Archive for August, 2017

Final Thoughts on Sabrina the Teenage Witch

August 21, 2017

So, I finished watching the entire series of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. And at the end of the day, I quite enjoyed it.

The main reason is that while it is often very, very, very stupid, and most of Sabrina’s problems are mostly caused by her essentially not learning the lessons she should have learned from previous episodes, the show is, in general, just plain fun and doesn’t take itself all that seriously. I can compare it to sitcoms like, say, “Three’s Company” (although some might not find that a compliment). But, in general, those are sitcoms that are just built around madcap adventures that happen to befall the characters, and if the characters actually learned from previous episodes that wouldn’t happen anymore. So just as Jack and Janet really should just talk to each other instead of trying to hide things from each other and other people, Sabrina really should learn to a) think more carefully before she uses magic to fix something and b) tell her aunts about it when things go wrong, because they are going to find out and, well, she usually needs them to tell her how to fix the problem before it becomes an utter disaster anyway. But I’m willing to be more forgiving of a sitcom than I would be of something else, precisely because the fun would be ruined if they actually did. And, to its credit, the show lampshades this frequently.

There’s also another incidence where the show seems to drop something that wasn’t really working. In season 7, Sabrina graduates from college and sets out to get a job as a reporter, with no success. However, Morgan used something Sabrina had written as a entry to a contest for a hip entertainment magazine called “Scorch”, and wins the contest. This starts off a chain of events that has Sabrina actually ending up working for them despite them thinking of her as, well, essentially a “square” while she sees them and the magazine as not being serious journalism.

Now, clearly the intent here would be to have a situation where the different personalities clashed and so provided conflict, but with the ability to present a nice and simple moral that Sabrina needs to lighten up and they need to take things more seriously. But it just never worked at all. Part of the issue is that Sabrina had already been doing an intern on a paper in season 6, and the boss Mike — played by George Wendt of Cheers fame — had provided an excellent example of the right sort of boss there: he was often nonplussed by Sabrina’s over-enthusiastic personality, but under it all he was a bit of a softie and kinda on her side. Her boss at Scorch (Annie) on the other hand is against Sabrina from the start, mostly because Sabrina was chosen by the publisher despite the fact that Annie disliked her. There’s nothing there, then, to contradict the idea that she was only tolerating Sabrina until she could get a chance to fire her, which was brought up in the final episode with Scorch. Also, in order for the clash to work we needed to see them as somewhat frivolous and not serious, so that Sabrina’s idea that they were slacking had at least some justification. But if you liked Sabrina and her personality — and if you watched her for six seasons you probably did — it was going to be difficult to not agree with her about them and that this is more flash than substance. Add in that most of her co-workers didn’t like her most of the time and jumped to conclusions about her while trying to compete with her for things like covers, and we aren’t likely to like any of the characters at Scorch, which is going to make it difficult for us to tolerate the interactions there, which were a big part of the first half of the season.

However, at about that point they … jettisoned it completely. Sabrina gets all nervous about her performance review, Annie reveals that she now has the ability to fire Sabrina if she doesn’t like the review, Sabrina takes on a spell to make her not make any mistakes, which makes her annoyingly perfect and meddling, Annie fires her for that, Sabrina makes her cases for staying, Annie seems to relent … and Sabrina then immediately goes off griping about how she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way and quits, moving on to do freelancing. Since Scorch figured prominently in the credits, they probably didn’t plan on ditching it this way, and on reflection even the sudden shift seems like a move to drop it even though the original plan would have been to keep her working there. Maybe they saw it wasn’t working, or maybe people didn’t like it, or maybe they just decided that they needed to drop it to have the time to focus on other things, but whatever the reason, like reducing Libby and Sabrina’s fighting over Harvey this move improved the show immensely.

There were also a large number of celebrities featured on the show, and it seems to me that what Scorch added was an easy way to work them into the show. Still, they managed to do it without Scorch and Scorch itself was annoying enough to not be worth keeping.

Typically at the end and the last seasons of shows I end up getting tired of the show and wanting it to end because I have another show in mind and want to get on to that one. That didn’t happen here. In fact, I suspect that I could just start re-watching it again immediately, as I kinda missed it the next day I came to watch something else (Transformers, actually). That almost never happens for me. The only time I can really remember it happening was, I think, with Deep Space 9. And the reason is because the show is just fun to watch. And since I had a hard time reading while watching it, I also managed to, for the most part actually watch it. It’s not a great show, and I could tear it to pieces if I wanted to go all SF Debris on it, but it’s just so much fun that I’m willing to forgive it.

Philipse on Arguments from Order to Design

August 18, 2017

Chapters 13 and 14 focus on the Argument from Design and other inductive arguments respectively. But it is definitely the case that by this point Philipse isn’t really providing anything new, neither a new and fresh examination of the arguments nor a strong and specific refutation of Swinburne. As such, there’s not that much to say here. The stuff that’s new is Swinburne’s, which won’t be that impressive to anyone who isn’t already a fan of his, and the stuff that isn’t specific to Swinburne isn’t new.

