November 30, 2012

Popularity of comedy movies, 1915 - 2011

When the world gets you down, you need a little comic relief. The comedy genre helps you cope and move on not only by allowing you to re-frame stressful situations in a more lighthearted way, but also by causing you to bust a gut laughing, triggering your brain to release pain-killing endorphins.

So we might expect to see an increasing demand for comedy movies during rising-crime times, and a decreasing demand in falling-crime times. The graph below shows how many of the box office top 10 movies released in a year had "comedy" listed in the Genre field of their IMDb page. I eliminated those that also had "animation" listed because that's just unfunny kiddie crap, not comedies that would help adolescents and adults cope with stress. I did let Who Framed Roger Rabbit squeeze through, though, since it's mostly live action and is more like the old bawdy and violent Looney Tunes cartoons that were aimed at teenagers and grown-ups.

During the rising-crime period of the early 20th C., comedies were fairly popular, other than a dry spell in the late '20s. After a peak in the early '30s, they fall through a bottom in the early-mid '50s. Once again the Great Depression is invisible in the cultural record. The early '30s look like the rest of the Jazz Age, and the increasingly prosperous period of the mid-'40s through the '50s look like they were just continuing the trend begun in the mid-'30s and into the early '40s. What does separate these two periods is the peak in the homicide rate in 1933, before which it was rising and after which it was falling.

The murder rate began rising again in 1959, and there were smaller signs that it was around the corner even by 1957 or so, with the somewhat wilder and more delinquent youth culture of the late '50s compared to the earlier stretch of that decade. This sense of growing disorder put audiences in more of a mood for comedy, bringing about a re-birth of the genre that continued through the '60s.

After a brief sputtering out in the early '70s, comedies began climbing again, remaining popular all throughout the '80s, reaching a peak they had not seen since the tail-end of the Jazz Age in the early '30s. Whether they made it into the top 10 or not, just about all of the funniest movies ever made come from the late '70s and the '80s -- Vacation, Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Heathers, Back to the Future, Weird Science... just to name a few. It's also striking how many were not just knee-slappers but also got your adrenaline pumping (the long defunct action-comedy), or juxtaposed a heavier and lighter approach to the subject matter (the "dramedy").

Starting in the '90s, comedies have virtually disappeared from popularity. Counting the inoffensive kiddie cartoons would only nudge the numbers up a bit in the past 10-15 years, and the genre would still show a sharp decline over the past 20. The comedies that we do get tend to be more one-dimensional yuk-yuk movies, and most of them, like Superbad, don't even excel at this limited goal.

In a falling-crime period, people feel so much safer and more stable that they go into a more vegetative mode, compared to the earlier rising-crime period. Procrastination pays off more when the deadline is felt to be farther into the future. With so little excitement in their lives, they don't feel like they need cheering up -- at least not to the level of laughing until it hurts.

Kids these days seem to whine more frequently about being stressed, but the magnitude of it must be pretty low, since they're not killing themselves at higher rates than before, or lashing out. A steady, low-intensity stream of stress does not call for occasional yet cathartic releases, but instead for a steady stream of low-dosage pain-killers -- bland reassurances from friends that they're stressed out too, the fleeting rush they get from leveling up a video game character or accreting likes on their Facebook status update, low-key spacey music, and other not-very-arousing addictions.

Watching a great comedy movie is fundamentally a joyful experience, so it offers little appeal to a population of joyless treadmill joggers.

November 27, 2012

More gay Peter Pan-isms: Getting physical (no 'mo)

I think I've catalogued the obvious examples in posts of their own. There are still a few others that don't seem to merit full posts, so I'll just go with the, er, grab bag approach here.

- Smaller skulls. This would fit in with their broader pattern of pedomorphism or neoteny, resembling small children not just mentally but physically too. Easy to test using craniometry, but it's something that I can tell from the hundreds, perhaps thousands of weirdo faggots I've seen just from hanging around Starbucks. It's not as freakish as their boy-like waist-to-hip ratio, but I can't remember seeing any with Ted Danson-sized skulls. Even if they're well into chronological adulthood, even if they're tall, they don't have big noggins.

- More gracile skulls. Similar to above. Compared to normals, they don't have the same degree of rugosity, i.e. how high-relief the skull is. They don't have a brow/forehead that projects forward, nor cheekbones that knock out of the facial surface. Their chin and jaw is weak.

- More closely spaced strides. Their gait probably resembles that of a child in other, less apparent ways, but it's easy to see how small their steps are. It's a particularly pre-pubescent trait, as you start to take longer and more confident strides during adolescence. They're that way when they dance, too -- they stay confined to a small space and make smaller, though perhaps quicker motions. It's like when you're 8 years old and strive, sometimes consciously, to remain inconspicuous so that you don't appear threatening, which would trigger the older teenage guys to come over and kick your ass for acting too big for your breeches. Adolescent and adult men take up more space and make fuller motions when they dance or perform physically.

I've commented somewhere before that they're like little boys in kicking their heels against the ground when they walk, particularly when they're trying to get someone's attention.

- Crossing their legs when seated. Related to above. It's far and away more common among them than among normals, and is another part of their childlike fear of taking up space. Just stay put in a narrow space, and the other males won't feel threatened, and you'll escape unharmed. Even when normal men do cross their legs, they still take up more space than when queers do. A normal guy might rest the lower part of one leg on the knee of the other, so that the elevated leg is still jutting out to one side. But a nancyboy almost locks the top leg right over the other so it doesn't stick out too much. They look real tense and awkward when they do that. And they are more likely to lean forward while crossing their legs, in the direction of curling up in a ball, whereas a normal man crossing his legs is more likely to lean back.

- Clapping their hands close to the chest, with small rapid movements. They couldn't look more juvenile if they tried. Even teenage girls don't show that kind of kiddie clapping. Speaking of which, adolescent girls are also more comfortable taking up space when dancing, playing sports, etc. The gay microsphere of personal space is uniquely childish, not a feminization.

These crude physical differences ought to be easy to measure, and they'd be free from many of the moronic objections that would be raised if the study reported psychological infantilization. "They felt pressured by restrictive, hateful bigots not to assume adult responsibilities, and through stereotype threat adopted a stunted mental profile." Yeah, well how come they not only think, feel, and behave -- but look like Peter Pan too? And not just in some free choice way like what clothes or hairstyles they sport, but right down to the skeleton.

November 26, 2012

Female accessories -- for attracting boys or intimidating other girls?

One of the most dramatic changes in the visual culture since I was a kid has been the virtual disappearance of make-up and jewelry on girls. I mean decorative make-up, not the repairing kind. During the same time, girls seem to have become obsessed with shoes and bags. The simultaneous rise of shoes and bags and the fall of cosmetics and jewelry suggests that they serve opposite functions, and thus hints at a shift in women's strategies and priorities.

Starting in the 1960s, and peaking in the '80s and early '90s, girls started wearing make-up on more of their face, using more color, and employing striking or contrasting colors and shades, such as light blue eyeshadow and vivid red lipstick.

Over the past 20 years, the colors first got more bland or neutral (I remember brownish-purplish lipstick on my high school peers in the later 1990s), were not used in as many places around the face, and then left altogether. Nowadays a girl around 20 years old wears some kind of skin-toned foundation to even out her complexion, colorless lip gloss to make the lips look moist, and maybe a little eyeliner in a sober shade. Make-up is used to give her a normal healthy appearance, not to ornament the face.

Then there's the parallel course for jewelry. They seemed to place accessories especially around the face and hands, for inviting in and reaching out. Earrings and necklaces that you could see across the room, and all that stuff in their hair such as barettes, bows and ribbons, puffy hair ties, hair ties that had marble-looking things attached to them, scrunchies, headbands with teeth, sweatbands, and probably a thousand other things I don't remember. Not to mention lots of bracelets on both arms, watches, rings, and colored nail polish. Over the last 20 years, you saw less and less of those things, and hardly any right now.

Girls were more boy-crazy back in the good old days, not just in their mind but in their behavior too, whereas in recent decades they've gradually become less sexually active and more likely to find boys bothersome. So cosmetics and jewelry do just what you'd think they do -- try to attract boys, in order to interact with them and take it further. Hence the perennial complaints from parents: "You look like a streetwalker with your face painted like that."

