The Prince and Me

The Prince and Me is a typical, modern relationship movie. That means shallow characters who don't think about each other (the little that there is), who fall in love for no reason, cement their relationship with sexual touching, dramatically breakup once or twice, and then live happily ever after.

Here are the interests of the characters:

Paige: medicine, getting into medical school

Eddie: cars, girls

What do they do together? First, he annoys her and gets rejected. She appears beautiful and challenging. Then, she starts liking him but denies it for some reason, after a bit of persistence and doing some schoolwork together. They meet her family. They work at the same restaurant and she teaches him to slice meet. She also teaches him to do laundry. That's about it. Throw in flirting and you have the basis of their relationship.

Of course, once they kiss, everything changes. Now they touch all the time and smile a lot, and this distracts them from doing anything else. However, this is too boring to last long in a movie, even though it's supposed to be the good part (and shouldn't the good part of a relationship be interesting?). So they quickly get caught making out by the media, and then she finds out he's a prince and never told her. And then she dumps him for "lying" to her (by omission). How quickly "happily ever after" isn't!

As usual, she soon realizes her mistake and regrets it. If only she'd ever seen a movie like this one, she'd have realized it's better to think first and breakup second. So she goes back to him.

Then he's going to be King soon, so proposes marriage. She agrees without asking any questions. Isn't that strange? Why does becoming King mean he needs a wife immediately? Is it really a good idea to get engaged a couple days after a breakup? And what responsibilities does a queen have? And where will they live? And what will happen to her life and future plans? Will she still go to medical school? At the school she intended, or one in Denmark?

But considering stuff like that is a matter of reason. This is a movie about love. So she just agrees and finds out what it means later. She has a very busy schedule, most of which seems boring. Worse, he's busier and has to leave her in the middle of activities (which means sexual touching getting interrupted, because that's all they really do). This leaves her waiting around, alone.

So she dumps him again to back to the USA and go to medical school. She doesn't want to give up her career. It never occurs to her to try to get both things she wants. She just picks one and painfully gives up the other.

If he cared about her at all, he would have seen this problem coming in advance. I sure did, and I'm just an audience member. He could have been figuring stuff out like whether there is a medical school in Denmark she could go to (of course there is). She could have thought of this too it's not that hard.

So after she dumps him and leaves, he follows her and says "I'll wait." She can go to medical school, and whatever else she wants, and they'll be together afterwards. They still don't seem to realize she could go to school in his country and they don't have to be far apart. Regardless, she agrees, and the movie closes without further discussion: they will live happily ever after. The last two times that appeared to be true, and then she dumped him, were just bad luck, but there is no possible way they'll be unlucky again. Why not? Because they are in love. Being in love prevents bad luck, except when it doesn't. Umm. Yeah I give up, they are just dumb. Relationships should contains mechanisms to stabilize them against bad luck, and ameliorate the effects of bad luck. And not just bad luck (it wasn't actually a matter of luck), but problems of all sorts, whatever their cause. What sort of mechanism would work well? For a start, they should think about how they can get the things they want and solve problems, instead of resorting immediately to breaking up. And they should get to know each other over time and avoid any commitments or obligations which don't have specific and valuable function instead of just jumping into things and having faith that love will see them through.

Everyone knows that communication is the key to a good relationship. Or so they say. Yet movies like this are the norm, and movies featuring good communication are nonexistent. Romance novels, which have plenty of space for dialog, also feature poor communication. The truth is, reasoned discussion isn't sexy. Love doesn't like being talked about, and people enjoy it more when they aren't talking, they are just touching and smiling.

The best part of the movie was when they first approach the royal palace together:
Paige: Oh no.
Eddie: What?
Paige: You didn't tell me you lived with your parents.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Analyzing How Culture Manipulates You by Pulling Your Puppet Strings

I watched the first few minutes of How to Train Your Dragon 2 and saved two interesting clips, the opening narration and a social interaction from a few seconds later. This post is only about these clips. Note that this movie is extremely popular. People paid over half a billion dollars to watch it in theaters, like they did for the first movie too. Six seasons of a TV spinoff have been created. A third movie is coming out soon (Feb 22, 2019). Take a look at the clips:

When you watched the clips, did you notice anything? Did you have any opinions? What was good? What was bad? Did you stop to think about them? If you think about it now, can you come up with much without rewatching?

I'm going to guide you through some analysis, instead of just handing you all the answers, so that you can learn more. I want you to think instead of just read what I say and nod your head. Do you want to think?

Write down your comments on the clips (don't watch the clips again, just use your memory). Don't write things you wouldn't normally say. Don't stop being yourself to do analysis. Don't write a bunch of dumb stuff just to have more written down. Don't write what you think I would say. Only write points you think matter: reasons stuff is good or bad that you care about and genuinely, in your own opinion, think is important. Only write things that make sense to you. Don't write down picky criticism you don't care about but you think might be what a pedantic philosopher is looking for. Write your actual beliefs. If you don't see anything wrong with the clips, don't write anything negative. Writing about what you liked is a good idea too.

