Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 3

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series examined how conflicting conventions and requirements can lead to a movie being unrealistic. The second article explored the pressures driving movie scripts towards unrealistically high signal to noise ratios, with few of the extraneous details that occur in real conversations.

Today’s article, the third in the series, addresses another way in which movies are different from reality. Movies depict a world which features the word “very” a lot. Sometimes it’s the characters who are very bad, or very good, or very attractive, or whatever; sometimes it’s the situations they encounter which are very exciting or very frightening or very memorable; sometimes it’s the settings which are very beautiful, or very downbeat, or very strange. Whatever the form that it takes, the “very” will almost always be in there somewhere prominent.

Why does this happen? It’s a phenomenon that’s well recognised in the media, well summed up in a quote attributed to Walt Disney, where he allegedly said that his animations could be better than reality.

When you think of it from that perspective, then it makes sense for movies to show something different from reality, since we can see reality easily enough every day without needing to watch a movie. This raises other questions, though, such as in which directions movies tend to be different from reality, and how big those differences tend to be.

That’s the main topic of this article.

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Why Hollywood gets it wrong, part 2

By Gordon Rugg

The first article in this short series looked at one reason for movies presenting a distorted version of reality, namely conflict between conventions.

Today’s article looks at a reason for movies presenting a simplified version of reality. It involves reducing cognitive load for the audience, and it was studied in detail by Grice, in his work on the principles of communication. It can be summed up in one short principle: Say all of, but only, what is relevant and necessary.

At first sight, this appears self-evident. There will be obvious problems if you don’t give the other person all of the information they need, or if you throw in irrelevant and unnecessary information.

In reality, though, it’s not always easy to assess whether you’ve followed this principle correctly. A particularly common pitfall is assuming that the other person already knows something, and in consequence not bothering to mention it. Other pitfalls are subtler, and have far-reaching implications for fields as varied as politics, research methods, and setting exams. I’ll start by examining a classic concept from the detective genre, namely the red herring.

five red herrings bannerHerring image by Lupo – Self-made, based on Image:Herring2.jpg by User:Uwe kils, which is licensed {{GFDL}}, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2610685

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What happens when you get what you wish for?

By Gordon Rugg

A favourite plot device involves someone getting what they wish for, but in a way that leaves them either back where they started, or worse off than when they started.

That plot device ties in with a couple of widespread beliefs about the world.

One is known as the just world hypothesis. As the name implies, this belief holds that there’s an underlying pattern of justice in the world, so that what you get is balanced against what you deserve. Good events, such as winning the lottery, are either a reward for previous good actions, or are counterbalanced by later disaster, to set the balance straight.

This is a comforting belief, because it implies that we don’t need to worry too much about bad things happening to us; in this belief system, we’ll get what we deserve, so if we behave well, things will be fine. There’s the added bonus that we don’t need to feel guilty about other people’s suffering, since that will also balance out one way or another.

Another widespread belief is that hubris – excessive pride or ambition – will be punished by Fate. This is very similar to the tall poppies effect, where a social group disapproves of group members aspiring to or achieving significantly more than the rest of the group.

Both of these beliefs have far-reaching implications; the beliefs and their implications have been studied in some depth, and are well worth reading about.

They’re beliefs, though. What about reality? What actually happens when people get what they wish for?

The short answer is: Usually, not much.

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Images from Wikipedia; sources at the end of this article

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Intrinsic, extrinsic, and the magic of association

By Gordon Rugg

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have an awed respect for the ability of Ancient Greek philosophers to spot a really important point, and to then produce an extremely plausible but only partially correct explanation, sending everyone else off in the wrong direction for the next couple of thousand years.

Today’s article is about one of those points, where the Ancient Greeks didn’t actually get anything wrong, but where they laid out a concept that’s only part of the story. It involves a concept that can be very useful for making sense of consumer preferences and life choices, namely the difference between intrinsic properties in the broad sense, and extrinsic properties in the broad sense.

Here’s an example. The image below shows a pair of Zippo lighters. One of them is worth a few dollars; the other is worth tens of thousands of dollars, even though it’s physically indistinguishable from the first one. Why the difference? The answer is below…

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Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zippo-Lighter_Gold-Dust_w_brass-insert.jpg Continue reading

Logos, emblems, symbolism, and really bad ideas

By Gordon Rugg

I’ve been working on logo design recently. It’s a neat example of how concepts that we’ve blogged about fit together. There are no prizes for guessing what the topic of this article will be…

Symbolism and reality; some examplesbannerv1Images from Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons; full attributions at the end of this article

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People in architectural drawings, part 6; conclusion

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the last in a short series about finding out what people really want. I’ve explored that topic via discussion of idealised dream buildings, to see what regularities emerge and what insights they provide into people’s dreams and desires.

In today’s article, I’ll pull together strands from those discussions, and see what patterns emerge.

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Detail from: “Neuschwanstein Castle above the clouds” by Arto Teräs – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neuschwanstein_Castle_above_the_clouds.jpg#/media/File:Neuschwanstein_Castle_above_the_clouds.jpg
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People in architectural drawings, part 3; requirements, obsolescence and fashions

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the third in a short series about finding out what people would really like in life, by looking at images of dream buildings.

In the first article, I looked at why the obvious approach doesn’t work very well. If you just ask people what they want, you tend to get either no answer, because people don’t know, or to get low-aspiration responses, for various reasons that are well known in requirements acquisition research. If, however, you instead show people a range of possibilities, including possibilities that they would probably never have thought of, then their preferences can change dramatically.

So, in this series I’m looking at fantasy and concept art images of buildings, which explore as broad a range of possibilities as the artists and architects can imagine. I’m looking at them to see what regularities emerge within those dream buildings; what sort of world do the creators of those images, and the people who like those images, desire?

In the second article, I looked at how human biases affect our aesthetic preferences. I concluded that a lot of people like really, really big buildings. Those buildings look awe-inspiring, but when you stop to think about details like how anyone is going to clean the windows, you start to realise that maybe those buildings aren’t terribly practical. However, how can you tell what will be practical within the lifetime of a building, when the available technology and the functions of the building are likely to change? There’s the related risk that tastes will change, and that today’s beautiful building will become tomorrow’s eyesore.

In this article, the third in the series, I’ll look at the issue of practicality versus obsolescence, and at changes in fashion.

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Thomas Cole, the Titan’s Goblet, and a Vauban fortification; full image credits at the end of this article

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