Dossier LELE- The writer in his century – Pulp magazines and Hard boiled fiction

KEY QUESTION: From Sherlock Holmes to Philip Marlowe or how did the detective become an anti hero?

Analyze popular fiction of the 1920s-1930’s with these stories from the pulp magazine Black Mask and hard-boiled novels . What do they say about society and era of the time?

AT A GLANCE: What the world was like in the 1930’s- 1950’s America

Ideologies of the society in which hard-boiled fiction was created

  • Prohibition was “the prevention by law of the manufacture and sale of alcohol, in the US between 1920 and 1933.
  • Large crime syndicates use and abuse ordinary men to increase their wealth. Nothing/no one will stand in their way (even the police)
  • Ready access to firearms reinforces American freedom to carry and use firearms
  • The protagonist has few ties to others, so that no one can get hurt, symbolises the shifting loyalty of a society and radical individualism.
  • Reinforce middle/working class values and make supremacy in a male-dominated world.

Pulp fiction

 

Femmes fatales were standard fare in hardboiled fiction.

From its earliest days, hardboiled fiction was published in and closely associated with so-called pulp magazines, most famously Black Mask. In its earliest uses in the late 1920s, « hardboiled » didn’t refer to a type of crime fiction; it meant the tough (cynical) attitude towards emotions triggered by violence.

Hardboiled writing is also associated with « noir fiction« .

Pulp historian Robert Sampson argues that Gordon Young‘s « Don Everhard » stories (which appeared in Adventure magazine from 1917 onwards), about an « extremely tough, unsentimental, and lethal » gun-toting urban gambler, anticipated the hardboiled detective stories.[7]

Black Mask moved exclusively to publishing detective stories in 1933, and pulp’s exclusive reference to crime fiction probably became fixed around that time, although it’s impossible to pin down with precision. The hardboiled crime story became a staple of several pulp magazines in the 1930s; in addition to Black Mask, hardboiled crime fiction appeared in Dime Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly.Later, many hardboiled novels were published by houses specializing in paperback originals, also colloquially known as « pulps ».

The cover of seminal hardboiled magazine Black Mask, September 1929, featuring part 1 of its serialization of The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. Illustration of private eye Sam Spade by Henry C. Murphy, Jr

Pulp magazines – Interesting facts

What it’s about: In the first half of the 20th century, fiction magazines were popular, and were typically printed on cheap paper made from wood pulp (as opposed to the glossy, high-quality paper used in traditional magazines). “Pulp” became shorthand for an often lurid and lowbrow style of writing that could include all manner of genre fiction—romance, mystery, horror, sci-fi, Westerns, and even softcore porn were all pulp mainstays.

So, what is this pulp style of writing? What makes literature snobs turn up their noses at the mention of pulp?

First and foremost, pulp storytelling is for the masses. It is accessible, not particularly deep or thought provoking, and gets to the heart of a tale with simple, descriptive, action filled words. It is storytelling at its purest, capturing the imagination, taking the reader outside of themselves and dropping them into a world of fantastic slightly larger than life characters.

A lot of what passes for thriller writing today, even those on the bestseller list, are pulp inspired, yet for me they miss the point as most consist of bloated filler designed to turn books into 400 — 700 page doorstops under the false assumption more is better. If you’re like me, you don’t have the time or patience to plow through 700 pages to read a story better served in 300 pages — or far less.

The writers who wrote for the pulp magazines back in the day understood this. Their audience wanted stripped down yarns filled with action, twists and turns, all with the point of providing reader satisfaction.

Strangest fact: The pulps were put out of business by Hitler! A paper shortage during the WWII made production costs untenable for most publishers of pulps, and most of the magazines either folded or switched formats. Some sci-fi and mystery titles switched to a smaller digest format, but most other titles—including well-known series like The ShadowDoc Savage, and Weird Tales—simply disappeared. After the war, the economy rebounded, but pulps didn’t. Genre fiction and its readers had moved on to comic books, book-length short story collections, and the nascent medium of television.

Thing we were happiest to learn: The pulps attracted some top-notch authors. While pulps paid less than books or glossy magazines, they could be a stepping stone to better work. They also paid in advance, so many authors used them as a means to supplement their income, or buoy a flagging career. At one point, Upton Sinclair wrote 8,000 words a day for pulps, often writing under multiple aliases so the magazines could run several stories by the same author without seeming monotonous. Unsurprisingly, an A-to-Z of sci-fi writers appeared in the pulps—AsimovBesterClarke—but you could also read work by Agatha ChristieWilliam S. BurroughsC.S. ForesterF. Scott FitzgeraldRudyard Kipling, and even Mark Twain. The first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Sinclair Lewis, got his start editing and writing filler material for a pulp called Adventure.

Things we were unhappiest to learn: PULPS and gender, race and war

Like pretty much everything in the first half of the 20th century, the pulps could be pretty racist. The Yellow Peril was a persistent theme in adventure stories, typified by villains like Fu Manchu, a series that was actually halted by the U.S. State Department during WWII for fear of alienating China, an important ally in the fight against Japan. (The Chinese embassy had also complained about the 1932 film The Mask Of Fu Manchu, which includes a scene of pan-Asian stereotypes plotting to “kill the white men and take their women.”

One area where the pulps were ahead of their time, socially, was in publishing gay-themed fiction. Because pulps weren’t considered “serious” literature, they escaped censorship to some degree, as their content was expected to be lurid. As a result, pulps were one of the only places you could read about gay and lesbian characters in pre-war America. To satisfy the censors, and the era’s cultural mores, the stories were almost universally cautionary—the heroes either ended up committed or dead (or magically turned straight) by story’s end. Still, pulp publishers churned out gay-themed stories, less out of altruism than because there was money to be made from a market that most of the country refused to acknowledge.

Also noteworthy: While the pulps themselves didn’t survive past the 1940s, many of their characters have. As 21st-century culture seems to be devoted almost solely to remaking things from the 20th, pulp staples like Conan The Barbarian, John Carter Of Mars, Tarzan, and Zorro have all seen recent updates.

Hardboiled (or hard-boiled) fiction is a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective stories). The genre’s typical protagonist is a detective who witnesses the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition (1920–1933) and its aftermath, while dealing with a legal system that has become as corrupt as the organized crime itself. Rendered cynical by this cycle of violence, the detectives of hardboiled fiction are often antiheroes. Notable hardboiled detectives include Philip MarloweMike HammerSam SpadeLew Archer, and The Continental Op.

The Hard-boiled detective  (from website : Crime culture)

-tough, unsentimental style (more realistic than classical detective fiction)

-often sordid urban backgrounds, and fast-paced, slangy dialogue

1920s and 1930s was the tough guy crime fiction of the hard-boiled tradition that started with the stories of ‘the Black Mask boys’. These ‘noir thrillers’ are stories that can be seen as very directly related to the socio-economic circumstances of the time.

CONTEXT

The sense of disillusionment in the years between the wars was heightened by political and economic disasters for which people were wholly unprepared: there was the folly of Prohibition and its attendant gangsterism, as well as growing evidence of illicit connections between crime, business and politics in American cities. Crises afflicted both American and European economies, bringing the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, which Keynes saw as the worst catastrophe of modern times. In the ‘hard-boiled’ and ‘noir’ fiction of this period, the anxious sense of fatality is usually attached to a pessimistic conviction that economic and socio-political circumstances will deprive people of control over their lives by destroying their hopes and by creating in them the weaknesses of character that turn them into transgressors or mark them out On the question of historical origin, I understand « hard-boiled » to originate in the twenties, while « noir » follows in the thirties, developing out of Cornell Woolrich and elements of Dashiell Hammettt and James Cain. Noir encompasses a wider, more flexible range ofplots, types, and themes than the hardboiled detective story, and is the inspiration for the film noir in the post WW2, Cold War period.

The private eye is 1) dedicated to the client, 2) economical, if not thrifty, in his expenses and personal habits, 3) loyal to his profession, 4) cooperative, to some degree, with the police, 4) concerned with self-survival, and 5) unwilling to be duped by anyone 6) vulnerable

Femme Fatale

irresistibly attractive woman, especially one who leads men into danger. In hard-boiled fiction, she is usually the protagonist’s romantic interest. The protagonist’s involvement with her may range from mild flirtation to passionate sex, but in the denouement he must reject or leave her, for the revealed plot shows her to be one of the causes A good example of how the femme fatale is used creatively is Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. There Sam Spade is attracted to three women, He is involved in an adulterous affair with his partner’s wife, Iva Archer. His secretary, Effie Perrine, is a tom-boyish, competent girl-next-door who would make the perfect spouse. Brigid O’Shaughnessy, the femme fatale, seems to promise sensuality and wealth, but Spade sees through her – and uses her when she thinks she is using him

These detectives were obviously different from Sherlock Holmes or other English detectives of the same period; they were also different from Poe’s Dupin. They saw the world from the perspective of the average citizen, the « man on the street, » rather than from an educated, aristocratic one.

