7 Quick Takes (4/19/13)

— 1 —

Dove has another clever ad campaign that does a nice attack on some of the terrible images of women in most other ad campaigns in their niche:


I’ve seen some complaints that the ad is still subtly reinforcing that beauty is one of a woman’s most important characteristics, but the video does include people’s non-physical impressions of beauty (akin to Darcy’s comment about ‘fine eyes’).

— 2 —

And speaking of unexpectedly beautiful things, scientists have found a better way to attach skin grafts by aping the way parasitic worms latch on to their hosts!  I would include pictures, but I suspect many of you prefer they be left behind the link.

— 3 —

Want more unsettling beauty?  Try this animation of Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s “Der Erlkönig,” in which a father flees with his sick child with Death in close pursuit, and all of them, plus a narrator get to sing.  (h/t to my gentleman caller).


— 4 —

Sometimes, of course, our love of strange beauty can lead us astray:

— 5 —

Oh the heck with it.  Let’s succumb and watch this video about what happens if you cry in zero gravity:

— 6 —

Oh, and meanwhile, at the CFAR blog, I’ve got a post up on the virtues of betting.

Sometimes hilarity ensues (as when one participant wanted to set up a hedge against the bad bets he was afraid he’d make and asked me to create a market on whether the majority of his bets would have been wrong). But we include bet-making because we think it helps promote good rationality habits (the amusing stories are a positive externality)…

[I]n order to find out who’s right, you need to come up with a way to test your prediction, which forces you to think a little more concretely about the consequences of your predictions. More than once, two participants at a workshop have started setting up a bet but have had to scuttle the whole thing as it became clear they were anticipating the same result but framing it differently.

Since I’m the arbiter of what bets can be created during a workshop, people frequently try to come up with sneaky paradoxical bets or markets where the first person to bet will have a tremendous advantage.  But, as I warn all the participants, although I am bribable, the only currency I accept is whimsy.

— 7 —

And while you appreciate all these created things, you may be interested in the way Kenneth Goldsmith (MoMA’s poet laureate) tries to train a curatorial impulse in his writing students:

You teach a course called “Uncreative Writing” at University of Pennsylvania, where you encourage students to turn off their creative instincts, retype phone books and menus, and plagiarize other writer’s work as their own content. Some students call your class brilliant; some faculty at the school have publicly denounced your pro-plagiarism stance as irresponsible. How is all this helping the next generations of writers and journalists?

The students that take my class know how to write. I can hone their skills further but instead I choose to challenge them to think in new and different ways. Many of them know how to plagiarize but they always do it on the sly, hoping not to get caught. In my class, they must plagiarize or they will be penalized. They are not allowed to be original or creative. So it becomes a very different game, one in which they’re forced to defend choices that they are making about what they’re plagiarizing and why. And when you start to dig down, you’ll find that those choices are as original and as unique as when they express themselves in more traditional types of writing, but they’ve never been trained to think about it in this way.

You see, we are faced with a situation in which the managing of information has become more important than creating new and original information. Take Boing Boing, for instance. They’re one of the most powerful blogs on the web, but they don’t create anything, rather they filter the morass of information and pull up the best stuff. The fact of Boing Boing linking to something far outweighs the thing that they’re linking to. The new creativity is pointing, not making. Likewise, in the future, the best writers will be the best information managers.

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  • I think the Dove commercial makes a valid point. We live in a society where too many women judge themselves far too harshly based on their perception of how others see them. Also, beauty is an ambiguous words referring both to the physical and spiritual qualities of a person. I think the commercial is trying to say that people often see us more for who we are than what what we look like.

    • I don’t know that who we are and what we look like should be in conflict. Beauty is used for both because the two are not meant to be separated. It is only when we try and analyze and market beauty that we draw such distinctions. The trouble is when we break something down like that to study it we have a hard time seeing the whole again. Dissection gives us knowledge but it also loses something in the process that we often don’t get back.

  • Maiki

    The thing with the dove ad — the ladies were not drawn to look like supermodels when the other person described them. It just seemed like a fairly accurate portrayal of them. Which to me is not emphasizing beauty as much as saying: get rid of your bad self esteem about the way you look. Most people are not looking at you through distorted lenses.

  • Skittle

    I don’t disagree that it’s increasingly important for people to learn how to find, filter, and process information, but I find statements like “You see, we are faced with a situation in which the managing of information has become more important than creating new and original information.” horrifying.

