Equal Opportunity Parody Please!

By cjohnson | July 19, 2005 4:56 pm

Well, I had this link as a link in a previous post. It deserves a post of its own, because I think it points up an important point somewhere under all the jolly fun. (It’s a fun jab at string theory. There are plenty of them these days. I and my colleagues in the field should not hide from them. It is rather flattering that they consider us worth the effort, so I will not shy away from pointing out the funny ones when I see them. The field can (and should be able to) take it.)

My basic point is this: All these male physicists were paired with actor counterparts. Why oh why was there no woman physicist/string-theorist paired with an actress? They just plonked Jessica Alba in there at random. Could they not have even tried to think of any? There are several women in string theory with as much stature as others of those mentioned in the parody. Can’t we think of actress counterparts?

So I think that they missed a trick. It would have been so much funnier, as it would have opened up more possibilities. Come on….a little imagination here. Can we have some entries/ideas coming in maybe? I want physicist/actor pairings, and maybe even plot synopses.


P.S. Lurking string theorists (male or female) who want to make harmless suggestions for female string theorist/actress pairings but feel uncomfortable doing so publicly are allowed, just this once mind you, to comment anonymously or using a pseudonym!

  • AA

    Come on, Clifford, we all know that this is just a setup to talk about casting Amanda Peet as Amanda Peet.

  • http://joebolte.com Joe Bolte

    Hi Clifford,
    In exchange for the following suggestion, would you post a serious defense of why you think String Theory is worth it? Do you expect that it will give experimentally falsifiable predictions within your lifetime? Or alternatively, do you think it will yield a different complete formulation of QFT that will simplify any calculations, require fewer “plugged-in parameters” or provide any other practical advantages over the Standard Model? I have never gotten a string theorist to say anything stronger than that they *hope* that it will yield predictions, without giving any reason for me to share their enthusiasm. Having fun poking fun at competing theories is all well and good (and I enjoyed making this one), but I have yet to find a serious defense to what Peter Woit and others have to say about the theory’s prospects.


    Blue Pill
    Red Pill
    Memorable quote:
    Clipheus: [deep bass voice] Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
    Neo: M-Theory?
    Clipheus: Do you want to know what it is?
    Neo: Yes.
    Clipheus: Ohhh really? Uhhhh, let’s change the subject. [even deeper basso profundo] What do you think of my sunglasses?

  • Steve

    The “String Kings”, Scorcese’s latest, is a highly violent but satisfying gangster movie, certainly on a par with Goodfellas or the Godfather trilogy, and does give the viewer insights into the raw and violent world of fundamental string theory research. The film also boasts a first-rate Hollywood cast: Joe Pesci as Michael
    “Mo “Green; Burt Young as John Schwartz; Antonio Banderas as the hot-bloodied Juan Maldacena, who is as fast with a flicknife as he is with an ADS duality; Leonardo deCaprio as Lubos “The Kid” Motl; Robert de Nero as Tom Banks; Harvey Keitel as Joe “the (quantum) Mechanic” Polchinski,
    Michael Douglas as Michael Douglas; Amanda Peet as Amanda Peet, Terrence Stamp as Lenny Susskind, Jacki Chan as Michio Kaku, Samual L Jackson as Clifford V. Johnson and Eugene Levy as “Boss of Bosses” Ed Witten. The film is charactersied by some extreme and gratuitous violence and is not for the mathematically squeemish, but this is to be expected considering the subject matter.

    In the film, Lubos Motl becomes involved with the string mafia at a young age. As he says in the film, “I always wanted to become a string theorist”. As an undergraduate he idolises the string theory gangsters in the US and eagerly studies every page of GSW, Vols. I and II. Upon graduating, the local Syracuse mob captain Tom Banks sees his potential and helps cultivate the boy’s developing criminal string career, offering him a postgraduate position. In graduate school Lubos is arrested by campus police for intimidating researchers in medicine, biology, engineering, arts and humanities into citing string preprints in their work. He admits nothing and is lauded by his superiors as a “stand-up guy”. Upon getting his Phd he moves to Harvard and gets to rub shoulders with some of the “made guys” within the east-coast string underworld. Ruthless and violent and described as “perturbatively ustable” he quickly establishes his reputation. From his Harvard base he helps the mob take over local bars, clubs, businesses, casinos, hotels, libraries, graduate schools and journal editorial boards. They run a sleazy escort agency called “Matrix Models”. The also conspire to channel, syphon and launder millions of dollars worth of grant money from the government. However, at this time the FBI also begin to keep a close watch…