The Roots of American & British Crime Fiction https://seonaidhceanneidigh.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/the-roots-of-american-british-crime-fiction/

British and American detective fiction share a common origin in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, but by the time they were enjoying their respective Golden Ages in the early twentieth century they had already become quite distinct from the other, with each possessing its own unique tropes and clichés. This article will look at the development of the hard-boiled and ‘soft-boiled’ genres, and provide an explanation for the British preference for the countryside and the American predilection for stories set in the ‘mean streets’ of L.A., San Francisco, etc. It will demonstrate that the differences between British and American crime fiction can be attributed not only to obvious matters of geography but also their social milieus, and that both the British and American detective were designed to fulfil very different purposes: stability and the preservation of the status quo in the case of the former, and a study into moral complexity and blue-collar sympathy regarding the latter.

The first literary detective was Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. Poe is the font from which all future crime writers drew their inspiration, but Dupin has more in common with British creations like Hercule Poirot than he does Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade. Dupin is European, eccentric, aristocratic, arcane in his pursuits and, like Sherlock Holmes, is best characterised as a ‘consulting detective’. Unlike later American detective stories, whenever Poe utilised miasmic streets and labyrinthine alleys he turned to London (The Man of the Crowd) or Paris (Murders in the Rue Morgue) as backdrop. Mid-to-late nineteenth century American fiction, when dealing with their own cities, tended to portray them as “urban-pastoral world[s] of primeval novelty” rather than “a city anyone ever inhabited.” The “mean streets” of Chandler and Hammett had yet to emerge from the turmoil of the new century.

The classic British detective story, according to P.D. James, was concerned with “bringing order out of disorder” and was typically “a genre of reconciliation and social healing”. Though detectives like Poirot sometimes found themselves jaunting between Britain, Egypt, Iraq and the Continent, the typical location for these stories was the countryside, often represented as “an ordered society in which virtue was regarded as normal, crime an aberration”. Readers could be assured that whenever a story’s mystery was resolved the countryside would be restored to its tranquillit by an omnisciently-observant gentleman detective.

These detectives were typically aristocratic and included doctors, solicitors, spinsters, and pastime sleuths. They were “never frightened or appalled, never himself (and occasionally herself) a victim of events, never outwitted or daunted” and their ultimate purpose was “to build and uphold a firm structure of social and moral values.” ……. The idealised British detective therefore was a paragon, especially equipped to remove crime from the countryside.

British crime fiction’s predilection for posing murder and mystery in the countryside rather than the city are manifold. Firstly, the early detective novels sprang from the country-house genre. ……..” ‘Country house’ novels typically explored small, interlocked communities where social and personal familiarity were key themes. …..Secondly, English rural writers and poets had long denigrated London and its “insolent rabble” and the “idle, profligate and debauched” therein. They came from a tradition that insisted upon the “very powerful myth of modern England in which the transition from a rural to an industrial society is seen as a kind of fall, the true cause and origin of our social suffering and disorder.” That cities were chaotic and polluted was a given, that they were troubled by incessant crime a certainty. For many intellectual and refined detectives the criminals in England’s cities were too common and their crimes too conventional. Crime fiction put knives and poisons in the hands of zealous parlour maids, butlers, housekeepers, fortune hunters etc… It took the strange and terrible and transposed it into the mundane and ordinary.

In Agatha Christie’s short story collection The Thirteen Problems a writer, a clergyman, a solicitor and a former police commissioner all debate on whose profession and “what class of brain” is best suited for solving mysteries. ……..

In true parlour fashion, the mysteries in The Thirteen Problems are merely mental exercises, solved from the comfort of an armchair, the stakes no higher than the loss of face during a guessing game. The book’s main device is what Poe called “ratiocination” (and what Christie’s own Poirot would refer to as his ‘little grey cells’); it is the unique ability to soak up details and turn out precise observations that reveal deeper or hidden truths.

….. This assumption highlights why the countryside was the perfect environment for a mystery story: the notion that a butler, vicar or maid could be a murderer is more likely to surprise a reader than if the suspects were a pickpocket, a burglar or any other felon. The detective novel’s purpose was to provide the stimulant of a puzzle and the thrill of revelation. It was not designed to remind readers of the squalor of the inner cities, but tease them with the exciting prospect that there was something hidden amongst the picket fences and cropped grass and familiar and genteel smiles of their neighbours. “Very painful and distressing things happen in villages sometimes,” Miss Marple teases in The Thirteen Problems.

Even the most famous city detective found the demure countryside landscape chilling. Sherlock Holmes, in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, utters that “The lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” And we must remember that London, as Watson tells us in A Study in Scarlet, is “that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.”

WHY DO WE LIKE ANTI-HEROES?  (see previous post)

Hard boiled detective in the mean streets of LA  (you tube video)

Hard Boiled Detective in the Pulps ( https://www.crimeculture.com/)

Started in the 1920s and perfected in the 1930s, the hard boiled detective was one of the most popular forms to arise from the pulp fiction magazines.

The hard boiled detective was a character who had to live on the mean streets of the city where fighting, drinking, swearing, poverty and death were all part of life. This new type of detective had to balance the day to day needs of survival against the desire to uphold the law and assist justice. Living in the toughest of environments, and required to be tougher than the evil surrounding him, our new heroes had to become « hard boiled ».

In this new world, the hard boiled detective began to administer a new form of justice where if need be, he himself would cross the line and break the law, to insure that justice was done. Our hero was thrust into a world where he had to choose between different levels of evil and no one was truly on the side of good. His survival often depended upon a shoot first, ask questions later approach where the ability to reason out a murder is less important than the ability to fight one’s way out of a jam.

This ushered in a new era of action packed detective stories where the murder no longer took place off stage and instead took place all around our hero on an ongoing basis. In some respects, the hard boiled detective was in response to the rising crime and gangster activity caused by Prohibition and then the Great Depression.

Hard-Boiled Fiction -American Hard-Boiled Crime Writing, 1920s-1940s  -From Crime Culture website

Early twentieth-century American crime fiction wasn’t entirely ‘hard-boiled’. America also produced its share of classic Golden Age whodunits, written in the 20s, for example, by S. S. Van Dine, and in the 30s by Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr. But the distinctively American contribution of the 1920s and 1930s was the tough guy crime fiction of the hard-boiled tradition that started with the stories of ‘the Black Mask boys’. These ‘noir thrillers’ are stories that can be seen as very directly related to the socio-economic circumstances of the time. Raymond Chandler wrote that the ‘smell of fear’ generated by such stories was evidence of their serious response to the modern condition: ‘Their characters lived in a world gone wrong, a world in which, long before the atom bomb, civilization had created the machinery for its own destruction and was learning to use it with all the moronic delight of a gangster trying out his first machine-gun. The law was something to be manipulated for profit and power. The streets were dark with something more than night.’

This type of crime fiction, then, began to develop as a popular form in the aftermath of one devastating war and came to maturity in the two decades that terminate in a second world war. In its most characteristic narratives, some traumatic event irretrievably alters the conditions of life and creates for its characters an absolute experiential divide between their dependence on stable, predictable patterns and the recognition that life is, in truth, morally chaotic, subject to randomness and total dislocation. In the best-known parable of ordinary life disrupted, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade (Maltese Flacon) tells the story of Flitcraft, who comes to realise life’s arbitrariness and absurdity when he is nearly killed by a falling beam. The American thrillers of the period repeatedly represent the sort of transformation that leaves the protagonist feeling, as Flitcraft does, that ‘someone had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works.’ The sense of disillusionment in the years between the wars was heightened by political and economic disasters for which people were wholly unprepared: there was the folly of Prohibition and its attendant gangsterism, as well as growing evidence of illicit connections between crime, business and politics in American cities. Crises afflicted both American and European economies, bringing the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, which Keynes saw as the worst catastrophe of modern times. In the ‘hard-boiled’ and ‘noir’ fiction of this period, the anxious sense of fatality is usually attached to a pessimistic conviction that economic and socio-political circumstances will deprive people of control over their lives by destroying their hopes and by creating in them the weaknesses of character that turn them into transgressors or mark them out as victims.

The Black Mask Boys

The most important publication of the 20s in encouraging and marketing the new kind of hard-boiled crime story was Black Mask. The magazine was founded in 1920 by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan; in the early 1920s, Dashiell Hammett and Carroll John Daly began writing for Black Mask, and the identity of the magazine became more sharply defined when the editorship was taken over in 1926 by Captain Joseph T. Shaw. Shaw encouraged a high standard of colloquial, racy writing, favouring ‘economy of expression’ and ‘authenticity in character and action’, all of which are important features of the hard-boiled style. Shaw greatly increased the circulation of Black Mask, and other pulp magazines (for example, Dime DetectiveDetective Fiction WeeklyBlack Aces) were soon competing in some numbers. Amongst the regular contributors to Black Mask, in addition to Daly and Hammett, were Paul Cain (George Sims), Raymond Chandler and Horace McCoy.

