Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Spotting a Liar

Posted in advice, analysis, mental health by commorancy on June 15, 2019

pinocchio-knowsRecently, I’ve come across a book by Pamela Meyer entitled Liespotting: Proven techniques to Detect Deception released in 2010. Unlike Pinocchio, determining if a human is lying is quite a bit more complicated. While this is not the only book involving the topic of lie detection, let’s review Pamela Meyer’s visitation of this topic and of the act of deception itself. Let’s explore.

Lies and Deception

Let’s open this article by talking about Pamela’s TED talk. The difficulty I have with Pamela’s TED talk, which was apparently meant to simultaneously accompany and promote her book, was her seeming lack of expertise around this subject. Oh, she’s certainly knowledgeable enough… but is ‘enough’ really enough? It seems that her corporate America stint has led her to using these techniques to ferret out suspected liars from truth tellers. While that’s a noble reason to go into writing a book, it doesn’t make you an expert on the subject. I will fully admit now that I, like Pamela, am not an expert on the subject of behavioral psychology. Only a trained professional should be considered an expert on the art of detecting lies and detecting body language clues. I leave that to the experts. And even then, this art is so nuanced that detecting a lie could mean the difference between indigestion and actual lying.

The difficulty I have with Pamela’s book is that she focuses on trying to catch people in a lie whom are unwittingly using verbal and body cues that tell a different story. Her methodology suggests and implies that you’re planning to sit in a room with that person for potentially an hour (or longer) and have a conversation. Okay, so maybe ‘conversation’ isn’t the right word. Maybe the right word is ‘interrogation’. Or really, the correct word is probably ‘grill’.

If you’re planning on sitting in a room with a suspect grilling them for a lengthy period of time and asking all sorts of pointed questions, perhaps you can eventually catch someone in a slip-up or even multiple slip-ups. Even then, you have to question whether that ‘grilling’ methodology can really uncover a definitive measure of lying. Even more than this, is ‘grilling’ a practical methodology to employ in everyday use? Perhaps it is with your children if you’re trying to get to the bottom of who broke the lamp. But, would you ‘grill’ your friends? A co-worker? Your boss? No, this methodology is not in any way practical. Practicality aside…

In her TED talk, she discusses looking for ‘clusters’ during these question ‘sessions’. Seeing many telltale behaviors in a row may indicate deception. Though, is it really deception, is it fatigue, is it simply a person’s idiosyncracy, is it indigestion or is it, indeed…

Coercion?

The longer you sit with someone in a room interrogating them, the more it becomes about coercion. There’s a fine line here. While Pamela may not have called this aspect out, it’s a line that can easily be crossed when interrogating someone at length. At some point, you have to ask if the “cluster of mistakes” the person seems to be making is attributed to lying or coercion? With enough questions and time, you can actually get someone to confess to something they didn’t do simply because they wish to end the conversation and get out of there. Fatigue and boredom easily causes people to make mistakes, particularly when you ask the same questions over and over and over. Coercion, like lying, is part of human nature. In fact, I’d consider coercion to be the flip side of lying.

If you know the person and interact with them daily, you would know how they “normally” behave. You can then tell when they do, say or act in a way that’s somewhat off. If you’re talking to someone you don’t know, you have no idea of their personal behaviors… so how can you spot clusters of anything? Even then… if you think (and the key word here is “think”) you have spotted deception, what do you do?

Spotting a Lie…

is half the battle. The other half is what you choose to do with that information. Do you leave and go grab a pizza and beer and forget all about it? Or, do you confront the person? Confrontation is not likely to get you very far.

Pamela’s book seems geared towards brokering corporate business deals. I’m not sure exactly how useful her information would be in corporate business considering that the majority of corporate executives are not only pathological themselves, but many are also sociopaths and/or narcissists. Few CEOs actually care about their underlings. Additionally, C-Level anybody is not likely to sit long enough to be ‘grilled’. Perhaps they may be willing to submit to being ‘grilled’ under certain business conditions of duress. For example, if a CEO’s company is failing and there are millions of dollars at stake needed to revitalize a failing company, then they might be willing to sit through a grilling session by investors. However, they might not. So, again, I question out how useful her information might actually be in corporate America employed at an executive level?

Certainly, at corporate meetings and outings, executives put on a good face. But, don’t kid yourselves. They didn’t get to be a CEO without being some measure of ruthless and sociopathic. No, it also follows that most of these CEOs lie through their teeth when at corporate meetings. If they’re on a stage professing the latest greatest thing the company is offering, they’re simply telling you what you want to hear (and, more specifically, what they want you to hear). Personally, I’ve worked in many businesses where CEOs say things at a corporate events that, in fact, never take place. In fact, I already knew it was a lie the moment it was said. It’s not hard to spot when a CEO is lying to the company. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical here, but I don’t think so.

Another example, when the CFO takes the stage and begins is talk about finances, you can bet there’s information on his/her spreadsheet that’s not accurate, or indeed is not even there. This is the lie that corporate executives tell often. They want you to think the company is “on target”, is “doing well” and is “making money” even when things aren’t nearly that rosy. You simply cannot believe all of the “rah-rah” that corporate executives tell you at events. If you do, you’re extremely gullible. Nothing is EVER that rosy… or as another idiom goes, “There’s two sides to every coin.”