    Perhaps the most violent scenes in the film follow when “Boss of Bosses” Ed Witten, from a huge luxury mansion in Princeton NJ, calmly gives the order for a long list of people to be “taken out” (spoiler alert). In a chilling sequence, the film repeatedly cuts between the increasingly violent mob hits and Ed giving a seminar on the twistor space structure of 1-loop amplitudes in gauge theory. Lee Smolin is seen shot multiple times in the back as he writes LQG constraint equations on a blackboard. There is a scene showing work on an extension of the New Jersey turnpike, involving string henchmen (disguised with hard hats and overalls) a large cement truck and Peter Woit. Carlo Rovelli is kidnapped and strapped to a chair while the Kid goes through his quantum gravity monologue page by page with seething criticism before finally bashing his head in with the hardback edition. Another LQG theorist gets his dimensions compactified in a car crusher. These violent scenes generally stay with you long after the film is finished and have an unsettling affect.

    The film also cuts to the west-coast string operation where Stanford mobsters are experimenting with hard drugs. With on-location filming at the ITP (now the Kavli Institute) we see Polchinski (Keital) and Johnson (Samual Jackson) working on a lecture series, unfortunately with awful dumbed-down dialogue from Jackson:”This D-brane primers gonna kick serious ass mutha”. However, back east things go awry and the kid ends up in jail replete with orange jump suit taking the rap for his superiors, following an FBI sting (string?)operation. But he starts to run an operation from his cell smuggling in drugs and arvix preprints for his fellow inmates.

    However, the film badly degenerates into 70s and 80s actioner kitch near the end when the east-coast string bosses decide to take over Kaku’s NY pop science, popular book, tv and radio operation, thus stopping him making string theory understandable to “the stupid people”. It turns out though that Kaku who has 4 black belts can shatter a stack of D-branes with a single karate blow, and takes on the string mob, joined by fellow populariser
    Briane Green played by Steven Seagal. However, some of the mob back west are not hapy including boss John Schwartz who says, “Kaku was writing string theory papers when some of you guys were struggling with high-school algebra”. What follows is an all-out turf war in NY’s China Town, with a badly dubbed Kaku (even though being Japanese), a sinewy, oiled lean, mean fighting machine…every muscle tensed ready to explode with lightening reflexes, taking out the string mob one by one in a scene shamelessly ripped off from the end of “Enter the Dragon.”

    Overall, String Kings will appeal to fans fo the gangster genre and despite the ending will probably still become a Scorcese classic.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Wow! I thought I could do passable stuff like that, but this is just….brilliant. Brilliant, Brilliant. Could you work in somewhere Jackson saying “Yes they deserved to die, and I hope they burn in Hell!” ? …and make sure he really drags out that “Hell” into his signature “Hey-yell”. Those of you who’ve seen “Chappelle’s Show” will know what I mean. (I think they might have viewable clips at the site.)

    Now we need more. Perhaps some different genres? How about a Merchant-Ivory String Theory flick? Or something directed by Tarkovsy? Or how about something directed by Tartakovsky? (The previous was not repetition with a typo.)
    Kubrick? Frears? Polanski?

    This could run and run….


  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    I should say that you budding filmmakers still need to try to invent a scenario where more than two members of minority groups play a role. Nice that you put me in there (and by the way, that dialogue was accurate, not dumbed down at all, and the primer did kick serious ass, mutha!), but sadly so far there’s only been a few (at most a handful) of people of African descent contributing in this area at any one time. Focusing on women in the field one more time, we know that in string theory -while there is a long way to go yet- there have been several heavy hitters (perhaps an appropriate phrase in the light of the above review of the scorcese-esque movie) in the field, from different generations, and there are many playing an active role in shaping the field. They’re not just extras. So there should be significant roles for their hollywood doppelgangers too, right? Come on! I want to see Meryl Streep, Glen Close, Mary McDonnell, Jodie Foster, Susan Sarandon, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Watson, Kate Winslet, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Maggie Gyllenhaal …. Cast them all as String Theorists!


  • Steve

    Hi Clifford. Glad you liked the film review:) Just a bit of fun. I can say Jackson has quite a few scenes in the movie. Upon hearing about the hits he exclaims:”Yeah! Them muthas deserved to die! I hope they all burn in Hey-all!” Gangsta rapper Ice Cube also appears as Jim Gates the badass supersymmetric bro with a penchant for fast cars, expensive suits, elegant ladies and elegant theories.

    Being less familiar with modern female actors I am not sure which ones to pair up with female physicists. Jodie Foster as Lisa Randall maybe? Another possibility is “Lord of the Strings”:
    Book 1: The Research Fellowship of the String
    Book 2: The Two Ivory Towers
    Book 3: The Return of the Cosmological Constant Thing.


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