Monday, July 7, 2014

3 Ways Modern Culture Has Ruined Storytelling

This blog contains potential spoilers through the beginning of season 4 of Game of Thrones, the end of season 2 of Orange is the New Black, the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, and possibly maybe The Fault in Our Stars. Y’all been warned.

We’re living in an unprecedented era of entertainment. Once, knowledge of literary theory came bound in the skins of rare babies, and it was locked in a section of university libraries that you had to solve a series of logic puzzles before battling the end boss, Elbow Patches, in order to reach. The only people who had the leisure time to consume a large amount of media were the obscenely wealthy, who usually had better things to do than smoke weed and marathon Doctor Who, or people who did that for a living. Now, thanks to an endless sea of easily accessible information and a better standard of living than has ever been seen in all of human history, everyone’s a media scholar.

And it’s absolutely taking all the fun out of it. Because…

3. We Get Mad When They Break the Rules

Even if phrases like “deus ex machina” and “unreliable narrator” put you to sleep, you’ve likely consumed enough entertainment to have picked up the basic rules. Every story has an introduction, a conflict, a climax, and a resolution. The gun shown in the first act must go off in the third. Thou who smelt it, dealt it. Some people get so into it, though, that they read things like the minute-by-minute formula that almost all successful movies follow, and who could blame them? That stuff is fascinating, and it gives you a new perspective through which to view entertainment. Education is never a bad thing.

Except when it is. After the first season finale of Game of Thrones, for example, one of the most consistent complaints voiced by viewers was that the scene in the first episode with the White Walkers “didn’t pay off,” meaning we never saw them again that season. They weren’t just mad ‘cause they wanted to see some more badass CGI ice monster action – it was just “bad storytelling,” because I say it is. Because that’s what the rules say. The author’s intentions cannot be open to interpretation – it cannot be one element of the chaotic and unpredictable nature of this fantasy world, or whatever – these rules are as rigid as the law.

Great art never breaks the rules.
I’m not gonna pick on those guys too much, though, because I absolutely do this. I took myself out on a rare theater trip to go see The Fault in Our Stars recently, which might surprise you given that you were heretofore under the impression that I am not a 13-year-old girl. I do believe that his wife and two children don’t mean John Green and I aren’t getting married someday, though, and I gotta support my boo, y’know. As I was watching it, I kept getting frustrated with these big emotional moments that only lasted long enough to get me right on the edge of tears before cutting back to the more mundane storylines, never letting me reach that emotional climax that I wanted. I was already writing a mental review, titled “TFIOS IS JUST A SHITTY BLOWJOB.” I didn’t realize that the movie was just working me up to the eventual emotional wad, so it turned out to be the best kind of blowjob, but I couldn’t make my brain shut up about what movies should do long enough to enjoy it. Our cultural education has left us with a firm set of expectations, and we get pissed off if those expectations aren’t met. And I think that’s because...

2. We Need to Be Right

While we’re on the subject of Game of Thrones, one thing I have never understood is the desire to speculate about future events while also screaming “SPOILER!” at anyone who dares to mention that Arya pets a dog in Book 5 or whatever. You don’t need to speculate – we know what happens. Unless they start veering wildly off the path of the books – which is entirely goddamn likely at this point, but still – this is a matter of public record. Do you sit in history class on the edge of your seat devising theories about how the Confederacy is going to pull itself out of this one? Do you know how much pain you caused when you smugly announced in 2012 that it looks like Daenerys will set sail for Westeros pretty soon? Do you have a single fucking clue how hard it was, when everyone started making macros that said “Quick, let’s all start caring about Joffrey,” to refrain from responding “I think you’ll find that won’t be necessary”? I just want to share my knowledge! WHY DO YOU HATE MY KNOWLEDGE?! JUST TAKE IT! JUST TAKE MY KNOWLEDGE!

