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Readdressing the imbalance [Apr. 29th, 2009|01:17 am]
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Something that's been bothering me for ages, and I want to see fixed...

First let me state, I don't have a problem with religion. For a quick lowdown on my thoughts regarding religious folk (and skeptics), you can go here.

Now, on with my main issue.

There's an ongoing meme through Hollywood films that has been shitting me more and more over the years, and in its essence it comes down to this idea -

Dyed in the wool science-type discovers that something of a religious nature is real, or finds faith of a type. A variant of this is scientists as immoral bad guys who die horribly, usually directly or indirectly because of their evil science stuff, while the good religious folks are mostly okay and come out alive.

There will be other variants I've missed, no doubt, but lets just assume that I will want them all lumped into the same basket, one labeled, "Scientists are actually dumb people, religious folks know better than them."

It's a big label, but you really don't have to look too hard to find it around in a number of films. In fact, it's actually become a lot more common over the last ten to twenty years.

Now, I don't mind it as a story idea. It hinges on a basic concept that has a lot of scope - a person who believes in certain truths finds there may be more to the world than their belief system allows for. There's certainly a place for it, and you can do some good stuff with it when the trope is handled right.

But I'm a bit fucking over it. Why? Because in recent times we seem to be getting the same version again and again in disaster and other 'big' films. And it's always the scientist who is shown to have the blinkered worldview.

This whole science ain't worth a damn, your life will be sweet even if you're thick, so long as you have faith (or blind patriotism, which is just another form of faith), is getting a bit tiresome. If science is really so worthless to us, why are its benefits everywhere? Why haven't we given up on cars, computers, and artificial heart valves? Why use medicine when prayer is obviously the way, since it doesn't rely on all that evil science stuff?

There was a time, after the Second World War, where lots of films had scientists as the good guys, as well as having some as misguided or bad guys. It was a natural reaction to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war - scientists had saved the day where ordinary manpower had been unable - but what was this horrifying new thing they had unleashed? Gradually however the hero aspect of the scientist faded as the American cult of smart = loser was constantly reinforced by their cinema.

Meanwhile, the same American cultural imperialist push has seen the rise of Super God! Able to save believers with a single plot contrivance! Oh He may move in mysterious ways, killing someone near and dear to a main character (usually off-screen and before the point in time when the films starts - we wouldn't want Him to look bad, would we?) so that they have to question their faith before having it reaffirmed by the end of the movie. But He will save the day, directly or indirectly. And He'll play favourites too, as mostly non-believers and those secondary characters who let their faith waver, get culled.

I'm not saying the priest, the ultimate cinema-version of a believer, paying a price because of his blind faith hasn't been done. There have been a few films where the priest puts his faith in God as he faces up to the aliens, Nazis, or whatever, and winds up getting slightly killed. But you know, I can't think of one decent-sized (read Studio) film in recent years where something like this has happened.

One of my least favourite of the more recent anti-scientist memes is the wacky, freaky scientist character. It's like there are only two sorts of scientists - studied, serious types, and brilliant zany fuckwits. And they're usually both seen as mistaken, immoral, or both.

You know what I want?

I want a big budget disaster movie that starts where the priest has an idea of what is going on, something tied in with certain prophecies or some-such. And as he investigates it further, he starts to realise that no, religion doesn't have the answers on this one, that faith can't make things all better. And by the end of the film, while he still has his faith, pure science saves the day, and he's openly acknowledging that science is an important part of our lives, that faith in God can only get one so far. Or that God gave us the brains to reason, so we could actively save ourselves rather than just praying and waiting for a miracle.

I want films where, in the face of all the odds, the people who save the day are the ones who have studied and researched, not prayed. I don't want or need fundamentalists to all be portrayed as fuckwits. I just want scientists to be heroes again!

And there's no reason they can't be. The average Hollywood idea of a scientist is as dated as having every gay character portrayed as a lisping, limp-wristed, comic relief coward constantly flirting with the resolutely macho and hetero lead male.

