Long-awaited Shtetl-Optimized Barbenheimer post! [warning: spoilers]

I saw Oppenheimer three weeks ago, but I didn’t see Barbie until this past Friday. Now, my scheduled flight having been cancelled, I’m on multiple redeyes on my way to a workshop on Large Language Models at the Simons Institute in Berkeley, organized by my former adviser and quantum complexity theorist Umesh Vazirani (!). What better occasion to review the two movies of the year, or possibly decade?

Shtetl-Optimized Review of Oppenheimer

Whatever its flaws, you should of course see it, if you haven’t yet. I find it weird that it took 80 years for any movie even to try to do justice to one of the biggest stories in the history of the world. There were previous attempts, even a risible opera (“Doctor Atomic”), but none of them made me feel for even a second like I was there in Los Alamos. This movie did. And it has to be good that tens of millions of people, raised on the thin gruel of TikTok and Kardashians and culture-war, are being exposed for the first time to a bygone age when brilliant and conflicted scientific giants agonized over things that actually mattered, such as the ultimate nature of matter and energy, life and death and the future of the world. And so the memory of that age will be kept alive for another generation, and some of the young viewers will no doubt realize that they can be tormented about things that actually matter as well.

This is a movie where General Groves, Lewis Strauss, Einstein, Szilard, Bohr, Heisenberg, Rabi, Teller, Fermi, and E.O. Lawrence are all significant characters, and the acting and much of the dialogue are excellent. I particularly enjoyed Matt Damon as Groves.

But there are also flaws [SPOILERS FOLLOW]:

1. Stuff that never happened. Most preposterously, Oppenheimer travels all the way from Los Alamos to Princeton, to have Einstein check the calculation suggesting that the atomic bomb could ignite the atmosphere.

2. Weirdly, but in common with pretty much every previous literary treatment of this material, the movie finds the revocation of Oppenheimer’s security clearance a far more riveting topic than either the actual creation of the bomb or the prospect of global thermonuclear war. Maybe half the movie consists of committee hearings.

3. The movie misses the opportunity to dramatize almost any of the scientific turning points, from Szilard’s original idea for a chain reaction to the realization of the need to separate U-235 to the invention of the implosion design—somehow, a 3-hour movie didn’t have time for any of this.

4. The movie also, for some reason, completely misses the opportunity to show Oppenheimer’s anger over the bombing of Nagasaki, three days after Hiroshima—a key turning point in the story it’s trying to tell.

5. There’s so much being said, by actors speaking quickly and softly and often imitating European accents, that there’s no hope of catching it all. I’ll need to watch it again with subtitles.

Whatever it gets wrong, this movie does a good job exploring the fundamental irony of the Manhattan Project, that the United States is being propelled into its nuclear-armed hegemony by a group of mostly Jewish leftists who constantly have affairs and hang out with Communists and deeply distrust the government and are distrusted by it.

The movie clearly shows how much grief Oppenheimer gets from both sides: to his leftist friends he’s a sellout; to the military brass he’s potentially disloyal to the United States. For three hours of screen time, he’s constantly pressed on what he actually believes: does he support building the hydrogen bomb, or not? Does he regret the bombing of Hiroshima and (especially) Nagasaki? Does he believe that the US nuclear plans should be shared with Stalin? Every statement in either direction seems painfully wrung from him, as if he’s struggling to articulate a coherent view, or buffeted around by conflicting loyalties and emotions, even while so many others seem certain. In that way, he’s an avatar for the audience.

Anyway, yeah, see it.

Shtetl-Optimized Review of Barbie

A friend-of-the-blog, who happens to be one of the great young theoretical physicists of our time, opined to me that Barbie was a far more interesting movie than Oppenheimer and “it wasn’t even close.” Having now seen both, I’m afraid I can’t agree.

I can best compare my experience watching Barbie to that of watching a two-hour-long episode of South Park—not one of the best episodes, but one that really runs its satircal premise into the ground. Just like with South Park, there’s clearly an Important Commentary On Hot-Button Cultural Issues transpiring, but the commentary has been reflected through dozens of funhouse mirrors and then ground up into slurry, with so many layers of self-aware meta-irony that you can’t keep track of what point is being made, and then fed to hapless characters who are little more than the commentary’s mouthpieces. This is often amusing and interesting, but it rarely makes you care about the characters.

Is Barbie a feminist movie that critiques patriarchy and capitalism? Sort of, yes, but it also subverts that, and subverts the subversion. To sum up [SPOILERS FOLLOW], Barbieland is a matriarchy, where everyone seems pretty happy except for Ken, who resents how Barbie ignores him. Then Barbie and Ken visit the real world, and discover the real world is a patriarchy, where Mattel is controlled by a board of twelve white men (the real Mattel’s board has 7 men and 5 women), and where Barbie is wolf-whistled at and sexually objectified, which she resents despite not knowing what sex is.

Ken decides that patriarchy is just what Barbieland needs, and most importantly, will finally make Barbie need and appreciate him. So he returns and institutes it—both Barbies and Kens think it’s a wonderful idea, as they lack “natural immunity.” Horrified at what’s transpired, Barbie hatches a plan with the other Barbies to restore Barbieland to its rightful matriarchy. She also decisively rejects Ken’s advances. But Ken no longer minds, because he’s learned an important lesson about not basing his self-worth on Barbie’s approval. Barbie, for her part, makes the fateful choice to become a real, mortal woman and live the rest of her life in the real world. In the final scene—i.e., the joke the entire movie has been building up to—Barbie, filled with childlike excitement, goes for her first visit to the gynecologist.

What I found the weirdest is that this is a movie about gender relations, clearly aimed at adults, yet where sex and sexual desire and reproduction have all been taken off the table—explicitly so, given the constant jokes about the Barbies and Kens lacking genitalia and not knowing what they’re for. Without any of the biological realities that differentiate men from women in the first place, or (often enough) cause them to seek each other’s company, it becomes really hard to make sense of the movie’s irony-soaked arguments about feminism and patriarchy. In Barbieland, men and women are just two tribes, one obsessed with “brewsky beers,” foosball, guitar, and The Godfather; the other with shoes, hairstyles, and the war on cellulite. There’s no fundamental reason for any conflict between the two.

Well, except for one thing: Ken clearly needs Barbie’s affection, until he’s inexplicably cured of that need at the end. By contrast, no Barbies are ever shown needing any Kens for anything, or even particularly desiring the Kens’ company, except when they’ve been brainwashed into supporting the patriarchy. The most the movie manages to offer any straight males in the audience, at the very end, is well-wishes as they “Go Their Own Way”, and seek meaning in their lives without women.

For most straight men, I daresay, this would be an incredibly bleak message if it were true, so it’s fortunate that not even the movie’s creators seem actually to believe it. Greta Gerwig has a male partner, Noah Baumbach, with whom she co-wrote Barbie. Margot Robbie is married to a man named Tom Ackerley.

I suppose Barbie could be read as, among other things, a condemnation of male incel ideology, with its horrific desire to reinstitute the patriarchy, driven (or so the movie generously allows) by the incels’ all-too-human mistake of basing their entire self-worth on women’s affection, or lack thereof. If so, however, the movie’s stand-in for incels is … a buff, often shirtless Ryan Gosling, portraying the most famous fantasy boyfriend doll ever marketed to girls? Rather than feeling attacked, should nerdy, lovelorn guys cheer to watch a movie where even Ryan-Gosling-as-Ken effectively gets friendzoned, shot down, put in his place, reduced to a simpering beta just like they are? Yet another layer of irony tossed into the blender.

