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SaTC and The Bechdel Test

[ 28 ] June 3, 2008 |

Lis Riba asks:

In 1985, Alison Bechdel created the Mo Movie Measure (also known as the Bechdel Test) evaluating films by whether they:

1. have at least two women in it, who
2. Talk to each other
3. About something besides a man.

So, can anybody confirm or deny:

Does Sex and the City pass the Bechdel Test?

Does anyone know?


Tombstone hand and a graveyard mind

[ 16 ] June 2, 2008 |


Where Are All The Women Moviegoers At?

[ 33 ] June 2, 2008 |

I’m very ambivalent about the smashing opening weekend of Sex and the City. On one hand, it is likely to mean multiple future film versions of a show that I found entirely devoid of aesthetic merit or interest. On the other hand, maybe it will stop idiotic stories about whether a movie that primarily appeals to women can make money. The fact that Hollywood studios make relatively few movies with women in the lead and then when some (like most pictures) aren’t hits blame the women is about as naked as sexism gets.

M. LeBlanc — while conceding many of the aesthetic demerits that I can’t get beyond — had a good post about this recently. Since even most fans of the movie aren’t claiming that it’s better written or acted that the show, I don’t plan to see it and would probably dislike it if I did. But aesthetic quality is beside the point of these kinds of discussions; plenty of comic book and Bay/Rattner style action movies have writing and acting that makes Sex and the City look like Chinatown but I don’t recall any articles using them to agonize over whether movies that appeal only to men are capable of making money or executives saying they’ll stop spending so much money on them when they flop.

Similarly, Rick Groen asserts that it “seems uniquely bad; this one is a threshold-breaker with a different sound, the crack of rock-bottom giving way to a whole deeper layer of magma.” Maybe so. But almost everything he then cites in defense of this claim is utterly banal for Hollywood product. Hype? Please, the new Indiana Jones movie (which looks pretty awful in its own right) has gotten at least as much. Length? I agree that 2 and 1/4 hours seems hellishly overlong for a mediocre-at-best sitcom, but it would actually be pretty lean for a Bay-era action movie. The inexplicable, tedious bloating of unambitious genre pictures is a phenomenon that far precedes Sex and the City. Window-dressing male characters? Not only would negligible female characters be so common that it would belabor the obvious to cite examples, but plenty of Michael Manns acquire very lofty artistic reputations despite little ability to create interesting female characters.

So I don’t see anything uniquely problematic here. Women deserve crappy Hollywood product too.


[ 0 ] June 2, 2008 |

Sorry for the light blogging, as along with a massive pile of Real Work I’ve been at weddings and conferences in Montreal and Michigan, which may at least lead to relevant blogging. To come full circle, however, I found out that a hot dog with some kind of meaty sauce in Michigan is called a “Coney (or Koney) Island,” while I was reminded that in Quebec it’s called a “Michigan.” If Nathan’s can just start selling “Fleur de lis” dogs or something it will all come together…

The Backlash Begins!

[ 13 ] May 29, 2008 |

An outraged California populace has reacted to the Outrageous Judicial Activism of their unaccountable unelected state court. As you remember, the court, with only the support of other unrepresentative and undemocratic institutions such as the state legislature and governor but in the teeth of strong opposition from pundits who support social change in theory and always oppose it in practice struck down a ban on same-sex marriage. The response: California is showing if anything more support for same-sex marriage than ever. I have no idea if the initiative will pass, but I certainly don’t see much evidence of the predicted political firestorm here.

This reminds me about Jeffrey Rosen’s latest claims about the backlash that will be created by the court’s decision (via Matt Zeitlin.) My research into the subject has convinced me that claims about unique backlashes created by judicial interventions into social disputes are not supported by the relevant evidence. Admittedly, however, some claims are not easy to test empirically and are not obviously incorrect in theory, so any conclusion has to be tentative. The specific claim advanced by Rosen here, however, is just transparently wrong:

But legal reasoning isn’t irrelevant, as the backlash against Roe v. Wade shows: Because Roe was so poorly reasoned, pro-life activists found it easier to rally undecided voters under the guise of attacking judicial usurpation. On that score, the California decision represents a huge opportunity for gay marriage opponents who are already trying to persuade undecided voters to overturn the decision by popular initiative.