I'm sick of the cult of the anti-geek, where the worthwhile people are the religious ones, or the good-looking sporty types, and every person with an interest in science is either an alternative type, or a clueless, socially retarded dweeb.

I still remember being at Fresh Science at the Redback a year or two ago, surrounded by young, good-looking scientists doing really interesting work. My favourite was a guy who looked like the classic Aussie surfer dude, right down to the blonde hair, deep tan, and Hawaiian shirt, and then he got up on stage and opened his mouth and described, in an ocker accent, the research he was doing, and blew me away.

I'm not saying every scientist in a film has to be suave and sexy, but it wouldn't hurt to have a couple here and there.

So what about it? Let's have some good-looking, moral, socially capable scientists save the world for a change. But please, let's drop the traditional guy meets hot science girl and says, "Gee, you sure don't look like a scientist..." thing.

That was old by the end of the fifties.

And you know, if the science could be internally consistent, even if it's totally made up, that would be lovely. The sorts of mistakes and liberties taken with science in many films are the equivalent of having Jesus part the Red Sea, while Moses loads up his Ark, and Noah gets crucified by the Russians.

[User Picture]From: king_espresso
2009-04-28 09:25 pm (UTC)
The best example of how damaging religious zealots can be is Frank Darabont's kick arse version of "The Mist". As things get to the sharp end of the deal, the biggest threat isn't the monsters from another universe, it's a Xian nutter played brilliantly by Marcia Gay Harden.

The 1953 War of the Worlds sends a mixed message, though. A priest holding up a bible gets vapourised by the Martians but the sanctimonious voice-over at the end by Cedric Hardwicke basically states that ghod saves the Earth. (Yeah, but the bastard also sent the Martians!)

For all its' sins, The Core (2003) - one of my guilty skiffy pleasures - goes back to the scientist as righteous problem solving hero trope. No ghod anywhere, just a bunch of people diving into the centre of the Earth to kick start the non-rotating core with a string of nukes.

Maybe we need t-shirts that say "Name A Disease That Religion Cured".
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-04-29 12:14 am (UTC)
I actually liked The Core, for all its faults. It's not a film I'd bother buying for myself, but it will definitely get a rewatch at some point.

Interestingly, The Core is a great example of what can happen to a film if you don't constantly fight tooth and nail. I remember an interview with the writer who fought to keep the film at some level of scientific accuracy/possibility. This included fighting the studio on some of the more ridiculous ideas they tried to force on it, including a 'windscreen' so they could see where they were going, and believe it or not, dinosaurs at the Earth's core!

I'd love to see the guy's early drafts, just to see what battles he chose to lose so he could safely stick to his guns with the big stuff.

On an interesting side note, I rather like your t-shirt idea, while finding sjl's joking response rather offensive - but I couldn't tell you why...
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[User Picture]From: capnoblivious
2009-04-29 12:28 am (UTC)
Who are these people, and why are they allowed near the creative process at all?
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-04-29 12:53 am (UTC)
They are studio heads, producers, etc. They get to interfere because they help get hold of the money, and think they have great idea that will improve the film.
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2009-04-29 01:13 am (UTC)
They pay for the film/TV show, they get to tell you how you're going to make it.

What's funny (and this isn't based on personal experience at all, no not remotely) is when they demand changes to something in development, and then turn around 12 months later and reject the whole project because they hate every single change they bloody insisted on making.
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[User Picture]From: capnoblivious
2009-04-29 01:16 am (UTC)
Yeah, but that's the thing. The "interfering, clueless executive" is such a well-accepted trope among the general public (or, is it just among creative types?) that you'd think some of these executives might pause and say, "Wait, am I being that guy? I don't want to be that guy!"
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2009-04-29 01:23 am (UTC)
This is the thing: no executive on Earth thinks they are that guy. They honestly do look over each shoulder at their peers and think "those monkeys - they're not a creative genius like me!"