So what I want to talk about briefly is, again, Philipse’s attempt to claim that global arguments from design are more promising than local arguments from design. Again, he appeals to this on the basis of avoiding the “God of the Gaps”, and thus the risk that later science will, in fact, find an explanation for the phenomena. But, again, this is ridiculous. If I could demonstrate that, say, by the best evidence we have the eye is irreducibly complex and so had to be produced deliberately by an intentional agent, it’s in no way a response to say “Well, science might find a way to explain that … sometime. In the future. So you can’t make that claim!”. In the previous chapter, Philipse insists that cosmological arguments need to be inductive arguments to the best explanation, while here he insists that for design inductive arguments to the best explanation aren’t promising because they run the risk of science refuting them at later date. One suspects that if Philipse found any inductive arguments for the cosmological argument that he couldn’t refute he’d be insisting that they fail because science might refute them later, a criteria that he pushes in Chapter 13 for a temporal design argument of Swinburne’s.

At this point, it seems clear that Philipse’s main focus — perhaps unconsciously — is to at all times place the burden of proof on the theistic argument, and thus insist that we must take any scientific explanation before we accept a theistic one. Thus, if we follow Philipse’s idea of “God in the Age of Science” we end up ceding all discussion on the matter to science. Which might not be a problem unless science is, in fact, explicitly naturalistic, as in that case science would accept any explanation — no matter how improbable — over a theistic or supernatural one. In fact, it might even accept “We don’t know yet” over a theistic or supernatural one. Philipse himself directly accepts both of these arguments at various times. Thus, to accept Philipse’s view of “the Age of Science” is to, essentially, concede that atheism and naturalism are true, not because they are specifically better evidenced, but merely because science implicitly and perhaps explicitly assumes them.

Fortunately, we don’t have to accept Philipse’s view. There are a number of philosophical, epistemological and even empirical and scientific issues with his views. And if we don’t accept them, then we don’t accept most of his arguments against the specific theistic arguments that he addresses either. Thus, without us accepting his starting points, we won’t accept where he ends here, and so all of this is just standard replies to the standard arguments.

Next time, Philipse, at the end, talks about religious experiences. It would seem like that would be something he would have addressed much earlier …

Why Doesn’t Sabrina Count as a Role Model for Girls?

August 16, 2017

As you might be aware, I’m currently watching “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. And it’s interesting to note that it was a remarkably successful series. It ran for seven seasons and spawned a relatively successful cartoon spin-off. It also managed to outperform a number of male-led contemporaries. And it ended in 2003, so it hasn’t been that long since it was on.

And yet, when people are talking about the need for female role models, they neither mention the series as being an example of a series that worked, nor suggest reviving it to be that series that girls purportedly need. Instead, all the talk is about there not being any such examples and for the need to convert all of the male-led series to female-led ones to promote “diversity” and “inclusion”. Why is that?

In a comment on my post about a female Doctor Who, Nate suggests that what they want is a cultural institution, or at least to have something with that sort of name recognition. However, given its long prominence in Archie Comics, Sabrina has that name recognition, and there are a number of other characters and series that also have that that they could promote, and yet they still don’t. Sure, Sabrina isn’t as well-known as The Doctor, but nothing is, and that hasn’t stopped them trying to convert less well-known properties (like Thor). So I think that there is a simpler interpretation here: they don’t push for these things because they aren’t aware that they exist.

A lot of the recent pushes seem to have something in common: a link to popular culture. When Doctor Who was just a show for science fiction nerds and nerd culture was something to be mocked and avoided, there wasn’t a huge push to make it diverse, or criticisms of its diversity. Sure, they existed, but in general they were small comments inside the science fiction community. But once nerd culture started to become “popular”, then the criticisms started. But those criticisms, then, came from people who were mostly inside pop culture but weren’t at all inside nerd or science fiction culture. Thus, the people complaining about it were people who in general didn’t care for science fiction, fantasy, superheroes, video games, and so on, but were instead people jumping onto the new big thing and criticizing it for not being exactly what they wanted it to be. But their criticisms were, therefore, always shallow criticisms, as they only had a shallow understanding of the field, and so didn’t know what things already existed that they might have liked better. They only got what had broad appeal and then criticized the entire genre for not having things that appealed to them specifically.

This explains why no one is talking about “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, even though most of them can cite “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, despite the fact that the two series ran at the same time (Sabrina ran from 1996 – 2003, while Buffy ran from 1997 – 2003). Sure, Sabrina is more obscure, but many of these people consider themselves to be insiders who are doing massive amounts of research and making strong, facts-based arguments, and so you’d think they’d come across it at some point. This also explains why Anita Sarkeesian’s research is so shallow and ignores things like Fatal Frame, Silent Hill III (which is the game that Silent Hill: Revelation is based on), Suikoden III, Final Fantasy X-2 and the female City Elf storyline in Dragon Age while being cited by her fans as, well, actually having in-depth knowledge of video games based on stringent research. What gets referenced in pop culture gets noted, and anything else is ignored because it doesn’t exist for them.

