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Tuesday, 05 June 2007

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Adam Roberts

"(presumably its narrator spoke with a British accent)"

I tried reading the passage in my ordinary middle-class-London speaking voice. Then I tried it with a Welsh lilt, like my Nan. Then I tried it Australian, Indian, in outrageeeous French and in Scots brogue. Finally I tried a Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel voice, and that sounded best of all.

Rich Puchalsky

I tried to tell people that Stéphane Mallarmé was warning them about this, but did they listen? No.

I don't understand the dissatisfaction, though. What, do you want the TV documentary to show people how to solve the non-linear Schrödinger equation? This is just one of those insane things that you learn about when you learn about how science works, basically, which is why any religion that posits God as a designer is right to try to suppress science.

Scott Eric Kaufman

There was to be much more to this post -- had whole sections on Lyell planned -- but it should be Gospel now: any time you see me post before 7 p.m., there's a 100 percent chance that I meant to hit "Save as Draft" instead of "Post." This time, however, I have the convenient excuse of delirium.

Adam, it's not the voice, as I would've elaborated, but the narration I was pointing to there. The American version of this documentary has been, as they say, "dumbed down." I mean, really, really dumbed down. The quotation given above is the last thing anyone interviewed says ... in the America version. In the British, there's an explanation (of sorts). But Americans, well, we beat you To The Moon, and yet we're the ones given The Ladder:

O, uh, you were getting, uh, space rockets, testing them ... sending a cat, dog, a fish, a monkey up into space. The fish was interesting. We didn’t have enough money to put a man in a track chute of a ladder! I mean, I would’ve been there – “Go man, go!” “I’m going, I’m going! ‘Ang on!” “Just hang on to the ladder!” “Hello, Swindon, I am here. Swindon, can you hear me?” “Swindon here, we are monitoring you on our instruments at the moment, we’ve got you on a tuba. That should be a bigger laugh for that joke, I think.” “Yeah, I can’t quite understand it; I thought it was really funny. Swindon, knackered, a Fresno town.” “They don’t seem to be going for it. They’re obviously bastards.” “Ah – well anyway Swindon, I’m nearly at the moon – ahmm, actually, that’s a bit of an understatement, that one, umm – have you got another big ladder, another big ladder, I don’t think we’re quite at the moon yet. But I can see right over the top of the houses! Fantastic!”

Despite our technological superiority, we're the ones who have to be talked down to ... which brings me to Rich.

I'm not upset that they didn't tell me how to solve non-linear Schrödinger equation, I'm bothered by the fact that 1) in the BBC version, they at least tried to explain the significance and 2) that they declared MATH! as the answer, which tells us nothing about, say, why linear systems tend chaotic at times. (My introduction to this brand o' thought came up elsewhere today, and I think what bothered me is that the American producers didn't even try to explain the mathematics, not even colloquially, and instead left the highly metaphoric stuff about sly waves stealing energies to make holes ...

Rich Puchalsky

OK, then you're treating the British paragraph that you flagged with "Here is the actual explanation" as an actual explanation, or at least more of one than you got in the American version? Perhaps, but it still really isn't much of an actual explanation. I've lost track of which explanations you think are good enough and which you're scorning.

Not that I blame the scientist they interviewed for any of this. I've had to explain things to journalists before. It's worth keeping in mind that journalists are people who (in today's credentialist society) went to college in order to learn about nothing.

I don't get what you mean with the "brand o' thought came up elsewhere" link.

Naadir Jeewa

Don't worry. Horizon has now been dumbed down to American standards.

One thing I've always wondered - do Horizon and Nova (it's now a PBS/BBC joint production) share the same commentary, or do they redub in the appropriate accent, and if they redub, do they rewrite the script?

Surely the thing you should be most bothered about is that you'll never get Adam Curtis documentaries (The Trap, Power of Nightmares, Century of the Self) aired in the US.

Scott Eric Kaufman

Rich:

OK, then you're treating the British paragraph that you flagged with "Here is the actual explanation" as an actual explanation, or at least more of one than you got in the American version? Perhaps, but it still really isn't much of an actual explanation. I've lost track of which explanations you think are good enough and which you're scorning.

Actually, all the interviews from the British version were in the American, so I was actually criticizing the explanation itself. (The narration is significantly different and quite inferior, however.) What I was saying is that all the vague talk of energy-theft neither explained anything scientifically or metaphorically, which is what a good scientific-explanation-for-general-consumption should do.

As for the link, it's to a thing on Deleuze & Guattari, fans of whose are all about the chaos theory, as I learned in a seminar with John Protevi in an undergraduate seminar. All that made sense in my head when I made the comment -- but I made it after an hour of restless "sleep," so there's that.

Naadir, I don't even know what an Adam Curtis documentary is, much less miss it. Although I feel like I'm missing something now ... something I didn't even know I'd missing. Thanks! (I kid, I kid.) As for sharing the same commentary, since I don't watch the British versions, I normally can't tell. In this case, however, since the transcript linked above is to the British version, I can say that 1) they dub into an American accent and 2) they dumb it down for an American audience. The American version is notable for claiming first ten, then a hundred, then ten ships are lost per week, per month, then per week. However you add it up, that doesn't add up. (Unless there are ten weeks in a month on your side of the pond ... which still wouldn't explain away the error in the American version.)

Ray Davis

I've seen several Adam Curtis series in the USA... in Berkeley!

(For the benefit of non-Americans, I should explain that that's a variation on the "Take my wife..." joke.)

Curtis seemed taken aback when audience members disagreed with him about the terrorizing dangers posed by Christian fundamentalists.

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