That not to say that all CEOs lie all of the time. But, they certainly are masters at withholding key information from the common folks in most organizations. Withholding key information is a lie, make no mistake. If a company insists on “transparency” in its business operations, you can bet that CEOs won’t apply transparency to their own business decisions. However, this is getting off into the deep end of the psychology of corporate business America. I could write a whole article, perhaps even a book, on this subject alone. For now, let’s move on.

Being Caught

You think you’ve caught someone in a lie? The question remains… what do you do with that information? Do you confront them? Do you walk away? Do you ask them for the truth? And, these are all questions, choices and decisions you’ll have to make for yourself. Knowing that someone is lying is entirely different from acting on that information. How do you act when you think someone is deceiving you? The answer to this question depends on where the lie happens.

If the lie is in your personal life and it involves a personal relationship, then only you can work it out with your partner. If your relationship is supposed to revolve around truth and trust, then it’s probably worth bringing it out into the open to discuss it.

If the lying involves a co-worker or boss at your company, then you have to make the decision how this affects your ongoing position at that company. If it’s a small lie that really doesn’t affect you personally, walk away and forget about it. If it’s a large lie that could easily jeopardize your position at the company, then you need to take steps to both protect yourself and distance yourself from that person. In this case, it’s worth having a sit-down with your manager and explain what you have uncovered and why you believe it’s a lie… bring proof if you can find it.

If it’s a lie that involves and may materially impact a business deal, this is difficult to offer a suggestion here as there are many forms of this which would require me to go off into an extremely long tangent and could significantly impact corporate legal agreements. In fact, maybe I’ll circle around to this topic and write an individual article involving corporate lying, legal contracts and business deals.

Deceit, Deception and Lying

With that said, I’d like to get into a little about the ‘whys’ of this topic and types of lies. Why do we lie? Two reasons: 1) To protect ourselves and/or 2) To protect someone else. Yes, that’s the primary reasons that we lie. Though, there is also a third category. The third type are those who are pathological. They lie because 1) they can and 2) because they find it fun.

Basically, there are two types of liars: 1) the ordinary liar and 2) the pathological liar. The “ordinary” liar is the person you’re most likely to meet in a lie. The ordinary liar is also more easy to spot. The pathological liar is less likely to be seen or caught. Don’t kid yourself, some co-workers are pathological liars… and these are the ones you need to completely avoid. Pathological liars will basically stop at no lie to get what they want. Many pathological liars are also ruthless sociopaths and/or narcissists, so don’t get in their way.

There are many types of deception, not just verbal lies. There is also deception by lack of information… or, what they aren’t telling you. Company executives are brilliant at this strategy. Withholding vital information from folks is the way they keep what they know limited. It’s also a way that many corporations choose to do business with customers. Lies sustain corporate America. In fact, you’ve probably been told a lie by someone selling you something… simply so you’ll buy that product or service. It’s not about what they are telling you, it’s about what they aren’t telling you.

Internally, companies also lie to employees. As an example, a company where you work may have rumors of “going public”. The executive team will not officially announce any information about this until it’s considered “official” and “unstoppable”. The difficulty I have with this process is that if I’ve been given ISO stock, I’m a stockholder. I should be kept informed of when or if the company chooses to IPO. Being left in the dark is not good for shareholders. Yes, this is a form of a lie. Withholding information from someone even if they have asked you pointed questions is lying.

Credentials and Lying

Here’s yet another type of deception… and it’s extremely prevalent in the self-help industry. Many people profess to have knowledge of things they do not. Again, Pamela Meyer is from a corporate business background. She does not have a medical or science degree. She can’t claim to have medical behavioral psychology training. Yet, here she is writing a book about this topic as though she does. Yes, she does carry a Ph.D. That means she has a doctorate of philosophy. That is not a medical degree… and even then, calling someone a ‘doctor’ who carries a Ph.D is dubious at best. The word ‘doctor’ is primarily reserved for those folks who are medically trained professionals and who carry, for example, a medical degree such as M.D., D.O. or even a D.D.S. These are folks who spent significant time not only in medical school, but have served at a hospital to solidify their medical training. For doctors licensed in psychology, that would be a Phys.D degree. Psychiatry is a totally different thing and is governed by professionals holding a Ph.D.

Carrying certain Ph.D. credentials in no way, by itself, qualifies you to write about psychological related subjects with authority or impunity. Sure, you can have an opinion on the subject matter, as we all do, but carrying a Ph.D doesn’t make you an expert. That would require medical training, and specifically, psychology related medical training.

That doesn’t mean she didn’t take some measure of psychology classes as part of her Ph.D program. In fact, I’m sure that her school’s degree program required psychology as part of its foundation class load. However, these college fundamental classes are simple basic introductory classes. These basic classes introduce you to the basics of psychology… such as terms and vocabulary with general purpose, but limited information. There’s nothing specifically introduced in these “basic” classes that would qualify anyone to be an expert covering the nuances of human behavior or teach them the detail needed to identify someone in a lie. These are all techniques that would most likely be taught in advanced behavioral psychology classes, usually only attended by students intending on graduating with a degree in and intending to practice behavioral psychology. Even then, you’d have to practice these techniques for years to actually be considered an ‘expert’.

That’s not to say that her time working in corporate America didn’t give her some valuable corporate life experience in this area. But, that still doesn’t indicate expertise in this field. And this is the key point I’m trying to make here. This article is not intended call out only Pamela Meyer. She’s used as a broader example here because she’s the most obvious example to call out. There are many forms of lying. Writing psychology and medical leaning books beyond your actual expertise level is considered disingenuous… or one might even say lying.

