also liked the tall one.
CF: ‘Patty’ played by Leslie Jones.
Timothy: Didn’t like the Australian.
CF: Again I concur. Hemsworth didn’t quite carry off the reverse stereotype of the ditzy receptionist.
Timothy: The others were fine. I particularly liked the misunderstood central character who was really only trying to assert himself in a troubled world.
CF: You’ve lost me again.
Timothy: The nice chap who worked in the hotel.
CF: The main villain?
Timothy: I thought he made some good points.
CF: But you do get that he was the bad guy?
Timothy: Sure, but he was a tragic figure of misunderstood genius. I’m sure they must have cut a scene where the heroic Holtzmann grieved at having to eliminate him.
CF: mmm I’m pretty sure they didn’t.
Timothy: Oh, maybe it was in the end credits! We should have stayed till the end of the credits!
CF: Yeah, well I would have liked to but *somebody* wanted to use the ‘bathroom’.
Timothy: Would it have killed you to put a litter tray in that duffel bag?
CF: Aside from Hemsworth, other faults? I thought there were some odd discontinuities. The stuff about the mayor warning the Ghostbusters off never really went anywhere. One moment he was basically shutting them down and the next moment they are back at base saying everything is fine and trying out new weapons. Also, the stuff with the grey hair didn’t go anywhere either.
Timothy: Again, probably in the end credits which you wouldn’t let us watch.
CF: Faults from your perspective?
Timothy: Insufficient Holtzmann screen time. Also, the film should have been called ‘Holtzmann’ and really should have just been Holtzmann building and then testing proton guns.
CF: Oddly, I would watch that. Did you find it funny?
Timothy: Funny? A film about the restless souls of the dead? Are you some kind of unfeeling monster?
CF: Let’s just assume the answer is ‘yes’ to that question because I thought it kept the laughs up quite well. There were a few flat bits of dialogue, though. I don’t think Kristen Wigg and Melissa McCarthy had quite the same repartee as Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd.
Timothy: The scary bits were scary at the start.
CF: Yes, it had a good creepy vibe. The cameos weren’t great.
Timothy: Camo? They didn’t wear camo. OK the soldiers near the end wore camo…
CF: Cameos. Appearance by the original cast in minor roles. Having said that the best one was the last one appropriately.
Timothy: OK, bored now. Sum it all up.
CF: For a remake, pretty good. A nice mix of comedy, spooky elements and action.
Timothy: Certainly better than that terrible movie with girl Ghostbusters that nobody is watching at all.
CF: Can we agree one one thing? HOLTZMANN!
Timothy: HOLTZMAANNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!
CF: You win.
Timothy: Naturally. Now excuse me while I fashion some goggles.

An insight into video game sexism? I’m in two minds…

A graph - go and read the paper.

A graph – go and read the paper.

There is an interesting paper (with an odd flaw) on sexism in online video games. It was published the other day on PLOS ONE and can be read in full here: Hoorah for open access! [You can even download their data and their R scripts]

Two researchers (Kasumovic from UNSW in Sydney and Kuznekoff from Miami University Middletown in Miami) used Xbox Live to play Halo 3 and recorded audio and video of their team games. They also created three special accounts: one nominated as male, one nominated as female and one nominated as a control. The control account was used to play the game without any verbal input. The other two accounts used a set of pre-recorded audio phrase which were identical between the two accounts but one recorded with a male voice and the other with a female voice.

These prerecorded phrases were identical in the male and female condition, harmless in nature, and designed to be inoffensive. Phrases included: ‘I like this map’, ‘nice shot there’, ‘I had fun playing that game’, ‘I think I just saw a couple of them heading this way’, and ‘that was a good game everyone’.

Having collected audio files from a bunch of games they then transcribed the comments of the other (real) players assigned to them by the game and then they coded those transcripts to identify sexism in the comments. In addition that they had a range of performance values for each of the players (number of kills etc).

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