September 19, 2011

The Contagion Is The Solution

contagion cotillard poster.jpg
wait... why can't I talk to anyone?

Seen Contagion yet? Here's a simple question: can you name one character?

Not the actor's name, the character's name.  Take your time.  Nothing?

A=A, and character driven movies, the kind Soderbergh is famous for, are supposed to be about characters. 

Maybe this isn't a character driven movie.  Maybe it's a documentary, aTraffic-style story about "what would people do if?"

But the movie doesn't depict them doing anything you wouldn't predict (die; panic; kill each other; attempt to profit; mourn; protect their own at all costs) or in a new way.  So characters you're not emotionally involved in, doing nothing unusual... what's this all about?


I.

This is the opening scene:

Gwyneth is not driving, but is still holding a phone, unnaturally, with her left hand.  Is she a leftie?  No.   Did she have a stroke?  No.  Look closely, she's married.  Two ways to go with this: either this is a disaster movie about grief, or a disaster movie about about punishment.  Well, she's calling from an airport and the guy on the phone isn't her husband. The hell you say?!  That's right, she's having-- and this is a quote-- a "layover."

gwyneth contagion.jpg
Soderbergh obeys the Rule Of Thirds


So maybe this is like a horror movie: sexual sin= horrible punishment; a subtext which is repeated later as her husband, Matt Damon, tries to protect his pretty-but-not-hot (=survives) teen daughter from her urges to be with her who-knows-if-he's-infected boyfriend.  (The script which I did not find on The Pirate Bay maybe says her name is Jory, BTW, but the audience doesn't care.)  Is it the virulently contagious virus Damon's worried about?  Sure it is.  That's why he pulls out a shotgun when he catches them after 15-900 minutes of close contact frolicking in the back yard.  Jory looks flushed.  He finally relents to the inevitability of penis and vagina at the end of the movie when boyfriend shows up at their house wearing the vaccination bracelet.  Safe sex.  Matt Damon smiles as they dance with each other, then walks away, I assume into oblivion.  That's what single dads are good for, cuckolding and pass interference, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Back to the inception.  Gwyneth is infected but she doesn't know it, and is shown partying in a Chinese casino, blowing on men's hands, and forgetting her sin phone at the bar, which a Ukranian model (=blonde harlot) returns to her, thereby ensuring all sexualized blondes are punished.

But not before their sins are visited on the son. 


gwyneth and son contagion.JPG


And being an American, you say, "wow, they killed a kid in a mainstream movie?"  Quite gruesomely, I might add, but don't worry, you'll feel nothing.  He wasn't really a kid, he was merely an extension of her (he was only Damon's step-kid, making Matt twice a cuckold), and he needs to die to free Matt Damon to return to his real daughter.

When a disaster strikes, the answer to "why?" is usually of the form, "endocytosis of the virus into the cell" or "plate tectonics and subduction zones" which is as satisfying as an imaginary bottle of rum.  So we convert it to a narrative, a story, yes like a movie and yes like 9/11, to which the answer is always 100% the same: punishment for guilt.  The only question is whose.

Gwyneth is Patient Zero, she is the cause of the outbreak, and if this was an ordinary movie about ordinary sin her backstory would be enough, it says, "this is a story about individual guilt."  Oh, look: her lover was the very first person to die in Chicago. 

But it's a "subtle" political piece like the kinds played on TV all day on 9/11/2011, in which the Towers fell not because terrorists flew planes into them but because of America's incessant meddling in the Middle East; the same meddling which, educated people all know, had nothing to do with the Arab Spring at all.  So this is a story about collective guilt, about how we are all responsible.

If that's the story we're going to see, her sins have to be made general enough and collective enough to justify a global catastrophe.  Hence, though she's blonde and an unrepentant adulteress, she's also an executive for a multinational mining company that destroys the rainforests. Now it makes sense why 2M people had to die.

Closing the narrative loop, the last scene is the big reveal, how it all happened: we see Gwyneth's company destroy a rainforest displacing a bat which infects a pig which gets cooked at the casino Gwyneth is in, infecting her.  Justice is served, madame.  Chef recommends.


II.

The ordinary way to read contagion/natural disaster movies is as an expression of collective guilt, what did we do to deserve this?  Those who survive at the end are either those who don't really share in the collective guilt (e.g. natives, poor, women, minorities, and, in this movie's case, the CDC janitor's son) or those who "change."

That's the ordinary way.  The reason this reading is wrong is that this movie wasn't made in 1376, but in 2011.  Look out your window: those bipeds are narcissists.  Narcissism wants no part of individual guilt, so it for sure as hell isn't going to take the fall for collective guilt.  Collective guilt is created as a defense against individual guilt.  The individual unconscious does not want any part of "we", especially if "we" did something and got caught.  The unconscious only cares about "I".

Gwyneth Paltrow presents us with an interesting test of our psychology.  Let's see how good  you are at thinking in binary: when Judgment Day comes, will God judge her more harshly for being an adulteress or an executive in a mining company? 