    Not only do I think it is untrue, I think it is a worrying thing to think. It suggests an intellectual dead-end, a return to the endless copying of old knowledge and processing of that without seeking new evidence or knowledge. There is a place for meta-studies and literature surveys, but that doesn’t make them more important than studies and research themselves, and even meta-studies and literature surveys typically involve creating new information based on combining the old, rather than just rehashing it.

    But maybe I read too much Asimov as a child.

    • L

      I agree with this. Even if information gathering and sorting is an important skill on the ‘net, you still need creative people to make the content that you like to. Real creativity will always be more valuable than the ability to copy it, because without creativity, there’s nothing to copy and the whole process stalls.

      And it makes me feel angry to think of this guy getting credit for ‘poetry’ he’s copied from the radio. What a triumph of marketing over real talent! I’m not surprised he’s a fan of Warhol, who was an uncreative hack whose best work was in selling himself.

  • Mike

    1. Beauty is too often, it’s importance, is exagerated or it’s exploited BUT still, it is one of the most important characteristics of a women. Maybe, maybe it shouldn’t be but it is, and personally I like that. 🙂
    2. Isn’t the company that Darren had a link to involved in something similar?
    3. Goethe, who can understand him?
    4. My love of stange beauty led me to my wife, LOL.
    5. Wish I could see it, but at work, so can’t.
    6. Betting whimsy sounds like the name of a novel.
    7. I like the concept but I think he’s wrong about what makes a good writer good: If you’re already a competent writer, you don’t need anymore tests, you need to figure out a way to bring something TO LIFE! Being a very good information synthesizer is a pre-requisite for becomeing a good writer.

    • “Beauty is too often, it’s importance, is exagerated or it’s exploited BUT still, it is one of the most important characteristics of a women. Maybe, maybe it shouldn’t be but it is, and personally I like that.”
      Dude, this is not OK. If it shouldn’t be, it shouldn’t be.

      • Mike

        Why not? I am not saying it should be THE metric for determining worth or dignity but beauty is intrinsic to women (more so than to men but I digress) and men and it is a very important feature of a person. Physical beauty is to be cherished to some degree. You don’t see the Virgin M. portrayed as a snaggle-toothed ugly because beauty is beautiful and beautiful things are good…not in an of themselves or because they are, but they are certainly not good inspite of it.

        • Physical beauty is awesome. The real problem is that are media often push a caricature or exaggeration of beauty that if you take a step back to examine, is kinda grotesque.

          It is as a lover of physical beauty that I object to it.

        • “it is a very important feature of a person”

          Why? Why for women not for men, despite your use of the word “person” (as you yourself acknowledge in your parenthetical)? What about women who simply aren’t beautiful, through no fault of their own? Do you have any idea how damaging it can be to hear that beauty is a “very important feature,” “one of the most important characteristics of a woman” when you aren’t beautiful? Are you at all aware of the pressure centuries of statements like yours have put on women, so that they literally torture themselves with corsets, stilettos, make-up made with poisons, plastic surgery, and eating disorders?

          • Would you generalize that to other features? Because intelligence, for example, is no more earned or fairly distributed or virtuous than beauty.

          • Most positive characteristics are at least partly accidental, congenital or from environmental influences that their possessor didn’t control.

            Examples are strength, speed, grace, dexterity, or even things like charm and courage and creativity and conscientiousness and a facility with humor.

            Despite the inequities, people will continue to admire beauty and strength and intelligence and courage and continue to try to acquire them, because they’re wonderful.

          • Yes, I would, Gilbert, in that I wouldn’t think intelligence for example is a “very important feature” for someone to have. It is important, of course, for some careers, just as physical beauty is for others. But if we are talking about humans in general, whether male or female, I’d rather praise things they have some control over — kindness, charity, patience, integrity, and so one.

            Adam G., you have a point on an abstract level, but one needs to look at social and historical context. In that light far, far too much emphasis has been placed on female physical beauty, to the detriment of many. There aren’t that many people who spend a lot of money or punish their bodies trying to improve their sense of humor, for example.

          • I’d say modern culture is similarly obsessed with education. Look for example at people going into crushing debt studying for university degrees in soft subjects, or parents obsessing over the best education for their child before it can even walk.So I agree there is lots of unhealthy obsession about beauty, but I just don’t see how that makes it different from other status traits.

            On importance, I think the main question would be what something is important for. I’ll agree that neither intelligence, nor education, nor physical beauty are really important in the eternal run. But lets look at the obvious example, evaluating potential romantic mates. In that context all the shallow properties are obviously very important. If you show me someone who claims to have selected there significant other only for virtue reasons I’ll show you a lier.

