Lessons Learned #048: The Sketch Book.

Portmanteau.

I love using and saying words that are both fun and descriptive.

This morning I’ll start with portmanteau; (which is also a piece of luggage but in this context is) a made-up word where the user combines the sounds of two other words to form a new word with a similar definition. A common one is Motor Hotel becomes MOTEL.

 

I often get asked whether human behavior pattern recognition and analysis (HBPR&A) can be used to ‘profile’ the author of an email or a voice on a cell phone message.

The simple answer is that given enough information you can profile anything!

Remember the two parts of HBPR&A; first is the Pattern Recognition, second is the Analysis applied to that recognition. In other words, just like a fingerprint or a strand of DNA, your human behavior can identify you from any other human being.

Emoticons.

The word emoticon is a portmanteau. It is the ‘mash up’ of emotion and icon. Early work in emoticons (from the early 1980s) were merely combinations of keyboard strokes on a computer that appeared to be a wink or smile if you looked at them just right.  

Humans are prone to personifying objects, items and animals. We tend to attribute human characteristics to non-humans and items to make sense of situations occurring around us. The more abstract or nuanced the relationship, the more we want to think of that item or animal governed by a sense of moral decency or driven by evil intent, not merely the causal effect of happenstance.

Aesop did it with animals and a moral. You do it with the weather, the storm blowing in from Bradbury’s novel; “Something wicked this way comes” is a good example. You believing that there is a “black cloud” hanging over your head is another.  

The emoji is a logical extension of an emoticon and dates back much further than you think.

Do you use Emoticons or Emojis?

The pictorial representations of human emotions came after the typographical art instances appearing in 1981. The most common were happiness, sadness and indifference. Remember that these symbolic representations were necessary when communicating in the short, often misunderstood messages that are text based and therefor lack nuanced body language and facial transmissions of intent or emotion.

I go the opposite way. Anyone that routinely receives a text message from me knows that I pick my emojis completely at random and if, luckily, they form an emotion or message above and beyond that intended by my words, all the better.

Because emojis appear without definitions, its largely up to the user and receiver to determine the context and relevance. For me, the snowflake emoji indicates the snow that falls seemingly eternally on Rogue Manor West. To a member of the Cali Cartel, maybe it means cocaine.  

A well thought out emoji may help ease a situation or convey flirtation. Some studies show that the use of emoticons or emojis convey a positive effect on personal interactions. This is likely due to the fun, additional ‘human behavior’ information and paralanguage content being conveyed to add emotional rigor to your email or text message.

The science.

Perhaps more importantly, when you use emojis, both you and the receiver of your message are activating the same parts of the brain which react when they observe the emotions transmitted by a real human face.

The role of a Lessons Learned is to take time to pore over past incidents in order to make your mental file folders more robust. To allow you to use that assembled data for future recall to better inform your future decisions.

Sometimes Lessons Learned are about successes, sometimes about failures. Sometimes you have to dig through the data to determine the relevance of the difference.

The absence of science.  

I haven’t “cracked the code” on Hollywood. Perhaps there isn’t one.

In the days before Valentine’s Day, I like to set the mood by watching certain films with Shelly. For example; “Love, Actually.” Shelly laughs, I cry, we eat snacks and go to bed. Another fave, “Notting Hill.” If you can get past the ridiculously slow pace and the fact that Hugh Grant doesn’t actually have lines of dialogue, merely pregnant pauses and ‘hmms’ and ‘emms’ that come across as introspective, shy and somehow sexy.

Later, while watching; “Four Weddings and a Funeral” it hit me. These movies are formulas. Human finds other human. Human falls in love. Humans are separated by events. Humans keep crossing paths, love builds, drama builds, expectations build until the climax where these romance-challenged humans end up together.

Notting Hill and Four Weddings are virtually the same film and Hugh Grant is the protagonist of each.

The Oscar Weiner.

The choice of Joaquin Phoenix as best actor was a Hollywood choice not a normal human being choice. It was conscience not science. It was a kudo from other actors and film makers not from cinema lovers like you and me.

Phoenix got the role because he was (1) controversial, and (2) cheap. His career is dotted with choices of playing characters precariously balanced of the edge of sanity, dangerous me suffering from mental illness and significant internal confusion and conflict.

American short story writer Washington Irving (Rip Van Winkle, Sleepy Hollow etc.) coined the term Gotham. He originally used it in his story, “The wise men of Gotham” regarding characters and situations in the very real English village. Soon after writing the story, Irving made it well known that he intended the parallel with the behavior of those he had witnessed in New York City.

One of Irving’s characters ‘Diedrich Knickerbocker’ and the Harman Jansen family name (Dutch settlers from the early 1600’s) were important enough that the ‘Knicks’ name is forever linked to Gotham City.

 

By the time that ‘Batman’ was en vogue, everyone knew that Gotham meant and referred to New York City.

The Joker character is meant to be frightening and unpredictable. Phoenix may have been the perfect choice for Joker as his career was in shambles and his performance art often borders on ‘crazy’.

Hollywood liked the fact that Phoenix beat himself up, abused his body and lost an unhealthy amount of weight. What those sacrifices may have added to the characterization paled in comparison to the dedication demonstrated to other Hollywood actors.

In other words, that transformation alone certainly didn’t endear The Joker to the viewing audience who already came to the theater with a general idea of the character.