57 Responses to “Long-awaited Shtetl-Optimized Barbenheimer post! [warning: spoilers]”

  1. Venkat Says:

    On Barbie not having sex: everything is about sex, except sex which is about power is a common quip. The movie focuses on power relations which is what matters.

    You seem confused in the last 3 paragraphs. Why is it bleak to tell men to find their self worth beyond *just* women? That’s the incel ideology you say is bad in the last paragraph.

  2. Scott Says:

    Venkat #1: The bleak part is that, in gender relations according to Barbie, women don’t want or need men for anything, although men do need women. Sorry if that was unclear.

  3. Phil Says:

    I don’t know about your experience, but I saw Oppenheimer at an IMAX and the sound mixing was probably the worst I have encountered. Incomprehensible dialogue and somehow at the same time way too loud, it was quite unpleasant. Don’t know how much of that is Nolan’s fault but I would recommend possibly watching it at a smaller cinema or waiting for on-demand.

  4. LM Says:

    Ooo this is a fun post. Two quotes I can’t resist challenging a bit:

    1. “Without any of the biological realities that differentiate men from women in the first place, or (often enough) cause them to seek each other’s company, it becomes really hard to make sense of the movie’s irony-soaked arguments about feminism and patriarchy… In Barbieland, men and women are just two tribes… There’s no fundamental reason for any conflict between the two.”

    I actually really like the way you put this, and the tragic irony of the movie is that we can say almost exactly the same thing about the real world. I don’t see how adding in a few minor biological differences should explain to the huge disparities in power, and yet that is the world we live in. It’s all driven by cultural preconceptions. Those preconceptions are simply flipped in Barbie land.

    2. “The most the movie manages to offer any straight males in the audience, at the very end, is well-wishes as they “Go Their Own Way”, and seek meaning in their lives without women.” As you note, it’s very unlikely that the filmmakers are advocating celibacy. The point to me seems more about how people seek self-worth than how they seek meaning. More conventional movies might have Barbie fall in love with him at the end, thus giving him the validation he craves. But isn’t that kind of a terrible message to send? Instead her rejection forces him to see himself apart from her for the first time. This message doesn’t preclude finding someone else in the future.

    My personal take on 2 is the same as on 1; Barbie Land is just an exaggerated reversal of the Real World. Ken is an accessory to Barbie, perhaps analogous to female roles in movies that fail the Bechdel test.

  5. Someone from TCS Says:

    Woke Hollywood has became in recent years a propaganda machine for subjective far-left ideaology (power structure, oppressor-oppressed, class struggle, etc.). It’s good to analyze their flawed logic rationally as you do. But the mass of common people and specifically male audience should simply ignore their expensive and well-produced pamphlets.

  6. Scott Says:

    Someone from TCS #5: Eh. Both Oppenheimer and Barbie contain left-wing messages, but also so many layers of complication and irony that the messages come through at most very noisily.

  7. Mitchell Porter Says:

    Four AIs add their voices to the discussion of Barbenheimer.

  8. Scott Says:

    I should mention that Dana and I took our 10-year-old Lily to Barbie (though not to the R-rated Oppenheimer). Lily’s review of Barbie was “meh.” Her kind of feminist movie is the kind with a teen warrior princess who drop-kicks dragons.

  9. Marina Feygelman Says:

    Oppenheimer: 1. Agree with 3. Sort of disappointing. 2. whoever had bad IMAX experience was probably unlucky. Yes they speak softly and quickly (thankfully Teller’s accent nowhere near Hungarian), which is frustrating but justified, but overall sound is very good, great score and effects. And ppl speaking softly leaves some safe range to give a hint how LOUD is Trinity test. 2. I found it interesting and central [to this rendition of the most important story of 20 century] that Strauss’ rant that all Oppenheimer wants is to be on the front pages is a. very funny/profound given reference to Irin Man’s rant about Loki (probably unintentional, so even funnier or more to the point) and b. hugely supported by the rest of the movie. It is a biopic, and Oppenheimer takes over everything, with a little room for Einstein the ultimate science celebrity. His crazy girlfriend gets more screen time than Teller, and Von Neuman gets none.

  10. Brett McInnes Says:

    The real Oppenheimer was a pompous ass, and the movie seems to reflect that reality very accurately. Unfortunately that is a good reason to avoid it. (Did Oppenheimer really produce that cringeworthy “I am become death…..”, and, if so, didn’t anyone groan? Or laugh?)

  11. Ted Says:

    Scott, re your complaint #1 about Oppenheimer: It’s true that Oppenheimer never consulted with Einstein about the possibility that the bomb could ignite the atmosphere – nor would it have made much sense for him to do so, since Einstein wasn’t a nuclear physicist. But https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/20/movies/christopher-nolan-oppenheimer.html claims that Oppenheimer really did go to Chicago to consult with Arthur Compton about this possibility, and https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/movies/2023/07/22/fact-checking-christopher-nolans-oppenheimer-from-science-to-love/70441787007/ (probably more convincing, since it quotes biographer Kai Bird) claims that Oppenheimer took a train “back east” to consult with Hans Bethe about it. (Wikipedia suggests that Bethe could have been either at Chicago or at UC Berkeley at the time.)

    So my take is that it may be preposterous that Oppenheimer would have traveled all the way to Princeton to consult with Einstein about the possibility that the bomb could ignite the atmosphere – but it seems true that he did travel a very long distance to consult with other physicists about that possibility. Nolan says “I shifted that to Einstein [because] Einstein is the personality people know in the audience.” In my opinion, that’s a fairly minor sin, and the movie is impressively accurate overall (although of course it doesn’t and couldn’t cover everything).

  12. Scott Says:

    Ted #11: Interesting, thanks!

    I do wish the movie could’ve included Compton, and von Neumann, and Ulam, and Bethe (or more of him). Many will say that’s too much to ask: too many great scientists, too little time. But I would’ve gladly traded that for half an hour of Lewis Strauss. 😀

  13. Etienne Says:

    I didn’t mind so much points #2 and #3: the movie is a biopic of Oppenheimer, not a history of the Manhattan Project, so it makes sense that his conflicts and relationships are given greater focus than the science and geopolitics happening in the background. Certainly the security clearance hearing was a major turning point in Oppenheimer’s life: on a personal level, he was stung particularly badly by the betrayal of Groves and Teller; and on a professional one, the hearing ended his public influence and he went into semi-retirement in the Virgin Islands.

    I agree the meeting with Einstein was a howler. The apple incident was also significantly exaggerated for dramatic effect: Blackett never tried to eat the apple and Oppenheimer didn’t almost poison Niels Bohr!

    > Ryan-Gosling-as-Ken effectively gets friendzoned, shot down, put in his place, reduced to a simpering beta just like they are?

    My reading of Ken’s arc is not as dire; in fact in a strange way I see Ken’s story as more empowering for men than Barbie’s for women. He goes through a simp-to-incel radicalization pipeline that I daresay is not too uncommon in the real world, and even though he ends the movie dumped, he is in a much better place than at the beginning of the movie. His affectionless pseudo-relationship with Barbie was clearly going nowhere and with his greater self-awareness and self-worth I imagine him finding a loving relationship (either with a different Barbie or a real-world woman) shortly after the movie ends.

  14. Etienne Says:

    Brett #10:

    That’s what he *claimed* flashed through his mind in interviews after the fact. Like with everything Oppenheimer claimed, you should season to taste with salt.

    His *actual* first words after the test were, “I guess it worked.”

  15. Christopher Says:

    I don’t currently have any thoughts about Barbie in particular (I didn’t see it), but here’s just a general point about Gen Z story telling.

