Should Writers Like the Movies?

Question: What don’t you like about movies?

John Irving: It's less what I don't like about movies as what I do like about the theater. It's what I like better about plays. Before I was even sophisticated enough to read those long, nineteenth century novels, before I was a teenager, I saw quite a lot of theater. My mother was a prompter in a local amateur theatrical society. I spent quite a bit of time backstage where the prompter sits and I saw some simply terrible plays, but also some pretty good ones. And I realized at a pretty young age that, you know, even a pre-teenager could see a Sophocles play or a Shakespeare play and failing to understand as much as a third or a half of the language, there was never any question about the story. You could see what was going on. Shakespeare would not be such a burden to the kids in school who are exposed to Shakespeare, to read in Shakespeare for the first time, if you could ask the kids to read a play and then see a production, they'd get it. They really get it. You know, you can miss a lot of the language and see King Lear and know right away that, you know, that two of those daughters are bad and one of them is good and Lear's got it all wrong. You know, you can pick that up when you're twelve or thirteen years old, even if you don't understand everything that they're saying.

Question: Does this not translate to movies?

John Irving: Well, it's just that there's a kind of, the first movies that excited me, I did like westerns. I liked the inevitability of violence that is a part of the western movie. Naturally I liked westerns. Oh, how many centuries from now might western movies be the most significant gift to the culture of American storytelling. Who knows? I don't know, I'm just guessing.

But I didn't really begin to like movies until I was in high school and I began to go to the nearby university town, Durham, where the University of New Hampshire was, where they had, you know, an art cinema and I got to see for the first time, all those foreign films with subtitles and realized that there were some wonderful films out there, many of them, indeed for a time, most of them, not American. And I like them, but there seems to be so much compromise in the film business that why wouldn't you like the freedom and individual license that the playwright is granted on stage and in the theater. Why wouldn't any writer like the theater better. Writers aren't important to the movie business. Or they're not valued. Whereas, you know, I think playwrights are still treated respectfully.

Question: Do you feel that movies are too collaborative?

John Irving: You just have to be lucky to get a good film made at all. You just need to have a lot of luck. I had an excellent experience with the Cider House Rules. But it took thirteen years to make that film, four different directors were involved. One died, I fired two. And finally Less Holstrum and I were put together and we clicked, we worked well together. But a lot of things have to fall in place in order to make a film come off. It was a great experience for me, that film, its success. But nobody notices, much less rewards, the screenplay for a film unless everybody else associated with the film makes the film look good. If you don't have solid, across the board acting performances from your actors, nobody notices how good the screenplay might have been. If you don't have a good director, if you don't have a good art director, if you don't have a good editor and a good director of photography, nobody will know that it was a good screenplay. So you need a lot of help, is what I'm saying, you need a lot of help.

Recorded on: October 30, 2009

With its complete disregard for screenwriters and endless, seemingly luck-based, collaborative process, it’s a wonder anybody with literary sympathies can stomach cinema culture. Despite all this, John Irving wonders if westerns aren’t actually the greatest American gift to the storytelling tradition.

Why the singular “They” is Merriam-Webster's word of the year

"They" has taken on a not-so-new meaning lately. This earned it the scrutiny it needed to win.

Pixabay by pexels
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Merriam-Webster has announced "they" as the word of the year.
  • The selection was based on a marked increase in traffic to the online dictionary page.
  • Runners up included "quid pro quo" and "crawdad."
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'The West' is, in fact, the world's biggest gated community

A review of the global "wall" that divides rich from poor.

Image: TD Architects
Strange Maps
  • Trump's border wall is only one puzzle piece of a global picture.
  • Similar anxieties are raising similar border defenses elsewhere.
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Public health crisis: Facebook ads misinform about HIV prevention drug

Facebook's misinformation isn't just a threat to democracy. It's endangering lives.

Photo Credit: Paul Butler / Flickr
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada.
  • Over the years, Facebook's hands-off ad policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its political ads.
  • Unregulated "surveillance capitalism" commodifies people's personal information and makes them vulnerable to sometimes misleading ads.