We're surrounded by attention whores these days, yet they wear almost no make-up or jewelry, proving that those decorations were used not just to get ego-boosting looks from boys at a distance, but to develop a connection with them after snaring their attention.

As girls withdrew their energies from the courting of boys, they re-invested it in female-vs.-female competition, the other side of mating effort. Other girls will not be scared away by cutesy things like hot pink lipstick, ribbons in the hair, or dangly earrings. They want to project the image of a bitch that doesn't take shit or fuck around, so they've adopted a more military focus on their accessories. A soldier's most distinctive non-clothing items are his footwear and some kind of sack to haul all of his gear (and a weapon, of course).

Girls seem to have grown more and more preoccupied with the attention-getting power of their footwear, even as they've lost interest in other accessories. In particular, they've moved more and more toward boots, and not knee-high sexual boots (such as go-go boots or hooker boots like Julia Roberts wears in Pretty Woman). They're more military looking, clunkier and chunkier. In the '80s you never would've seen high school chicks wearing those big blocky Uggs -- like, dyke-orama. Wellies are de rigueur these days, and it's common to see big floppy boots that call to mind unlaced combat boots -- for the sassy stormtrooperette who just doesn't give a fuck what you think. Even high heeled shoes have a strappy part going up the calf, suggesting ancient warrior sandals or whatever.

Also, women in heels seem to use more of a stomping gait than they used to, when they aimed for nonchalant elegance. Maybe the lady ladder-climber might have stomped around the boardroom in the '80s, but that must've been it. Today they walk that way around the local supermarket.

In fact, girls' shoes were pretty nondescript in the good old days, not attention-grabbing like today. Aside from the neon-colored jelly shoes that little girls wore in the '80s, the most iconic shoes of that decade were white no-nonsense sneakers that women wore on their way to and from the office, and plain white low-top Keds that teenage girls used for just about every occasion.

After all, boys could care less what your shoes look like, compared to your face and hair, so why fret over shoes if your goal is to get dates? But other girls will notice every detail about your shoes, so if you're more locked into competition with them, you'd better strive to intimidate them with your fashion sense or militaristic vibe.

And the same applies to the obsession with bags. I remember my teenage babysitters in the '80s having a purse, but it wasn't remarkable enough that I have a clear picture of what it looked like. They must've been as nondescript as their shoes. Purses were strictly functional, and I do recall them functioning non-stop -- taking out their compact, re-applying their lipstick, getting gum or tic-tacs, and other activities related to making themselves pleasant for the boys.

Beginning in the 1990s, women started caring more about what their bag told the world about them -- namely, they wanted it to tell the world to get the fuck out of her way. There's the encrustation of elite designer logos, to signal right away that she's got better fashion sense than all you jealous bitches out there. And there's a lot more metal details (snaps, clasps, belt loops, etc.) to give it a serious, military look. And they might as well be as large as duffel bags these days -- not elegant at all.

Though again, the goal isn't to entice boys to come up and flirt with her, but to send a threatening signal to other females: my bag could beat up your bag. There's also a shaming element to it, like you must not be going anywhere if all of your gear fits into that tiny little bag. A Real Serious Chick who has her act together needs to haul around all kinds of equipment that the, ugh, future homemaker does not.

So be careful when, in dreaming up a great society, you wish for low female interest in courting males. That only re-directs their mating effort into female-female competition, bringing out the worst of their catty and self-centered potential. And far from being confined to the girls' locker room, these combative and repulsive vibes pollute entire public spaces. I'd gladly accept a little more promiscuity in the culture if it got rid of this military man-woman phenomenon. And in reality, not hypothetically, girls in the '80s weren't mega-sluts, so the necessary trade-off wouldn't raise promiscuity to intolerable levels.

November 25, 2012

Mid-century materialism didn't hold Thanksgiving sacred (Prequel to the recent triumph of Black Friday)

For anyone who was not an adult during the 1950s, the era remains shrouded in mystery. After the rising crime rates of the 1960s (which began in 1959), an effort was made to quarantine the earlier stretch of time. If everything seemed to be going wrong in the '60s, then it must have all been going right in the '50s. In particular, the attitude of questioning tradition must have been preceded by a zeitgeist of upholding tradition. Once you peek behind the quarantine curtain, though, you find a culture that not only was not very traditional, but that thought of itself consciously as progressing forward beyond outmoded customs of a pre-industrial age.

There was that whole grand vision of "bringing you the world of tomorrow, today" that proved immensely popular at the 1939 World's Fair, but whose Space Age appeal had already begun to seem naive by the time of The Jetsons in the early '60s ("Jane! Stop this crazy thing!"). There was a new reluctance among parents to beat their kids' ass, suddenly seen as barbaric, and a shift toward the more coddling approach preached by Dr. Spock -- and whose consequences were the bratty bitch daughter in Mildred Pierce and the directionless son in Rebel Without a Cause. The rise of the drive-in for eating out, watching movies, and going to church began to replace the backward peasant habit of sharing these experiences next to other people in public spaces. In place of the earlier tribalistic separation of races, the barriers were to be knocked clean over, first through piecemeal court cases and then culminating in Brown v. Board of Education.

And the mid-century's reigning political and economic beliefs could not have placed greater faith in the ability of experts to surgically tailor public policy for the optimal benefit of all, whether under the supervision of liberal Republicans like Eisenhower or Mr. New Deal himself, FDR. The heyday of faith in state-of-the-art social science had superseded a Medieval approach of puttering around in the darkness of the cloister, groping blindly for solutions.

 Two of these currents -- the flippant attitude toward preserving traditions, and social engineering by experts -- came together in the late '30s and early '40s, when the President de-sacralized the Thanksgiving holiday by altering the convention for when it was to be celebrated. Since Lincoln's presidency, it had always been observed on the last Thursday in November, but Roosevelt wanted it moved to the second-to-last Thursday, giving retailers a whole extra week to peddle their wares before Christmas, thereby Doing Something to Help Stimulate the Economy. Within a few years, more or less the whole country was on board with changing the convention, albeit striking a compromise in the form of making it the fourth Thursday instead of the last or next-to-last one.

Why harp over something as inconsequential as which day we celebrate Thanksgiving on? Because the day for a group to celebrate some occasion is a solution to a coordination problem, like which side of the street to drive on. Of course it doesn't matter whether we drive on the left or right side -- as long as everyone is clear on which convention it is. We know deep down that Thanksgiving isn't made more or less special by celebrating it on this, that, or the other day.

But the convention had long been established. We invest these arbitrary solutions to coordination problems with an air of purity and sanctity so that people don't switch among conventions whenever they please, throwing the community into confusion and causing them to lose faith that there is a common convention being adhered to by all the others in one's group.

By violating the established convention, what did Americans gain? Well, nothing for almost everybody -- again, there's no inherent advantage to one day or the other. But a handful of retailers might (or might not) have squeezed a few more pennies out of its consumer base, so it's all good. When two solutions are equally good days for celebrating Thanksgiving, moving from an established day to some other day is a pure loss -- the celebrants are no better off than before, and they had to pay all those costs during the chaotic transition from one norm to another.

Concretely, in 1939 Roosevelt announced the new convention in late October, fucking up all kinds of plans that individuals and organizations had already settled on for the November holiday, including the schedule of Thanksgiving sports matches. Yep, even the sanctity of American college football had to be sacrificed in the service of ushering in more rational policies. Not to mention the loss in communal feeling and action that comes from people believing they no longer belong to as stable of a community as they had believed earlier -- if they're going to mess around with a national holiday willy-nilly, who's to say they won't target other important norms too?

Also bear in mind that this flagrant and nakedly materialist coup was carried off when 90% of the population was white (compared to 72% today), and even where ethnic differences existed among whites (for example speaking Italian vs. speaking German), they had no differing traditions for when to celebrate Thanksgiving. Having a more ethnically mixed-up country makes it even harder to enjoy shared, stable norms, but homogeneity is not so powerful of a benefit as many conservatives believe. I've already covered plenty for mid-century America, but go even further into contemporary Scandinavia, where people have been on a kick for some time now to shift from one set of gender roles to another. Homogeneity helps, but is not a bulwark against topsy-turviness in the realm of social conventions.