Writing things down lets you see if your thinking changes at any stage in the process. Don't rely on your memory of what you thought of the clips at first. Put it in writing so you can compare later.

Now that you've written down your initial thoughts, go ahead and rewatch the clips as much as you want and check out these transcripts. After the transcripts are some things to look for and questions to consider, which you can look at immediately, or after considering it more yourself (it's your decision).

Clip 1 transcript

This is Berk. The best kept secret this side of, well, anywhere. Granted it may not look like much, but this wet heap of rock packs more than a few surprises. Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart. You see, where most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint, we Berkians prefer a little something we like to call dragon racing.

Clip 2 transcript

Astrid: What are you doing, Snotlout?! They're going to win now!

Snotlout: She's my princess! Whatever she wants, she gets!

Astrid: Ruffnut?! Didn't she try to bury you alive?!

Snotlout: Only for a few hours!

(Full movie transcript link.)

Things to look for

  • Cliches.
  • Statements which aren’t (literally) true.
  • Misleading information or lies.
  • Meanness, cruelty, and violence.
  • Manipulation.
  • Signals of high or low social status.
  • Claims or conclusions given without arguments, reasoning or evidence.
  • What does the narrator do to try to be persuasive or credible?
  • Are you being given unbiased or useful information?
  • Every time someone says something, who is he speaking to and what does he want his audience to think? Why does he say it?

Write down additional thoughts now that you've looked more closely. Keep the first and second batches of thoughts separate and clearly labelled.

When you're done, look at what you missed the first time that you can see now. I haven't told you anything about the clips yet. Did you miss much that you could have seen without learning anything new, just by looking closer yourself? Some people will have missed a lot that they could have caught if they gave more thought to what they were doing, but for other people it won't make much difference to look closer because they don't know anything to look for. It's good to know which situation you're in. Would it help much if you did things more thoughtfully using your existing ideas, or should you focus more on learning what kinds of thoughts you can have? Or maybe you think you have a ton of great answers and didn't miss much, and you can compare what you wrote to my commentary later in this post.

The Cultural Situation

I thought the first clip was bad enough to stop watching the movie and do critical analysis. It's full of the kind of manipulation which turns people into puppets and controls their lives. (This movie has only a minor role in making people into puppets; it primarily just pulls their strings. That's because the strings are attached by parents, family, friends, teachers and culture in general, mostly at a younger age. And there's so much stuff to influence people that any one movie doesn't make a big difference. The movie is one little piece of culture.)

If you're blind to this situation – that people are manipulated like puppets having their strings pulled, and that the movie clips are crammed full of that kind of manipulation – then you factually don't have much control over your life. You're not an effective, independent thinker. Our culture is dangerous and these clips are prime examples of huge, life-threatening dangers. If you see no danger, that means you are a victim, a puppet, a naive, gullible dupe. Note that disliking this particular movie (because of e.g. the genre or target viewer age) is no protection, and similar manipulations are everywhere in our culture.

These clips are typical, standard examples of evil and irrationality. They're good to analyze because they don't stand out. They're representative. They're not special.

You can't defend yourself if you can't see the danger. You need some idea of what your enemy is before you even start combatting it. No, Muslim terrorists aren't the biggest danger to civilization. It's not MS-13 gang members crossing the wall-less border either. Philosophical corruption and intellectual error are much more important. If people were better thinkers, and thought for themselves more instead of being manipulated by static memes and George Soros, then our current political problems would be pretty easy to solve.

The first clip has over 20 flaws. And the main issues are dishonesty and social manipulation, not just poor literary qualities (which it's also guilty of). There's no need to catch even half the flaws on your first viewing; I didn't. But you should catch some flaws on your first viewing and notice something's wrong. Then you ought to care enough to look more closely at what you're watching (or stop watching), and ought to be able to identify many flaws. Don't just swallow a movie like this uncritically. And don't think I couldn't do a similar analysis with some other popular movie that you like more than this one. And don't think that you know it's not very good, so it's not affecting you: you're not immune to things you spend time on uncritically or inadequately critically. (Like the people who read the New York Times and say they know it's left-biased, but it's not affecting them since they know that. Those people are consistently lied to in big ways, correct for 10% of the bias, and are duped.)

In order to live in today's irrational culture and not be a pawn of manipulators, you require the following skills:

  • Able to see something major is wrong on your first pass through clips like these.
  • Able to identify and explain many large flaws when you review them.
  • Remember, notice and care about those kinds of flaws during your daily life, not just when analyzing.
  • Able to connect these flaws to an understanding of how they control people's lives and use men as puppets.
  • Be able to handle subtler stuff. This movie is aimed at the masses and doesn't try to manipulate people who aren't easy targets. And it emphasizes things extra for the young audience. Lots of manipulation is way harder to spot.