Thus nerd culture was criticized as soon as it entered the sphere of pop culture. Never mind that the people criticizing it had no idea what it actually was or entailed; instead, they took the things they had seen as the totality of the field and praised and criticized it accordingly. The same thing happened to anime when it was in vogue, and also spawned the criticisms of violence in video games and the criticisms of hard rock/heavy metal music. In all cases, a bunch of ill-informed people took on what they were now noticing because it was becoming more mainstream.

This explains why most of the attempts to create these new “inclusive” works tend to fail miserably. The people advocating for them are not, in general, people who actually like those things or people who know a lot about the genres, but are instead bandwagon-jumpers demanding that the bandwagon take them where they want to go instead of where most of the others want to go. If they manage to get there, they find that almost everyone else has gotten off already and so it’s not popular anymore … and that it was popular was the only thing that attracted them to it in the first place. Thus, people attempting to follow their directions end up losing their core audience — who were interested in the field in general — while ultimately losing the fickle “Pop Culture Warriors” who didn’t actually like those sorts of works in the first place. If these people liked those genres and simply wanted to add a few more “inclusivity” elements, that wouldn’t be a problem, but they don’t and so don’t know anything about it, and so end up trying to remake it into what they think they want … but which they don’t really want.

You could easily remake “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”, either as a teen comedy, or a normal sitcom, or as horror. That no one even bothers to think of it suggests that they aren’t creative and don’t know what they’re talking about. Either way, these are not the sort of people you should let tell you how to write your stories.

Freethought Blogs and The Orbit

August 14, 2017

So, it’s been almost a year and a half since a number of bloggers on Freethought blogs moved over to a new network, “The Orbit”. So, how are things going?

The Orbit is pretty much a ghost town. You might get a new post, on average, once every couple of days, and this has been going on for quite a while now. It’s pretty bad when an entire network of bloggers manages to produce content at about the same rate that I do. Also, most of the original bloggers from Freethought Blogs who moved rarely contribute; the most frequent contributors seem to be new bloggers or at least ones who weren’t as active on Freethought Blogs.

Freethought Blogs, on the other hand, has multiple posts from a number of bloggers every single day. Aside from the generally prolific P.Z. Myers, most of the new posts seem to be coming from new bloggers that were recruited after the split. In terms of content, it is certainly generating it at an impressive rate, especially when compared to The Orbit.

It doesn’t seem like The Orbit has been a very successful network. Sure, many of the bloggers there have moved onto or are promoting things like their Patreon account instead, but again there’s really not much content there, and certainly not much when compared to what the new bloggers on Freethought Blogs generate for it. I’m not sure what the hit ratio is — which generates revenue — but I can’t imagine that The Orbit is even close to what Freethought Blogs produces, given the disparity in regularly updated content. I’m not certain what those who founded The Orbit wanted to achieve with it, but it doesn’t look like it has managed it. In fact, one could speculate that Freethought Blogs wanted to replace the content they had lost when Ed Brayton and Ophelia Benson left, and that those who moved to The Orbit were ones who didn’t fit into that or who didn’t like the new recruitment drive for some reason.

Anyway, it’s just something that I’ve been musing about as I read both networks, since I definitely like reading things that I don’t agree with, for various reasons.

Philipse on Cosmological Arguments

August 11, 2017

So, in Chapter 12 Philipse examines Cosmological Arguments in an attempt to show that they aren’t going to work. He differentiates between two main types of cosmological arguments: deductive ones like the classic “First Cause” arguments, or inductive ones to the best explanation. As it turns out, Swinburne also prefers the latter sorts of arguments, so Philipse is going to start by attempting to show that deductive arguments aren’t as promising as inductive ones so that he can spend the bulk of the chapter focusing on inductive arguments and thus also on Swinburne’s arguments and explanations. This will work as long as you end up agreeing with him that deductive arguments aren’t promising avenues to take. If you don’t accept that, then the complicated arguments Swinburne advances will seem like nothing more than a waste of time when simpler and as if not more promising arguments are available.

The problem is that the meat of Philipse’s arguments against deductive arguments are nothing more than taking the two most popular deductive arguments and attempting to show that they don’t work. Sure, he brings in Swinburne’s argument that deductive cosmological arguments aren’t sound, but he — rightly — points out that it’s not easy to argue that without examining the specific arguments themselves. But Philipse then goes on to insist that the literature has done that for pretty much all of those specific cases and decides to demonstrate that by picking two examples and showing that they are not sound and so can be dismissed. Of course, this would in no way demonstrate that all possible deductive arguments are not sound, so it doesn’t even defend against the specific counter that Philipse himself raised. He could have made a decent argument if he had tried to show that having a universal premise would risk them not being sound or would at least lead us to think that establishing universal premises was too difficult a task to be considered reasonable, but he doesn’t even do that. So even if we accept that he’s right about the two arguments he addresses, we have no reason to think that deductive cosmological arguments are just a dead end.