November 23, 2012

The geography of selfishness: Regional interest in Black Friday

Conservative commentators are too slavish to big business interests, leaving only liberal retards to criticize Black Friday. But lacking the richness of moral intuitions that conservatives tap into, they struggle and fail to pinpoint the essential corruption of the holiday.

It is not about "consumerism," as people have been buying things since forever, especially before a gift-giving holiday. As detailed here, the recent change is in the social nature of the shopping experience. In the good old days, it was communal -- the warm experience of each Christmas shopper amplified the warm experience of the others. You could tell that others felt the Christmas spirit while out choosing gifts for other people, and that recognition of togetherness within your community made you feel elevated yourself.

And because you were shopping for other people, you didn't have very specific items in mind, as you do when you shop for yourself. So if you saw someone else with a particular gift, you didn't think, "The son of a bitch beat me to it!" because you didn't have a cut-and-dried list of targets to hunt down.

Now, though, Black Friday couldn't give off a stronger odor of It's All About Me. Not only are people indulging in DOORBUSTER sales for themselves, and buying things for others as a fig leaf, but their interactions with other shoppers has become a zero-sum game. I'd rather call it a melee than a mob -- with a mob, there's a superorganic groupiness, and some degree of unity of purpose and action among the individuals (toppling a statue, burning the enemy's buildings, etc.).

The Black Friday shoppers are more like Third World looters after some NGO drops off a load of gubmint cheese. Anybody else's warm experience causes me anxiety -- those bastards must have gotten their hands on the good shit already! In fact, maybe I'll just ambush them in the next aisle over and jack that big screen TV right out of their shopping cart. There is no stickiness among individuals, or even within rival teams of individuals, but rather a Hobbesian "war of all against all".

Levels of fellow-feeling vary drastically around the world, with more cohesive societies springing up along what the historian Peter Turchin calls "meta-ethnic frontiers" -- where there's a faultline between two peoples who differ in way of life, language, religion, even genetic ancestry. (See his book War and Peace and War.) For instance, the increasingly cohesive citizens of the Roman Republic had felt pressure from the expansion of the dominant Celts toward the Mediterranean.

More atomistic societies, then, are found where inter-ethnic pressure has been lower, such as the core of an empire. For example, southern Italy after the fall of Rome has been periodically raided and settled by various groups, but nothing like a relentless advance of an outside group that isn't going to just go away and needs to be confronted in collective fashion. And that part of the world is famous for its devil-take-the-hindmost culture.

To explore these questions in the American context, I'd ideally like to find regional data on consumer spending for Black Friday, maybe as a departure from their ordinary amount of spending, and compared to their annual income. Lacking that, I'll just look at how much of a region's overall Google search traffic comes from people looking for "black friday". If someone is self-centered enough to plan out their Black Friday looting spree, they're going to want to know the low-down on what stores are open when, and what deals they're offering.

If the meta-ethnic frontier idea is right, then Black Friday should be a worse problem back East, where they haven't been plagued by Indian raids for hundreds of years, and should be less of a problem out West, where the frontier was only closed in 1890.

I've split the maps into two time periods to see if there's been any major change over time. The first is January 2004 through December 2007, and the second is January 2008 through December 2011. Both state-level and metro-level maps are shown.

First, 2004-2007:

At either the state or metro level, there's a striking east-west split, with less interest shown in the Plains and Mountain states, and even the parts of the West coast that have not been recently colonized by atomistic Easterners. It's not a liberal-conservative thing, as the Deep South is just as bad as the Bos-Wash corridor, and Texas is just as bad as the socialistic Old Northwest. The map also shows that internal racial diversity has little to do with it; it's more about where there have been pronounced Us vs. Them faultlines.

Just look at how mellow California appears compared to either the red or blue states back East, even though it's super-liberal and particularly during the mid-2000s was overrun with non-whites. In all the reporting and videos I've seen on Black Friday mayhem, California has only come up a couple times. Most of it came from the East Coast through the Midwest and Texas.

Next, 2008-2011:

Basically the same picture of regional differences, just with everybody getting more into it than before. It's not due to the recession, but a continuation of the steady rise in Black Friday chaos since around 1993. The Plains states are still not as bad as the band from the Midwest through Texas, but they're much closer than before. The Mountain states are more reliably cohesive over both time periods. California is still not as bad as the Bos-Wash states overall, although the Los Angeles and New York metro areas are about the same.

The other thing about the second time period is that this is when online shopping for Black Friday has become incredibly popular, unlike the mid-2000s. That's probably why the Fargo and Sioux Falls metro areas look worse than L.A. or New York, whereas in the first period they didn't show up on the map at all. I'd therefore put more weight on the first pair of maps.

Overall the meta-ethnic frontier effect appears to pan out. If this were a journal article, maybe I'd quantify how much Indian pressure the various metro areas have faced in the past 200 years, and compare that to the Google search indexes. But what the hell, it's only a blog post, and the pattern is clear enough from visual inspection.

So, there's one thing I'm very thankful for -- leaving the East coast for the Mountain states. As bad as it may feel out here, I remember that it's abysmal back East. The lasting effect of frontier togetherness may even be great enough to cure Eastern transplants, to some degree, of their atomization and antipathy. Seattle, San Francisco, L.A., and San Diego are too corrupted by now to be healthily incorporated into whatever Mountain-Plains region emerges as the new place to be. But they're like patients who only recently received the prognosis of terminal illness, where back East most major metro areas are already-rotting corpses.

November 21, 2012

Israel's troubles and the White Man's Burden

Comparisons of Israel to South Africa under apartheid or to other European colonialist movements have missed one key difference. That is, the non-Jewish colonialists bought into the ideology of civilizing the savages, and acted on these beliefs by building lasting infrastructure that would not have gotten built without them. The official attitude was benevolent paternalism. And the numerous schools, hospitals, railroads, factories, etc., testify to their willingness to put that into practice. Whatever else you put in the pro and con columns, they at least had this going on in their favor.

You just don't feel that sentiment or see that investment on the part of the European / Ashkenazi Jews who settled and now rule over the Land of Israel, directly or indirectly. Zionism was an ethnic nationalist movement that sought to win its own sphere of influence for the first time, not an already established group that sought to use some of its existing wealth and power to lift up the benighted heathens in some other corner of the world.

And when you look around Gaza and the West Bank, you don't marvel at all the stuff they have that the Lebanese, Syrians, and Jordanians do not have. Quite the opposite -- you can't help but be struck by how shitty the place looks, even by the standards of war-torn Near Eastern countries. Unlike the colonies of the British Empire, there are seemingly few or no examples of "noblesse oblige" from Israel.

Indeed, more than refraining from laying down useful infrastructure, Israel does what it can to halt or reverse material development: it blockades the Palestinian territories, hinders transportation, and blows up buildings used by hospitals, schools, and the media. Again, judging by the state of things in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, you wouldn't expect Palestine to look like a first world country, or even near the top of the second world / developing countries. But not as pitiful as it has been under Israeli control.

This must be a large part of why European Jewish colonization has sparked so much more burning hatred by such a broad spectrum of humanity than the old Victorian-era empires ever did. Not just a lack of generosity toward the (in their eyes) lower races, but destructiveness and vindictiveness.

As I pointed out regarding the mirror-image treatment of the Parsis vs. the Ashkenazi Jews, people don't seem to mind being influenced by an elite minority group of ultimately foreign origin, provided that the group proves their generosity and refrains from fucking up the native infrastructure and culture. When the Ashkenazi elite of Israel does just the opposite, it can come as no surprise that greater and greater portions of the world come not only to resent their occupational presence, but to downright despise them as a people.

November 19, 2012

Good short books

Since cultural works keep getting longer and more serialized, we'll probably have to visit the not-so-distant past in order to find something punchier. I finally got around to reading Bright Lights, Big City and Story of My Life, both by Jay McInerney, and both around 200 pages long. They're great reads, although I don't have time to review them right now. His storytelling is much more irreverent than wistful, so not like Fitzgerald as I'd read in a few places beforehand, but still has a similar Irish charm.

I got about half-way through Less Than Zero and returned it. It feels like you keep waking up momentarily from a deep sleep, catching glimpses of events and doing a few lines before crashing back into your slumber, repeating the cycle ad nauseam. Neat concept, but it keeps you from getting absorbed and from connecting with the characters. The movie version wasn't too bad -- it at least had a plot to follow, and decent characterization. (The movie of Bright Lights, Big City was more of a let-down, and it would've been more so if I'd read the book first and had high hopes.)

