Know This: Chinese Hollywood, Intern exploitation, Robot eyes, Cyberspace gamification, anti-fatists
The new film from Zhang Yimou looks like a politically suspect piece of historical drama. The director of Hero and House of Flying Daggers -- not to mention the 2008 Olympics opening and closing ceremonies -- has found increasing favour with Chinese authorities in recent years. His late 80s breakthrough, Raise the Red Lantern is still effectively banned in China, but he is now producing historical dramas that please the government. He was interviewed by Der Spiegel recently, ahead of the Berlin Film Festival premiere of The Flowers of War, which stars Christian Bale.
"More recent films such as House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower are sumptuous period pieces, no longer set among everyday Chinese citizens, but at the courts of dynasties from the distant past," Spiegel says. "Intricately choreographed crowd and battle scenes have become more important than psychology. Zhang's new film, The Flowers of War, is based on The 13 Flowers of Nanjing, a novel about the massacre. In the film, more than 20 young Chinese women hide from Japanese soldiers on the grounds of a Catholic church in Nanjing. These include female students from the convent school, as well as uninvited guests in the form of a dozen high-class prostitutes in slinky silk dresses. An American mortician named John Miller (Christian Bale), likewise stranded at the church during the fighting, becomes the women's reluctant protector. 'This is not a film the government would normally approve readily,' Zhang says. 'Foreigners, religion, World War II, these are all complex topics. But it's also a film about the willingness to help others, which is why the government lent it its support.' It's true that the Nanjing Massacre was long a taboo subject in China, all the more so because the Kuomintang ruled the city at the time it occurred. Zhang's slow-motion, dramatic portrayal of courageous Chinese people dying in their attack on a Japanese tank serves first and foremost to aid China's reconciliation with its own past. Zhang also follows the official version of history, in that he seems to know only two types of Japanese: the evil and the really evil. A clear concept of who the enemy is, no great fear of clichés, plenty of pathos and a bit of sex, Zhang's film shares these components with many war films produced in the West. The Flowers of War marks his permanent renunciation of art films for niche audiences."
"Welcome to the world of white-collar exploitation. What child labour and apprenticeships were to preceding centuries, internships are shaping up to be for ours," so Sara Dowse wrote in a review of Ross Perlin's Intern Nation last year. There are an increasing number of these "volunteer" positions being advertised locally, for media companies and "progressive" consultants like Make Believe. Recently, an intern in the United States launched court proceedings against Harpers Bazaar for unpaid wages. "Unpaid interns are becoming the modern-day equivalent of entry-level employees, except that employers are not paying them for the many hours they work," the lawsuit says. Rather than focussing on the labour interns put in, these positions are often dressed up as "educational experiences" or the like. But Perlin's timely book is helping people think through what it means to work "for love not money." "Perlin’s analysis points to several converging trends. One is the 'human capital' theory of work. Workers are increasingly seen as needing to 'invest' in themselves, to build up a resume that will render them more employable. Undertaking unpaid work is an 'investment' that will yield a return in the future. Associated with this is the idea that education should primarily be about employability. Accordingly, 'book learning' in the classroom needs to be supplemented by real-life work experience if a student is to be genuinely 'work ready'. Finally, there is a global trend by employers to useprecarious or contingent workforces to drive down wage costs. Employers can save money by employing someone as a casual rather than an ongoing worker, or as a contractor rather than an employee. But what better than to take on a willing worker and pay them nothing at all?" Elsewhere, Laurie Penny writes about how these opportunities self-select the children of well off parents -- posh young dogsbodies. And the New Inquiry launched its monthly e-magazine this week with an issue aboutprecarity.
And how robots read the world:
Is "exploitationware" a better name for "gamification," that newest move in making money online? Ian Bogost suggests as much in an NY Times article. "For companies, the premise of gamification is that it engages people in the kind of reward-seeking behaviors that lead to increased brand loyalty, not to mention increased profits. By tracking the online activities of people who sign up for such programs, companies can also amass more detailed metrics about each user — the better to identify the most active customers. But critics say the risk of gamification is that it omits the deepest elements of games — like skill, mastery and risk-taking — even as it promotes the most superficial trappings, like points, in an effort to manipulate people. Ian Bogost, a professor of digital media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, refers to the programs as 'exploitationware.' Consumers might be less eager to sign up, he argues, if they understood that some programs have less in common with real games than with, say, spyware. 'Companies could say, "Well, we are offering you a new program in which we watch your every move and make decisions about our advertising based on the things we see you do."' Gamification may not sound novel to members of frequent-flier or hotel loyalty programs who have strategized for years about ways to game extra points. But those kinds of membership programs offer concrete rewards like upgrades, free flights or free hotel stays. What’s new about gamification is its goal of motivating people with virtual awards, like a mayoralty on FourSquare, that have little or no monetary value. Businesses are using similar techniques to motivate their own employees, says David Stein, a co-chief executive of Rypple, which designs software to manage employee performance. Companies that use its products first devise virtual awards for their employees — like peer badges for the best team player or a special badge given out monthly by the C.E.O. Then they institute a companywide social network where employees create profiles showing their goals and achievements. An accompanying digital newsfeed posts a notice whenever someone earns a merit. But Professor Bogost cautions that virtual brownie points have the potential to exploit people without offering them much in return. 'We used to provide incentives to employees by means of compensation and benefits,' like raises and pensions, he says. 'This seems to be a move to use these no-cost incentives.'”
Back off, fatists. That's the headline on a piece at Australian site The Conversation this week. Karl Lagerfeld might take heed, after his name-calling episode with Adele. But celebrities to one side, there is the grotesque morality play of individuals in website comments boxes (on sites like this and its Fairfax brethren) taking to images of overweight people. "One of the leading causes of weight-based stigma and its normalisation comes from the images we encounter in the media," it was argued inan article on a new image library made up of positive pictures of obese people. "A recent study found that 72% of images that accompanied news stories about obesity portrayed obese people in a negative light." Most of this negative portrayal is editorial lassitude and cheap gags--but with real effects. "Our findings are reinforced in a study, which showed that unlike other public health issues such as cancer or AIDS, coverage of obesity tends to take a blaming approach. This process alienates obese people although little thought is given to the consequences of such prejudice."
The "back off" call followed the unfortunate but inevitable eruption of the very same negative comments -- almost 200 of them -- decried in the piece about the image library. "For anyone having doubts about overweight or obese people feeling blamed and shamed, the comments on a recent article about a positive image library should settle the matter. They clearly illustrate the assumption that obesity and associated conditions are the fault of the individual, the result of a personal failure to be fit and healthy – they are not. Contrary to what many people think, there’s a significant body of evidence showing that obesity is much more complex than the equation of calories in and calories out. This was highlighted by a recent series in journal The Lancet. It’s now apparent, for instance, that there’s a strong genetic basis to obesity, a factor that is obviously outside individual control. A systematic literature review indicates the consequences of this social stigma are far-reaching. Weight-related bias is evident in employment, health-care, and familial and romantic relationship contexts. Negative emotional and psychological consequences include loneliness, embarrassment, and depression and anxiety. Add type 2 diabetes to the mix and the associated stigma becomes even more complex. Type 2 diabetes treatments often induce further weight gain."