Deep breaths. Pulling it together.
Alright I’m calm. Sidebar: I’m a helper, by nature. Nothing makes me happier than doing a favor for someone, or having an answer they need, probably stemming from a deep-seated desire for approval and daddy issues and lots of other boring stuff my therapist keeps droning on about while I doodle dicks. So when you “NEED TO KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH TYRION” and I’m like “Hey, I can tell you that,” and you’re all “No don’t tell me,” it confuses me and makes me sad. Because I don’t really understand the aversion to spoilers, either. I spoil everything for myself. I know I’m going to need to go back and look for signs of the twist, and frankly, I don’t have the patience for that, so I’d rather know beforehand, and I’ve never felt like that ruined the experience for me. I try to be respectful, but I don’t get it.

I think I finally understand why people like to speculate, though, because while I will spoil the shit out of myself, I do do that sometimes when the end game isn’t known. (Hee. Do do.) During the episode of How I Met Your Mother in which Ted and The Mother (I’ve already forgotten her name and have no intention of learning it – we’ll get to that in a minute) are discussing Barney and Robin’s wedding and The Mother says “What kind of mother is gonna miss her daughter’s wedding?” and Ted starts crying like a little girl, like he do, I shouted to my empty living room “OH MY GOD! THE MOTHER IS DYING! HE’S CRYING BECAUSE SHE’S DYING BECAUSE SHE’S GOING TO MISS HER DAUGHTER’S FUTURE WEDDING BECAUSE SHE’S DYING OH MY GOD SHE’S TOTALLY DYING THAT’S TOTALLY WHAT HAPPENS AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” I told everyone who was willing to listen, I told them that I would eat my weight in mini-corndogs if that wasn’t what happened, they pointed out that I would probably do that anyway and I told them that was beside the point. My faith was shaken momentarily when the actress who played The Mother insisted that the rumors of her death had been greatly exaggerated because she is a liar and I kinda had a big giant baby fit about it, but like any heartbreak, it was great while it lasted.

That feeling is so addictive. I sure did feel awful smart that I figured it out when nobody else I knew had done so, and I sure did enjoy rubbing it in the faces of those who doubted me. I have to think that must be why that desire to speculate is so strong even when you could easily just look it up. We become detectives, searching for clues instead of simply enjoying the mystery, which eventually means that…

1. We Expect the Unexpected

What all of this adds up to, this constant speculation and enforced adherence to The Rules, is the worthlessness of the plot twist as a literary device. We know the rules and we’re perfectly happy to apply them, so it’s almost more shocking if you don’t try to shock us. For example, near the beginning of the most recent season of Orange is the New Black, we spent a lot of time with a prisoner named Miss Rosa who has been battling cancer for the duration of the series. We get to see her having heartwarming moments with a younger, bitter patient when she’s released temporarily for her regular dates with the chemo chair, and we get to see flashbacks of her as, what the entire fuck, a totally badass and hot young bank robber.

Obviously, this means Miss Rosa ‘bout to die.

That’s the textbook plot twist. You can hear the white girls in their yoga pants eating yogurt on the couch right now. “Awww! Just when I was starting to really like her, too! Darn you, television people, you got me again. You’re mean, bad people. Oh, I can’t stay mad at you. Let’s make out. Only a little butt stuff.”

So when that didn’t happen, and Rosa got a much more deservedly awesome ending, presumably dying offscreen before the next season but left up in the air, it was actually a lot more surprising. Her storyline didn’t “pay off,” and we’re not going to get a tragic plot twist out of her – she’s going to keep chugging along until she just runs out of gas, as we all will (though perhaps not so literally), and it was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen on television. I wonder when it’s going to circle back around and we’re going to start expecting the expected, and then they can build to the plot twist that never comes but then it does, until we start expecting that so they build to the plot twist that never comes but then it does but oh no it actually doesn’t, until we all eventually wind up just eating our own assholes. Which would kill off a lot of entertainment venues for entirely new reasons.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cracked Preview: Foreshadowing in "Game of Thrones"

I was going to write out a bunch of these but then I realized I really only liked this one, and it is a woman's prerogative to change her mind. Suck it.