And when it comes to the two arguments that Philipse tries to address, I find that I have to express my deepest gratitude to him, because his attempts to refute them have led me to come to the realization of why they, in fact, actually seem to work. Whether or not I can get to God from those two arguments, when it comes to establishing some kind of First Cause or First Element the arguments seem conclusive. Thus, instead of making me doubt their validity, he’s only made me even more certain that the arguments are right. That’s … probably not what he was going for.

Let me start with the first argument, which is essentially the argument from contingent causes, and I’ll quote his presentation of it here:

1. A contingent entity exists (that is, and entity of which we can suppose without contradiction that it does not exist), or a contingent event occurs.
2. Each contingent entity or event has a sufficient cause.
3. Contingent entities or events alone cannot constitute, ultimately, a sufficient cause for the existence of a contingent entity or the occurrence of a contingent event.
4. Therefore, at least one necessary entity or event exists (that is, an entity or event of which we cannot suppose without contradiction that it does not exist or occur). And because it exists necessarily, it does not stand in need of an explanation.[pg 223]

While I wouldn’t normally quote the counter argument when quoting from a book — as it’s usually not worth the effort to do so when a summary will do just as well and usually be clearer — here I have to quote what he’s saying so that everyone can check to see if my interpretation of it is correct:

What one should repudiate is premise (3), since causal explanations cannot but refer to causes that exist or occur contingently. If one explains causally an event E with reference to a cause C, what one means is that, ceteris paribus, if C had not occurred, E would not have occurred either, assuming there is no causal redundancy. Hence, it is essential to the very meaning of the word ’cause’ that we can always suppose without contradiction that a cause C did not occur.[ibid]

You would think that someone who was in fact a philosopher would do two things here. First, one would assume that in examining this they would take the concept of a necessary object, put it in the place of C, and see if the statement “If C had not occurred, E would not have occurred” still makes sense or itself produces a contradiction. Philipse doesn’t seem to have done that, because it seems pretty obvious that, yes, saying that still makes sense. What it really means to be a necessary entity or event is that it is not possible for it to not have occurred. So what we would say is that C occurred and C had to occur. And because C occurred, E occurred. Now, if C hadn’t occurred, then E wouldn’t have occurred. But, of course, C did occur, because it had to occur. Why is that case that much different from the case where we observe that a contingent C happened in the past that produced an event E? Isn’t it just as contradictory to assert that if C hadn’t happened then E wouldn’t have happened? After all, C did happen, and we can’t change that now. Once C happens or exists, then E will happen. Why C happens or exists doesn’t impact that. It seems to me that Philipse has fallen into a “If humans evolved from apes, then why are there still apes?” argument. His entire argument relies on interpreting the first part of the if as being an actual statement about C, which then implies that to make the conditional work we’d have to actually assert that C might not have occurred. But we don’t need to and don’t do that. The conditional, then, does not in any way imply that it is actually physically or conceptually possible for C to not exist or have occurred, which would be the contradiction. The statement is talking about the dependency of E on C, and not making any actual conceptual statement about C itself. So this argument fails.

The second thing a philosopher ought to do here is actually attack the logic itself, and not simply look to provide a counter-argument, which is what Philipse’s argument actually does here while in the guise of refuting premise (3). The reason to do this is that we don’t want to end up in an Antinomy, where we have two sound logical arguments that lead to the opposite conclusions. Again, Philipse claims to be attacking premise (3), but what he’s really doing — by his own words — is making an argument that the concept of cause makes necessary events — at least ones that have any causal power — incoherent. But that doesn’t attack the original logic that says that you can’t stop at a contingent event, and that by definition every contingent event must have a sufficient cause explaining it. And this argument would go as follows: for an event to be contingent, it means that its existence depends on some event or cause that causes it to happen as opposed to the alternatives. This means that for any contingent event we can ask for an explanation of it, meaning that we can ask what made it so that it happened as opposed to something else (which might be nothing). Let’s call that C. Now, C can either be contingent or non-contingent. If it is contingent, then we would say that its existence depends on another event, C’. Which we could then go and examine to see if C’ is contingent or non-contingent. And so on and so forth. Thus, for any contingent event C we could never stop there, because there would always be something left that we would need to explain, which is why C itself happened, which we can only explain by appealing to another event C’. If, however, that C is non-contingent, then it needs no further explanation for its existence and so we can stop there.

You can argue that my argument depends a lot on us needing an explanation or still having something to explain, which might not be necessary (this might be an epistemological as opposed to a conceptual argument). Fair enough, but remember that Philipse wants us to do theology like science, and science can never say that if there is still something there to be explained that we can simply stop there and claim that we’ve explained enough. Science can argue that we can’t find out that explanation, but that’s definitely an epistemological as opposed to a conceptual argument, and so can’t refute the idea that what we have is a necessary entity or event C out there that stopped our chain of explanation. So Philipse would still need a conceptual argument to refute the idea that there’d still be something out there that can’t be contingent to be the explanation for the contingent entity or event we are considering.

