Inspirational singing competition movies

The contemporary choice, to be sure. The beauty queen, striding confidently to the head of this group with its gloss and its gleam and its Anna Kendrick’s “Cups.” A worthy addition to the collection of movies we’re discussing today to be sure. It meets all the necessary requirements with its tight choreography and even tighter harmonies, a regional competition and colorful misfit archetypes. But is it “Pitch Perfect”?

No. No it most certainly is not. 

While on the surface this piece is bursting with verve and energy, it’s also bursting with oppression and negative stereotypes about Asian women. Circling the periphery of this romp are the dragon ladies and geishas, hardly speaking English and when they do, only at a whisper. Just what was going on here? 

In Joyful Noise, we didn’t even have time to discuss the homicide of the only Asian American member of the choir, and yet the treatment of the Asian American women trapped in this film is far worse. That’s right, the Asian women in Pitch Perfect would be better off dead

Sick mash-ups though. 

From an overview of inspirational singing competition movies. It's a minority opinion (pun intended), but I agree with the author about the depiction of Asian Americans in Pitch Perfect, an otherwise charming pop flick. Let's hope they avoid those easy stereotypes for Pitch Perfect 2 because this genre is a real cinematic treat.

Where have all the cartoon mothers gone?

Why in so many popular fairy tales and cartoons are the mothers always dead?

In The Uses of Enchantment (1976), Bruno Bettelheim, the child psychologist, saw the dead mother as a psychological boon for kids:

The typical fairy-tale splitting of the mother into a good (usually dead) mother and an evil stepmother … is not only a means of preserving an internal all-good mother when the real mother is not all-good, but it also permits anger at this bad “stepmother” without endangering the goodwill of the true mother.

You may notice that these thoughts about dead mothers share a notable feature: they don’t bother at all with the dead mother herself, only with the person, force, or thing that sweeps in and benefits from her death. Bettelheim focuses on the child’s internal sense of himself, Dever on subjectivity itself. Have we missed something here? Indeed. I present door No. 3, the newest beneficiary of the dead mother: the good father.

The author goes on to argue that the “dead mother making way for the caring single father” trope in cartoons is “misogyny made cute.”

I have not seen many of the animated movies cited in the piece, so I can't speak to whether the caring single father is really a culprit behind the ubiquitous dead mothers, but I can think of some other explanations that are credible as well:

  • Many fairy tales were written in an age when many more mothers died giving birth and so it was not so uncommon a scenario. Since many Disney movies are adaptations of those fairy tales, such as those of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, they retain the basic structure of those stories, even as advances in medicine have reduced the risk of childbirth by an order of magnitude.
  • Mothers have traditionally been such dominant forces in running the household that they can actually shield a child from any extreme turmoil. That's good for the child but not great for the drama. An absent mother in a fictional drama lengthens the menu of credible external stresses on a child. You can have a mother present and still put the child into dicey situations, but then the mother just seems negligent, and that's often not the story the writer wants to tell.
  • In contrast, many single fathers are seen as not really understanding what is going on in their children's lives, often because the father is always off at work. Many fictional fathers are also seen as somewhat incompetent around the house. This, too, may become a more outdated stereotype as more and more women choose to pursue full-time careers while their husbands handle a greater share of child care duty.

If we want movies that really reflect this age, we should be seeing more movies that show kids having to move back in with their parents after graduating because the unemployment rate is so high. This sounds like fertile ground for an Apatow flick, starring Seth Rogen as the harried new college graduate, trying to carve his way in the world while dealing with his meddling, overbearing parents, played by Liam Neeson and Tina Fey.

Positive versus negative rights


Are you skeptical of the idea of universal human rights?

No, I’m not skeptical about the idea of universal human rights. I’m skeptical about what I call positive rights. You see, if you look at the logical structure of rights, every right implies an obligation on someone else’s part. A right is always a right against somebody. If I have a right to park my car in your driveway, then you have an obligation not to interfere with my parking my car in your driveway. Now the idea of universal human rights is a remarkable idea because if there are such things, then all human beings are under an obligation to do—what? Well, I want to say that with things like the right to free speech it just means not to interfere. It’s a negative right. My right to free speech means I have a right to exercise my free speech without being interfered with. And that means that other people are under an obligation not to interfere with me.

Now, when I look at the literature, I discover that there is a tradition going back to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where not all of the rights listed are negative rights like the right to free speech, or the right to freedom of religion, or the right to freedom of association, I think all those negative rights are perfectly legitimate. But there are supposed to be such rights as “every human being has a right to adequate housing.” Now I don’t think that can be made into a meaningful claim.