Hard-boiled protagonists

The most immediately recognisable iconic figure to emerge in the crime stories of this period is the hard-boiled investigatora tough, independent, often solitary figure, a descendant of the frontier hero and cowboy but, as re-imagined in the 1920s, a cynical city-dweller: ‘He finds no way out. And so he is slugged, shot at, choked, doped, yet he survives because it is in his nature to survive’ (Herbert Ruhm, The Hard-Boiled Detective). He can achieve a degree of control, but, unlike the classic Holmesian detective, he cannot restore order and set all to rights. The basic narrative pattern pits this lone investigator against brutal criminals, often in league with a corrupt power structure.

One finds, in the hard-boiled stories and novels of this period, two main types of investigators: on the one hand, those who possess some form of moral superiority (like Chandler’s Marlowe); on the other, those who are more implicated in the world of corruption, depicted as entering into a scene of disorder and acknowledging their own anarchic tendencies and capacity for violence (as in the novels of Hammett). These ‘compromised’ investigators are key figures in the evolution of literary noir, which, as it develops in the late 1920s and the 1930s, turns to the portrayal of deeply flawed, transgressive, often criminal protagonists.

The unsettling manipulation of point of view and the unstable position of the protagonist are key characteristics of the darker (more ‘noir’) types of hard-boiled crime story. We are often brought close to the mind of a protagonist whose position vis a vis other characters is not fixed; we see treacherous confusions of his role and the movement of the protagonist from one role to another. The victim might, for example, become the aggressor; the hunter might turn into the hunted or vice versa; the investigator might double as either the victim or the perpetrator. Whereas the traditional mystery story, with its stable triangle of detective, victim and murderer, is reasonably certain to have the detective as the protagonist, much of the crime fiction of this period deliberately violates this convention. Victim, criminal and investigator can all act as protagonists. An exploration of guilt is fundamental, and there can be no clear distinction between guilt and innocence.

Hammett and Chandler
Hammett’s output was surprisingly small: he wrote all of his novels between 1929 and 1934. His influence, however, has been enormous. He introduced characters who often quite closely conform to the description of the private eye as ‘half gangster’ – a man whose innocence has become so tarnished as to be no longer visible. Hammett’s impact was due in part to his ability in creating a distinctive voice, a true ‘hard-boiled’ style that is in itself an implicit rejection of bourgeois hypocrisy and conventional values. His spare, unembellished prose is appropriate to his no-nonsense protagonists. Hammett’s flawed, vulnerable narrators and his hard, direct representation of contemporary material give him an ability to lay bare the ‘heart, soul, skin and guts’ of a corrupt town (Red Harvest).

Hammett’s most famous successor, Raymond Chandler, started writing for Black Maskin December 1933. Chandler’s work is characterised by a much more consistent lightness of tone, combining witty detachment with an underlying sentimentality and romanticism. When Marlowe develops beyond the sketchily realised narrator of early stories like ‘Finger Man’, the fictional world created is always reliably mediated by the voice of a protagonist who unfailingly combines honourable conduct with penetrating judgement and self-mocking humour. Though Marlowe is caught up in plots of notorious complexity (and is significantly less in control than, say, the figure of the classic detective) he continues to provide the reassurance of a stable and trustworthy perspective. His detachment places him much closer to the masculine competence and ‘rightness’ of traditional detective fiction, and so moves him away from a noir sense of uncertainty.

The protective presence that Marlowe establishes is above all stylistic. The witty, ironic aloofness of his narrative acts to evaluate and to contain the moral disorder of the society he investigates. Marlowe’s self-ironising manner simultaneously acknowledges his limitations and draws attention to his separateness: ‘”Don’t make me get tough,” I whined. “Don’t make me lose my beautiful manners and my flawless English”‘ (Farewell, My Lovely). Marlowe’s superiority to his environment is not, though he is resilient, a matter of physical prowess but of a subtle intellect that can manage a self-deprecating joke even when he’s been sapped and imprisoned and ‘shot full of dope and locked in a barred room’. Unlike Hammett’s Op, Marlowe would never ‘go blood-simple’. As critics have often observed, when Marlowe does enter into conflict with the depraved society around him, his preferred role is that of the questing knight.

 

 

 

 

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WHY DO WE LIKE ANTI-HEROES?

 

dead pool image

This post will focus on the increasing popularity of anti heroes in TV series, to name a few : The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, House of cards, True Detective etc.. This type of character seems to have increased in popularity lately… why? Does it say something about us as a society?

But first let’ s define the anti hero and why we find him/her so interesting. As more nuanced characters, anti-heroes  have more issues and questions. You get a glimpse into their thoughts and emotions, and are able to see why they end up choosing exactly what they want to do. Anti-heroes can have moral failures and hypocritical beliefs, whereas traditional heroes tend to know what’s right and do it immediately. Because they are so strong in their moral beliefs, traditional heroes can be harder to relate to, and people enjoy characters they can understand.

Due to their lack of moral rectitude, anti-heroes have a tendency to be more relatable than heroes. They have more issues than heroes do, and they don’t just say okay and fight the bad guy. They question the bad guy, ask about his life, antagonize him and debate whether the fight really should happen. They tend to be more complex, which allows their storyline to be more three-dimentional, in other words more human.

Ultimately the anti-hero is more of a person, while the traditional hero is just that—a hero.

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Why are there so many TV anti-heroes?    Popular culture from the BBC

Morally reprehensible characters like Breaking Bad’s Walter White are all over our TV screens. But how did the anti-hero become such a fixture? Alan Moloney reports. (21 October 2014)

It’s the show that has already been labelled by many critics as one of the greatest ever made – and it has only two episodes left to air.  For the uninitiated, Breaking Bad follows the actions of Walter White, a high-school chemistry teacher who, on being told he has lung cancer, decides to ‘break bad’ and start making crystal methamphetamine to provide money for his family. The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan has said the plan was to tell a story about a man who transforms from “Mr Chips into Scarface”.

So how has it come to pass that a drug-dealing, murderous sociopath is now the lead character on a primetime American television show? A show that has only become more popular as Walt has descended further into the moral abyss?

As Daniel D’Addario of entertainment website Salon points out, the portrayal of leading TV characters has altered greatly over the past two decades. “Characters seem to get worse and worse – the fact that it seems hard to believe that there was a time when protagonists of TV series were, by and large, unambiguously heroic points to just how much has changed.” This trend was in evidence as early as 1993, with the airing of police drama NYPD Blue, a series that was described by the American Family Association as “soft-core porn” and featured in Andy Sipowicz a central protagonist who struggled against his own alcoholism, sexism and bigotry.

Moral maze

Why the change? The moral shift in television characters was undoubtedly facilitated by the rise of American TV cable networks. Networks gave programme-makers freedom to create content that didn’t need such wide appeal, and allowed programme-makers to push the boundaries of what could be shown.

Maureen Ryan, television critic of the Huffington Post, sees the moral compass of these characters as far less fixed than their forebears, “Now, there’s much more flexibility on where even mainstream comedies and dramas can draw that line. And at places like HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX and other cable networks the line can be just about anywhere, as long as the story behind the transgressive behaviour is compelling and the actions the characters take are, in some way or other, justifiable.”

The character that is routinely identified as breaking the traditional ‘hero’ mould is Tony Soprano – the central character in HBO’s The Sopranos. Tony is a man who cares deeply about his families (both the traditional and criminal one) and seems to yearn for a simpler time in American history. “What happened to Gary Cooper?” he asks in the series’ pilot episode, “The strong silent type. That was an American. He wasn’t in touch with his feelings. He just did what he had to do.”

Tony may have wanted to be Gary Cooper but he actually embodied television’s new American anti-hero, the man who indulges in his own transgressive behaviour and justifies his actions as being for the greater good – even if the greater good very often equated to his own.

Donna Bowman, a writer for entertainment newspaper The AV Club sees the anti-hero as “driven by the imperative of success and the imperative of security to do horrible, horrible things.” She adds: “We understand how conditions today don’t allow us to remain clean, and that it’s just a matter of how dirty we’re willing to get in pursuit of what we’ve always been told we should want.”

LA story

Tony Soprano may have come of age in a more troubled and complicated post-9/11 America but it was a Los Angeles police corruption scandal from the late 1990s that inspired a show that showed just how dirty one man was willing to become to get what he wanted.

The Shield debuted on US cable channel FX in 2002 and presented its central character, Detective Vic Mackey as, in his own words, “a different kind of cop”. For seven seasons he indulged in behaviour worse than the criminals he was chasing, while operating behind a badge of public trust. As Daniel D’Addario explains, “A TV show will go as far as it’s allowed. If there are effectively no structures, a show will place its star in far more dodgy situations.” And compared with Tony Soprano, The Shield offered Mackey, “even less chance at redemption.”