Let me quote the second argument:

1. This event in the universe is fully or partially caused by earlier events. The same holds for other events. They are caused by causal chains going backwards in time.
2. Infinite causal regresses are impossible.
3. Therefore, there must have been a first cause of each causal chain.[ibid]

Philipse uses the standard reply of appealing to Cantorian Set Theory to demonstrate that we can, indeed, have an infinite causal regress. The problem is that the classic examples use there are things like the set of all integers, the set of all positive integers, and so on and so forth. The problem is that these causal sets are not like those, but are more like the Fibonacci sequence, where the existence of any element in the set is determined by earlier elements in the set, except for the initial terms, which have to be stipulated by definition. So, to weaken Philipse’s logic, what he’d have to show is that dependent sets can be infinite in the same way as, say, the set of all integers. If they can’t, then you can’t use Cantorian Set Theory against the argument.

So, having weakened the argument, let me again provide a positive argument for why that isn’t the case. In generating the set of all integers, I can generate a number at random and see if it belongs to the set and add it if it ought to be in the set (and isn’t already there). So I could generate the set, then, by randomly generating 100, 350, 2, 19 and so on and doing so until I have the entire set. Sure, it’s not physically possible for me to do that, but it’s conceptually possible for me to do that. Thus, I can generate any element of the set at any time and be able to determine if that element should be in the set and, in fact, even add it to the set.

Can I do that for a simple dependent set, where, say nm is determined by nm-1 + 1, where n is a positive integer? So I generate 56. Is 56 in the set? Well, in order to determine that, I’d have to know what its m would be if it was in the set, so that I can determine if nm-1+1 = 56. So that means that there needs to be at least one other element in the set before I can determine if this element is in the set. And since that applies to every element in the set, I can’t add any element to the set until I know that another element is in the set. Except for n0, the initial term. If I stipulate that n0 is 55, then 56 is clearly in the set. But if I stipulate that n0 is 233, then it clearly isn’t in the set. Thus, no element can be added to the set until I add an element that is not dependent on any other elements in the set to the set.

And it turns out that for any dependent sets that we come across, we always specify by definition some elements that exist in the set but that aren’t dependent on any other elements in the set. And as soon as we do that, we can then generate the rest of the elements that exist in that set, by proceeding from those initial elements to the next elements down the line. So we cannot proceed infinitely past that starting point and maintain a sensible set that actually contains elements.

Since causal regressions, by (1) are dependent sets, the same thing applies to them. No element can be said to be in that causal regression unless we can specify an initial term that kicks this all off. Sure, if we see a dependent causal regression we can identify it as such and trace it backwards in time, but mathematically we’d have to expect there to be an initial term that is not dependent on any other elements in the set. Thus, mathematically it really does look like the argument holds.

There might be places where I go wrong with these arguments, but the important point is that Philipse has certainly not established that even these two deductive arguments are not fruitful, let alone that no deductive arguments are not fruitful. And since he hasn’t established that, I see no reason to follow him and Swinburne down the complicated rabbit hole of inductive arguments to the best explanation. Which makes the rest of the chapter irrelevant, and so I’m not going to bother addressing it.

Next up: Design arguments.

Course Work …

August 9, 2017

I used to take university courses regularly. In fact, a number of the essays that I turned into pages are things that I did for university courses over the years. I got almost all of a Bachelor’s of Philosophy and in fact a Master’s in Philosophy part-time around work. I enjoy doing it, the tuition was tax-deductible, when I could take the courses for credit I even got something out of it, and it also worked around my immunity to artificial deadlines by, in fact, giving me an actual deadline to work with.

But I haven’t taken any courses for the past few years.

I had started a Bachelor’s degree in Cognitive Science, but since I had both Philosophy and Computer Science there wasn’t a lot more to learn. So I took a couple of graduate courses there, but that wasn’t much better. Then they changed some of the requirements so that actually getting the degree would be more difficult, so I started taking graduate level Philosophy courses at the other university. Then they said that I had hit the limit of courses that I could take as a Special Student, so I had to find something else. I started considering doing Classics or History and then things changed.

I had been working for a while on a product in maintenance mode, and so had the time to use vacation or the like to take courses. But that product was ending, and so I was going to move on. I didn’t think it would be a good idea to try to take courses while learning a new product, or to start my working relationship with a new manager by essentially talking about ways to not work at least normal hours. I then worked on the new product for about a year, and then moved to another one, although I’ve kept the same manager. And to be fair he probably would let me arrange something so that I could take courses again, but …

This product is … strange, at least in scheduling. Last year in September I was incredibly happy that I wasn’t taking courses because I was dropped into a late project that took me a massive amount of hours just to catch up with. I’d never have been able to take courses and handle that project at the same time. This year, my project was moved earlier and I need to work more just to make sure that I hit the deadlines, and also have other things going on that I need to track, and so don’t have the time for coursework again. I’m likely to have problems taking all of my vacation again this year because of that. And the fall is the time when I most want to take courses because I don’t have to worry at all about the weather in the fall, unlike in the winter. So as long as things are like this, taking university courses seems to be out of the picture.