Got any others to recommend? Bonus points of course if they have a New Wave soundtrack...

November 17, 2012

Having dethroned Christmas, Black Friday seeks to spoil Thanksgiving too

From a blog item at the WSJ:

Wal-Mart, along with Target, and Sears, are opening their doors for Black Friday on Thursday. Yes, Thanksgiving night, 8 p.m. at Wal-Mart and 9 p.m. at Target, which means people will be dropping their turkey legs mid-bite, if they have dinner at all, to get in line for those “doorbuster” deals.
Pretty soon Thanksgiving will only amount to heaping an extra spatula full of slop onto your XXL nachos at Taco Bell, then eating them clumsily in your car, all alone, as you speed over to Target to spend a bunch of money on yourself. We shouldn't desecrate the word Thanksgiving by using it for such an egocentric holiday; might as well re-name it Black Friday Eve.

Last year I detailed the shift from celebrating Christmas to celebrating Black Friday, but I didn't predict that it would swallow up Thanksgiving too.

Would it be worth it to show up in person and try to shame the Black Friday and Black Friday Eve shoppers? Nothing hostile, just some display of family togetherness, and signs with messages that were frank but not snarky, reminding them where they should be, and how they ought to be behaving. Could be worth a shot -- all it takes is a few people pointing out how crazy some mass phenomenon is, to rally the remaining normal people.

And if you think community cohesion is already so depleted in your neck of the woods for shaming to work, then maybe something more confrontational to still remind them how fucked up they are. Drive-by pie-throwing -- pumpkin with loads of whipped cream. I just can't stand seeing this kind of nakedly anti-social behavior out in the open anymore.

November 16, 2012

Communal vs. private rituals and taboos

Although our society has become so afflicted by obsessive-compulsive behavior, the central feature seems to not get so much attention -- namely, that it is a way for the person to isolate themselves socially. I don't mean only the far-out freaks, whose extreme deviation makes them off-putting. Even in milder forms, the main goal (whether conscious or not) seems to be social isolation.

Most rituals and taboos that you read about are group-level affairs: Muslims don't eat pork, pray five times a day facing Mecca, and so on. They separate in-group from out-group members, and tend to de-individuate the in-group members, for example by having them assemble and chant in unison. Thus they enhance social cohesion.

But with the OCD-like behaviors, they step things down to the individual level: have a personal list of 500 things that I don't eat, along with a list of 500 nutrients I must eat every day, my iTunes playlist accepts post-retro-hardcore-tronica songs but rejects neo-post-retro-hardcore-tronica, etc. By having so many entries on the list of approved and unapproved thoughts, words, and acts, the chance is nil that my list will coincide with anyone else's.

So to me, everybody else becomes the out-group, a strategy that is especially welcome to avoidant types. Performing my own rituals and observing my own taboos strengthens my internal cohesion, where I may have been in doubt before; doing all the proper things according to my list gives me an ego boost.

The real clincher here is that in the DSM's criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, miserliness comes up. Why? That doesn't seem logically related to the other criteria, which are variations on "inflexibility". Why don't these OCD types make lists of who to donate time and money to, weighted by an inflexible system of who's more deserving than who else, and adhered to with perfectionism -- the checks always being mailed on the same date in the month, roaming the streets during a certain fixed schedule looking for panhandlers, always with the same amount of cash ready to donate, etc.? Why not strictly force yourself to put 75% of one month's income toward buying gifts for friends and family before Christmas?

But if the main function of OCD is to isolate oneself socially, in the same way that the in-group isolates itself from the out-group with rituals and taboos, then it's no surprise that such people are rigidly stingy rather than rigidly generous. It's no accident that the most famous hoarder in American culture is nicknamed "the Grouch".

By contrast, the de-individuating crowd rituals and taboos make the in-group members more altruistic toward each other -- leaving money in the donation plate, taking part in a canned food drive, book drive, winter clothing drive, and so on.

I used to think that during cocooning / falling-crime times, there was a decline in ritual. But perhaps it's more of a re-allocation of ritualistic and taboo-related behavior from the communal sphere to the private sphere. Yet another way in which a falling-crime period tends to make us a little crazier.

November 14, 2012

Are blacks scared straight by the law or by hell-raisin' whites?

From a recent Steve Sailer post:

By the way, when speaking about Massachusetts, it's important to keep in mind that a major reason it doesn't have many blacks and that its blacks aren't as big of a problem as elsewhere is because it has an abundance of violent, tribalist, anti-black Irish to keep the blacks down. Boston is the only place I've seen in the U.S. where blacks appeared to be afraid of white civilians walking down the street. Having a lot of scary Irish around makes theorizing at Harvard a lot more pleasant. 
In contrast, poor Milwaukee, a nice German social-democratic town (as Alice Cooper points out in Wayne's World, Socialist candidates were elected mayor of Milwaukee three times in the 1920s), had high welfare and a direct rail line from the Mississippi Delta, and it just got the worst of Southern blacks.
Why not go for a national comparison? Here's a map of the black imprisonment rate (per 100K black population), from an old article also by Steve. Purple means higher imprisonment rates, yellow means lower.

The data are from 1997, when most of them would have been incarcerated during the rising-crime period of the '60s through the early '90s. So they're more likely to represent thuggish criminals, compared to today when more of them would be drug possessors and less of them serial rapists, robbers, killers, and subway graffiti vandals.

Steve suggests that the lowest rates found in Hawaii and North Dakota likely reflect blacks who got there by being in the military, which filters by intelligence and discipline. It's hard to think how else the average black got out there in Hawaii, or up there in North Dakota.

Aside from that, there are three regions where blacks appear to be kept more in line -- 1) the Deep South plus the lower Appalachians, especially Tennessee and West Virginia; 2) the northern part of the Mountain West; and 3) the parts of the Northeast that have more rural areas, especially Maine.

In contrast, blacks get locked up like crazy in the West Coast, the Southwest, the Plains states, the Midwest, and the Bos-Wash Corridor along the East Coast (New York City's 1997 rate must have reflected Giuliani's crackdown, and resembled nearby Connecticut, RI, and New Jersey).

So, we don't see a simple liberal / conservative or blue / red state effect. Black imprisonment rates are very high both in the liberal West Coast as well as the conservative Plains states. And it's low both in the liberal Northeast and West Virginia, as well as in the conservative Deep South.

Instead, what pops out at me is that the areas with low black imprisonment rates have high concentrations of whites whose ancestry is Celtic. Here are four Census maps showing the prevalence of Scotch-Irish, Scottish, Irish, and "American" ancestry. The last one is clearly a Celtic one, only coming from those who are ignorant of exactly where their ancestors came from, are more patriotic, or are just too cantankerous to give the nice Census lady anything but a smartass answer to get her off their front porch and back to where ye came from.

Compared to other white Americans, those of Celtic ancestry are more clannish and warlike, more honor-driven and less law-regarding. The hell with being tattle-tales to law enforcement -- how about we just settle this little thing ourselves, like men. Picking up that vibe from whites at the grassroots level must make black criminals think twice about stepping on the wrong man's dick -- if he doesn't pursue you to within an inch of his own life just to bring about your death, then his kinfolk may just round up a party and track you down like an animal, unencumbered in whatever they do by legal regulations since the authorities won't know about it.

Of course it doesn't require a real-life rude awakening -- you can just size up whether some pale-skin is a weenie whitie or a crazy cracka. And you're not sizing up only those who you're thinking of victimizing right now -- you're unconsciously taking stock of all sorts of white people you run into or hear about locally, and filing away what characteristics they seem to have, for future reference.

In contrast to the Culture of Honor prevailing among the more pastoralist-influenced Celts, there's a greater Culture of Law among the more agriculture-influenced English, Scandinavians, French, and Germans. *

At any rate, if a state's white population is made up mostly of Culture of Law groups, then at the grassroots level whites appear wimpy in the eyes of blacks. Should they be victimized, they won't make waves, but rather call on the law enforcement system to administer justice. Black criminals in those states must sense that most of the local white targets are wimps, strengthening their resolve and making them more careless. It'd be like taking candy from a baby. But eventually the law does catch up to them, and these states see higher rates of black imprisonment.