            And, while we’re at it, humor is closer to the shallow side of that continuum. What is or is not funny varies by culture and group, many funny things depend on inside knowledge, verbal ability helps with joke-making, and often you need to be smart enough to get it. Take it all together and humor is highly correlated with social class.

          • Beadgirl

            “I just don’t see how that makes it different from other status traits.”

            I think the sheer scope of it, the fact pretty much every woman in this culture feels pressure at one point or another to look a certain way, makes it different. The fact that it has been going on for centuries, if not more. The fact that for many people, it is the *only* valued aspect of a woman.

            “But lets look at the obvious example, evaluating potential romantic mates. In that context all the shallow properties are obviously very important. If you show me someone who claims to have selected there significant other only for virtue reasons I’ll show you a lier.”

            Of course, physical attraction does matter, and there is nothing inherently wrong with appreciating beauty. But my point, and I did not realize it was so controversial, is that we have placed far too much importance on a woman’s looks, and not enough importance on other qualities. Women are literally injecting their faces with poison to be more beautiful, they are allowing surgeons to cut them open and mutilate them. By the age of 5 or 6, some little girls are already talking about going on diets so they can be thinner and prettier. Call me a radical feminist, but I don’t think that’s ok, and I refuse to shrug my shoulders and say “oh well, beauty is ‘one of the most important characteristics of a woman.'”

          • I’m not going to cease to admire the good because people do and have done excessive and foolish things in its pursuit.

            Anywho, I think you separating out beauty as a particularly problematic characteristis is a formy of myopia. Other things like glory or wealth have caused all sorts of problems too. Kids in their wombs are being subjected to techniques that are supposed to make them smarter. College kids rack up hundreds of thousands in debt effectively so that employers will think them more intelligent and capable.

            This is me shrugging my shoulders.

          • Beadgirl

            “I’m not going to cease to admire the good because people do and have done excessive and foolish things in its pursuit.”

            And as I said, there is nothing wrong with admiring beauty. I do not object to the statement that beauty is important. I object to the statement that it is one of the most important qualities of a woman.

            ” I think you separating out beauty as a particularly problematic characteristis is a formy of myopia. ”

            My focusing on beauty in this thread is not myopia, it is staying on topic. Believe me, I have quite the ability to rant about the problems that glory, wealth, and status-obsession cause.

        • Beauty is at least in part a cultural construct (I’m not saying it entirely is; some parts of what is considered beautiful seems hardwired, but given how much standards change over time and across cultures, it must also be in part culturally constructed), so, no, beauty is not intrinsic. Besides which, physical traits are located in the object desire but the interpretation of those traits as beautiful is located in the subject of desire (ie. the person desiring), not the object of desire, so beauty cannot possibly be intrinsic to women (or men).

          Further, if something is wrong, you should not like it. You said the importance of beauty in women (I presume you mean socially, not abstractly or metaphysically) is wrong, but then you said you liked it. If you really think it’s wrong, how do you defend liking it? (Or is this a syntactical error, where “it” refers to women’s beauty, not it’s importance? If so, that makes more sense.)

          • Mike

            I hear you Chr. H. I was just trying to say that B. women are not guilty of anything even if they are guilty of being B. Then again I am a guy who thinks you’re all B. 🙂

          • Note of clarification: I am not a woman.

          • Mike

            Sorry for some reason I thought your name was Christina.

    • Belle

      Is it a characteristic of a woman or is it a characteristic of her body? Do you think that’s a meaningful distiction, or not?

      • Mike

        It’s a ch. of both. Both for men and women; both physically and personally; both are b. BUT in diff. ways. Women’s bodies are beautiful by defn. whereas men’s bodies are b. contingency.

        • Mike

          Ok, that doesn’t make any sense so please ignore.

  • Here’s my take on the Dove ad:
    It’s better than the other beauty product ads, yes. It’s better by far. In fact, I’m tempted to say that it’s important, that the particular situation they set up is one that could wind up being a life-changing moment for some women (esp. one’s with mild body dysmorphia) if they had the chance to experience it.
    At the same time, I would say that the criticisms of it are entirely valid. The only reason it’s better, even important, is because of how screwed up things are. While it does seem to talk about personality traits as beautiful, I would submit that it only seems to do that; in fact, it discusses physical traits as though they indicate personality traits (“her face looks more open, friendlier”), and that is just bad news.
    Moreover, this is a commercial advertisement. The goal here is to sell Dove soap, not lift women’s self esteem. They are flattering women in order to get them to buy Dove soap. This does not negate the positive things I discussed in my first paragraph; the director and the sponsor may have different goals, after all. But in the end we can’t dispense with the cynical (and absolutely true) reading, in which Dove soap is preying on body shame and image-based insecurities in order to sell their product.