Even were she (or any other author writing about this topic) to have a Phys.D degree, I’d still want to understand exactly how an author had come to know this information (e.g., clinical work, working with the military, working with prisons, working with the police, etc). You know, show me years of training in and practice in this area. Even publishing journal articles, theses and dissertations in this area which have been accepted by medical publications would lend legitimacy to her ‘expertise’. Simply writing a book and having a TED talk doesn’t exactly qualify you as an ‘expert’. Though, maybe it does qualify you as an expert researcher.

Behaviors and Lying

One of the things Pamela does to solidify her credentials in her TED talk is open by discussing how “we all” perform these behaviors when we’re lying. That’s the perfect opening to get the audience to “relate to” you. After all as humans, we all occasionally lie. What’s more perfect than roping the audience in than with a blanket statement designed to make the audience immediately think she “knows what she’s talking about” simply because the information is “accessible”. Accessibility of information doesn’t make someone an expert. What she is, if anything, is articulate. Yes, Pamela is actually very articulate. However, being articulate, and I’m going to reiterate this once again, doesn’t make you an expert.

Expertise comes from training, research, publications and working in this specific area as your career choice for multiple years. She’s not a behavioral psychologist. Instead, she draws upon others works to help write her book… to flesh out those pesky details. This is typical of teachers and researchers and even journalists, not practitioners. This is the problem and the difference between the teaching profession and the doing profession. She’s a teacher, not a doer… so her advice in this area may or may not be helpful.

Lying is Rampant

One thing Pamela does get right is that lying is extremely common and seems to be more and more nonchalantly used today. We lie to our boyfriends and girlfriends. We lie to our spouses. We lie to our bosses. We even lie to our friends. The question isn’t that we lie, but to what degree. If the lies consist of the insignificant or “little white” variety, then these don’t matter.

The lies that matter are those that lose relationships, that tank businesses, that lose millions of dollars or even that cause someone to be killed. These are the lies that actually matter. Putting down the wrong information on the wrong patient chart may be unintentional, but it’s a lie that could get someone killed in a hospital. These are deceptions that where saying, doing or performing the wrong thing can get someone dead. Some might consider this a ‘mistake’, but I consider it a lie. It all depends on perspective.

What Pamela got wrong is that most lies don’t matter. Let me say that again. Most lies do not matter. What I mean is that if someone tells you they like your shoes, but in reality they’re hideously ugly, that’s a lie that is meant to help someone feel better. There’s nothing wrong in that. This is the ‘little white lie’.

Lying to a Walmart employee claiming you bought something there that you didn’t actually purchase at Walmart does monetary damage. Lying to an insurance company claiming damage or injury that doesn’t exist, that also causes monetary damage. Both of these actions are also called fraud. The lie is half the problem. The other half is proof of the lie. In Walmart’s case, if their computers were actually better than they are, they could look up the person’s recent purchase information and catch them in the lie. In the case of insurance fraud, there are private investigators.

And here’s another thing Pamela got wrong. Catching a person in the lie is enough. There’s no need to spend hours interrogating them as to “why”. We don’t need to know why. We just need to catch them in the lie. Hence, the need for private investigators who follow people claiming injury to insurance companies. The proof is catching them in the act, not spending time looking at body language and listening for verbal clues. Another phrase comes to mind, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” It’s true, we don’t have the time to spend hours sitting in a room trying to get to the bottom of a liar. We need to get the proof that they’re lying and that proof lies (pun intended) outside of the liar. Proof is what matters in a lie, not a confession. A confession is great IF you can get it, but the proof is what tells you the person is lying, not their words or actions.

In law enforcement, getting a confession seems to be the “holy grail” out of a perpetrator. However, there’s no need to get a confession if you have proof that the person was there and did whatever he/she claimed not to have done. Considering that crime scenes can easily become tainted and proof dismissed due to ‘technicalities’, a confession overrides that red tape problem. Red tape is there for a reason, but many times it allows acquittal of someone who is actually guilty. Of course, red tape has nothing to do with lying and everything to do with law and policy.

If the person chooses to tell the “truth” and “confess” to whatever they had been lying about, that’s great. Obtaining proof is the key, not spending hours waiting on someone to squirm in just the right way only offering a possible 50% success rate. With computers becoming faster and more powerful and able to store more and more data about each of us (some of it voluntarily posted on social media), lying about certain things (DNA tests to determine relationship) may become impossible.

As detection technologies evolve and become faster, smaller and more portable, determining such information as paternity may become as easy as a cotton swab to the mouth and in minutes you’ll have an answer.

Lying has never been a crime

This subject heading says it all. It’s not the lie that’s the crime. It’s whatever the lie is attempting to conceal that may or may not be a problem. For this reason, you won’t find laws on any books that ban lying. If any legislation was introduced that actually attempted to enforce telling the truth, it would be met with much consternation (and, at least in the US, would be against the fifth amendment of the constitution — which this amendment says you have the right not to incriminate yourself).

Pleading the fifth, in the US, means that you do not have to talk to anyone about anything. Simply saying, “I plead the fifth” stops all questions regarding whatever matter is under investigation… at least when talking to the authorities. In some cases, pleading the fifth may, at least in the public eyes, make you seem guilty. If you aren’t willing to talk, then it is assumed you have something to hide… perhaps something that implicates you, thus making you seem guilty.