Game of Thrones

The twist:

Insufferable shithead Viserys Targaryen got what was coming to him when he was killed by his sister Daenerys’s husband after threatening their unborn child with an impromptu Caesarian by sword. The Khal repaid his incessant sniveling by pouring molten metal over his head, giving him the golden crown he sought but ending his quest for the Iron Throne when he is burnt to a crisp. Millions cheered, because oh sweet Christ Viserys finally shut up.

Thing is, Targaryens are supposed to be invincible to heat. Daenerys (who we see all season handling scalding hot dragon eggs, stepping into a bath of boiling water, and walking through a funeral pyre unscathed) comes right out and says so, reacting to her loved one’s death with little more than a “Huh. That’s weird.”

"Eh. Add 'im to the pile."

Why we should have seen it coming:

In a scene from episode four of that season, Viserys engages in some light S&M with one of his sister’s handmaidens in the bathtub, including dripping some hot candle wax onto his chest. Check out what happens when she does.

He’s visibly and audibly pained. At this point, we all should have gone “OH SHIT HE’S NOT IMMUNE TO HEAT” and known exactly what was coming. You know what they say, the sadomasochism in the first act must always end in fiery death in the third.

I'm pretty sure that's how that goes.

The whole show is just lousy with foreshadowing. When the Stark children find the direwolf cubs, did you notice what Ned pulled out of the mother wolf’s throat – her apparent cause of death? It's the antler of a stag. Wanna guess what the sigils are of House Stark and House Baratheon, the latter belonging to the family who relieved Ned Stark of his head? Yep. The direwolf and the stag.

For his part, Jamie Lannister ended up with quite a lot of egg on his face when he stated in the second episode, "Even if the boy lives, he would be a cripple, a grotesque. Give me a good, clean death any day." Finally, any time a character tells Jon Snow that they’ll talk about something the next time they see each other, as Ned and Benjamin Stark both do, it’s a pretty safe bet that they ‘bout to get capped.

Now he'll never know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

Friday, October 11, 2013

4 Fictional Characters We All Wanna Bang (But Feel Kinda Weird About It)

I wanna start this blog with a disclaimer that I’m deliriously feverish and obviously dying of the consumption, i.e. I have a cold. Dramatic exaggeration aside, I’m so out of it that I just debated whether that should be ‘’i.e.’’ or ‘’e.g.’’ and fixed it three times, and I never confuse i.e. and e.g., so this is some serious fucking business.

It seemed like the perfect time to get some shame crushes off my chest.

I know I’m not alone here – I personally know several women, who shall remain anonymous because they have presumably have an adorable shred of dignity left, who share my feelings on these guys – so I don’t think I’m out of line when I say that we’re all in need of some self-reflection here. Maybe I’m wrong, and now you think I’m weird, but if that comes as any huge surprise to you you’re clearly not paying attention.

4. Abed, Community 

Why we love him:

Because he is Batman.

Abed is a strange duck, in the best way. He always seems to see what is so simple and obvious but nobody else does because they’re so wrapped up in their own complicated minutiae. He’s genuine, and recklessly vulnerable, in addition to being sharp and hilarious. He ended up being quite a ladykiller as well, but in awesome Abed fashion, it turns out he just doesn’t use it because he’s not terribly interested. Tell me this scene doesn’t melt your panties a little.

Why I feel kinda weird about it:

So, we’re all pretty much in agreement that Abed is autistic, and barely functioning at that, yeah? Like, there’s no argument here, kid has developmental issues. It’s all there: not understanding social cues, obsessive and single-minded interests, etc. Even that suave persona he adopts in the scene above, rather than displaying a previously unseen electric sexuality, is just an impression of Don Draper – an exact, pitch-perfect mimicry.

