Wednesday, 20 November 2013

"The Black Swan Theory"

From Wiki and Wiki:

"The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes a film that comes as a surprise, has a major effect and is excruciatingly bad, often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, after he walked out of a cinema halfway through a screening in 2010, to explain:

1. The disproportionate role of self-indulgent film makers trying to pander to a pretentious audience by delivering a high-profile, hard-to-predict film such as "The Black Swan" which is beyond the realm of normal expectations in literature, screenwriting, acting and film making.

2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential downright awful viewer experience using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of the small probability of a film with Natalie Portman in it being absolute rubbish).

3. The psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to the fact that a film is shit, provided all the reviewers and critics lack the courage of their own convictions and crumble in the face of peer pressure.

Unlike the earlier philosophical black swan problem, the black swan theory refers only to films whose unwatchability is of large magnitude and consequence and which have a dominant role in the arts pages.

Such films, considered extreme outliers, collectively play vastly larger roles in popular memory than decent watchable Hollywood output.

More technically, in the scientific monograph "Lectures on Probability and Risk in Hollywood: Crap Films (Volume 1)" Taleb mathematically defines the black swan problem as "stemming from the use of degenerate metaprobability"."


Kj said...

Hmm.. I remembered seeing an interview with Taleb a while ago. I interpreted the concept of black swan theory slightly differently, I just don´t remember how. Here is an interview with him where he weaves this into finance and politics. Should definetly read him some time instead of just about.

The Stigler said...

The film it reminded me of was Showgirls. It has the same po-faced seriousness combined with clunky dialogue that results in something that is laughably bad.

It's a pity as Darren Aronofsky also made a couple of really good films: Requiem for a Dream, which as a film about drugs makes Trainspotting look like Dumbo. And The Wrestler which is a great little small-town drama with Mickey Rourke.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Kj, there was an earlier theory about films, in the 1940s called "The black and white swan" theory, and before that in the 1920s and 1930s was "The silent swan accompanied by an organ" theory.

TS, you're the expert, I wouldn't dignify stuff like "Showgirls" (having once been dragged into watching "A Chorus Line" which was supremely unwatchable shit).

The Stigler said...


it reminded me of Showgirls, but Showgirls is kinda fun (if you enjoy so-bad-it's-good movies).

A Chorus Line is bloody awful, a musical inside a musical with bad tunes.

Kj said...

TS: Requiem For a Dream is a very good film. Left me with a horrible feeling and I never want to see it again, but excellent film handicraft it was.

MW: I assume the "ugly ducklin"-paradox was a 70s phenomenon.

The Stigler said...


Yup. I saw it soon after it came out and have never wanted to watch it again.

It's one of the most extreme films I've ever seen along with Oldboy, Man Bites Dog and Rampage.

SumoKing said...

This review does indeed suggest "Showgirls", which was disappointing for teenage Sumoking as it did not feature sufficient full frontal nudity!

As regards Black Swann, I thought that was meant to be viewed along with The Wrestler as a sort of "People who abuse their bodies" duo?

The Stigler said...


Interestingly, Aronofsky himself has made this point.

But for me, The Wrestler works as a story for almost anyone, especially once you point out that it ain't much about wrestling. It's certainly in my top 10 of 2008.