And even those skills won't make it safe for you to have a conversation. You need more than that to safely have a conversation without being manipulated! Your puppet strings can be pulled during the conversation, before you get a chance to analyze it, even if you have an audio recording or chat log available later (and how often do you go back through the details of your chats?). Real time conversations pressure people to respond quickly without enough thought, while people are emotional and facing social pressure. And it's easier to treat a fictional movie as something separate from your life to analyze. It's hard to do that with your friends, family, or even someone you just met.

The point of the opening scene is the narrator is telling you what to think. The topic isn't very important (his mythical village, dragon racing), but the issue of thinking for yourself is important. And the narrator isn't doing it honestly, directly or clearly. Instead he's following certain cultural game rules for how to pull people's puppet strings.

You may think that if you didn't see what was going on, it just wasn't affecting you. I'm overanalyzing and you don't analyze it like that. If you missed what was going on, how could it control you when you were unaware of it? The answer for a person with that reaction is: you do understand what he's saying, just not in a clear, conscious way. The script is highly understandable to virtually everyone in our culture. People know what it means. They just don't realize how much it's telling them what to think, and using intellectual trickery, instead of giving them information that they can use to think for themselves. People interpret it as simple, straightforward information when it's not.

This stuff is in a popular movie because it works on so many people. And if you don't know exactly what's going on – if you couldn't be writing this blog post yourself – then you are in danger.

Poker players say that if you can’t see who the sucker is, you’re the sucker. If you can't see who is being taken advantage of, and how, then you aren't skilled enough to play poker with those players, and you are being taken advantage of without realizing it. That's how life is too. If you can't see who are the puppet masters, and who are the puppets/suckers, and what the manipulations are, then you're one of the puppets/suckers.

This movie isn't notable. These clips aren't special. This stuff is everywhere. The movie is evil, but it isn't more evil than other popular stuff. I'm using these clips as examples, but my goal is to point out things which apply broadly. A person who is blind to the flaws in these clips would also be blind to the flaws in most of our culture.

Clip 1 Analysis

You may have noticed the narration is formulaic and unoriginal. I want to begin by pointing out just how cliche it is. Cliches are in alternating italics and bold:

This is Berk. The best kept secret this side of, well, anywhere. Granted it may not look like much, but this wet heap of rock packs more than a few surprises. Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart. You see, where most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint, we Berkians prefer a little something we like to call dragon racing.

It's all standard, but 48% of it is actually recognizable cliches. There are six cliches in five sentences. That's an amazing density of cliches. Why? This is a big budget movie with talented script writers. This is intentional. It's not incompetence. They do it because people already know what cliches mean. They take an especially small amount of thought to understand because thinking about them was already done in the past. People like cliches because they're familiar and easy to deal with. Also things became cliches in the first place because they worked well in some way, e.g. did a good job of pulling people's strings.

Audiences like the cliches but aren't honest about what's going on. They aren't consciously aware of how cliche it is, and they don't recognize how much the movie is designed for them not to think. The cliches feel familiar and natural to people, in a good way. (Many adults would prefer something more subtle. But did you catch all six cliches in your analysis?) After the movie, many people would admit it had some cliches, but they wouldn't know how much, and they wouldn't be honest about how much they liked them. Another movie with fewer cliches wouldn't sell so many millions of tickets.

Cliches pull people's "they speak my language, we have stuff in common" string to create rapport and communicate being part of the same group. Pulling people's puppet strings manipulates them. Pulling a lot of strings, in the right ways, can get big results.

Note that your puppet strings are complex. When I talk about what strings are pulled, I'm approximating. Each thing actually pulls dozens of different strings, and pulls each with a different amount of strength. The strings aren't defined in English and no one knows every detail about them.

Textual Analysis

This is Berk.

This pulls people's "introduction" string. They don't think about whether the clip really is an introduction to Berk. It's not. It's not a tour. It doesn't give you an overview of Berk. It doesn't tell you about Berk. There are only 5 words to convey significant information out of 65 words (8%): "dragon racing", "wet", "rock" and "Berk".

But it's worse than that. "Wet" isn't really providing information. It doesn't say whether the water comes from rain, snow, fog, the ocean, or what – you have to learn that by looking at the visuals. The word "wet" is there to sound negative, as I'll discuss later, not to give you useful information about Berk.

The word "rock" is also there to sound bad, not to help you understand that Berk isn't a swamp (which you can see at a glance, anyway). And "rock" is misleading given all the grass and trees.