So, why bother involving the law so much in daily life? They're always stretched too thin, they lack the collective knowledge that community members would have if they put their heads together, their powers are hamstrung by legal regulations, and being outside mercenaries, their motives are not always in the locals' best interests -- corruption and careerist showboating are particularly likely at the highest levels. Not to mention the financial cost of convicting criminals, then maintaining such a sprawling prison population through their term.

Just by contributing in your own small personal way to the perception by criminals that the locals in your community are not the type you want to fuck with, your collective yet uncoordinated efforts can have a similar effect to the police and the courts. And when two methods are about equally effective, bottom-up keeps us more human than top-down.

Also, I doubt that most of those low black imprisonment rates in Celtic regions is due to whites forming kangaroo courts and lynch mobs after a crime has already been committed -- you'd hear about that at least some of the time. Rather the difference in white attitude seems to serve more as a deterrent -- like, I better check myself around here, these white folks be CRAZY.

Finally, it needs repeating that the map doesn't show a liberal vs. conservative effect. It's more based on the ethnic composition of whites, and the ways of life that adapted them to their differing homelands over the centuries and millennia back in Europe.

English Puritans and Socialist Scandinavians may provide a greater sense of stability and structure, but they may wind up relying too much on authority, while neglecting their involvement in everyday self-policing. And in an ethnically mixed-up country like ours, that approach doesn't seem to be intimidating enough to black criminals. It's better suited to shaming would-be criminals of Norwegian etc. ancestry before they even try it.

But blacks look at the law enforcement system as just a bunch of overpaid punks -- whatchu pigs gon' do, huh? I'll sue for police brutality! That's when you need more rambunctious whites to curb bad black behavior at the grassroots level. Sometimes it takes barbarians to deter a savage.

* At least those from the agrarian parts of Germany toward the north and east; the mountainous and more pastoralist southern states are more conservative, hence probably more of the fighting mountain man type. We could check by contrasting German Lutheran Americans vs. German Catholic Americans, since religion more or less maps onto the agrarian vs. agro-pastoralist split back in their homeland.

November 12, 2012

In East Asians, a blunted sense of disgust and of morality

East Asians have never exported a moral code, whether secular or religious, despite having a long history of literate philosophical discourse. When Westerners get into "Buddhism," it's typically Tibetan Buddhism, and that belongs more to the Central Asian pastoralist cultures. (The Dalai Lama's family were horse traders, part of the local cowboy culture.) None of us can say what Confucianism teaches. And no amount of opium is going to help us uncover the cryptic system of Taoism.

Meanwhile, a tiny splinter group of Hebrew hillbillies founded the most widespread religion in the world, followed only by a religion founded by another breakaway group of Semitic desert-dwellers. Some groups are evidently better able to create moral codes that spread easily, and other groups less.

What seems to be lacking the most in East Asians, that would prevent them from developing spreadable moral systems, is a sharpened sense of disgust. That is the most visceral, and therefore the most powerful dimension of human morality. It underlies our feelings about what is sacred or taboo, and investing a moral system with sacredness makes it more appealing to the rest of mankind. Then it isn't just some handy rules of thumb that will only be useful in the narrow region where they were developed. Rather, there seems to be something pure about it, something worthy of respect, regardless of how this gist is adapted to particular local conditions.

And of course many of those rules of thumb will already have derived from the disgust reflex, for example, our reaction to one man shoving his pole up another man's butt.

Certainly this emphasis on disgust, purity, sanctity, and taboo is not sufficient for a mature moral system that will spread. It can also be taken too far, where religious participation devolves into one round after another of "Stone the defiler!" Nevertheless, it is a necessary part.

What's the evidence that East Asians don't get disgusted as much as other people? Sounds like a stupid question on the internet, doesn't it? They don't all show exactly the same signs, since no country is a clone of another. But here's a brief list. It doesn't matter if not everyone, or not even a majority, takes part in these things -- the fact that they're much more common in East Asia shows that their bell curve is shifted farther toward the "not easily grossed out" direction.

- Obviously, Japan being the world capital of porno for real sick fucks. Piss, shit, vomit, spit, gallons of jizz -- basically every disgusting kind of effluvia you can think of. The only place they have left to go is with blood and mucus (though maybe I'm out of the loop). Depictions of sex with not just animals but slithering sea creatures is also mainstream. Rape is so common in their porno that they clearly feel no aversion to it. Then there's the dirty old salaryman buying a schoolgirl's used underwear and sniffing it, or buying a plastic mold of a 13 year-old boy's anus, something that would weird out the rest of the world.

- Gross-out food. All over the world, certain classes of animals are found to be ickier than others, things that are more likely to give you the willies just looking at them -- creepy-crawlies. And you've never seen such enthusiasm for wolfing down all manner of insects, scorpions, tarantulas, bats, seahorses, not to mention the motley crew of slimy marine life they eat raw, perhaps with the eyes still open and the mouth still taking in futile gasps of air. I have to reiterate that this is not simply a case of outsiders finding the native cuisine unpalatable -- these are animal types that everyone regards as yuckier than game animals, livestock, vegetables, fruits, grains, etc. Christ, they even eat cats and dogs -- not even man's best friend is held sacred.

- Much higher rates of male homosexuality. According to the General Social Survey, 4% of American males are not heterosexual, judging from their sex partners over the past 5 years. Combining the Chinese and Japanese respondents, their rate is 12% -- 3 times higher than the national average. East Asians are low in exhibitionism in general, so their homos don't leap out at you like the more flamboyant Black or Irish fags, who come from overall more expressive groups. But don't be fooled by their sober, drab facades -- nearly 1 out of every 8 of them is A-OK with some random faceless dude cumming in their mouth.

- Somewhat related to that, what's up with all those ladyboys in Thailand? If you showed pictures of that stuff to Bushmen hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari Desert, they'd think you were making that shit up. The gods must be crazy. Surely some kind of disgust reaction would've prevented them from doing that even for a day, let alone make it their daily routine. But, not so in East Asia. Then there's their even more numerous clientele, who are as warped as the trannies themselves. Asians just let that stuff pass, not being very grossed out by it, whereas the Arabs would have burned their polluted workplaces to the ground.

- Japanese torture porn (splatter movies) seem to be even sicker than Western ones. I'm going by what others say, and matter-of-fact descriptions of what is shown, such as this one from Wikipedia about Audition:

A flashback shows that the sack in Asami's apartment contains a man missing both feet, his tongue, one ear and three fingers on one hand. He crawls out and begs for food. Asami vomits into a dog dish and places it on the floor for the man. The man sticks his face into the vomit and hungrily consumes it.
Gives a whole new meaning to "barf me out". It doesn't sound like they try to portray physical corruption as a signal of deeper or broader decay, as for example in Videodrome, or that killer mass death scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Asians seem to be better able at stomaching all this sick shit with no larger purpose.

And those in the West who are most into making and consuming torture porn are like the East Asians in all sorts of other ways, but most importantly in being quasi-autistic nerds with, again, apparently no disgust response. They try to make themselves out to be tough guys, stronger than those half-men who would get queasy watching dismembered bodies lapping up puke from a dog dish. But back on Planet Earth they prove nothing by watching these movies without getting weirded out. That would require them to have an intact disgust reflex that, by iron willpower, they've managed to keep a lid on. But since their disgust reflex is not there to begin with, it's no feat of mental strength to watch all this gory junk. It's all just a goof for a cerebral audience.

There are probably other examples to point to, but that gives the basic idea across a range of disgust-related domains (food, sex, and death). Like I said, there are other reasons why Asians do not wind up as morally developed as other groups do, but their blunted disgust response has to play a major role there. They are just not very corporeal people, being more cerebral.

Perhaps their relatively weak sense of disgust explains partly why they rely so much on external authority to tell them how to behave -- if you lack even the most basic internal voice that screams, "Eww, don't do that!" then you're pretty hopeless on your own. Of course, what's chicken and what's egg? Maybe the blind reliance on your parents' orders evolved first, and that weakened the need for internal guidance like disgust.