Oh, you're not religious?  Then you are superstitious (-- "No I'm not at all, I'm just kind of OCD."  Is that what the kids are calling it now?--)   which means you don't deal in judgments but in root causes.  Ok: why did 2M people have to die?  Was it because she's an adulteress, or because she's a mining company executive?  Pick one.  You sure?  Now why did her son have to die?

III.

Not knowing the characters makes it easy to focus on collective guilt, which is really someone else's guilt that you're benefiting by pretending to take on.   Not knowing "Beth Emhoff" means you don't have to parse her individual guilt.

This movie could have been a straight "Beth is horny and she is punished" movie, i.e. an 80s slasher film.  But this generation demands a defense against that kind of subversive thinking.  So Beth's guilt is minimized in favor of featuring examples of collective guilt.   Who caused 9/11?  Nineteen two dimensional characters we don't know the names of.  Ah, so 9/11 is payback for the sins of "The United States Of America" which means no one is looking to punish you specifically, because it's not your fault.  It's "our" fault.  Which means it's Bush's fault.  Which means we're all off the hook now that he's gone. 

But maybe taking responsibility for our collective sins is a noble, selfless act?  No.  The ego will do anything to protect itself, including publicly accept guilt for something that causes it to experience very little actual guilt.  "We caused global warming!" Really?  It was you?   You drink yourself to sleep because you burn too many fossil fuels?  You can't look a person in the eye because you drive an SUV?


IV.

Even before the virus kills a lot of people, people begin to panic.  This is facilitated by the internet, played by Jude Law, who blogs about corporate greed, "the CDC is lying to you", and a holistic cure (forsythia) that Big Pharma of course doesn't want you to know about.  (Also, it doesn't work.)  But people start raiding pharmacies looking for it anyway.  (1)

The virus, in theory, does not discriminate; but the movie makes it clear that information very much does discriminate.  When Dr. Laurence Fishburne and his team at the CDC figure out that Chicago is next, he retreats to his office and secretly calls his girlfriend, "get out of Chicago, but tell no one."

But wait, there's a janitor standing behind him.  "How much of that call did you hear?" asks Fishburne.  "We've all got people," the janitor replies.

Which is further exemplified by what Fishburne's girlfriend does next: she talks to her people.   "You have to promise to keep this a secret..." And then that people posts about it on facebook.  We've all got people, and they all panic.(2)

fishburne girlfriend contagion.jpgbut first, some shopping



Information is the parallel virus, but that is not a flippant comparison.  Totalitarians of the world, take note: in the movie, information the public has is always bad for them. I do not mean the information is wrong.  Jude Law's info about forsythia is wrong and thus troublesome; but the CDC's announcements about the virus are all accurate and stuff you'd insist you have the right/need to know.  Yet that information is irrelevant.  Having this information, are you cured faster?  Are you better able to protect yourself than the obvious intuitive maneuvers? 

The single reason to offer official information (and the movie distinguishes between  "official"=valid=useless  information disseminated via TV and unofficial=false=dangerous information traveling via internet) is that it sedates people; it is never to benefit them.  Which is why it is more important to the perception of safety to keep the electricity going (which they  do) than the food going (which they don't.)  "We've identified the virus, it is called MEV-1."  Oh, so that's what it is.  Now we're getting somewhere. 

All media is state run media, especially when it's not.


V.

A case study of individual vs. collective guilt.

Cobb's wife in Inception, Mal, in this movie plays a WHO researcher who travels to China to identify the source of the outbreak.  Because of CCTV camera footage, she is able to observe Gwyenth infecting various other people, and the outbreak can be tracked. 

Because Mal is beautiful, she is most likely be going to die.  However, she's a) not American and b) a brunette with an atrocious haircut;  which means she's not part of a) the collective guilt and b) probably not carrying any individual guilt.  She could pull out of this.

Right after she and the Chinese researchers discover how the virus spread, she does something very, very important: she prepares to leave China.  She's done with China, China is only important as a source of information and now of no consequence.  There's no way those hominids could find the cure, and, anyway, there are dying people in the world she has to get to.

The Chinese researchers therefore kidnap her to a rural village and send a ransom note: if the WHO wants to see her alive again, they have send a crate of vaccines.

There are the two guilts: her individual guilt is her aloof cosmopolitanism, and her collective guilt is the WHO not caring about China.  In order for this story to play out correctly, individual guilt must be minimized and collective guilt maximized.  1. Mal has to repent.  2.  The WHO, as the collective guilt, has to take on her individual guilt, i.e. get more guilty.

1. The next time we see her, 45 minutes later-- she is in a makeshift, open air "classroom" teaching the Chinese children how to read.  She is perfectly happy.   I'll remind you that she has been kidnapped.  In case the redemption isn't obvious enough, they club you with it: a lingering wide shot of the "classroom" reveals a huge cross on the roof.  Note that Soderbergh's name is Soderbergh.