"Berk" doesn't tell you about Berk, it's just the name. Except, not even that. Watching the clip, I thought that Berk was the name of the town. It's not. Berk is the island and the town is "Hooligan Village". I learned that from the wiki. (All my information comes from the clips unless I specifically mention otherwise.)

“Dragon racing" is misleading. It's a sheep-catching competition involving riding dragons. The winner is determined by points, not by racing across a finish line first. Don't feel bad if you didn't catch that, I found that out from the wiki, not the clip.

The narration doesn't really introduce Berk. If you muted it and just watched the visuals, you wouldn't miss anything but a name that doesn't actually specify what it's naming. But people accept that they were introduced to Berk because the formulaic wording ("This is [name]") framed it as an introduction in ways they respond to (are manipulated by, have their strings pulled by). People are gullible and they don't actually think about it, they just believe what they're told (when told in the right way with standard puppet string pulling, and nothing they're told triggers doubts, e.g. by being offensive, taboo, unconventional, weird, etc.).

And the visuals aren't representative of Berk, either. The visuals let you see the town some and then focus on scared sheep. They aren't meant to give much information, they're meant to impress you with the landscape, let you see the setting is medieval, and then look at sheep (for reasons discussed later). Based on the initial visuals, you'd expect Hooligan Village to be a tiny town – there aren't many houses. But then there's a huge crowd cheering for the dragon races. Why? Because a larger and louder crowd raises the social status of the racers more. It presents them as more popular and signals that dragon racing itself is popular. This pulls your "like what other people like" or "popularity contest" string, which is a major string even in people who deny having it. For second-handed viewers to want to be dragon racers, or to like dragon racers, they need to see dragon racers gaining the approval of others. Most people don’t want to be involved with weird, niche hobbies, and they don't know how to judge things other than by looking at what others approve of.

The movie producers don't care about making a logically-consistent setting and getting factual details right, they just jump straight from pulling one string to pulling the next, and they do it in a way that's convenient at that moment. And that's what their audience wants – string pulling, not consistency. String pulling is what people find meaningful and enjoyable. People want symbols, cliches and other things they understand. If the movie didn't pull people's strings, they wouldn't know what to do. They're used to being passive and having their strings pulled, rather than taking the initiative to think about things for themselves.

The best kept secret this side of, well, anywhere.

This is dishonest. Berk isn't a secret. No one is keeping the secret. "Secret" is pulling a string to mean good. It's one of many ways the narrator says one thing while meaning another.

Even if it were a secret, it wouldn't be the best kept one. That's a lie, too. That’d be false even if it was claimed about a small region rather than about the entire universe.

If you say "Berk is good", people won't trust you. It pulls their "bragging" string, which is bad. So people brag in other ways that pull other strings. People seem to (unreasonably) assume that if you show you’re a normal person who fits in to society – by knowing you’re not supposed to openly brag, and knowing what to say instead – then you wouldn't lie to them. Except it's not really that logical and people don't really have reasons, that's just how their strings work. This makes people easy to manipulate.

"Well" pulls a string indicating the speaker is being honest. How? It indicates he's pausing to think about what's true instead of thoughtlessly reciting a script or boasting. (Can't a boaster stop to think about the best way to continue his boast? Logically, yes. Don't blame me for people's puppet strings not making sense.) But the narrator is not actually being thoughtful. Savvy people insert stuff like this, on purpose, when they aren't stopping to think, in order to manipulate others. (It's common in scripted acts by comedians.)

The "this side of [location]" cliche is poorly used. The script writers couldn't think of a location to name or didn't want to name one, but used that cliche anyway. But it doesn't matter because people interpret that cliche to mean "a lot". The point is to claim something is big or good in a large region. People don't pay much attention to what region is named.

So the text means, "It's good, a lot, and I'm saying this thoughtfully." And people understand that and hear it that way. Even if they don't do analysis, it still communicates that message to them. And it follows the communication rules of our culture so that it sounds good to people instead of setting off their "bragging" or "liar" triggers.

And the next sentence helps defend against accusations of bragging:

Granted it may not look like much, but this wet heap of rock packs more than a few surprises.

To try to sound honest, the narrator tells you the good and bad about Berk, not just the good. This pulls people's "people saying negative things are telling the truth, because no one would admit to anything bad if they didn't have to" string. Except the narrator is lying because the movie wants everyone to love Berk and isn't willing to say anything actually bad about it. Puppet masters give fake negatives in order to sound honest without the risk of a real negative turning someone away.

"Granted" sounds defensive, like the narrator knows you aren't impressed by Berk and he has to answer your accusations that Berk sucks. This tries to sound reasonable and like he's giving real information to address the issues. It's not. Berk looks like a lot. The opening of a high-budget movie is visuals of Berk. It's impressive and picturesque!