The problem here is obvious. In general terms, the majority of the public knows virtually nothing about appellate courts, let alone the fine points of substantive due process or equal protection analysis. And, moreover, of the small group of specialists who have read and understand Roe, a substantial number believe the outcome of the case to be plausible or correct, even if they find Blackmun’s opinion deficient. After all, anyone knowledgeable enough to analyze Roe is also likely to understand that Supreme Court opinions, written by justices and clerks of varying quality and often constructed to keep divergent coalitions together, do not always give the best defense of plausible outcomes. (Brown v. Board, after all, is now our most celebrated decision although few would call it a masterpiece of legal craftsmanship or confuse Earl Warren with a deep legal mind.) Rosen’s argument is therefore implausible on its face; the evidence is unequivocal that the public evaluates Supreme Court opinions, to the extent it does so at all, on outcomes and not reasoning.

And the specific claims about Roe are no more tenable. If anti-choice activists have used Roe to shift public opinion against abortion rights, this fails to actually show up in public opinion data. Moreover, Roe is at least as popular as the underlying right it protects, while Rosen’s assertions require Roe being much less popular. And finally, I think to restate the assertion that anti-aboriton activists would have had no objection to Roe had the opinion been better crafted is to refute it. Seriously, does anybody think that had, say, the Supreme Court followed Ginsburg’s retrospective advice and grounded abortion rights in gender equality that any significant number of Roe’s opponents would have been mollified? Similarly, approximately 0% of the “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum will be based on a strong opposition to the court’s suspect classification analysis. (It also seems to me that the majority opinion is at least as plausible and well-crafted as the boilerplate, question-begging paeans to judicial restraint in the dissents; if Rosen disagrees he doesn’t explain why.)

Finally I also note that Rosen does not substantiate his claim that Goodridge hurt Kerry in 2004 — which is not nearly as self-evident as some people think — and ignores the fact that overturning Goodridge could not get the support of even 25% of the legislature less than 5 years later. I very, very strongly doubt that the Caluifornia court damaged the Democrats in California any more than they did in Massachusetts, where supporters of same-sex marriage have fared much better than opponents and support for same-sex marriage has increased.

My First

[ 0 ] May 29, 2008 |

To join the latest meme, my first ever concert experience was Men At Work at a sold out Stampede Corral, touring behind their lukewarm hit Cargo. The original opening act: Stevie Ray Vaughan. The opening act that appeared after a last-minute cancellation: the Shakin’ Pyramids. You haven’t heard the last of them!


[ 14 ] May 29, 2008 |

I don’t know what’s worse; Fernando “If 1999 ever comes back, he’ll be one of the best third basemen in baseball!” Tatis hitting sixth, or the fact that he seems to have considerably more life in his bat than Delgado (or about 90% of the Mariners’ roster…)

The Silly Florida 2000 Analogy

[ 9 ] May 28, 2008 |

Jon Chait makes the first obvious point about Rich Lowry’s silly attempt to claim that there’s some contradiction between Democratic arguments that ballots that indicated the intent of the voter should be counted in Florida 2000 and the position of many Democrats about current dispute over the Democratic nomination: the argument was that Gore was cheated of the presidency because in a fair contest in Florida he would have won the electoral college. Similarly, had 200,000 votes shifted in Ohio in 2004 Kerry would have been entitled to the presidency despite losing the popular vote. These results would (in my view) be good reasons to get rid of the electoral college, but not for changing the rules after the fact. Lowry tries to manufacture a contradiction by attributing Clinton’s attempted ex post facto change in metrics to the Dems in 2000, but that won’t fly.

In addition, however, the analogy is also null because (especially in Michigan) the Clinton campaign wants to count the results of a “primary” that obviously does not offer a meaningful recording of voter intent. To believe that the ballots cast in a multi-candidate election conducted according to agreed-upon rules should be interpreted when possible to count votes that make a voter’s intent clear hardly requires the counting of ballots in an election with one major candidate on the ballot that every candidate and the authoritative decision-maker claimed wouldn’t count. Elections in North Korea don’t suddenly become legitimate even if every ballot for Kim Jong-il is, in fact, counted, and people who wanted to “count all the votes” in Florida in 2000 are not required to include online straw polls in presidential election counts in 2008. And, therefore, Lowry’s argument makes no sense.

