‘Boomerang’ series updates story for millennial audiences
By LYNN ELBER and DAVID BAUDER
Tuesday, February 12
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — A roundup of news from the Television Critics Association winter meeting, where TV networks and streaming services are presenting details on upcoming programs.
‘BOOMERANG’ IS BACK
Halle Berry and Lena Waithe say they’ve updated the 1992 movie “Boomerang” for a new generation.
Berry said the original story that focused on black characters’ lives and work was innovative for its time.
But Berry said the issues that millennials face today are different and required a “fresher” approach for the BET comedy series premiering 10 p.m. EST Tuesday.
Waithe said she understands the affection people have for the film that, besides Berry, starred Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens, David Alan Grier, Martin Lawrence and Grace Jones.
But Waithe said Monday that viewers who want fresh faces and a new take should watch the show. It’s set about 25 years after the movie and follows its characters’ offspring.
The series cast includes Tetona Jackson, Tequan Richmond and Leland Martin.
NO ‘THRONES’ CONFLICT FOR ‘HANDMAID’S TALE’
Resistance is the theme when “The Handmaid’s Tale” returns this summer with 13 episodes for its third season, but the Hulu drama is avoiding a collision with the final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
The dystopian drama will debut three new episodes on Wednesday, June 5, streaming service Hulu said. Other episodes will follow on subsequent Wednesdays.
The return date contrasts with the previous seasons’ April debuts and puts the drama outside the eligibility window for this year’s Emmy Awards. It also keeps “The Handmaid’s Tale” out of the path of juggernaut “Game of Thrones,” which starts April 14.
The latter wasn’t a consideration, Craig Erwich, Hulu’s vice president for original series, told TV critics Monday.
“We simply wanted to give the show as much time as possible to maintain the quality it has,” Erwich said. As for the Emmys, he said, TV academy voters will be able to consider the series as a whole when it competes.
The Hulu drama collected six Emmys for its first season, including best drama and best lead actress for Elisabeth Moss, who stars as June.
The new season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” will focus on June’s struggle against the repressive regime of Gilead, Hulu said in a release.
Other characters will be forced to take a stand as well, with “blessed be the fight” the guiding prayer for rebels. Hulu also promised “startling reunions” and betrayals in the upcoming season.
George Clooney says he never expected his next project to be a miniseries based on a novel he read in high school.
But against his initial inclination, he’s directing and starring in Hulu’s series “Catch-22,” drawn from Joseph Heller’s classic work about the insanity of war. The streaming service Hulu will release it this spring.
Clooney said Monday that the longer format allowed them to develop the characters beyond what could be done in Mike Nichols’ 1970 classic movie. Adopted at the time by opponents of the Vietnam War, he said the story making fun of the red tape and bureaucracy of war is relevant today and not tied to a particular conflict.
Series makers say the mixture of horror and hilarity becomes more pronounced as the series goes on.
ASK THE DOCTOR
The question that legendary sex therapist Ruth Westheimer gets from young people today may surprise you.
It’s about loneliness.
“It’s hard not having someone to share their life with, their experiences with,” she said. “It’s not just about sex.”
The 90-year-old Westheimer, who is still teaching and writing another edition of a “Sex for Dummies” book, said she’s concerned about young people losing their ability to have conversations. She bans computers from the room when she teaches.
Westheimer is the subject of “Ask Dr. Ruth,” a documentary about her life that will appear on the Hulu streaming service this spring.
BRYANT GOES ‘SHRILL’
“Saturday Night Live” star Aidy Bryant says she was drawn to the Hulu series “Shrill” because of the chance to play a woman who is about more than her weight.
The six-part comedy debuting March 15 is based on Lindy West’s memoir, “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman,” which Bryant said struck a chord with her.
She identified with the book’s portrayal of a world that is “telling you you’re wrong for existing the way you do, even if you don’t feel that way,” Bryant said Monday. “You feel like, ‘I have a lot to offer the world and why do I have to do it in a size-two package?’”
But the series, which Bryant co-wrote, isn’t what she called a “fat festival” that’s obsessed with weight.
