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Metaphors, more iv, featuring Oliver Roeder & Chris Cillizza

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — others besides david ronfeldt who find game & sports metaphors valuable — or should that be invaluable? ]
.

I’m making this post a “special” because Ron Hale-Evans pointed me to a trove of articles variously about or touching on game metaphors for politics, geo or otherwise.

**

This was the start:

What game is President Trump playing? By that I mean what actual game is he playing?

Trump’s political performance, in seriousness and in jest, has often been likened to chess. Even to three-, four-, eight-, 10- and 12-dimensional chess. His proponents argue he’s a grandmaster,1 and his detractors argue he’s a patzer. CNN’s Chris Cillizza has written two different articles accusing Trump of playing “zero-dimensional chess,” whatever that means. Even Garry Kasparov, probably the greatest actual chess player of all time, has weighed in, inveighing against the use of this gaming cliche via Politico.

In my job here at FiveThirtyEight, I spend a lot of time thinking about games — board games, video games, chess tournaments, math puzzles, the game theory of international affairs. So I understand that “playing chess” is easy shorthand for “doing strategy” or “being smart” or whatever. But I think we can do better. I humbly propose to you that Trump is not playing chess (of any dimension), but rather something called “ultimate tic-tac-toe.” It’s time to update your tropes.

It’s a good day when I find an entire article dedicated to game or sports metaphors for politics, but this one had some great links..

Instances:

**

The second thing this Corker episode makes clear is that, strategically speaking, Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy is that there is no strategy.

In the wake of Trump’s absolutely stunning 2016 victory, the conventional wisdom — in political circles — was that Trump was a strategic genius, always seeing five moves ahead. He was playing three-dimensional chess while the media was still trying to figure out which way pawns could move. The reason no one thought Trump could win was because “we” didn’t see the whole board the way he did. No one else saw it that way. Trump was a genius. An unconventional genius but a genius nonetheless.

There, incidentally, is the definition of zero-dimensional chess:

Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy is that there is no strategy.

And:

**

The key part is when he concludes Flake will be a “no” on the tax reform package in the Senate because, well, his political career is “toast” — or something.

I submit this as yet another piece of evidence that Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess.

What do I mean? Simply this: When Trump won the White House — against all odds — the working assumption was that he had executed a plan so brilliant and so complex that only he (and the few advisers he let in on the plan) could see it. He was playing three-dimensional chess while the media, the Clinton campaign and virtually everyone else was still playing checkers.

But as his first year in the White House has progressed, there’s mounting evidence that Trump may not be playing three-dimensional chess. In fact, he might just be playing zero-dimensional chess. As in, the only strategy Trump is pursuing is no strategy at all.

From a game-policy metaphor angle, this doesn’t take us much further, although you can read the whole post for details of the Trump-Flake business..

And..

**

Chess? That’s not what Garry Kasparov sees Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin playing—three-dimensional or any other kind. But if they did sit down for a game, the former grandmaster believes the Russian president would obviously win.

“Both of them despise playing by the rules, so it’s who will cheat first,” Kasparov told me in an interview for POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “But in any game of wits, I would bet on Putin, unfortunately.”

Kasparov gets into some interesting details, not entirely uncritical of Obama, and even GW Bush, but flicking Trump off the board with a flick of his cultivated fingernail..

I think I’vetheis referenced the Kasparov article once before, but hey, this is a rich harvest..

Next:

**

Shall we play a game?

Imagine that a crisp $100 bill lies on a table between us. We both want it, of course, but there’s no chance of splitting it — our wallets are empty. So we vie for it according to a few simple rules. We’ll each write down a secret number — between 0 and 100 — and stick that number in an envelope. When we’re both done, we’ll open the envelopes. Whichever of us wrote down the higher number pockets the $100. But here’s the catch: There’s a percentage chance that we’ll each have to burn $10,000 of our own money, and that chance is equal to the lower of the two numbers.

So, for example, if you wrote down 10 and I wrote down 20, I’d win the $100 … but then we’d both run a 10 percent risk of losing $10,000. This is a competition in which, no matter what, we both end up paying a price — the risk of disaster.

What number would you write down?

In the 538 post, the game’s available for interactive play.. And later in the same piece, too..

Now imagine that you’re playing the same game, but for much more than $100. You’re a head of state facing off against another, and the risk you run is a small chance of nuclear war

That was instructive, I think, though my mind is artificially dimmed at present..