What I saw on the screen was a three-time Oscar nominee re-playing his roles as Johnny Cash, the emperor from Gladiator and finally as Freddy Quell in ‘The Master’. Misguided, angry, dangerous men with obvious mental illness and sadomasochistic tendencies.

In fact, Phoenix’s mannerisms, manner of speech and behavior patterns were the same in each of those films as well as his appearance on Late Night with David Letterman in 2009, his cop role in Inherent Vice and again as ‘Joe’ the hitman in, “You Were Never Really Here.”

A year after his Late-Night appearance, Phoenix came out with ‘I’m still here.’

This move was not unlike those performed recently by the “Bad Corey,” Corey Feldman. Feldman was waning, so in the span of a year he started a band, came out with a story regarding being the victim of sexual and a litany of other scripted “news” stories to put him back in the game (at least momentarily).

This happened recently with Ricki Lake. Lake has had an impressive career that waned in the past dozen years. So, this year she has appeared on the ‘D’ and ‘E’ celebrity vehicle ‘The Masked Singer’, then on television to share her personal story of female celebrity hair loss.

I’m still here” was touted as a mockumentary. Phoenix referred to his retirement as if he chose to leave Hollywood behind rather than the industry and those who pay for films were actually the deciding factor. Remember that his “I quit acting” stunt was only to get himself noticed again. The film sucked but Phoenix got the last laugh.

My favorite was when Phoenix took the facts that his performances were horrible, his films crappy and his roles derivative and spun them during an interview with The New York Times Style Magazine.

The interviewer called Phoenix out and he replied that the failure of his most recent film and his (almost 2 year) absence from films and Hollywood were his choices and allowed him to, “be bold in my decisions instead of being safe.” Ha.

A certain segment of folks will go to the theater to watch films about any character related to the Batman series, no matter who or how bad the actor portrayals. Todd Phillips‘ portrayal of The Joker was a different animal altogether. The film made over a billion dollars as of this writing, and garnered Phoenix a best actor Oscar.

Does that mean it was a good film? A good performance?

If you want to see evidence that Phoenix wasn’t ACTING merely mimicking the previous performances of other actors, please go out and see 1982’s The King of Comedy. In this Scorsese dark debacle, Robert De Niro is performing Phoenix’s portrayal of The Joker.

De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin and Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck are identical for all intents and purposes. Both are delusional, both are stand up comedians. Both are preparing for appearances on late night talk shows by having past episodes of the talk show playing on a television while their characters ‘rehearse’ in person in their living rooms.

Perhaps you need more proof.

I suggest renting Taxi Driver, yet another Scorsese flick where De Niro’s Travis Bickle is a dangerous character riding the jagged edge of mental illness. Bickle’s rehearsal, “Are you talking to me?” and Phoenix’s preparation to commit suicide on “The Murray Franklin Show” are virtually identical. Oh, and De Niro plays Franklin in The Joker.

This demented gene pool is only possible in Hollywood where the DNA circles the drain constantly infecting the next film and the one after that that are pushed out of the fetid Hollywood hills assembly line.

Pupkin’s warning to his “viewers” could be the fade out to The Joker. De Niro says, “Tomorrow you’ll know I wasn’t kidding and you’ll all think I’m crazy. But I figure it this way: better to be king for a night, than a schmuck for a lifetime.”

Before I extol the virtues of The Joker, let me throw one more barb at Phoenix. When asked by an interviewer about his portrayal of Joker and the controversy his portrayal caused, Phoenix remarked:

I could care less, I don’t really think that much about what people think. Who cares, who cares? My approach to every movie is the same. What I’m interested in is the filmmaker and the idea of the character.

The inbreeding shant end until Hollywood stops patting each other on the back and returns to the formula of making films for we in the audience rather that derivative, repetitive films designed merely to make money.

The accolades.

I will tell you this. I saw The Joker while on a flight from Dallas to Philadelphia.

My poor, dated iPad certainly wasn’t the perfect media for transmitting such a vast, dark, brooding film, but then again it wasn’t actually an action film. It was more of a stage play featuring one mans further descent into madness. That part of the show truly appealed to me.

When Phoenix portrayed the inner struggles associated with mental illness I connected with his character.

When the mounting desperation (although contrived for the ‘cartoon’ element of the film) reached critical mass I cried when Joker cried. I (like many of you) have had bouts of depression where you didn’t know whether you should cry from the situation at hand or laugh at the irony.

When Joker handles his pistol, his actions, reservations and emotions are palpable. I believed him and them. Discard the tenet that society made Joker a villain, he was a broken human and his mental illness came spilling out of the cracks in his armor. The stress fractures of his human performance.

So What?

I highly recommend that you and a loved one or trusted friend watch The Joker together.

Anyone experiencing PTSD will no doubt revisit a full range of powerful emotions. Anyone experiencing mental illness may be able to relate with specific feelings of exasperation during the film. Either of these eventualities may help prompt a discussion. Dialogue is much better than acting out.

There are a dozen points within the film where you can hit pause, rewind or just complete watching the film then reflect on the emotions you experienced (due to your brain chemistry, mirror neurons and the association you made with the characters emotions exhibited on screen).

These experiences will create teachable moments. Moments of reflection and introspection perhaps not possible without Joaquin’s performance. I suggest that you use the film to promote mental health training, resilience and education. Maybe Hollywood can have a positive impact on your training after all.

Training changes behavior!

  • Greg

Leave a Reply