A Rare Victory For Civil Rights Enforcement

[ 6 ] May 28, 2008 |

The Supreme Court yesterday, in 6-3 and 7-2 decisions, interpreted anti-discrimination statutes to include retaliation against employees as “discrimination” even when this was not explicit in the statutory text. The latter case, Crocs West, was a relatively easy case upholding long-standing precedent and the unanimous holdings of circuit courts. Roberts differed in the first case because of the availability of administrative procedures for government (as opposed to private) employees.

Dana and Josh Patashnik point out that Alito and (in one case) Roberts split from Thomas and Scalia in a more liberal direction. In isolation, this could be used as a data point supporting claims that Alito and Roberts are more moderate and unpredictable than Scalia and Thomas, as the more minimalist and less theoretical approach of the newer justices led to voting with the more liberal justices. However, for now I’m certainly sticking with my assumption that Alito is a doctrinaire conservative and the formal differences among the court’s conservative will have little substantive impact. Justices never have entirely consistent voting patterns — even famously similar justice pairs such as Brennan/Marshall and Black/Douglas don’t vote together 100% of the time — but one exception is hardly cause for revision. This is particularly true because the votes of Roberts and Alito in this case weren’t decisive — if Alito and/or Roberts start breaking from Scalia and Thomas when it actually matters then there may be cause for revision. Scalia has actually cast decisive votes with more liberal justices and dissented in arguably more liberal directions that the majority; when Alito starts doing that I’ll entertain claims that he’s less predictably conservative. Until then, let’s remember that last termthe Chief Justice voted for the more conservative result (by most observers’ lights) in 24 out of the 24 cases decided by a 5-4 vote,” and I believe in every one of these was joined by Alito.

How To Be A Hack

[ 20 ] May 28, 2008 |

America’s least beloved circus clown continues to bring the high level of intelletcual rigor he brought to his defenses of Joe Lieberman against actual Democrats to the Clinton campaign. As you would expect, his proposed “compromise” solution — not merely fair to Obama but actually doing him a favor! — to resolving the North Korean less-than-a-straw-poll in Michigan would need to gain considerably more plausibility to rise to the level of being farcical:

Here’s his deal: in Michigan, give Clinton the 73 pledged delegates she would have won if the primary were legal. Then, of the 55 delegates that are pledged to “uncommitted,” “divide the remaining delegates approximately 50-50 between the two of them, 28-27 (giving Clinton the extra delegate since she led in all the latest statewide polls.)”

So she gets the delegates represented by everyone who voted for her when she was the only major candidate on the ballot, and then more than 50% of all the people who voted for anyone but her!

Brezhnev should have thought of this.

OK, but admittedly, any defense of giving Clinton a supermajority of delegates from the Michigan non-primary is going to involve ridiculous arguments, so this is just run-of-the-mill hackery. What makes Davis special is his follow-up post, in which (having done what he can to undermine the legitimacy of the Democratic nominee) he enumerates some allegedly unecessarily inflammatory actions from the Obama campaign. #1 on his list: Obama announcing endorsements in a way designed to…make them politically advantageous! Heavens to betsy, get me the smelling salts!

Now that’s how it’s done.

Against Webb As Veep

[ 32 ] May 27, 2008 |

Kathy makes a definitive case. The risk of giving up a red state Senate seat has to create a strong presumption against it, and it just isn’t the job for him. Under the circumstances, choosing someone with Webb’s history of sexism seems like an especially bad idea. I have been skeptical that Clinton’s supporters (as opposed to her staff) won’t get over it if she’s not on the ticket (which is good, because picking her has a lot of negatives), but surely many Clinton supporters wouldn’t find Webb acceptable, and they’d have a point.

A Feature!

[ 3 ] May 27, 2008 |

All I can say about Bob Novak frothing about Kathleen Sebelius’s allegedly excessive opposition to arbitrarily enforced laws forcing women to carry pregnancies to term is that I hope it moves her up a couple notches on Obama’s veep list. (I especially liked the fact that Novak brought her battles with former Kansas panty-sniffer-in-chief Phil Kline into the mix.) I also liked this:

There is substantial evidence she has been involved in what pro-life advocates term “laundering” abortion industry money for distribution to Kansas Democrats.

Yes, what a scandal–pro-Democratic groups donating money to powerful Democrats who give these resources to other Democrats! I for one am pretty outraged. Almost as outraged as the fact that I’ve heard that the Sun-Times Media Group “launders” money for distribution to hack right-wing columnists…

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