2.  When the ransom is paid (crate of vaccines) and Mal is freed, she discovers that the WHO tricked the Chinese: the vaccines were placebos.   Horrified, she runs back to the village, and the message is clear: no one cares about the little people, especially if they are Chinese. So a lot of people must die, but none of them Mal.


VI.

Another case study:

Dr. Fishburne gets his vaccine, but instead of giving it to himself he gives it to the janitor's son.  In the language of narcissism, that act makes him a hero, and thus guarantees his survival.  In the language of individual guilt, this is repenting for choosing "his people" over society.

Collective guilt takes on different meanings in different cultures.  In America, collective guilt is always capitalist guilt.   

Fishburne's act is a kind of message to global capitalists, "everyone has people they care about, your interests aren't more important than the working man's."  Not explicit in the movie is the secret to many vaccines: herd immunity, i.e. unvaccinated Dr. Fishburne can benefit  from other people's vaccinations.  This is a metaphor for the popular refrain that global capitalists actually improve their own position when they help the poor because the poor will buy the goods that make them rich.  

Now this is no longer an ethical question, "what is the moral thing to do?" but a cost/benefit one: "how can you maximize the benefit?" Which is exactly the way you'd want the question framed if you were a global capitalist.  But in so doing one can avoid the nasty business of taking a moral stance, it frames everything in terms of consequences, comparisons of utilitarian benefit-- and consequently including individual guilt, which is the whole point of doing this.  Was Gwyneth wrong to cheat? No, she's not a bad person, it's complicated.  Is it wrong to loot?  No, as long as you don't enjoy it. 

It's interesting to see which position, moral or utilitarian, the movie chooses, because the movie is a reflection of it's audience's preference for one over the other. What do we want to be true in 2011?

The position the movie offers is this: Dr. Fishburne gives the boy the vaccination, but keeps the vaccination bracelet.


VII.

Implied in every disaster movie is "starting over," but starting over isn't the consequence, but the premise: "in order to start over and do it right this time, we need a catastrophe." 

Now recall what is destroyed in a disaster: the unrepentant sinners and those who share in the collective guilt. What would starting over look like?  It would be some recalibration of modernity.  Where did modernity go wrong?  

It went wrong with Patient Zero.  Now our original Gwyenth problem is reversed: Gwyenth is not only an executive of an evil mining company, she's also a modern woman.  Which means she can cheat when she wants and suffer no guilt.  Yikes.  As much as the image of a banana tree getting plowed by a bulldozer symbolizes a particular aspect of modernity, a blonde woman guiltlessly getting plowed by some other bulldozer is another aspect of modernity-- though not the cheating itself, but what she is able to think while she cheats.  "She made mistakes, but she loved you very much," Matt Damon is told at the funeral home.  That's true, and that's what makes it precisely so terrifying: Gwyneth had the physical freedom to cheat, and the emotional freedom to cheat and simultaneously still love her husband.  A man understands a woman can be duplicitous, but the expectation is there's still an objective truth to her cheating: if she cheats, she likes him, not me.  How can it be she likes him and me?  How can she be two people simultaneously? What am I supposed to do with that when she comes home? That kind of existential freedom is to much to allow women to bear, and in any post-crisis world the first thing society does is take a few steps back into the safety of conventional roles.    It happened after WWII and it will happen after the Great Recession, and everyone will think they made the individual choice to do it.  After the Contagion has passed, Matt Damon's daughter's first order of business is to express her happiness and love through the last holdout of happily accepted gender roles: the high school prom. 
 
VIII.

The preference of collective guilt over individual guilt suggests a comforting narcissistic arrogance: if this global catastrophe is, after all, our fault, then it is also under our control.  We can stop it.  That's why these disaster movies are very rarely about some catastrophe that isn't our fault: that would be too raw depiction of our existential dread.  We need the defense of collective guilt to explain inexplicable events and offer a path to immortality on earth (if we act a certain way all will be well).   This is especially important for narcissists who, not able to feel individual guilt, lack a redemptive path towards immortality after earth.  The belief of control over the earth is all they have left.

It is the same narcissism that says, "we're destroying nature," which is a defense against being merely another part of nature.  That it is a fact that we are destroying nature is secondary; the point is to believe it so that nature becomes a bit player in the movie of human exceptionalism.  That it is a fact that nature is a bit player in the movie of human exceptionalism is secondary; the point is to believe it so that... and etc, until you individually have found meaning in the world.

You might think that individual guilt would be infinitely more amenable to modification than collective guilt-- if it's "your" fault, all you have to change is you.  But try telling Gwyneth she shouldn't sleep with that guy, that it's wrong.  "It's complicated," she'll tell you.  Fixing "you", including the sins-- is nigh impossible, because those sins are you, the only way to stop doing them isn't to stop doing them but to change who you are.  "You just don't understand the whole story" you'll explain in ten million sentences that say nothing.   The part that I don't understand, of course, is how important it is to do do it to keep your identity intact.  But I do understand.  That's why I wrote this.

