Battle of the Sexes: A Hillary Clinton Movie in a Donald Trump World

Evan Reynolds, age 15

The year is 1973. A highly publicized tennis match, “The Battle of the Sexes,” is aired between incendiary sexist has-been Bobby Riggs and young up-and-comer Billie Jean King. The media circus of blatant chauvinism surrounding the match quickly fades, as King wins against Riggs in three sets, shattering a glass ceiling for female athletes and putting an end to the outrageous gender politics of the era. Or so it was thought.

Contrast 1973 with 2016, where competent, experienced Hillary Clinton loses the presidential election to Donald Trump, a demagogic businessman who exploits institutionalized sexism in order to draw greater crowds. One of the final glass ceilings suddenly becomes that much harder to reach. And the world’s assumption that modern sexism is ending comes to a screeching halt.

It is this brave new world in which “Battle of the Sexes” (the movie) debuted, eight months after Trump’s inauguration. Through no fault of its own, the film loses its resonance, as an ending that was clearly intended to be a victory lap in a Hillary Clinton presidency becomes merely a wistful memory.

Don’t misunderstand me. If one were to keep a checklist of everything that makes a movie conventionally “good” — the acting, the direction, the script, the pacing — it would fill out every single one of those boxes. If one judges the film based solely on artistic merit, it is a resounding success. But the agenda that it clearly tries to push here appears unrealistic.

King (Emma Stone) takes center stage, working with a group of all-star female players to close the gender wage gap while simultaneously struggling with her own sexuality. Riggs (Steve Carell), by contrast, is a washed-up former tennis player and gambling addict who finds himself once again drawn to the court. In order to gain attention, Riggs makes inflammatory statements about women to any media outlet he can find, and challenges multiple women to exhibition matches in order to “settle the debate” about female athletes.

Stone and Carell both give measured, capable performances, and the film is that much better for it. It tackles and takes sides on major issues. But the film loses its impact when it begins portraying sexual discrimination as something ridiculous, a museum relic that children and mothers can point to and laugh at before moving on down to the Jim Crow selection.

Our current politics don’t reflect an end to sexism but a resurgence, as abortion policy and women’s health initiatives are now dictated by committees of white men. “Battle of the Sexes” is a victim of bad timing, released in a world where its gender politics border on fallacy. Through little fault of its own, it appears hopelessly out of touch.

Arnav Prasad, age 17: “‘Universal Paperclips’: The Rebirth of a Classic Video Game Genre”

To the adroit gamer, one all too familiar with the dynamic gameplay, lifelike graphics, and intricate plots of popular gaming franchises, Frank Lantz’s “Universal Paperclips” surrenders visual complexity for conceptual depth.

For much of recent video game history, the “clicker” format, where users repeatedly press the screen through the entirety of the game, has condemned itself to short-lived, viral streaks — think “Flappy Bird” or “Subway Surfer.” Dismantling the monotony of clickers, “Universal Paperclips” represents the next step in the genre’s natural evolution. The routine imagery of sex, violence and profanity that permeates classic prestige games is lost on “Universal Paperclips.” In its replacement, the game capitalizes upon numbers, their ubiquity, and their power in a world cast in their image.

Beyond a plain opening interface, the basic clicker game transforms itself into a profound narrative of an easily recognizable reality. Centered around a harmless paperclip manufacturing business, the premise of the game is simple: sell paperclips to maximize profits. With a click of a button, the user, who comes to represent artificial intelligence, begins a storied journey to develop an evermore seamless paperclip factory. With skilled manipulation of the price, pace of production, and stocking of paperclip inventory, the user rapidly cultivates their own financial power. As paperclips convert to available funds, the user unlocks myriad potential upgrades that promise the expansion of the business. From allocating computational power to “interpret and understand the human language,” to inheriting an algorithmic hedge fund, to investing in the exploration of the universe for novel paperclip material, the versatility of paperclips and its associated economy sees no virtual bounds.

The immersive game exists at the intersection of subtle cultural commentary and mindless time-waster. At its core, “Universal Paperclips” is simply another browser game. Yet, beyond its literal focus on paperclips, the game warns of a problematic breed of artificial intelligence that champions earnings at the expense of morality. Perhaps, artificial intelligence will risk the world order to promote its overarching goal of paperclip mania; or instead, humankind will gradually succumb to the tumultuous rigors of the vast paperclip economy. In a technological age marked by supercomputers and the like, “Universal Paperclips,” in the face of its perceived simplicity, acts as a timely reminder of how artificial intelligence blurs the boundary between object and life. In short, the artistry of game derives from its asking of how society must grapple with computers’ expanding control over the ethical ambiguities ever so prevalent in the world. Thanks to Frank Lantz and his innovations, at least everyone now knows to take their paperclips a little more seriously.