The claim that “every human being has a right to seek adequate housing,” or that there are particular jurisdictions where the British government, or the government of the State of California, can decide “we’re going to guarantee or give that right to all of our citizens”—that seems to me OK. But the idea that every human being, just in virtue of being a human being, has a right to adequate housing in a way that would impose an obligation on every other human being to provide that housing, that seems to me nonsense. So I say that you can make a good case for universal human rights of a negative kind, but that you cannot make the comparable case for universal human rights of a positive kind.

My favorite bit from an interview with philosopher John Searle.


Led Zeppelin’s legacy is fittingly long and fittingly loud. Depending on your preference in white male hagiography, “modern” rock music is often said to have started with Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” or Sgt. Pepper, but these myths are wishful, and overly fanciful: Modern rock music started with Led Zeppelin. Their influence, for better and worse, over all that’s come since is singular. Punk in the 1970s was a rejection of their pompous pretentiousness, metal in the 1980s an affirmation of their excesses, grunge in the 1990s a reclamation of punk that often sounded a lot like Led Zeppelin. We have Led Zeppelin to blame for Creed; we have Led Zeppelin to thank for the White Stripes. They were a band loved by millions, but if you were smart, or just cool, you probably hated them. Led Zeppelin lifted popular music to new heights of opulence and ambition and in doing so made people fear for its future. They were a microcosm of age-old anxieties about music and commerce and youth and race and sex: if the music of the ’60s—Motown, the Beatles, Stax and Muscle Shoals, Woodstock—brought unprecedented consensus, Led Zeppelin brought something like the opposite. Forty-five years later, we live in their aftershocks.

From Slate: Modern rock didn’t start with Dylan or the Beatles. It started with Zeppelin.

Moby Dick

The Uncomfortable Truth at the Heart of Mobile Gaming:

Most people outside the game industry don’t realize that free-to-play games, by far the most successful mobile game category, are often supported financially by a very small number of users who pay extravagantly for power-ups, extra lives, and in-game currency. The whole point of many successful free-to-play games is to identify these “whales” and extract as much money as possible from them. 

The discussion of this process at mobile conferences is sometimes uncomfortable. Non-paying players (the great majority of a game’s users) are often dismissed as meat to be fed to the whales. An intense amount of thought goes into not just identifying the whales, but determining their individual psychology and the best techniques to pull more money from that particular type of person. Players are tracked in as much detail as possible, including exactly which promotion they responded to, what their purchasing pattern is, and any other details the developer can glean from them. Every aspect of the game is crafted to maximize revenue extraction, including minute changes in graphics, button designs, and subtle changes in game play. Anything that creates even a small fraction of one percent change in a conversion rate can mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful game, so the pressure to constantly refine everything is immense.

Among the many ways free to play mobile games are like gambling, this most uncomfortable may be how scientifically one can engineer a game to part a whale from his money.

Recommended reading: Addiction by Design

Secret to the perfect burger

How to make a great hamburger is a question that has bedeviled the nation for generations, for as long as Americans have had griddles and broilers, for as long as summertime shorts-wearing cooks have gone into the yard to grill.

But the answer is simple, according to many of those who make and sell the nation’s best hamburgers: Cook on heavy, cast-iron pans and griddles. Cook outside if you like, heating the pan over the fire of a grill, but never on the grill itself. The point is to allow rendering beef fat to gather around the patties as they cook, like a primitive high-heat confit.

More here from the NYTimes. Not sure it's practical to serve a big group with burgers cooked on cast iron pans unless you happen to have a ton of them, but if you're a regular host of big barbeques, it's not that expensive to get a cast iron griddle for your grill.

The other tip in this article that I've always found to be critical is to use meat that is 20 to 25% fat. In the demonization of fat, too many cooks resort to purchasing the leanest burger meat from stores. If you want to eat healthy, eat a carrot stick. If you're going to eat a burger, eat a burger.


Creator David Milch was notorious for working on scripts until the last minute, which meant "it was a foregone conclusion we wouldn't be able to learn our lines," the character actor Stephen Tobolowsky wrote in an essay for Backstage magazine earlier this year. "Ian McShane told me to keep looking at him, stay in character and just call out 'Line.'" The scene became a "standoff of two actors saying, 'Line'" — with the prompts edited out of the final product.

Hilarious. I'd love to see some of these outtakes. From an article documenting all the various ways actors memorize their lines.

Not surprisingly, there's an app for that. Rehearsal is an app for the iPhone, and Rehearser is a free app for Android, both of which help you to memorize a script.