The trick to understanding disaster movies, and life, is to realize that the reason bad things happen is that we partly guilty and partly wronged, fully at the mercy of other people who use us and manipulate us; but that we still retain almost infinite power to alter reality and prevent bad things from happening.   And the reason that that is the reason is that the alternative is there is no reason.

If 2M people die, you can be 100% certain that someone will find CCTV footage of a hateable adulteress destroying a rainforest, and that she'll get what's coming to you.




---


1. The media's preferred symbol for the disintegration of public order is looting, i.e the opposite of shopping.  When Matt Damon goes into the looted supermarket, he's distinct from the other looters because he isn't enjoying it, suggesting he wasn't a big shopper, either.  Consumerism was never in his nature, nor sexuality, as evidenced by two ex-wives, which is why he is the only person in the entire movie who is naturally immune to the virus. (Another note: in disaster movies, the ability to loot is what separates us from the animals.  Once there's nothing left to loot, the people are then depicted as marauding cavemen, unless they are reorganized into a strict proto-capitalist economy.  Welcome to Bartertown.) 

2. Note that this must be in 2011: it didn't seem odd even to me that 51 year old medical doctor Fishburne has a girlfriend and no kids.  In fact, the only character you see married in this movie is Gwyneth Paltrow, and you know how that works out. 

 





Comments

Hang on, just one moment.</... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 1:40 PM | Posted by Scott: | Reply

Hang on, just one moment.

*I* hold the phone in my left hand, and I'm neither a lefty nor a stroke victim. In fact, I hold it in my left hand precisely because I'm right-handed: it means I can talk on the phone and write stuff down at the same time.

I don't think it's quite as abnormal as you make it out to be.

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Wait a moment... Aren't tho... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 2:23 PM | Posted by Joseph Hertzlinger: | Reply

Wait a moment... Aren't those type of movie makers supposed to take Jude Law's side?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 4 (4 votes cast)
So you are telling me that ... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 2:37 PM | Posted by Lee: | Reply

So you are telling me that I am going to run into more women that are attractive and willing to cheat on their husbands and they won't even feel bad about it? So... awesome? Remind me not to get married.

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I think his point was more ... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 2:38 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I think his point was more that they showed the wedding ring. They could have easily filmed it from the other side of her if she was wearing the ring on her right hand.

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Footnote 1 is fascinating i... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 3:06 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Footnote 1 is fascinating in light of the recent British riots and the media narrative that surrounded them. I'd love to read someone (Alone, Pastabagel, you) attempt to analyse that.

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Thanks for ruining the movi... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 3:17 PM | Posted by Sam: | Reply

Thanks for ruining the movie for me(wink wink)

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I am old enough to remember... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 4:41 PM | Posted by carol: | Reply

I am old enough to remember that We All Killed JFK. I was 14 at the time and thought that was very deep, but I never did figure out my part in it. I really liked the guy because he was in magazines and on TV a lot.

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What collective guilt kille... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 4:56 PM | Posted, in reply to carol's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

What collective guilt killed JFK? I've never heard of that before and google didn't help.

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I could not believe how bad... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 5:52 PM | Posted by Hated it: | Reply

I could not believe how bad this movie was. I expected more with all the names in it. I also thought what a waste the affair was- why not just have a coworker? He goes to Chicago.
What was with the gun shots next door? What was the point in the story? We just never see Kate Winslet again. Okay- whatever.
The kidnapped women- cotliard- she touched the kid too much- it was creepy. I get the whole princess Diana touched aids baby's first- she was still lazy about womens rights. It was kid creepy.
Matt Damon was boring- that's bad. Fishborn could have told his GF he is really lonely, misses her and will she please come support him --he has to be with her. The secret out to others was bad and obvious- so contrived.
Really, bad script and slow. Jude law plays great skeezy, scum because, he is that. Typecast. The movie sucked.

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"But it's a "subtle" politi... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 6:55 PM | Posted by Gene Callahan: | Reply

"But it's a "subtle" political piece like the kinds played on TV all day on 9/11/2011, in which the Towers fell not because terrorists flew planes into them but because of America's incessant meddling in the Middle East"

When a smart man says something this dumb, it's easy to spot the cause.

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"What collective guilt kill... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 6:57 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Gene Callahan: | Reply

"What collective guilt killed JFK?"

I shouted out who killed the Kennedys?
When after all, it was you and me -- Jagger / Richards

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Maybe it's time to re-think... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 8:07 PM | Posted by Vizsla1086: | Reply

Maybe it's time to re-think the blog. This is the first time I've read something here and thought "Gee. So what?" You're beating the narcissist meme into the dust, for Pete's sake (also mine).

Maybe it's just a bad, poorly written movie....or maybe you need to take a rejuvenating break. Many years ago - 30 to be exact - I was part of a pretty good small publishing company that specialized in humor. For a long time, the comedic writing was spectacularly good, but it's impossible to keep that up forever. Sooner or later, the gig just fades, and so it did. The craft was still there, but the jokes were lame.