And saying Berk doesn't look like much is like saying the cover of a book isn't impressive, but the inside is. That isn't a real downside. A book doesn't need an impressive cover to be a great book. Everyone knows that. Actually, by invoking the "don't judge a book by its cover" string, the narrator is basically (unfairly) accusing you of irrationally judging Berk overly negatively based on appearances, and he's telling you to correct your judgment to be more positive. That's manipulation.

Saying Berk is "wet", a "heap", and "rock" is meant to sound bad, like he's admitting what isn't great about Berk. But those aren’t what people care about, they aren’t about social interaction. They're just in the background. It's like saying my city is good because it's amazing, but bad because it has concrete, and trying to make that sound like a two-sided analysis instead of a one-sided analysis. Also, lots of people like mountains, islands and oceans, which are the actual things being talked about with a biased, negative framing.

"Surprises" pulls people's "surprises are good, fun and exciting" string. It's another disguised brag. And it's nonsense. Surprises make it harder to plan your life well. Surprises mean not knowing what's going to happen, being ignorant, being caught off guard. Surprises were dangerous in the past, but now our civilization is advanced enough that we're less scared since we're able to deal with lots of problems ... but Berk has medieval technology so surprise often would mean death.

Surprises appeal to the kind of people who like dance parties, beer, drugs and casual sex, not reason, technology or freedom. Surprises aren't intellectual stimulation. They're for people who are bored at school or work and want something to disrupt the drudgery of their lives – and they want the disruption to come from the external world because they aren't going to take the initiative to change their own life. People with good lives don't want disruptions.

And I doubt Berk has a lot of surprises. I don't think Hiccup (the person doing the introduction to Berk) is giving much thought to what he's saying or whether it's true. I don't think he means what he's saying: he's not paying attention to the meaning of what he's talking about because his focus is on pulling people's strings so that they think Berk is good. Each time he chooses words, he thinks about what will pull a string (how to manipulate people), not about reality and how to make his words correspond to reality.

The script writers didn't want a whole sentence of fake negativity, so they went back to being positive at the end of the sentence. They couldn't wait for the next sentence to turn it around. What if someone worried the movie would be bad before hearing the next words?

Saying Berk has surprises reinforces the "don't judge a book by its cover" theme. It's saying a book with a boring cover can have surprises inside. It's saying anyone who isn't a bigot will recognize how amazing Berk is, right now, immediately, whether Berk looks amazing or not. Judging stuff by outward appearances is like racism, in the sense of judging human beings by skin color. This is manipulative pressure to pull people's strings.

Throughout, the narration doesn't give people room to think for themselves or form their own opinions. It's constantly pulling strings to tell them what to think. It doesn't give information about Berk for you to evaluate, it gives conclusions about Berk without any information to allow you to evaluate. If you had any information, you might use it to reach a different conclusion than the script writers want you to. They want you to be their puppet.

This is an example of pseudo-persuasion. It's not rational arguments. It's not giving you evidence for you to evaluate with your own judgment. But it's getting people to believe and accept stuff anyway, and not to feel irrational or gullible. The string pulling takes the place of reasoning. Our culture has a bunch of rules for how this works, the rules of pseudo-logic and social manipulation, which are an alternative to the rules of truth-seeking. They specify how much you can brag, when to equivocate or be humble, how to be charismatic, how to be perceived as honest, etc. The movie follows standard rules for what people want to hear, what they are gullible about, and they eat it up. That’s what they want – manipulation according to irrational social status game rules – instead of actual reasons and information for them to think through. Being told what to think is preferred to thinking. Having your strings pulled so that you know what conclusion to reach is preferred than judging for yourself. That's what our culture is like.

Also, by switching from negative to positive, I think some people feel like that's learning because they are following along and changing their mind (from negative to positive) while listening. So it feels like engagement and thinking to them. And they don't consider that the narrator knew his conclusion in advance, he's not actually figuring it out as he goes along. So when his tone changes back and forth, that's intentional, dishonest manipulation, not uncertainty about what he's going to say. When he sounded negative about Berk, temporarily, he was lying to pull your strings.

Life here is amazing, just not for the faint of heart.

This pulls people's "fair and balanced" string. People trust this because it's not fully positive. People think that something which is only good is too good to be true. But if you give pros and cons, then people think it's an objective, unbiased analysis. This is easy to take advantage of. (It also results in lots of negative reactions when I try to explain why my philosophy is thoroughly right, not just two-thirds right. People are hostile to the goal of actually getting things right.)

But the movie wants to be all upsides and no downsides – it wants the opener to energize and excite, not leave people concerned they won't like the bad things – so the downside here is done dishonestly, it's not a real downside. The pros and cons they give don't make a fair comparison.