In the US, the tenet is, “Innocent until PROVEN guilty.” This only holds for official courts of law. In the court of public opinion, “Guilty until proven innocent” reigns. In the court of public opinion, there is no proof needed. Once you are seen as guilty, you are always considered guilty.

In a criminal court of law, the burden of proof is typically measured as ‘reasonable doubt’. The word ‘reasonable’ being the key word. It doesn’t take 100% proof, it simply takes ‘reasonable’ proof. ‘Reasonable’ is intentionally left subjective and vague and is up to any specific jury to ascertain what they consider as ‘reasonable doubt’. Indeed, some juries are sometimes confounded by the word ‘reasonable’ and rightly so. What is ‘reasonable’? The word itself means “to reason” or “decide” or utilize any similar thought process. But, what does it mean in a court of law or in legal circles? Juries are never comprised of legal professionals. Instead, they are comprised of people not in the legal profession and usually not professionals who might significantly impact the prosecution’s case. Instead, legal counsel typically appoints jury members who do not appear biased in either direction (toward or against the defendant) and whose profession is not considered a ‘conflict of interest’.

Civil courts offer a different legal standard. In civil trials, the burden of proof is “preponderance of evidence”. In a way, ‘preponderance’ offers nearly the same vagueness as ‘reasonable’. Both are vague terms meant to be interpreted by the jury at hand. In both criminal and civil trials, these terms are intentionally so vague as to allow juries to effectively make up their own rules under “reasonable” and “preponderance” when deliberating. This allows juries the leeway to consider some evidence and dismiss other evidence. It also means that, for example, a jury has 25 pieces of evidence, but only 8 pieces are solid enough to consider. Simply doing the math, 8 solid pieces of evidence is well less than 50% of the evidence presented. Is eight really enough? If those 8 pieces basically put the person at the scene and also shows that the person’s DNA was found at the crime scene and also that they were there at the time in question, then ‘lack of reasonable doubt’ and sufficient ‘preponderance of evidence’ has been established. From here, the jury should convict on whatever counts are listed for that evidence.

Note that ‘preponderance of evidence’ is tantamount to a phrase that more or less means, ‘overwhelming’ or more simply ‘enough’. The ‘preponderance of evidence’ phrase implies looking for ‘more than enough’. With ‘reasonable doubt’, it implies the opposite. The jury should be looking for ‘reasonable doubt’ or ‘not enough evidence’ to convict. In civil cases, juries (or a judge) would need to look for ‘preponderance’ (or more than enough) evidence to convict. Both result in the same outcome, conviction or acquittal. It’s just that the way the jury is directed to act is slightly different based on the legal phrasing of the burden of proof.

What that all means is that the ‘laymen’ folks who are chosen for a jury typically are ignorant of laws and legal proceedings. They are there because they don’t have this knowledge. They can then remain impartial throughout the trial by reviewing all of the evidence presented in a ‘fair’ and ‘just’ method. Yes, they can even use some of the verbal and body cues of the defendant to determine if they ‘feel’ his body language is indicative of lying, which could sway their view of ‘preponderance’ or ‘reasonable’. In civil trials, juries are reminded to rule based on “preponderance of the evidence”. In criminal trials, juries must rule based on “reasonable doubt”.

What does this all mean? It means that in a court of law, while you could use some of these lie spotting techniques to determine whether a defendant is telling the truth, what makes the difference is the evidence presented. The evidence is what catches someone in a lie… particularly when they don’t confess.

For this reason, legal court proceedings require burden of proof for juries to ponder during deliberation… rather than using hunches, intuition or gut feelings.

Local Friendships

Back at home, we don’t have to judge our friends based on vague legal terms. Instead, we have to use our own critical thinking skills. This is where you can use and apply lie spotting techniques (which, if you have noticed, I have not included in this article intentionally), to spot a friend, co-worker or boss in a lie. Again, it’s up to you what to do with that information once you spot it.

If lying or telling the truth is an important concept for you, this article might not make you happy. You should understand that lies are everyday things told to us by even our closest friends. If you get worked up at the thought of someone lying to you, you should probably learn to relax more. Lies are something told by many people every day. If you’re a bit uptight at learning this, you might want to forget all about this article and go on with your life oblivious. After all, “ignorance is bliss”.

We don’t have to use juries or law books to judge our friends. We use our instincts and common sense. If you add in a little behavioral profiling (yes, it is a form of profiling) you may be able to determine if that leg twitch or nose itch or eye glance or finger motion is a telltale sign of lie. As I said, most lies are insignificant in the grander scheme. Learning to let these things go or, as another phrase goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff” will let you remain a happier person. Nothing in life is ever perfect. Nothing. Not relationships. Not people. Not actions. You have to expect that anyone around you will not always do things for your benefit, not even your spouse. You have to be willing to understand this and compromise by ignoring these lies.

If a lie is something you can’t ignore, particularly a life changing event (birth of a child), then that’s where you must stand up and take responsibility for your own actions… or confront someone about their actions.

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Is Victor Victoria a sequel to Darling Lili?

Posted in analysis, film by commorancy on June 13, 2019

Having recently watched Darling Lili at Amazon, I’m of the mind that Darling Lili is, in fact, a prequel to Victor Victoria… or more correctly stated, Victor Victoria is a sequel to Darling Lili. Let’s explore.

