Are You Scared Of Outerspace?

You are small and cosmically insignificant. I am too. When compared to millennia of space, our short lives remind us of our own mortality.

As a species we have evolved from microorganisms to multicellular beings with highly advanced cognitive function. But you are weak. I am weak. We are vulnerable. An effortless kill.

Space is infinite. The world is small. Our world is smaller. Our worldview is microscopic. There is not enough time to understand. You’re running out of time. I am running out of time to learn more.

The tides they ebb and flow. The moon above dictates their schedule and that too provides the false construct of time we live by. Months turns to years and years turn to ages. You will live maybe another 30, 40, 50? Less than 100 for sure.

But space? Space lives on for millennia. When our sun burns out and takes our planet with it, other universes will still go on. When we look at the stars, it took them millions of light years to shine down upon us but only seconds to glance at.

Everything around us is old. Everything above us is ancient. We are young, fragile creatures who have every right to feel insignificant before the concept of our greater universe.

It should scare you to be sucked into a blackhole. That nothingness which comes to define our comprehension of what lies beyond. We don’t know.

There is not enough time to know. We know almost nothing. We are primitive. We are weak.

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Breaking Bad v The Wire v The Sopranos

The Sopranos v Breaking Bad v The Wire

The heavy weight class of the great TV dramas. The Wire is often considered by many critics to be the greatest of all time. More recently its cult fans have named Breaking Bad the greatest. Somehow while it was among the most popular show of its generation, The Sopranos is less talked about today when considering “the greatest.” So I decided to form an opinion for myself and spent the last year watching the entire series run for Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and The Wire. So without further ado, my analysis…

Breaking Bad (my first rewatch of the bunch)

PROS

Style – By far the best cinematography of the bunch– even if it heavily copied TRAFFIC (2000). Its use of setting as character was wonderfully conveyed. The use of music to set themes was also very good. The way it employed flash forward as a foreshadowing technique was a very interesting stylistic narrative tool – think the pink bear; a meth lab explosion? Nope, a plane crash as consequence for White’s actions.

Plot – As far as its cumulative run is concerned, there is not an ounce of fat or filler in any season. Every episode builds without boring the audience. That is because it is a plot driven show and it works to propel things forward quickly (more on that later).

Characters – I should say character, because it goes without saying that Walter White is one of the greatest ever created. Everyone knows a Walter White, someone who is smarter than what they’re doing in life and is disrespected in spite of it. The entire show is his arc in breaking bad and for that alone it should be considered in assessing the greatest.

Inventiveness – It showed how you could make a TV episode look like a movie. If I were to pinpoint the moment when TV could stand up against film, it would be Breaking Bad.

CONS
Style – None. It is arguably the strongest aspect of the show.

Plot – A main issue with Breaking Bad is that it is a plot driven show. This means the plot events dictate the actions of the character and not the other way around. While that makes for lean story telling, it also makes for conventional story telling. Sure it’s fun to watch and exciting, but it doesn’t allow for much introspection or greater analysis of characters internal conflict.

Characters – While Walter White may be among the greatest characters of all time, he is the only character we get the internal conflict of. He propels the plot forward in many respects and a bunch of clever archetypes react around him. Hank is a hero/policeman archetype. Jessie is a bumbling sidekick archetype. The two wives, neurotic housewife archetype. The villains, Saul – archetypes as well. They are barely two dimensional characters. While we come to like them for their various quirks and personality, there is no introspection. They exist to react to Walter White and to propel plot forward, with some surface level examination of their feelings. Even Jessie, while he begins to have his own awakening toward the end is little more than a pawn in the game. This is Walter Whites show, everyone else is a piece on the chess board.

Inventiveness – It doesn’t really break new ground in the drama category. While it takes an unlikely antihero on a unique journey, the story is conventional. While stylistic, it doesn’t make up for the fact it’s a plot driven show without much introspection. So while it’s visceral and action packed, it is also been there before sort of fare.

CONCLUSION
A super fun show to tear through with memorable archetypical characters and a great central protagonist in an otherwise conventional Shakespearean tragedy. It is a very good action movie, but it is not the greatest of all time.

The Wire (last rewatch)

PROS
Style – The least flashy. It’s unique in the sense that it lacks any visual or musical narrative. It is more or less treated like a true crime docudrama. It is filmed with pure realism in mind and it works great.

Plot – Takes a while to build up but boy does it pay off. No show has done it before or since. It takes risk by focusing on a different element of the cities institutions and wraps all these threads up brilliantly. Everything pays off.

Characters – Too many! Yet at the same time we felt like they were all acting out of self preservation, we understood them even if they were surface level plot pawns. The ultimate character is the city of Baltimore and that like other cities it is run by imperfect people who perpetuate a deeply imperfect system. That the city is the greatest character is a testament of how brilliant this show is.