I hope I'm wrong, but I'm smelling exhaustion..........

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Think of it this way: In m... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 8:47 PM | Posted, in reply to Scott's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Think of it this way: In movies everything has a purpose. You see on the screen only what the director, if s/he is good, wants you to see. The camera angle, the sets, the behavior of the actors are all purposeful. I think that's what TLP was getting at...

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You missed the second half ... (Below threshold)

September 19, 2011 9:06 PM | Posted, in reply to Gene Callahan's comment, by ThomasR: | Reply

You missed the second half of that sentence.

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The trick to understandi... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 12:31 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The trick to understanding disaster movies, and life, is to realize that the reason bad things happen is that we partly guilty and partly wronged, fully at the mercy of other people who use us and manipulate us; but that we still retain almost infinite power to alter reality and prevent bad things from happening. And the reason that that is the reason is that the alternative is there is no reason.


Shit happens. Keep going.

This is a bit on responsibility and less "woe is me"?

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That's why Cormac McCarthy'... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 4:55 AM | Posted by Goran Zec: | Reply

That's why Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" is so powerful - it's 100% existential dread that makes you thankful for apples and sunshine.

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So how do disaster movies w... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 4:59 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

So how do disaster movies with meteor/comet impacts factor into this collective guilt model?

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I'm certain that was sarcas... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 5:04 AM | Posted, in reply to Gene Callahan's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm certain that was sarcasm and not because he actually believes 9/11 wasn't because of airplanes piloted by a handful of people.

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The Rolling Stones had been... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 6:05 AM | Posted, in reply to Gene Callahan's comment, by Or: | Reply

The Rolling Stones had been a British band right up until Sympathy for the Devil. It's the first song on their first album as a purely American band. Their sentiment about the Kennedys would be considered laughable, instead of iconic, if they hadn't backed it up with five years' worth of tunes filled with slide guitar, harmonica, saloon piano, and Southern drawl. Because really, who the fuck are the Brits to appoint themselves authorities on our cultural narratives? If those lyrics were from one of the Beatles' country songs instead, Nixon could have deported John Lennon without any hassle.

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I really enjoyed this one, ... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 12:28 PM | Posted by John: | Reply

I really enjoyed this one, put it in the book. I also agree with rethinking the blog. What about this: you start structuring things a little better. You have been writing here for years, and also it is great to see you dissect media messages and other things, but it would be great if you could provide a more complete view of society (stats (not post-related, but blog-related)? categories? pop culture? children? government? academics united against academia? this post in the same section with the zombie narrative post and in context? etc.) so that we can observe the monster we all belong to and not just one day his nose and another his tail.

You and other people like you have to do this, otherwise we only get to talk about what this movie really means to other people as a distraction. Instead, we should be solving the puzzle as a macroexplanation that can yield society-changing answers to the why of the monster.

I fear people with your level of critical thinking do this alone, for your own reasons, bringing up horrible metallic truths forth showing how different and right you are. Yet, pieces do little to hurt the monster. Sure, you make a few people more aware, less narcissistic, but status quo is preserved.

I guess what I'm trying to say is try to find a way to make this blog about consequences (make your writing actually change things significantly). If you can't, it's still a great thing you do and thanks.

Start small perhaps. Affect something minimal and so wrong that it needs to change. Draw a map of society to identify what that is and go on from there. Ask things from your readers, to write letters, anything other than clicking on Digg (all you ever asked for as far as I know). Perhaps one day you will change the NY Times, Academia, etc. (you seem to dream about it) and, as negative as you are perceived, make this place better.

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"What collective guilt kill... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 3:38 PM | Posted by carol: | Reply

"What collective guilt killed JFK?"

That meme went around for a few months after the assassination, long before the Stones song. It came out of the left, and I think it was due to the new civil rights movement, how we're all racist, and racists wanted to kill JFK. But they really meant other people, of course - not themselves.

To be fair, the right had its own fetishes - I first heard conspiracy theories from rightwing kids (i.e. kids of rightwing parents). At the time I suspected it was to hide their lack of grief. Not that they wanted him dead, but not everyone was all tore up about it the way I was and the way the media were.

But that was just my particular intuition from my freshman year of HS.

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>Implied in every disaster ... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 4:50 PM | Posted by David Buchner: | Reply

>Implied in every disaster movie is "starting over," but starting over isn't the
>consequence, but the premise: "in order to start over and do it right this time, we
> need a catastrophe."

Holy shit. You said it out loud.

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Easier to say "give me a cl... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 5:23 PM | Posted, in reply to David Buchner's comment, by DGS: | Reply

Easier to say "give me a clean slate" then to accept responsibility that your consequences suck and you need to work hard to fix this.

Like throwing the chess board up in the air when you are losing..

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Cheese Whizz!Babe,... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 8:18 PM | Posted by John: | Reply

Cheese Whizz!