And finally:

**

This one revolved around a tweet in which Trump had said

:When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!

How easy? was this post’s response:

But how easy? And how exactly do you win them? (Also, what’s a trade war?)

Let’s find out. You (Yes, you!) have just been elected president of your very own country. Congratulations! Now it’s time to get to work. There is another country out there that has goods you can buy, and you have goods it may want to buy. Your job is to choose your foreign economic policy — which you’ll do in the little game we’ve prepared for you below.

The rules go like this: You can cooperate with the other country, allowing the free flow of its goods into your country. Or you can defect, imposing tariffs on the foreign goods. And because you will trade with the same country over and over again, you have to decide whether to stick with a single strategy no matter what or whether to change course in response to your opponent. The other country faces the same choice, but you can’t know in advance what plan they’ve chosen. Free trade helps both countries, generating big windfalls for both sides. But it’s possible for a single country to improve its own situation at the other’s expense — you both have a selfish incentive to defect, taxing the imports from the other country and helping only yourself. However, if you both defect, you both wind up isolated, cutting yourselves off from the market and reducing earnings on both sides.

Again, the game is available for interactive play.

We’ve simplified trade dramatically: You’re engaging in 100 rounds of trade with a randomly chosen FiveThirtyEight reader. In each round, you and your trade partner can either cooperate (allow free trade) or defect (impose a tariff). Your goal is to pick a strategy that earns you as much as possible.

The game mechanics here were interesting (and “gave the game away” where the game is game theory a la Prisoners Dilemma):

Well..

Was there a trade war? Was it good? Did you win it?

Tariffs are the weapons of a trade war

The game you just played took a little game theory — the formal, mathematical study of strategy — and retrofitted it to the world of international relations. (Of course, our simulation is extremely simplified, and it runs in a very controlled little world that ignores alliances, trade deals, political histories, other countries, and hundreds of other factors.)

**

Memory slippage — lest we forget, there was one last game ref today:

It’s the NYorker‘s film criticism of the latest impossible Mission, and the game sentence in the piece itself reads:

Despite the deft coherence of the plot’s mirror games of alliance and betrayal, which provide the illusion of a developed drama, the movie almost totally deprives its characters of inner life or complex motives.

Mirroring’s one of the patterns I love to collect, and game thinking here might note the Kierkegaardian note:

In his 1846 essay “The Present Age,” Søren Kierkegaard decried the widespread tendency of the time -— which he summed up as an age “without passion” —- to “transform daring and enthusiasm into a feat of skill.”

The continuum from “daring and enthusiasm to “feat of skill” is an interesting one for game designers to place their games on — before and after design, and when player feedback is in.

A rich day indeed.

**

Sources:

  • FiveThirtyEight, Trump Isn’t Playing 3D Chess
  • CNN Politics, Donald Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess
  • CNN POlitics, Donald Trump is playing zero-dimensional chess (again)
  • Politico, Garry Kasparov Would Like You to Stop Saying ‘Trump Is Playing 4-D Chess’
  • FiveThirtyEight, How To Win A Nuclear Standoff
  • FiveThirtyEight, How To Win A Trade War
  • Trump on Twitter, trade wars are good, and easy to win
  • New Yorker, Mission: Impossible -— Fallout
  • **

    Some other posts in this series

    And I emphasize Some, previous posts in the game & sports metaphor series, as somewhat randomly collected, and Likelky not in sequential order:

  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=57435
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59988
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59082
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=58644
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=57908
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59678
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=57493
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=59496
  • ZP post, http://zenpundit.com/?p=60193
  • With any luck, some of these will have links to yet others in the series..

    **

    And dammit, pwned by another one before my head hit the pillow..

    Pawn, yes. Pwn?

    A soccer tactic and its parliamentary analog

    Friday, July 13th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — a Croatian filibuster on the football field ]
    .


    In extra time, Croatia’s Mario Mandžuki? had a nine-minute, operatic breakdown, a syncopated series of stops, starts, and seizures, which defined the match and took it away from England.

    I jeep looking for sports metaphors in political reportage, and now, in a New Yorker article titled World Cup 2018: The Tragicomic Opera of Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic I find out all about players feigning cramps as a delaying tactic when games go into overtime —

    — and it’s a clear analog of the Senate’s filibuster tactic. Either one could be a metaphor for the other, soccer for politics or vide versa.