One last thing -- I skipped over things like leaving your shoes outside the house and other examples of hygiene practices because they are obviously cancelled out by all the other vile crap I pointed to. Not tracking dirt into the house, while spending hours watching tentacle rape porn, loses out to dirty shoes inside and sex-with-a-real-life-girlfriend. So if anyone feels like trying to stick up for Asians, please refrain from making any clueless arguments along those lines.

November 11, 2012

Long, boring young adult novels

Speaking of popular movies these days being as long as they were back in the mid-century, what about books? When I get more time, I'll go through the top 10 best-selling novels from the Publishers Weekly list that goes back over 100 years.

But for now, consider what's popular with young people -- i.e., those who are supposed to have short attention spans, too restless and fun-loving to want to plow through a long slog of a book. The novels in the Hunger Games trilogy are nearly 400 pages, those in the Twilight series between 500 and 750 pages, and although the earliest Harry Potter books were just over 300 pages in America, the later ones were pushing 700, 800, 900 pages.

Not having been a teenager, nor in the target market anyway (chicks), I have no memory of what the hot young adult novels were in the good old days. So I went to check some lists and comment threads, and there were a fair number under 200 pages, at least back to the '60s classic The Outsiders. Most seemed to be around 200-300 pages. V.C. Andrews' novels that began with Flowers in the Attic was the longest popular series I could find, and they averaged around 400 pages.

Judging from the one-time fans writing about them so many years later, it sounds like these books were a lot more poignant than those of today. The more hard-edged subject matter probably contributed to that, but the shorter length must've also concentrated it to leave a stronger impression on the reader. Teenage girls had better things to be doing in the 1980s than casting themselves adrift in 800 pages of emo moping. Talking to all those boys, for one thing, rather than locking themselves in their rooms all day long.

Maybe it's not too surprising that today's OCD audiences would prefer 700-page teen romance novels. They're the same ones who praise video games that "don't get going until the 30-hour mark," or who could surf their Facebook feed for 6 hours straight every day just liking random comments, more out of compulsion to stay on the treadmill than out of any genuine enjoyment. It's another one of their joyless addictions where quality doesn't matter, as long as there's always a bit more "content" to continue consuming.

How do I know they're not really getting into these books? You rarely see their facial expressions change when they're reading, as they would if the books were truly engaging. The rest of their body doesn't respond either, e.g. by leaning forward "on the edge of their seat". It's more like they're crawling back into the womb, to sleep forever shielded from the frightening real world (where they're already sickeningly pampered). They have that vegetative glaze on their face the entire time, as though the "universe" of the novels had no remarkable features, nor the characters any personality -- anything that would strike an emotional chord in the reader. It's more like a really long episode of channel-surfing, sifting through this, that, or the other pile of dusty junk, and coming up empty.

November 9, 2012

Belief in afterlife tracks rising violence

Terror Management Theory is a literature in psychology that studies what happens when you prime people with thoughts about death. Many of the results are variations on the theme of seeking symbolic immortality, for example wanting more to belong to a group that existed before you joined and that will continue living on once you are dead.

This helps to alleviate the anxiety triggered by thinking about your own mortality -- some piece of you, some impression you made, or some influence that you left behind, will still make its presence felt to other living people even after you're gone. So, it's not like your connections to others will be totally severed.

One way that many peoples across the world have for dealing with death is the belief in an afterlife. The General Social Survey asks whether you believe in "life after death," and that ought to respond to a rising crime rate, which causes you to reflect more on mortality.

As it turns out, those who are getting closer to death's door show a somewhat high level of belief that doesn't change over time. So I restricted respondents to those aged 18 to 59. Here's how likely they were over the years to believe in an afterlife:

There is a jagged rise to a peak in 1996, followed by an overall decline -- unlike the earlier period, where only single-year declines occur as part of year-to-year random variation, there's now a 3-year and then a 2-year period of decline. That's interrupted, though, by a brief reversal during the mid-2000s.

This seems to lag behind the crime rate, then, which peaked in 1992, 4 years before the peak in afterlife beliefs. What could have happened 4 years before the unexpected peak in 2006? That was 9/11, which began to sink into our minds sometime during 2002. Other than that, there has not been any spectacular event during falling-crime times that has made us think about what lies beyond.

I'm not sure why there's such a lag. Perhaps it's because the belief has to do with something far off into the future, so you don't get around to revising that belief as early as you do other beliefs that are more relevant to your decision-making right now. Dating-and-mating behavior changes with little or no lag, for instance. But really nothing solid comes to mind.

The only other variable that shows a pronounced lag is illegal substance use, which peaks somewhere between 5 and 10 years after the crime rate peaks. That was true not only for the recent crime wave, where drug use peaked in the late '90s, but also for the earlier Jazz Age crime wave, where opiate use peaked around the late '30s or early '40s.

GSS variables used: postlife, year, age

November 7, 2012

Voting for neither major party, 1788 to 2012

Compared to the anti-establishment era that had only stirred awake during the 1960s but that charged forward with vigor during the '80s and early '90s, the past 20 years feel like we've stepped into The Twilight Zone. We have returned to the mid-century worship of Big Business and Big Government, though this time without Big Labor. And that is nowhere more evident than in the sights of people wrapped around city blocks, eagerly lining up to suck the cock of an authority figure like Steve Jobs or Barack Obama.

Sadly but predictably our Facebook feeds today are filling up with all kinds of childish gloating and naked worship of a political party, again harking back to the mid-century totalitarianism that we saw under Roosevelt, but that extended also to Nazi Germany and the Stalinist USSR.

If they'd voted for Obama while saying he was the lesser of two evils, they were going to hold their nose, I don't wanna but I gotta -- fair enough, they pass the test for being a normal human being. But the RAH-RAH surge that folks get from politics today is clearly the sign of a polluted mind. It's one of those diseases of civilization that is absent among hunter-gatherers, who are more egalitarian and strive to limit rather than encourage power-seekers.

That kind of pride in not being a slave to authority also shows up among pastoralists, although they do get organized at greater scales than hunter-gatherers do. The nadir of tribalism is found more in tropical gardening societies and in the factions struggling for elite control of settled agrarian societies. Like tuberculosis and vitamin D deficiency, that mindset seems to be on the wane in industrial societies. But as America continues to fragment, probably heading toward secession of smaller regions from the untenably large and unthreatened empire, we could see another eruption of tribalism -- and today's deluge of Facebook snark is hardly encouraging.

Well, now that I've got all the hot air out of my system, let's take a look at some hard data to see when voters were more conformist and when they were more into shaking the system up. I'm not taking into account which particular parties were the third parties, what they stood for, etc., since most voters are not very knowledgeable about the issues. A third-party vote is more of a vote against the mainstream than for the specific platform. I'm also not even looking at who the mainstream parties were.

All I'm interested in is how willing were people to spend (not "waste") their vote on a third-party candidate, to collectively buy a megaphone and shout the message of Not Takin' This Shit No More to whoever ends up occupying the White House. In their minds, that popular pressure is more important than squeezing a particular candidate into the Oval Office.

The graph below shows the percent of the popular vote that went to anyone other than the two parties with the greatest shares (click to enlarge).

Granted, the data are only at 4-year intervals, and there's a good deal of noise because of so many other factors influencing voting patterns. Still, the periods when people voted more for third parties fell within rising-crime times, whereas people in falling-crime times shifted toward complacency with the status quo. There was plenty of third-party popularity during the increasingly violent American Gothic period around the mid-19th C., leading up to the Civil War. Then it falls off a cliff during the Gilded Age.

We don't know when exactly the turn-of-the-century crime wave kicks off, but it's no later than 1900. So the third-party success in 1892 is a tough call. However, there was even greater support during the Jazz Age. As the world became safer during the mid-century, voters hardly opted at all to rock the boat.

Once the '60s got going, people got back into the rambunctious mood at the voting booth, throwing their support toward a Southern populist, no less -- talk about being anti-establishment. That continued further in 1980, and peaked in the 1992 election when Ross Perot -- who landed on Planet Earth with no earlier visibility whatsoever -- won nearly 1 out of every 5 votes. In the falling-crime period ever since then, we've returned to the complacent political behavior of the mid-century, where only 1-2% have voted for a third party in recent elections.

But, to look on the bright side of history, at least we can't be subjected to a full repeat of mid-century authority worship, since they passed an amendment to prevent another four-term President like Roosevelt. God knows if it were possible, we could've easily had 16 years of Clinton, or even of Obama.