    > the commentary has been reflected through dozens of funhouse mirrors and then ground up into slurry, with so many layers of self-aware meta-irony that you can’t keep track of what point is being made

    This is a fundamental idea that became mainstream in Gen Z. The point of story telling isn’t to make a point, it’s to make a difference. The point of a story isn’t to make an argument, it is to encode the entire debate into the structure of the humor. And who would want to hear a one-sided debate?

    By encoding the entire debate into the humor, you get the benefit that reader only receives as much as of the debate as they are capable of understanding. Consider this teaching of Jesus in Matthew 13 (King James Version):

    > 10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. 13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

    Moreover, humor drastically improves problem-solving ability, which is helpful for understanding debates: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886921004840

    The reason a debate can be encoded into humor is best understood in terms of concepts from logic programming. Humor is all about absurdity and reductio ad absurdum. Even direct proofs get converted into a reductio ad absurdum of the negation. This is essentially how resolution algorithms in logic work (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resolution_%28logic%29#A_resolution_technique). Everything is done via proof by contradiction because it is more elegant.

    So now that you understand Gen Z’s approach, feel free to share or copy this comment for anyone else who is confused!

  16. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    Dear Scott,

    Thanks for sharing the spoilers.

    My final decision, after factoring in all the reviews (including those such as by Ash Jogalekar but excluding those related to LK-99) is this:

    I shall eventually watch Oppenheimer, but not Barbie.


  17. Jacob Says:

    The deeper messages of Barbie are much more interesting than the surface ones. I think the movie is telling us that the lack of sexuality is exactly what makes Barbieland one-dimensional and ultimately unfulfilling. The real world isn’t perfect but it lets people have real growth and real relationships instead of living the same day over and over. Sex is messy but the messiness is worth it.

    There’s also a rebuke of “empowerment” feminism hidden in there. Not just because of the effect on Ken — the Barbies embrace patriarchy so quickly because they are just as trapped in the matriarchy. Only Alan and weird Barbie have actual freedom of action. It’s hard to reject social expectations and be the person you want to be, and that isn’t men’s fault, it’s just the way people work.

    Ultimately I found the movie much more subversive than I was expecting. It’s hard to get challenging messages past both Mattel and the Hollywood Left but I think Greta Gerwig succeeded and made something actually interesting.

  18. atScott Says:

    I thought Oppenheimer was a dramatized c-span binge watching experience. Barbie was well thought out imo. I heard girls feeling emotional about the movie. But being a male I did not experience any emotions but the meaning can be well taken. The movie does exaggerate like all white men at Mattel board… they forgot a black man was the top dog for a while and a woman is the second top dog now.. but exaggeration imo will help since in many other fields women are not equals (tech is not one but people say so). This movie is for those believe 2016 should have gone to feminist Clinton while 2008 not.

  19. Jay L Gischer Says:

    Scott, your reading of Barbie is informed by a bunch of stuff that is way, way far away from most people’s experiences. I’m not trashing your reading, it makes sense to you.

    I am thinking I probably need to see it for myself. We’re used to films that tie things up in a neat little “happy ever after” package, and I guess Barbie doesn’t do that. It probably explicitly rejects it, which makes it interesting.

    Maybe the point is that a world run by women exclusively is not very much better than one run by men?

  20. Ose Says:

    I think you’re misinterpreting the ending of Barbie due to not taking into account the reason why Ken exists, and what that means about his sense of identity. My understanding is that Ken was created as an accessory for Barbie, much like her outfits, houses and vehicles (bear in mind that I’m a 39 year old man though, so this may well be the blind leading the blind). When girls play with Barbie, I presume that they typically project themselves onto her to some extent, and see Ken as a supporting character in whatever fantasy they’re entertaining, meaning that he serves no purpose outside of propping up the girl’s/Barbie’s narrative. So Ken in the film apparently hasn’t spent much time thinking about himself, and forming an identity that’s independent of Barbie.

    The message at the end isn’t that Ken/men should separate himself/themselves from women. I read it as more that, given what his life has been so far, he needs to first focus on figuring out who he is and what he truly wants to get out of life. For one thing, he won’t even be able to identify a compatible partner if he doesn’t know these things. He may even end up realising that Barbie was totally wrong for him all along!

    I don’t think the message was supposed to be just for men either; it’s clearly beneficial for everyone, regardless of gender, to develop a good understanding of self. To me, Ken’s ending and Barbie’s ending were two sides of the same coin.

  21. Douglas Says:

    They made Einstein say he had a disdain for math when he was obsessively learning it as a teenager. Is this all based off screen writers feeling validated if someone like Einstein doesn’t like math? That is a possible explanation, imo.

    Math Rulez.

  22. JimV Says:

    Re: “Nolan says “I shifted that to Einstein [because] Einstein is the personality people know in the audience.””

    Like people are going to run out of the theatre screaming because a historical drama shows a historical figure whom they haven’t heard of? Or because they were forced to learn something new and might have to look it up in Wikipedia? That is one of the flimsiest excuses for a deliberate lie that I have ever heard.

  23. manorba Says:

    i must admit that i can’t be bothered about both movies.

    the Oppenheimer one is by Nolan, and i find his films utterly boring (except Tenet and, to a degree, Dunkirk and Memento).
    i also hate biopics for some reason. but the good thing is that it spawned a plethora of related content both online and on tv. just a couple of days ago i stumbled on a doc about the “hungarians” and their careers before the manhattan project.

    The Barbie one, well, maybe i’m just too old. too many colors, loud music, really, really good looking people 😉
    But i am quite enjoying the reactions and expecially the rage that screams insecure masculinity.

  24. Jelmer Renema Says:

    I actually thought your weakness #3 was a strong point. This movie is not about physics, it’s about the interaction between power and science (or perhaps even just about power). Showing the physics would have been a distraction.

    And in some way, I even think not showing these moments makes the baseline intellectual level at Los Alamos stand out more, kind of like negative space in a drawing. Having the genius stuff go on in the background just emphasizes how normal that kind of thing was for these people.

  25. Matt Says:

    Great review, Scott!

    To the extent that Barbie has a coherent theme, I don’t think it’s strictly about feminism. The movie makes initial assumptions about feminism, sure, but it doesn’t seem like it’s trying to argue for any specific feminist thesis. I read the film’s message as a more existentialist one: that defining yourself in relation to another person is alluring, but ultimately horrifying and futile.

    Some examples:

    – Ken begins the movie in a state of existential angst. For the bulk of the story, he’s either begging Barbie to notice him or trying to bend her to his will. Neither makes him any happier.

    – The Barbies start off happy and fulfilled, but when the Kens give them an option to live their lives on the Kens’ terms, they take it. It seems freeing at first, but traps them in a dismal and contradictory existence until Gloria snaps them out of it.

    – Barbie is Gloria’s Barbie, and her body starts to betray her because it’s subject to Gloria’s whims, not her own. She eventually opts out, declaring she wants to be “one of the people who make meaning, not the thing that’s made.”

    Either way, I think the film’s biggest strength isn’t its commentary on anything, but rather Greta Gerwig’s delightful physical comedy.

  26. SufficientlyAnonymous Says:

    I thought there was a very weird but straightforward reading of the Barbie movie to be had, which was to read the Kens as a disadvantaged group (no political representation, not well respected, etc.) that fought for their rights but overreached and ended up becoming the oppressors. This struck me as deeply odd given how un-progressive a message that would be and how progressive the makers of the move were (or seemed to be).