Maureen Ryan sees The Sopranos and The Shield as two of the most influential shows of this era. “A few years after The Shield and The Sopranos debuted and once the handcuffs were off in terms of how you could depict people and their motivations, it was as if a dam had been burst.” She adds that, “Creators were not only allowed to delve into difficult areas, they were encouraged to by a great many ‘me too’ cable networks, all of whom wanted to make their mark with shows that were perceived as dangerous and subversive.”

The Sopranos may have introduced the torch-bearing anti-hero, but Tony has since been joined by a plethora of others (both on US cable and network television). 24, House, Dexter, The Wire, Deadwood, House of Cards and Mad Men as well as countless others have all come to challenge the traditional notion of what it means to be a hero, asking just how far you can push a character and expect the viewer to stay with them. Tony Soprano, Vic Mackay and Don Draper all still have their advocates – despite their often despicable behaviour. Bowman believes that for these types of characters to engage with an audience, “We have to understand why they do what they do; their actions have to flow from character and circumstance that we comprehend.”

What then of Walter White and his transformation from “Mr Chips to Scarface”? Perhaps only when the series has ended will we be able to properly assess where he stands in the rogues’ gallery of television’s anti-heroes. But even death or redemption (if that is even possible) can’t change the dreadful effects of White’s actions over five years.

As Maureen Ryan puts it, “Lesser shows make you pump your fist and root for the lead characters, no matter what they’ve done. But first-rate shows never let you forget that the lead character is not someone you want to emulate, and at times, they make you question why you empathise with them at all.”


The Rise Of The Anti-Hero In Popular Culture

Why anti-heroes make me worry for the future. By  Sam Sachs, Feb 8, 2016 (https://www.theodysseyonline.com/)

We live in a society that has idolized the hero. They started as the Knights of the Round Table, then they were the Phantom, and Superman. Heroes took over popular culture, especially in the form of comic books. In the 1960s, the protagonist characters who were normally heroes took a turn towards something darker.

Heroes became complicated, they went from characters who filled every ideal of the perfect champion of justice and turned into grim, weary men and women. Batman, Spawn, Rorschach from “Watchmen,” Alan Moore’s V, Walter White, all of them were characters who strove to achieve justice or do the right thing, but without the same rules as the rest of the heroes of their times.

So what is it about these darker characters that makes them so popular with audiences? Some writers explain the anti-hero’s popularity on wish fulfillment fantasies. Author Auden Johnson explains it through describing the characters as not being “restrained by consequences,” fulfilling a fantasy that many people feel in their day to day lives. Characters like Rorschach, violent vigilantes, take the law far past into their own hands, acting as judge, jury and executioner.

It fills a certain visceral need people feel to mete out retribution for legitimate or perceived wrongs. This frustration with the state of things has continued to grow, especially in recent years. As humans, we need outlets for our angers and frustrations. Unfortunately, we can’t punch someone in the face just because they bother us, we can’t just scream and break things when our days don’t go well.

The rise of the anti-hero is a result of both mounting anger in readers and a desensitization to violence that has increased as the years have passed. Such desensitization to violence makes men and women not be shocked by nor put off from it. A University of Alabama at Birmingham study from January 2016 found that “Exposure to violence at high levels or across multiple contexts has been linked with emotional desensitization, indicated by low levels of internalizing symptoms.”

When we don’t react to violence due to lack of emotional sensitivity to it, it becomes something cool. Violence and retribution aren’t discouraged, they’re viewed as entertainment. Anti-heroes fill this niche in what we read, watch and play, assuming the role of a character who “takes no sh*t” from anyone and does whatever they want, while still fulfilling the role of a champion. Outlaws have become romantic figures, idealized as misunderstood heroes rather than men and women who act outside of any laws but their own.

AMC’s “Breaking Bad” was a hugely popular drama for five years. A chemistry teacher dying of cancer just wants to be able to leave his family enough money to live comfortably when he dies, but as a teacher, he earns little. When combined with the insanely high costs of medical care, he turns his knowledge of chemicals into cooking methamphetamines to save money for his family. Throughout the show, Walter transitions from loving family man with a dark secret to full-on villain-level scheming and darkness.

Despite his actions, viewers loved Walter more and more, and hated the more moral characters who got in his way. The line between justice and righteousness, and self-fulfillment has become blurred, with anti-heroes surging in their popularity as a result. These characters who defy authority more as a personality trait than as a choice are indicative of a growing problem in our society.

People are angry and frustrated with their situations. Gas prices are too high, a public figure famous for family values is revealed to be a child molester and adulterer, the government is allowing corporations to buy off policy changes and prevent progress. Walmart moved the kitchen supply aisle from one side of the store to the other without any warning.

The rise of the anti-hero heralds a new social climate, where acting on your frustrations is respected more than showing restraint. It shows a society where due process and rationality are knocked aside in favor of instant gratification. With role models shifting from heroes to anti-heroes, what’s to stop someone from copying them and acting on their fantasy, taking justice into their own hands?

The right answer should be the people themselves. Looking at the state of the world, I can’t trust that answer.

Can you?


5 types of anti-heroes (https://thewritepractice.com/anti-heroes/)

The Classical Anti-Hero

Traditionally, a classical hero is a character who always wins their battles, with sharp intellect, unshakable self-confidence, and excellent judgment.

So it stands to logic that the classical anti-hero, which is the original anti-hero, is terrible in a fight, is not the brightest crayon in the box, riddled with self-doubt, and makes decisions based on self-preservation instead of bravery. The classical anti-hero’s story arc follows the conquering of his own fears and coming to terms with himself to fight whatever threat faces him.

Frodo falls into this category, since he’s a decent guy, but there’s a lot of baggage that comes with carrying that ring through three books.

The “Disney” Anti-Hero

This is what most people tend to think of today when they think of an anti-hero. At his core, the Disney Anti-Hero is still fundamentally good, but doesn’t have the relentless optimism of a classical hero.

They tend to be sarcastic and more realistic, and tend to put logic before honor, but they won’t outright perform acts that are morally ambiguous. Like the Classical Anti-Hero, odds are pretty good that this type of anti-hero will develop into a classical hero by story’s end.

Haymitch Abernathy from the Hunger Games trilogy and Severus Snape of Harry Potter fame are two good examples of this type of anti-hero.

The Pragmatic Anti-Hero

The Pragmatic Anti-Hero is basically exactly what it sounds like. Generally no worse than neutral in morality, the Pragmatic Anti-Hero takes a big-picture view of his role, and if something or someone needs to be sacrificed for the greater good, so be it.

They won’t kill indiscriminately though: anyone who dies at the hand of the Pragmatic Anti-Hero either had it coming, or had to be killed in order to achieve the higher goal. These anti-heroes are equally as likely to defect from classical heroism by the end of the story as they are to convert.

Harry Potter himself, by the end of the series, fulfills this role, as he is constantly breaking rules, and uses two unforgivable curses and robs a bank by series’ end in order to off Voldemort once and for all.

The Unscrupulous Hero

This is as dark as you can get with your anti-hero while still being technically good.

The Unscrupulous Hero lives in a world that has a morality that is made up of varying shades of grey, with their grey being slightly lighter than that of the villains. Often they live in a really crappy setting, which accounts for their distrust of humanity and penchant towards violence. They’re big on revenge, and when they take their revenge, count on it being something to see. There might be some collateral damage in their actions, but that doesn’t faze them.

Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series and the Blues Brothers of the titular film are examples of this type of anti-hero: their intentions are good, and they are fighting on the moral high side, but they don’t really care how much damage they cause or who they double-cross on their way to achieving their goals.

The “Hero” in Name Only

These anti-heroes fight on the side of good, but they have no good motivation. Either their intentions are completely selfish, and they only happen to be pointing their weapons at the token bad guys, or their motivations are only slightly less terrible than the villains’. Sometimes they’re just bored and need someone to point a gun at.

You’ll still root for them, but you won’t agree with a lot of the ways they do things.

Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s re-imagining of the character is an example, since he explicitly describes himself as a high-functioning sociopath, and makes it clear that he only takes on cases that he finds mentally stimulating. Dexter of the TV series of the same name walks the line between this and a villain protagonist.

Which is your favorite anti-hero type?

PRACTICE

Pick one of these types of anti-heroes and write for fifteen minutes, introducing your reader to the character. Give a sense of your anti-hero’s motivation.


Anti-heroes What makes them different?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbYD6AQ6e60

antiheroes

HOW HAVE OUR HEROES CHANGED?

How Have our Heroes Changed? By Mark Tapson (from Pop Culture matters)

The fourteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this past Friday was a somber reminder to Americans of the first responders and their heroic sacrifice on that terrible morning. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters perished that day, as well as sixty police officers and eight paramedics, all rushing to the aid of others with a disregard for their own safety. That selfless service, says author Tod Lindberg, that willingness to put their own lives on the line for the lives of complete strangers, is precisely the quality that defines the modern hero—and distinguishes him or her from heroes past.

