Human-android love is a nonstarter. Period. Aug 10, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 45 • By JOE QUEENAN
In the uplifting, if somewhat confusing, film Tomorrowland, George Clooney plays a brilliant scientist who suffers from a broken heart. Long ago and far way, he fell in love with a girl named Athena when they were children. Athena was smart and spunky and seemed genuinely to like George Clooney as a boy. But over the next four decades, the relationship never went anywhere: It never developed, it never evolved, they did not live happily ever after. Not even close.
The reason that their romance bites the dust is that Athena is an android, and androids never get any older. It is not that Athena doesn’t have feelings for George Clooney as a boy; as I said, she seems genuinely to like the child George—even though it is immediately clear to all but the dimmest movie-goers that Athena is way out of his weight class. So the relationship simply dies. It’s not a question of liking or disliking one another; it’s just that, well, romances between male humans and female androids do not pan out. At least not onscreen.
A similar dynamic is at work in the recent film Ex Machina. Here, a geeky programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) falls in love with a female android named Ava (Alicia Vikander). The android, seeking to escape from the wilderness research facility in which she is confined by a mad scientist (Oscar Isaac), seems to like Caleb well enough. But as was the case in Tomorrowland, things do not work out. Caleb will learn, to his great disappointment, that Ava, a conscienceless android, is only playing him, manipulating his feelings so that he will help her escape from the weird secluded laboratory in which she has been imprisoned while the mad scientist perfects her. The dork learns, ruefully, that he is only a pawn in her game, just as she had previously been a pawn in the scientist’s game.
Once again, the message is crystal clear: Humans and androids don’t mix.
The exact same thing occurs in 2013’s Her, where a lonely geek played by Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with the perky operating system on his computer. Samantha is smart, she is funny, she has a silky, sexy voice, she can simulate orgasms, and she is always on call. But one day, he finds out that she is carrying on similar “affairs” with thousands and thousands of other men. Samantha sees nothing wrong in this; she is an operating system, not flesh and blood. Disconsolate, he says goodbye to the love of his life forever—and thus another anthropelectro romance goes down in flames.
People are always saying that Hollywood is sexist and does not respect women, but these three films suggest otherwise. What these films seem to be saying is that men who actually prefer to have relationships with androids rather than real women will ultimately pay dearly for their misogyny and stupidity.
The subject is hardly new: Men have been pursuing doomed romantic relationships with female machines since the early days of cinema. Female robots figure prominently in Metropolis (1927), Blade Runner (1982), and even Austin Powers (1997). Of course, the great-granddaddy of current films in this genre is The Stepford Wives, Bryan Forbes’s grim 1975 parable about men who replace their wives with comely cyborgs who are perfect replicas of their spouses. Their murdered spouses.
But a key difference exists in recent films about the distaff brand of the artificially intelligent. In Tomorrowland, Ex Machina, and Her, men are not smitten by robots who remind them of somebody else: They fall in love with the androids themselves. They accept the robots on their own terms. They prefer these robots (or operating devices) to the women they know. They may not realize this at the beginning, but they will realize it by the end.
This is why their virtually identical fates are so meaningful. In this trio of films, Hollywood warns men to forget about having romantic relationships with female androids because things will go south in a hurry. An android will not stand by your side when you are dying of some horrible disease. An android will not be faithful to you because of adamantine social mores. And an android will only laugh at your stupid jokes because it has been programmed to pretend that it finds you amusing. In reality, it thinks you’re a dope. Left to its own devices, it would rather play backgammon or learn Sanskrit. It doesn’t need you. It doesn’t even like you.
The Cubs will win the World Series. And the Fed will raise interest rates.Jun 1, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 36 • By JOE QUEENAN
The very old ones—los viejos—still tell the tale of the Cubs and the Fed.
As children, they heard stories about the legendary Cubs squads of the past, teams with players like Tinkers and Evers and Chance, Banks and Santo, Sandberg and Maddux. And, oh yes, Ferguson Jenkins. And they were told that one day the Cubs would win the World Series. Trust us, they were told: The Cubbies will hoist the trophy, lift the curse, stir the embers, slay the dragon. The Cubbies will not only survive; they will prevail.
