Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Very Idea: Reviewing the Reviewers

There’s a problem with the way we are reviewing books and movies.

More and more I see reviews questioning the very premise of the movie or book instead of the execution. They can’t get past the blurb they saw on the back of the book or the short plot summary from a friend. It’s a problematic situation that would lead to disregarding much of our most powerful writing and film.

For example, I recently read an article on the new series The Legend of Korra titled “Is The Legend of Korra anti-science?” In the article the author identifies the problematic scene and begrudgingly admits that it might the beginning of a more complicated plot in later episodes, but he still doesn’t like it.

In this scene the main character derides a nameless character for even daring to question the power of Bending. The main character (Korra) is the one who ends up looking ridiculous, setting up a complicated political subplot as well as an area of growth for Korra.

Anyone who watched the first Avatar series knows that this is exactly the kind of complexity that the creators excel at, yet that scene haunts the writer. He seems to want so badly for the very presence of that scene to be negative. This is sloppy reviewing. Even though he’s examined it and found that it might, in fact, work just fine, he can’t get past it.

It finally got to me when The Hunger Games was released. Honestly, I love The Hunger Games. I loved the book and I love the movie. Heck, I even loved the sound track. So it made me very angry when people couldn’t get past the first plot point. Because of a fascist government 24 children fight to the death every year. That, apparently, does not fly.

The problem is that these reviews are often unconcerned with weather or not this element was powerful or if it was done well or if it accomplished what it set off to do. The implication is that the book should never have even existed.

It’s a dystopian novel. Dystopian novels are always over the top. They do so in order to give a powerful social commentary and juxtapose reality. You can argue that it’s unrealistic, but that is different than it being believable or effective. Farenheit 451 had a killer robot dog with needle teeth. Handmaid’s Tale was about women made into reproduction slaves. That is what the book is about. It’s quality and emotional power is a separate issue.

It’s like when people complained that The Fellowship of the Rings was only walking. People generally believed that it was a beautiful, sweeping film. They loved the action and the characters, but for some reason they latched on to the idea that the very basis of the story was somehow flawed. They only walk! It doesn’t matter that it was a fitting metaphor for the epic journey or that it gave the world a feeling of enormity and a sense of impossibility to the quest. It was only walking. Fundamentally flawed.

I even had a problem with the “vampires don’t sparkle” argument against Twilight. There was plenty wrong with structure and execution in the movies and books, but the individual ideas might have had credence. Maybe that element, in another situation, could have been done successfully.

The danger is that, in arguing against elements and not execution, we encourage mediocrity and reputation. It is, at its core, a fear and dislike of the different; the thing that has not been done before. Having a problem with the very idea of something celebrates the past while denying potential. It’s also insulting to the creator, as if they couldn’t possibly do anything good with such an idea.

Perhaps I am so irked by this because it is something I often hear about my own writing. It’s too weird. I can’t write about that sort of thing.

And my stranger stuff is published much more often than my more down to earth pieces. The Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings celebrated sweeping success despite the ideas being unthinkable. I guess the very idea of rejecting the very idea of something hits a little close to home.

Friday, March 2, 2012

How Reality TV is Really Like Dystopian Literature

I love shitty reality TV. I eat that shit up. Sometimes I can make myself feel better about it if it’s something like Project Runway which actually requires some kind of skill or if it’s like Toddlers and Tiaras where it’s more like a documentary. The thing is going on anyway, they just turn the cameras, and giggle all the way to the bank.

Anyway, today someone was telling me that they loved when the contestants fought (the part we all pretend we hate) because it made her feel smart and centered in comparison. She felt like, in the same situation, she would rise about such petty drama.

So then it struck me. Maybe reality TV is important for culture in the same way that dystopian novels are.

See, dystopian novels aren’t actually predicting the end of society. I don’t care what your high school teacher said. She was just trying to make you think. Give her a break. She works hard.

Dystopian literature is crazy and exaggerated for a reason. It’s actually a feel good genre. No stick with me. When you read 1984 or Swastika Night or Handmaid’s Tale you immediately compare it to the world around you. Most likely you believe that, while there are some things that could be changed, you and your country are not going to end up like that. No way. You know better. You would not give up your love even when faced with a terrible rat-death. You generally believe you are better than them.

When we talk about 1984 or Handmaid’s Tale we use it as an example that we do not want to reach, but probably won’t anyway. It is a warning that everyone understands is an exaggeration. Reality TV is the same way. We use it to measure our own drama and insecurities and feel secure that we have not, and will never reach, that lowest of lows.

Many of these reality TV shows have an open ended, but possibly hopeful ending too. Like Handmaid’s Tale’s possible escape, Hoarders and Intervention end in a message that the people you watched are still working hard. They could, of course, film it so that enough time had passed to see a full recovery, but they don’t. The ending is open ended so that we can hope, but the tension, the lesson, the parable, is still intact.

When the people on TV are having a meltdown we are given a unique opportunity to feel good about our own fortitude, our work ethic, our strengths, and our abilities. We ultimately believe that we would do better, and we should. It’s feel good TV.

You've seen it! You can't unsee it!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Hi SPACE friends!

If you're coming here from the link next to The Adventure of Dirk Turbine you should totally check out my new webcomic, which is where I pour all the time I used to give this blog.