Friday, December 11, 2020

The Perils of False Hope

By now everyone has seen the Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit. If you haven’t, be forewarned. This column contains spoilers.

All told, the series is well-made and compelling. Chess player David Solway has written the best commentary, (via Maggie's Farm) so we will follow his lead.

The series (like the book) was quite mesmerizing—a gripping narrative of a young girl surmounting childhood trauma to reach the pinnacle of the chess world, with excellent production values, and snatches of games cloned from the manuals—which many commentators have fulsomely praised. And yet I found myself naggingly dissatisfied with the affair. Too much detracted from the aura of authenticity which the series aspired to.

As was I. The reason is simple enough-- the show, while being fictional, presents itself as a realistic expectation. You see, under the right circumstances a girl can beat the best boys at chess. In truth, the best chess players are invariably male. No woman has ever been as good as Beth Harmon is portrayed in the series.

This makes the story feminist propaganda, an unrealistic portrayal, designed to lure girls into thinking that they can be just as good as boys at chess, and to convince them, once they discover that they are not as good, to blame the patriarchy.

This does not mean that women cannot play chess. It does not mean that they cannot play very well. It means that the best players in the world are always men. Since modern feminists believe that social justice will only be achieved when men and women are represented proportionally at all levels of society, this is obviously not good news. Apparently, some aspects of human biology are not social constructions.

As happens in the world of bridge, if the best men play against the best women the men will almost always win. Not all the time, not in every match, but they always come out on top in the end. Obviously, there are scores of women bridge players who are better, for example, than your humble blogger, but once you arrive at the championship level, men always occupy the top rungs.

Solway does not mention the point, but the greatest chess players tend to be on the spectrum. They tend to suffer from Asperger's Syndrome. And those who suffer from that condition are invariably male. 

Thus, the show is skewed to entice girls into learning how to play chess. There is nothing wrong with that. Yet, the show does so by trafficking in a series of lies, about the kind of person who wins chess championships and the chances for success. As a fiction it makes some sense, but it falsifies so much that it ceases to be art. It becomes feminist propaganda:

The Queen’s Gambit is not so much a multi-segment movie as a kind of documentary propaganda for the leftist/feminist world view masking as a true-to-life story, but one that could never happen. 

How do we know that Beth Harmon could never happen? Solway explains:

To begin with, although there have been (and are) amazing women chess players, they were always few in number. This was not because they were held back by the “Patriarchy.” In the Soviet Union, Israel, and other nations, they were coddled and subsidized, but never reached the status of the very top world-class male grandmasters. The closest any woman ever came to winning an Open World Championship was the extraordinary Judit Polgar of Hungary, who finished last of eight participants in the 2005 San Luis Invitational, losing to Veselin Topalov, though she was playing White. 

He adds this:

In any case, the likelihood of Beth Harmon ever reaching the absolute summit, as in the book and more vividly in the miniseries, is approximately zero, but a feel-good story takes precedence over reality, especially as it exhibits the political and cultural slant du jour.

Of course, people on the spectrum have seriously limited social skills. They do not have very normal lives. Bobby Fisher comes to mind. And yet, the film shows Beth Harmon engaging in somewhat normal relationships. After raising the issue of her substance abuse, it never really shows how she overcame it.

Nothing is presented as her responsibility and the ravages that should accompany her excessive drinking fail to materialize. She remains slim, beautiful, and attractive to men and women—the film includes the requisite lesbian scene. She can hurt others in love relationships with an insouciant “I do that” attitude. 

As the the behavior of championship level chess players, the show simply lies. Solway explains:

Thirdly, chess masters, as I can attest from experience, are rarely as charming, complaisant, and gentlemanly as the characters in Gambit. More often, they are churlish, vindictive, and ruthlessly aggressive. I have seen them stalk away from the table after a loss in a sullen or tempestuous frame of mind. I have seen them try to disorient their opponents by intense staring, unnecessary fidgeting, loud coughing, disruptive pacing, and frequent breaks at critical junctures. I once saw a grandmaster suddenly light up a cigar and blow smoke in his opponent’s face. Robert told me the story of one grandmaster who used a small, winch-like pincer to remove the captured pieces from the board, rolling the device through the open spaces to seize its prey. The effect on the other side of the table was profound. Bobby Fischer allegedly said, “I love the moment when I break a man’s ego.” Alekhine and Capablanca grew to hate one another, famously refusing to be in the same room together, decorum be hanged. 

This leads Solway to conclude:

Ultimately, as noted, the major problem with The Queen’s Gambit is that it is a staple leftist/feminist narrative. Christianity is mocked as a righteous platitude in the form of two feeble-minded elderly biddies who attempt to bribe our heroine into anti-Communist statements. Beth’s black friend is not a raging BLM activist or intersectional zealot but a successful paralegal, budding Civil Rights lawyer, and sister-goddess who bankrolls Beth’s trip to Moscow. The Soviet Union is a chess paradise filled with kindly and agreeable people, multitudes seeking Beth’s autograph, and elderly men happily playing chess in the streets. Beth is lionized wherever she goes. And, of course, in losing to his female opponent, the Soviet world champion Vasily Borgov, already handicapped in playing Black, bestows a tender hug and applauds her victory—as implausible a scenario on both counts as one could imagine. The feminist theme is metaphorically foregrounded as Borgov breaks protocol, not by toppling his king as is customary but handing it to Beth, the Queen, whose gambit has succeeded. Message: the Queen is King.

