Arrival Of A New Sci-Fi Trend

Arrival Of A New Sci-Fi Trend

Spoilers. Do not read if you haven’t watched Arrival, Interstellar or Midnight Special.


 

Arrival is part of the usual Oscar circlejerk right now but I actually left the cinema feeling underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is good, especially on a technical level, but I wasn’t happy with the way Villeneuve balanced the sci-fi with the personal emotion of the film’s protagonist.

Weirdly enough, a friend recommended this movie to me as “what Interstellar was supposed to be”, and while I do think it’s a better movie than Interstellar, it has the same pitfalls; focusing very hard on the science of the premise before making a hardcore switch to character drama. This movie spends the first hour and a half or so dealing with how humans would realistically deal with an alien encounter, and it does this extremely well. Suddenly, the film’s themes change to predeterminism and eternalism in its final act. I don’t mean that there isn’t any foreshadowing- there’s clever misdirection and anachrony, but other than the plot twist being that the flashback that starts the film is actually a flashforward, the film does little to actually flesh out the non-linear perception of time. Moreover, there is only one line in the film about the protagonist asking her would-be fiance if he would change anything if he could perceive time in a non-linear fashion, before she decides she will appreciate every moment.

However, for the above idea to work, the film would have to show instances of her breaking away from predestination, to show the consequences of free will, but the film conveniently eschews that for a soap opera with the protagonist and her daughter (gee, does that sound familiar). Of course that in itself isn’t a sin, but my problem with modern sci-fi movies is this, jamming emotion and science into a movie. Of course, great sci-fi, or rather, great movies have emotional impacts that far outweigh the scientific accuracy of the film, but it becomes jarring when the film does not to bridge the two halves. The protagonist barely shows any form of chemistry between her and her future spouse (and even more annoying, it tried to hide the obvious fact that he would indeed be her spouse in the future). There is one throwaway line in the beginning with the daughter shouting “I hate you!” at her mother, but there seems to be no reason to believe the relationship between mother and daughter has anything meaningful for her to remember. Watch any family drama or character-relationship movie, there will always be friction scenes in between. The only real friction in this film is not even for the protagonist, but at the bureaucratic level with the nations struggling to achieve consensus (a theme that is also wrapped up with a soapy emotional beat rather than an exploration of international conflict). As with Interstellar, the film puts in a lot of effort into hard science but decides to answer all its questions with vaguely emotional moments, a trend which doesn’t sit too well with me.

In contrast, there has been another sci-fi family drama earlier this year last year that I genuinely enjoyed- Midnight Special. Unlike Arrival, the scientific aspect of the film is barely explored and serves as backdrop to the character drama. Unlike Arrival, the protagonist is not a scientist or a learned individual in any way, but a simple father trying to find a solution for his son. The film also has a consistent theme of dealing with loss, explored via various characters who are connected to the child with strange powers. There is also some clever characterization, with a scientist working with the government becoming more spiritual as he interacts with a power or phenomenon he cannot understand. The film also shows government and religious responses to the child, without in any way undermining their role to society in real life. It’s a simple, heartfelt film that is cathartic for parents who have had to lose a child. There is a lot of back and forth with the child and the father, before the father finally agrees to trust his son and let him go- so that the child’s departure is truly earned in the movie.

In Arrival, we know nothing about the character’s daughter other than her use as a plot gimmick.

On the philosophical spectrum, the last sci-fi movie that I’ve seen that presented two sides to an idea was The Matrix and it’s sequel. Even if it’s on the nose, it added on to the intellectual experience, because you see both the idea of free will and predeterminism (the Wachowskis tie it up in a very Vedic way), and when you leave the cinema, you can choose your takeaway from the movie. Nobody in Arrival acts out in his, her or its free will, providing no contrast to the protagonist’s convenient desire to accept and appreciate her fate. The protagonist is not given any choice in the film, nothing for her to choose to walk away from. So why does she choose to appreciate anything? Is it even a choice for her to appreciate? If I could perceive time like she did and have no idea what would happen if I changed fate, why would I think it’s better to accept things the way they are?

The film tried to do a lot of things and didn’t flash out a lot that could have made a much bigger impact.

But that’s just my opinion.

Cinematographer deserves an award for the shot when they walk up the alien ship, though.

