September 25, 2004

Le Morte D'Philosophe: Book X, Chapter XLIV

How the philosopher got a job at a bank and there discovered many logical fallacies.

[I apologize if the following text is at times worded awkwardly. While other scholars have offered more dynamic translations of this particular story, I feel that all such translations have been largely unfaithful to the original text. As an antidote to these previous translations, I have decided to offer a more literal rendering. Unfortunately, what is gained in accuracy is sometimes lost in style. Of course, such a tradeoff must be made with any translation and I hope the reader will understand the unavoidable shortcomings of my work.]

So the philosopher continued on the path. And he came across a bank. And since he was hungry and had no money for food, he decided to get a job there.

One day, a bank customer called the philosopher on the phone and asked if the bank would cash a third-party check for her. Ignorant of the answer, the philosopher went and asked one of his fellow employees, a blonde woman with long eyelashes. The philosopher’s fellow employee smiled, batted her pretty eyelashes at him, and told him no, the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks.

So the philosopher told the customer on the phone that no, the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks. The customer then asked why—a question that the philosopher admired, for philosophers spend all their lives asking such questions.

So the philosopher went back to his fellow employee and asked her why the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks. She again batted her eyelashes at him and said, "Well, that’s difficult to explain, but lemme try." She then took a deep breath and continued, "Governed-are-AlanGreenspan-which-bank-by-such-restrict-the-policies-interest rates-FDIC." The philosopher smiled at his fellow employee and she smiled back at him.

"Thank you," he said. He then went back to explain this to the customer. Before picking up the phone, however, he realized that he didn’t understand what his fellow employee had said. So the philosopher decided to go and ask the same question to a supervisor.

So he found a supervisor and asked her why the bank didn’t cash third-party checks. "The bank doesn’t cash third-party checks," the supervisor responded.

"Yes," the philosopher responded, "I understand that, but why?"

"Because," she replied, ever so sternly. "It’s. Against. Bank. Policy."

The philosopher then smiled at the supervisor, thanked her for her time, and began walking back towards his desk, still not sure how to answer the customer’s question.

As luck would have it, though, before the philosopher arrived back at his desk, he came across the bank president. Maybe, he thought to himself, he’ll know the answer to the question. So the philosopher said, "Mister Bank President, why does the bank not cash third-party checks?"

The bank president looked at the philosopher with eyes of understanding and replied, "The bank doesn’t cash third-party checks."

"But why not?"

"Because it’s against bank policy."

"But why is it against bank policy?"

"Because the bank doesn’t cash checks payable to one person that are endorsed over to another person."

The philosopher quickly realized that the bank president was using circular reasoning. By saying that the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks “because the bank doesn't cash checks payable to one person that are endorsed over to another person,” the president was simply giving the definition of a third-party check. Therefore, he was essentially saying that the bank doesn’t cash third-party checks because it doesn't cash third-party checks.

But the philosopher did not want to argue with the bank president, so he thanked him for his time and went back to his desk. After taking a deep breath, the philosopher picked up the phone. "Ma’am," he said, "thank you for holding. I just learned that…um, that...well, we don’t cash third-party checks."

"I know that," she answered, "but why?"

"Because it’s against bank policy."

"Obviously. But why?"

"Because the bank doesn’t cash checks payable to one person that are endorsed over to another person."

"You’re not answering my question," the customer said, now a tad frustrated.

The philosopher tried to think of what his fellow employee had initially told him—the one with the long eyelashes. But he couldn’t remember it, so he decided to pretend he could no longer hear the customer. "Ma’ma, ma’am, you’re phone’s breaking up. Ma’am, are you there?" He then hung up the phone, hoping she would think that their line had been accidentally disconnected. He then took a bathroom break, so that when she called back, someone else would have to talk to her.

And so the philosopher learned that Athens isn’t the only place that doesn’t appreciate philosophers.

September 4, 2004

‘Pleasantville’ as an Argument for Modern Culture

While so many Americans are constantly complaining of all the ways the world has worsened in the past fifty years, Gary Ross’ Pleasantville argues that life as a whole has actually improved.

The movie makes this argument by repeatedly allowing Pleasantville citizens to become colorized after they become more like David and Jennifer. Since (1) becoming colorized is symbolic of progress and (2) David and Jennifer are symbolic of the modern age, it follows that (3) a character who becomes both colorized and like David and Jennifer is symbolic of the progress of the modern age. Let’s look at four ways in which the movie uses this symbolism to argue that society has progressed.

(1) The movie claims that Americans have become more in touch with their emotions. Early in the film, the townspeople’s actions are determined by their socially defined roles, not by their emotions. Such behavior sharply contrasts with David and Jennifer, who act as they feel, even when doing so is “improper.” For instance, they passionately fight over control of the remote control early in the film; also, Jennifer aggressively seduces Skip during their first outing to Lover’s Lane. As the townspeople become in touch with their feelings, they begin to gain color. The most notable example of this is the mild-manner, all-too-pleasant mayor, who becomes colorized right after his angry outburst at David in the courtroom.

(2) The movie claims that Americans have become more aware and accepting of other cultures. When David and Jennifer first arrive in Pleasantville, the town’s citizens are not aware that anything exists outside of Pleasantville. But once they begin learning that there is life beyond Main Street, new colors begin appearing. For example, books become colorized once David and Jennifer begin to impart their contents. Additionally, images of Egypt and Paris appear on one of the TVs in television shop once the entire town is colorized.

(3) The movie claims that Americans have become less sexist. Both David and Jennifer embrace the equality of women—as is evidenced when they encourage Betty in her newfound identity. Once the townspeople come around to this way of thinking, they start to gain color. For example, George gains color when he acknowledges in the courtroom that he likes the new, more assertive, more independent Betty.

(4) The movie claims that Americans have become more connected with their sexuality. Jennifer is clearly in touch with her sexuality. She, for example, teaches the birds and the bees to Betty; moreover, numerous references are made to her fairly active sex life. After she introduces sex into Pleasantville and a number of teenagers lose their virginity at Lover’s Lane, they start to gain color. Additionally, Betty becomes colorized shortly after she takes a bath and experiences her first orgasm.

Although optimistic, the movie isn’t naïve about our modern age. With all of its progress, it concedes that society today faces a number of problems not even imagined fifty years ago. For example, early in the film, some teachers at David and Jennifer’s school remind their students that they have inherited a world plagued with economic instability, a growing AIDS epidemic, and a number of worsening ecological problems.

When David’s date asks him what life is like outside of Pleasantville, he tells her, “It’s louder. And scarier, I guess. And it’s a lot more dangerous.” Much to the surprise of many of our modern pessimists, her response is: “It sounds fantastic.” Although life today is louder, scarier, and more dangerous than it was in the Fifties, Pleasantville argues that the twenty-first century is fantastic, offering freedom and knowledge and hope not dreamed of before.