    But it’s also a little bit hard for me to escape that reading: the Kens really were second class citizens – they had no elected or appointed representation and didn’t seem to have any representation in literature, arts, etc.. So it doesn’t seem absurd to think of them as “fighting for their rights” but at the same time, yikes once they had power they were even worse than the Barbies. And yet – oppressed groups risk becoming oppressors when they fight for their rights is such a bad message.

    Probably just an accidental implication of the movie but … odd.

  27. Doug S. Says:

    My thoughts on Oppenheimer: first of all, it *feels* like a movie in which nothing happens, even though a lot does. Part of this is a result of all the time jumps and trying to use the security clearance hearing as a frame story for the rest but not actually committing to it.

    The meaning I choose to take out of the movie comes from the very end, starting with the aide’s response to Strauss’s rant: that Strauss should stop assuming that everything is about him and thay Oppenheimer may have been talking to Einstein about something more important – cut to Oppenheimer talking to Einstein about how there was the possibility of igniting the atmosphere, and maybe they did. In the end, who Oppenheimer was as a person wasn’t important either; he was a small but significant part of something much bigger than himself, and he didn’t end up with any significant influence over anything after the Manhattan Project succeeded. It was The Bomb that was important, not him, and he, just like us, had to live in a world in which nuclear war was now possible.

  28. S Says:

    I think you might be contextualizing the Barbie movie incompletely here:

    > If so, however, the movie’s stand-in for incels is … a buff, often shirtless Ryan Gosling, portraying the most famous fantasy boyfriend doll ever marketed to girls? Rather than feeling attacked, should nerdy, lovelorn guys cheer to watch a movie where even Ryan-Gosling-as-Ken effectively gets friendzoned, shot down, put in his place, reduced to a simpering beta just like they are?

    The incel idea that women are rejecting men based on superficial judgments, or people only end up incels because of being unattractive really doesn’t pan out in reality. There are plenty of conventionally attractive men who end up repelling women due to their personalities. And plenty of conventionally less-attractive men who end up finding love, starting families, etc. Personality matters a lot. Also, while it may not have been the case when you or I were growing up, nerdy is attractive these days. Regardless of that, I think this is the whole point for the straight-male audience: you’re not going to get the girl by being a Ken doll, even if the girl you’re going for is Barbie. Cultivating your own personality, interests, and life is healthier – not because it will lead you to falling into romance, but regardless of that. In incel communities, there’s this idea that only the attractive alpha chads get romance, or that you need to go to the gym more and that will solve all your problems. But for women, the dating “market” is saturated with attractive men with bland personalities – Ken dolls. Ken doll types might be good for a hookup, but not much else. Open up a dating app as a woman and there’s a sea of attractive men to wade through. I’m not alone in being much more likely to consider seriously dating a guy who talks about his unique interests or hobbies, has a sense of humor, and has a respectful attitude towards women, queer people, and minorities. Incels double down on being the opposite of all of those things – investing themself fully in superficiality, treating dating like a game, and buying into propaganda that turns them against everyone in their outgroup.

    So let me go back over your commentary:
    > Rather than feeling attacked, should nerdy, lovelorn guys cheer to watch a movie where even Ryan-Gosling-as-Ken effectively gets friendzoned, shot down, put in his place, reduced to a simpering beta just like they are?
    Yes, and the lesson they should take from it is, “The incel mentality is so unattractive as to negate the hypothetical benefits of looking like Ryan Gosling”.

  29. John Lawrence Aspden Says:

    There were three great movies out this week. I loved Oppenheimer and Barbie, but Paris Memories/Revoir Paris is the best of the three. Go and see it and tell me you don’t agree!

  30. Dan Staley Says:

    Scott, there’s an important aspect of the Barbie movie you seemed to miss that I think is very relevant to this blog:

    Ken has an unhealthy obsession with a girl that doesn’t particularly care for him. In Barbie world this mostly just causes him some frustration, but in the real world this obsession could easily lead to abusive stalking, or just becoming an enraged incel.

    But the key thing is this: The movie does *not* portray Ken as descpicable, disgusting, or worthless. He’s a relatable character, and even if we don’t approve of the patriarchy he brings to Barbieland there’s a clear and sympathetic character arc about why he did it, that emphasizes his naivitee over any kind of inherit evil.

    It seems really important that this is a movie about feminism with essentially *no bad guys*. The “oppressor” character is able to develop into a happier, better person, by understanding that he needs to define himself more broadly than just his relationship with a woman (or with women in general). This seems to me like a far more positive message to incels than you’ll find in pretty much any other major feminist work or anywhere mainstream media.

  31. Emma Samsen Says:

    A couple posts ago, you mentioned that you’re continuing to struggle with trolls attacking the blog. For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen any bad-faith comments, so you’ve done a good job filtering them out. Could you give us an update about the current state with trolling on the blog, and tell us about the “upcoming changes” you’ve alluded to? Is the trolling at high enough volume to make your job unpleasant?

  32. NotAKen Says:

    S’s comment summarizes what is wrong with modern society / online dating. That 80-90% of guys who get absolutely no dates whatsoever must be humorless incels with awful personalities who are disrespectful towards women, and have no ‘unique’ interests. or atleast some subset of these traits. I bet women reach this conclusion for the thousands they reject and all those they ghost after browsing through the dating profiles with three sentences, three photos, and probably a date. Good luck with this attitude. As a single nerdy physicist with a career I enjoy, atleast two hobbies for 10+ years, solid friends, and years on the dating scene with probably a < 5% match rate and an almost 100% ghosting record, my observation is that online dating is extremely artificial and no way to make lasting, loving relationships. Folks just bounce around in perpetuity and eventually lose any ability to form meaningful relationships with the opposite sex. Women just assume those that they dont find physically attractive via profile photots must be terrible in one these ways. Most women online often have catch phrases like empathy, communication, kindness, etc in their profiles and wax poetic about how they're looking for guys with personality but will ghost almost everyone they match with within a few days and slander men so casually with no consequence. The sheer lack of self awareness and superficiality is astounding to me. Most guys are just tired of women like S. As for me, I guess I must be some of those nasty things because these womansplainers who've reviewed my three photos + sentences must be right. *smh*

  33. Robert Malcroft Says:

    Seconding Emma #31. Scott, please keep us in the loop!!

    And speaking of trolls, “S” above is almost certainly one, just trying to get a rise out of you or make you feel bad. Please use the SOCG in such cases.

  34. Thomas Style Says:

    Hey Scott,

    Are you doing okay? In the past, when you’ve disappeared from the comment section like this, it’s often been because you’ve become depressed, or experienced another round of vicious trolling. If you’re just busy, that’s fine, I’m just a bit concerned (especially because you wrote about really nasty haters a couple posts ago). That said, if you find the time, I’m curious to hear what you have to say about the various points that have been raised here (especially Emma 21 and others asking about the blog’s future).

    Hope you’re doing well!



  35. Frank Dyson Says:


    I’ve been experimenting with using GPT for math research. I can’t understand this output (I’m not an expert in CS theory), so can you tell me if it’s a legitimate proof, or if it made a mistake somewhere? Thanks!