Inventiveness – It must be considered among the greatest for what it tried to achieve, to make a show about the imperfect nature of our government and society using a city as opposed to a central character.

CONS
Style – I get why they employ the minimalism they do, it just feels stale after a while. It could’ve employed a little bit more visual narrative.

Plot – Sure it pays off big in Seasons 3 & 4, even if 5 fell off a bit. But the first season was little more than cops and robbers. The second was boring and such a left turn that it made me want to quit. So while it is praised for how it all threads together neatly, the lack of any introspection among its characters or any visual narrative made it a slog to get through. A show cannot be considered the greatest because of two seasons of work, no matter how ambitious.

Inventiveness – Hurt it in the long run. It did a great job in its payoff but taking that long to build up hurt its earlier seasons and therefore looses points in my eyes. It juggles too much.

CONCLUSION
A very ambitious show that made a profound and lasting statement about how and why our government and society is ineffective and all about self preservation. It hits home in ways many others have not. That it juggled so much and took so long to pay off, I cannot reward it the greatest of all time because of a few seasons of work.
The Sopranos (second series rewatched)

PROS
Style – While not as stylistically flashy as Breaking Bad, it did a great job of employing visual narratives. Various objects and foreshadowing without insulting the audience by overly emphasizing them. The series is full of clever framing and use of objects as narrative symbolism. Because it didn’t over explain them, it worked brilliantly. The finale? The reaction POV shot sequence culminating in cut to black — “you never hear it when it hits you” — absolutely brilliant. The use of music was always thematically solid too, on par with Breaking Bad.

Plot – While it can definitely feel like filler at times, the characters are so well constructed that it pans out. This is a character driven show, and one where all characters are given time to develop into nuanced and non-archetypical beings. The analysis of various complexes and feelings about this world made it so much more believable and made us relate to all involved. How harrowing when they’d be killed by this world or others in it. It examined so many moral quandaries and still felt fresh after six seasons. This is not a show to binge watch, it is a fine delicacy to enjoy slowly as not everything is overly explained or spelled out (like in Breaking Bad) – David Chase appreciated the intelligence of his audience. If you found it boring, perhaps your taste is more conventional.

Characters – Tony is such a compelling character, a mob boss with a deep complex; a man in therapy justifying his sociopathy. All those around him are equally trying to justify their actions – especially Carmela toward the end, who seems to have an epiphany in Paris only to realize she can never quit this life. Even the characters we didn’t delve into felt larger than life with great humor and supporting roles. All of the main cast’s actions were a result of their internal neurosis or feelings. What a fucked up bunch but boy did it make for amazing introspective television. When the action ramped up, we were so much more invested in it because we felt like we knew these people on a deeper level. We liked them in spite of their sociopathy.

Inventiveness – It reinvented the mob genre. Sure it had all the standard mob fare but it also went a step further in psychoanalyzing the criminal lifestyle in the way Mad Men (created by Sopranos alum Matthew Weiner) psychoanalyzed the American Dream through ad men. It took great dramatic risks like employing dream states to really hammer home the neurosis. It brilliantly built up to the most debated finale of all time through carefully constructed foreshadowing. It left so much to interpretation that rewatching still reveals more.

CONS
Style – I almost wished there was a bit more flashiness. I felt while the visual motifs were solid I would’ve liked more flare. Then again that may have detracted from its realism.

Plot – Drags at times. Sometimes in its quest to say something grand it does fail occasionally. There are definitely some stinkers. After the actress who plays Tony’s mom dies abruptly, the show had to quickly adapt loosing a valuable thread early. It more than made up for some slow pacing with great characters and it would always build into payoffs well. I’d rather a show drag sometimes if it’s trying to take risks than rush along without saying much at all.

Characters – The strongest part of the show. There really is no con here and that is why it’s the greatest in my opinion, because no show has done more with its cast.

Inventiveness – It was a game changer. Nothing to add.

CONCLUSION
The greatest of all time for the sheer scope of it. It reinvented the genre and arguably kicked off the golden age of TV. Not only was Tony a great well-developed character, they all were. While it may have some more individual episode stinkers than Breaking Bad, it examines so much more, it says and does so much more. It is a brilliantly ambitious show and nothing in the gangster or action genre has come close.

MY LAST THOUGHTS

So I think while the other great dramas have a lot of things going for them, including some of the greatest achievements in individual categories, The Sopranos is the more balanced of the three. The Sopranos is firing on all cylinders where the others are excellent for how they do one or two things really, really well. The Sopranos is brilliant TV on a whole other level and I don’t care what critics say regarding The Wire or what fanboys say about Breaking Bad. It is my opinion and you are free to disagree. Overall – 1. Sopranos 2. Breaking Bad 3. The Wire

Trickle Down Tech

Peter Thiel wants to make a self-sustaining island full of technological wonders that will solve all of mans problems, so jack into your cybernetic framework, because it’s 2045 and it’s time to party!

