Thoughts on Fiction

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i'm fine with orderly abstraction!

Noodle Vague, Sunday, 3 January 2016 09:22 (five years ago) link

Going back to the opening post-- today's TV series are unwatchable for me because all they offer are plots delineating the events in fictional lives. I keep hearing about how good TV has gotten, but it's all the same, disposable, escapist pablum. A work of narrative film should be only as short as needed to evoke its emotions, convey its ideas or deliver its mythology, then exit the stage.

TV does just the opposite. They are all about fooling you into the trap. The episode ends, and I feel used, not inspired.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 6 January 2016 12:37 (five years ago) link

I agree with you on that. Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and the Walking Dead are terrible. They're all about getting the audience attached to the characters so they can put them through these terrible events over the course of 6+ seasons. The only real reason people watch this stuff is because they want to be part of the cultural event, to be part of the discussion. They have underlying ideas that they're trying to convey, but nothing that merits 6 seasons padded out with insipid sensationalistic garbage. They're doing exactly the opposite of what you're saying fiction should do. I blame capitalism.

Have you seen True Detective Season 1? I thought it was better than these other shows, but still suffered from conforming to some American television conventions. The critics consensus seems to be that it's some of the best television has to offer. That's not saying much, given how trashy the other popular stuff is.

Man From the Machine, Sunday, 10 January 2016 00:08 (five years ago) link

re: Game of Thrones and Walking Dead, that would be more an indictment on novels and comics than on TV, no?

Philip Nunez, Sunday, 10 January 2016 03:28 (five years ago) link

I've never watched an episode of GoT, BB or WD. I'll occasionally glance at something when it seems to deal with ideas or themes similar to something I'm working on.
I've started a few shows out of curiosity- Lost, Caprica, Daredevil, Sense 8, and The Expanse, most recently. I get about 4 or 5 episodes in, and there's always this maddening awareness that:
1. the plot is being dragged out as long as possible, and 2. the storytellers are only using the imaginative, speculative premise as some exotic backdrop to what amounts to soap opera. The provocative implications of the story's premise are starved. Of course, they're giving audiences what they want, because the truth is that most viewers aren't looking to have their thoughts provoked or their minds expanded.

For someone working in TV, it's a constant battle. Occasionally, something good does manage to catch on- Black Mirror, Rick and Morty, Veep, and so I don't lose hope.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 10 January 2016 04:25 (five years ago) link

and Twin Peaks, of course.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 10 January 2016 05:04 (five years ago) link

Peter I wouldn't take Daredevil and Lost (haven't seen the others but have heard mediocre things about Sense 8 at least) as examples of the best TV has to offer. They're not that good. The Wire and Sopranos would be two to check out though if you haven't. Sopranos arguably suffers from the dragging out, but my sense is that they were usually trying to say new things with each episode, unlike stuff like TWD or BB or GoT where it's all about "what happens next".

I watched season 1 of BoJack Horseman (Netflix) and it really nailed it for me, to the point where I've put it tentatively in my top 2-5 ever. At first it feels like Family Guy, but it turns out to be quite dark and interesting, more depressing than funny. Have heard it compared to Rick and Morty.

J.P. McDevitt, Sunday, 10 January 2016 06:53 (five years ago) link

Philip, I'm talking about the TV series of GoT and TWD. I haven't read GRRM's ASOIAF, though I have read 70 or so issues of TWD comic. And the Walking Dead comic is different from the TV series. The latter is an adaptation of the former, but the fact that it is in a different medium makes it an experience unique from the original. So it's a separate work that should be looked at as such, with the original being a comparison point. An adaptation isn't worse because it deviates from the original, sometimes the adaptation can surpass it's inspiration (e.g. Ghost in the Shell). But in the case of TWD, both go for that soap opera and "what happens next" style of storytelling that bores me to tears. The TV show is worse in that it also doesn't really have much creativity or technical skill involved while the comic's stark black-and-white art accommodates the tone and reflects the state of the world and its characters.

Going by what you've written here, Peter, I'm interested in what you think of fanfiction. I assume you dislike it since the whole reason that exists is because the fan writers can't let go of fictional characters that touched them in some way. It is kind of silly, forming that sort of attachment to nebulous conceptual beings that do not exist in the capacity that a human being does. I think there are some instances where it can lead to something greater, like superhero comics.

I should get back to Twin Peaks before the upcoming revival. I lost interest halfway through season 2.

Man From the Machine, Sunday, 10 January 2016 09:13 (five years ago) link

On fanfiction-- I haven't read any, except one time I came across a fan-written script for Aeon Flux. It was both funny and sad. A bit like someone trying to do surrealism, but only a facsimile of it. Like watching an actor trying to capture a performance by copying the ticks and quirks without feeling the underlying, internalized core of emotion.

I've enjoyed fanart and have done some myself in the past, as a student. I suppose writing fanfiction is not so different, just done by fans who don't draw. I'd only do it to challenge myself and amuse myself. Over the years, I've been hired many times to re-imagine popular characters for a reboot or revival. Screenwriters do scripts of popular shows on spec to offer as samples when seeking writing work.