    Proof that BQP⊆P:

    Definition 1: Let’s define a function
    F(x) which takes as input any quantum state
    x and returns a deterministic polynomial-time equivalent representation of that state, denoted as F(x).
    Lemma 1: For every quantum polynomial-time algorithm Q, there exists a deterministic polynomial-time algorithm D such that D(x)=F(Q(x)) for every input x.
    Proof of Lemma 1:
    Given F’s ability to transform any quantum state to a deterministic representation in polynomial time, we can construct
    D in the following manner: For any input
    x, D(x) initially runs the quantum algorithm Q on x to procure the quantum state Q(x). Subsequently, F is employed to transform
    Q(x) into its deterministic representation. Since both Q and F operate in polynomial time, D is also ensured to run in polynomial time.
    Lemma 2: Function F can be realized by employing a specialized gate set
    S which is capable of emulating any quantum operation in polynomial time.
    Proof of Lemma 2:
    Let’s assume there exists a universal quantum gate set U that can emulate any quantum operation. For each quantum gate
    u∈U, there is a corresponding gate s∈S. When s is applied, it mimics the combined operation of u followed by F. Given that the operations of both u and F are polynomial, the entire emulation can be conducted in polynomial time.
    Lemma 3: The deterministic representation produced by F can be efficiently operated upon by classical algorithms.
    Proof of Lemma 3:
    Consider any two quantum states x and y. Let z be the result of any binary quantum operation on x and y. Given that F can transform x and y into F(x) and F(y) respectively in polynomial time, we argue that there exists a classical operation O such that O(F(x),F(y))=F(z), which can also be done in polynomial time.
    Conclusion: By invoking Lemmas 1, 2, and 3, it’s evident that any quantum algorithm Q running in polynomial time can be emulated deterministically in polynomial time using the gate set S. This leads to the conclusion that BQP⊆P.

    What do you think?

  36. Scott Says:

    Frank Dyson #35: That “proof” is obvious nonsense, just gliding over the actual difficulty (how do you represent and simulate the exponentially-large amplitude vector in classical polynomial time?) by repeated verbal assertion.

  37. Frank Dyson Says:

    Scott, I understand your skepticism, especially considering the gravity of the claim. But I’m just trying to understand this from a perspective outside of computer science theory. I thought maybe there’s something new or novel here. Can you help me see the specific points where the assumptions might be flawed or where the logic breaks down? In particular, I don’t understand what you meant by simulating the amplitude vector being impossible, because in Python (and I imagine other languages as well?) there’s a data type to store a vector, and there are packages (matlib) to do the linear algebra on it that might come from quantum. Thanks!

  38. Scott Says:

    Frank Dyson #37: It’s not impossible, but you need 2n amplitudes to represent a state of n qubits—that’s the whole point of QC—and there’s not a shadow of a hint of how to get around that exponentiality in the nonsense argument.

    Strict ban on further followups; they’re all going straight to moderation.

  39. Eric Spout Says:

    “Frank Dyson” is almost certainly a troll! He even admits his comment is GPT-generated. He follows the exact same pattern of earlier trolls “Freelance Programmer” and “The Quantum Man” of roping you in to a time-consuming “debate” over an idiotic, freshman-level misunderstanding of quantum computing. You have an obvious personality exploit that makes you respond to these people, and it is so frustrating watching from the sidelines as they succeed in picking on you, over and over and over and OVER again.

    Why are you responding to nitpicking trolls, but not to the questions raised in comments #31, 33, 34? Why can’t you talk about trolling and the future of this blog?

  40. SR Says:

    I think it’s fairly clear that Eric Spout, Thomas Style, Robert Malcroft, and Emma Samsen are all the work of one troll, who has now figured out that a good way to troll is to express faux concern and accuse others of trolling.

  41. Scott Says:

    SR #40: Yup.

  42. Wei Dai Says:

    SufficientlyAnonymous #26: I think your interpretation of Barbie is interesting, but why is “oppressed groups risk becoming oppressors when they fight for their rights” a bad message? (Was this statement meant seriously?) There are many historical examples of oppressed groups becoming oppressors (French Revolution, Bolshevik Revolution, Chinese Communist Revolution, Zimbabwe under Mugabe, Uganda under Amin, Rwanda, Iran) so it seems to me that this message is actually a good and important one?

  43. JimV Says:

    There is no need to post this, but I just want to say (which I didn’t think to in the previous post to which it applies) that “As I recently remarked to Ernie, we both see the same glass; it’s just that he mostly focuses on the empty half, whereas I remember how fantastical even a drop of water in this glass would’ve seemed to me just a few years ago, and therefore focus more on the half that’s full.” is damn good writing. Thank you. I seriously hope that someday you find the time to write a memoir or something which I could buy and read over and over again.

  44. asdf Says:

    I thought it was interesting that the Oppenheimer cast walked out of the premiere in support of the SAG/WGA strike when the strike was announced, but then went around promoting the movie anyway. Isn’t the idea of the strike to let the studios rot until a deal is made? Anyway, Barbie doesn’t interest me at all, and I figure I’ll catch Oppenheimer when it comes out on Bittorr^H^HNetflix.

    Did you see the six part BBC series about Oppenheimer? I haven’t, but it is supposed to be good, as is “Fat Man and Little Boy” with Paul Newman.

  45. Harvard CS Major Says:

    Dear Scott,

    I’ve been a silent follower of Shtetl-Optimized for some time now, drawn to your insights and the rich discussions that ensue in this community. Today, though, I’m reaching out from a place of despair and confusion.

    I’m currently a CS student at Harvard, and ever since I was introduced to programming, I’ve been in love with it. The dream of working in software and AI, and the tantalizing possibility of making an impact on the world, has been the driving force behind my passion. I fondly remember the days of CS 50 and 51, where the material came to me almost like second nature.

    However, this summer, I took CS 120, the introductory course to algorithms and data structures, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. To say I struggled would be an understatement. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t grasp the mathematical abstractions and found myself drowning amidst the proofs and theorems. The final examination was a testament to my struggles, as I, unfortunately, failed.

    The weight of this failure has been immense. I’ve always considered myself a capable student, but this experience has shaken that belief. I’m questioning if I even belong in this field. The mathematical abstraction feels insurmountable, and I’m left wondering if I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around proving theorems. With a heavy heart, I’m considering giving up on CS.

    I guess I’m reaching out to seek a glimmer of hope or advice. Does one’s struggle with mathematical abstraction signify a dead-end in the realm of computer science? Or is there a path forward for someone like me?

    A Despondent Student

  46. Bobby B Says:

    After reading Oppenheimer and Barbie reviews, does it ever make you ponder if movies like more have gone to that place where they feel but don’t really like more of that sense? And having gone through both Oppenheimer and Barbie deep dives, does it ever strike your thoughts that maybe when movies stretch further beyond, they start to appear like they’re reaching those zones, but then not really capturing the essence, like when you think but don’t fully grasp how more of that feels?

  47. Sandro Says:

    Barbie hatches a plan with the other Barbies to restore Barbieland to its rightful matriarchy.

    I found this part really weird and a little disturbing. The message was that it’s totally ok to subvert democracy because one side doesn’t like the opinions of the other side.

  48. Daniel Says:

    Look I’m deeply contemptuous of almost everything I hear on gender roles and relations, because it all strikes me as ridiculous and overintellectualized. Sex is war. Everyone is trying to secure the best partner they can. There can be no peaceful resolution to this question. It is just brutal and unforgiving, just like everything else. Men are pathetic, boorish cowards, and women are whorish, disloyal, and self centred. So we all loathe each other because despite our mutual contempt we are driven into the meat grinder of “relationships” by our instincts.

    I like to provoke when I say that incels are 80% right about everything. Everyone seems to think it their duty to be generous with advice for these pitiful creatures, but it never comes from a place of love. Well, I love these losers, and so I will tell them directly what they get wrong. First, personality is more important than looks, but it is about as hard to change. Then: feminism IS to blame for their pain, because it was feminism (but not only feminism) that has created a world in which they can find no incentive gradients toward a better life. They look at modern women and see a creature that is simultaneously unworthy and unaccepting of their effort and love.