In his short but deeply considered new book The Heroic Heart: Greatness Ancient and ModernLindberg examines greatness from its most distant origins in human prehistory to the present. Through character studies of heroes both real and literary, he explains the conception of heroism in the ancient world, how it differs in our time, and the ways in which these heroic types have shaped the political realm and vice versa.

Whether ancient or modern, the distinctive characteristic of the heroic figure, Lindberg begins, “is the willingness to risk death.” A hero overcomes what Thomas Hobbes called our “continual fear of violent death” and is willing to embrace his fate “in accordance with an inner sense of greatness or exceptional virtue.”

The model hero in ancient times was of the conquering, killing sort, a warrior earning renown by slaying piles of enemies on the battlefield. Think of Homer’s Achilles, whom Lindberg examines at length: a self-centered, petulant demigod, perhaps, but a warrior of superhuman caliber. Or Julius Caesar, a man so determined to be the greatest man in Rome that he would destroy the Republic in a civil war rather than rein in his ambition.

But over the centuries, the slaying hero gradually fell out of fashion, thanks in large measure to the horrors of World War I and Vietnam, not to mention the rise of the literary antihero such as The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield. Our ideal of the hero morphed instead into a courageous soul who is no less afraid of death but more focused on saving lives than taking them. Achilles’ modern counterpart acts not to kill and conquer, but to serve and save others. “From slaying to saving,” writes Lindberg, “from the highest, riskiest expression of self-regard to the highest, riskiest expression of generosity and the caring will.”

Lindberg uses the history of the Congressional Medal of Honor—the U.S. military’s highest decoration—to demonstrate this evolution of heroism. He reviewed the award from its creation during the Civil War to the present, and concluded that “the percentage of citations that include a saving narrative [as opposed to a killing narrative] has increased markedly” over time. The significance of this shift?

If the military itself . . . now designates its highest heroes not on the basis of their infliction of violent death on an enemy but on the saving of lives, then we have perhaps reached the point in the development of the modern world at which the modern, saving form of heroism has eclipsed the vestigial forms of classical heroism and their slaying ways for good.

The hero as slayer versus the hero as lifesaver: That is the crux of the difference between the classical and the modern form of heroism. Greatness versus equality. Ego versus generosity. “I am someone” versus “I can do something for someone.”

The modern hero sacrifices, as Lindberg puts it, “in service to a greater purpose. Their purpose has not been the classical hero’s purpose, namely, the actualization of their sense of inner greatness.” Instead, “the modern meaning of greatness is service to others.” (his emphasis)

Curiously, though, Lindberg points out that the spirit of modern heroism, the antithesis of the conquering hero, is most grandly embodied in the ancient figure of Jesus of Nazareth, the “Savior” God who died on the cross to redeem the human race. Today that spirit is personified in such heroes as the World Trade Center responders on 9/11, the medical personnel from Médecins sans Frontières, the three unarmed Americans who recently took down a heavily-armed jihadist aboard a French train. They and others like them constitute “the modern face of heroism.”

For Tod Lindberg, this evolution is a positive development—but we cannot be complacent. There is no guarantee that the more destructive form of hero—the  conquering, slaying sort—won’t return, unless we prevent him. His chilling example of a modern slaying hero?

Osama bin Laden.


Who Are the Real Heroes in Today’s World?  Updated on July 13, 2017 Pamela Mae Oliver 

Who Are Your Heroes?

Are they sports champions that may have carried a team to an award winning season, or maybe they’re an Olympian who took home the gold?

Is your hero a celebrity who takes home the awards from starring roles in movies or television, or plays music for thousands of screaming fans in sold out stadiums?

Or maybe your hero is the CEO of a large cooperation who keeps the profit margins high for investors, a political figure who has successfully served the people for several terms, or a religious leader who has led many people on their spiritual journeys.

While all these professions certainly do include many people who inspire and lift our expectations of ourselves and others to a higher plane, giving them the title « Hero » doesn’t always apply.

Pick a Hero

Who would you bestow the title « Hero » on?

  • A Teacher; who gives personal time to help a struggling student.
  • Oprah Winfrey; a television icon, and philanthropist.
  • A Firefighter; who risks his/her life to save someone.
  • Jon Bon Jovi; a rock star, and actor.
  • A Soldier; who risks his/her life keeping others safe.
  • Steve Jobs; an innovator in technology, and CEO of a high profile company.
  • A Police Officer: who risks his/her life to protect others.
  • Emit Smith; a professional football player, and award winning dancer.

Defining a « Hero »

So, what is the difference between a person who is a « Real Hero, » and a person who is an icon, an idol, a mentor, or is setting a good example? And, why is it important to split hairs on this point?

Because, if we’re not conscientious about who we honor with the extraordinary title of « Hero, » then it will come to mean very little.

For example, the word « Awesome. » The Northern Lights are awesome; inspiring jaw dropping ‘awe’ and eye popping ‘wonder’ at the beauty of the natural spectacle. But, in recent times, the word awesome has come to be used as slang; as in, « Wow, your new shoes are awesome. » While shoes can be pretty, nice, or even fabulous, shoes can’t be considered awesome. Societies’ incessant use of the word ‘awesome’ has diminished its meaning; thereby, diminishing what really is awesome.

The same goes for word hero. With diminished use of the word, comes diminished meaning of the title. We, as a society, soon lose sight of what it really means to be a hero, and real heroes lose the degree of respect they deserve.

Definition of « Hero. »

  • A Hero is someone who rises up, from whatever their station in life is, or whatever their circumstances are, and comes to embody a representative of the highest level that a human being can attain.
  • A Hero is someone who knowingly and voluntarily makes a conscious decision to sacrifice something of one’s self for the greater good of others.
  • A Hero doesn’t seek notoriety or praise for personal glorification, but instead, uses whatever attention he receives to perpetuate his achievements to a greater degree.
  • The actions of a hero make a positive impact on another, or many, so as to change or alter the outcome of a situation that would otherwise be detrimental.
  • A Hero contributes something beneficial to the world for the betterment of humanity as a whole, or for the spiritual world in creating a path that leads us all in higher directions.
  • A Hero does not expect compensation for their heroic deed.

Not a Daisy

Many people define a hero as someone who is in a traditional hero role or profession; such as, a firefighter, a police officer, or a soldier. But, wearing the uniform of these noble professions does not automatically elevate an individual to the status of hero.

According to an article in thetimes-tribune.com, « Firefighters who start fires, and why they do it, have long been part of an American obsession with true crime. » Firefighter-arsonists are a problem that is often downplayed for department morale reasons, but it is a real problem, which many believe stem from a « hero complex. » The need to be a hero becomes so overwhelming to the disturbed firefighter, that they set a fire, become the first one there, and perform heroically in order to receive the accolades.

Police Officers encounter extraordinary amounts of illicit circumstances, which predisposes them to corruption. According to an article in the dailymail.com, « Anti-corruption units across the country are wrestling with a workload of 245 cases every month, a rise of 62 per cent from the year before. In most of the investigations, eight out of ten involve officers accused of illegally disclosing information to criminals and third parties. »

Soldiers certainly aren’t exempt from corruption. Just this week, a jury selection is being held for a U.S. soldier who killed 16 Afghan civilians. According to an article featured in worldnews.nbcnews.com, « A U.S. service member shot dead at least 15 members of two Afghan families as well as a 16th person before turning himself in, officials said Sunday. U.S. officials said the soldier was a staff sergeant. Some witnesses said more than one soldier was involved, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai in a statement cited only one shooter in what he called « an assassination, » adding that nine of the dead were children, and three were women. The soldier reportedly left his base in the early hours Sunday and went to two villages just a few hundred yards away. He then opened fire on Afghan civilians sleeping in their homes. »

The point here is not to discredit these noble professions, but to show that it takes more than a uniform and a title to be a real hero.

Not A Daisy, but a Rose

What it takes is exemplified by many every day who not only wear the uniform, but also walk the walk and talk the talk. Take for instance Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe. According to an article in Stars and Stripes (www.stripes.com) Sgt. Cashe became the ultimate hero.

« When the roadside bomb detonated, it ripped through the fuel tank of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and ignited like napalm. The seven men seated inside were knocked unconscious and had no chance to escape the fire.

But the gunner, Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, managed to crawl out of the burning wreckage. Wounded and drenched in diesel fuel, he pulled the Bradley’s driver from his seat before the flames reached there, dragging him to safety.

And then he went back.

The 16-year Army veteran had seen a dozen of his men die on that tour in Iraq, and he couldn’t bear to lose another. His uniform caught fire as he desperately tried to open the Bradley’s hatch.