I had mused taking courses again after I retire, but one of the benefits of retiring is not having to leave the house when we get winter weather, and if I started taking courses I wouldn’t be able to do that.

So, for now at least, taking courses seems to be off the table. I’m looking at doing reading and studying on my own for now, but this will be limited since I for now I want to focus on other things, like writing and some programming. I still like the idea and miss taking them, but it just doesn’t look like I can fit it into my life right now. Which is a shame.

First Thoughts on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”

August 7, 2017

Maybe I shouldn’t admit to it, but I’ve started watching “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” after picking it up on DVD. At some point, I was reminded that the show existed, and remember watching it off-and-on while it was being broadcast, and finding it entertaining. I went to Amazon and found a collection of the complete series — all seven seasons — for a reasonable price, although it wasn’t exactly cheap. I watched a couple of other things first — I was worried for a while that I wouldn’t be able to just watch it and in the summer there are times when I want all the lights off to keep things cooler — but then decided to just give it a try.

I’m actually really enjoying it. In fact, right now the most annoying thing about it is that the pacing of the show is so good that I have a really hard time reading while watching it, which means that my re-reading of “The Tamuli” is going really, really slowly. While it being a half-hour show certainly helps with that, I think it’s more that when you look up to see what’s going on — inspired by something loud or exploding — the show just keeps moving from scene to scene to scene, one right after the other, so there’s no real downtime that would make you look down again and get caught up in the book.

I think that one of the reasons I liked it was because of its “Multiple Demographic Appeal”. From the TV Tropes entry:

Multiple Demographic Appeal: In her autobiography, Melissa Joan Hart describes the show as this. Younger kids would love the magic, teenagers would relate to Sabrina’s problems fitting in, red-blooded males would enjoy the pretty female cast, and the magic would also appeal to older viewers nostalgic for Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.

But I also think the show does some things that make a female protagonist more generally appealing, and also manages to avoid some of the more annoying teen sitcom tropes. What’s good about the show is that while pretty much all of the main protagonists are female — except for Salem — the show isn’t really about female protagonists. While the viewpoint character is female and often the show is indeed clear about that, the problems that Sabrina has to deal with aren’t particularly female-oriented. Almost all of her “normal teen” issues are issues that pretty much all teens can relate to, and her fantastical problems also tend to be mostly neutral. Even if someone wouldn’t, say, want to go to the club with all available guys, even guys will understand wanting to go to a place with attractive, dateable people. So, again, while the perspective was female, there weren’t all that many cases where men and boys couldn’t relate to what was going on.

The show starts by setting up the typical “Betty and Veronica” situation with the standard “Veronica is an unsympathetic Alpha Bitch who is just there to annoy and clash with our nice heroine” with Libby. However, physically Libby is no where near as attractive as Sabrina is. The typical situation has the ordinary Betty compared with the more exotic and exciting Veronica, but while Libby is at least in theory richer than Sabrina, she just can’t compete with Sabrina on anything important. Sabrina is more attractive than Libby, nicer than Libby and more compatible with Harvey than Libby, and Harvey isn’t presented as someone that can be impressed by money (a nice car, maybe). To the show’s credit, either they always intended this or they realized it was happening really quickly and this line is quickly dropped, with Libby still trying on occasion but usually only when she has some kind of in, and Harvey makes it clear that he isn’t really interested. At first, he doesn’t notice how mean Libby is because she’s always nice to him, and then later falls into some of her traps because he can’t say “No” or is generally clueless, and then later makes it directly clear that he isn’t interested. Libby remains an antagonist for the first three seasons, but isn’t taken seriously as a romantic rival very often past the first half of season one.

It also manages to avoid the oh-so-common “Incredibly attractive female lead/sidekick can’t get a date because she’s not attractive enough”. Both Jenny and Valerie are attractive, although not as attractive as Sabrina is (Melissa Joan Hart, at the time, was incredibly attractive, even for a TV star). And they are both presented as girls who have a hard time getting dates. But usually it wasn’t their attractiveness that caused the issue. Jenny was eccentric, and seemingly in response to getting ostracized — mostly by other girls — for those traits, embraced the eccentricity and became almost an early hipster, embracing the things that were non-standard and rejecting out of hand those that were popular and making that an important part of her identity, which made her really annoying at times. Valerie had a strong underlying desire to be popular, but had crippling self-esteem issues. When Sabrina changes herself into a boy to see what Harvey was thinking when she wasn’t around, Sabrina “dates” Valerie — to keep Harvey from doing it — and notes that Valerie messes up by spending so much time talking about how no one wants to date her and how she never gets second dates, which Sabrina herself notes is a bad idea (and Valerie does the same thing on a “date” with Harvey). So it’s less their looks and more their personalities that are responsible for them not getting dates. And both are given guys who are interested in them. Jenny gets one on the trip to Salem and Valerie has a boyfriend for a couple of episodes and has a requited crush on Gordie. This allows the show to still play up them being dateless while allowing for episodes where they, for example, double date.