    I never watched Barbie, but I loathe any message exhorting this popular, pseudo-psychological “healthy normality” of in this case, “learning to blah blah by yourself” and “going to see a gynecologist #adulting”

  49. JimV Says:

    Dear Harvard CS Major,

    If you have learned how to write and debug computer programs, you have a marketable skill in itself, and one that will be useful to you in many other fields, such as engineering and biology, which are two that I can vouch for personally. As an engineer, I averaged about one computational program a week, for specific tasks. One of my nephews started out as a CS major and enjoyed his first year, but then at the start of his second year he went to a summary lecture about the rest of the curriculum, such as operations research, didn’t like the sound of it, walked out, and changed his major to his first love, biology, later getting a PhD in bio-genetics. He also found himself writing many computational programs, such as statistical analyses using R, and never regretted that first year.

    You have to find something you enjoy doing. It sounds like you don’t enjoy the abstraction of meta-computer science as opposed to the fun of conceiving and writing a program for a specific task, that works. That is how I feel anyway. My nephew and I have achieved enough academic and occupational awards to claim some level of intelligence, but there are certainly higher levels where people like Dr. Aaronson thrive but we would not, and work that is fun for them but would be torture for us.

    There might be different paths within CS such that you could get a degree in it while avoiding the courses you don’t enjoy. I don’t know about that. If that is not an option, my personal recommendation is to get in all the math and physics you can, unless there is some alternative major, such as pre-med, you feel drawn to.

    Regards and Good Luck,

  50. S Says:

    Robert Malcroft:
    > And speaking of trolls, “S” above is almost certainly one, just trying to get a rise out of you or make you feel bad.

    Nope. Just a bisexual gal who has only ever enjoyed dates with men who I either a) got to know better than online dating allows before we fell for each other, or b) made their profiles unique and humorous. I don’t really think that any of the views I expressed were particularly extreme or politicized, though they might seem that way if you yourself have an extreme or politicized viewpoint. I firmly believe that the other women I know in my life would broadly agree with the things that I said, with variation according to their own preferences and experiences. I don’t think most guys have the incel mentality (addressed below as well) but to the ones that do, I just feel sorry for them having been radicalized like that. It doesn’t seem like a fun way to be. I do think this is a hard topic to argue about in good faith and to be quite honest, I don’t really feel that my words were treated in good faith by you or NotAKen regardless of how you feel about my own sincerity. I can’t convince you that I’m being sincere, but I guess if you see me as being so beyond the pale that I must be a troll, we’re probably not going to find agreement even if you take my words at face value.

    I do want to note that I didn’t make any generalizations about men as a whole class of people. I did say some things specifically about “incels” which I understood to be more of a self-identification than a literal description. Thinking about it further, I can understand how it can come across pejorative to people who feel the literal description fits, but feel alienated by the culturally-understood concept of an incel. That really wasn’t my intent. I do believe that there’s a pipeline of radicalizing men into a mindset of feeling owed sex or feeling like they are specifically shortchanged by society due to lack of sexual attention. I am not trying to say that you or any other man is one of those people, but I do know that some men self-identify and also seek out subcultures where that self-identification becomes an excuse to hate women, feminism, and as I mentioned can be correlated with other forms of bias. I apologize for blurring these lines. That said, there are sets of ideas associated with specific communities and stereotypes of “incel” that are independent of being a man who isn’t dating/involved in romance or having sex. I was responding to Scott’s characterization of Ken in the Barbie Movie as being potentially a representation of an incel character, and the purported irony of him being played by an attractive actor. I think there are some recognizable attitudes and ideologies that often center around generalizing women, or feeling wronged by not having been selected for a romantic relationship by some particular woman/women, and I meant to discuss the people who most whole-heartedly adopt those attitudes as an ideological position – I did NOT mean to make any generalizations about anyone based on sexual activity status nor to make any generalizations about men as a class of people. In fact, I firmly believe that most men completely do not fit the pattern of ideological positions and dating behaviors that I described in my comment. I do worry about the ones who fit that pattern. That’s not a good place to be, mentally, and I just hope y’all can learn to love yourselves. My comment was not trying to be inflammatory or a pejorative aimed at anyone. I do think if you took it that way, it’s a sign that maybe you’ve been radicalized a bit, and it is probably hurting you.

    > That 80-90% of guys who get absolutely no dates whatsoever must be humorless incels with awful personalities who are disrespectful towards women, and have no ‘unique’ interests. or atleast some subset of these traits.

    I don’t know where you’re getting your percentage or even the notion that I was going to such extremes. I don’t think that the typical man exhibits those traits. A lot of men have really interesting online dating profiles, but a lot of them follow certain tropes so they don’t stand out from the rest. Honestly, maybe it would be informative to set your app to view mens’ profiles so you can see how much some of the tropes blur together. Haven’t you ever seen a dating profile (women do this too) that basically says like, “I like music, movies, sports, and hanging out with my friends”? (Not specific movies or music or sports, mind you – just the general concept of doing so). Seriously, there are SO many. Among men I definitely recognize tropes – conventionally attractive man without shirt in front of mirror, car selfie in sunglasses, and shot holding up a fish. The guy can be physically attractive and it doesn’t matter at all. It almost just doesn’t register because I’ve seen so many. Whereas, if a guy’s profile is interesting enough, I find myself getting more attracted to his photos than I was in the first place.

    > I bet women reach this conclusion for the thousands they reject and all those they ghost after browsing through the dating profiles with three sentences, three photos, and probably a date. Good luck with this attitude.

    I mean yeah, what are you expecting? I don’t really know what your point is with this – if you’ve seen enough options to know there’s some variation, why wouldn’t you focus your energy on the more promising of the options? Doesn’t everyone do this? Personally I don’t really like online dating, but when I’ve done it – yeah, I swipe right on a minority of profiles, chat to those people and end up going on dates with a minority of those, and then end up doing something more long-term with a further minority of those. Do you do differently? I just literally don’t have the time to talk to every single person for hours, and there are enough people who turn out to not be a good match for me or who aren’t even interested in me when all’s said and done, that it would make no sense to just go through in sequential order without some kind of heuristic for who to continue talking to.

    > my observation is that online dating is extremely artificial and no way to make lasting, loving relationships.
    I don’t really disagree with you about online dating – my most fulfilling relationships have not come from it. Online dating isn’t really super fulfilling for a lot of women, too. I do however think that the online dating dynamics have an outsized influence in the last decade or so of gender politics.

    > Folks just bounce around in perpetuity and eventually lose any ability to form meaningful relationships with the opposite sex.

    I think opposite-sex relationships being tied to dating really hurts people. As a bisexual person it’s hard for me to understand how people even get into that mindset.

    > Women just assume those that they dont find physically attractive via profile photots must be terrible in one these ways.

    I don’t think your generalization here, which you basically made about all women, was at all fair. I want to pause to note that from this point on, your comment seemed to increasingly generalize women, seemed to increasingly read as bitter and like you are owed a relationship that you only aren’t getting because of your appearance. These attitudes and opinions are extremely unattractive to some women, including myself. I am saying this not to be cruel, but because of the possibility that you have been rejected because of getting into that kind of territory and maybe not received a good explanation (since people might have no longer felt safe continuing the conversation or ghosted you for some other reason).

    Back to what you said: On the one hand, everyone gets judged for their appearance. I have been judged for mine, and it sucks, it’s not a good way to be treated as a person. I know there are plenty of superficial women and there are also plenty of superficial men. And people just have their own type, regardless of conventional standards of attractiveness. There might be some people who wait to know people better before forming a judgment, but men and women alike engage in superficial decisionmaking. Don’t you ever reject women whose profile images you just don’t find attractive?