By the time he got in, all he had on was his body armor and helmet, the rest of his uniform in ashes or seared to his skin. With help, he carried one of his dying men out of the fire and back to horrified medics trying to triage their charred colleagues.

And then he went back.

Soldiers couldn’t tell what rounds pinging off the Bradley were from insurgents’ weapons and which ones were from their own ammunition ablaze in the vehicle. As he reached the next soldier, Cashe tried to douse the fire on his uniform, only to realize that his own skin was peeling off from the heat. As another soldier helped pat out the flames, Cashe moved the next wounded friend to safety.

And then he went back.

Cashe was the last of the injured to be evacuated from the scene. Doctors later said he suffered second and third degree burns over 90 percent of his body, but he still walked off the battlefield under his own power. »

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe, and five of the men he saved from the blazes, succumbed to their burns and wounds weeks later in Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Cashe was able to tell his family that he was glad that at least his men had been able to say « goodbye » to their families.

Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn Cashe is one of my heroes.

NYC Firefighters Raising the Flag 911

Never Forget

No one will ever forget the courageous acts of heroism by New York City Firefighters and Police Officers during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Trade Towers and The Pentagon. Three hundred and forty-three firefighters and 60 police officers gave up their lives for what they truly believed in.

In responding to the screams of people who were trapped inside the burning buildings,these brave heroes ran to, and entered a building they knew they may not exit. Because of their brave, selfless efforts, hundreds were saved.

These courageous souls are my heroes.

Sheroes

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Malala Yousafzai

Lifetime Heroes

There are many everyday heroes, whose heroic acts go undocumented, unheard of, and unappreciated.

Teachers who notice a student with reoccurring bruises, or mismatched shoes, or no lunch money, and take the initiative to get involved.

Doctors who perform their services free of charge for someone who has no insurance.

The homeless person who struggles to feed himself, but shares what he has with a starving animal.

Some spend their lives as a hero, or as a « Shero. »

Mother Teresa spent her life caring for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. She devoted her life to caring for the sick, the poor, and established a hospice center for the blind, aged, and disabled; and a leper colony. Mother Teresa exemplifies what it means to sacrifice your life, in a lifelong effort, for others.

Malala Yousafzai is a 15 year old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban, because she « promoted Western thinking » in that she had criticized the Taliban’s actions against women. Malala stated her belief that all girls should have the opportunity to go to school, and for that, she was targeted and shot. Now, after her recovery, she is bravely doing just that and returning to school. Malala is living a very dangerous life on a daily basis, standing up for girls and women’s rights everywhere.

Who Are Your Heroes/Sheroes?

Icons, idols, mentors, or heroes? Where do you see the differences?

Who are they? What have they done that you honor them with the title « Hero? »

THE POWER OF WORDS

peace_and_war_gun_words-other-1000x666

  • “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” George Orwell
  • Jean-Paul Sartre said, « Words are loaded pistols. »

In the following video, a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt reads, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in their leader. A great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.” The quote is a good reminder that leaders must be careful with their words—words can either hurt or heal. Words can inflame hatred or raise spirits. Used wisely, words can unleash the best in others

VIDEO: Leaders Who Master The Power Of Words Inspire Change

The video highlights historical and contemporary leaders whose powerful and inspiring voices triggered movements and inspired change.

Many speeches are available on You Tube, and I would recommend the following to illustrate the power of specch: Washington’s farewell, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Winston Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight,’ Kennedy’s and Obama’s inaugural addresses, and also powerful speeches performed by young teens : Malala, Naomie Wadler, Severn Cullis

It is interesting to study what these speeches have in common to understand what made them so powerful.  Aristotle’ s rhethoric on the art of persuasion:

Pathos (appeal to emotions)
Logos (appeal to logical reasoning)
Ethos (credibility)
NOTIONS : Seats and forms of power, Idea of Progress, Myths and heroes
Questions around the power of words:
Do words have the power to change our lives?
How do great leaders inspire action?
Words can unite but also divide-
You may also want to use a quote to start your oral presentation (see quotes above) –
In this post, we have studied the power of words through speeches, but since words are everywhere you may want to tackle the topic through another angle : the power of songs (see previous post), the power of the press and how it uses words to catch the reader’ s attention and distort information, the power of commercials, the power of tweets etc…

 

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I’m not a robot !

artificial-intelligence-2167835__340

1)      What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machine that work and reacts like humans.

2)      What is an artificial intelligence Neural Networks?

Artificial intelligence Neural Networks can model mathematically the way biological brain works, allowing the machine to think and learn the same way the humans do- making them capable of recognizing things like speech, objects and animals like we do.

3)      What are the various areas where AI (Artificial Intelligence) can be used?

Artificial Intelligence can be used in many areas like Computing, Speech recognition, Bio-informatics, Humanoid robot, Computer software, Space and Aeronautics’s etc.

2 videos that will help you better understand what AI is:

AI explained in 101 seconds

What is artificial Intelligence? BBC news

Good films to illustrate the topic

The top 20 artificial intelligence films from the Guardian

Opinion:

Stephen Hawking who died recently had a strong position towards AI: He was  concerned that artificial intelligence could replace humans.

The world-renowned physicist feared that somebody would create AI that would keep improving itself until it’s eventually superior to people.

He said the result of this would be a “new form” of life.

“I fear that AI may replace humans altogether,” he said in an interview with Wired magazine, seen by Cambridge News.

“If people design computer viruses, someone will design AI that improves and replicates itself. This will be a new form of life that outperforms humans.”

This is far from the first time Mr Hawking has spoken out about the development of AI.

Earlier this year, he called for technology to be controlled in order to prevent it from destroying the human race, and said humans need to find a way to identify potential threats quickly, before they have a chance to escalate and endanger civilisation.

Back in 2015, he also expressed fears that AI could grow so powerful it might end up killing humans unintentionally.

Another recent event on the topic: In the NYT thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes.

THESIS FOR YOUR ORAL EXAM : SHOULD WE FEAR AI?

 

 

 

MLK : A monument, an iconic figure, a hero? Why is he still so relevant today?

His fight then:

In May 1963, in Birmingham, Ala., Dr. King organized the most brilliant civil disobedience campaigns of his career, when he brought more than a thousand black schoolchildren into the streets to demonstrate against segregation. Hundreds were arrested; others were blasted with fire hoses. When people rebuked Dr. King for putting young people at risk, he said: “Don’t hold them back if they want to go to jail. For they are doing a job not only for themselves, but for all of America and for all mankind.” The world reacted, shamed the city and Birmingham took its first steps toward desegregation. Thousands of school children and students are marching today  against gun violence. Had he survived, he would have surely been among them as he was in Birmingham. He fought for racial equality and voting rights, for fair wages and the reproductive rights of women. And in doing so, Martin Luther King Jr. became one of the pioneers of the American model of nonviolent protesting that’s practiced to this day. On the 50th anniversary of his assassination, let’ s take a look at how Americans emulate him, consciously or not, in today’s political movements.

MLK still relevant today : compare these photos

MLK protest with kids

Racial inequality: then :The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gives a young protester a pat on the back as a group pickets against segregation in St. Augustine, Fla., on June 10, 1964. “This is the ultimate tragedy of segregation,” King said in an address to the National Council of Churches in 1957. “It not only harms one physically, but it injures one spiritually. It scars the soul and distorts the personality. It inflicts the segregator with a false sense of superiority, while inflicting the segregated with a false sense of inferiority.”

kids protest today

Racial inequality: now :Jayceon Hurtz, 2, holds a sign as Black Lives Matter protesters rally March 28, 2018, in response to the police shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, Calif. Clark, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by police March 18 while in his grandmother’s backyard

dream MLK

Fair wages: now Fast food workers and union members carry signs as they stage a protest outside a McDonald’s in Oakland, Calif., on Feb. 12, 2018. The protesters were demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage on the 50th anniversary of the start of the historic Memphis Sanitation Strike that was led by King.

Dr King, at the end of his life, said that all worthy leaders should live a life of « dangerous unselfishness ». Had he been here today, as he was for countless campaigns for social justice in the 1950s and 60s, he would have been walking hands in hands with protesters of March for Our Lives, BLM, Metoo, Never Again.

An article to illustrate his heritage and impact on US society:

The life and legacy of MLK

Political atmosphere today in the US : progress is cut off but let’ s remember the sermon he gave before he died, somber and cautionary but also full of hope: « Only when it’s dark enough, can you see the stars ».

What Martin Luther King Jr. Might Think About America Today

After the Panana papers, here come the Pentagone papers

the post film

Steven Spielberg directs Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in The Post, a thrilling drama about the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham (Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers – and their very freedom – to help bring long-buried truths to light.

Following a recent article published by the Guardian after the release of Spielberg’s movie The Post. Daniel Ellsberg, the US whistleblower celebrated in Steven Spielberg’s new film, The Post, was called “the most dangerous man in America” by the Nixon administration in the 70s. More than 40 years later, the man he helped inspire, Edward Swoden was called “the terrible traitor” by Donald Trump, as he called for Snowden’s execution.

