Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I have just finished reading a very interesting article, especially for people who are into distant reading, data mining, computational linguistics, and digital text forensics - you know, all those things that allow us to play with computers at work and still get away with it. 

The article reports on a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,which suggests that "the most accurate predictions of which movies the U.S. Library of Congress will deem 'culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant' are not the views of critics or fans but a simple algorithm applied to a database." The conclusion to all this is that the more "connections" a movie has (and, I guess, any work of art, for that matter), the more likely it is to go down in the records as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." 


By connections, the scientists responsible for this study mean "films, television episodes and other works that allude to an earlier movie." In other words, when we hear "may the force be with you" quoted in a TV series episode, or we see lightsabers in different sci-fi movies, we are witnessing some of the things that turned Star Wars into a worldwide acclaimed classic. 

Regardless of the mathematics behind this algorithm, and the computer power needed to test it, we can certainly draw a parallelism between movies and drama - especially Bernard Shaw's plays. If the amount of quotations, allusions, recreations, and adaptations of Shaw's works is any indication of future status, we may rest assured that he will remain in the canon for years to come. 

Few authors figure more prominently in any dictionary of quotations; many of his plays have been adapted into movies or musicals (from My Fair Lady to The Chocolate Soldier); and he has coined words and phrases that have become part of the English lexicon. There are people who have even had to set up a blog to discriminate between quotations that are Shaw's and those that are apocryphal. Although, to be fair, sometimes someone else does the job for me

I hope you have enjoyed this little reflection for a change. As someone said once: "the golden rule is that there are no golden rules." 

Well, so long!

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