Thoughts on Fiction

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Yes, there’s a necessary level to good narrative that allows the participation of the viewer in determining meaning, even beyond interpretation.

I have a lot of thoughts about what the horse signifies in a larger cultural sense, and it’s the role of a chosen symbolism to provide a certain open-endedness if a work is to prove itself of any real value in th obscure traffic of time.

Derdekeas, Tuesday, 17 July 2018 22:55 (two years ago) link

three weeks pass...

I came across this today and it has been bothering me. Apparently it has been sweeping awards and earning raves.

http://escapepod.org/2012/05/17/ep345-the-paper-menagerie/

It's a succinct example of everything wrong with current audiences. I mostly blame the public for swallowing this nonsense, though I detect a fair willingness to pander on the writer's part.
As an Asian American, I will say I find this kind of thing supremely facile and tedious. Sorry.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 8 August 2018 05:03 (two years ago) link

I suppose if I were to write a story about my Bollenhut-wearing German immigant mom whose cuckoo clock golems I snidely rejected, I wouldn't win quite as many awards.

oder doch?, Wednesday, 8 August 2018 11:00 (two years ago) link

I think I must have read this before instead of finishing the Three Body Problem, which the author translated, but I didn't remember much of it. It strikes me as being more in the mode of a fable rather than SF/Fantasy. What were you expecting from it?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 8 August 2018 16:16 (two years ago) link

It's all here. Literal-minded, didactic, with a hefty dose of narcissistic fixation with identity.
Whatever emotional charge to be gotten is simply delivered in the most expository language possible. Nothing to infer, therefore no emotion to arise from within.
There is not even the effort to write the mother's letter in words that are believable as her voice. Everyone knows what a mother's letter reads like, and it is not this.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 8 August 2018 17:16 (two years ago) link

Would you say the author's error was in delineating too much or too little?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 8 August 2018 17:30 (two years ago) link

I'm sorry I gave this more time and exposure than it warrants. I don't care about this story, but it's the general shift of the audience's mindset that is troubling.

To clear away the bad taste, I will give a push for something worth your time.
I rewatched Patrice Leconte's 1989 film Monsieur Hire a few days ago.
As good as I remembered, and I found a new clip I will be using in class next semester.

I remember watching Ex Machina and thinking Leconte's film did it better. Confirmed.

Peter Chung, Wednesday, 8 August 2018 17:42 (two years ago) link

Do you feel like this is a shift mainly in un-discerning audiences, or do you think it's global?

Philip Nunez, Wednesday, 8 August 2018 18:20 (two years ago) link

eight months pass...

"Do you feel like this is a shift mainly in un-discerning audiences, or do you think it's global?"

Both. Global audiences are becoming un-discerning. It is the increasing pace at which media is consumed. There is so much scripted content available and it is becoming blunter, less nuanced, more simplistic.
It's literal-mindedness, which I realize now to be a symptom of cultural infantilization.
It is not the stories, but the artless manner in which they are being told. Everything is shaped by an underlying fear- a very unhealthy fear that the audience might not understand, and therefore must have everything spelled out for them.
For people working in TV (as I am currently), there is often the view that "sure, it would be better if we could get by with less explaining, but if we do explain, what's the harm?"
For me, the harm is real, and it is insidious. It is nothing less than a theft of what should be the rights of the audience.

Peter Chung, Saturday, 20 April 2019 17:05 (two years ago) link

"Often, films challenge morals: what is right, what is wrong, and what happens when you pick a side. There are times, however, when nothing is resolved yet the question lingers throughout the film. This is the baffling case of The Cold Lands, an inferior case study on doing the right thing."

https://screenanarchy.com/2014/03/review-the-cold-lands.html

Really enjoyed The Cold Lands, BTW.

Blair Gilbreath, Saturday, 20 April 2019 20:00 (two years ago) link

It gets more butts in seats if everyone can understand and share in the same understanding, especially when you're selling to a global market. It's a huge problem.

OTOH, I saw The Missing Pieces (the add-on film/collection of deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me) recently. A lot of it is extraneous material that I'm fine with snipping out, but everything in the room above the convenience store is amazing and really helps to contextualize the rest of the film. It's still a great movie, but I wonder if it would've been better received if those scenes hadn't been edited so brutally. It's a rare case of too much information being left out.

Blair Gilbreath, Saturday, 20 April 2019 20:26 (two years ago) link

I am dealing daily with the push and pull between the demands of commercial programming and my hope to promote an optimal viewer experience.
I can observe from the process and the public response, a vindication of clarity (obviousness) over true viewer engagement.

At Cartoon Network, showrunners are discouraged from building their shows on long arcs that require the viewer to track relationships and plot details in favor of self-contained episodes.
The reasoning, of course, is that one limits viewership as casual viewers will not be able to jump in on a series midway without being lost - and bored. Accessibility.

This perceived dichotomy / dilemma is due to the mistaken belief in story as the primary focus of viewer interest. I have tried to watch a portion of Steven Universe recently and could not get enough of a grip. If you don't know the plot so far, it is unwatchable, as so much of the information is given through exposition rather than through contextual means. The truth is that you can manage to devise a manner of engaging the viewer, the details of plot become unimportant, or better yet, appreciable through contextual clues. It is the manner of engagement, not the particulars of plot that are always the true reason why viewers seek the viewing experience. There exist shows that can be enjoyed without any prior knowledge, and that is all the proof you need.

Producers always get this relationship between the viewing experience and the story backwards. They think the story is the attraction and that the pleasure of viewing is the bonus. It's the other way around.