For Twin Peaks, I'd strongly recommend Fire Walk With Me if you haven't seen it.
I used to follow the show fanatically when it first aired. Typical of me, though, that I didn't really care about finding out who killed Laura Palmer. It was all the disorienting observational details and the oneiric theater of the absurd that kept me watching. I don't remember the characters' names. The show made me think differently - and that's the most I can ever hope for from a fictional story.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 10 January 2016 15:00 (five years ago) link

adaptations require a certain fidelity to source material, and is no more a separate work from its sources than nonfiction or fiction inspired by actual events, so when making complaints about aspects originating from the source, shouldn't the blame be ascribed to the source?

the character design of bojack has heavy biographical resonance for hanawalt; in that sense isn't bojack also an adaptation of sorts?

Philip Nunez, Sunday, 10 January 2016 19:30 (five years ago) link

Philip, a work of nonfiction or fiction inspired by actual events IS separate from those actual events. Because what is being expressed in such a work would be a subjective recounting, no matter how much the creator tried to be objective. Like Trevor Goodchild said, "Though the world and events do exist independent of mind, they obtain of no meaning in themselves- none that the mind is not guilty of imposing on them." No matter how accurate one may try to be, the very fact that it comes from a human mind makes it a simulacrum of reality. An event occurs in the past, and what would remain in the present are memories of those who observed/were a part of it and whatever consequences came about due to its occurrence. Memories are fallible and subject to emotion and faulty cognition, and the consequences of the event only give the end part of an equation, not the variables that came together to produce it.

Let me clarify that my complaints with TWD TV and TWD comic aren't so similar. I can confidently tell you that the events, characters, presentation, plot, etc. in TWD TV have been altered in the process of adaptation. And the network execs, apparently, give very little creative freedom to the directors and writing staff as they demand they make the show in such a way that modern TV viewers will get hooked on it. So more melodrama, angst and "what's going to happen next?" style of storytelling. This means TWD TV is worse than TWD comic, and the former is not entirely a reflection on the latter. And, like I've been saying, the experience of reading TWD comic is different from watching TWD TV. I'm sure the same applies to GoT, as one is in a visual medium and the other is literature.

Source material should be used as an inspiration, guide and comparison point and not something to be strictly adhered to. On one end of the adaptation spectrum, you have something that's as close to the original as possible. To me, this would make it a boring, pointless exercise. It doesn't try to present the viewer with new ideas that aren't already in the original. On the other end, you have something that's so far removed from the original that it's barely an adaptation. Any further and it would not be on the spectrum, it would not be an adaptation.

Take for example Ghost in the Shell. Masamune's manga is intellectually vapid and sometimes immature. Oshii's adaptation far exceeds the original as he brings his own highbrow sensibilities and philosophical interests to the film. It has just enough resemblance to the original to be called an adaptation, but it should be judged on its own merits, as a sophisticated art film (and one the greatest animated films of all time), and not how well it emulates the original. Because it doesn't.

Peter, I think I agree with you there. Fan art and fiction are not necessarily bad. I would say that fanfiction/art is really only bad when it's used for self-indulgence. Like fanfics written so that two characters from an anime or whatever have sex. A large amount of these will be poorly written and have the characters acting contradictorily from their personality, as part of the writer's indulgence. Look at the many homoerotic fiction written about the pop idol group One Direction. Or rather, don't.

Man From the Machine, Sunday, 10 January 2016 23:58 (five years ago) link

Mftm so offtm itt

Hammer Smashed Bagels, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:08 (five years ago) link

From what I understand, Kirkman intends to keep both the comic and the show running literally forever, so the "what's going to happen next?" stye of storytelling is inherent in this conceit. Are TV trends really to blame for this?

Philip Nunez, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:31 (five years ago) link

Full House to blame

Hammer Smashed Bagels, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:32 (five years ago) link

Twin Peaks had a lull in season 2 (Lynch and Frost temporarily vacated according to most reports) and picks up again at or near the very end; you just have to chug through it, and then watch the excellent movie, and then watch the revival which one of our greatest living artists is filming and has an unprecedented degree of control over for television.

J.P. McDevitt, Monday, 11 January 2016 01:54 (five years ago) link

Modern television conventions are designed to create the most profit over the longest period of time. Not to present ideas and explore them in the amount of time truly necessary or to expand the minds of the viewers.

Kirkman has built an empire around the Walking Dead, and he'll want to continue both the TV show and comic for as long as he can because of the amount of money it brings in for him and everyone else involved.

Earlier I semi-jokingly stated that I blame capitalism for this trend. But it's true. The Simpsons is still running even in its current state because there are enough people watching it every year that it creates a steady profit for Fox.

I feel like I've kind of hijacked this thread and put enough of my ramblings here. We should stop this talk about crappy TV and focus on something worth discussing. Sorry, Peter.

Man From the Machine, Monday, 11 January 2016 02:45 (five years ago) link

Man, your ramblings are all on topic.
TV is, no doubt, currently the main (if not only) source of fictional narrative for most of the public.
http://www.vulture.com/2015/01/why-you-feel-like-theres-too-much-tv-to-watch.html
I barely watch any of it. I can't afford the mental space to be keeping up with ten different storylines each week.

I would avoid making blanket judgments, though. I began watching each of the shows I mentioned above, impressed enough by the craftsmanship of the screenwriting and filmmaking to be engaged. None were "terrible". I've seen plenty of badly written scripts. These aren't badly written. Just for me, the thing they're getting me to engage with is so artificial and impersonal. The irony is that I often find constructing fictional characters gets in the way of the author from revealing much about themselves as artists.

