From the Editor: Forming Opinions

There’s always more beneath the surface

Uwe Kils / Wikimedia Commons

When I was in high school, my father would constantly give me trouble about my then-shitty opinions. “Tristan, don’t form opinions when you have less than one per cent of the information,” he’d say. This was something I heard every few days, and to this day my dad occasionally taunts me with, “That time you thought 9/11 was an inside job after watching a one-hour video.”

I wish more people took this advice seriously. Yet it seems with greater frequency we’re seeing people on social media finding an image or a quote that’s out of context, and suddenly forming an entire opinion on it. It’s surprising how many people will believe a famous person said something when you take a photo of them and slap a quote on top of it.

The worst form of this is when someone reads the headline of an article, and suddenly believes they know everything discussed therein without reading any of it. This is especially painful to me as someone working to become a journalist, when I see people sharing an article from “Hotglobalnews” on Facebook—typically an article that says something like “Trudeau announces 25 as the marijuana smoking age,” and people just believe it without doing any research themselves.

When it comes to the actions of the federal government, context becomes even more important. Maybe in Brazil you could say that, “It’s all about money,” but in Canada, politicians are constantly weighing every decision against a ton of factors. The Liberals are always going to be criticized from both the left and right sides of the political spectrum, which is a good thing.

For instance, we’re still hearing about the Saudi arms deal in the news, which is rightfully controversial. Yes, Canada is selling weapons to a country which might use them against Yemeni rebels, but that’s only part of the story. The other parts involve contract ethics: Does the Liberal government choose to go back on a deal the Conservatives made and reduce their credibility around the world? Do the Liberals say no, then have plenty of low/medium-income workers in Ontario vote against them when their tank building job is pulled from under their feet? Do they say no to money that would end up in the pockets of Canadian workers?

For instance, several months ago in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, Bernie Sanders was asked about why he voted against funding N.A.S.A., despite being pro-space. “Sometimes, and frankly I don’t remember all of those votes, one is put in a position of having to make very very difficult choices about whether you vote to provide food for hungry kids or health care for people who have none and other programs. But, in general, I do support increasing funding for NASA,” he wrote, demonstrating that once again there is more to the story.

Let’s look at an example of something that plenty of people have been recently making snap judgements about: Dr. Strange. While I won’t go into the particulars of the film, it’s based on a Marvel comic, and there’s a character named “The Ancient One,” who’s an ethnic Tibetan man in the comics, but will be played by Tilda Swinton in the movie, who’s female and very much white.

In this example, the common snap judgement is “why the hell is Hollywood casting a white person to play a clearly Asian character? White washing!” It’s easy to come to this conclusion quickly when all you see is Tilda Swinton in monastic clothing. You’d have to believe that it’s as simple as “Hollywood is run by a bunch of racist executives.”

There are so many factors that go into any decision being made, and explanations can’t be given with one-sentence answers. To oversimplify these choices does a disservice to people who are making the decision. In the case of Hollywood, you have a room full of executives trying to math out the financial riskiness associated with giving a director hundreds of millions of dollars to play with.

It turns out the specific casting choice was very complicated. In an interview with Double Toasted, writer C. Robert Cargill described the casting choice as a “Kobayashi Maru.” For non-Star Trek nerds, this basically means that the studio had to choose the best way to lose.

Last year, the Chinese film market was worth $6-billion USD, and is predicted to be the biggest film market by 2017 or 2018. Like it or not, Hollywood is successfully tapping into this market with big, blockbuster films and reaping the rewards. What this also means is that when you go to a studio and ask for money to make a film, more and more conditions get attached as the budget you request gets larger.

The bigger the budget, the more money it needs to make back, and often the only way to do that is to make the film accessible to as many people as possible, including the Chinese market. This means you shouldn’t include a Tibetan character, or talk about Tibet, or mention a political minefield like a disputed territory in your film. The Chinese censors won’t let your movie get shown in one of their 35,000 cinemas if you include a character who’s “Tibetan, not Chinese.”

But forget China, the studio could also choose to make the character as “authentic” as possible, but that could be bad as well, because this character was created in the 1960s and possibly based on racist stereotypes.

Obviously, there’s more to this casting decision than what I laid out, but the point is that, often like politicians and business people, sometimes you have to make the “least shitty” choice instead of the “best” one. As such, you should try to gain as much information as possible before forming an opinion, rather than just finding information to match your opinion and ignoring or dismissing everything else.

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