 

The Ward

I am going away, I am going down
I am going away, I am going down

Sifting through a memory before it fades away
Adolescent secrecy, a million words astray

I can’t remember happiness, I thrive within the dark
The security of a loneliness is a veil that keeps my calm

By the way, I’m doing fine
I have a place to stay, just behind the sunshine
And by the way, I don’t need sympathy
I have a place to lay, I have more than you can see

I walk the streets alone at night, it helps to ease my mind
I lay me down come the morning light and leave all woes behind

I definitely didn’t care much for the entire album, but this one song stuck out then. And it’s become one of my favourite Opeth songs.

Crones Of Crookback Bog

Crones Of Crookback Bog

I rarely ever dwell in the stories of most games, since they are usually horribly written (unless you are Hidetaka Miyazaki). However, The Witcher 3 completely overwhelmed me with its plot mechanics; the story has multiple endings for various subplots that are chosen via dialogue options or your actions.

The last time I played a game with this much consequence was Fable, a long lost game that came out for the first XBOX, my first console and the only console I played on before my recent PS4.

I played Fallout 4 last year and though the game had multiple dialogue options, they ultimately had no real consequence (Far Harbor attempted to avoid that, but alas, one DLC does not change the whole game).

There are so many things the Polish developers got right about the game;

  • Rich, detailed characters. You could actually differentiate between them and your response towards them could alter entire villages much later in the gameplay. Having read little on the game, a lot of the consequences in later parts of the game shocked me.
  • The Eastern European influence is amazing. It isn’t just a half-assed gimmick to give the game its flavour, it revels in the culture and lore, from accents and food customs to the music and myths within the game. The Crones are influenced by The Baba Yaga of Slavic tradition, while also drawing from the three witches of Macbeth. Not to mention their fantastic design.
  • Multiple endings. Not one, not two, but a whole handful of them.
  • Crafting and looking for crafting materials actually matter, for once, in a game.
  • Preparing for enemies also matters for once.
  • The game has great throwback moments (that I understood after reading up on it Reddit). I thought they were smart, tongue-in-cheek and tastefully done.
  • I didn’t care much for Gwent in this first playthrough but will be sure to rectify it in my second. It’s a nice game within the game.
  • Geralt’s beard grows over the days in-game, and you have to actively keep shaving. That’s really fucking awesome.
  • The game generously rewards exploration, and you actually have an incentive to divert from the primary campaign. Plus, places of power are a nice touch to give you the edge in the game.
  • Witcher sense is a great mechanic for someone like me who can’t be bothered with checking for guides for every little puzzle I can’t solve on my own.

 

I do have some pet peeves with the game, namely the inability to lock on to bosses, the mostly redundant crossbow and the concept of levelled loot, sinced that means you only get good items the higher level you are (and hence giving you less incentive to fight exotic creatures above your level), but the game left me awed and more than satisfied (yeah fuck you, Fallout 4). Having only raved about Bloodborne and Dark Souls all this while, it’s finally nice to have a new game to obsess about. I will probably take a little break and try other games before returning for the DLCs.

I didn’t care too much about the bosses in the game, but the Crones were so well done, I keep playing their theme in my head.

 