Oh wait, I’m not invited. Oh gee, I guess you’re not too.

How did this all happen? I thought that once the so-called Singularity arrived, we’d all be so much better off. I thought that all of this technological largess would trickle down like  Bush’s economic policy to lift us all out of our mundane misfortune.

Oh right, I guess that economic policy was a lie to the Middle Class too. Hmmm.

Welcome to Trickle Down Tech; where a bunch of overly optimistic guys from Silicon Valley invade your privacy, automate your jobs and promise to cure your cancer if you just sign right here ____

Okay, perhaps I am being somewhat unfair in my assessment. Lets rewind…

As I write this on Labor Day weekend, 2016, wealthy investors are tripping over themselves to fund the next great technological disruption. The next app that will disrupt an industry, leading unionized workers to sign right here ___ to loose everything laborers before them fought to secure. All this so a bunch of tech titans can please shareholders and investors while lining their own pockets. All in the name of progress! Wait a while, and these amazing apps and disruptions will make your life better. Keep waiting for it to trickle down. Yes I know you’re out of work, keep waiting for that trickle.

Ah, the only trickle you’re going to get is the excess moisture dripping from the wet bag you’ll be left holding by this faulty promise.

Silicon Valley loves to present itself as the bastion of progress. Lets take a look at Singularity U as an example. It is a partnership between venture capital titans and inventors like Peter Diamandis, Peter Thiel, Ray Kurzweil, Google, Nasa (to name a few) where super wealthy people can pay thousands and thousands of dollars for seminars on the next great disruption! It’s called a university, but in reality it is a VC pitchfest, where people can learn to aid the disruptors or become the disruptors themselves.

The godfather of the Singularity movement, Ray Kurzweil is notoriously optimistic regarding future tech, assuring us that we’ll figure all these things out once we get there. He swears to us that there is no problem that technology cannot fix. While I happen to think Kurzweil is far more well-intentioned than the Libertarian Bond villain that is Peter Thiel, he is naive in his assessment.

This is the problem. Even if people are well intentioned, when you push full ahead on disruption without considering the immediate impacts and solutions for those impacts, you’re assuring failure not just for those people, but for yourself.

While these silicon cowboys may have all the money and resources on their private islands, when unemployment reaches 90% because Singularity Hub adherents celebrate the automation of those meaningless jobs, people will revolt. They’ll find a way to build gunships and blow it up for making their lives miserable. Then, the “Luddites” will win because everyone will hate technology just like they’re already starting to hate Capitalism.

While Singularitarians like to promote a Star Trek vision of our future, most people won’t have the luxury of affording the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. The fact remains that people depend on those “meaningless jobs” to feed their families and provide for basic necessities. How dare some smug, overpaid plaid-clad writer living in a $5000/month Palo Alto studio write that someone else’s labor is meaningless. To who? You? Fuck you.

Ah but universal basic income! That’s what these people proffer as a solution, despite numerous economists noting that the only thing this will achieve is hyper inflation. This will only further disenfranchise the unemployed and wealth divide. It almost would seem many of these futurists are ignorant of the market economy. They’re not. They know that things cost money, and if we disenfranchise enough people these precious resources will be kept for the few. The rest of us will rejoin the Middle Ages in a bartering economy — Need some eggs? I have a chicken!

The futurist in me doesn’t want to believe that all promoting this grand vision for the future are like this. I genuinely believe that many want to make the world a better place through technology. I want this too. That is why we need to pause and consider the impact of disrupting things so quickly. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Until we slow down and consider how our new technologies impact others adversely, we must not proceed. We must consider solutions to potential problems before we create them. We must do this to assure responsible technological progress.

Failure to listen to the cab drivers in the streets after Uber decimated their industry will doom us to a warring world of have and have-nots. Don’t we want things to be better than that? Do you really want to go back to the turn of the century rich-poor divide? The tenement housing and mass unemployment? I highly doubt anyone would want that for humanity, even if they could insulate themselves on a private island. If you do want that, enjoy the party, just don’t get too close to the other sharks.

So before we plow ahead with great disruptions,  we must assure their success by making sure they do not disenfranchise people. We must make sure that these new inventions like computer health technologies, and 3d-printed resources are available to all of humanity, not just the rich. Trickle down tech, just like trickle down economics doesn’t work. It is up to those among the have’s to help the have-nots. Failure to do so will assure that the Luddites, that starving masse of rioting unemployed, win.