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At War With Algorithms

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES Online October 2010

drawing by Henry RaleighAlgorithms

I’m still smarting about missing out on Netflix’s million dollar contest. I have previously reported on this and it’s all the fault of those devil algorithms. Ironically enough, I was given a six-month introductory gift to Netflix. It didn’t take me long to discover how those damn algorithms hope to lure me into their way of thinking. I caught on right off the bat with my very first order— Eric Roemer’s, “Claire’s Knee”.  I am fond of Roemer’s films and am easily drawn in by his quiet editing and the long, literate dialogues over small moral tensions. The algorithms missed by a mile judging from the list of supposedly similar films they figured I would go for. I imagine their decision-making process, all electronic mind you, must have unfolded something like this:

             Algorithm #1: “My note here says “Claire’s Knee” is about a French guy who is attracted by a girl’s knee but he doesn’t do anything about it.”

            Algorithm #2:  “Any juicy sex stuff?”
            Algorithm #1:  “Nothing, nada.”

            Algorithm #3:  “ Sounds like a Meg Ryan film to me. Maybe Jennifer Aniston.”

            Algorithm #2:  “Right, didn’t “French Kiss” have Kevin Klein playing a                                       Frenchman?”

            Algorithm # 3:  “And she has pretty knees, too.”

            Algorithm #1:  “Right, so let’s feed him a bunch of Meg Ryan and Jennifer                                       Aniston flicks.”

You see how this insensitive process works. You see what a mess these algorithms can make of things. I for one intend to keep them off-balance. My next order will be Almordovar’s “Law of Desire”, a film about a porn movie director and transvestites. Let those algorithms try tracking me after that. And I’ve got some other beauties  that should drive them right up the wall — a passel of surrealist films no one this side of the Atlantic has ever heard of by directors whose last names end in ‘czyk’ and ‘sky’. Take THAT algorithms!