    • Made my afternoon.

    • Mike

      Awesome LOL…and true: dudes are on average much less good looking than women.

    • deiseach

      Gender-based advertising from That Mitchell and Webb Look : -)

  • Theodore Seeber

    What scares me most about that sketch artist commercial, is that from the point of view of an autistic man, I can’t see any of ugliness- and worse yet, I can’t see any of the beauty.

    Ok, there’s one thing worse: He’s a professional police sketch artist and NONE of his drawings look like the women he paired them up with.

  • Amy

    Is ‘fine eyes’ really a non-physical description? It seems to me that the expressiveness of a person’s eyes is related to physical traits like how clear and shiny they are, how big them are, how deeply they’re set in the face and how close to the nose they are. Bright eyes with clear, unstained white parts stand out from the rest of the face more and are associated with youth. You can even buy eye drops that claim to increase the whiteness of your eyes…

    The problem with the advert is that we aren’t told the forensic artist’s brief. He could easily have been told to make the second pictures slightly prettier (with the older, blonde woman it’s obvious the second picture is less detailed). We also didn’t see all the women that took part and there were no fat women in the advert- I wonder if they would have had the same experience, since people tend to judge fat people negatively. It also reinforces the idea that women should want and trust other people’s approval of them, instead of their own judgement. And I find it kind of patronising to be told ‘you’re more beautiful than you think’. You don’t know me, Dove! You don’t know what I think!

    I love the tears in space video. Space is so much more alien than science fiction makes it seem.

  • grok

    “— 6 —
    Oh, and meanwhile, at the CFAR blog, I’ve got a post up on the virtues of betting.”
    I’m having trouble seeing the text of your post at CFAR, Leah.


  • Skittle

    Oh, you might already know this, but you didn’t stick a link in. Number 4 comes from “Fake Science”, which can be found here: http://fakescience.org/post/47631566594/dont-daydream

    • leahlibresco

      Thanks, I had linked the image when you click on it, but you’re right to highlight the source more visibly.

      • Skittle

        Oops, sorry. My lack of attention!

  • Erin

    I’d put this on a more relevant post but I’m concerned that it would get lost in the depths of conversation…

    I’m doing a project on the necessity of critical thinking as part of education reform and was wondering if I could possibly ask you a few questions about your methodologies and way of approaching moral issues? As a virtue ethicist you should have a good grounding in critical thought and I have been reading your work for a while so I do know you have a *system,* I’m just a little unsure as to which posts would help me pull it out the best or if I could just ask you questions about it. (And it’s totally okay if you’re way too busy, I really should’ve thought about this weeks ago.)

    • leahlibresco

      Possibly. I’ll try to get to it, but I am coming up on a major crunch time at work. Email me at firstname.lastname@gmail.com

  • The new creativity is pointing, not making.

    “If new writing is just pointing to new content, where does the best new content come from?”

    “You’re very clever, young man, but it’s no use — it’s ‘pointing’ all the way down.”

    But maybe this isn’t quite fair. We might have new art, of a new creativity, progressively spun from a point of data by a progressively more sophisticated hivemind, with secondary sources mixed and melded as bits of paint on a pallette. Fun while it lasts, until you realize that mixing secondary colors and tertiary colors enough will turn a thing progressively into something very much like a monochrome brown, to paraphrase Chesterton.

    If this model utterly prevails, where will we have primary colors, and primary sources? Where will be the hues of truth? Will the spinners run out of things to spin? Having forgotten how to make the material spun, would they succeed only in reinventing the writer’s block?

    So this model really cannot utterly prevail. It may be a new and profitable discipline, and maybe even an all-subsuming wave of journalism, but it is not sustainable as a new wave of creative expression.

    • Calling it a curatorial impulse would be a better case than the poet himself makes, and this name also illustrates the deficiency of this means of creativity in art. What when there is nothing left to curate? Who will be an artist?

      Second post-script: Is his class merely an application of the universal artistic salvage movement called postmodernism to shorter attention spans, shallower memories, superior artifice?

      When there is nothing left to salvage, or the salvages run their course, the bubble will burst. I hope. Or maybe there will be some other new things in the world. I hope.

  • You can certainly see your expertise in the work you write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to mention how they believe. All the time follow your heart. “The only way most people recognize their limits is by trespassing on them.” by Tom Morris.