So that introduces some complications. Is it exploitive that I kinda wanna bang him? Or is denying the sexuality of the developmentally disabled actually more morally wrong? Does my attraction speak to some sinister nature within myself? Am I a predator? Or is my lack of prejudice a virtue? Or should I just not worry about it?

I don’t like these questions, Abed. Take off that Batsuit right the hell now. No, not like—dammit.

3. Dexter Morgan, Dexter

Why we love him:

Well, obviously.

No one rocks the white t-shirt quite like Michael C. Hall.

Aside from being just unreasonably gorgeous, the suave psychopath is a well-worn trope. Face it, ladies, you love dominance. But Dexter isn’t hurting innocent people: he does have a moral code, and his sociopathic inability to relate to people results in a sort of charming bumbling. He’s uniquely relatable among serial killer characters.

Oh, and do you remember that scene in season one when he overcomes his neuroses about sex and just attacks Rita? Too bad if you don’t, because it was TOO HOT FOR YOUTUBE.


Why I feel kinda weird about it:


It’s not even that Dexter is hot despite being a violent psychopath – he’s hot almost entirely because he’s a violent psychopath. Real Life Dexter, the personality he’s developed in everyday interactions to cover his true nature, doesn’t hold a candle to Kill Room Dexter as far as shaggability goes. When he’s got someone Saran Wrapped to a table, that’s when he comes alive, swaggering around, decrying injustice, every mild-mannered characteristic replaced by naked domination. He’s in complete control, and he loves it. So do we. Way too much.

I am not okay with how much this turns me on.
2. Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother

Why we love him:

Because I’m pretty sure Neil Patrick Harris is physically incapable of not being devilishly charming. Barney is the ultimate unlikely alpha male, and lovably neurotic about it.

Confession time: I shipped Barney and Robin from day one, because I’m in love with Barney and identify with Robin to an unhealthy degree. I NEEDED THEM TO WORK, you guys. I needed them to work because if they can work, there is hope for me. A ridiculous proportion of my ego was invested in the outcome of that relationship, and if it hadn’t worked out, it might have killed me.

Why I feel kinda weird about it:

Did you know that rape by fraud is a thing? It sure is a thing, and Barney is guilty of it every damn day. He’s a master of inventing ruses to get women into bed, sometimes assuming completely different identities. That’s sociopathic, you guys. He intentionally targets na├»ve and gullible women, because dumb people aren’t really people, right? It’s okay to take advantage of them and laugh about it because they don’t really count. They’re just pit stops on the way to more interesting women, and therefore obviously don’t have feelings. And are we just gonna forget about the time he admitted that he was once involved with human trafficking? Barney is a predator, no less than Dexter is.

1. Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

Why we love him:

Everyone loves Tyrion. He’s an unlikely hero. He’s a Lannister, so he’s automatically evil, and he does make some morally questionable decisions. And he’s loyal to his evil family to a fault. (Until next season, anyway.) But he’s different. He’s clever, and simply out of fucks to give. He’s the only one willing to smack Joffrey around. And Peter Dinklage is really quite good-looking.

Why I feel kinda weird about it:

It’s similar to the problem with Abed, but on an entirely new level, because I’m pretty sure that Tyrion is awesome chiefly because he’s a dwarf, not in spite of it. In that way it's like the Dexter problem, too, if I wanna compare the differently abled to serial killers, which apparently I do. Like, imagine Tyrion as a normal-sized dude. How much less interesting did he just get? All of his back story, his motivations, all that something-to-proviness just vanished. He may still be heroic, and well-read, but now he’s just Kingslayer 2.0. He’s no longer damaged, which is what makes him interesting.

So now I feel like I need to reflect in on myself. Does this make me a devotee‎? Am I dehumanizing an entire group of people because Tyrion is awesome and I wanna touch his wiener? Is thinking someone is awesome and wanting to touch their wiener actually dehumanizing? It’s all just ridiculously complicated.

What I’m saying is, thank you, George R.R. Martin, for making me realize I have a dwarf fetish.