Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Art

Jafar: Agrabah’s Atatürk

Today I’d like to turn to an old theme–the tendency for Disney movies to disparage intellectual villains in favor of physical heroes and apologize for economic and social injustice. Previously, I wrote about how The Lion King, rightly interpreted, is really about Scar’s attempt to liberate the hyenas from a racist lion oligarchy. Today I’d like to do something similar with Aladdinreconstructing the plot so as to render Jafar the hero.

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Breaking Bad and Morality

Once in a while, I like to indulge my interest in fiction and apply political and moral concepts to the world that isn’t. Today, I’d like to have a look at Breaking Bad. Why Breaking Bad? As a fan, I from time to time enjoy perusing the vast amount that is written about the show online. What sticks out to me is that the very same characters can be considered sympathetic, even heroic, by some viewers, while simultaneously receiving scorn and vilification from others–an unusual phenomenon in television. I also find that the justifications reviewers and viewers use for the various sympathies they hold are muddled. So today I’d like to dissect the show and its characters a little, to come to clearer conclusions about which moral principles are in play. Of course, this will entail extensive plot spoilers, so neophyte viewers should steer clear of this piece.

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Macklemore and Philosophy

I’ve been hearing the song “Same Love” by Macklemore for a while now. I agree with the song’s central message–that gay people should be afforded equal treatment by the state and in society. I also quite like the song, in no small part because unlike most songs, it’s very direct with the point it intends to make. The lyrics make clear arguments without hiding their messages in metaphors and other methods of obscurantism. There are entire websites devoted to helping music fans come to understand the veiled messages in their favorite artists’ songs, and it’s nice to not have to have inside knowledge to get the point being made. That said, it also illustrates one of this blog’s running themes–lay people lack expertise. While Macklemore makes a point I firmly agree with, the argument he uses to reach our shared conclusion is not very good.

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The Self-Esteem Movement

Today I’d like to have a look at what’s often referred to as “the self-esteem movement”, the tendency in recent decades for children’s self-esteem to be prioritized in their upbringing and education. This topic was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, who had me read this piece by Luke Epplin for The Atlantic. In his piece, Epplin, argues that many films geared toward children in recent years have reinforced the centrality of self-esteem, depicting characters who seek to break out of conventional, functionary roles to do extraordinary things. He criticizes this theme, claiming that the success of characters in films like Turbo, Planes, Kung Fu Panda, Ratatouille, Wreck-It Ralph, and Monsters University is unrealistic. The characters in these films really are not physically, intellectually, or otherwise suited to the social roles they wish to take. It’s not possible to just will one’s way from being a crop dusting airplane to being a racing plane–racing planes are built to race, crop dusting planes are built to crop dust. I’d like to explore the implications of Epplin’s argument more widely, taking it outside of film and applying it on a larger scale.

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In Defense of Summer Vacation

Every year I find myself reading some number of articles calling for an end to summer vacation–the practice of giving kids a summer break from school. The argument is typically made with an appeal to the the “summer learning loss” or “summer slide”, the tendency for kids to learn less during the summer than they do while in school, or even to regress academically.  Adding further fuel to the argument is the tendency for the achievement gap, the difference in academic performance between higher and lower income students, to expand during the summer months. Opponents of summer vacation deem it an anachronism from a more rural, less air-conditioned age, and think we ought to do away with it altogether. Today, I seek to challenge these views.

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