Blake Edwards

Both Victor Victoria (1982) and Darling Lili (1970) are directed by Blake Edwards. However, it seems that Darling Lili didn’t fare well at the box office. This lack of box office appeal made sense based on the film’s material and tone, particularly in 1970. Let’s explore both films see what we can make of them.

Darling Lili versus Victor Victoria

Darling Lili is set sometime between 1914 and 1918 (World War I). If Lili Smith were 25 in Darling Lili, she would be close to 45 in 1934 (the year in which Victor Victoria is set). The ages mostly match up. Lili shows us that she is fluent in French, even being awarded a medal by the French government. Oddly, Victor Victoria is also set in Paris during 1934. These similarities in locale are uncanny.

Seeing as Lili is both an entertainer, actress and spy for the Germans, she loses her status as a spy by the end of Darling Lili, also losing her American boyfriend in the process. Having lost Bill at the end of the film, she spends her time between 1918 and 1934 living and performing somewhere (probably in France) ultimately landing in Paris destitute in 1934.

After no longer being a spy, taking on a new identity makes sense. She takes on the stage name of Victoria Grant, shedding the Lili Smith name that has all of her former spy baggage attached. This all makes perfect sense for how Victoria Grant ends up in Paris… since we get none of this back history information for Victoria Grant. Victor Victoria opens with Victoria already in Paris. The only thing we know of Victoria’s past is that she hasn’t “sung in 2 weeks” when Toddy mentions her audition at Chez Luis. This implies she’s been having a bit of trouble with steady work.

Lili (now Victoria) is already fluent in the French language, so staying in France makes a lot of sense for Victoria. Because Lili was already an accomplished stage performer and vocalist, it makes perfect sense that Victoria would also be a confident accomplished stage performer and vocalist.

Even the soundtrack score by Mancini in Darling Lili, including “Whistling in the Dark” carries a lot of musical similarities into Victor Victoria, such as “Crazy World”. It’s almost like Mancini picked right up with his musical thought processes during Darling Lili and carried them right into Victor Victoria… or it was intentionally requested by Edwards.

In one scene, Victoria even mentions her hypochondriac of an ex-husband who took her bankroll and ran. This implies Victoria was, at one point, married, but not to Bill.

Recycled

Some have argued that Edwards recycles his ideas across his films. Yes, in some ways he does. The bumbling detective scenario seems to be a hallmark in most, if not all, of Edwards’s films. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you to decide. If the bumbling detective plot in the rain with an umbrella doesn’t get in the way of the main plot, I’m fine with it. It doesn’t get in the way of either Darling Lili and Victor Victoria. They add a little comic relief to the film. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as well in Darling Lili as it does in Victor Victoria… even though neither of these B plots actually do anything to advance the film’s stories.

Beyond the bumbling detective plot, there’s the basic premise that’s similar in Darling Lili and in Victor Victoria… an entertainer who falls in love with a charismatic tall-dark-and-handsome type. Both are a little bit dangerous (military vs mob). The twists in both films are different, however. Lili is a spy where Victoria cross dresses as a man. Even though the twist is different, the romance plots are mostly similar. Even though Victor Victoria takes the whole bedroom farce portion a whole lot farther than Darling Lili.

For this reason, it’s easy to see Victor Victoria as a sequel. After all, people do tend to fall into their old ways (both Lili and Edwards). Obviously, the war being over, she couldn’t be a spy in the same way. So, she goes for her next best thing… being a performer. Hence, becoming Victoria Grant to shed her old Lili Smith (or Schmidt) persona. It is 20 years later, after all… and her luster as an entertainer may have been waning considering her age. Having Toddy reinvent her as a man with the vocal abilities of a female makes Victor Victoria a charming tale and a logical extension to Darling Lili.

Remake or Sequel?

I’m sure that Blake Edwards was never satisfied with how Darling Lili performed at the box office. It seems he may have even taken it personally. It seems that when Victor Victoria hit his desk, he saw a way to remake Darling Lili and make it much better and a much bigger success. Well, he did that. But, he did so without actually remaking Darling Lili.

In fact, it seems he did it by making a(n unintentional) sequel to Darling Lili. Whether this remake was intentional only Blake Edwards knew. Perhaps Julie Andrews may also know whether Victor Victoria is intended to be a sequel to Darling Lili. Considering how well (or not so well) Darling Lili did, even if it were a sequel, Blake Edwards might not have wanted to make that information publicly known to avoid any possible backlash to Victor Victoria‘s box office receipts. After all, Darling Lili didn’t do well at the box office. No need to drag Victor Victoria down by being labeled as Darling Lili‘s sequel.

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Mary Poppins: Who exactly is Bert?

Posted in analysis, disney, storytelling by commorancy on June 11, 2019

Mary PoppinsThis is one question that I’m sure many people have asked themselves after watching 1964’s Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. With the recent release of 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, these questions resurface with Jack in the newest film. Let’s explore.

Bert and Mary

I’m focusing on the 1964 film with this article. I may write another article later that focuses on the new film… though, a lot of this applies to Jack in the newest film. I will briefly discuss Mary Poppins Returns in relation to Mary Poppins.

It’s clear, Mary and Bert know one another… and they know one another well. How they know each other is a mystery that is not solved in either of the films, but they have met numerous times based on their dialog, Bert’s clues and lots of hints from Mary. In this article, I will postulate a few things that might seem out of place, but if you think about it, you’ll realize that it isn’t that far out of place and may bring a sense of closure.