Thoughts on Kabali

Thoughts on Kabali
– You can’t just put a coat on him and make him a ‘don’. His behaviour wasn’t gangster at all.
– He didn’t ‘act’. I mean, he emotes and all, but changes his emotion robotically second to second. Fucking weird.
– It’s telling when The Godfather, a nearly forty year old Hollywood film, has more nuance, complexity, character, plot and cinematography than this piece of shit of a film. You might think it’s unfair that I am comparing this with a film widely considered to be the best film ever made, then I will tell you that it’s fucking embarrassing that Tamil movies continue to flirt with childish themes, and worse, idiotic cinematography and sound editing (there were a few out of place metal clangs in the movie). All these advancements in technology and still no improvement in maturity or cinematic techniques. Shame.
– When Rajni is standing against the wall sized window, it’s pretty fucking obvious that the backdrop of KL is CGI. I don’t know why anyone who was making the film thought it was a good idea. Don’t be a lazy director and look for natural lighting, and don’t use CGI if it serves no real purpose or more importantly, if it looks like some meme I drew on MS Paint.
– I’m sure glad that Rajni’s flashback in the film was a limited montage but we could spend about 45 minutes going pointlessly from town to town, country to country looking for his wife.
– Which vending machine did they find the Chinese actor from? His weird intonation was a laugh.
– Dub the non-Indian actors altogether, or force them to weirdly speak Tamil altogether. Don’t do both. Winston Chao’s Tamil at the end seemed too much of a parody.
– Raadika Apte was a surprisingly good actress, but her involvement in the story was the most unnecessary part. What a fucking waste.
– Don’t even need to talk about Dhansika.
– A fucking huge waste of Kishore, who is normally a nuanced and subtle actor. Can’t blame him too, his character was so poorly written. For someone who had the brains to plot against his boss, it seems weird that he had no problem being a dog to Winston Chao.
– Rajni didn’t even come close to Nasser’s charisma or acting talent. And wait- gangsters in broad daylight are also politicians in Malaysia? I mean, even Najib was more subtle.
– Fade in, fade out for the montage toward the end as Winston Chao attacks Rajni’s henchmen. No, that is just terrible sequencing.
– Even by Tamil movie standards, dialogue was atrocious. Seriously. “Hey, I have an idea…. you can be my dog! Hahahaha” was an actual line, in English, in the film. Hearing Rajni tell the others exactly what he was thinking verbatim- I thought this shit only happens in anime. And this pisses me off because generally Tamil films excel in dialogue and wit. No wordplay, no ‘punch dialogue’ as Tamilans like to call it. Nothing.
– No manpower, no resources, and that ending plan of Rajni’s? I mean, it didn’t even feel smart or consistent. And the worst part is that it’s interspliced with images of the pool party, like as if that was supposed to arouse me somehow. And why did he wait until the end to do this? All he did was storm the other gangster’s businesses. But hey, just put the theme song and Tamilans will eat anything up, right?
– People act like this movie showed the plight of Tamil folk in Malaysia. No. It tried to. It failed. It was atrocious. I’m sure the Malaysian government was more than happy to put the blame on a wooden Chinese villain. And moreover, the real problem, which is a hole in meritocracy, was saved right at the end for about two minutes. While we spent forty five minutes on a fucking treasure hunt for Radhika Apte. If all this wasted runtime was used to build a proper theme….
The movie was made in response to Jigarthanda, which is miles above this piece of shit. Apparently Rajni saw Bobby Simha’s performance and felt inspired to do a gangster role, without emulating an ounce of his complexity or gravitas. Jigarthanda had better cinematography, better dialogue, better acting, better plot and even a nice subtle understudy on film-making. It was witty, clever and showed the socio-political workings of the modern Tamil city. NONE. OF. WHICH. WAS. SHOWN. IN. KABALI.
On a sidenote, the indie black comedy niche is thriving in Tamil cinema, and I would encourage more people to watch those films, instead of these mass appeal movies that incite severe brain damage.

Analysing Singapore as a Pragmatic State

Analysing Singapore as a Pragmatic State

Analysing Singapore as a Pragmatic State

In this paper, I will argue that the government is hoping to move towards an ideal state that it thinks is objectively beneficial to the country on a macroscopic level, using common economic indicators such as standard of living, GDP per capita and equity. They have often referred to this style of governance as ‘pragmatism’. For the most part, this style of governance has brought forth a lot of economic prosperity- at the cost of individual freedom. This line of thinking may lead to a divergence between the government’s plan and the people’s desires.

 

Singapore is clearly a cohesive-capitalist state since our government plays a huge role in directing our resources for maximum output[1]. The government mapped out our industrialization[2] in the sixties and continues to direct the economy till today. Moreover, government-linked corporations (GLCs) today account for 60% of all growth[3], making the state somewhat neo-patrimonial since the distinction between private and public resources can be significantly blurred. This isn’t coincidental; many of these GLCs have directors and board members instated by the government, and thus the government has a large stake in the decision making process[4]. However, it is also important to note that the government understands the line between public and private resources, as evidenced from the potential transition of SMRT back to government ownership[5], as opposed to leaving it as a private institution. This makes it wrong to say that the Singapore is completely neo-patrimonial, since Kohli clearly states that neo-patrimonial states ‘intervene heavily in the economy but with disastrous results’ or a ‘weak private sector’[6]. In Singapore’s case, the government is deeply embedded in the private sector and it is clearly flourishing. This makes ‘cohesive-capitalist’ a better description of the Singapore state.