Is whistleblowing worth prison or life in exile?

This article along with the recent Spielberg’ s movie The Post are raising many questions about the freedom of the press.

See a previous post entitled Powers and counter-powers. There you will find many questions to be raised about the power of the press. The two previous documents (the film and the article are great to support a problematic such as Should classified elements remain secret?

 

 

NOTIONS – TOPICS – PROBLEMATIQUES

Welcome to the new school year 2017-2018!

This blog is going to focus on the 4 notions and their definition. First by looking at the notions, you will notice that they all include 2 terms which are linked together by “and” or “of”. (Spaces AND exchanges, seats AND forms of power, the IDEA of PROGRESS, myths AND heroes)

  • Interroger la mise en relation des termes – cette relation est-elle de complémentarité? d’ opposition? de corrélation? de causes ou d’effets? Ainsi vous éviterez de ne traiter qu’un terme ou les traiter l’un après l’autre alors qu’ils sont liés entre eux. Posez vous la question : “quel enjeu puis-je dégager de cette confrontation des termes ?”

Idea of progress : il s’agit bien de l’idee de progres- donc de la représentation que nos sociétés se font du progrès – et pas seulement du progrès  en lui-même. Viewed from this angle, progress becomes a double-edged sword.

I am going to give you very simple definitions of the notions, but I will advise you to come up with your own definition. A list of topics will also be given but it is the key question (la problematique) which will determine the choice of your documents.

FORMULER UNE PROBLEMATIQUE

CONCRETEMENT UNE PROBLEMATIQUE C’ EST:

  • Une question ouverte à laquelle on ne répond pas par oui ou par non
  • Elle est introduite par : How, to what extent, why, etc..

Myths and Heroes

Myths exist in every society, as they are basic elements of human culture. We can understand a culture more deeply and in a much better way by knowing and appreciating its stories, dreams and myths.There are many types of myths such as classic myths, religious myths, and modern myths etc.  

A Hero can be a mythological figure, a person who is admired for his or her achievements, a superhero or maybe a role model or an icon. Therefore heroes, just like myths, can be real or fictitious. Heroes are people we can look up to, people who inspire like sport personalities, political figures, entrepreneurs, artists, etc..  Heroes lead, inspire, and entertain the masses.

A few examples in the English speaking world:

  • rags to riches stories : Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, JK Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, Andrew Carnegie, Charlie Chaplin,Anita Roddick
  • Historical figures or National leaders who can be considered as heroes: Queen Victoria, Elisabeth I and II, Obama, Mandela, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzi, Ghandi …..
  • Founding myths of the United States (Pilgrim Fathers, The myth of the frontier, the myth of the Road, the Gold Rush, the American dream, witch hunts)
  • Unsung Heroes or fallen heroes of the Vietnam War that are portrayed in American films (Platoon, Born on the 4th July, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket)
  • Pop stars or sports heroes (and fallen idols)
  • American movies and comics: superheroes such as Superman or Captain America and their role in society/world
  • British heroes or heroines: Churchill, Florence Nightingale, the Suffragettes, Stephen Hawking…..
  • British myths and legends: Robin Hood, King Arthur, etc.

In our class, we will focus on the topic of  Witch Hunting in the USA by asking the following questions : Are witches a myth of the past ? From Witch-hunts and Communist-hunts to Terrorist-hunts Why have witch hunts been a recurrent element in modern American history?

The Idea of Progress

The idea of progress is the idea that advances in technology, science and social organisation can bring about a positive change to our society. These advances help improve our daily lives and give us a better quality of life. Social progress, scientific progress and economic development are usually considered as having a positive effect on our society. However the idea of progress is not progress since there are some cases where this change can have a negative effect too. Very often progress is also accompanied by opposition because society isn’t comfortable with the changes being made (same sex marriage, women’s rights, minority rights). We can ask ourselves whether progress is always positive?

There are many kinds of progress and they can be divided in diverse areas.

  1. Technological progress

The technological advances of the last decades have totally changed our world. For example, the arrival of internet has changed the way we communicate. On the one hand we have access to far more information than before, we can easily communicate across borders, buy new products, be informed about the latest news events, share our opinions about different topics but on the other hand, many people have become addicted to social media and this creates new problems such as depression, isolation, bullying, cyber criminality…..

  1. Scientific progress

Scientific progress has had a direct impact on the improvement of human life. Thanks to advances in medicine we can cure illnesses that could never have been cured in the past. Vaccinations,Antibiotics, painkillers and other medical treatments have helped to improve our general state of health and survival rates. But could there be a point where progress come too far? What should be the importance given to ethics? What about scientific progress in the area of cures for illnesses, cloning, performance enhancing drugs,   genetically modified organisms etc?

  1. Social progress

Social progress most often comes about when members of a population feel oppressed,  or second-class citizens (women’s rights, civil rights, etc).

Examples can be:

  • Scientific Progress – Medical advances, cures for illnesses, cloning, performance, enhancing drugs,   genetically modified organisms.
  • Technological Progress-  technologies to slow down climate change such as hybrid cars, wind turbines, solar panels, biofuel…..
  • Advances in communication:  the internet, social media, mobile phones, video games – how  they have changed our lives and the dangers of these modern ways of communication
  • Robots, automated production
  • Nuclear Power – for and against
  • Social Progress: changes in the quality of life – how does progress affect our/a society?
  • Education, employment, equality, family life, Women’s rights, human rights, minority rights The idea of liberty, freedom, democracy

We will focus on 2 topics

Scientific Progress :  Science and fiction : Does fiction draw inspiration from science or is it the other way round?

Social progress : Why is India said to be a country of contradiction?

Places and Forms of Power (also called Seats and Forms of Power)

In politics and social science, power is the ability to influence people’s behaviour. In order to live together members of a community accept rules, regulations, laws. This helps to create social cohesion but can also lead to conflicts and tensions. Even when authority seems absolute, there are always counter-powers which question it, aim at limiting its excesses and resist it. Power is also associated with authority and influence and certain places can be associated with the authority – for example the White House and the President of the USA, 10 Downing Street and the British Prime Minister etc..

Examples to illustrate the notion can be:

  • the power of the media (reality tv, internet v written press)
  • Financial power (the power of money)
  • Inequalities between blacks and whites – the fight against oppression and segregation (South Africa, USA)
  • The Civil Rights movement and political recognition : Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X (can also be linked to the notion of Myths and Heroes)
  • The power of Art (The Harlem Renaissance – Banksy..)
  • Cinema and power: how do films influence society? Movie stars using their fame to influence public opinion on certain topics (Leonardo Dicaprio, Schwarzenegger)
  • The power of education: improving knowledge and education across the world and enabling access to education for all (Malala)
  • The power of music and the music industry: songs used to change people’s opinions on political subjects (vietnam war, US President, poverty, climate change), pop stars who use their fame to bring about changes in the world (Bono, Bob Geldof, Madonna)
  • People’s empowerment

We will focus on

Protest songs : How have protest songs fought political power? How have they contributed to social progress?  (also to be linked with Myths and heroes because some of these protest songs have become myths – also to be linked with the notion of Idea of progress – how have these songs contributed to social progress?)

Civil Rights: To what extent have African Americans achieved equal civil rights? Are African Americans still second-class citizens? (also to be linked with Myths and Heroes and Idea of Progress) : MLK, Rosa Parks etc… Heroes who have inspired others and contributed to social progress

ART as a form of power : How has the Harlem Renaissance contributed to forge a black identity? (also to be linked to Spaces and Exchanges : The Great Migration to Northern cities – Migration for a better life)

Spaces and Exchanges

This notion deals with the geographical and symbolic areas (spaces) that all societies occupy and the interactions (exchanges) between men and different societies. Our world is built on the exploration and conquest of new spaces. The different cultural, economic, sociological and language interactions have shaped and characterised our modern-day world.

Examples can be:

  • India : Progress and traditions –
  • Working conditions (telecommuting, internet)
  • Globalization (the world has become a small village) – global cities
  • School and education (social diversity / knowledge)  comparison of the different educational systems – the brain drain
  • The Internet / social networks… a new virtual space ….the advantages and disadvantages of increased access to sites such as Facebook and Twitter -Cyber criminality, identity theft, cyber bullying, internet scams..
  • the movement of people: Immigration  to the UK, to the US, the Brexit
  • movement across borders (Gap Year) – student exchanges

We will focus on 2 topics :

Global cities: To what extent do migrants contribute to population and economic growth in global cities?  why are migrants attracted to global cities?

Migration: The migration of African Americans to Northern cities – In search of a new identity – Reason to migrate – Attraction to urban life.

 

The fight for full African American citizenship continues.

When I heard about the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I thought back to another name etched into American history: Dred Scott.