That said, Hollywood does have some genuinely clever and creative producers/execs. For all the criticisms you can lay against him, Jerry Bruckheimer is an executive producer who knows his market like the back of his hand, and knows how to shepherd actors and directors into hit projects.
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[User Picture]From: capnoblivious
2009-04-29 01:46 am (UTC)

And, you know, sometimes the talent gets it wrong. I've heard a story (and, you know, I'm happy to call it a cautionary tale rather than a true story) that for the original Star Wars trilogy, Lucas had folks there saying, "Um, George - that's bullshit," which is something he sorely needed for the prequels.
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2009-04-29 01:47 am (UTC)
George used to have Gary Kurtz, but AFAIK Kurtz walked during Return of the Jedi and never looked back.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-04-29 02:04 am (UTC)
Old, old rule of writing - you can't self edit.

I remember a mate of mine who worked on the Star Wars prequels telling me how people would talk about Lucas. So many of them just kept saying, in hushed tones, "George is a genius."

And they weren't being sarcastic!

So who is going to have the balls to say, "George, midi-chlorians gut the whole thing that made Star Wars work. Any kids could hope to learn the Force, but you've just made it about genetics!"
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2009-04-29 01:11 am (UTC)
I like The Core a lot - it's a well-directed and very well-acted film based on a bonkers premise.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-04-29 01:42 am (UTC)
It's funny how some of the same people who kick the shit out of a film like The Core, will not do the same to films like the original Star Wars, Jurassic Park, or any Godzilla or Gamera movie.

People seem to forget that all these films are wholly based on suspension of disbelief.

Have to add that Knowing breaks one of my cardinal suspension of disbelief rules - paramedics using the electric paddles to try and start a woman's heart, and she's still wearing her bra! It bothers me every time. With good direction and editing, no-one need ever see the actresses breasts, if that's the concern.

Suspension of disbelief only works when you don't start to mess with real-world rules, beyond where needed for the core premise to work.

Oh, and why do some of the rocks float when the ship takes off, but not all of them? Aargh!
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2009-04-29 01:44 am (UTC)
With the rocks thing, I just assume it was a light gravitational field that weakly pulled up some of the smaller ones on the surface, but not the others.

If Nicolas Cage had got to the field of stones and the kids were already gone, and he just waited there on his knees as the big fiery dawn built on the horizon before they cut to credits, it would've been a damn fine film.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-04-29 01:58 am (UTC)
The rock sizes varied, some were larger than ones still on the ground.

Totally agree about the different ending.
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[User Picture]From: king_espresso
2009-04-29 05:00 am (UTC)
My bugbear is people in moofies who get aboard military helicopters without ear protection. Get in a Blackhawk without it and you are deaf in 10 mins. A large jet engine sits less than a metre away from the back of your head in one of those babies.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-04-29 05:12 am (UTC)
That's a good one.

Another I think is just lazy fucking writing, but doesn't bother me as much, is people who can figure out another person's computer password in two or three tries, especially when they have no information on the person.

Hackers have magical powers!
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[User Picture]From: kaths
2009-04-29 10:35 am (UTC)
Grr, don't get me started on computer interfaces, the amount of keyboard typing people do when they're obviously doing something that a mouse would be used for (eg selecting a part of the screen to zoom in on), and then there's the whole 'zoom into a low res digital pic and sharpen it, and suddenly it's an incredibly high res pic'... I wonder how the graphics department feel about providing a high res image of the zoomed in bit and a low res of teh overall pic...
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[User Picture]From: capnoblivious
2009-04-29 12:30 am (UTC)
I've noticed this for a while - there are some things I just can't watch because of it. (New BSG springs to mind.)
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[User Picture]From: pre_vet_girl
2009-04-29 02:05 am (UTC)
Hear, hear.
I'm sick to death of scientists being painted as the bad guys in real life media as well as in movies. Probably has something to do with me studying to be a scientist as well as marrying one!
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-04-29 02:24 am (UTC)
Yeah, I love how quickly scientists are shown to be amoral by the same media outlets that hype minor issues into major scares just to get more people interested in their product.