Peter Chung, Monday, 11 January 2016 09:28 (five years ago) link

What bugs me is that the literal-thinking mindset is becoming so dominant. It seems that there used to be a better general acceptance of mystery and metaphor in art.

Just to mention two examples: I love old movie musicals. No one used to have a problem with characters suddenly bursting into song. A lot of my students don't know who Rodgers and Hammerstein are. They've never seen The Wizard of Oz. It's sad.
Every iconic character needs to have their origin explained with some nonsensical backstory. This kind of literal-mindedness is making our culture feebler, not more vivid. I was fine not knowing a thing about James Bond's childhood. It misses the point.

Peter Chung, Monday, 11 January 2016 10:06 (five years ago) link

Do your students have literalization problems with modern musicals (I'm assuming they've seen Disney animated princess+song movies at the very least)?

Philip Nunez, Monday, 11 January 2016 19:31 (five years ago) link

University animation students are mostly of two types: those who hold onto the fascination they had with the medium since childhood, and those who think they've outgrown the movies they watched as kids. At USC, the latter type are the majority. In CalArts character animation, they're almost all the former type. Actually, I think the general problem is that young viewers don't watch a lot of movies more than 20 years old.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 12 January 2016 13:20 (five years ago) link

One more example- pertinent at the moment as Ridley Scott gets feted for the maudlin mediocrity of The Martian, a thoroughly literal-minded film, devoid of subtext. After The Counselor, Prometheus and Exodus, The Martian must have been a walk in the park for him.

Almost without exception, all my friends above the age of 40 were blown away by Prometheus, as was I. It's the kind of experience that's the exact reason why I go see movies. While of course, most of my students hated it, or were indifferent. It' disorienting to be in a classroom filled with 20 year olds who all seem so much more culturally conservative than me and my peers. And now I'm sounding old and cranky.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 12:29 (five years ago) link

Do your students have similar reactions to explicitly experimental/non-linear film? (Prometheus fills in the backstory to the space jockey in a very literal fashion, and Ridley Scott seems further committed to giving us the childhood background of the giant aliens in the proposed sequel -- it seems like most people who did not like this would have preferred the mystery and subtext of the original kept intact.)

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 18:55 (five years ago) link

I'd have thought that at a time when any movie is available to see anywhere, any time, viewers would have a broader viewing history. It turns out that the opposite is true. Before the internet and DVDs, the only way to see rarely-screened films was to drive to an art-house cinema where an important film played for one or two nights. I'd go often and find the theater packed with film buffs and students. That was your one chance, and you weren't going to miss it. There is no longer that urgency, and viewers don't seek challenging works.

When I was in film school, our seminal films were 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, 8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits, Satyricon, Blow Up, L'Avventura, Pierrot Le Fou, Vertigo, Touch of Evil, Performance, Eraserhead, anything by Sam Fuller, Kurosawa, Bergman and Tarkovsky. I asked my students last year which films affected them the most. Some of the answers I got back were Jurassic Park, Silent Hill, The Lion King, The Prince of Egypt, and thankfully one mention of La Reine Margot. Young filmmakers just need to get exposed to a wider range of different kinds of films.

Prometheus impressed me precisely because it upended my antipathy towards backstory by providing a context which was not arbitrary or gratuitous, but instead deepened the meaning of the original Alien film, which was, after all, just a (well done) monster-on-the-loose movie.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 21:37 (five years ago) link

Jurassic Park > Prometheus

Cuombas (jim in glasgow), Wednesday, 13 January 2016 21:41 (five years ago) link

I'd be surprised if film students paying loads of tuition weren't exposed to a wide corpus of movies at least through syllabi.
the "most affected" picks look like movies they might have seen as kids.
perhaps they did see solaris and the seventh seal, but not when they were 8?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 22:31 (five years ago) link

I should make clear, that I never argue with my students over their tastes or preferences. Neither do I try to change their opinions of movies they didn't like. I do try to point out points of merit that they might not have noticed. There are plenty of highly regarded films that I find insufferable. There is a need to be educated about the potential scope of the film medium. That's what film school is for.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 13 January 2016 23:00 (five years ago) link

Could it simply be a disconnect between their assertion of tastes and the scope of what they've actually been exposed to?
I'm assuming you use certain movies as examples in classes -- which ones are you most surprised to find students have never seen before?

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 14 January 2016 00:42 (five years ago) link

Hard to say, since their tastes may be restricted by their exposure to a wide scope of media. More and more of my students are Chinese nationals. My first year, I had four. This year, I'm getting ten. They have a completely different set of cultural references from the American students.

I show a lot of clips in class. Some students have never seen a Hitchcock film. I'm surprised, generally, by how little animation a lot of them have seen. Almost none of them have seen Aeon Flux- which seems odd to me, since they signed up for my class. I've found some students are surprised when I show it to them, about how unconventional it is. I have to remind them that a lot of the popular characters she may resemble (from Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Underworld, Matrix' Trinity, Alias, etc) didn't exist when I made AF.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 14 January 2016 01:54 (five years ago) link

Peter,

Are you saying it's important to "focus on how the actions of characters within a story enable the mind to form meaning from the material of human (or non-human) events"?

Do you feel we should be considerate of what's happening at a biological level when we view art?