There has been some subtle changes in the structure of power in Singapore. The Singaporean government was a lot more autonomous under Lee Kuan Yew (LKY)[7], but has transitioned to a more embedded and inclusive under his successors, Goh Chok Tong (GCT) and Lee Hsien Loong (LHL). LKY sought to bring about rapid and radical changes to the state, and many times, this was met with soft rebellion. Besides the obvious political turmoil among the elites during Operation Coldstore[8] and Spectrum[9], there was a lot of anger surrounding his and Dr. Goh Keng Swee’s decision to choose trade with multinational corporations over home-grown SMEs[10]. The relation of the government to the people was in line with Weber’s bureaucracy, somewhat insulated from what people wanted and hence free of the rent-seeking usually associated with a neo-utilitarian model. However this has changed with his successors, with GCT often being described as ‘consultive’[11] with the people, and LHL going further with establishing continuity with the people[12]. LHL’s administration has backtracked on the Population White Paper (although the importing of high skilled foreign workers is increasing). Moreover, the restrictions for speech at the Speakers’ Corner have been loosened[13]. This is in line with Evan’s embedded autonomy[14], where members of parliament are interacting more with the public and “embedded in a concrete set of social ties.” The PAP still retains a lot of autonomy, but it listens to the public[15], or at least pretends to, to ensure maximum effectiveness of its policies. This, however, does not necessarily mean that the PAP can better empathize with the public. (My professor said that this was a good observation)

 

While it is a given that the government will act within socially custodian capacity like most states worldwide, it primarily plays the role of husbandry with regards to the economy. The government has to have some form of control simply because we cannot afford to be a free market in international trade. As a country without natural resources, the early PAP government recognised that we weren’t a sustainable economy in autarky, and that certain rules had to be implemented if we were to avoid exploitation from bigger countries in trade[16]. It combines this husbandry with some level of midwifery. While it may not have played a heavy midwifery role in its inception, today it has pumped significant resources into the IT[17] and biotechnology[18] sectors to help keep our economy relevant. It can be tempting to say the state has been demiurgic, especially given its past, but the state has been very libertarian toward the private market. Somewhat paradoxically, we are ranked amongst the freest markets in the world[19], because of the ease of starting a business in the country today. The problem isn’t that the PAP currently discourages entrepreneurship, but that risk-aversion is ingrained into the public psyche through the education and meritocratic system[20]. Perhaps it could also be the discouragement of SMEs in our earlier development. The paper chase is evidence that Singaporeans rarely look for an alternative path to (financial) success besides getting a degree. As such, it would be a fallacy to call the state demiurgic. The government has been actively encouraging alternative career paths and has been accommodating to new businesses.

 

In its search for macroeconomic prosperity, it has often placed the state’s needs before the individuals. And to some extent, that may be a good thing. As explored in Durkheim’s Suicide; the individual is often asking for more than the optimal amount of resources he needs[21]. In economics, we refer to this phenomenon as the tragedy of the commons, when individuals aren’t aware that their selfish desires come at the expense of others’, resulting in social inefficiency.  Having an authoritarian government step in to dictate social actions can result in a more efficient allocation of resources, even if the individual doesn’t observe it. This has been the PAP’s go-to definition of ‘pragmatism’[22], since it firmly believes it knows better than the public. Having an embedded autonomy allows the PAP maximum efficiency in carrying out its policies, much faster than liberal governments in the West which often have to wrestle with lobbies, opposition parties or the electorate to carry out policies.

 

This form of government is not without its pitfalls, of course. With its relative isolation from the public, and hence its parochial view of the individual as a cog in the wheel, there are problems which the PAP may not recognise, like rising inequality (both social[23] and economic[24]). In other words, the government still has blind spots, since it believes it knows best and receives little to no criticism from the people. The PAP has to come forward and be more welcoming to ideas and concerns from the people. They have taken a few steps toward this, but the idea of obedience has still been largely ingrained into the people. Since the PAP has become technocratic, it bases itself on the idea that its members are the most competent in the country, even though this ‘meritocracy’ is usually based on formal academic qualifications or (superficial) military positions[25]. On the flipside, I would like to put forth the further argument that the people have also become too dependent or fearful of the government. The restrictions on public protests and sedition laws make it seem like the government has banned criticism altogether, even though it has now allowed for constructive criticism. With people rarely contributing ideas and a government that plays a socially custodian role, there is a divide between what is observed among the elites and the common man. A good example of this is the PAP’s insistence of pricing and affordability (like buying a house on one grand a month, a staple of LHL’s annual National Day rally). With prices set to go up and rising inequality, this divide is going to be even bigger in the coming years, and I foresee some less than subtle changes within the PAP if it intends to continue remaining in power.