The show is a lot like “Charmed” in a lot of ways, but especially in how most of Sabrina’s problems come from her not learning the lessons she learned in previous episodes and doing something stupid with her magic, and not learning from previous episodes that hiding it from her aunts only makes it worse, especially since she often needs their help to fix the things she’s screwed up. But the show lampshades that on occasion and I’m more willing to forgive that in a sitcom than I am in an action-drama. The show can be incredible stupid at times, though, both with entire episodes and with sequences inside episodes.

I also like the Canadian references tossed in, likely due to Caroline Rhea — who played Hilda — being Canadian. While they name drop it on occasion, Hilda gets deported back to the “Northern part of the realm” for speaking too much like a Canadian, and I think the national anthem was the Canadian one. It’s fun for them to do that, and allows them to appeal to a shared audience with things that if you don’t know Canada won’t seem out of place.

Ultimately, I’m finding it entertaining, although Season 4 is starting a bit rough. But I should be able to go through it and will likely watch it again at some point.

New Firefly story …

August 6, 2017

A while ago, a friend of mine pointed out the name drop of Weyland-Yutani in Firefly, and thus that they could be in the same universe. I started getting ideas for a crossover. It took me a while to find the time and required me to feel strong pressure to start writing again, but I finally sat down and wrote it.

Folding Ideas’ “Thermian Argument”

August 4, 2017

So, while reading the comments on a post about the new female Doctor, someone linked this video from “Folding Ideas” about the “Thermian Argument”, which is in its roughest form an argument against criticizing part of a work because it is consistent with the universe that it is in. As you might expect, the main examples are of typical Social Justice type situations. The specific example used in the beginning is that someone is watching an anime and finds the constant depictions of Orks raping and brutally murdering female characters disturbing, especially given the presumed frequency of those scenes and how long those scenes go on for. The reply is that the Orks were established as being like that, and so the work is just showing us what their established behaviour is, and I will go no more into what the typical response would be because the original video doesn’t really do that and it’ll be more important as a counter later.

So, let me go into the video’s actual argument. The argument is that things like consistency and purity aren’t relevant to fictional worlds because they are fictional, and thus don’t really exist. For all of the time he spends talking about it, what he never manages to do is, well, make this an actual argument that has any heft to it whatsoever. Yes, fictional worlds are not real worlds, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have rules and that it doesn’t establish any kind of “objective truth” that writers need to hew to. To take his example of how to kill a vampire, he at the start asks how to kill one, and then at the end insists that it is irrelevant because vampires are fictional and so there is no objective way to kill them. Which is in some sense true, as different works may use different means to kill them. However, what we are talking about is consistency in-universe, and in-universe there will be established means to kill vampires. If the writer wants to suddenly make one of those means not work on a particular vampire, they are going to need to explain why in this case it doesn’t even though it was established that it would, indeed, kill a vampire. If it doesn’t, then what we have is a hack writer who is essentially “breaking the rules” in order to tell the story they want to tell, but can’t either find a way to make that work given those constraints or isn’t willing to compromise their vision in order to be consistent with the universe they’re writing in.

But, the reply can go, does that even matter? Well, yes, it really, really does. In order to get engrossed into a work, we have to accept that the events in the universe are, in fact, really happening. Part of that is understanding how, in fact, the universe works, which means knowing what the rules are. Thus, the writer needs to set expectations for us so that we can, well, know what to expect and so don’t start questioning everything that happens. So if a writer wants to have magic, they need to establish that magic exists in the universe, and ideally wants to set up as much as possible — without boring the audience with technical explanations — what it can do so that the audience doesn’t spend their huge dramatic character moments wondering if magic can really do that. Once we understand the rules of magic, anything consistent with that will be just ignored, allowing for the writer to just presume that we accept it and then be able to use it to drive things like plot, drama, and characterization. This even — and perhaps especially — holds if there are no set rules. If that’s established, then we stop looking for rules and just accept that anything that needs to happen will happen, and that it won’t happen when it needs to not happen. Since this still tends to kill drama — because the audience will simply expect a solution to appear when it needs to and so won’t be wondering if the hero can get out of this jam — it has to be handled very carefully as well.

What this all means is that if a writer starts breaking the established rules of a universe, people will notice. This will break immersion and require the writer to have a good explanation for why the rule was broken before they can be re-immersed into the universe. What a writer really wants to avoid is for the audience to start evaluating their work from a third-person perspective and opposed to feeling like they are observing an actual world. And in order to do that, they need to establish expectations and avoid violating those expectations without proper reasons and set-up. To return to the Ork example, if the expectation is built up that they would act that way, showing them acting differently would break immersion. That being said, that reply wouldn’t work against an argument that stated that they don’t need to spend so much time showing that, since we aware of it and will write it in if it isn’t explicitly shown, and that time might be better spent establishing other things.