Sam G, Tuesday, 19 January 2016 07:39 (five years ago) link

Hi Sam,
No, the way that was worded didn't come out right. It's why I wrote a few lines later:

I should clarify my tortured language above a bit: art's function is to exercise the mind's capacity to find meaning. Meaning is not something innate in the world. It exists only because there are conscious minds alive which are eager to create it. I'm not talking about something esoteric and rare. This is the most basic, most universal trait of being human.

Sorry to keep belaboring these points, but I'm at a place in my work where I'm embarking on an interesting new venture which subverts the conventional method of narrative film. (I'll make the announcement here soon.)

The point is that: don't focus on the fictional events themselves. Focus instead on how your mind is working to find meaning in those events. You can discard the fictional events. The workings of your mind is a fact. Your mind's capacity to find meaning is what makes you human. The question of which fictional character ended up loving/ killing/ sacrificing themselves for which other fictional character is just the stimulus intended to trigger your mind's workings. The experience of art is the appreciation of becoming aware of your own mind's capacity for creativity, empathy and insight. Focusing on the fiction is enjoyable, but it's escapism.

If you remember from the Monican Spies interview- "backstory is a trap". Informing the viewer of the AF movie that the story takes place 400 years in the future, that there are X number of people alive, etc. are a distraction, because viewers will try to cling on to these made-up bits as if they mean something. They mean nothing. Such information takes away, it does not add.

http://www.salon.com/2011/06/28/stopped_reading_fiction/

But consuming fiction is not only valuable to me, it's a critical means by which society becomes more empathetic.

http://stevenpinker.com/files/pinker/files/literary_animal_review.pdf?m=1360039350

It only becomes a problem when readers/ viewers become obsessively hooked on getting their fix. It becomes an addiction.

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/tv_club/features/2015/best_tv_of_2015_slate_s_tv_club_discusses/best_tv_of_2015_forget_peak_tv_because_the_world_needs_even_more_shows.html

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 19 January 2016 13:52 (five years ago) link

Here's the relevant portion from the Monican Spies interview from 2005, on the occasion of the live action movie coming out:

Creating Aeon was very much a process of elimination. I set myself a rigorous set of restrictions-- of things I'd disallow: not an ideologue, a patriot or a crimefighter; no one giving her orders; no family; no assumptions. I tried to eliminate anything that would allow you to predict her actions.
Aeon has no family, or ties to anyone. Any dramatic points a screenwriter can score by holding family members hostage (or killing!) reveal nothing about her as a unique individual. Too easy. It's shorthand. We assume anyone is going to feel an emotional attachment to their sibling. That tells me nothing about her.
Her worth (to us) is her responsibility and hers alone. The point is, we all define our own worth. It's the main point of the series, actually.

The outcome in any work of fiction is arbitrary. It's at the whim of the author. What is not arbitrary is the form. You cannot cheat form. Form is not a vehicle for content. It is the content. The point is in the structure, the relationship of parts, the endowment of meaning to events through context. It is not the role of the author to moralize or to pronounce judgment.

That is the deliberate aversion to provide backstory. Because backstory is a trap.
Ambiguous? A character in a film is not someone whose background we need to know in order to consider proceeding in a relationship with him/her. The process of discovery IS the relationship. Explain nothing. What matters is not the names of families, how many years in the future or past. What matters is the structure, the relationship of events, the thread which allows us to accept an unlikely outcome through the carefully delineated (and orchestrated) sequence of causal progression driven by character. You can transpose a good story on any setting, any era. (Shakespeare)

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 19 January 2016 14:09 (five years ago) link

I'm not sure that focusing on the fiction in a story necessarily obstructs finding valuable meaning. In my experience this can add quite a lot.

Seeing The Revenant recently (semi true story with lots of added fiction) I had one of the most rewarding film experiences I think I've ever had. There are scraps of backstory that for me worked very well with the overall experience. I just found the film to be so wildly beautiful. I still feel inspired by the emotional vitality it drove into me.

But deriving meaning is a many faceted thing, dependant on the irreducible and uniquely shaped inner workings of one mind and body to the next. Do we understand each other well enough to make sprawling judgements about who is and isn't meaningfully engaged?

Sam G, Wednesday, 20 January 2016 07:44 (four years ago) link

Escapism has its place and I certainly indulge in it. There are plenty of viewers who regard all film to exist for that purpose and need nothing further from their consumption of fiction. In a way, art has its greatest impact when the viewer isn't in the conscious state of "art appreciation".

I do render harsh judgments on certain works for their vacuousness, dishonesty, narcissism and trivializations. And I am critical of viewers' respect or reverence for such works. That's my honest answer to your question. It would be hard for me to be an effective teacher and artist if I didn't take a stand.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 20 January 2016 11:03 (four years ago) link

which works would you point out as something not to emulate for your class? how do you deal with students who for whatever reasons, really want to emulate those works?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 20 January 2016 18:26 (four years ago) link

I've never disputed a student's wish to make work inspired by someone or something they admire, regardless of my own opinion of it.
I present as many examples as I can of works with merit. There are a few negative examples I've shown or cited for specific reasons. Some may be because they exhibit carelessness, for example, bad editing.

In general, works which lack thematic subtext (literal-mindedness), which rely on literary rather than cinematic methods (e.g. straight voice-over narration), which rely on tired storytelling gimmicks (coincidence, prophecy, made-up solutions to made-up problems) all come under critical scrutiny.

