Responding to 2167 Analyzing How Culture Manipulates You

Original article:

I decided to do the exercise Elliot outlined here and I’m going to talk about it here.

So I watched the two opening clips. I did not pick up a lot on the first pass (I think because I just opened a bunch of tabs and had a lot of other things fresh on my mind, I should have stopped to clear my head before playing the clip).

First pass

Intro clip:

  • Their land is not for the faint of heart, it’s great if you’re brave.
  • The narrator describes their homeland as a “might not look like much” and “heap of mud” (or something like that), making their culture seem simple and down to earth.
  • So overall they’re saying they’re brave and simple. Generally IRL people are encouraged to be brave and it’s generally considered a positive, so it’s establishing some relatability. I think also there are a lot of people who miss “the simple life” of times past so that’s another attempt at making the characters relatable.
  • The scared sheep appeal to people who anthropomorphise animals, at that point in the clip it’s not obvious that they’re pieces in a game rather than in being actual danger, so it’s aiming to build tension in the viewer to release at the reveal of the competition.

Social clip:

  • The guy being uncompetitive is doing it for his romantic partner. I think that can be a good thing in some places, but I don’t think this is one of those places. E.g. losing to his partner in a 1 on 1 wouldn’t necessarily be bad, maintaining a romantic relationships is complicated and has a lot of inexplicit stuff which is hard for an outsider to understand in depth, and that might be the most effective way of helping with some sort of emotional situation. But in this case there’s other people at stake in the competition and he’s being a bad team player. They’re also practising vital life-preserving flying and combat skills, and his actions could give people the wrong idea about his or his partners’ competence.
  • It is pretty bad that he’s doing it for someone who tried to bury him alive, implying that it may be an unrequited romance. This is pretty gross overall, implying their culture makes light of casual attempted murder (or at best, casual imprisonment and torture).
  • They’re making sure to open with a girl being the highly-competitive one so everyone knows from early on that there’s representation of girls being tough. Conceptually I think it’s a good thing to represent women as being able to be smart and successful and do great things, and it’s easy to see physical competition so it’s a useful metaphor for competence. But women who take the specific situation (competing with men physically on an even playing field) seriously might then waste a lot of energy on an unrealistic goal.

Second pass with bulleted cues

Intro clip

  • cliche: “it may not look like much” very common for a fantasy story to have something with hidden depths
  • credibility: being self-deprecatory (about their land) can make someone seem down to earth/trustworthy because they’re saying negative things that people in polite society avoid saying
  • cliche/untruth: “Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart.” pretty common also to hold this value, also life isn’t really amazing for the strong of heart because they’ve always lived there
  • untruth: “most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint” I find it hard to believe that “most folks” living in a medieval setting have a lot of free time for hobbies, they’re trying to make the people of their world relatable by saying they have hobbies to the same extent as modern people
  • manipulative: the shivering sheep and dragon’s shadow pass
  • manipulative: the reveal that it’s all a game

Social clip

  • meanness/violence: the girl bonks the guy on the head and berates him
  • high status: she can get away with that
  • cliche: the tough/mean/strong girl
  • low status: his name is Snotlout which is not flattering
  • lack of reasoning/evidence: the viewer is expected to go along with the girl’s narrative without seeing the events
  • cliche: the guy is pursuing a girl and sacrificing for her, being dumb for girls
  • low status: he can’t get the girl
  • cliche: the romance is unrequited or she’s playing hard to get
  • cruelty: the guy being buried alive
  • high status: the girl he’s pursuing can get away with that

There’s probably a LOT more I could note with a few more passes but I guess I’m getting the point? That there’s an awful lot being communicated and often taken inexplicitly.

On the further analysis

I guess the main thing I’m not convinced by is that it’s useful to analyse movies this way. Practising these skills for interaction with other people and understanding the way strings are pulled absolutely seems like a useful skill to develop, but I don’t take it as a reason to avoid watching a movie.

Though I will say I do find it objectionable when a story socially normalises abuse of men, or other very bad things, if it’s very common in a movie I’ll likely stop watching.

When I watch movies like that I’m going along with the story for fun. For example I don’t want to have to read an essay about Berk to understand much about it if I can get some context for it in a short clip. In these situations (movies in general) isn’t pulling strings useful to communicate quickly?

I wouldn’t assume from the clip that they are romantic partners.

I don’t recall saying anything about avoiding watching the movie.

You can communicate quickly, e.g. characterize what Berk is like, without being manipulative. I disagree that manipulation has special merit for brevity.

I also think the intro clip did a poor job of communicating much information about Berk.

Movies, like novels, often teach people about how to deal with life and inform their ideas.

Movies provide examples of many of the same manipulations that people will do to you elsewhere in your life.