At any rate, the main issue here is that in his Ork example the initial and more reasonable response isn’t the one he cites here. It is instead a simple “The maybe this work isn’t for you and you shouldn’t watch it”. If a work wants to be brutal and so focus on brutality in many scenes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means that some people are not going to want to watch that sort of thing. And that’s fine. But we see in the video that he describes the real criticism as being a criticism of the choices the writers made, and here we can see the real objection in his example: he thinks that showing this brutalization of women is really there for no other reason than to brutalize women, which is bad. But this, then, takes the counter-argument to a completely different place than he accepts and argues against. The counter-arguments, in general, for such things — if made properly — would be along the lines of arguing that either a) this is a brutal universe and brutalization is shown consistently (implying that his objection is only to the brutalization of women for out-of-context reasons and, likely, personal ideology) or b) that the scenes are necessary to establish and remind the audience of just how brutal the Orks actually are. Both of these can be debated, of course, but none of them can be debated by arguing “This is a fictional world so we don’t need to follow the rules of the universe!” All of them require looking at the work and what the writer was trying to do and show either that what the writer is trying to do is wrong, or that they are going about what they are trying to do the wrong way. So, yes, you can criticize the choices of the writer, but doing so isn’t as simple as the video makes it seem. You can indeed invalidly criticize the choices of the writer, and the video’s defense of doing so doesn’t work for any of those cases.

This is essentially Sarkeesian’s comment that the world is fictional and so the writer can do whatever they want, which is a really bad argument, because the writer can’t afford to violate expectations too often without ruining the work. If the writer is trying for historical accuracy, then criticizing them for not including minorities in roles they would never have had in that timeframe is criticizing their goal, which is almost always not valid. And this holds even if they add some fantastical elements to their work; just because some parts don’t conform doesn’t mean that the parts that do can be simply changed without consequence. While the video insists that talking about consistency shuts down discussion, the reply actually does that even more so, because it refuses to engage with the universe at all and instead puts all of the discussion outside of the work itself, allowing no arguments that it would hurt the work itself or wouldn’t fulfill the purpose of the work. That it’s actually at best incomplete and at worst invalid is just the icing on the cake.

Yes, a simple reply of “This is consistent with the universe” is not enough to invalidate a criticism of a problematic scene. But a reply of “Fictional works don’t have to be consistent” is not enough to invalidate that defense and is in fact entirely false.

Back to TOR

August 2, 2017

So, I did actually resubscribe to “The Old Republic” and have started playing a new female, pureblood Sith Inquisitor. I lasted about seven months. To be fair, though, it wasn’t the main game and story quests that convinced me to stop subscribing to it, but just the fact that I had no interest in the “Eternal Throne” story arc after the disaster — at least for me — of “Fallen Empire”, and wasn’t going to have the time to play the game anyway. But after getting through the recruitment stages of Dragon Age Origins and then burning out on it — although I may still finish that character at some point — and hearing about SF Debris going through more of the class stories and also rewatching his Imperial Agent videos I started to miss it a bit again, and so decided to try it out.

With how they’ve made the missions easier and, in general, XP gain faster, things go much smoother than they did in earlier releases, meaning that it’s much more painless to just do a class story run. I’m running this Inquisitor as a dark side character, with a heaping of racial superiority. I’m also giving her a similar backstory to my previous Inquisitor — based on Galen from Babylon 5 — where her being a slave is more a ruse and part of her Grand Plan than a real starting point. As such, she’s often going to take actions to weaken the overall power structure so that she might be able to benefit from it — like lie about a powerful Sith Lord being the Revanite leader so that his apprentice will get him eliminated — but isn’t insane and so won’t do that if it looks like it might overly weaken the Empire. She will have a cruel streak, though, and is more than willing to apply copious amounts of Force Lightning if it seems like it would be effective or, well, fun.

I was originally going to go for a Sith Warrior because I want to go Dark Side and romance Jaesa, but also wanted to do a different race this time and didn’t want to have that character be a pureblood (which would clash with the romance). So I might do that one next, if I manage to stick with this one.

What has been really nice so far is that stopping in the middle of a planet isn’t actually a problem. It will be a little more annoying later when I get to the more spread out planets, but here I had to meet Zash in the cantina, was told about something else I needed to do but that I wasn’t sure I’d have the time to do, so I just stayed there. With fewer quests on the go and so less to keep track of, it’s pretty easy to stop at the end of an area, go back to your ship or a cantina to get that sweet, sweet Rest XP, and pick up where you left off the previous time.

We’ll see how long this lasts for me, as again right now I’m pretty much committed to only one game at a time, and right now this … is it. I’m suspicious that if I get through this one I’ll have an issue, because since I like to do the planet missions, too, I’d end up thinking “This again …” if I just start the Imperial side over again, but I’m not sure that I want to do any of the Republic side classes again, except maybe Smuggler, while I would indeed like to do pretty much any of the Imperial ones again.