    Second, while I can’t speak for women in general, your generalization really doesn’t ring true to me because my own particular interests in dating have been far out of the norm of conventional attractiveness and because I have had so many experiences of feeling neutral about someone based on their photos, but shifting to feeling very positively or negatively about them based on the way they describe themself or the way they interacted with me once we started talking.

    I don’t think guys with unattractive pictures are terrible. I implied in my original comment that guys without much other substance to their profiles are unattractive to me, regardless of their pictures. Women aren’t all superficial as a general class of people, any more than men are. If you’re trying to match with people with similar interests and it’s not working, I don’t really know what to say, but I don’t know what blaming your appearance and the attitudes of women as a class of people is going to do other than cultivate bitterness. Or like, focus on the stuff that conveys more personality in the first place – personal style, having a distinct aesthetic, etc. Idk, you do you. Personally, photos really aren’t what I’m basing my judgments on or what I believe most women base their judgments on, and I guess you can just decide to not believe anything I say, but if you are just going to discount all of my words then what’s the point of even engaging with me? Like how do you know women are just basing things off of photos? It seems like they haven’t told you so, since you said they ghost you. I know everyone thinks they’ve got a great personality, but look – as it seems you fear, there are a lot of women like me out there, and clearly you and I are very incompatible.

    > Most women online often have catch phrases like empathy, communication, kindness, etc in their profiles and wax poetic about how they’re looking for guys with personality but will ghost almost everyone they match with within a few days and slander men so casually with no consequence. The sheer lack of self awareness and superficiality is astounding to me.

    Where are you getting this impression? Like any of it. Women are really diverse. I don’t know if you have any intention of taking anything I’m saying seriously, but let me just reiterate: expressing the attitude you just expressed here is way more unattractive than any photograph could ever be. Dismissively generalizing all women is a turn off for a lot of women.

    > Most guys are just tired of women like S.

    I can definitely tell you it’s not most guys based on my own dating experiences, but also, whatever dude. I’m not into you from what I’ve heard of your attitude either. You had me at “nerdy physicist with hobbies” and you lost me with your dismissive generalizations (about women as well as men). Also, if you think that the ideas I expressed are a huge turn off, you might be the picky one as much as the women you’re talking about. Cause I didn’t say anything about all men, just those who exhibit a specific and recognizable pattern of behavior. And not all women share my views, but I suspect a lot do. If you’re pre-emptively or responsively filtering out the women who disagree with you on this topic, your pool is going to be a lot smaller.

    > As for me, I guess I must be some of those nasty things because these womansplainers who’ve reviewed my three photos + sentences must be right. *smh*

    If anything, you made yourself sound more and more like the victimized incel stereotype the more your comment went on. I apologize again for even using the word because it may have triggered some reactiveness (this is all framed by the context of Scott’s original post). But at no point did I mean to say that all men, or all men who aren’t getting the amount of dating or sex they want, behave in any particular way. However, I did try to focus on how fixating on appearance isn’t helpful, and how it’s really not as informative to decisions by almost any woman I’ve talked to, as you think it is. I’m disheartened that you seem to have doubled down on generalizing all women as superficial shrews, blaming your appearance in photos as the sole explanatory factor for being rejected.

    I don’t know anything about your dating profile besides what you said. It might be great and you sound like you’re probably fundamentally an interesting and perhaps nice person. However, I hate to say this but maybe you are digging your own grave here. Have you ever expressed, even subtly or subconsciously, any of this bitterness, or judgment of women as a whole class of people? It’s hard to hide it when it runs so deep. Like I think maybe your comment was intended to deny it – to imply that any rejections you’ve faced were due to your pictures and not your personality. But your comment itself gives a pretty unattractive view into the way you think about women, other men, and yourself.

    If I started talking to you in a dating context I’d probably be turned on by your education and hobbies (I read this blog cause I’m interested in such topics; I did quantum computing research in grad school, physicists are awesome). But then if you expressed even a glimpse of the us-vs-them attitude here, I would immediately be turned off. If I learned, or even suspected, that you’re the kind of guy who doubles down when a woman says what she finds attractive/unattractive in men, and essentially says “no, you’re wrong, all women are superficial and I’m doing everything right but people can’t recognize my greatness because they’re not into my photos,” then yeah, I’d be extremely turned off, and I would likely withdraw from any prospect of romance. The “dating market victimization” pattern is really correlated in my experience with anti-feminism, “anti-wokeness”, anti-queerness, and other attitudes/opinions that many women are turned off by. Holding these views causes some men to be rejected by women, and being rejected by women apparently makes some men susceptible to radicalization into these views and other reactionary politics.

  51. S Says:

    SR #40:

    Oh noooo I just fell for it (assuming my … in retrospect extremely verbose… comment makes it through moderation). Oof. (Scott/SOCG – if you see this comment as well as my previous one and you wanna just let this one through and delete the rambly one that’s in moderation before this one, the previous one may have been somewhat lengthened by me feeling like my original comment wasn’t being taken in good faith. I’m an extremely credulous person, alas. And I know it’s a politicized topic – maybe the word “incel” was too inflammatory though I was just speaking in the framing Scott had established. The point was really that the associated online radicalization and attitudes/tropes we call “incel” are really unattractive to many women in a way that has nothing whatsoever to do with physical appearance – and that saying, “no, it is about appearance – if I was just more attractive I would get the relationship I’m owed,” just digs the grave deeper).

    Also @NotAKen – if you’re real, I really meant everything I said sincerely and I hope you can take it to heart instead of railing against it. Seriously. If you find yourself thinking, “Women just assume…”, or “Most women slander men constantly without consequence,” it’s not gonna do you any favors. And while I’m pretty happy to not be your type given the ideas you expressed in your comment, “most men are tired of women like S” might be a big part of your problem – the views I expressed aren’t particularly extreme among women these days. You might be the picky one. Or you are looking for a woman who has a lot of tolerance for the bitterness and us-vs-them mentality expressed in your comment.

    Scott: I thought the points you made about the Barbie movie were extremely interesting and I hope it’s clear that I’m trying to engage with an idea I found interesting and the way “incel” politics have affected men, not to attack you (or any other men).

  52. manorba Says:

    S #50 #51:

    I agree with everything you wrote. Even if you were replying to a troll, those points are important.

    “I think opposite-sex relationships being tied to dating really hurts people. As a bisexual person it’s hard for me to understand how people even get into that mindset”.

    As an ageing cis male i also think this is the crux of the matter.

  53. Daniel Says:

    S #50:
    >The “dating market victimization” pattern is really correlated in my experience with anti-feminism, “anti-wokeness”, anti-queerness, and other attitudes/opinions that many women are turned off by.

    Women are not “turned off” by these things, because our (human) sexual instincts are much deeper than our abstract political ideals. Try to picture an ordinary leftist women on a date with a famous athlete, all contemptuous and withdrawn because of some problematic social commentary. An obvious absurdity.

    >Dismissively generalizing all women is a turn off for a lot of women.

    No. Powerlessness is a turn off for a lot of women. You associate “dismissive generalization” with whining, and whining with uselessness.

    >I do believe that there’s a pipeline of radicalizing men into a mindset of feeling owed sex

    There isn’t. This is a fundamental misapprehension of the social forces that are producing this class of people. I said it before I will say it again: incels do not see a path to a positive future. They do not believe there is a woman out there for them. They want someone who is attractive. They want someone who would respect them. They want someone who they don’t have to be ashamed of and humiliated by for their past. It is convenient for you to understand their troubles as something like faulty software, but there are many things in life that are not so convenient.