Why is there a link between the trend in the violence rate and people's willingness to vote for third parties? When there is a growing, palpable sense of disorder, the godlike attributes of authority are put to a litmus test, and not being omniscient, omnipotent, nor omnibenevolent, they fail pathetically. People see with their own eyes how misplaced the earlier faith had been, and they get more experimental -- unfamiliar dangers call for more trial-and-error, and keeping what seems to work. The hippie communes of the late '60s and early '70s did not last, but Dirty Harry did.

During a falling-crime period, people see the world getting safer and stabler, so whatever the experts and authority figures are doing, it seems to be going well. So, don't risk upsetting this welcome trend by making waves in the voting booth. The sad reality is that crime waves reverse of their own accord, meaning at the grassroots level where people begin cocooning more and thereby expose themselves less and less to criminals who would prey on them out in the open.

Attributing this decline in crime to the authorities sets the society up for yet another wave of crime, when people assume it's safe to come out and play again, and there'll be no need to worry about your safety or looking out for one another, because the experts and authorities have already driven crime down so low. This false illusion of a governmental safety net lulls them into waltzing out into dangerous situations unprepared. Only when faith in control-by-experts starts to unravel, do they wake up and -- while not fleeing back inside -- take more social, face-to-face measures to look out for and be looked out for by others in their community.

November 5, 2012

Running times of popular movies, 1921 to present

I don't go out to the movies much anymore because they've become so boring. This summer, however, I did head out to see The Dark Knight Rises three times. It struck me how long it was -- not because it dragged (it flowed well), but because I don't recall movies being that long.

Having seen so many similarities between this age and the mid-20th century, I pursued a hunch that movies were probably very long back then too, but not during the Jazz Age or the '60s-'80s New Wave Age. Although not having seen them all myself, I've read in many places that mainstream movies had gotten so bloated, ponderous, and epically pretentious by the early '60s, that the New Hollywood movement some years later felt like breath of fresh air.

Getting good data to settle the matter is easier if we stick to something objectively measurable, so why not running time? As mentioned above, not all long movies are boring. But very long movies certainly do try your patience. In fact, I'm not sure that boring vs. exciting is the right way to look at the shifts. It's more like compact and arresting vs. diffuse and letting-you-be. (Although for people who like striking movies, the longer ones will often feel boring.)

Basically, people in falling-crime times do not want to be excitable or feel out-of-control emotionally, for example getting taken ahold of by a movie or song. It's part of their detached, cocooning psychology and behavior. A slow, thinned-out stream of words and pictures will make sure that the work never exceeds a certain emotional threshold to strike a chord in the viewer.

People in rising-crime times are the other way around, preferring things that get you worked up, that get you engaged and involved, and that therefore leave a lasting impression. This stems from their different attachment style, wanting to "bond" closer with the elements of their culture. It's easier to accomplish this by concentrating the ingredients of your artwork, for example by keeping it short, so that it packs a stronger wallop.

Below is a graph showing the median running time of the top 10 movies at the box office for the year. See footnote for more on methods. *

And from the following graph, which shows the longest and shortest running times for each year, we see that the oscillations in the graph above reflect a yo-yo-ing of the upper limit, whereas the lower limit rose to about 90 minutes and has stayed there ever since. An hour and a half is the stable bare minimum for a blockbuster movie, but how far you go from there is up to the zeitgeist.

So, here we see yet another example of the similarity between rising-crime periods and between falling-crime periods. Movies of the '20s and early '30s were fairly short, and there is no identifiable rising or falling trend in their lengths. Dracula (1931) is only 85 minutes long, and The Jazz Singer (1927) is 89. Even those at the long end weren't so long: King Kong (1933) runs 100 minutes, and All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) runs 138.

Beginning around the mid-'30s movies got incredibly longer, from a median running time of about 90 minutes to a peak of about 140 minutes by the early 1960s, accreting nearly one hour of film. For those who wish we were back in the mid-century modern period, consider having to regularly sit through a sprawling chick flick like Gone with the Wind (1939), which drags on for 224 minutes -- for the arts majors, that's 3 hours and 44 minutes. By the time this trend had neared its end, at least they let you take in more eye candy, as in El Cid (1961) -- y'know, maybe spending 3 hours with Sophia Loren ain't such a bad thing after all.

Other mid-century blockbusters that clock in at nearly 3 hours or longer include The Great Ziegfried (1936), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Since You Went Away (1943), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Quo Vadis (1951), Giant (1956), Raintree Country (1957), South Pacific (1958), Ben-Hur (1959), Exodus (1960), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), and Cleopatra (1963). There are quite a few others; the point is to emphasize that our age is not the only one when hit movies were long.

You have to keep in mind that the over-extended movies of the mid-century were what was in demand at the time, and that what's been preserved in the popular or elite imagination of that period, after it ended, does not necessarily reflect what truly resonated with audiences back then. Most film noir movies, for example, are real short compared to the mainstream. The following made it into the top 10 at the box office, yet are all under 2 hours: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Mildred Pierce (1945), The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), and Sunset Boulevard (1950).

Hitchcock also made sure not to let length dilute the concentration of suspense in his thrillers: top-10 hits like Spellbound (1945), Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960) are all under 2 hours, and so is the #14 movie of 1954, Dial M for Murder, which is just an hour and 45 minutes.

After a peak in the early '60s, median running times begin to fall until a relative minimum in the late 1980s. In 1961 the median was about 2 hours and 20 minutes, and by 1988 it had bottomed out at 1 hour and 45 minutes. Movies from this period are still longer than during the Jazz Age; what they share in common is a flat or falling length, compared to the rising running times of the mid-century and past 20 years.

Part of what makes the classics from this period so enduring is that, if they had been made in the mid-century or within the past 20 years, they almost surely would've been 45 to 60 minutes longer, and thereby lost some of the punch that makes such a lasting impression on audiences.

The major epic of the period, Star Wars (1977), is 2 hours long, and you spend even less time watching the religiously themed adventure Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Comic book movies like Superman (1978) and Superman II (1982) are somewhat shorter than the typical ones of today, running 143 and 127 minutes respectively. And the modern-day superhero movie Ghostbusters (1984) only lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes. What would have been a 3-hour war movie, Platoon (1986) is just 2 hours.

Also, the greater taste for action and comedy movies helped to keep things short and snappy, a pattern seen also during the Jazz Age. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) runs 1 hour and 45 minutes, and Dirty Harry (1971) is a bit shorter still.

By 1990, though, running times began to creep upward again and haven't fallen since. As with the mid-century, the shift was gradual and not so pronounced in the beginning. But by the 2000s, it had become clear that audiences wanted much longer movies.

On separate lengthy plane trips, I fell asleep during both the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies (2001), which dragged on for 2 1/2 hours and 3 hours respectively. And I'm proud to say I've never made it through all 3 hours of Titanic (1997), the Gone with the Wind of the Millennial age. Avatar (2009) is another return to the very long epic war adventure movie, at nearly 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Speaking of which, the original Star Wars movies are at or somewhat above 2 hours, whereas the new awful ones are closer to 2 hours and 20 minutes. And what do we gain from sitting through all that extra footage? About a thousand more BORING shots cluttered with cheap CGI junk, and another quarter-hour of pointless snore-inducing backstory.

Maybe it's just me (so many movie-goers eat this stuff up), but why do we need 2 and a half hours or more for kiddie crap like the entries in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers series?

I'll try to return later to the broader scope of long vs. short cultural works across longer stretches of history. I chose the movies first because the medium has been popular across four different rising or falling-crime periods. There's also the matter of what different types of media appeal to people in different times, like the drawn-out or serial forms (Victorian novels, radio shows, and today's TV shows) vs. the more high-impact forms (Elizabethan-Jacobean plays, Romantic poems, the short story, and music videos). Not watching all these non-engaging new movies ought to free up some time to continue these ideas.

* The data start in 1921 (the only year that supplied data for just 9 feature films) and is somewhat patchy in the early-mid-'20s; it becomes annual by the late '20s, and goes through 2011. I removed short films from the early period, keeping those that were around 50-60 minutes or more. (I also removed a 27-minute documentary from 1976). All data are for the original US theatrical release.