Somethings BrewingBert is the first person the audience meets in Mary Poppins. This isn’t an accident. The story starts off with Bert to show just how omnipresent Bert actually is. It also shows us Bert is a “free spirit” and does whatever he pleases, comes and goes when he pleases and shows up only when needed. On other other hand, Mary Poppins is the opposite of Bert. She is an extremely controlling and vain individual (magical or not). She always wants things “just so”. She has a very specific profession and sticks to it. If things are not exactly as she wants, she’s not happy. Bert, on the other hand, is happy simply to be there helping out whenever he can, and be around Mary.

Uncle Alberts PlaceBert even seems to know “Uncle Albert” when Mary and the kids visit him while he’s laughing on the ceiling. Bert is already there when Mary shows up. This is suspicious. If a magical uncle lives in the area, how would Bert know about him and where he lives? How did Bert find out about his most recent incident? From the dog, Andrew? If Bert talks to dogs like Mary, then he is the same as Mary. Bert has also been seen Uncle Albert before and has had to talk him down before. Bert even states that it took 3 days to talk him down a previous time. If Mary and Uncle Albert are related, as is heavily implied by the movie, and Bert visits Uncle Albert occasionally, then Mary and Bert are much more than mere acquaintances.

In fact, when Bert fake attempts to jump into the chalk picture with the children, Mary chastises Bert for making something simple into something complex. This implies that she knows Bert knows how to do it properly and is doing it intentionally wrong on purpose… simply so that Mary has to do it. Watch this scene again and you’ll see what I mean. It’s almost as though Mary expects Bert to show his magic off, but when he doesn’t she becomes frustrated with him. Bert manipulates Mary into using her magic instead.

Mary’s Powers

We all know that Mary has some form of magical abilities. Without this, she couldn’t do the things she does. The thing is, her being a nanny is a very calculated profession. She knows exactly what she wants to accomplish as a nanny and goes about that activity in a very meticulous manner. Sure, she displays her magic in almost flippant ways, but she also knows she can gaslight people into believing they saw something they didn’t actually see.

What are the extent of Mary’s powers? We’re not sure and we’re never told. One of her powers seems to be the casting of obliviousness on humans. What I mean by this is that anyone around Mary either accepts what she does without question or completely ignores the things she does. When she leaves, she leaves so much doubt about what happened that even those who participated are left disbelieving. Both kids and adults are wrapped up in this spell. When she does something magical, the kids rarely question how or why, they just automatically accept it. Even some adults seem to fall under this spell. If they do question Mary, she immediately shuts them down by gaslighting that it never took place. After the first time, the children simply accept it.

We know what Mary can do. The bigger question remains, who is Bert and why is he there?

Bert’s Abilities

Bert is a chimney sweep, a chalk sidewalk artist, a musician and a kite seller (among other trades). He does all manner of jobs, but they’re all conveniently located within a few feet of the kids at all times. He’s almost never far out of sight. Being a chimney sweep has some benefits. After all, when Mr. Banks rips up the children’s nanny advertisement letter and he throws it into the fireplace, everyone thinks Mary is the one who retrieves the letter out of there. But, we know better. Bert, as a chimney sweep, did. He then reassembles it and gives it to Mary.

Even with all of this, there are many questions that need an answer. Let’s start answering a few based on the film. For Bert to know Mary as well as he does, including her signature “changing of the wind”, which Bert immediately identifies before Mary ever shows up, he has to have a considerable amount of time with her (or in some other way has acquired this knowledge). This change in the wind immediately signifies to Bert that Mary is on her way. To be that intimately knowledgeable about her calling card, he had to have seen it more than once, more than twice… in fact, more than a few times. You don’t recognize something like that having only ever seen it once. No, Bert knows Mary and he knows her well. Far too well, if I must say.

Bert’s Background

Bert and MaryHow could Bert know Mary that well? There are four possible ways:

1) Mary conjured Bert. If Mary conjured Bert, not only would he intimately know Mary and her ways, she would have conjured someone who would not only be smitten with her, she could easily become smitten herself. However, Mary’s callous lack of return of affection towards Bert potentially shows that she can’t return affection towards a person she has conjured. This point makes sense, but only to a point.

2) Bert conjured Mary. If Bert conjured Mary for the children, he would also intimately know Mary and her ways… because he created her. There’s an argument that could go both conjuring ways here until the release of Mary Poppins Returns. With Jack and without Bert, this throws a wrench into number 2… or does it? This one also makes sense to a point.

3) Bert and Mary are from the same magical realm. This is probably the one that makes the most logical sense. This means that it’s possible that Mary enlists Bert to help her with the children and Bert is simply feigning ignorance to keep up Mary’s charade. After all, she gaslights a ton… why wouldn’t he?

4) Again, Bert and Mary are from the same magical realm. Instead, Bert enlists Mary to help with the children… and based on the way the movie’s story unfolds, I’m going with this situation, which I’ll support below. In fact, Bert seems a whole lot more omnipresent than Mary. When you watch the interactions between Bert and Mary, it almost seems like Mary is heavily observing Bert for just how to behave. Mary is often following Bert’s cues, not the other way around. This situation is the only one where Bert could be smitten with Mary and Mary not return that affection. She can’t because of a master / apprentice situation. Bert is the master. Mary is the “learning” apprentice. She can’t return that affection.

A master and apprentice relationship has been commonplace for many thousands of years. For Mary Poppins, it makes sense that she’s the apprentice and he’s the master. He stands in the background not only guiding the children, but also guiding Mary.