In 1857, the Supreme Court was tasked with deciding whether Scott, an African American man born into slavery, should be granted his freedom. The justices not only denied Scott’s request, but also took the opportunity to send a chilling message to all African Americans, free and enslaved, that reverberates to this day.

The court held that as members of an inferior race, African Americans were not citizens at all — and, as such, did not even have legal standing to sue. African Americans, as Chief Justice Roger Taney so decisively determined, had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

The next century was characterized by an ongoing struggle to prove Taney wrong.

African American heroism during the Civil War era hastened the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, which ended slavery and (theoretically) reversed race-based restrictions on citizenship. Yet these gains were negated almost as quickly as they were realized, as the strong grip of Jim Crow choked communities throughout the South.

Over the violent decades that followed, African Americans endured church bombings,harassment, and police beatings and animal attacks, like the brutalities inflicted on those marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. This sacrifice of the black body, along with sustained lobbying, ultimately led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Yet even today, second-class citizenship continues. It shows up in generational poverty, a disparate education system, mass incarceration, and violence at the hands of police.

In fact, African Americans are three times as likely as whites to be killed by police, even though they’re twice as likely to be unarmed. That’s produced a slew of names that, like Dred Scott’s, may loom over our history for centuries because of the rights they were denied.

In 2012, Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, both of whom had committed no crimes or infractions of any sort, were deprived of their constitutional right to life by self-deputized racists who proclaimed themselves judge, juror, and executioner and gunned them down.

That same year, Rekia Boyd was murdered under a hail of bullets by an off-duty police officer who reproached Boyd and her friends for talking too loudly, depriving her of her right to free speech, freedom of assembly, and life.

In August 2014, Michael Brown’s right to a fair and public trial was violated by the police officer who shot him and callously left his lifeless body to bleed out in the street.

Walter Scott’s life and right to due process were taken in April 2015 at the hands of a law enforcement officer, who then had the audacity to plant his weapon next to Scott’s motionless body on the ground — all over a mere traffic violation.

On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling, a father of five who was selling CDs to provide for his children, was murdered by law enforcement officers who violated his Fourth Amendment right to prevent unwarranted search and seizure simply because he fit a certain profile.

Less than 48 hours later, Philando Castile was pulled over for a broken tail light. Castile’s non-threatening disclosure that he was legally carrying a concealed weapon prompted a police officer to murder him in front of his partner and her four-year-old daughter, violating his Second Amendment right to bear arms.

In 2016, one would hope that the “inalienable rights” of all Americans are respected. Yet Taney’s words that African Americans “have no rights which the white man was bound to respect” still ring loud and clear.

The fight for full African American citizenship continues.

TO WHAT EXTENT HAVE AFRICAN AMERICANS ACHIEVED EQUAL CIVIL RIGHTS ?

A FEW FACTS

Slavery in the USA was abolished in 1865, but black Americans did not have equality:

  • The Ku Klux Klan beat up and lynched [lynchTo kill someone, usually by hanging, without holding a legal trial. black people.
  • Black people were not allowed to use white public facilities such as schools and parks. This was called ‘segregation’.

There had been successful attempts to improve the status of black people before the 1950s – for example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), set up in 1909.

However, it was in the 1950s and 1960s that the civil rights movement – led by Martin Luther King – challenged white supremacy:

  • In 1954, Rev Brown won the right to send his child to a white school.
  • In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person, inspiring the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
  • In 1957, nine black students, with military protection, went to a white school in Little Rock, Arkansas.
  • In 1963 – after campaigns of restaurant sit-ins, Freedom Rides on interstate buses and bloody civil rights marches – a quarter of a million people marched to the Lincoln Memorial to hear King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech.

The civil rights movement gave black Americans legal equality:

  • The Civil Rights Act (1964) outlawed segregation in schools, public places or jobs.
  • The Voting Rights Act (1965) gave all black people the vote.
  • The Fair Housing Act (1968) banned discrimination in housing.

However, black Americans did not achieve economic equality, and still remain a socially disadvantaged group.

JIM CROW LAWS

‘Jim Crow’ laws were passed in the southern states. They denied black people equal rights. Black people and white people were segregated. Black people were not allowed to use ‘whites only’ public facilities. In this streetcar terminal in Oklahoma water coolers are marked for ‘colored’ or white use.

Many pictures that illustrate segregation can be found on the internet.

Slavery was abolished in the USA in 1865, after a bloody civil war.

Life didn’t improve for ordinary black people in America:

  • ‘Jim Crow’ laws were passed in the southern states. They denied black people equal rights. Black people and white people were segregated [segregationKeeping groups, particularly racial groups, apart.. Black people were not allowed to use ‘whites only’ public facilities such as schools and parks.
  • Ku Klux Klan was formed. It was set up in 1865 to frighten, beat up and lynch black people.
  • Poverty was a major problem. Black people occupied the worst jobs in society. Many black women worked as servants to white people.
  • Race riots flared up. Occasionally white people would riot and attack black people such as happened in Detroit in 1943.

Gradually, black Americans began to challenge their second-class status:

  • In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was set up to oppose discrimination by challenging it in the courts.
  • In the 1920s and 1930s, the Harlem Renaissance celebrated black culture and declared ‘black is beautiful’. Jazz music and dances like the Charleston became popular.
  • In the Second World War, black Americans were just as brave as white Americans. They came home demanding respect. The US military finally allowed black and white soldiers to serve next to each other in 1948.
  • In 1942, James Farmer founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to challenge segregation by non-violent direct action.
  • In 1957, Martin Luther King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to fight for civil rights by peaceful marches and demonstrations.

    The path to civil rights

    paths to civil rights1954: Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka was a landmark case. With the help of the NAACP, Rev Brown won the right in the Supreme Court to send his child to a white school.

Again many pictures can be found on the internet to illustrate the following events:

1955: Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Black people in Montgomery, Alabama, led by Martin Luther King, refused to use the buses until the Town Council abolished segregated buses.

1957: Nine black students exercised their right to go to a white school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Mobs threatened the students. Even the governor of Arkansas tried to stop them by sending in the National Guard. President Eisenhower eventually took charge and used soldiers to protect the students.

1960: Sit-ins took place when black students went and sat in white restaurants until they were attacked and thrown out.

1961: Freedom Riders were black and white activists who travelled together on interstate buses – many were badly beaten by white mobs.

1963: A civil rights march in Birmingham, Alabama, was attacked by police and white racists.

1963: The Washington Freedom March took place when a quarter of a million people marched to the Lincoln Memorial to hear King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech.

Consequences

  • In 1964, Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize. The third Monday in January in America is Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday.
  • White violence forced the US government to step in to give black people their rights:
    • The Civil Rights Act (1964) outlawed segregation in schools, public places and jobs.
    • The Voting Rights Act (1965) made it illegal to do anything that might limit the number of people able to vote. Some states had used a literacy test to try and prevent black people from voting as many black people had limited access to education.
    • The Fair Housing Act (1968) banned discrimination in housing.
  • In 2008, a black American, Barack Obama, became President of the United States.

However:

  • Civil rights did not give black Americans prosperity or jobs. Black Americans – particularly in the ‘black ghettos’ in the towns – remained poor and angry.As a result, more extreme black leaders such as Malcolm X, and more radical groups such as the Black Panthers, were set up – black protests in the 1970s became more violent.
  • Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968.
  • Black poverty, and violence and discrimination against black people, continues.

Interpretations

Many of the historians who wrote in the 1960s and 1970s about the civil rights movement had taken part in it. They focused on heroes of the movement, such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, and the national campaigns which led to the civil rights laws.

Many of these books portrayed civil rights as a struggle between the bigoted white segregationists [segregationKeeping groups, particularly racial groups, apart. of the south and idealistic civil rights workers from the north.

This interpretation has provided thrilling stories for Hollywood films, such as Mississippi Burning (1988) and The Long Walk Home (1990) and most recently Selma..

The Revisionists

In the 1980s, local studies overturned this ‘heroic’ interpretation of civil rights history. They showed how the civil rights movement was built ‘bottom up’, out of thousands of local actions by black churches and community organisations from which a few issues, such as the Montgomery bus boycott, became national news.

In the 1990s, historians began to realise that the civil rights movement involved more than ‘evil whites fighting noble blacks’. They also began to pay more attention to different kinds of black activism – eg environmental and union campaigns – and the role of black women, and of other disadvantaged groups such as the Native Americans and Hispanic and Latino Americans.

Recent studies have shown that black challenges to discrimination did not spring into existence with Martin Luther King in the 1950s, but began as early as the 1860s.

What is your interpretation of the American civil rights movement? Was it something special or part of a longer process of protest and progress? Was it ‘the Martin Luther King show’, or part of a wider movement? Was it is a success or a failure?

Watch on Mojo.com the history of civil right history of the civil rights movement

One step forward…..

A post to come will focus on  African Americans in the USA today .