“Our show isn’t really about being fat and it’s also really not about dieting and it’s really not about her body,” she said of her character, Annie. Ultimately, she said, it’s what any TV show is about: a character trying to achieve her goals and the family and friends who surround her.
Abortion also figures in the show, as it does in West’s memoir.
Series executive producer Elizabeth Banks said she felt “having a positive, normalizing representation of women’s reproductive rights on television would also be a really good idea.”
HOWARD THE HULU DUCK
Hulu is teaming with Marvel to make four separate animated series based on comic book characters like Howard the Duck.
Director Kevin Smith and comics Chelsea Handler and Patton Oswalt are among the people who have signed deals with the streaming service to help produce the cartoons. Smith will work on the Howard the Duck series.
Other shows revolve around M.O.D.O.K., a villain with an enormous head; Hit-Monkey, about a Japanese snow monkey turned assassin; and Tigra and Dazzler, two superheroes who work in Los Angeles.
Hulu senior vice president Craig Erwich said Monday that animation is a particular favorite for its users. Since the deal was just signed, there’s no estimate on when the series will be ready.
Sex robots are here, but laws aren’t keeping up with the ethical and privacy issues they raise
February 12, 2019
Author: Francis X. Shen, Associate Professor of Law, University of Minnesota
Disclosure statement: Francis X. Shen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
The robots are here. Are the “sexbots” close behind?
From the Drudge Report to The New York Times, sex robots are rapidly becoming a part of the national conversation about the future of sex and relationships. Behind the headlines, a number of companies are currently developing robots designed to provide humans with companionship and sexual pleasure – with a few already on the market.
Unlike sex toys and dolls, which are typically sold in off-the-radar shops and hidden in closets, sexbots may become mainstream. A 2017 survey suggested almost half of Americans think that having sex with robots will become a common practice within 50 years.
As a scholar of artificial intelligence, neuroscience and the law, I’m interested in the legal and policy questions that sex robots pose. How do we ensure they are safe? How will intimacy with a sex robot affect the human brain? Would sex with a childlike robot be ethical? And what exactly is a sexbot anyway?
Defining ‘sex robot’
There is no universally accepted definition of “sex robot.” This may not seem important, but it’s actually a serious problem for any proposal to govern – or ban – them.
The primary conundrum is how to distinguish between a sex robot and a “sexy robot.” Just because a robot is attractive to a human and can provide sexual gratification, does it deserve the label “sex robot”?
It’s tempting to define them as legislatures do sex toys, by focusing on their primary use. In Alabama, the only state that still has an outright ban on the sale of sex toys, the government targets devices “primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.”
The problem with applying this definition to sex robots is that the latter increasingly provide much more than sex. Sex robots are not just dolls with a microchip. They will use self-learning algorithms to engage their partner’s emotions.
Consider the “Mark 1” robot, which resembles the actor Scarlett Johansson. It is regularly labeled a sex robot, yet when I interviewed its creator, Ricky Ma Tsz Hang, he was quick to clarify that Mark 1 is not intended to be a sex robot. Rather, such robots will aim to assist with all sorts of tasks, from preparing a child’s lunch to keeping an elderly relative company.
Humans, of course, can navigate both sexual and nonsexual contexts adeptly. What if a robot can do the same? How do we conceptualize and govern a robot that can switch from “play with kids” mode during the day to “play with adults” mode at night?
Thorny legal issues
In a landmark 2003 case, Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy law and established what some scholars have described as a right to sexual privacy.
There is currently a split among circuit courts in how Lawrence should be applied to state restrictions on the sale of sex toys. So far, Alabama’s ban has been upheld, but I suspect that all sex toy bans will eventually be struck down. If so, it seems unlikely that states will be able to wholesale restrict sales of sex robots generally.
Bans on childlike sex robots, however, may be different.
It is not clear whether anyone in the U.S. already owns a childlike sex robot. But even the possibility of child sex robots prompted a bipartisan House bill, the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots Act, or CREEPER. Introduced in 2017, it passed unanimously six months later.
