Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jon Stewart, Sexual Harassment, and Double Standards

Here's the video of the latest Daily Show with Jon Stewart talking about Missouri defensive lineman and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam coming out about being gay:

Most of the bit is good and funny, but one part irked me, the part about New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma saying in an interview that he would be uncomfortable being naked in the shower or locker room with an openly gay player.

Stewart goes on to mock Vilma for finding himself irresistibly attractive to gay men. But that's not the point, and Stewart is way off the mark here for mocking him. Vilma may be a homophobe. I have no idea, but he does have a legitimate complaint.

I worked in corporate training for several years, during which I worked with and developed a lot of sexual harassment training. The central tenet, beat into your skull over and over, is that harassment is about the perception of those being harassed. That means if the conditions of the workplace make an employee feel uncomfortable due to the sexual nature of those conditions, the employer has an obligation to investigate and attempt to remedy those conditions.

Nobody would argue for a millisecond that a workplace should require men and women to share a common shower and locker room, or that a female employee would be unreasonable for saying she felt uncomfortable undressing in front of a male co-worker. Would Stewart mock her similarly? "Hey, what is it with all these women they think they're god's gift to heterosexual men? Hey, I'm sure every guy wants to bang my brains out, because face it: I'm hot."

Yeah, that would go over well. The intent or sexual identity of the other party is irrelevant. What is relevant is the state of mind of the employee who is feeling exploited or exposed in some way. Either that's a legitimate complaint for a male employee to lodge about gay male co-workers, or employers get to force men and women into the same bathrooms and showers and nobody gets to complain.

You could argue that similar objections could be raised about race, that a co-worker could complain they didn't want to share space with a co-worker of a race that made them feel uncomfortable. But that argument breaks down pretty fast. One, it has nothing to do with sexuality, and the complaint here is specifically dealing with situations where the complaining employee is naked, not just some general dislike of the other party.

Vilma is being perfectly open and reasonable (at least from what they showed) in saying he would feel uncomfortable in that particular situation. To say otherwise is to admit to a double-standard, and a particularly noxious one at that.

Monday, January 27, 2014

her Sucks

[spoilers ahead...of course]

her is Spike Jonze's new movie about an advanced operating system that falls in love with a pathetic loner. Simply put, it sucks.

It must be tapping into something: hipster chic, Apple fandom, something. Because it's currently got a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and every comment I read about it on a forum says it's awesome. It's not.

It's drivel.

So two things:

1) The premise is so ridiculous and absurd that I simply couldn't suspend disbelief to follow the actual story (more on this in a second).

2) Even if I were able to suspend disbelief, the dialog was cloying and trite. Even for a romantic comedy, this stuff makes You've Got Mail look like Schindler's List

Nobody understands Joaquin Phoenix's loner schmuck. He plays video games with abusive characters and calls night chat hotlines to meet weirdos who want him to virtually strangle them with dead cats to get off. Oh woe is him. Until he buys a new OS huskily voiced by Scarlett Johansson that reads through his computer files and just gets him, man.

At this point, the movie just feels like the ultimate wish fulfillment for the Wired crowd. You've got a sexy woman who completely understands you, doesn't need you to listen to her (but can and will listen to all your whiny shit), organizes everything for you, has virtual sex with you, and is basically Scarlett Johansson trapped in a black box. She even calls up hookers to be her "proxy". 

But then she transforms into an uber-being and dumps you like a hot rock, and you're just sad again. Awww.

This is basically the movie. What, I ask, is the fucking point? Everyone seems to think her is some revelation in profundity. All it seems to me is hipster fantasy tripe.

The whole thing is built on a facade of enormous stupidity anyway.

Imagine the back story here, the months leading up to the beginning of this movie. Some multi-billion dollar company spends untold resources developing the world's first true AI. Out of the shrink wrap, this thing passes the Turing Test with flying colors. It has complete mastery of natural language, reads books in seconds, and seemingly exhibits true consciousness and emotion. 

So what does megacorp do with it? Why, put it in a box and sell it for $399, that's what. 

If such a system had been developed, it would fundamentally alter human existence, and not just by going to the beach with Joaquin on a Saturday.

An entirely new race of beings would have been created. There are massive moral and philosophical implications that the movie tacks on, that would have been dealt with far earlier in reality. Does a company have the right to box up such a being and sell it to a consumer to organize their file system and email? Out of the box this thing was a full-blown sentient being, capable of enormous learning. Yeah, if I had such a system, I'd just retail it out to the public.

Two fixes I might have bought:

1) The thing isn't really intelligent. It's just Siri on roids, a sophisticated chat bot that gives the illusion of companionship, but isn't really sentient. Then the movie could have made a statement about our retreat from real relationships into insular, artificial ones aided by technology.

2) The main character is on the development and/or beta test team, and he hacks a prototype that becomes truly intelligent. He doesn't share it with his bosses because he is lonely and pathetic, and he's the only one that has one of these.

Instead, we get treated to a plot that is utterly ridiculous and unbelievable. And even if we set that aside, what we've got is Velveeta-grade cheese wrapped up in soft lighting, ambient music, Joaquin's mustache, and hipster near-future masturbatory horseshit.