Rationales

If we follow rationale #1, then it would make sense from a Mary Poppins perspective. She conjures up Bert to help manage and keep track of the children when she can’t be around. Bert does a fine job of that. It also means she can make Bert do anything. That Bert pretends to be a chimney sweep or chalk artist lends credence to Mary having conjured him. In fact, nearly everything that Mary does is almost entirely a product of Bert’s prompting. When Mary jumps into the chalk drawing, this is Bert’s drawing and it happened because Bert actually wanted it. When the chimney sweeps begin their amazing dance number, it’s almost solely driven by Bert. When they visit “Uncle Albert” Bert is there to egg everything on… in spite of what Mary actually wants. This could mean that Bert might have conjured Mary. But, there are still things that don’t add up if we accept this hypothesis.

For rationale 2, if Bert is conjured by Mary, it doesn’t explain why Bert has self-autonomy that Mary can’t control. Mary is a control freak. For this reason, I don’t believe Bert is actually conjured and leads me to believe that Bert could have conjured Mary. Unfortunately, this circumstance too doesn’t quite add up. Mary also has self-autonomy that Bert can’t control. Based on this, I believe (and it actually makes the most sense) that Mary and Bert are actually from the same realm. Bert simply doesn’t show off his magic, letting Mary do that. This is part of the reason Mary plays coy with Bert. She knows what Bert is capable of, she just can’t let that cat out of the bag.

Bert never overtly shows his own magic. At least, he never shows it outright. Whenever magic occurs, it’s Mary who shows it off. However, Bert is always more than happy to participate in any activity that involves magic. In fact, he seems right pleased to nose himself into every situation where Mary creates a magical landscape and he never bats an eye. In fact, he seems to enjoy himself immensely when with Mary. He also heavily plays for Mary’s affections in these magical landscapes. Perhaps Mary and Bert cannot actually produce these landscapes without the help of children? That’s worth considering… and it could be why both Bert and Mary gravitate towards children instead of adults, as adults don’t allow them to utilize their magic in the same way. Mary and Bert’s magic is symbiotic with the children. They can’t utilize magic without the children.

Mary 1We know little about Mary’s realm or where it exists. It’s clear, Mary doesn’t live in the same realm as humans. Based on my suppositions above, I also believe that Bert is from that same realm as Mary. He can also perform magic, but he prefers to rely on Mary to perform it. Once Mary gets started, he adds his own touches onto it that Mary is unaware, can’t detect or simply ignores. The kids simply think Mary is doing it all, when Bert is actually contributing to the creation of the magic. In fact, Bert may actually be reinforcing Mary’s magic making it grander than it might otherwise be.

With that said, I also believe Bert performed many feats of magic all throughout Mary Poppins, including the “Step In Time” dance number on the roof. Bert performed that magic all on his own. It’s just that we were so focused on Mary and her abilities, we didn’t see Bert’s magic and we simply assumed it all stemmed from Mary.

Even at the end of Mary Poppins when Mary leaves, Bert also disappears leaving the kids solely to their parents. Otherwise, if Bert had remained about, the kids would have kept running back to Bert to talk about Mary. When Mary leaves, so does Bert. They’re a team, or at least they were until…

Mary Poppins Returns

How would any of this explain Jack in the latest movie? My thought is that Jack is Bert with a new name and new face. Bert can’t come back many years later looking exactly like he did without drawing suspicion. Mary can because she’s the one who’s known to be “magic”. Because Jack is autonomous (and probably Bert in a new form), I believe Jack is also from Mary’s realm. Whether Jack is Bert, I’m uncertain. If Bert has magic, like Mary, then he could remake his face in the same way Mary has in “Returns”. However, there are far too many similarities between Jack and Bert. It’s also possible that Jack is Bert’s son. Perhaps Bert decided not to join Mary on this trip? Perhaps Mary must always be accompanied by another from her realm as part of her sojourns to Earth?

This would make sense. Having two could keep things from going awry. If something Mary does goes a bit haywire, Bert or Jack could put it right and keep Mary, “Practically Perfect In Every Way”. In fact, that’s the reason I believe both Bert and Jack are in the stories… to keep Mary in-check… to ensure that the kids learn their lessons without injury and that magic is always kept in its place. For this reason, I believe Bert drilled it into Mary to always gaslight after any magic escapades.

In Mary Poppins, Bert almost seems to hand-hold Mary through most of the film… as if Mary is new to this whole thing. By Mary Poppins Returns, Mary had done this a time or two and Jack seems comfortable letting Mary do more of her own thing without him being there (i.e., the bathtub scene). Though, Jack still joins Mary in the biggest number in the film, like Bert did in the chalk drawing with Mary.

After all these years, it’s possible that Mary is now the master with Jack being her apprentice in all things magic. Jack seemed to contribute far less to Mary Poppins Returns than Bert did in Mary Poppins. So, the tables may now be turned for Mary. But, apparently, they must still travel in twos.