State politicians will surely follow suit, and we are likely to see many attempts to ban childlike sex robots. But it’s unclear if such bans will survive constitutional challenge.
On one hand, the Supreme Court has held that prohibitions on child pornography do not violate the First Amendment because the state has a compelling interest in curtailing the effects of child pornography on the children portrayed. Yet the Supreme Court has also held that the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 was overly broad in its attempt to prohibit “child pornography that does not depict an actual child.”
Childlike sex robots are robots, not humans. Like virtual child pornography, the development of a childlike sex robot does not require interaction with any children. Yet it might also be argued that childlike sex robots would have serious detrimental effects that compel state action.
Safe and secure?
Perhaps someday sex robots will become sentient. But for now, they are products.
And a question almost entirely overlooked is how the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission should regulate the hazards associated with sex robots. Existing sex products are not well regulated, and this is cause for concern given the multitude of ways in which sex robots could be harmful to their users.
For example, dangers lurk even in a seemingly innocent scene where a sex robot and human hold hands and kiss. What if the sexbots’ lips were manufactured with lead paint or some other toxin? And what if the robot, with the strength of five humans, accidentally crushes the human’s finger in a display of passion?
It’s not just physical harm, but security as well. For instance, just as a human partner learns by remembering what words were soothing, and what type of touch was comforting, so too is a sex robot likely to store and process massive amounts of intimate information. What regulations are in place to ensure that this data remains private? How vulnerable will the sex robot be to hacking? Could the state use sex robots as surveillance devices for sex offenders?
Sexbots in the city
Whether and how governments regulate sex robots will depend on what we learn – or what we assume – about the effects of sexbots on individuals and society.
In 2018, the Houston City Council made headlines by enacting an ordinance to ban the operation of what would have been America’s first so-called robot “brothel.” At one of the community meetings, an attendee warned: “A business like this would destroy homes, families, finances of our neighbors and cause major community uproars in the city.”
But dire predictions like this are pure speculation. At present there is no evidence of how the introduction of sex robots would affect either individuals or society.
For instance, would a man who uses a childlike sex robot be more or less likely to harm an actual human child? Would robots be a substitute for humans in relationships or would they enhance relationships as sex toys might? Would sex robots fill a void for those who are lonely and without companions? Just as pilots use virtual flight simulators before they fly a real plane, could virgins use sex robots to safely practice sex before trying the real thing?
Put another way, there are far more unanswered questions about sex robots than there are actual sex robots. Although it’s hard to conduct empirical studies until sexbots are more prevalent, informed governance requires researchers to explore these topics urgently. Otherwise, we may see reactionary governance decisions based on supposition and fear of doomsday scenarios.
A brave new world
A fascinating question for me is how the current taboo on sex robots will ebb and flow over time.
There was a time, not so long ago, when humans attracted to the same sex felt embarrassed to make this public. Today, society is similarly ambivalent about the ethics of “digisexuality” – a phrase used to describe a number of human-technology intimate relationships. Will there be a time, not so far in the future, when humans attracted to robots will gladly announce their relationship with a machine?
No one knows the answer to this question. But I do know that sex robots are likely to be in the American market soon, and it is important to prepare for that reality. Imagining the laws governing sexbots is no longer a law professor hypothetical or science fiction.
It’s a real-world challenge that society is about to face for the first time. I hope that the law gets it right.
Drinkers prefer Big Beer keeps its hands off their local craft brews
February 12, 2019
Author: Jarrett Hart, Ph.D. Student of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis
Disclosure statement: Jarrett Hart does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Craft beer’s popularity has exploded in the U.S. in recent decades, leading to soaring production and the creation of thousands of new breweries.
Much of that growth has come at the expense of traditional brewing giants like Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors.
So, naturally, these macro brewers have been trying to get a piece of the action by buying up their craft counterparts. Examples include AB InBev’s 2011 purchase of Goose Island Brewery and Tokyo-based Sapporo’s 2017 acquisition of Anchor Brewing – America’s oldest craft brewery.
