Novelty is one of the main drivers that keeps me going.  One of the challenges of 2020 is that with a global pandemic afoot, folks have not been able to venture outside and follow their usual routines.  The sustained and prolonged inability to go to an office workplace, interact with colleagues, and just have a change of scenery and pace has been enormously unhealthy.  I consider human beings as generalized differential engines.  We understand everything only as a series of contrasts.  As Huxley wrote years ago in Brave New World:  “There is no black without white and no night without day.”  This is actually one reason I started this personal daily writing project back in August– it is a salubrious way of marking time.  Every day, I write on a new subject which forces my mind to stretch itself in new directions, toward new horizons.  The human brain like any other muscle in your body:  If unused for long periods of time, the brain will atrophy and devolve into grey mush.

Additionally, novelty is a motivation all its own when it comes to the creative arts.  During his session this past Saturday at Muskogee, Lev Grossman was asked, “What makes a good story?” His answer really stuck with me as he cited a scene from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925).  Woolf wrote about a high-society woman (Dalloway) on the bench and even after the woman went to sleep, Woolf just kept on writing the scene. Grossman said he’d never seen writing like that and it just absolutely blew his mind.

This idea, “Do what has not already been done before.” is another reason I write and code.  I enjoy thinking up projects that I’ve never seen before but feel should exist.  This ability to take a figment of one’s imagination and reify it into the material world is essentially magic.  For me at least, the act of creation is what it means to be alive. As long as we are continuously growing, always learning something new, and following our interests and curiosities wherever they may lead us, then there is always a reason to live. The world is too big and our puny human lives are too short to waste any more time than we already do.

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

With Great Power

Great power comes with great responsibility. Uncle Ben’s immortal, final words in his last moments on this little blue planet. This afternoon, Cal sent me this article about how the Academy was changing the criteria it uses to award the Best Picture Oscar.  Basically, the new rules dictate that starting in 2022, to be eligible to win top prize, movies will need to meet new “diversity guidelines.”  It’s worth reiterating that these new rules only apply to the “Best Picture” contenders and also that they can be satisfied not just by the actors in the movie, but also the staff crewing a movie as well.  So, for example, as Vox helpfully explains— even a movie like The Irishman that looks pretty overwhelmingly white would’ve, in 2022, qualified just fine.  Scorsese’s longtime collaborators (a producer, casting director, and editor) are all women and the film’s cinematographer also hails from Mexico.  Diversity guidelines met!

Initially, I confess, my knee-jerk reaction was predictably annoyance and umbrage.  Another liberal overreach!  Who are they to tell artists how to make movies?  But then as I calmed down and thought through it more, I slowly warmed to the idea as my more authoritarian leanings kicked in.  A few years back, the whole #OscarsSoWhite mania had hit and significantly damaged the liberal image of Hollywood.  Additionally, I actually agree— forget all of the PC stuff.  The structure of the Academy– meaning, the way it’s actually constructed— grants lifetime memberships.  So predictably, the voting membership heavily skews old, male, and white because of historical circumstances. But in 2020 America, the Academy constituency no longer demographically reflects the country and that’s problematic.

Right now, all of the old white men have all (or at least, most) of the power.  And they’re trying to encourage others to come get some of it!  Good for them.  The Oscars is just a prize.  It’s an arbitrary badge of prestige.  If you want to make movies that don’t meet the new diversity guidelines in 2022, you’re welcome to do so!  No one will be stopping you.  The Academy is a private institution and can make its rules accordingly.  If you dislike it, feel free to take your ball and go home.

My take is that the Academy is trying to do a good thing– correct hundreds of years of racism and sexism in its industry. This is a step in the right direction.  Yeah, artists may feel like they’ll need “to compromise their creative vision” moving forward, but if the new guidelines even help a tiny bit in greenlighting more minority-backed and racially diverse movies, then I think that’s good.  This whole situation makes me think of HR hiring policies at big companies like Microsoft and Facebook or college admissions at elite universities.  There are only a limited number of spots and meritocracy is only a part of the picture.  The reason the woman with a less stellar resume may get the job, or a Hispanic student with lower SAT scores may be admitted is because on the company or college-administration end, there is also an interest in maintaining a diverse workplace or campus.  It behooves other super-excellent male and white students (the future Brett Kavanaughs and George W. Bushes of the world) to meet female and non-white students and employees.  It’s a collective consideration that’s for the greater good.

So in summary:  I’m all for it!  Good job, Academy!  Flex those authoritarian biceps!  Be the change you want to see in the world! 👍👍👍