Feminism proposes that life imitates art. And thus, it says, in this movie and throughout the world of haute cinema, that women would be just as good as men in each and every endeavor if only girls saw on their screens female characters who outplayed men. To complete the propaganda they show that oppressive males, once they see a brilliant female chess player, will bow down in obeisance to the new Queen.

The same rationale is behind all of the fictional representations of what are now called companionate or egalitarian marriages. You cannot turn on the television without being showered with pictures of men who do half the household chores and who feed and change babies. Apparently, this regime of equal sharing would exist in every American home if only we saw enough sit-coms and dramedies where men change diapers and vacuum the rugs.

Like The Queen’s Gambit, these shows are persuasive. They are skillfully presented propaganda. They possess narrative coherence. And yet, they are still lies. They are simply persuasive lies, lies designed to persuade women that they can come true.  

The shows create unreasonable expectations. Or better, the traffic in the drama of false hope. When women who have suffered feminist indoctrination enter professions and contract marriages that they expect will resemble the fictions they have seen on television and in the movies, they eventually discover that life does not imitate art. When reality proves recalcitrant, when their imperious demands run afoul of the male psyche, they rail against the patriarchy and end up unemployed and unmarried.

The same rule applies to our efforts at diversity. Somehow or other we imagine that if we see enough sit-coms and dramedies where the staff is totally diverse, this will naturally translate into the real world. When it does not, when members of certain groups are unable to do the job, this causes resentment. After all, if life does not fulfill the terms of a fiction, the reason must be that we are all bigots.

You know and I know that any woman who tries and fails at becoming Beth Harmon will blame it on the patriarchy. Why else do we have patriarchy if not to have a convenient scapegoat when feminist fictions fail to be realized.

It is not an accident that in an era of nonstop feminist propaganda America is leading the world in single-parent households. Were it not for the fact that so few Americans now get married, we would probably also be leading the world in divorce. Then again, regardless of whether we are world leaders, we are still world-class at divorce.


whitney said...

Wow! I have not seen this though of course I've heard it mentioned by several people but I know better to watch anything made in the last 15 years with few exceptions because of the intense omnipresent propaganda. The propaganda is there in the decades before but it's just not so maddeningly blatant. I did watch a movie made recently that's a all white men, low budget sci-fi time-traveling movie called Primer. It's very good and extremely complex but the most refreshing part is the lack of woke propaganda. I recommend

Dan Patterson said...

Walk down a street in (Name The City) and please explain how today is better, and by what measure, than the Ozzie and Harriet days.

Sam L. said...

I have nothing to do with Netflix. Just not interested. THIS merely tells me I'm right to disdain Netflix. (Not to mention, "Cuties".)

trigger warning said...

It's propatainment, Whitney.

Ares Olympus said...

Maybe I'll reconnect Netflix someday. Is fantasy always reducible to propaganda and nothing else? But yes, that bell curve problem, wider variance for males: more idiots, more geniuses. Nature rolls more dice on male development, and is more careful making females to inhabit the sensible middle.

I'd not worry it is setting up false expectations for beginners of either gender. And there's still status in being the best female player on a team. And you learn skills in good sportsmanship and how to admire someone you hate in every other way. You can learn most of what's interesting in chess in a year and stop with pride and be happy someday you can teach your kids, nieces or nephews and not embarrass yourself at least for a few months. Pride from competence goes a long way with less work.

Anonymous said...

"You can learn most of what's interesting in chess in a year ..."

Not a chess player, are you?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Obviously, as some have noted, it is good for everyone to learn how to play chess. At New York's Success Academies, among the best charter schools in the country, chess is on the curriculum. The difficulty arises when girls watch the show and imagine that they can be world champions, and that the best girls should be able to beat the best boys. They they attribute the differential to sexism, when in fact it is a function of biology.

trigger warning said...

Well, Ares has a point. Given two sexes, women represent the middle. :-D

Sam L. said...

I learned to play Chess in Jr. High. Never got good at it. Haven't played it since high school. Still have a set, though.

jmod46 said...

The movie and other examples above, in many cases, are also examples of confirmation bias in action. Even if those idealized feminist ideals have no basis in reality, they are nonetheless comforting for those who want and really need to believe. Richard Feynman again:

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool".

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this series but if a chess champion BOWED to the female who beat him, no one, male or female, would take that to be realistic!

autothreads said...

It seems to me that chess is most valuable to those who can play it well but it isn't the primary focus in their lives. Natan Sharansky comes to mind.