The quality of the (literary) fare at organic restaurants.May 4, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 32 • By JOE QUEENAN
While traveling in the west of England recently, I had occasion to dine in an organic restaurant just outside Cirencester. The restaurant was clean and inviting and resolutely wholesome, with a small but equally wholesome grocery off to the side. Everything in the building was radiantly, obstreperously organic. The apples. The pears. The potatoes. The kale. The waitstaff.
Sherlock Holmes and the case of the serial chucklerSep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By JOE QUEENAN
It is always strange to stumble upon seemingly modern turns of phrase in books that are quite old. It proves that catchphrases and colorful expressions believed to have entered the vernacular in recent times have actually been around for decades, even centuries. What’s more, they often originated in places one would not expect: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, for example.
A short-term investment in high-yield talentSep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By JOE QUEENAN
When writers become famous, it is easy to forget that they were once obscure, and sometimes very poor. Yet with few exceptions—Homer, Tacitus, Omar Khayyam, Jonathan Safran Foer—even the greatest writers had to slave away at menial positions before their careers took off and they could support themselves with their pens alone.
One man’s approach to a problem of modern musicJul 21, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 42 • By JOE QUEENAN
A few years ago, I was offered two very good tickets to a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. I invited my daughter to the game, but almost immediately my wife complained, “Why don’t you ever let me go?” So I gave them the two tickets and went to see the legendary pianist Alfred Brendel at Carnegie Hall instead.
You think ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ is traumatic? Think again.Jun 9, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 37 • By JOE QUEENAN
The New York Times recently ran a story about college students requesting “trigger warnings” to alert them that something in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Great Gatsby might freak them out. Such warnings would alert a student that The Merchant of Venice contains anti-Semitic elements and that Mrs. Dalloway deals with suicide. The issue of trigger warnings has been raised at schools as varied as Oberlin, Rutgers, and the University of Michigan.
The coupon as emblem of consumer confidence. May 5, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 32 • By JOE QUEENAN
Until the consumer really, really jumps back into the thick of things, the experts agree that this economy is doomed to sputter. Until the average American believes he has the wherewithal to go out and buy that new house, that new car, that new kitchen, unemployment will stay right where it is. Nothing’s going to happen until people start feeling good about the future.
The interrogative mysteries of Deep Space. Mar 10, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 25 • By JOE QUEENAN
Last June, scientists at the Astrolabe Institute in Houston made an electrifying discovery. While listening in on sounds emanating from deep space, they heard what seemed to be a conversation between two sentient creatures located on Nardalus X-50, a small, recently discovered planet.
Sometimes it pays to be excluded from the fun.Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By JOE QUEENAN
Recently, a close friend told me that he had to cut our conversation short because he had tickets to see Steve Martin and Edie Brickell in concert. He clearly expected me to covet his immense good fortune, though my immediate reaction to this statement was, “Better you than I.” Then, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Even, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
’Tis the gift, if you follow these suggestions. Nov 25, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 11 • By JOE QUEENAN
The national conversation about simplifying modern life continues unabated.
But I’m getting a little weary of the adjective. Sep 2, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 48 • By JOE QUEENAN
The other day, I decided to see how long I could go without reading the word “iconic.”
The more we know about, say, cauliflower, the less we like it.May 13, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 33 • By JOE QUEENAN
Recently I read a story in my local newspaper reporting that high school kids routinely throw out tons of vegetables because the food in their school lunches is so awful. It would seem that the youth of America particularly object to the lettuce.
Vengeance is mine when the crime is so abhorrent. Mar 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 26 • By JOE QUEENAN
Recently, I drove to the nearby village of Pleasantville to buy my wife a couple of books as a birthday present. I also bought some festive wrapping paper. The paper had lots of brightly colored fruits silhouetted against a shiny white surface. It was quite jolly.
American rhetoric in black and white. Jul 16, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 41 • By JOE QUEENAN
Recently, as I was putting the finishing touches on a story, an editor suggested that I “give props” to the people I was writing about. The idea came from a superior who felt that I should also give a “shout-out” to the subjects of my essay. It was a suggestion which my editor, after considerable reflection, said he was “down with.”