Babe, I'm also a psychiatrist, and your hokum on 'narcissism' (and sheer obsession around it) is Yawnsville, Arizona.

Your posts on other issues in psychiatry are super-duper, but the minute I read your opening schtick Gwyneth, I could see where this was headed. So I skipped to the end, and read your conclusions.

Interesting? No.

Movie concept able to abstracted beyond all recognition and relevance to real life? Yes.

Odd ramblings of someone who I hope is a psychodynamic psychotherapist? Yep. (There's a mrket for this kind of interpretation there. Zero evidence base, and all.)

Me, wishing you'd keep to your insightful posts on the voodoo the drug companies do. Yes...and crying that you keep on with this narcissism hokey-pokey.

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Why? You've done a lot of v... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 8:31 PM | Posted, in reply to John's comment, by Rob: | Reply

Why? You've done a lot of very cynical self-embellishment, calling the administrator "babe" and so on, but what is your point? You can't just declare that an entire, enduring concept in psychology is "hokum."

Do you disagree with the concept of Narcissism? Do you think TLP is overplaying Narcissism? Did you post just in order to chip in for no purpose but to let everyone know that you exist, and that you're sassy, and that your mind's made up?

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People feel exhaustion and ... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 10:00 PM | Posted by TheCoconutChef: | Reply

People feel exhaustion and automatically assume it's on the writer's end...

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The funny thing is that joh... (Below threshold)

September 20, 2011 10:53 PM | Posted, in reply to Rob's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

The funny thing is that john IS alone :O)

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this one belongs in the boo... (Below threshold)

September 21, 2011 1:39 AM | Posted by noob: | Reply

this one belongs in the book. i really do enjoy the cultural criticism posts more than anything. maybe i just have an inferiority complex related to graphs.

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Why did only the mining com... (Below threshold)

September 21, 2011 3:15 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Why did only the mining company people die, and wasn't it called 3M?

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Love your movie reviews! Y... (Below threshold)

September 21, 2011 12:18 PM | Posted by anonymous: | Reply

Love your movie reviews! Your review of District 9 was the only good thing about that movie...

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In I, Robot, after crunchin... (Below threshold)

September 21, 2011 3:39 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

In I, Robot, after crunching some numbers, a robot saves Will Smith instead of a child.
When we find this out, it's painted in a very anti-robot, pro-human manner and everyone agrees that the robot should have saved the child instead.

By the end of the movie, Will Smith has saved the world.
Would that child have saved the world?
Utilitarianism wins again.

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I'm so confused. Why is th... (Below threshold)

September 21, 2011 4:15 PM | Posted by BK: | Reply

I'm so confused. Why is this movie about guilt when Hollywood insists (incessantly) that unless you have sex with as many different people as possible you're a disgusting fundamentalist aka conservative?

There's no guilt if there's no sin. There's no sin if there's no God. Who cares if she said she would be faithful to her husband. No one expects her to mean it. There's no guilt to lying. Lying is an old word for doing and saying what's not convenient to the other person.

Someone write the rules down for me. They'll change of course when needed, but maybe for a short while I'll be able to keep up.

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Wow, you really hit a nerve... (Below threshold)

September 21, 2011 4:50 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Wow, you really hit a nerve here. Look at all the people telling you to shut up.

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i'm not sure it's possible ... (Below threshold)

September 21, 2011 10:11 PM | Posted by Liz: | Reply

i'm not sure it's possible to over-emphasize narcissism in our individually-centered, happiness-obsessed culture.

http://pocketshrink.blogspot.com

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"There's no guilt if there'... (Below threshold)

September 22, 2011 12:35 AM | Posted, in reply to BK's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

"There's no guilt if there's no sin. There's no sin if there's no God. "

Nah, BK, you are confusing guilt with shame. Shame is what you feel when you break a convention created by a power outside of yourself (such as a religious community) and someone (like God) KNOWS that you did that thing that, by agreed upon convention, makes you bad. Basically, what you're saying is that human beings can only feel bad if they get busted.

Guilt is that feeling of unease you get when deep down you believe yourself to have done something bad, according to your own personal values. It doesn't matter if anyone knows. It's not the fear of getting punished. The punishment IS feeling bad, and it's impossible to get away from it. Making amends helps, but doesn't completely cure that sick feeling.

There is a Greek short story titled "Mother". It's about a village woman who accidently smothers her first child in her sleep. She goes on to have many more children, works herself into exhaustion providing for them after her husband passes away young and adopts more children, some with special needs, loving them all unconditionally and doing everything to better their lives, even when some of these children grow up to mistreat her. By the middle of the story this woman is greatly respected by her community, the death of the first baby was ruled to be accidental from the get go, and the local priests assure her that she is in God's good graces. Yet, she can't forgive herself. At the end of the story, one of the Mother's sons becomes an important man and takes her to meet the Great Patriarch (the most important figure in Orthodox Christianity, like the Catholic Pope). The Patriarch blesses her and assures her that God has long forgiven her- she is going to heaven. After the mother and son leave, the son expects the mother to look happy and finally relieved, yet she's still troubled. The son tries to tell her that Jesus isn't angry, he has forgiven her- the Great Patriarch said so! She believes it, but it's not enough. She says something that would translate to, "Jesus forgave me because he isn't a mother. He doesn't know that nothing should ever earn me forgiveness."

