Tuesday, 28 February 2017

And the Oscar Goes to...

Not Really a Nurse

Two days ago, I had a shared, surreal experience with millions of other people. The event was the Academy Awards, and by now, just about everyone is aware of the large error that occurred at the end. 

That is to say, the winner for "Best Picture" was awarded in error to the movie "La La Land," rather than the actual winner, "Moonlight." 

The mistake was explained simply that the presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, were given the wrong envelope by a partner from the accounting firm, PriceWaterhouse/Coopers. The man, whose fate remains in the balance, was apparently distracted due to the need to "tweet" about the winner of "Best Actress," an award that had just been given to Emma Stone, who starred in "La La Land."

As it were, the accountant, Brian Cullinan, handed a duplicate of the "Best Actress" award to Beatty rather than the envelope for "Best Picture," and as fate would have it, Stone was the female lead in one of the movies nominated for Best Picture.

Beatty opened the envelope, paused several times, and was visibly confused by what he saw. After a few moments, the card was snatched away by Dunaway, who dutifully read "La La Land," mistaking what was printed - "Emma Stone for 'La La Land'" - to mean that the movie, not the actress, was the winner.

Heads are likely to roll, and a thousand jokes have been launched. But it should be a cautionary tale to anyone who takes movie actors too seriously.

That is this: These people are paid to say and do what someone who, typically, is much smarter than I are tell them to say and do.

They are vessels into which ideas are poured.

It's ironic in that winner after winner gushed about the collective brilliance of each other, and joked about how dim the president is. But when it came right down to actually thinking, Beatty and Dunaway swung and missed.

A little over a decade ago, I saw a live performance by the comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld, unlike many of those on display Sunday, is not known for being overly political, or lecturing us on how we should think, live, or act. He tells his jokes, gets a laugh, and goes back to his private life.

In his routine, Seinfeld joked about exactly how silly it is for actors to laud each other for brilliance, when the real genius is actually the guys behind the camera - the writers and directors.

Actors are little more than glove puppets.

I've before been less than kind in suggesting that actors, athletes, and musicians are the gladiators of our time. We pay them to entertain us. Often, handsomely. But their fame and their wealth should not be mistaken for genuine awareness or credibility.

Of course, they have as much right as the next person to hold and express opinions about politics, policy, science, no matter how poorly informed. But they don't have more right because of their fame and wealth. 

That Meryl Streep played a scientist does not mean she knows anything about science.

I've studied neuroscience for many years. One of the elements of cognition is what is called "executive function." This is a fancy word for a person being able to think "outside the box" - to react in an intelligent way when a situation arises with which they are not prepared and/or not familiar. It is one of the basic elements of testing artificial intelligence. If I give you a list of 30 things to do, send you off to do it, but along the way, make it impossible to accomplish one of the items, can you find a "work around?"

Sunday, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway got a basic test of executive function, and they failed.

Pretty misreably.

What they could have done was to recognize that something was wrong with the script. Either could have said, "this card is for Best Actress," and requested another. They could have looked off stage for help. Neither did. They simply did not have the acumen to reckon any sort of corrective action.

Actors like to joke that so and so is "dumber than a fifth grader."

Well, Sunday, the joke was on them. Remember that the next time a glove puppet tries to give you political advice.

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