Anji’s Early-Morning-Insights-On-Life #4 || Evil is as evil does

Have all of you watched Forrest Gump? Or, since we’re on the topic of Evil Media, “Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump”. That’s not the name of the movie, the movie is just “Forrest Gump”, but the movie posters and DVD covers that came out seemed to find it of utmost important to tell us in large, red text, just in case we’ve lived under rocks for the entirety of our lives, that the only human being in the poster, who we know from basic logic is probably this character from the movie’s namesake, Forrest Gump, is Tom Hanks. Because I can’t see that already. Because his name is so important it should ambiguously appear to be a part of the movie title. That is one sweeeeeet contract drawn up by Tom Hanks’ agents. Luckily, marketing the movie with Forrest’s character as the focal point prepared audiences for the perfect mindset to receive it. Also, if you haven’t watched Forrest Gump, I’d hop on that now.


Even if you hate every minute of it while watching (you’re a weirdo), it’s just one of those movies you should have seen, so you can talk about it, and say how you actually thought it was overhyped (sure it was) when your friends discuss how talented Hanks is as an actor. And Hanks is talented, but is that really the driving soul of what makes Forrest Gump such a refreshing and enjoyable viewing? What about the script based on Winston Groom’s novel of the same name? The dialogue writers? The art designers who made Vietnam, Alabama, D.C. and New York visually distinct for us, or made Jenny’s different looks through the years era-appropriate? The visual team that inserted Hanks’ footage into historic film reels to place him in the Oval office and on a talk show right next to Lennon? What about all the other phenomenal members of the cast? The kid who played young Forrest? The guy who played Bubba? Sally Fields always? Gary Sinise? GARY SINISE? WHAT ABOUT DETECTIVE MAC TAYLOR?

I digress. The point here is that the promotional materials for Forrest Gump are manipulatively obscure. “Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump”. True, he is the character Forrest Gump. But is Tom Hanks the movie Forrest Gump? No. But Mr. Movie Promoter, why do you want to systematically frame your communication to highlight one person and push to the back of my mind the more holistic perception of the movie as the remarkable fruit of the talents of a large collective? My limited expertise point to 2 things:

1. Tom Hanks = lotsa $$$$. If he says in his contract that his name should be at least x times the size of the movie title, on top, before any other talent name, distinctly visible etc. (these are legitimately real things that are put into contracts for movie talent, read more).

2. Movies are promoted as the experiences they are intended to be (*ahem* AFFECT *ahem*) and not the collaborative projects of immense work that they are. Selling Forrest Gump as the movie about that the life of this guy Forrest is much better than selling it is as the movie where Tom Hanks and some other talented actors, including Sally Field and Gary Sinise put on magnificent performances in cinematography that transportatively recreates America from 1940s-1980s and covers de-segregation, the rise and fall of Elvis, the Vietnam War, the Hippie movement and anti-war rallies, Watergate, the death of John Lennon etc. That just won’t do.

Well, it’s partial information. It controls they way we prepare ourselves to receive it and perceive it by putting all the focus on a small part of the information. It’s not completely forthcoming, doesn’t tell us much more than we can obviously see. Deceptive and manipulative. But it’s serving a purpose. It’s focussing on creating an affective experience. It’s the website, not the code (yeah, not a metaphor I would have used 3 months ago).


While we’re on the topic of Evil Media, Forrest Gump is actually a great story for recapping some of our favorite communication issues. We got our invoked recursion (“Run Forrest, run”, Forrest running, Forrest playing ping-pong), systematic ambiguity (Forrest becoming a spokesperson for a paddle company because his mom said “a little white lie never hurt anyone”), brainwashing and be everything but available (Jennnyyyy), mobilize irritation (hippie movement), proliferate psych-ops, Watergate (gets its own category) etc. Throughout the movie we see how the way something is communicated changes the nature of the information itself. Example: Forrest describes Jenny’s sexually abusive father as a “a very loving man” who was “.. always kissing and touching Jenny and her sisters”. Yikes. Or, how Forrest describes getting shot as “something jumped up and bit me!”.

But even if these communications are not straightforward and unwise to register without conscious processing, they are un-evil because they weren’t borne out of evilness. Neither are they begetting evil (ok, well, some of those were). But what makes something evil? Well, in the movie, every time Forrest someone would ask Forrest if he was stupid, he would respond saying “Stupid is as stupid does”. Is some media evil? And if it is indeed systematically evil, chances are it was put out there by someone with those intentions. If, like stupidity, evil is also as evil does, then a media doing evil, is evil, but more importantly, the person doing the evil media is evil.

Keeping this in mind I want to use the term “evil media” as more of a label than a description. I want to do away with the notion that certain types of communicative styles are inherently evil. Evil Media is something neutral repurposed for evil ends. Even things like deception and ambiguity. And this brings me back to our initial discussion of the Forrest Gump movie poster. It obscures, it frames, it kind of misleads. But it does no evil.

In the case of the movie poster, things are simple. But what about more complex issues. Mobilizing Irritation using proliferate psych-ops, but for a good cause. In this case the evilness of the action would be inversely proportional to the difference between the value of the fulfilled cause in total utility and the retrospective (in my opinion) value of the stolen personal agency in total utility. This is a difficult calculation to make at times, especially since the social value of something that is personally important to us can be overestimated. It is no doubt complicated, and this is where judgement and consideration make all the difference. But at the end of the day, the theoretical basis for evaluation is sound, and Google had it figured out from the beginning: don’t be evil, and since evil is as evil does, Do No Evil.


~ by anjiprash on November 18, 2014.

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