TLDR: If your guilt is sincere, it comes from within. No God required.

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Reminds me of <a href="http... (Below threshold)

September 22, 2011 9:53 AM | Posted by rqbolm: | Reply

Reminds me of this.

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What a coincidence - to bri... (Below threshold)

September 23, 2011 3:11 PM | Posted by Whatchever: | Reply

What a coincidence - to bring out a movie with a name like that, smack dab in the middle of financial market contagion.

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I can't agree more. Just p... (Below threshold)

September 24, 2011 1:03 PM | Posted, in reply to DGS's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I can't agree more. Just pointing this out I think makes this post worthwhile.

I cannot describe how much this mentality disturbs me. Everything's going to be better after some supposed apocalypse, everything will be put "right" again. Sure, millions, possibly billions of people will die and so many more will suffer immeasurably. Sure, we'll lose how far we've advanced as a civilization. But dammit, it'll prove that I'm right and all those *other* people are doing things all wrong. They'll be put in their place, and that's all that matters. Truly frightening.

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"It's interesting to see wh... (Below threshold)

September 24, 2011 5:00 PM | Posted by Happen to be reading philosophy: | Reply

"It's interesting to see which position, moral or utilitarian, the movie chooses." FYI, utilitarianism is a type of moral reasoning. It says that the more moral choice is the one that causes the least harm to the fewest people, or that brings the most happiness to the most people. This is in contrast to the type of moral reasoning that has a set of rules and that judges actions to be moral or immoral based on those rules alone. If someone comes to your door and asks, "Is Joe here? Because I've been paid $100 to shoot Joe"--and you know that Joe is in the other room, would it be wrong to lie? Moralists would say it is wrong to lie, utilitarians would say it is not wrong to lie in this instance. Not sure this is relevant to the overall argument, as I don't understand the overall argument of this post, but in case anyone is interested in utilitarianism.

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One thing to keep in mind i... (Below threshold)

September 25, 2011 2:26 PM | Posted by DensityDuck: | Reply

One thing to keep in mind is that Gwyneth Paltrow would have been Patient Zero even if she hadn't been cheating. The movie shows us how she got infected but it doesn't explicitly say "she was at the dinner party BECAUSE SHE WAS CHEATING". And this is the kind of movie that definitely would have done.

Although, in a way, that only supports the post's thesis. Because she has nothing but collective guilt.

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"Gwyneth had the physical f... (Below threshold)

September 26, 2011 7:04 PM | Posted by TheDavid: | Reply

"Gwyneth had the physical freedom to cheat, and the emotional freedom to cheat and simultaneously still love her husband. A man understands a woman can be duplicitous, but the expectation is there's still an objective truth to her cheating: if she cheats, she likes him, not me. How can it be she likes him and me?"

This is bullshit, not reasoning.

In the first place monogamy is simply not natural for humans: it's socially imposed, historically by men who want to own "their" women and kids and don't want "their" women causing them to raise kids made with somebody else's sperm. In an age where conception is optional there is less reason to not "cheat," as a wife can choose to deny paternity to anyone but her husband. (Just as a husband can choose to deny his fertile seed to anyone who's not his wife, by the way.)

In the second place, you know damn well we men can "cheat" (or "be non-monogamous" as I'd rather put it) and still love our wives. Why insist it's different for women? Is it because you're afraid the other guy will have a bigger wee-wee she'll go goo-goo for? I.e. is it snivelling fear of narcississtic insult, which is an unattractive quality?

Thirdly, women get fucked in the head because of all this, which backfires on men all the time. See, women, like men, want sexual variety, yet women are trained to associate desire with love: "I'm married to A but B turns me on, so I must not really love A, so I should dump A and take up with B, who I must really love because I'm not a slut who has sex without love." Something like that. Serial monogamy is just another name for ditching one person after another.

Since I became a man and put away boyish cowardice 20-odd years ago I take the position that what matters is how she treats me regardless of her other interests. I'd rather be with an attractive and pleasant women who gets around, even if I'm not her Primary Partner, than with a mousy little shrew nobody else wants. As long as she doesn't rub my nose in it, as I don't rub her nose in my adventures.

Only insecure losers insist on absolute monogamy.

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What are you talking about?... (Below threshold)

September 26, 2011 9:22 PM | Posted, in reply to TheDavid's comment, by So Much For Subtlety: | Reply

What are you talking about? Monogamy has not, historically, been imposed by men who want to own their own women. Every patriarchal society allows this. Monogamy is a product of Christianity with its strong pro-women biases. Not Judaism or Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism or any other major religion which all allow polygamy. Nor does monogamy guarantee men that their children will be their own. What monogamy does is restrict powerful and wealthy men to fewer children and allows poor men a chance to marry.