    **

    Sources:

  • New Yorker, The Tragicomic Opera of Croatia’s Mario Mandzukic
  • US Senate, Filibuster and Cloture
  • **

    Oh, and, The England vs. Croatia World Cup Match Made for Some Awkward Television:

    One segment of the pre-game show was given over to a National Geographic Channel report on Russian Buddhism. If this was intended as outreach to soccer fans so ardent that they always burn in suffering, then perhaps it did some spiritual good. But, as an effort at a culture-enriching sideshow, it was unsuccessful, so out of sync with the analysis and hype surrounding it as to be charming. The correspondent said to the monk, “O.K., so, if everything is an illusion, what’s truth, then?”

    I couldn’t exactly miss that, given my interests, could I?

    Two new sports metaphor articles, or make that three

    Sunday, July 8th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — with my salutations to John Wilson, Garry Kasparov, Mike Sellers ]
    .

    I asked the innocent-seeming question, Can one play chess on a checkers board? on FaceBook today, and the conversation veered to the topic of hierarchies of games — is chess inherently superior to checkers, for example, so that playing chess on a checkers board seems ok, but the idea of playing checkers on a chess board is mildly offensive?

    And that led to the question of a hierarchy of games, which in turn sent me scurrying for ideas of the form x is playing tic tac toe while y is playing chess and similar. In the course of my research:

    I’ve seen tweets that say “Mueller is playing chess; Trump is playing tic tac toe.” and “Putin is playing Chess. Trump is playing Hungry Hungry Hippo.” I’ve seen “Cruz is playing chess and Trump is playing tic tac toe”. I’ve seen “Trump is playing tic tac toe Kim playing chess.” I’ve seen “Trump is playing tic-tac-toe while his opponents are playing four-dimensional chess, and tic-tac-toe is what wins elections.” — I’ll have to come back to that. I’ve seen “What if Kim Jong-Un is the one playing chess while Trump is playing Chinese checkers?” I’ve even seen Ann Coulter saying “Just hang on to your hats, because while you’re all playing checkers, Trump is playing 3-D chess.”

    Ouch!!

    And the cake-topper — Garry Kasparov, world chess chamption and Russian opposition leader:

    **

    I’ve also come across a popularity-based hierarchy of games, in a National Review article titled The Dominant-Sport Theory of American Politics:

    I’ve seen a few cultural shifts in my day, and the first one came via early-1970s headlines proclaiming “Baseball No Longer the National Pastime,” after polls showed that football had become America’s most popular sport.

    Then:

    After brushing off the 1980s soccer scare, football remained unchallenged for decades.

    Then:

    But now football is losing fans for a number of reasons, and David French has written a splendid summary of why basketball, specifically the NBA, continues to rise in popularity.

    Here’s where sports as a metaphor for politics clicks in:

    A while back, Nelson George glorified basketball’s taunt-and-flaunt style as the “black athletic aesthetic,” and while Donald Trump is one of the whitest men on earth, he has clearly absorbed the essentials of this climate of thought. The chief factors of the black athletic aesthetic have been summarized as intimidation, humiliation, and improvisation, which together give a pretty good description of Trump’s style of governance.

    The kicker

    :I’ve said before that Trump is playing tic-tac-toe while his opponents are playing four-dimensional chess, and tic-tac-toe is what wins elections.

    **

    There’s plenty more of you to enjoy, but I want to bring in another article with a strong sports correlation. It’s Ann Coulter‘s piece from 28 March this year, titled 3-D Chess — It Only *Looks* Like Trump Is Throwing Away His Presidency!. It starts off with her picture, here reduced yet still large —

    — and under it a subhead:

    I can’t wait to see Trump’s next move in his game of “3-D chess”!

    Then, expanding:

    He has now signed a spending bill that, if it actually did what it claims to do, prohibits him from building the wall, hiring any new ICE agents capable of making arrests, and building any new detention facilities for illegal aliens.

    The strange thing is, as commander in chief, he doesn’t need congressional authority to do any of these things. But he obviously doesn’t know that.

    Why? BECAUSE HE’S PLAYING 3-D CHESS!