But since a major appeal of craft beer – and a drinker’s willingness to pay a premium for a pint – is its localness and non-bigness, does being what I dub “crafty” beer owned by Big Beer spoil the brew?
That’s a question I ask in the Ph.D. dissertation I am writing for a degree in agricultural and resource economics. I wanted to know whether drinkers are willing to pay more for beer knowing that it isn’t actually independently and locally produced.
In my most recent research, I directly tapped consumers for answers by conducted a “choice experiment” at a bar specializing in craft beer.
Setting the scene
The scene of my experiment was a bar, University of Beer, in the college town of Davis, California, where I study. Over the course of more than a month, I recruited 301 patrons of the bar for my experiment.
Participants began the experiment by selecting the beer they would most like to order from the venue’s rotating list of 60 brews on tap. Then I presented them with a list of 10 randomly selected beers from the menu.
For each, I asked participants what they’d be willing to pay for the random beer so that they wouldn’t care whether they received it or their original selection – that is, whatever price would make them happy with either choice.
I also randomly gave some participants information about the beer’s brewery location and ownership status – such as “Brewers Association certified craft beer,” “import” or “MillerCoors.” Other participants did not receive this information for some or any of the randomly presented beers.
From here I was able to determine how much consumers were willing to pay for “local” or “craft” beer, but the findings were not as cut-and-dried as hypothesized.
First I had to figure out what constitutes “local.”
I asked participants to identify each of the random beers they viewed as local or not local. Later in the experiment, I asked them to define “local.”
Participant responses revealed an array of “local” qualifiers – proximity was included in most definitions but some also cited production size or brewery ownership.
Frequently, a participant’s definition of “local” was inconsistent with the beers they actually deemed “local.”
To circumvent these inconsistencies, I did not adopt a universal definition of the term. Instead, a beer was considered “local” if an individual identified it as such.
Sorting for snobs
I also needed to separate “beer geeks” from average consumers.
Not everyone is equally enthusiastic about craft beer. Some care deeply about their beer, such as where it comes from and who produces it. Others simply want something tasty.
I hypothesized that these different types of consumers would likely have distinct preferences for craft versus macro and local versus non-local beer. To identify and sort participants, I administered a quiz at the end of the experiment to test their knowledge of craft brewery locations and ownership.
Putting a price on local beer
My findings unequivocally show that consumers prefer local beer – however they define it.
But how much do they prefer it – that is, how much are they willing to pay extra to have a local over a non-local brew?
Unfortunately I have to give a boring economist’s answer: That depends.
On average, the “local” premium is generally worth 25 cents to 54 cents per pint. However, this premium does not apply to every local beer. Consumers have beer styles they prefer – like IPAs, pilsners and stouts – and I find that the “local” premium diminishes for beers within their preferred style.
For example, an IPA lover doesn’t make a distinction between a local and non-local IPA.
However, when she orders a sour beer, she is willing to pay 45 cents – on average – more for a local sour than a non-local sour.
And how about for craft beer?
I found that only beer geeks, and not average consumers, are willing to pay a premium for certified craft beer versus a beer of unknown ownership. The 5 percent of consumers with the most beer knowledge were willing to pay 75 cents more per pint on average, while the top 25 percent offered an extra 47 cents.
And, like the “local” premium, this premium diminishes within the consumer’s preferred beer style.
Are ‘crafty’ beers devalued?
Finally, do “crafty” beers that are owned by Big Beer fetch the same premium as certified craft beer? Typically, no.
Of the Big Beer companies, I found that only Founders Brewing Company, now owned by Mahou San Miguel, was able to extract premiums from consumers similar to the ones independent craft brews obtained.
The other “crafty” beers in my study, however, couldn’t command the same premiums. In fact, I found that consumers wanted to pay $0.72 to $1.04 less per pint for a craft beers owned by other Big Beer companies relative to one owned by an independent brewery.
So unless you’re a beer geek like me, you probably don’t care if your artisanal ale is “Brewer’s Association certified craft.” But beer geek or not, when drinking your favorite type of ale or lager, you probably prefer that Big Beer doesn’t brew it.