Saying it's not for the faint of heart means it's not for everyone, there is something bad and limiting. That sounds like a downside of Berk. But that's actually bragging about how exciting it is. It means, "This is too exciting for people who hate fun." That fake downside – not being boring – is what pulls people’s puppet strings to balance out the bragging about how amazing Berk is.

Yes, that's ridiculous. Our culture is ridiculous. But this isn't a joke, it's real life. People are this bad at thinking. And there's something very evil which makes people irrational and gullible enough to be manipulated this way (a big piece of the evil is punishing children and other ways parents use authority instead of reason).

And life isn't amazing in Berk. That falsehood is being said to people who have far more amazing lives, but don't appreciate it. Skyscrapers, iPhones, cars and electric lights are amazing. We have hospitals and science. Living in Berk would mean dying young, never being clean, eating poorly, being tired all the time from doing far more manual labor, and many other things that modern civilization has dramatically improved.

You see, where most folks enjoy hobbies like whittling or needlepoint, we Berkians prefer a little something we like to call dragon racing.

"You see" is telling you what to see. The phrase signals to people that you're going to explain something now. But then instead of getting an explanation, we get propaganda. So using that introduction was maniuplative instead of accurate.

He's lying about what hobbies most folks prefer. His claim is false. Why? By comparing dragon racing to particularly boring hobbies, it looks extra exciting by comparison. Apparently dragon racing isn't exciting enough, so manipulation is required to hype it up extra.

It pulls people's "comparing things" string. People recognize comparisons as a good intellectual tool, so it makes the narration more credible. In general, people judge claims by how many credibility strings are pulled, not by the reasoning used in arguments (which they don't actually understand).

“We Berkians prefer" is dishonest. He's presenting something he believes everyone prefers. It's meant to have broad, popular appeal. It's not a preference peculiar to Berkians.

“We Berkians prefer" is speaking for a group as if everyone in the group is the same, like diversity and dissent have never entered the narrator's mind as things that exist. It's basically like racism to assume that everyone with one shared trait therefore has a lot in common. And people who aren't aware of dissent, and assume it doesn't exist, are going to be intolerant of dissent. And consider what you'd think if someone said, "We white people prefer" or "We men prefer"! (But you're allowed to do it with people from a particular city, and sometimes with minority groups, because our culture is inconsistent and these things aren't decided by logic.) This shows that the mainstream of our culture is lying about loving diversity and tolerance, and about being intolerant of racist attitudes – otherwise a movie like this wouldn't be so popular. (Also, the many articles from "liberal" activists who thought the movie was pretty good, or complain about the wrong things, indicate they are frauds.)

“Little" is a dishonest way to say "big". Yet it pulls people's "negativity is honest" string, even though everyone knows it means the opposite of what it said. And saying something negative shows confidence (I'm so great that people will see it even if I don't show myself only in the best possible light). And by calling it "little" and relying on the audience to figure out it's not little, it's big, he's tricking people into thinking they are using their own judgment instead of being told what to think. And, at the same time, he's implying it's so obviously big that he knows everyone will figure it out, he isn't concerned anyone would think it's little – so that's more implied bragging.

“We like to call" is a weird phrase. It's not true. They like to dragon race, not to call dragon racing "dragon racing". It's a cultural string for some reason that's hard to pinpoint. I think it's partly saying that it's so great that you can tell its great just from the name, even the name is impressive (contrary to the "don't judge a book by its cover" stuff from earlier).

Visuals and Audio

The voice tones and music communicate that what you're seeing is exciting and good. They emphasize the messages that are in the words. The visuals do this some too, e.g. the opening makes Berk look epic. If you didn't speak English, you could figure out a lot of the meaning just from looking at it and listening to how it sounded. (If this interests you, listen to some music in a foreign language, or watch a foreign film without subtitles, and see what you can understand. It's a way to see how much information is in voice tones, music, body language, visuals, and other non-words.)

Lots of the visuals are about sheep. Why? First, because people mostly only care about people (and these sheep are more like emotional people than like animals). Anything besides social interaction is boring. Even dragon racing needs an approving audience for viewers to care. Being good at an unpopular sport isn't impressive, it's lame. People don't want to see buildings much, even though that's where people live. They also don't want to see the insides of factories or lots of other interesting things. And when they visit nature, they're always bragging to other people about how beautiful it was and posting photos on Instagram – they're just doing what other people approve of and then seeking actual approval for having done it (like kids getting gold stars or high grades from their teacher – that whole school dynamic teaches kids to base their life on doing things to get approval and accepting the judgment of others instead of making their own judgments of what they did). So the movie needs to quickly get away from the landscape and get to some people or an adequate substitute, something that viewers care about. We already saw enough of the landscape for some Instagram photos, now it's time to move on.

What do the sheep do? They're scared of the dragons. Scared sheep is less of a negative thing than scared people, so that allows the movie to present dragons as impressively scary without the negative of scared human beings. Sheep matter less than people so they make a better victim.

