Thinking about “The Wandering Earth”

“The Wandering Earth” got some scathing reviews in the West, despite being a genuine blockbuster in its home market of China.  Critics frequently pan blockbusters, so there may be nothing here, but perhaps there is a deeper cultural bias at work. It made me wonder about the application of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to the effect of linguistic styles on movie making.

Chinese written script is derived from pictographs; individual characters derived from an image originally.  You can imagine Chinese written language as a sequence of tiny highly stylized complex emojis, a series of small discrete images strung together.   Good Chinese calligraphers are concerned about the aesthetic qualities of each character; they write a sequence of beautiful individual words.  Western calligraphy is more concerned with the aesthetics of letters that have no meaning — they are simply standardized shapes, strung together to make words.  The beauty of an individual handwritten word, as an entity unto itself, is relatively unimportant, compared to, for example, the continuous flow and ornamentation of the line.

If we apply this abstract aesthetic to movie making, it may be that there is a subtle difference between movies made in the West and movies made in China. Think of a movie as a series of discrete scenes, strung together to make a story.  Perhaps it is the case that a Chinese film maker would tend to construct a movie as a series of discrete, individual scenes, with less emphasis on the flow of elements between scenes.

Anyway, this occurred to me while watching “The Wandering Earth”.  It’s firmly within the genre of Sci-Fi-Fantasy blockbuster, like the endless Marvel movies.  The special effects were suitably over the top, the story was suitably simple, the acting suitably melodramatic.  I liked it.  But I do think there was, to Western taste at least, a bit of a chunky character to the story line…

“…and we all have a brain about the size of a walnut.”

In the 1970’s the colonization of space seemed within our grasp.  Now that vision is slipping away, and in it’s place we see a future of the eons long decay of human culture on an exhausted and ravaged planet.  A future of millennia after millennia of  tribal warfare over ever-diminishing resources.  A future of superstition and ignorance.  The gift of abundant fossil fuels, a precious bootstrap to sustainability,  will be wasted; and an industrial base adequate to support a technical civilization made  impossible.   The human footprints on the moon will slowly fade to legend, and then vanish.


Book collecting as a cargo cult of knowledge

Cargo cult: “A cargo cult is a belief system among members of a relatively undeveloped society in which adherents practice superstitious rituals hoping to bring modern goods supplied by a more technologically advanced society.” Wikipedia

I have a large book collection, more than I can ever read. Yet I still acquire them.  Perhaps a hundred recent purchases are stacked next to my bed.  This is not rational behavior.

But that’s OK, because I am not a slave to rationality. Instead I am happily practicing the superstitious ritual of buying books in the hope of gaining knowledge without actually doing the work required to learn.

But really, I know I don’t have enough years left in my life to master all the knowledge I desire, and when I die, these books will remain as a tedious chore for someone else, and a sad monument to my failure to learn.