    There’s some irony involved — or isn’t there? I am unfaamiliar with Ms Coulter’s style. Then:

    It’s all part of the act, you fools! Trump is making the Democrats think that, even though they don’t have the House, the Senate or the White House, he needs Chuck Schumer’s permission before moving a muscle.

    Carefully observe the master. He gives up everything and — in exchange — gets NOTHING. See?

    Yup, Irony:

    This shows what a master strategist Trump is. He throws out the rulebook! You know what else, suckers? Now he can put out a paperback edition with a new chapter, How to Give Up Everything in Return for Nothing.

    The wins are already rolling in. Guess who’s suddenly dying to negotiate with Trump? That’s right: Kim Jong Un. One look at how Trump negotiates and Kim couldn’t wait to sit down with him.

    I can’t give you all the details, but:

    Thanks to Trump’s 3-D chess, he may well be in line for an endorsement not only from Boeing, but also from the powerhouse Bush family. [ ..] 3-D chess, baby! Trump has lured Republicans right into his trap.

    And finally:

    I can’t wait to see what comes next!

    Just hang on to your hats, because while you’re all playing checkers, Trump is playing 3-D chess.

    **

    At which point I need something of a palate cleanser, so I’ll introduce you to a third article I stumbled on while getting this far.. in the National Review again — Donald Hall and the Nature of Time in Baseball Country. This in turn references a George Plimpton piece from the NYT titled The Smaller the Ball, the Better the Book: A Game Theory of Literature. Aha, a hierarchy afoot! Here’s Plimpton’s opening salvo:

    SOME years ago I evolved what I called the Small Ball Theory to assess the quality of literature about sports. This stated that there seems to be a correlation between the standard of writing about a particular sport and the ball it utilizes — that the smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature. There are superb books about golf, very good books about baseball, not many good books about football or soccer, very few good books about basketball and no good books at all about beach balls. I capped off the Small Ball Theory by citing Mark Twain’s “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” perhaps the most universally known of sports stories, in which bird shot (very small balls indeed!) is an important element in the plot.

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t respresent my friends John Wilson and the late Bill Tunilla by suggesting that Roger Angell on baseball is as fine as anything written about golf.

    ANyway, it’s the Plimpton piece I wanted to get you to, and that splendid opening paragraph. Birdshot, indeed!

    Until next time..

    Role-playing elections, Rebekah Mercer, Cambridge Analytica, &c

    Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — the “politics as game” metaphor comes in towards the end of this post — I think it’s a rich one ]
    .


    Totally irrelevant mega-foosball game was the best illustration, understandably, Gizmodo could come up with for a sophisticated role-player with strong political implications. Photo: Hector Viva (Getty Images)

    **

    This is a particularly juicy topic — Bryan Alexander pointed me to it. It seems there are a couple of RPGs, and I don’t mean rocket propelled grenades, in which role-players can play out elections — 2016 and 2020 — with an added emphasis on “an influential technology accelerator.”

    First, then, Jane Mayer‘s New Yorker piece, which lit things up:

    A Parlor Game at Rebekah Mercer’s Has No Get Out of Jail Free Card
    Members of the right-wing family that helped put Trump in the White House can relive the campaign in an elaborate dinner-party game.

    I mean, how cool is that? Jane Mayer, whose book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, prompted reporter Joby Warrick to write that a CIA analyst had warned the Bush administration that “up to a third of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay may have been imprisoned by mistake,” while NYT reporter Scott Shane noted:

    Mayer’s book disclosed that International Committee of the Red Cross officials had concluded in a secret report in 2007, that “the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes.”

    **

    Okay, Jane Mayer is someone I geerally read with respect — and in her recent piece she delivered her goods on the megadonors and algorithms that plausibly gave Trump the 2016 election:

    Robert Mercer, the New York hedge-fund magnate whose huge donations to pro-Trump groups in 2016 have been credited with putting Donald Trump in the White House, has kept a low profile since the election. But his daughter Rebekah, who runs the family’s foundation, now has a way to relive the thrill of the campaign with friends around her dinner table.

    This, then, is entertainment, and good, clean fun — unless you happen to have a bias against hedge fund managers and the like.

    In March, on a ski vacation at a rented house near Vail, Colorado, she brought a batch of copies of the “Rules of Play” for an elaborate parlor game called the Machine Learning President. Essentially, it is a race to the Oval Office in three fifteen-minute rounds. It’s a role-playing game, more like Assassin than like Monopoly, although players of this game do start out with an allotment of “cash” to spend on pushing their agendas, which can include “algorithmic policing” and “mass deportation.”