In all societies women have a very strong interest in persuading men that their children are theirs. More so if they are not. Do I really need to spell out why this is?

Women can deny men conception, but men have trouble denying it to women. If a woman sleeps with a man, she decides if she has a child or not. If a man engages in any sexual activity with a woman at all - or even if he doesn't but his sperm is "out there" - he has no more control.

Why should cheating have the same emotional impact for men that it does for women? We evolved differently for different roles. It would be astonishing if women did respond the same way. I am not sure women have evolved to want sexual variety but suppose they do. So what? It does not follow that if women associate sex with love this is taught. I would be surprised if it was not biological. Again, something that evolved. It is too convenient.

The point about conception is that we have moved from a world where marriage was about children to one where it is about sex. So we no longer select women who are "good wives" but ones that are "good girlfriends". If you are not interested in stable families, by all means, go for it. But if other people are, they will be interested in whether their wives are sleeping around, if their children are theirs, if their partners have other emotional attachments. I think you mistake entering your 20s with growing up.

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Since I became a man and... (Below threshold)

September 27, 2011 8:46 AM | Posted by Empire of Jeff: | Reply

Since I became a man and put away boyish cowardice 20-odd years ago I take the position that what matters is how she treats me regardless of her other interests. I'd rather be with an attractive and pleasant women who gets around, even if I'm not her Primary Partner, than with a mousy little shrew nobody else wants. As long as she doesn't rub my nose in it, as I don't rub her nose in my adventures.

Way to turn your insecurities into a manly virtue, dude. That way, when you see your gal getting gangbanged on the internet you can console yourself with the certainty that you don't mind, because you could be thigh-deep in pooter if you wanted to. You never ARE, but you COULD.

Of course you could.

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Is it so wrong to have sex ... (Below threshold)

September 27, 2011 4:07 PM | Posted, in reply to Empire of Jeff's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Is it so wrong to have sex with your friends?

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Why are you asking me? I'm ... (Below threshold)

September 27, 2011 4:14 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Empire of Jeff: | Reply

Why are you asking me? I'm not gonna fuck you. Ask your friends. If they're okay with it, and you're okay with the potential consequences, then make the call.

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I believe Alone already sai... (Below threshold)

September 27, 2011 7:22 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I believe Alone already said everything he could about narcisism and getting less narcisist... the only thing left for him is getting examples in society.

If people aren't enjoying him now, they should search other sources of information about the problems he talks (and other stuff).

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Collective guilt is virtue.... (Below threshold)

September 27, 2011 9:25 PM | Posted by medsvstherapy: | Reply

Collective guilt is virtue.
Or, so I have been told.
When people get you to believe you are guilty for not acting on soneone else's tragedy - any tragedy - every tragedy - then, they can pretty much control you.

Can I go to an event without having to bring canned goods?

Collective guilt is a dodge: it can assuage your personal guilt, and even allow you to remain personally guilty, since acting on the collective guilt is so much more virtuous.

The carousels have flooded - go donate some canned food!

Ah! I am morally comfortable now. Back to my xbox.

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when you see your gal ge... (Below threshold)

September 28, 2011 3:20 AM | Posted, in reply to Empire of Jeff's comment, by DensityDuck: | Reply

when you see your gal getting gangbanged on the internet you can console yourself with the certainty that you don't mind, because you could be thigh-deep in pooter if you wanted to.

Not only that, but he's got the pussy that everybody wants. She must totally be a smokin' chick, because look how many guys wanna do her!

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A person with psychiatric d... (Below threshold)

September 30, 2011 9:33 AM | Posted by Counselling Southampton: | Reply

A person with psychiatric disorder feels threatened when they are touched.

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So, in this model, why did ... (Below threshold)

November 7, 2011 12:48 PM | Posted by Juliano Schroeder: | Reply

So, in this model, why did Kate Winslet have to die? She wasn't part of the collective guilt and had no individual guilt whatsoever.

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Winslet's a martyr. Her dea... (Below threshold)

January 15, 2012 1:54 PM | Posted, in reply to Juliano Schroeder's comment, by The Devastator: | Reply

Winslet's a martyr. Her death adds to Dr. Fishburne's guilt (he sent her there, he can't get her back), and provides a contrast to Jude Law who causes huge damage out of greed but never gets sick.

On another note, I just saw the movie, and it's clear that the person responsible for the epidemic isn't Gwyneth Paltrow at all, but the chef in the casino. No it's cool, just cut up a pig and then go shake hands with a diner without washing your hands, everything will be fine. Asshole.

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"Monogamy has not, historic... (Below threshold)

January 18, 2012 12:53 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"Monogamy has not, historically, been imposed by men who want to own their own women. Every patriarchal society allows this. Monogamy is a product of Christianity with its strong pro-women biases."

LOL

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