Rough Guide Movie Books: Pick a Canon


You may not have known this, but The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies was just one of four Rough Guide Movie books released on the same day. I just got sent the other three today (along with some very cool postcards based on the cover of my book), and I thought I would show them off: The Rough Guides to Gangster, Comedy and Horror Movies, respectively. All four books have more or less the same format: chapters on the history of the genre, icons of the field, examples of the genre from around the world, and so on. Each also includes "The Canon" of its field — the 50 most significant movies in the genre.

When I listed the science fiction canon here, motivated individuals took it and made a blog meme out of it; I think it would be fun to do the same with these other canons. But where to begin? This is where you come in: On Monday I’ll post the canon of one of these books and note my thoughts on the selections. But as to which canon, I’ll put it up to a vote. Tell me in the comments which canon you’d like to see: The one from Gangster, the one from Comedy, or the one from Horror. The one that gets the most votes when I sit down to write on Monday wins. One vote each,  please (no, I’m not going to check to see if people are cheating. Just, you know, don’t be that guy).  

Which do you choose? 

Patenting Plots?

Via e-mail, I’ve been asked to give an opinion on this, in which the US Patent Office notes an application to patent story plots, the applicants reasoning apparently informed by the reasoning provided via software patents. People are already beginning to freak out about it, suggesting it’s the end of the literary world as we know it.

Well, first, let us note that the US Patent Office publishing an application is not the same as granting the patent, so everyone who is freaking out should recognize that. The patent on a plot has not been issued, just the notice that someone is trying to patent a plotline. The US Patent Office gets a lot of damn fool patent applications every year; this is probably just another one.

As to whether the patent has legal merit, well, I’m not a patent lawyer, so someone else will have to field this one. My "I am not a lawyer" opinion is that I don’t see how this patent will be granted as among other things requires a wholesale reinterpretation of ideas as "process," which seems unlikely to happen. There’s no actual process here, save what goes on in someone’s head. The actual patent application does try to cover the transfer of the idea/process from brain to mechanical/electronic storage, but while not being a patent lawyer, I’m not sure how those processes are the applicant’s to attempt to patent. This doesn’t even rise to the questionable level of a software patent, where at least the process of the code is implemented outside the human body; it’s hard to run software code in someone’s brain, but anyone who is aware of literature’s origin as an oral medium recognizes well the capacity for the entire process of literature to be contained wholly within the human body. Basically, I don’t see how you grant this patent without implicitly saying that thoughts in themselves are patentable, which is an interesting expansion of patent law.

Two practical considerations as well: The applicant’s reasoning here is that this is something of a broadside against Hollywood. Basically, this guy wants to eat Hollywood’s seed corn, and I can’t really imagine that an $80 billion industry wouldn’t react poorly to something like this (not to mention, say, the publishing industry). Also, ironically, an $80 billion industry is the one best positioned to take advantage of such a nonsensical application of patent law, as it already has lawyers, creative types and money, and the average creative joe has got himself and a jar of pennies. If you don’t think Disney, Warner Bros. et al. wouldn’t happily spend millions of dollars on an annual basis to lock up all the obvious plot ideas (including the ones already in their libraries), you have no conception of how Hollywood actually works.

This would create an interesting new job description: Plot Generator — people whose only jobs would be think up possible plots — or maybe not, as this is just the sort of data-crunching nonsense computers excel at. Also, it’s axiomatic that the studios would also force those creative people working with them to sign over their patents as a matter of course. So rather than protecting the little guy from the studios (the little guy, incidentally, being already amply protected by copyright), I suspect the practical effect will be to solidify the control of content even further into the hands of those with the money and their business interests already in the field. And then once that’s established, you can expect Disney, et al. to start lobbying for extensions to the patent length, further stifling independent creation. And then won’t this jackass feel stupid.

Basically, it’s idiotic from start to finish, and I hope (and expect) that the patent application will be denied.  

Relevant Religious Positions

Apropos to this earlier entry, a pleasing development out of the Vatican:

A Vatican cardinal said Thursday that the faithful should listen to what secular modern science has to offer, warning that religion risks turning into "fundamentalism" if it ignores scientific reason.
Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture, made the comments at a news conference on a Vatican project to help end the "mutual prejudice" between religion and science that has long bedeviled the Roman Catholic Church and is part of the evolution debate.
The Vatican project was inspired by Pope John Paul II’s declaration in 1992 that the church’s 17th-century denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension." Galileo was condemned for supporting Nicolaus Copernicus’s theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun; church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.
"The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future," Poupard said.

Well, that’s one billion Christians who don’t have to twist their minds into a pretzel over that particular issue, which is roughly half of the Christian host. And it’s worth noting the Cardinal is restating the Catholic Church’s position, not making a change. Given that the fundamentalist view of science v. religion is not held by every other Christian sect either, this is a reminder that religious fundamentalism’s antipathy regarding science is a minority view within Christianity. This may or may not be relevant to various people, for various reasons.