And there's a social interaction between the sheep. Four sheep push one sheep into the open to get snatched. That's bullying. Literally this mainstream movie is teaching people to form groups and gang up on individuals or smaller groups and bully them. And the bullying can include physical force like shoving. The movie legitimizes and normalizes bullying, and shows kids how to do it. What about all the anti-bullying propaganda our culture also has? Lies and lip service. Bullying continues to be a problem because our culture likes and accepts it.

While on the subject: the second clip also shows bullying. Astrid hits Snotlout at the start. And it speaks of Ruffnut burying Snotlout alive, which is also bullying. The bullying in the second clip is more like domestic abuse than like a bully on a school playground. Snotlout is being abused by females he is romantically interested in. Most people in our culture do not seriously think a woman can domestically abuse a man, and are scornful of men who aren't strong enough to deal with attacks from women. This movie reinforces that evil, pro-violence attitude and the "men should be strong" and "women are weak" gender roles behind it. What about all the anti-gender-role propaganda, feminism, etc? Lies and lip service. Those activists have other agendas which have nothing to do with having men be treated better or domestically abused less, or freeing men from social pressures to be strong, masculine, etc. Many SJW women say it's fine to be a weak man, but most of them are romantically and sexually interested in strong men, and don't respect weak men.

Clip 2 Analysis

I'm going to go into less detail on this clip since I've already said a lot. I included it because of its attitude to romantic relationships, which are full of pulling each other's strings.

Astrid hits Snotlout at the start. That should be appalling violence but doesn't trigger the anti-violence reactions of most people in our culture. It's telling viewers that hitting people is a good way to express disapproval (as long as it's a female hitting a male, who is unreasonably assumed to be too strong to actually get hurt). Then there's the dialog:

Astrid: What are you doing, Snotlout?! They're going to win now!

Snotlout took an action contrary to winning. It doesn't really matter what it was. When people play games and have competitions, usually they care more about social interactions than winning. This is typical.

Snotlout: She's my princess! Whatever she wants, she gets!

“Princess" means romantic interest. Snotlout is dating her or wants to date her. His approach to courtship is to put Ruffnut on a pedestal and be subservient to her. This is blue pill, beta-male behavior. There is a massive propaganda campaign advocating this kind of attitude and rejecting masculinity, but there is no corresponding campaign to change women's sexual preferences (from strong men to weak men), so men who behave this way are unattractive to most women.

Giving people what they want, even though it’s inconvenient for you, shows weakness and desperation – you’re going out of your way to please them. Snotlout does this by giving Ruffnut a gift while sacrificing his own chances to win. As is typical, Ruffnut has been taking advantage of the ongoing power imbalance by mistreating Snotlout (trying to bury him alive). But he continues trying to suck up to her anyway because that’s what our culture currently tells men to do.

Sucking up to women is a very bad plan for Snotlout. He should make his own life good so that she chases after him, instead of him chasing her favor. He's acting like he has low social status, which means he does (people's perception of social status is social status). He acts like she's better than him (he has to do favors to try to be worthwhile to her), which isn't how to win over a woman, because women want to date and marry up not down. Men are more focused on career and changing the world; women are more focused on social interactions and social climbing, including by impressing people with their beauty and behavior. If you want a woman, you need to be able to help her with her life goals, not make it harder for her by looking like a loser. A lot of her proof of social status, beauty, desirability, attractiveness, etc., comes from how high quality of a mate she can attract. For Snotlout to succeed, he needs to be a man she could date to make other women jealous, not a man who would get her teased by her friends.

The social dynamics of dating are a big topic. I can't explain it all here, so I'll instead link you to a great book about it: How to Make Girls Chase by Chase Amante. It presents the law of least effort, which Snotlout is egregiously violating: whoever appears to be putting less effort in (trying less hard) is higher social status. (If you're high status, like a famous actor or a CEO, then more people will want to date you. For most people, who don't have such big accomplishments and are more average, their social status is mostly judged by their behavior, by how they act in social situations.)

Astrid: Ruffnut?! Didn't she try to bury you alive?!

Women being extremely mean to men is not funny and shouldn't be acceptable. Attempts at romantic courtship don't always work out and sometimes people's feelings are going to get hurt accidentally. But this is intentional, extreme cruelty. This movie is part of a widespread attempt to normalize this and generally give women all the power and make men into scared, helpless victims.

