The Uglification of Everything
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The Uglification of Everything

Artistic culture has taken a repulsive turn. It speaks of a society that hates itself, and hates life.

By Peggy Noonan
Fri, Apr 26, 2024 10:29amGrey Clock 5 min

I wish to protest the current ugliness. I see it as a continuing trend, “the uglification of everything.” It is coming out of our culture with picked-up speed, and from many media silos, and I don’t like it.

You remember the 1999 movie “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” from the Patricia Highsmith novel. It was fabulous—mysteries, murders, a sociopath scheming his way among high-class expats on the Italian Riviera. The laid-back glamour of Jude Law, the Grace Kelly-ness of Gwyneth Paltrow, who looks like a Vogue magazine cover decided to take a stroll through the streets of 1950s Venice, the truly brilliant acting of Matt Damon, who is so well-liked by audiences I’m not sure we notice anymore what a great actor he is. The director, Anthony Minghella, deliberately showed you pretty shiny things while taking you on a journey to a heart of darkness.

There’s a new version, a streaming series from Netflix, called “Ripley.” I turned to it eagerly and watched with puzzlement. It is unrelievedly ugly. Grimy, gloomy, grim. Tom Ripley is now charmless, a pale and watchful slug slithering through ancient rooms. He isn’t bright, eager, endearing, only predatory. No one would want to know him! Which makes the story make no sense. Again, Ripley is a sociopath, but few could tell because he seemed so sweet and easy. In the original movie, Philip Seymour Hoffman has an unforgettable turn as a jazz-loving, prep-schooled, in-crowd snob. In this version that character is mirthless, genderless, hidden. No one would want to know him either. Marge, the Paltrow role in the movie, is ponderous and plain, like a lost 1970s hippie, which undercuts a small part of the tragedy: Why is the lovely woman so in love with a careless idler who loves no one?

The ugliness seemed a deliberate artistic decision, as did the air of constant menace, as if we all know life is never nice.

I go to the No. 1 program on Netflix this week, “Baby Reindeer.” People speak highly of it. It’s about a stalker and is based on a true story, but she’s stalking a comic so this might be fun. Oh dear, no. It is again unrelievedly bleak. Life is low, plain and homely. No one is ever nice or kind; all human conversation is opaque and halting; work colleagues are cruel and loud. Everyone is emotionally incapable and dumb. No one laughs except for the morbidly obese stalker, who cackles madly. The only attractive person is the transgender girlfriend, who has a pretty smile and smiles a lot, but cries a lot too and is vengeful.

Good drama always makes you think. I thought: Do I want to continue living?

I go to the Daily Mail website, once my guilty pleasure. High jinks of the rich and famous, randy royals, fast cars and movie stars, models and rock stars caught in the drug bust. It was great! But it seems to have taken a turn and is more about crime, grime, human sadness and degradation—child abuse, mothers drowning their babies, “Man murders family, self.” It is less a portal into life’s mindless, undeserved beauty, than a testimony to its horrors.

I go to the new “Cabaret.” Who doesn’t love “Cabaret”? It is dark, witty, painful, glamorous. The music and lyrics have stood the test of time. The story’s backdrop: The soft decadence of Weimar is being replaced by the hard decadence of Nazism.

It is Kander and Ebb’s masterpiece, revived again and again. And this revival is hideous. It is ugly, bizarre, inartistic, fundamentally stupid. Also obscene but in a purposeless way, without meaning.

I had the distinct feeling the producers take their audience to be distracted dopamine addicts with fractured attention spans and no ability to follow a story. They also seemed to have no faith in the story itself, so they went with endless pyrotechnics. This is “Cabaret” for the empty-headed. Everyone screams. The songs are slowed, because you might need a moment to take it in. Almost everyone on stage is weirdly hunched, like a gargoyle, everyone overacts, and all of it is without art.

On the way in, staffers put stickers on the cameras of your phone, “to protect our intellectual property,” as one said.

It isn’t an easy job to make the widely admired Eddie Redmayne unappealing, but by God they did it. As he’s a producer I guess he did it, too. He takes the stage as the Emcee in a purple leather skirt with a small green cone on his head and appears further on as a clown with a machine gun and a weird goth devil. It is all so childish, so plonkingly empty.

Here is something sad about modern artists: They are held back by a lack of limits.

Bob Fosse, the director of the classic 1972 movie version, got to push against society’s limits and Broadway’s and Hollywood’s prohibitions. He pushed hard against what was pushing him, which caused friction; in the heat of that came art. Directors and writers now have nothing to push against because there are no rules or cultural prohibitions, so there’s no friction, everything is left cold, and the art turns in on itself and becomes merely weird.

Fosse famously loved women. No one loves women in this show. When we meet Sally Bowles, in the kind of dress a little girl might put on a doll, with heavy leather boots and harsh, garish makeup, the character doesn’t flirt, doesn’t seduce or charm. She barks and screams, angrily.

Really it is harrowing. At one point Mr. Redmayne dances with a toilet plunger, and a loaf of Italian bread is inserted and removed from his anal cavity. I mentioned this to my friend, who asked if I saw the dancer in the corner masturbating with a copy of what appeared to be “Mein Kampf.”

That’s what I call intellectual property!

In previous iterations the Kit Kat Club was a hypocrisy-free zone, a place of no boundaries, until the bad guys came and it wasn’t. I’m sure the director and producers met in the planning stage and used words like “breakthrough” and “a ‘Cabaret’ for today,” and “we don’t hide the coming cruelty.” But they do hide it by making everything, beginning to end, lifeless and grotesque. No innocence is traduced because no innocence exists.

How could a show be so frantic and outlandish and still be so tedious? It’s almost an achievement.

And for all that there is something smug about it, as if they’re looking down from some great, unearned height.

I left thinking, as I often do now on seeing something made ugly: This is what purgatory is going to be like. And then, no, this is what hell is going to be like—the cackling stalker, the pale sociopath, Eddie Redmayne dancing with a plunger.

Why does it all bother me?

Because even though it isn’t new, uglification is rising and spreading as an artistic attitude, and it can’t be good for us. Because it speaks of self-hatred, and a society that hates itself, and hates life, won’t last. Because it gives those who are young nothing to love and feel soft about. Because we need beauty to keep our morale up.

Because life isn’t merde, in spite of what our entertainment geniuses say.

 



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
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We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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