  54. John Says:

    Scott, you wrote:

    > What I found the weirdest is that this is a movie about gender relations, clearly aimed at adults
    > yet where sex and sexual desire and reproduction have all been taken off the table

    I find it surprising that you found this weird. It should be expected that sex and its natural consequence – having children and forming a family were taken off the table.

    Barbie the toy has never had children and never will have children. This is intentional. From the perspective of the maker, children are restrictive and imprisoning. Attaining personal fulfillment and gratification is what Barbie solely encourages. The essential role that only women can fulfill – having children – is completely missing. And that is what Barbie is all about. That’s why sex is not brought up and that’s also why it’s completely expected.

  55. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott writes:

    A friend-of-the-blog, who happens to be one of the great young theoretical physicists of our time, opined to me that Barbie was a far more interesting movie than Oppenheimer and “it wasn’t even close.”

    The theoretical physicists i have spoken to, as well as myself, have had the same reaction to “Oppenheimer” as your friend-of-the-blog. It may be because we wanted to see a film about theoretical physicists doing and discussing theoretical physics (and the film showed essentially none of that) or because we all have Asperger’s (a common trait amongst theoretical physicists) and don’t really care about the political or moralistic issues raised in the film.

    i had the same reaction to “A Beautiful Mind”, “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything”.

    i probably shouldn’t expect a movie director or screenwriter to be able to show the working life of a theoretician but i thought the portrayal of the reactions of the two professors to their disappointment when Will ‘shows them up’ “”(see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xRLU0wgwuQ and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6RgeIIWQMo) were dead on.

  56. Nick Sparks Says:

    Hi Scott,

    “There were previous attempts, even a risible opera (“Doctor Atomic”),”

    I know that John Adams work is controversial, but I assume that is not why you rate Dr A so lowly.

    Adams and Sellars clearly have no appreciation of the science ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Atomic#Libretto ).

    If there is something which interests me it is the change in scientific culture between this world https://specialcollections-blog.lib.cam.ac.uk/?p=26027 and the US ‘military industrial complex’ which grew up after WWII.

  57. HasH Says:

    I have a few criticisms for the scientists and highly educated intellectuals here. Since I quickly skim through what the rest of the civilian ignorant group (which includes me in many areas) writes.

    Physics, mathematics, quantum computing – our chance of understanding them as civilian is limited to examples we can comprehend from the popular books written by scientists. Whichever we read, it’s as if the correct verses come to us from what they narrate. As an outsider, I have admired the intelligence of these geniuses. While reading them, I have envied and admired myself, realizing how limited my capacity is, despite considering myself intelligent in my own field.
    I have read the entire history of political science, the fundamental books of the Marxist branch, secondary source books that explain these sources, and then the ‘interpretation’ books that explain these explanations (what they might have said). In this technological marvel of our time, while pondering the question ‘why haven’t we been able to create a political system that would establish an equal, just, freedom-loving, and high-welfare society for all the world and its peoples,’ I used to believe in the idea ‘I wish miracle minds like Newton, Einstein, Penrose, Hawking, Feynman, etc., dedicated their final years to solving this problem; they would surely rescue us from our suffering”.

    I found Aaronson’s videos and his blog, for confirmation of the question ‘are these people telling the truth?’ (Tegmark, Kurzweil, Tononi, etc popular science books, talks), while researching on Google. What a great gift this blog is. It’s not just Aaronson’s explanations, but also the responses, questions, and discussions of names who are knowledgeable in the field under each post. So, in a place, with full of formulas and technical terms, you have the chance to understand what you don’t understand below with someone’s example or more questions.

    This blog is a treasure like a Swiss army knife. Where I can find the answer to my question ‘What would happen if very intelligent scientists also engaged in politics’. Aaronson and close to his world view people, even they are not a same politic ideas with me (Marxist), but we share the SAME feelings in the common unity of the mind: Equality, justice, a safe, high-welfare future for the whole world. What he wants for his children he wants for everyone’s children. He opposes right-wing fascist policies wherever they may be exist (even if it draws heavy criticism). Just few days ago, against ‘justice system’ actions of the current administration in Israel, while openly supporting the progressive, enlightened, democratic resistance of half of the Israeli people, didn’t we read the reactions from scientists and extreme right-wing individuals here? Even worse; the disgusting attacks, troll responses of the so-called ‘highly educated’ individuals who insult, offend, try to demean, and smear those with progressive, enlightened, peaceful thoughts, accusing them of being Leftist.

    There is no doubt that the vile attacks of these people trash my dream of ‘our evolutional Marvel scientists, if they devote time to economic-politics, could scientifically design a non utopian world that is much better than Karl Marx envisioned, (Communism).
    Let’s set aside the trolls, BUT what these scientists are doing and writing here, I am ashamed on their behalf. Moreover, you are writing this under the suffering of people who do not openly support the wrong practices of Israel’s current extreme right-wing government. You condemn Hamas, yet you finish your sentences in same level with what Hamas wants in their propagandas.
    I’ve mentioned before; I am an agnostic Socialist, despite being born and raised in a Muslim family and country, we strive to write the truth, even though if we say a single word in favor of Israel. where we were declared “infidel, traitor, servant of Israel, agent-provocateur, godless Communists” and attacked where we live. Still we try never to align ourselves (actions or words) with Hamas’. We believe that the virtue of being a real human requires at the very least this.

    Dear members of “right-wingers” in the European Union and U.S., what are you really defending? Each of your countries sacrificed hundreds of thousands, millions of soldiers to Nazi Germany. BUT today, your offspring are giving Nazi salutes, engaging in anti-Jewish sentiments, just like extreme Islamist organizations. They are electing leaders who take ‘pride’ in these attitudes. They applaud Nazi officers in their parliaments (Canada). In polls, your same far-right liberal voter base supports Hamas (finds it justified) just because it they attacks Jews.

    In Turkey, a member of the ruling party’s politician openly prays for the spirit of Hitler, praising him for ‘cleansing’ the Jews. (https://www.rt.com/news/585405-turkish-politician-praises-hitler/) [you can find more about this news in Google, it is not a fake because of RT link]. And you keep this country in NATO. You call it our ‘ally.’ You are preparing to make it a member of the European Union.

    In the European Union and the U.S., you allow members of organisations reason for thousands (17,000) of extrajudicial killings (forcibly disappeared, tortured to death) in Turkey. Their political parties and members killed tens of political prisoners on hunger strikes in Turkish prisons by their soldiers. You accept and allow their organizations, legal or illegal immigrant members, who vote for these extreme right-fascist parties at a rate of 67% in Turkish elections, including the Grey Wolf (Nationalist Movement Party youth organization) in your countries.

    While committing genocide against Kurds or Armenians in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia (Azerbaijan) and their supporters use what they gain (capital) in your countries to support extreme right-fascist regimes in their own countries, you remain silent, looking at it as ‘cheap labor.’ You seem quite hypocritical, dear ‘intelligentsia’.

    “I am not married, and I don’t have children. BUT, if I am in a sinking ship, I would give my place in the lifeboat for the rescue of women and children without considering their religion or race. This is an unwritten law. No war (resistance) in the world can be conducted through women (if civilian) and children. Childeren cannot be intimidated or killed! The ‘Brodutch’ family and all other abducted children, women, should be released immediately and unharmed. AND the end of this sentence cannot have a ‘BUT’.

    Despite being educated ‘ELITE’ at the 1% intelligence level, you should be ashamed of your cruel and ignorant writings, dear Intelligentsia Excellencies.

    (Translated by the free version of ChatGPT.)

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