Dumb Watch: Dark on @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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The next time some website says, “This is the best show on Netflix that no one is watching,” I’m going to assume there’s a good reason no one is watching it, and I’m not going to watch it. Last week, I learned that lesson the hard way. Dark (2017) was dumb. It tried to be smart, but failed miserably.

The show centers on a science fiction premise, and I understand that science, law, medicine, etc. always come in a distant second to drama. House M.D. was not medically accurate but still a good show. Armageddon was not good science, but I enjoyed it for the action movie it was. Even shows about the law don’t bug me; I just laugh it off. I’m cool with all that. That said, you shouldn’t throw around catch phrases like “the God particle” without any grounding in what they actually are. The end relies on a trope I see as a great big cheat, but I won’t link to prior posts on the subject. That would be a spoiler for those brave and patient enough to watch this.

A larger issue is that the dialogue is just terrible. I understand that something may be lost in the translation from German to English, and if that’s all it is, fine. It still sucks. But I don’t think that’s what it is. It seems that every other line is someone asking, “What are you saying?” They don’t even change up the wording, such as, “What are you talking about?” It’s always, “What are you saying?” Over and over and over again. It never seems to stop.

The second dialogue-related issue is that people never answer questions. The first person will say, “What’s going on?” or something like that, and the second person will respond, “I have to leave now.” On multiple occasions, this conversation occurs even though the second person just arrived at the location in order to have the conversation. They’re there for the sole purpose of communicating a message, and then they refuse to do so. Again, this happens over and over again. It’s maddening.

The acting is also, for the most part, intolerable. Yelling at people and long, awkward pauses don’t create drama. They must be justified by drama the script has already created. These writers don’t seem to get that. Regarding the awkward pauses, it was yet another way characters avoided answering questions. A lot of time was devoted to one person staring at the other while getting yelled at to answer the question or tell them what’s going on. This could much more easily be blamed on the translation or the screenwriters, so I’ll give the actors the benefit of the doubt and assume that’s the cause. It still sucks. The 10-year-old who played the deaf girl was adorable, so it’s got that going for it. Not much else.

Where have I seen such makeup before? Oh yeah! A dumb movie from 1989.

But take all that with a grain of salt. It has great scores on Rotten Tomatoes. My only assumption is that you’ve all lost your minds. (Metacritic doesn’t seem to have an entry.) If you do watch it, just make sure to take note of who’s related to whom and how. Try to remember which kids belong to which parents, and, of course, who is who’s sibling.

Really dumb.

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Sociological Watch: Don’t Look Up @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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Netflix released a film called Don’t Look Up. The story employs tons of exaggeration in addressing how people resist bad news that affects their way of life, though it’s clearly referencing once issue specifically too heavy for this goofy blog. Instead, I want to focus on an aspect to the script that seems to be lost on many people.

As you may know, I have an undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Maryland (Go Terps!), as well as a law degree from the Chicago-Kent College of Law (Go . . . Scarlet Hawks?). Both fields suffer from the same disease: We don’t know how to communicate well with non-experts. As issues become more complex, they become not only harder to grasp for the uninformed, but also, to be blunt, more boring. This renders the task of communication herculean.

Take for example my first and second RPG copyright posts, which addressed a specific topic. As I’ve explained, my analytics tell me that the first post received 18,952 hits to date (as of 12/30/2021). The second post? Only 1,158. The second post is 2/3 of the argument. That means that people read the first post and then 94% of them gave up (note: this is bad math), missing out on most of what I was trying to say. This was so even though the first post included a caveat that I was nowhere near finished with my argument.

Would it have been better for me to have made a shorter, easier-to-digest, and more direct argument? I don’t think so Despite my disclaimer at the end of the first post, I had a non-negligible number people viciously (i.e., with personal insults) criticizing my first post for making incomplete arguments. These were apologists of WotC (and perhaps RPGs in general) that just didn’t like the consequences of what I was saying, so they were going to criticize me anyway. Knowing that I wouldn’t be publishing the second post for a week, that gave them one week to discredit me. I’m not sure if it worked. Did people not read the second post because of a successful campaign to stop it, or did people just get bored? I suspect it’s far more the latter, but both are important phenomena for this discussion, and in other situations, the balance may be different. By the way, I reread the second post while writing this one, and even my eyes were glazing over.

This leads us to science. Scientists run into the same problem, but probably even worse because of the math inherent in their work. As a physics student, I studied areas of math that many people haven’t even heard of, and many of the issues scientists face today can only be understood in terms of math. Scientists try to simplify using analogies, but analogies by their nature will always be incomplete, giving each critic an opening to cast doubt on the science. (“How can a cat be simultaneously dead and alive? This guy’s a quack!”)

Politically connected scientists face additional pressure. Again, I don’t want to get caught up in politics here, so I’ll just say that many scientists depend on financing from politicians, and politicians need to keep their bases happy. When the truth is ugly, very few people want to hear it, and this cascades down to the scientists who must control the tone and content of their statements.

Scientists also face their own social inadequacies. I can’t speak to the modern generation, but going through the physics program, I can assure you that there wasn’t a lot of social skill on display. The stereotypes are valid. Nerds are generally not social butterflies. That makes it difficult for us to communicate even if we’re discussing the price of apples.

Don’t Look Up did a great job of showcasing this difficulty. Going back to attorneys, in legal writing we’re taught to start each paragraph or section with the conclusion, and then back it up with supporting arguments. The scientists in Don’t Look Up should have used that technique. Notice in the talk show scenes how long it took the scientists to make their point. They presented their supporting arguments first. Why? Because they knew some asshole was waiting in the wings to say, “That’s an assertion without an argument! He’s not backing it up!” Well, yeah, not yet. Let them finish. But by failing to start with the statement (spoiler alert!), “A planet-killing asteroid is coming to Earth in six months,” it gave the talk-show hosts the opportunity to interrupt and turn the interview into a farce. By the time the conclusion was stated, it made the scientists look like lunatics to the few people that were still paying attention.

Sometimes you need to lead with the conclusion, and sometimes you need to lead with the supporting material. It’s often difficult to tell those two situations apart, but when your audience is the entire world, maybe you should just get to the point.

Even this post was probably too long.

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Good Watch: The Mind Explained on @Netflix #netflix #GoodWatch

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A while back, I talked about Brain Games on Disney+. It’s a great show, but there’s so much science behind how our brains work that close to 10 seasons can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Netflix’s The Mind Explained is a much more focused show — only two seasons so far — that’s a more manageable discussion of anxiety, focus, memory, and other aspects of neuroscience. The human brain is weird (some more than others), and this show does a good job of explaining that. It also targeted a specific issue that hits home for me. You may have a similar experience.

If you watch the episode on focus, maybe you can handle Brain Games. 🙂

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