There will always be viewers who find personal meaning in formulaic works of fiction. There exist fans of the live-action AF movie. Do I need to withhold my critical faculties to accommodate every point of view? Actually-- no.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 21 January 2016 04:46 (four years ago) link

i mean within the context of your class -- i was assuming that students would submit their own works for evaluation as assignments, or is it not that kind of course?

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 21 January 2016 05:15 (four years ago) link

My reply is in the context of my class. I mentioned examples of what I discourage my students from emulating: literal-minded storytelling, narrated films, contrived plots.
When a student submits a project, I evaluate it on its own terms. I don't ask or assume that it was inspired by something else they'd seen. It doesn't matter where they find their inspiration, as long as they produce compelling results.

I emphasize the importance of communicating clearly the events of a story. In my view, the question of "what happened?" is not an interesting one for a viewer. If the viewer is confused about what happened in a story, then that's bad execution on the part of the director. The plot or storyline should be unambiguous. Whereas the meaning of those events should be left to the viewer's interpretation. If the plot is ambiguous, it leaves no room for the viewer to contemplate the more interesting questions of "what does it mean?" or "who was right?"

Here's something I've cited in class: Some people regard "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" to be a challenging film because the viewer needs to figure out what happened. For me, it's a bad film because all the viewer's interpretive faculties are occupied trying to sort out what happened on a plot level. That doesn't mean the film has depth. Just that the storytelling is muddled. You figured out what happened? So what? It's a work of fiction.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 21 January 2016 07:21 (four years ago) link

Ambiguity of meaning is desirable. Ambiguity of plot is not.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 21 January 2016 07:27 (four years ago) link

Are you noticing students submitting more mystery template works than before? I could see movies like memento influencing film students to write more plot-puzzle stories, but I'm surprised to see that extend to animation students.

Philip Nunez, Thursday, 21 January 2016 18:47 (four years ago) link

Peter, you mentioned that you're hard on films that are narcissistic. What films do you consider are possessing of this negative quality? To me, Inarritu's Birdman instantly came to mind.

Man From the Machine, Thursday, 21 January 2016 19:45 (four years ago) link

My class is about visual storytelling. To tell a story clearly without narration or dialogue is not easy. I introduce the class to techniques for conveying motivation, subtext and context using physical actions and visual cues. It's not about plot-puzzles, but any plot can become a puzzle (confusing) if your command of film language is not confident and masterful. The goal is to maximize viewer engagement and to trigger the mind to discover meaning.

Narcissistic films-- I won't mention any titles in public. Just that they exist, and that self-absorption is an increasing trend.

Peter Chung, Friday, 22 January 2016 01:08 (four years ago) link

I'd mention (since I've already cited it on another thread) that Mamoru Oshii's films also trick people into thinking they have more depth than they do by being needlessly ambiguous on plot. I honestly didn't understand the storyline in GITS the first couple of times I watched it. (I did enjoy the design, layout and animation, and I was mostly focused on that). When I made sense of the story, I realized that the film was actually poorly directed. Innocence even more so, but at that point I expected that.

Peter Chung, Friday, 22 January 2016 01:18 (four years ago) link

"I'm not sure that focusing on the fiction in a story necessarily obstructs finding valuable meaning. In my experience this can add quite a lot."

Perhaps not in every case, but I'm both puzzled and slightly disturbed at how out-of-control it can get. It reaches a point of decadence and sucks the air from any more thoughtful discussion. I saw this today, and it made me think of this thread.

http://io9.gizmodo.com/this-weeks-star-wars-comic-reveals-why-uncle-owen-hated-1754357401

Peter Chung, Friday, 22 January 2016 04:47 (four years ago) link

Haha. Well thats is geeky stuff, but it has heart doesn't it?

I never got very geeky with comics but I have a childhood friend who did. He can recall seemingly endless amounts about the Marvel and DC universes - and I still enjoy hearing about it from him. It's an inner child thing that I really value still being able to connect to.

I do think that newer generations seem softer in some ways and less interested in the strange and challenging than in my day. When I was at high school my friends and I were hungry for such things (And we were fortunate that there was much to be found!) But I think there was a kind of boredom back then that kept people itchy to explore. Now days things have in some ways gotten kind of insane and in others very stuck. My brother currently goes to my old high school, but he is growing up in a substantially different universe to mine with dizzying technological and pop cultural shifts amidst all these intensifying global crisis'.

In a world that can seem increasingly shitty the ever improving art of escapism is surely an unstoppable force - and I am very sympathetic that this could be viewed as disturbing. But I feel that escapist art can be a transcendent thing and have a very positive impact on human chemistry (I say this out of experience). As for the negative impact, to me this seems very problematic to judge in the case of art because it's impact is peculiar to one human life to the next at an irreducibly subtle and complex level.

Sam G, Friday, 22 January 2016 13:12 (four years ago) link

is this really a modern cultural shift, though? a lot of this focus on world-building minutiae seems very tolkien-esque, and tolkien himself seemed engaged in some syncretic biblical fan fiction. i'm having trouble seeing how students would have the time to be able to put that level of detail in classwork though. wouldn't the time constraints enforce a narrative economy if nothing else?