It may not be a coincidence that Astrid is putting down a rival young girl suitable for courtship (and she's not doing it in a way Snotlout likes, so it's hard to excuse it by saying she's being helpful). Girls commonly attack and sabotage each other, usually in more subtle ways than rival men compete with each other. I know from the wiki that Astrid is romantically interested in another character (Hiccup, who's also the narrator from the first clip). But women often compete unnecessarily. They want interest from extra males, that they can reject, in order to get attention, gifts, and appear desirable (and to have a backup plan if they get dumped). The wiki says Snotlout was romantically interested in Astrid in the past, and she may not want another girl to have him even though she is rejecting him. I mention these possibilities about Astrid being a passive-aggressive bitch because they're common, they're reasonable guesses from the clips, and they cause a lot of suffering in our society.

Astrid appears to be a hypocrite because she’s suggesting that Ruffnut shouldn’t mistreat Snotlout, and Snotlout shouldn’t pursue someone who mistreats him, but Astrid hit Snotlout earlier in this scene. That was mean and violent. Astrid implies Snotlout should avoid another woman who treats him abusively, which actually helps normalize her own abuse of Snotlout, because it suggests she understands the issue and knows what the correct boundaries are. When you suggest to someone that they shouldn’t accept violent, abusive treatment, and you violently abuse them, the message is that lots of violent abuse is acceptable and somehow doesn’t count, and only the more extreme varieties are objectionable (or, alternatively, the lesson they may take away is that whether abuse is objectionable depends on who has the power and social status to get away with it or object to it).

Snotlout: Only for a few hours!

Snotlout was glad to get any attention at all from a female (listen to his happy, almost condescending, voice tone, as he rejects Astrid's concern). This is teaching viewers the evil lesson that men should be grateful for the slightest bit of attention from a woman, even negative attention. That hurts women who learn to be cruel, and it hurts men who put up with the abuse. And it creates hostilities between the sexes.

Consider also the total rejection of reality. Being buried alive would kill you after a few minutes. A few hours isn't short and doesn't make it OK. I assume the characters are exaggerating or joking in some way (or else they're magical enough to survive such things), but whatever happened they're not talking about it using clear, fact-and-reality-oriented statements. People should try to communicate truthfully. It's hard enough to get things right if you try. The dialog is teaching a callous disregard for the truth and for what reality is like. The meaning is: ignore reality and focus only on social dynamics.


I don't expect you to understand everything I said. I can't fully explain everything in one article. If you think you understand it all, I think you're dishonest. You should have questions, confusions, parts you disagree with, parts you think you can improve, and parts you're curious to learn more about. Post some of these things in the comments below instead of making excuses to try to rationalize why you don't do that but you really do value learning. If you're busy, put it on your calendar and follow up later (this isn't time sensitive on a scale of days or even weeks, but it's bad to spend years being a puppet). If you won't do that, consider why not. If you put it on your calendar and you're busy when it comes up, move it to a later date. If you keep putting it off for months, the issue isn't temporarily being busy, it's e.g. that you're making excuses or you haven't prioritized setting up your life to include time for thinking. (Or do you have other reason-related activities that you think are better and more important? If you found something great, please share it, myself and many other people here would like more of that kinda stuff! Or are you scared of criticism of its value?)

Now look at what you wrote down at the beginning and see how it compares to what I've pointed out. How much did you miss? Then consider: adults are more experienced and knowledgeable about their culture than children. Material aimed at adults is more subtle and expects them to understand more with fewer hints. The string pulling is harder to see and more indirect.

That means that, in your life, your strings are being pulled all the time. Unless you have the skill to be far above the string pulling in these clips, which is literally kid's stuff, then you're getting manipulated many times per day. You need to be skilled enough that this kind of analysis is easy for you, or you don't have much of a chance in the adult world.

Rewatch the clips now and see if you can see them differently. Then try to apply this stuff to the next movie you watch, and the one after that, and the one after that. To learn and improve in a way that matters, you need to not only get better ideas, you also have to use them on a regular basis in your life. You need to learn things well enough that it's natural and intuitive for you. You need to practice to get to that point. Just understanding something once, while trying your best, isn't good enough. You need to be skilled enough to get it right while tired, distracted and rushed – and dealing with something with a bunch of differences from the examples you've thought about before.

If you want to be rational, it's something you have to put work into in order to achieve. It's not automatic. It's not the default. Our culture creates irrational people who dishonestly fool themselves into thinking they're rational. If you want to change, you'll have to do a lot. Go to and start studying the material and discussing it as you go along. Or share what your other, better plan is and listen to criticism and objections.

In the comments below, please post your analysis of the clips (both parts from the beginning), and your further thoughts after reading my analysis. You'll never cut your puppet strings by yourself without help, though you might be able to paint them rose colored and wear rose colored glasses so that you can no longer see them. Take action to change yourself by learning, so that you can stop being a puppet.

Update: Justin Mallone pointed out to me that calling Berk the "best kept secret" is a brag by the narrator, who is claiming to know well-kept secrets. Being privy to secrets is a status symbol, it shows you mingle with high quality people (not the masses – if the masses know something then it's not a secret) and have their trust.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (78)