I used the median so that quite short or quite long movies wouldn't skew the average, and taking the average of a small number of things is sketchy. In any case, the graph for the average looks pretty much the same.

November 3, 2012

Groups who can ruin a public space with just one of them present

While you may not prefer to hang around people from various groups, certain groups are more toxic than others, in the sense that for any fixed number of them, the more toxic groups pollute the space more than the less toxic ones. Perhaps the easiest way to see this is to ask whether a public space feels contaminated with only one or two members of the group present, as opposed to there needing to be quite a few of them before their disruptive influence is felt.

Ethnic and racial groups are of the less harmful type. If half of the people in attendance are black, you might be in for a bumpy ride. But just one or two black guys aren't going to act up. Same for Mexicans, Chinese, Jews, etc. The lesson is that entire races can't be so dysfunctional down to more or less the last member, or else they wouldn't be here still.

As for those who can ruin a space acting alone, bums come to mind. It just takes one of them aggressively panhandling, shouting crazy shit, looking filthy, pushing or carrying or wearing weird stuff, or storming around half-possessed. That puts most people right away into a defensive mindset and posture, preventing the openness and trust that are necessary for a public space to feel communal. This is why bums, a subset of the homeless, are so seriously targeted by businesses -- it just takes one to drive away most or all of the normals. Even liberal businesses like Starbucks often put locks or keypads on their bathroom doors so that only paying customers can use them.

Faggots are the other obvious case. It doesn't matter if there's only one around -- that buzzing, breathy voice with its sing-song, kiddie inflection broadcasts the sound of a hypersexualized child throughout the space. People may try to ignore it, but there are few things that sound more creepy than a 7 year-old boy trying to seduce all the other males within earshot.

Their juvenile Peter Pan tendencies also mean they are totally unaware of what level of voice is appropriate, what topics are and aren't appropriate, and so on. It's not uncommon to hear them ejaculating loudly about their fucked up sex lives, sexual innuendo, and the rest of their many neuroses. Everybody has to hear their problems and rush over to hug them, and like, is it seriously to much to ask to blare "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera over the PA system? They're living through a continual emotional trainwreck, so it's not like the normals will catch much of a break from hearing about their airheaded anxieties.

And then there's the visual aspect, just as with bums. Black people don't dress in such a deviant way, as though triggering your disgust response. Queers not only dress in a campy and childishly provocative way, but they just look plain freakish to begin with, from their boyishly straight hips to their sissy mincing gait and alien-looking gay face. And yet we're just supposed to sit there and not notice how bizarre it is to see a 40 year-old wearing cut-off jean shorts and an Abercrombie t-shirt, while shaving his bald head in a lame attempt to hide his age, and staring out of dead eyes sunken into his mummified face.

Outright criminals are another clear-cut case -- even if there's just one of them who bust in to rob the store, to shoot up their workplace, or whatever, that's enough.

The common denominator here seems to be level of socialization. Bums and criminals choose to live outside of normal society, so they certainly aren't socialized in its ways. Homos are an interesting case because they don't choose to be unsocialized. Rather, it stems from their fundamental state of being stunted in childhood. You have to physically and psychologically mature before you can become sensitive to the social dynamics of normal adolescents and adults, and to gradually fit your way into their world. Being always held back before that transitional stage, queers are mostly incapable of becoming fully socialized.

The best that they can hope for is to stay in the closet and just keep quiet, kind of like well-behaved children when they're out in public -- incapable of taking part in the interactions around them, but still not disrupting things for everyone else. If we expect that of our children, then why not of our man-children?

Members of this or that racial / ethnic group are on average fully socialized, albeit to different norms and customs than for other racial / ethnic groups. But they don't come off as characteristically deviant. Certainly those different norms can lead to tension between groups, and even outright conflict. But that's not the same as everyday pollution of the in-group's public spaces.

Conservatives for the past 20 years have focused too much on between-group conflict stemming from differences in customs, like moving away from blacks and their culture. Meanwhile they've abandoned public spaces within their own community to the liberals, preferring instead to hunker down like a pussy in their home with the nuclear family unit only.

Facing no opposition from conservatives, who tend to react more strongly to notions about sanctity and taboo, the libs have encouraged all sorts of repulsive and deviant types to infest public spaces -- libraries, parks, book stores, coffee shops, fast food dining rooms, and so on. And the typical conservative could care less, hiding away from all that mess and browsing / purchasing only from Amazon, going to the fast food drive-thru, etc. Let somebody else worry about it, not me since I don't use that space anymore.

One good thing about a rising crime rate is that it brings the conservative weenies out of their bunkers and back into regular face-to-face relationships with their fellow neighbors and citizens, to provide and receive mutual aid and support.

November 1, 2012

Final, broader observations on Halloween

I'm still a little pleasantly buzzed from the party tonight, so this'll be off the cuff but hopefully of broader relevance.

- The nightclub party I went to was weak, nowhere near full. It wasn't the club's fault. It's regularly packed on other occasions, like presumably last Saturday when it was filled with the dorks who can't stand celebrating a holiday on a weeknight. Nevertheless, it's not like there were many cool, open people there tonight either. More like a mini-version of the attention-whoring festival held on The Saturday Before Halloween.

- Related to that, I saw almost no one dressed up in the late afternoon / early evening like I did on Saturday. So, basically the entire set of holiday rituals has been removed from October 31 and placed on the Saturday before. If they haven't been eliminated altogether, such as --

- Trick-or-treating. I saw two groups on the way home, and five groups within sight of my house. I stood outside because our porch light's broken, and I'm always interested to take note of any changes. Only one group stopped by our house, and it was three high-schoolers. I should've told them they were too old to be out, but one was a 17 year-old blonde in a tight leather Catwoman outfit who was pushing her titties out of her top / bustier thingie. And what kind of neighbor would I be to turn them away on Halloween?

All of the little kid groups of course had parents accompanying them, and in almost all cases right up to the door. Still, I saw something that I never would've even thought possible -- two elementary school boys hit a couple houses across the street, then got into a car driven by their mommie. Was this the end of a faraway trip, and she was going to drive them back home? Naw man, she drove them a few houses down, let them hit another few houses on their own, then back into the car, and so on. She was chaffeuring them down a single side of a single neighborhood block!

Why not carry your 10 year-old child in one of those papoosa dealies, knock on the door yourself, collect the candy yourself, etc.? And yet the helicopter parents act surprised when their kid wants to live with and sponge off them until age 40...

- Then there's all this autistic conservative stuff about not celebrating Halloween because, ACTUALLY, it's a Pagan, Celtic, or whatever holiday. Yeah, well, shooting off fireworks and roasting dead animals in the open air to celebrate the birth of your nation ain't exactly religious or supernaturally focused either. Somehow, Halloween's origins in a non-Christian tradition must mean that, here and now, people who celebrate it are practicing something Pagan, Celtic, etc.

It's as lazy and idiotic of an idea as saying that we're reviving Latin, Greek, or Celtic languages -- and bringing about our own pollution -- by using words in contemporary English that ultimately derive from one of those sources. Imagine how sterile a language would be with no borrowings -- well, it would be the official French of France. If Pagan religions had something worth preserving, then why not preserve it and adapt it into our own culture?

I don't take the argument seriously, as it's just a half-baked rationalization for why we must cocoon even further. Liberals tell themselves that Halloween is bad because of potential harm to the kids, and maybe lack of fair treatment for those whose groups are worn as costumes by others.

Conservatives also mention the potential harm to kids, but they're also sensitive to moral "taste receptors" like purity, taboo, pollution, etc. (Jonathan Haidt.) So in addition to acting like weenies about their children's safety (despite how safe Halloween has always been), they'll also trot out some argument about cultural pollution from some out-group like non-Christian religions.

Notice, however, that neither libs or cons are interested in replacing Halloween with some holiday and set of communal rituals that are more to their liking. Their arguments are just post-hoc rationalizations for their gut decision to cocoon and eliminate communal rituals altogether.

Are we becoming a race of party-poopers or what? Celebrations in public space, from lively to low-key, bind the community together. What kind of sick world do we live in where the local faggot and homophile brigades can muster an extravagant Pride Parade every year, while neighbors refuse to send their kids out trick-or-treating, or to host these guests if they show up at their door, by turning off the front light?