Philip Nunez, Friday, 22 January 2016 19:12 (four years ago) link

The belief in Biblical inerrancy and a literal interpretation of scripture are, from what I've read, more prevalent today than in the past. There was a greater willingness to engage in religious texts as symbolic. And even the notion of absolutely reliable historical accounts was not expected.

I won't elaborate on the kinds of assignments I use in class. I'll just say that they are very specific and I demand detailed solutions to storytelling challenges.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 23 January 2016 02:52 (four years ago) link

even the sense in which the word 'belief' is used has moved from being primarily the faithful "I believe in you" sense to the epistemic "I believe this is the case" sense

ogmor, Saturday, 23 January 2016 14:40 (four years ago) link

one month passes...

"Peter, you mentioned that you're hard on films that are narcissistic. What films do you consider are possessing of this negative quality?"

I came across this post today, which helpfully provides a list with synopses. I haven't seen any of these films, but 3 (maybe 4) out of the 5 are what I'd consider narcissistic based on their descriptions.

http://www.cartoonbrew.com/award-season-focus/2016-oscar-nominations-feature-animation-acting-analysis-137323.html

Anomalisa

Michael is a passenger on an airplane that is landing in Cincinnati. He does not want to be there. His work as a writer requires that he be there. ... His objective is to give a lecture in Cincinnati, on the subject of improving customer service.... He is in conflict with himself and his situation because he would rather be doing something else with his life, something more meaningful.

Inside Out

The screenplay structure is episodic when the focus is on Riley...: “Riley Is Born,” “Riley’s Parents Show That They Love Her,” “Riley’s Family Moves to San Francisco,” “Riley Explores Her New House,” “Riley Has A Vivid Dream,” “Riley’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad First Day At Her New School,” and so on.
...she steals her mother’s credit card and tries to take a bus back to Minnesota.

When Marnie Was There

...concerns a twelve-year old girl that feels sorry for herself. She is trying to figure out her true identity and coming to terms with her self-worth.

Peter Chung, Sunday, 28 February 2016 20:50 (four years ago) link

eight months pass...

I watched the first 5 episodes of Westworld and it made me want to post on this thread.
Checking out the other discussion on ILX, as expected, there is a lot of discussion about the plot and characters. The "soap opera" fictional aspects.
WestWorld: ...Where nothing can possibly go worng!

I'm liking this series precisely for the fact that it is, for once, NOT driven by the "what happens next" strategy of engagement. It's actually a show that stays focused on its big ideas, themes, and a willingness to own up to its own artifice. It does a good job of being frank about the fact that its drama is all manufactured and manipulated, yet showing how the viewers of the show (us )are willing, like the "guests" in the simulation to be swept up in its fiction. It's a meta narrative about narrative. Like Blade Runner, it uses the idea of artificial people to bring virtual reality (virtual experience) into the physical world. And like any good story about virtual reality, it reminds us how much we define our own lives by self-imposed beliefs and arbitrary rules. So far, good stuff.

Peter Chung, Monday, 7 November 2016 02:21 (four years ago) link

The 6th episode, alas, faltered in a way that makes me doubtful. I may find myself bailing once again at them moment the fictional drama takes over.

The results of the election have made me feel strongly that we are living in a state of willing mass delusion.

An individual (whose name shall not be mentioned) has gone within the span of an evening, from the butt of comedians' stand-up jokes, to the most powerful man in the world. He is the same human being. The difference is only in the free act of will through which we agree to endow him with the power to command our lives. That kind of power exceeds anything from our comic book fantasies, yet it is entirely manufactured out of nothing more than mass consensus.

"The starships of the future, in other words the vehicles of the future, which will explore the high frontier of the unknown will be syntactical. The engineers of the future will be poets. This is what virtual reality holds out to us—the possibility of walking in to the constructs of the imagination. In a way culture is that." Terence McKenna on culture as virtual reality.

Peter Chung, Friday, 11 November 2016 10:12 (four years ago) link

Peter, I admit I don't really vibe with most of your opinions, but I'm still curious to hear them.

Nhex, Wednesday, 24 April 2019 02:40 (one year ago) link

As always, thanks for writing here, Peter.

I'll be sure to check out Amelia Gray. I'm starting an MFA program in fiction writing this fall, and am reading everything I can get my hands on (there's not enough time in the world).

Matt Rebholz, Friday, 26 April 2019 04:24 (one year ago) link

Within seconds of the opening shots of 'It' I tapped into a deep emotional engagement with the theme of child abduction. By the time Pennywise was revealed I went into a fit of almost hysterical crying. I viscerally felt that the clown was himself an abducted child. Made so very strange by the abuse and isolation. I don't think that the filmmakers intended this, but for me the actor playing Pennywise had a transcendent quality that triggered this connection for me.

Sam G, Sunday, 28 April 2019 11:45 (one year ago) link

After Avengers Endgame and Infinity War, I will give Joss Whedon major credit for figuring out what to do with that ridiculous cast of characters. Namely how to give each one his / her own special voice and inner life.

Peter Chung, Monday, 29 April 2019 11:40 (one year ago) link

Do you mean that you liked the recent two because Whedon set the characters up well, or that you liked the earlier ones and disliked these two (since Whedon was off)?

I liked Endgame a lot, was very much a snob against superhero movies until last year. I saw a few of the ones I'd missed in IMAX when they replayed them and said "eh ya know what...this experience is comparable to a Disney ride and that's fine".