Peter Chung, Monday, 22 April 2019 04:24 (two years ago) link

<i>Steven Universe</i> is extremely lore-heavy and 160 episodes in at this point, in its defense. The first season or two were very easy to watch without context. As the audience was built they got more confident with the serialization; same thing applied to <i>Adventure Time</i>. My guess is that CN gave them more rope after acquiring ratings success?

Nhex, Monday, 22 April 2019 04:35 (two years ago) link

I understand that it is lore-heavy, but to allow that to excuse the show being unwatchable to novice viewers is to admit that the show lacks interest apart from its story (lore).
That is exactly what I am complaining about.
In the case of Adventure Time, I find later episodes engaging in spite of my not knowing the context. Still too much expository talk, but watchable.

Peter Chung, Monday, 22 April 2019 05:58 (two years ago) link

Ha, you should see the how rabid online fanbases for SU treat it. I love the standalone episodes just as well, but the diehards clamor for more "main storyline" episodes like you wouldn't believe.

Nhex, Monday, 22 April 2019 14:25 (two years ago) link

That is what I have noticed, and it's what prompted me to post. I'm currently at Cartoon Network, and have gotten to know Rebecca a little. Lovely person, dedicated and very talented. And I have seen the fan obsession up close.

Peter Chung, Monday, 22 April 2019 17:31 (two years ago) link

Way above, I remembered there was this comment from Sam G.
"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?"

Artists have to set their own standards for what they are or are not willing to do in order to achieve their desired results. I have to maintain that certain lines ought to be observed. When I view the works of other artists, there occur moments when I recoil if they have pushed too far. Didacticism, cynicism, narcissism, sentimentalism are hazards of the trade and must be spurned. For me, as I keep saying, exposition is the enemy of meaningful engagement. It robs the audience of their own powers and pleasures of discovery.

Peter Chung, Monday, 22 April 2019 18:07 (two years ago) link

Again, I've taken to using this thread as an ongoing journal of observations on creative practice. I try to be honest and maybe sometimes it will come off as harsh. At least this isn't Twitter.

Peter Chung, Monday, 22 April 2019 18:22 (two years ago) link

I love reading this thread, fwiw.

Lil' Brexit (Tracer Hand), Monday, 22 April 2019 19:59 (two years ago) link

yeah this is a v good thread. i had an identical experience to PC w stephenson's the diamond age-- abandoned it in a weird kind of despair.

difficult listening hour, Monday, 22 April 2019 20:03 (two years ago) link

I remember liking Leconte's "Ridicule". I'll have to watch Monsieur Hire sometime.

Lately I've been into Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Syndromes and a Century is one of my favorite viewing experiences and I couldn't even tell you why. It's just... hypnotizing!

Blair Gilbreath, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 08:39 (two years ago) link

If there are readers regularly viewing the entries here, I may start posting more detailed posts, or start a new thread on lessons from my directing course. I could go into a lot more detail including posting the clips I use in class. The clip from Mr. Hire is too good not to share.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 11:26 (two years ago) link

yes please, it's a great thread

ogmor, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 11:33 (two years ago) link

I always ask my students if they can name instances when they were watching something, movie or TV show, when they got turned off because some message was being pushed too hard or they rolled their eyes because of cheap attempts to tearjerk. Everyone has their own tolerance level, and I often hear from a peer or student of a scene that they found deeply moving which I found intolerably maudlin.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:13 (two years ago) link

I'll go first: every time in a movie when the main character dies, we get a phony eulogizing moment of silence, then- miracle! - they come back to life. Disney, Pixar, superhero movies, JJ Abrams: just knock it off.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:18 (two years ago) link

Dreamworks' Rise of the Guardians- When the last boy who believes in Santa Claus sees Jack Frost in his bedroom.
Contact- Jodie Foster walking on the beach with her dead father. (the whole movie, actually)
Iron Giant - Hogarth says "I love you" to Vin Diesel. Obligatory, since IG is a remake of ET, and there is the line "ET, I love you." If memory serves, haven't seen it in forever.
The opening flashback in UP. Yes, your wife died after a long and happy marriage. People die when they get old. So?

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:26 (two years ago) link

Looper. I stopped watching when Bruce Willis' Chinese wife is introduced and we get that she's beautiful, charming and innocent. Of course, she's going to die in the next couple of minutes. It happened sooner than I anticipated.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:32 (two years ago) link

If there are readers regularly viewing the entries here

We're out here

but everybody calls me, (lukas), Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:33 (two years ago) link

"I love you" always does the trick. I hear those words and I check out.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 12:42 (two years ago) link

If a director can't or won't bother to get me to understand viscerally and intuitively that A loves B without having to tell me, then what the hell is he doing? And if I got that already, then by stating it, you've just ruined my carefully realized emotion. You've explained the joke. You've robbed my chance for feeling.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 13:10 (two years ago) link

When the first talking episode of AF aired, many viewers were disappointed who had liked the silent shorts. When Aeon says "I'm here on a mission to assassinate Trevor Goodchild." , they felt it was ruined. Why are you explaining? It was meant as fake exposition- everything they say should not be trusted. But looking back, I can see it was trying to be too clever for our own good. For that first episode, it backfired.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 16:43 (two years ago) link

No more gripes, complaints about crappy TV writing.

Here's a real writer worth your time.
http://ameliagray.com/

Fantastic stuff.
Will say more later.

Peter Chung, Tuesday, 23 April 2019 17:17 (two 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years 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 (two years ago) link


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