    “Tonight, the name of the game is power,” reads the first page of the “Rules of Play.” Each player, it goes on, “will assume a new political identity.” Instead of becoming Colonel Mustard or Mrs. Peacock, as in the board game Clue, each player takes on the role of a political candidate or a “faction,” in the game’s parlance. Among the possible roles are Mike Pence, Elizabeth Warren, Black Lives Matter, Russia, Y Combinator, Tom Steyer, Wall Street, Evangelicals, the Koch Network, and Robert Mercer himself.

    Colonel Mustard and Mrs. Peacock? or Rich Uncle PennyBags, the moustached logo from Monopoly? From a games perspective, Mayer’s piece is a rich trove — and of course, there’s more I could quote..

    **

    Now turn to Buzzfeed for a corrective, which is where Bryan landed me:

    Rebekah Mercer Says She Isn’t Reliving The 2016 Election Through A Role-Playing Game
    “I know nothing about that game, nothing about who created it or who plays it.”

    And again, there are details aplenty:

    Republican megadonor Rebekah Mercer strongly disputed on Monday a New Yorker report that she “has a way to relive the thrill” of the 2016 presidential campaign via a role-playing game that includes her father as a character.

    The story, by journalist Jane Mayer, found that Mercer brought with her on a recent Colorado ski vacation the rules for “Machine Learning President,” a party game in which players assume the roles of politicians, interest groups, an influential technology accelerator, and billionaire donors involved in a hypothetical presidential election. Among the game’s characters is Robert Mercer, Rebekah’s father, a hedge fund billionaire whose donations to the Trump campaign and stakes in Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica have brought him intense public scrutiny. Other characters include Elizabeth Warren and Mike Pence as presidential hopefuls.

    In the three round game — Super Tuesday, the Primary, and the General Election — players split into factions that include the candidates themselves, Wall Street, and Russia. According to a Gizmodo story, the goal of the game “is to get players thinking about ways tech and money could be manipulated to influence the 2020 election.”

    “I know nothing about that game, nothing about who created it or who plays it and, unlike Ms. Mayer, I didn’t even really read those pages and I shredded them when I got home,” Mercer wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. Mercer did not explain why she shredded the game rules.

    Ooh, shredded the game rules. And then there’s a nanny, who may have leaked the story.

    **

    Fast forward (by which I mean, click through) to Gizmodo‘s piece:‘Machine Learning President’ Designers Have No Idea How the Mercers Got Their Game

    When a group of about 40 players first tested out a live game called the Machine Learning President at a private event in San Francisco this February, they were unaware that the game would end up memorialized in the pages of The New Yorker.

    But during a ski vacation in March, the Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer gathered her friends together to play several rounds of the game, which pits special interest groups, political candidates, and activist organizations against each other in a simulated presidential election, aided by cash and artificial intelligence. A lawyer for Mercer told The New Yorker that she owned a copy of the Machine Learning President but had not created it and that it did not reflect her family’s views.

    Indeed, the game was in fact designed by an outfit that was less than friendly to the Mercer’s position:

    It’s not hard to draw comparisons between the rules of the game, with its reliance on big cash and tech capabilities, and the actions of the Mercer-backed Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. But, as Mercer’s lawyer stated, she had nothing to do with creating the game -— in fact, it was conceptualized by one of her vocal critics.

    **

    Here we go:

    Brett Horvath and Berit Anderson are the co-founders of Scout AI and the creators of the Machine Learning President. In 2017, the pair published a scathing critique of Cambridge Analytica, the now-shuttered political consultancy that misused the data of tens of millions of Facebook users and sat at the center of the social network’s largest scandal in years. “By leveraging automated emotional manipulation alongside swarms of bots, Facebook dark posts, A/B testing, and fake news networks, a company called Cambridge Analytica has activated an invisible machine that preys on the personalities of individual voters to create large shifts in public opinion,” the duo wrote.

    Wrote, in fact, in a piece titled The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine — and here we’re getting into more serious, “Alert, ICYMI” waters — subtitled:

    There’s a new automated propaganda machine driving global politics. How it works and what it will mean for the future of democracy.