Bert’s Professions

Indeed, Bert shows us his many varied professions. In fact, I believe that was simply a ruse to allow Mary to do the things she needed to bring the children in line. Because the children have a less than pleasant life, Mary is there to not only get the children to do the things she wants (and that her parents want), she needs them to comply. The only way to do this is, like “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”, this is how Mary treats the children’s home life situation. The ‘sugar’ is her magic, the medicine is her ‘discipline’. The song may be literal, but it very much has a double meaning. In fact, because Mary gaslights the children so often after her fantastical outings, it’s less about treating the children unkind and more about Mary’s understanding of Earth children. She can’t let the children continue to believe both in magic and that magic solves all worldly problems, particularly since she’ll be leaving very soon. They must be grounded and earthbound. While magic may be easy to Mary, Jane and Michael will never be able to perform it. Mary knows this.

In fact, Mary’s magic is simply the tool the kids need to get things done for themselves. It wasn’t that she was planning to teach them ‘magic’, but teach them how to survive in the their world and to follow their father’s lead. Mary was also, more or less, a sponge. She soaked up everything about the Banks household and then inserted magic when it was appropriate to bring the kids in-line.

Mary ArrivesAs for Bert, Bert exists as Mary’s facilitator, not a chimney sweep or chalk artist. These were all professions that were needed to aid Mary in her task. They came to exist because they needed to exist for Mary to do her job. For this reason, Bert might be seen as the orchestrator of the whole story. He may have even been the architect of it all… the person behind Mary and the whole reason the Banks children ended up with Mary. This is true because Bert is, among his many professions, also a chimney sweep… as I suggest elsewhere, how else might those torn pages have gone up the chimney? One might say that Bert started it all. After all, he knows Mary extremely well. He also seemed to know something about the Banks children and about Cherry Tree Lane. In fact, he seems to know way too much about Cherry Tree Lane… way more than a random chimney sweep should know.

Bert’s Unknowing Knowing

Bert pulled the wool over our eyes, but very gently. He seems friendly, kind and generous and also innocently naïve. As he rhymes in the park sensing Mary’s arrival stating, “he can’t put his finger on it”, this was all a ruse. He knew exactly who was coming because he asked her to come. Bert even breaks the fourth wall and begins talking directly to the audience… he wouldn’t even know that an audience exists without some form of magic.

As the story progresses, he intentionally steps out of Mary’s (or indeed, the children’s) way. He steps aside when Mary requires him aside. He brings the Banks family together with Mary. He draws her in. He’s the one who made sure the Banks children get what they need and are left “for the better”, after Mary’s departure. He sees to and orchestrates everything. While Mary comes and does what she needs to do, Bert makes sure it all works.

In fact, Bert has likely been on Earth a whole log longer than Mary… watching the children, waiting, seeing if they were “worthy” and if they actually needed Mary’s help. Then, in their time of need, he calls Mary to them. Bert steps in when he needs to solve family problems and, of course, he also steps in when Mary performs ‘magic’, partially to participate, but partially to make sure it all works. Sure, that children’s nanny note went flying, but it is most likely Bert who retrieves the pieces from the chimney and then calls on Mary. We see the pieces go flying, but we don’t see who ends up with them. Sure, Mary carries the note in reassembled, but Bert retrieved it from the chimney. We know this because of the scene where Mary is no where to be found. Bert and the children are by the chimney and Michael is swept up the chimney, just like the pieces of paper. This was all magic from Bert.

With that said, Bert feigns ignorance so as to be just as genuinely surprised as the children when Mary actually arrives, but that surprise seems artificial. He also doesn’t question her manner of arrival, he’s simply happy she’s there (and Mary is happy that Bert is there). Indeed, he doesn’t question Mary’s ways at all.. as if he’s just as accustomed to and comfortable with her magic as is Mary. Indeed, it’s as though Bert already knows of Mary’s arrival in advance. None of this did the children or even the Banks parents suspect.

Bert and BanksIn one of the last scenes in the film, Bert is in the house talking to Mr. Banks after the rest of the sweeps have gone. This is an 11 O’clock number and scene. This is the scene that lays Bert’s cards all on the table.

In this scene, even as Bert has played his role of the lowly chimney sweep, there is an immense sense of wisdom and orchestration. Indeed, he even sings “Just a spoonful of sugar”, a song he couldn’t have known unless he had already known Mary. Or, even more likely, Bert taught that song TO Mary. Bert’s wisdom in that scene goes far, far beyond anything Mary displays throughout the entirety of this film. Bert’s wisdom implies that Bert is the person bringing this whole situation together and resolving it… that he’s the reason Mary is even there. This one seemingly innocent scene is the one that says Bert is why the Banks family (and indeed Mr. Banks) is in its current state. Mary is no where to be found in this scene. It’s simply Bert and Mr. Banks. It’s a poignant scene that says everything about exactly why Mary has arrived and who is behind it.

Bert is not only the puppet master, but he is content (and indeed wants it) to remain that way; to stay behind the scenes and gently nudge people when they need it. If Mary acts as the precipice, Bert acts as the hand to nudge people to jump into the unknown. Indeed, Bert is what made the whole situation possible… from behind the scenes.

In a way, you can liken Bert to the Wizard of Oz behind that curtain. Bert pulled all of the strings making it all possible. In the end, Bert is the one behind the curtain. We don’t get to know this definitively, but the key scene between Bert and Mr. Banks should have opened everyone’s eyes about Bert. Mary seems to be the pawn, Bert appears to be the puppet master. Both are there for the same reason. Both leave for the same reason. And yes, Bert is smitten with Mary. Mary can’t reciprocate because of their complicated relationship, even though they both want the same thing for the Banks’s children. In closing, it’s also entirely possible that Bert and Mary are siblings considering that Mary treated Bert as a brother throughout most of the film.

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