Semiotic Scramble

/ Movies /
2016 01 12

War Games The other night I tried (and failed) to show War Games to my darling: last week we saw Matthew Broderick in Trainwreck, Jan didn’t know who Broderick was. So NetFlix mailed us the DVD, now Jan knows what the guy looked like in 1983; but she couldn’t stand the movie, so I haven’t yet been able to tell her one of my all time favorite ex tempore semiotic points:
Broderick plays a game-player nerd, steeped among other game-player nerds. He hacks his way into his school records: changes his grade, changes his friend (Ally Sheedy’s) grade: then finds himself hacked into NORAD’s Thermo Nuclear War game playing computer, WOPR.

He can change his grade, he can launch missiles on Moscow. Except the NORAD WOPR can’t launch real missiles alone; but it sure can fill the war room with symbols of launched missles, devastated nations, cooked civilization.

Broderick, Sheedy, and WOPR’s author convince the witless warrior who runs NORAD to actually check with the supposedly destroyed military centers: they’re there and fine. (That is, anticipating my point, they reach the supposed targets by phone, they hear a phone-representation of familiar people, alive and well.) General Meathead calms down.

And in 1983 I said to my son, bk being very much like the hacking game whizz, Broderick was the appealing kid actor; bk was the real deal, Notice that first they believed their War Room simulator symbols, now they believe the voice over the telephone saying We’re here, we’re fine!

Humans are trapped in our symbol systems, we can’t tell the name from the creature, the menu from the meal.

We couldn’t have evolved (and still be here) were there not some correspondence between our perceptions and our experience. We feel the fire burn, we pull back, but we’re not evolved to tell that the pain is a symbol, not the actual injury.

The pain is not the injury;
the pain is a symbol of the injury.

Who knew better than Disney that Bambi on the screen is not a deer but a drawing of a deer.

Change Your Grade
I’ve told elsewhere about my Colombian roommate. When Nick was sent from Bogota to a military school in Virginia, his school records said that his grades had been perfect throughout junior high, and his attendance flawless. Funny thing was Nick hadn’t attended a day of junior high: he hung out with the university students at the pool hall. He played hooky from home too (his parents dead), slept on the pool table. Ah but his university buddies, baddies, anarchists, dissenters broke into the school, falsified all his records.
The most complimentary thing I can say for Nick is that once he did go the the military school where he couldn’t play hooky unnoticed, his records were perfect. He was getting all As at Columbia College too.

My daughter in law just wrote to say she hadn’t seen it recently. I said,

I’d wanted to tell Jan what I’d said to bk after the movie in 1983. I just jotted something, for the thousandth time.
Jan bailed out of the movie, I don’t know when or if I’ll be able to repackage the comment,but I’ll tell you:
Broderick is a game player. and a hacker. He hacks into the school data base, regrades himself and friend.
finds himself In NORAD’s war game player, stimulates the mind in the game player to launch missiles at Las Vegas. The War Room shows Las Vegas as under attack But when the general calls Las Vegas his colleage answers the phone, there’s no attack.

So: there’s a map territory confusion, very common.

I said to bk: they believe the symbols of the attack simulator, then they believe the likewise digital stream of symbols over the phone. At neither point are they actually in Las Vegas, looking at it, talking to his colleague.

They learned without learning.

But Bateson and Korzybski said, we’re incapable of those lessons.
We could fire all the Republicans and hire all the Democrats (or versa visa), but we still wouldn’t get it.

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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