    The 20-page piece begins:

    “This is a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go,” said professor Jonathan Albright.

    Albright, an assistant professor and data scientist at Elon University, started digging into fake news sites after Donald Trump was elected president. Through extensive research and interviews with Albright and other key experts in the field, including Samuel Woolley, Head of Research at Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project, and Martin Moore, Director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power at Kings College, it became clear to Scout that this phenomenon was about much more than just a few fake news stories. It was a piece of a much bigger and darker puzzle?—?a Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine being used to manipulate our opinions and behavior to advance specific political agendas.

    **

    So Reberkah Mercer was sent a copy of a game whose progenitors were seriously opposed to Cambridge Analytica style “weaponization” of US presidential politics, and had created a game to get others thinking along similar lines.. she then played it, or didn’t.. then, either way, shredded it.

    Back to Gizmodo:

    That invisible machine—and the lack of preparedness for it in the 2016 election—provided inspiration for the Machine Learning President. The goal of the game is to get players thinking about ways tech and money could be manipulated to influence the 2020 election. (It also inspired Scout AI to spin out another group, Guardians AI, that’s focused on protecting pro-democracy groups from information warfare and cyber attacks.)

    “This is an experience we created to help pro-democracy groups and strengthen democracy against some of the ways technology might interfere with fair elections,” explained Randy Lubin, one of the game’s designers and the leader of a design studio called Diegetic Games. “We knew that some sort of game or simulation or exercise was a really great way to understand the incentives and systems at play.”

    I think there’s plenty of eccentric and wonky games and wargames stuff in here, and would have posted this anyway — but if I need a rationale within my own “system”, I’ve been collecting game metaphors as you know, and this one has the game metaphor in those last words:

    We knew that some sort of game or simulation or exercise was a really great way to understand the incentives and systems at play.

    Yes, politics itself can be viewed as a game, modeled in a game, learned from in a game, wargamed — or simply “played” in a game for dinner party entertainment. The possibility of red-teaming 2020 is where this gets cutting-edge interesting.

    Boom!

    Puppetry cascades, or “art is theft”

    Friday, June 22nd, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — and if you experience vertigo reading any of these cascades, feel free to hang in there vertiginously — or let go ]
    .

    Alright, here’s a DoubleQuote in images:

    I don’t believe there’s a direct borrowing (aka plagiarism, theft) here, but both images rely on a shared puppet cascades convention.

    **

    It’s been a bit of a yawn to say art is theft — at least since a few borrowings past Picasso, and maybe before him — what makes this pair of puppet cascades interesting is:

    First, that each depicts a portion of a cascade of puppets — in the earlier, My Fair Lady version, Bernard Shaw puppeting Henry Higgins puppeting Eliza Dolittle, while the recent New Yorker graphic might as well be X (unshown) puppeting Steve Bannon puppeting Trump with Jeff Sessions and Scott Pruitt, maybe.

    Second, note the X (Bernard Shaw) in the later version, and then ponder the idea that cascades may have a source, or may continue backwards ad infinitum, but Someone or Thing implicitly or explicitly needs to fill that X space. In the earlier version, Bernard Shaw does it, but that only begs the question, is Something puppeting Bernard Shaw? Deity, perhaps, or Muse?

    And in the contemmporary version, where the upper puppeteer is cut off from vision, They‘s a good guess for the X Who‘s puppeting the Bannon figure, because Bannon, They, and Puppetry are all widely associated with conspiracy theory. Oh, and think, X-Files!

    Hey, in reality Lerner and Lowe were making musical out of Shaw‘s theatrical Pygmalion out of Gilbert and Sullivan — and the cascade theft goes on and on, back into the mists and myths of antiquity..

    The actual figures in the New Yorker cascade are X, Lord Bell (representing Bell Pottinger, the PR firm), and, below, the brothers Atul, Ajay, and Tony Gupta. The article itself, The Reputation-Laundering Firm That Ruined Its Own Reputation, is well worth a read. And look at the illustrations careful documentation of the ownership-lineages it’s pilfering from:

    Illustration by Ben Jones; photographs by (clockwise from top): David M. Benett / Getty; Martin Rhodes / Gallo Images / Business Day / Getty; Foto24 / Gallo Images / Getty; David M. Benett / Bell Pottinger / Getty

    **

    Property is theft, now — that’s Proudhon.


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