Doing in-depth analysis is part of how one learns to understand the issues more deeply and is a step towards automatizing that understanding so that it can be used without writing an essay.

Doesn’t this contradict the prior comment? You agree it’s useful practice but doubt it’s useful?

Also movies are people interacting with you. People made the movie and are communicating with you. It’s not separate than real life; it’s part of life. It’s different than a two-way conversation or a personalized communication that is designed for you individually, but one-way communication is a big part of people’s lives, including largely-one-way communication in small group settings where it’s hard to break in and speak much.

Wait, does “this way” refer to the way you did it (bullet points) or the way the article did it (detailed analysis)? At first I thought it referred to the article but now I see that it’s ambiguous.

Oh, on re-reading I think I assumed that after reading this line from the article:

I thought the first clip was bad enough to stop watching the movie and do critical analysis.

But that doesn’t make sense because you obviously kept watching at least to the second clip. I guess I assumed you just watched the two clips and stopped.

I don’t think the goal is to communicate on a conscious level or characterise many specifics of Berk, I don’t know if that would add to people being able to enjoy the story. I think it’s more about trying to evoke a feeling of the characters being like the viewer (in a common denominator sort of way) and being relatable so that the viewer starts to care about the characters.

I think a lot of the time when people are watching movies they’re expecting to be manipulated (though they probably wouldn’t call it that) as part of the ride.

I accept there could be another way of communicating the same information without pulling strings, but I don’t see pulling strings as a bad way of doing it in the context of movies.

Yes I think it’s useful to practise on for the sake of developing the skill. What I don’t think is useful is studying the movie like that for the sake of the movie (e.g. if I was convinced that I couldn’t learn a significant amount of skill from doing it, I wouldn’t see a point to doing the analysis unless I was working as a a movie critic or something). I’ll try to elaborate:

In the article you said:

But you should catch some flaws on your first viewing and notice something’s wrong. Then you ought to care enough to look more closely at what you’re watching (or stop watching), and ought to be able to identify many flaws. Don’t just swallow a movie like this uncritically.

Ok so I caught some stuff that’s wrong. I can’t remember a lot of the movie but I’m sure I kept noticing when some things are not perfectly accurate as I kept watching. I didn’t watch it entirely uncritically, but I didn’t go into deeper analysis after seeing some flaws either. My understanding of what you’re saying is that I should have either stopped watching, or I should have become much more critical of it as it went on. Am I understanding correctly?

I personally didn’t watch the rest of the movie, and I’m doubtful that that specific movie is very good, but I didn’t mean that all manipulative movies shouldn’t be watched.

I think people who don’t commonly investigate and analyze this kind of thing are at high risk of spending lots of their lives being manipulated by lots of things. I think the depth and quality of analysis needed to protect yourself effectively is more than most people have ever done for any topic or currently know how to do.

Stopping watching is fine if e.g. a movie turns out to be worse than you expected. But “just engage with non-manipulative stuff” isn’t a good overall strategy for avoiding manipulation because ~99% of media is manipulative. It’s important to understand manipulation. Avoiding all manipulative stuff is unrealistic because manipulation is so pervasive and because if you don’t already understand manipulation well then you won’t be able to reliably identify which media (and people) to avoid.

I agree. It’s not for the movie’s sake.

Okay I agree with this (and the rest of your post, but I want to answer this specifically).

I think I have previously developed some amount of not very explicit manipulation detection. It may not be to a super high quality amount or be something I’ve studied hard, but I think I had a better than average amount of awareness of it, also some awareness of marketing strategies, skepticism about sales pitches, and a pretty high vigilance for ads pretending to be articles.

I may have taken some of that for granted as “normal” in my initial response and may have been a bit confused (I’m not sure my initial response was reasonable, in hindsight). So I think I had some intuition that something was wrong or that the article was making a big deal about something I thought was normal or some other conflict. But manipulation is a big deal, I guess I just thought it seemed normal to deal with well (this may be an overconfidence of my skill level in finding it too).

I think this highlights advantages of explicit understanding of ideas, and the importance of discussion:

  • Because of my existing inexplicit ideas, I was responding to the article without knowing clearly my own context and getting confused.
  • I had gotten into a “this is obvious stuff” mindset around finding manipulation, I guess it seemed like something I expect everyone to know. This is a mistake some people make with their ideas and may use as an excuse to be mean. I’ve had times in my life where I was mean fairly often and those (inexplicit) mean ideas still exist within me and still surface sometimes, so I should be extra wary of this so I can avoid being mean.
  • Because my ideas about detecting manipulation weren’t explicit and haven’t been discussed, I don’t have a sense of how good they are. I may be fooling myself into thinking I’m more resistant to manipulation than I am.

It’s good to realise these things. It is motivating to keep pursuing this sort of discussion so I can improve more.