The other thing I love is the people who use twitter, the internet, take headache tablets and diabetes medication, drive cars, talk on phones, watch DVDs, and then say that science is bad!

I like your scientist hubby, even if he's automatically evil because of all that learnin'. And I still like you, even though you're training to become a scientist evil.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-04-29 02:28 am (UTC)
Actually, the whole vet thing? It just makes you that much more desirable than you already were.

Smart is always sexy :)
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[User Picture]From: dortamur
2009-04-29 03:33 am (UTC)
What annoys me is that both sides of the argument seem to draw this hard line between Science vs Faith.

Just because some zealots push it, doesn't mean that the two are mutually exclusive. There are many scientists who are also religious, just like there are many religious figures who respect and support science.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-04-29 04:03 am (UTC)
Yep! I have no problem with a scientist believing in a god or gods.

I always remember my homeroom teacher, who was also our religious studies teacher, talking about Genesis. He asked people about the whole seven days thing, and then made the point that how would you explain to people from that ancient times how a planet formed?

Are they really going to be able to comprehend gravity and accretion of matter, followed by chemical soups and evolution? No. So you tell them what they can cope with, that God made the whole thing in a week. He then said, that maybe God did make everything in seven days, but what is God's timescale compared to ours? Why shouldn't one of God's days be a billion years of our time?

And why would God go to all to all the trouble of creating all the natural laws of a complex self-sustaining system, and then break them all the bloody time? Surely if he's infallible, he could create a good self-sustaining system that wouldn't need continual tweaking.

I don't believe in God, but these arguments are reasonable to me when it comes to marrying the concepts of God and science.
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[User Picture]From: strangedave
2009-04-29 05:19 am (UTC)
This view of things is the one that Stephen Jay Gould referred to as 'non overlapping magisteria', the idea that the things religion is about and the things science is about are different, and the two need not contradict each other. It can work, and there are a few religions that have been known to take this exact stance -- I don't talk about it much, but I'm involved with one that at least tries to take this stance (albeit inconsistently).

The problem is, that the vast majority of religion just doesn't agree. We pretend that they do if they don't hold on to the big, obviously scientifically disprovable stuff (if they don't believe that the earth was created in six days because it says so in the Bible, or that the moon is closer than the sun because it says so in the Vedas), but almost all of them hold up viewpoints that science can't actually disprove, but that science scoffs at as unfalsifiable and extremely unlikely (an afterlife containing a literal heaven and hell, or reincarnation and karmic record). Science doesn't say such things are wrong per se, it says they are unprovable, unfalsifiable, unscientific, and basically silly to believe -- they might not be disprovable, but they won't survive Occams Razor. It is theoretically possible for there to be religions that are not exclusive with a scientific worldview, but certainly all major religions currently don't really qualify unless you pick and choose beliefs and exclude some fundamental ones. Russell Blackford puts this pretty strongly.

And even the ones that have backed down on the big issues just can't help themselves from deciding science must be wrong when it disagrees with them (eg the Catholics, who officially believe in evolution and astronomy these days, but just can't help themselves telling big fat lies about the efficacy of contraception etc). They might have grudgingly admitted defeat on a couple of big issues after a few centuries of fighting a losing battle with every tool at their disposal, but they aren't willing to admit that science call tell them they are wrong on anything else.

Science and Faith might not be natural enemies. But the worlds major religions have got a long way to go before they are willing to truly make friends with science.
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[User Picture]From: strangedave
2009-04-29 05:26 am (UTC)
Here is a theory -- there is a huge audience of fundamentalist and otherwise devoted Christians in the US. They don't get much to reaffirm their world view in reality, so they crave it in fiction, and are so keen to see it that they flock to fiction that affirms their world view, in numbers big enough to make significant difference to the bottom line.

People who believe in science, on the other hand, get to see it in reality all the time. Fancy gadgets, modern medicine, and a lot of real heroes. When they want to see their world view reaffirmed, they don't want to see fiction, they can see a documentary. So their depiction in films doesn't matter as much to the bottom line.

Maybe that is it. They have Hollywood, we have reality.
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