J.P. McDevitt, Thursday, 2 May 2019 17:14 (one year ago) link

The last two Avengers movies squandered everything in my view. The last one especially seems to have forgotten who those characters were and what made them distinct from each other. To make family the ultimate goal of everyone - yawn.

Peter Chung, Friday, 3 May 2019 02:29 (one year ago) link

These last Avengers films surpass anything I could've hoped for as a child. The true impact that they will be having on kids right now.. I think its pretty interesting.

Human experience is a vast and mysterious thing, and we only have our own to go by. So I struggle with criticisms of how people engage with stories. I think its deeply interesting but so hard to really account for or know about - at least past a certain point.

I had a boss who's favorite film was Transformers 2. I thought that was kind of awesome.

Sam G, Monday, 6 May 2019 14:52 (one year ago) link

You can only make educated guesses about other's experiences, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. Isn't that what makes stories resonate with us in the first place?

I loved Colossal recently. Kaiju as a metaphor for abusive relationships. It spoke to me about the challenge of getting another person to empathize, and the ways that empathy can be used against us.

One of the saddest things I've ever watched is the clubroom scene in the middle of the Haruhi film, when Yuki offers a club membership to Kyon after he terrorizes and borderline-assaults her. In that moment I felt the depth of the character's loneliness. It stopped being the stock anime trope of the quiet girl and became something much more unsettling. I felt like the movie was an attack on reducing women to a pitiful state for the sake of male wish fulfillment.

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 18:44 (one year ago) link

My ten year old boy, like his classmates, all talk about the Avengers movies in detail. I try not to spoil the fun for him- he's 10.
Myself, I hope the impact will not matter for long.
It's a huge tide to resist, but mediocrity can't become normalized.

Peter Chung, Monday, 6 May 2019 19:10 (one year ago) link

That makes sense. At least with cineaste parents he'll get to be exposed to a wider range of pop culture.

Maybe something like Gegege no Kitaro would be age-appropriate? I've been following the new series, and liking it. It's definitely been tweaked to appeal to modern audiences, but I can see Shigeru Mizuki's heart in it.

(holy shit, Shigeru Mizuki... I could ramble on and on about his work. Instead I'll just tell everyone to go read Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths)

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 19:32 (one year ago) link

BTW, Peter, next time I'm in Tokyo I'll try to snag some volumes of Be Free!, since you and Adam Warren have spoken highly of it.

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 19:42 (one year ago) link

I grew up reading Marvel comics. Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Hulk.
I return to the opening post of this thread. Do the lives of fictional characters matter?
A fictional character exists in order to enable the experience of the story.
If they decide they'll kill off this one or that one this time, it can't be done in such an arbitrary way.
A character's fate must be intrinsic to the story's structure, because the narratives' meaning makes it necessary.
Watching Endgame is like watching a fantasy football match. This side wins this time, but it could just as easily have been the other team. Either way means nothing. Just a chance to cheer for your team.

Peter Chung, Monday, 6 May 2019 20:01 (one year ago) link

The old Marvel comics were great.

The last superhero movie I tried watching was Guardians Of The Galaxy, and it nearly put me to sleep. Maybe it was the arbitrariness you mention. I still don't know what the point of that film was. AFAICT, it seemed to be an appeal to nostalgia for something I've never experienced.

Blair Gilbreath, Monday, 6 May 2019 21:52 (one year ago) link

I've never been able to mourn the deaths of film characters, as in grieving for the loss of that person's life.
I can, however, think of two instances when the death of a character made me cry real tears.
These are both old works, but mild spoilers.
Osamu Dezaki's Dear Brother and the Stanley Donen/ Lerner-Loewe film of The Little Prince. In both cases, the tragedy consists of the precise context of the event.
I feel nothing at the end of Endgame when a major hero dies, just as I felt nothing at the end of Infinity War.
These aren't real people, and I don't understand why their "passing" is sad. It's a charade of unearned emotion.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 7 May 2019 17:45 (one year ago) link

The character isn't dying so much as the actor is dying. (contract termination as a kind of mortality)
We'll probably see all these characters again but not with that particular actor in it.

I haven't seen The Little Prince since childhood but what I remember is that Gene Wilder was in it and I don't think I could watch it the same way in that he was alive when I watched it last and now he's not.

I can't imagine any academic instruction doing it, but can you think of any that would broach how to deal with or control such extradiegetic resonances?

Philip Nunez, Tuesday, 7 May 2019 19:01 (one year ago) link

I suppose there could be an academic treatise or some cultural aesthetic theory on the topic, but like many academic pursuits, would serve only to be another useless PHD thesis from which no one will derive any real world value. Some subjective phenomena are better left to be dealt with in a spontaneous, imaginative way by the individual. The fact that Donen died recently is far more resonant with me, though I don't let that affect the experience of appreciating his work.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 9 May 2019 14:52 (one year ago) link

The thing about action movies, to me, is that they're kind of like a thrill ride or rock music even. Whether its The Matrix or Transformers 2, if your able to plug in to it, you can be elevated to a kind of ecstatic experience. Or you can find yourself unable to go along with it.