LGBT groups are saying that Facebook is endangering lives by advertising misleading medical information pertaining to HIV patients.

The tech giant's laissez-faire ad policy has already been accused of threatening democracy by providing a platform for false political ads, and now policy could be fostering a major public-health concern.

LGBT groups take on Facebook’s ad policy

According to LGBT advocates, for the past six months Facebook and Instagram users have been inundated with misleading ads about medication that prevents the transmission of HIV (PrEP), such as Truvada. The ads, which The Washington Post reports appear to have been purchased by personal-injury lawyers, claim that these medications threaten patients with serious side effects. According to LGBT organizations led by GLAAD, the ads have left some patients who are potentially at risk of contracting HIV scared to take preventative drugs, even though health officials and federal regulators say the drugs are safe.

LGBT groups like GLAAD, which regularly advises Facebook on LGBT issues, reached out to the company to have the ads taken down, saying they are false. Yet, the tech titan has refused to remove the content claiming that the ads fall within the parameters of its policy. Facebook spokeswoman Devon Kearns told The Post that the ads had not been rated false by independent fact-checkers, which include the Associated Press. But others are saying that Facebook's controversial approach to ads is creating a public-health crisis.

In an open letter to Facebook sent on Monday, GLAAD joined over 50 well-known LGBTQ groups including the Human Rights Campaign, the American Academy of HIV Medicine and the National Coalition for LGBT Health to publicly condemn the company for putting "real people's lives in imminent danger" by "convincing at-risk individuals to avoid PrEP, invariably leading to avoidable HIV infections."

What Facebook’s policy risks 

Of course, this is not the first time Facebook's policy has faced scrutiny when it comes to false or ambiguous information in its ads. Social media has been both a catalyst and conduit for the rapid-fire spread of misinformation to the world wide web. As lawmakers struggle to enforce order to cyberspace and its creations, Facebook has become a symbol of the threat the internet poses to our institutions and to public safety. For example, the company has refused to take down 2020 election ads, largely funded by the Trump campaign, that spew false information. For this reason, Facebook and other social media platforms present a serious risk to a fundamental necessity of American democracy, public access to truth.

But this latest scandal underlines how the misconstrued information that plagues the web can infect other, more intimate aspects of American lives. Facebook's handling of paid-for claims about the potential health risks of taking Truvada and other HIV medications threatens lives.

"Almost immediately we started hearing reports from front-line PrEP prescribers, clinics and public health officials around the country, saying we're beginning to hear from potential clients that they're scared of trying Truvada because they're seeing all these ads on their Facebook and Instagram feeds," said Peter Staley, a long-time AIDS activist who works with the PrEP4All Collaboration, to The Post.

Unregulated Surveillance Capitalism

To be fair, the distinction between true and false information can be muddy territory. Personal injury lawyers who represent HIV patients claim that the numbers show that the potential risks of medications such as Turvada and others that contain the ingredient antiretroviral tenofovir may exist. This is particularly of note when the medication is used as a treatment for those that already have HIV rather than prevention for those that do not. But the life-saving potential of the HIV medications are unequivocally real. The problem, as some LGBT advocates are claiming, is that the ads lacked vital nuance.

It also should be pointed out that Facebook has taken action against anti-vaccine content and other ads that pose threats to users. Still, the company's dubious policies clearly pose a big problem, and it has shown no signs of adjusting. But perhaps the underlying issue is the failure to regulate what social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff calls "surveillance capitalism" by which people's experiences, personal information, and characteristics become commodities. In this case, paid-for personal-injury legal ads that target users with certain, undisclosed characteristics. It's been said that you should be wary of what you get for free, because it means you've become the product. Facebook, after all, is a business with an end goal to maximize profits.

But why does a company have this kind of power over our lives? Americans and their legislators are ensnared in an existential predicament. Figure out how to regulate Facebook and be accused with endangering free speech, or leave the cyber business alone and risk the public's health going up for sale along with its government.