I don’t know why more people writing about the Barbie and Oppenheimer double feature don’t mention Aristotle.
That probably sounds pretentious. However, since the New York Times just featured an op ed criticizing the new football kickoff rules by invoking the Greek sensation of ataraxia (sublime contentedness), I probably have license to Go Greek in my little blog post. (Plus I ranted about it the other day, and my people said “go for it!”) I saw Oppenheimer last week, and all I could think about was Aristotle: Pity and Terror, the essence of tragedy. Barbie is about the world turned upside-down in a different way, where the absurd takes center stage, and the Lord of Misrule becomes in charge: comedy at its core.
So let’s go back to high school, basic Aristotle, basic Shakespeare, too, and talk about these movies in terms of how they fit the definitions. Plus, this is a double-movie review. A twofer!
Quantum Storytelling from Christopher Nolen
J. Robert Oppenheimer, the subject of this tale of pity and terror, was the physicist whose pioneering research at Berkeley led him to be chosen to spearhead the Manhattan Project that developed of the atomic bomb. After World War II, he parted ways with some of his colleagues on whether to use atomic power and diplomacy or whether to develop the hydrogen bomb. He ended up losing his security clearance during the anti-communist fervor of the 1950s, in part, because of political maneuvering by the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss. Strauss was later turned down for a cabinet post. That’s the history; that’s the story.
I’ve been futzing about for a few days, trying to decide whether to write a post that centers on Aristotle, “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.” My big hang-up is frankly … audience. How much are y’all going to balk if you read the word Aristotle in the first sentence? And yet I can’t write my film review without mentioning him. So I’ve been stuck between the urge to get these ideas out and the knowledge that we’re living in a time of anti-intellectualism.
It’s like a seesaw effect. We don’t even know what we think about smarts. There are constant little tests nestled in among Corgi pictures on the interwebs that tell you to “solve this puzzle and your IQ is 180.” Which anybody with some kind of education knows is patently false because that’s not how IQ works and nobody has IQs over 170 except that little kid they found in Nepal once. (OK, I checked the Internet; there are a few people now with IQs over 170. But not because they can do some little puzzle.)
Meanwhile, we don’t even care if people learn how to write anymore because we have ChatGPT and other tools coming that will just write stuff for us. As if Chat knows. I think of ChatGPT as like a rather stupid, random World Book Encyclopedia. If you happen to go to the right page and copy the right bits word for word (or verbatim–we used to use that word in a business context until we were told people didn’t know what it meant, so we had to replace it with “word for word” because people can’t learn what words mean anymore)… If you go to the right page and plagiarize it, you might just get away with it. But what if you have to combine things? And if you’re not learning because all you ever do is copy things other people wrote, then you just wander through school and come out as dumb as you started.
They have not yet identified who struck the match. In the horrific fire that has burned the town of Lahaina, killed at least eighty, and destroyed buildings more than a century old, the cause of the blaze has not yet been identified. The New York Times has posted a picture of the destruction and provided lengthy coverage which includes the category: What We Know.
In the Paradise fire, the deadliest fire in California history, it was PG&E’s errant powerlines that sparked the 2018 conflagration that wiped out a town which had no warning. A man in Arizona was charged for starting a wildfire by burning toilet paper. A woman had left a campfire unattended. We like to find accountability, the “single neck to choke” as the business people say. It’s better if a single person or company can be found at fault. But, for Maui, we have to go upwind to understand cause and effect. We have to go back to find causes in stages, to the resorts, the developers, the bombing, the ditches, the plantations, and the money. We have to follow the money, if we want to follow the fire.
Intended Consequences: Climate, Drought, Tourism
The cause of the fire, according to the latest news being disseminated was Climate Change. A hurricane nearby was sending unusually high winds, and Maui had been suffering under an extended drought. “Brush fires” were the cause, though inspectors may still go back through the debris to find an origin zone. It is easy to chalk everything now up to Climate Change, that anonymous boogieman that is lurking under the bed. Where could he possibly have come from? Absent from the phrase is the modifier “Human-Caused,” since this is not the work of any boogieman.
What We Know is where Lahaina was just weeks ago. In a knock-down, drag-out water dispute between tourists, resorts, people who live there, indigenous, and corporate interests, and a government that doesn’t want to deal with the controversy or its own sordid past. Negotiations had deteriorated, which happens when there isn’t enough to go around any more.