I still resonate deeply with the heroes journey, so that helps me plug in to an extent. Kung fu movies, Ninja Turtles movies.. I still feel the impact of these films from my childhood. They helped send me down a path that I am still very much engaged with. When films come along that manage to speak to me at this level its an awesome thing.

For better or worse it seems lots of people are still very much hopped up on the heroes journey. But that's a whole other discussion I guess.

Blair, my point was more about the problem of judging peoples levels of meaningful engagement with stories when we lack access to their experience.

Sam G, Saturday, 11 May 2019 18:06 (one year ago) link

Sam, I agree entirely with you on the point of sometimes wanting simply to be swept away by a well done traditional heroes journey.
Aquaman worked for me. It reinforces my view that it is not the story that is as important as the sensory experience of a movie. One sometimes finds deeper and unintended resonances in the most escapist films. Also I prefer Speed Racer to The Matrix. They both tell a similar story, but the lack of pretension in Speed Racer makes it feel more pure and sincere.

My favorite movies are often called pretentious by general audiences. But it is wrong to call a work pretentious that has lofty ambitions and succeeds in delivering them. To be pretentious means to make unwarranted claims.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 11 May 2019 20:42 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

I recently discovered this thread and I've been thinking a lot about it. I've noticed as I watch more anime that a lot of them have the same issue as Ghost In The Shell: they're directed in a confusing way to create an illusion of depth.
The recent anime short, Rick and Morty vs. Genocider, does this too. I was surprised to find fans generally like it, even though they've been struggling to figure out the plot. After a few watches, I think I understand what happened, but I had no emotional response to it except confusion.

Kelpie, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 16:42 (five months ago) link

Also, I agree that the concept of a purely objective morality, independent of the subjective experiences of the human condition, is nonsensical. If we had no subjective experiences like happiness and suffering, we could have no concept of good and evil. Even if we ground morality in God, we still ground them in God's subjective feelings, like love for mankind (we're assuming God's feelings are similar to our own.)

Kelpie, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 20:57 (five months ago) link

I disagree with that, but how do you see that having any negative implications on a narrative?
wouldn't an objective morality be much more interesting to contrast with our subjective one as a narrative conflict if we presume it exists?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 22:31 (five months ago) link

I'm not sure I follow. I think moral judgements involve both subjective and objective factors. Actually, all judgements do. Even math and science require a subjective human desire to know the truth. It doesn't necessarily make a difference in how moral decisions are handled in narratives, or in everyday life.

Kelpie, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 23:10 (five months ago) link

if you presume that all morality is subjective, then that eliminates a profound amount of tension in many kinds of stories.

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 23:31 (five months ago) link

I think moral judgements involve both subjective and objective factors. "Objective morality vs. subjective morality" is a false dichotomy to begin with.

Kelpie, Thursday, 6 August 2020 11:45 (five months ago) link

four weeks pass...

So, I've been reading about moral philosophy and I've found some people who seem to reject the objective vs. subjective dichotomy. The ones I really like are Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot. Their view of morality is like this: Morality is our term for the rational pursuit of happiness, in accordance with the particulars of psychology. As a human being, this is what you're constructed to do. You have no choice about your moral nature, only whether you perform it well or poorly. Human opinion does not determine moral principles, but human psychology does.

Kelpie, Saturday, 5 September 2020 01:06 (four months ago) link

"You have no choice about your moral nature, only whether you perform it well or poorly."
The problem with debates about morality is the that the term "morality" is being used to describe a vast range of factors and conflicting interests.
Your statement's meaning is ambiguous to the point where it could be saying too many different things.
I know that I've changed my moral position on a number of issues during my life. As you become more informed and more wise, your moral compass will shift.
One could argue that your moral nature is independent of how much you know, but you could just as well define moral nature as that which emerges in a way entirely dependent on what you know. A child with little life experience is not held to the same standard of morality as an adult.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 9 September 2020 20:50 (four months ago) link

Moral philosophy is the project of generalizing approaches to decision making with the purpose of maximizing the chances of optimal outcomes. It is a system of measuring the desirability of actions in the same way that the metric system is a tool for measuring physical properties. It is essentially a practical tool for everyday decision making. The problem arises when these guiding principles (generalizations) start to be viewed as having some innate value, as if they are cosmic rules that exist outside of human opinion. They do not. They exist because they are helpful and practical. That is all morals are.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 September 2020 10:12 (four months ago) link

It's possible to use rhetoric to justify any moral stance. Internal consistency is used as a standard for judging the validity of a moral position.
The "rational pursuit of happiness" sounds like a baseline value, but everyone's idea of what makes them happy is so varied that I wonder if it's really useful.

I've come to conclude that moral principles are, in fact, entirely explained as nothing more and nothing less than opinions. We decide what we want to call good and bad. We then use rhetoric to justify these opinions because we are taught to discount personal opinion as a sufficient basis for judgment.
It would be better to be honest and own up to the idea that people hold their opinions with high regard. The act of voting in a democratic election is driven by opinion. We accord opinion with the highest value when it comes to politics. Supreme court decisions are opinions.

Opinions can change. Philosophy exists to serve our opinions, not the other way around. Our opinions are primary.

It becomes a complex exercise because it quickly becomes meta. We hold the opinion that we want rational ideas of fairness to guide our moral decisions. But that desire for rationality is itself an opinion.

Peter Chung, Thursday, 10 September 2020 10:46 (four months ago) link


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