 

I wrote this for my SC3205 (Sociology of Power: Who Gets to Rule?) module. Professor gave me a B+, even though she said it was a good essay. Marked me down for not talking about the concept of embedded economy, which is frustrating because she gave a word limit of 1000 (which I have already exceeded by a bit here). I wrote another essay on Singapore as a bureaucratic state but I probably wouldn’t publish it here since I don’t think I wrote all too well on that one. I got marked down for supporting our government, HEH. I think this module was a bit of a game changer for me, not because it was a good module but because I ended up re-evaluating a lot of my political stances. At first, I wanted to write positively about our government, just out of spite of all the social justice warriors in my class (my professor included, to some extent). As some of you on Facebook would have realised, writing these essays eventually made me realise the government does a lot of things right. I wouldn’t say I have become a firm PAP supporter, but writing this has made me a lot more grateful for their contributions.

 

References

[1] Huck-ju Kwon, 2005, “Transforming the Developmental Welfare State in East Asia”, Palgrage Macmillan, Chapter 4 and 8

[2] Tan Siok Sun, 2007 , “Goh Keng Swee: A portrait”, Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, pp. 78, 93–95

[3] Reiner Heufer, 2013, International Society for Individual Liberty World Conference speech

[4] Chua Beng Huat, 2010, “Disrupting Hegemonic Liberalism in East Asia”, Duke University Press

[5] Christopher Tan, “LTA to buy $1b of SMRT assets under new rail financing framework “, Straits Times, 15 July 2016

[6] Atul Kohli. 2004. State Directed Development: Political Power and Industrialization in the Global Periphery. Cambridge University Press, pg 7

[7] Lee Kuan Yew, Straits Times, 20 April 1987

[8] Jones Matthew, 2008, “Creating Malaysia: Singapore Security, the Borneo Territories, and the Contours of British policy”, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History

[9] “Govt acted to nip communist problem in the bud, says Dhana”, The Straits Times, 2 June 1987

[10] Bilveer Singh, 2012, “Government and Politics Of Singapore”, McGraw Hill 2nd Ed

[11] Bridget Welsh, 2009, “Impressions of the Goh Chok Tong years in Singapore”, NUS Press, pp 6-8

[12] Koh Buck Song, 2011, “Brand Singapore: How Nation Branding Built Asia’s Leading Global City”, page 152

[13] Kok Xing Hui , “Foreign companies need permit to sponsor, promote or participate in Speakers’ Corner events: MHA”, Straits Times, 21 October 2016

[14] Peter Evans, 1995, “Embedded Autonomy: States and Industrial Transformation”

[15] Francis Law, “Singapore must continue working towards more inclusive society: PM Lee”, Today, 2 December 2015

[16] Paul Krugman, 1987, “Is Free Trade Passé?”, The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 1, No. 2, (Autumn, 1987), pp. 131-144, American Economic Association

[17] Carolyn Khew & Lin Yangchen, “Singapore ‘could be global innovation hub’”, Straits Times, 10 January 2016

[18] Adrienne Selko, “Singapore’s Secret to Attracting Biotech Companies”, Industry Week, 10 April 2015

[19] Economic Freedom Index, http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking

[20] Natalie Turner, “Risk-taking in S’pore: Progress made, but rethink may be needed”, Today, Singapore Press Holdings, March 28, 2014

[21] Emile  Durkheim, 1951, “Suicide : a study in sociology”, The Free Press

[22] Christopher Tremewan, 1996, “The Political Economy of Social Control in Singapore (St. Anthony’s Series)”, Palgrave Macmillan. p. 105.

[23] Liyana Othman, 2016, “Social mobility ‘in trouble’ as social gaps widen: Tharman”, Today, 26 May 2016

[24] Ho Kong Weng, 2007, “Wage equality and intergenerational educational mobility may be in long-term decline in Singapore.”, Ethos — Issue 3, October 2007

[25] Michael Barr, 2009, “The ruling elite of Singapore: Networks of power and influence”