August 14, 2014 · 12:44 am
The Sorting Hat has run off with the Scarf of Sexual Preference, so we’re just going to put everyone who looks like a good guy into Gryffindor and everyone who looks like a bad guy into Slytherin.
–A Very Potter Musical Act I
I admit it—even though I’m not a self-described Harry Potter fanatic, it did capture my heart when I was younger and yes, I did create a self-indulgent fantastical scenario in my head and a little bit on paper where my friends and I went to study at Hogwarts. Frankly, I wouldn’t have lasted a day among the moving staircases and giant spiders (then again, having lived in Australia, maybe I’d just take such things in stride), but it was still fun. There was, of course, the big, crucial question of what house I’d end up in, as there somehow often is when it comes to fantastical or sci-fi series aimed at young people. I grabbed at straws and decided I was bookish and got good grades so I stuck myself in Ravenclaw.
Thinking about it now, I value my sense of loyalty over my smarts, so I’d be more of a Hufflepuff person, but they always kind of seemed like The Other Ones among the much more majestic houses, even when they did give us the occasional major character. Their emblem is a badger, for heaven’s sake. Lion? Badger? Weigh it up. Hell, even a snake is cooler, and those are the bad guys. Well, technically if you’re in Slytherin all it means is that your dominant trait is your cunning, but that’s the trouble with putting characters into groups, isn’t it? We come to associate them and their ilk with certain connotations.
To be fair, Slytherin also favours pureblooded wizards, so by extension they’re also all a bunch of racists. That can’t be true for every member of the house, though. What if you’re a cunning, self-serving little dude who’s also smart and brave? Would the Sorting Hat freeze up? Surely there have been Divergent style Hogwarts students who haven’t fit neatly into one house because they have more than one outgoing attribute, or students that have wanted to transfer halfway through because their personality changes and develops as they mature into young adults? Shock and horror, YA characters not fitting into boxes. Usually it’s cause for revolution, but not always, but either way it’s an interesting trend to look at in media aimed at young-uns. Continue reading →
February 20, 2014 · 12:29 am
“You see this? The author’s going to geek out about this for the next 1k words”
“But it’s magic. The entire point is it doesn’t have to make sense!” This is the logic of my sister’s counter-argument after we saw Frozen a few weeks ago, where I came to realise that not everyone who goes to see movies does so with their literary analysis brain switched on. Some people don’t even have literary analysis brains, and don’t think deeply and examine and obsess over most things they watch or read. Good lord, how do they do it? That’s beside the point. My argument was that the magic in the movie didn’t make sense, which was met with the perfectly valid rebuttal that well, magic is unrealistic as a matter of course, it being magic. Yet is that the way it should be thought of? I say no.
If what we call magic was real, it would just be another science. In the fictional worlds it functions in it’s perfectly accepted by those who know about it as part of the natural world, thus it should work with at least a set of vaguely scientific rules. Yes, we’re already expected to suspend our disbelief to enjoy a story where people can be turned into frogs, but that should only go so far. Magic without rules is random and unpredictable and therefore any plot point it has anything to do with will feel like it’s been pulled out of the writer’s behind. It’s also pretty boring. If your magic can do anything, where’s the tension?
Magic in a story makes things awesome but it should also make things scary, suspenseful and you know, everything that makes a story. Most people who offer advice on this kind of thing recommend that magic creates more problems than it solves, otherwise it just becomes a fix-all solution and there’s no question of how things are going to end since you know the wizard’s going to snap his fingers and set everything right. Magic with thought-out rules, however convoluted or simple they are, is what really makes things interesting. For example… Continue reading →
January 9, 2014 · 12:05 am
‘Geek chorus’ being like a ‘Greek chorus’ in that it’s a character or set of characters that is there for aside glances to the audience. I kinda like that phrasing. Can I patent it?
Everyone wants to see themselves in the fiction they consume, and people get a buzz when they do. Relating strongly to a character warms a certain little compartment of the heart and can make a reader or viewer feel at home, which is why wide representation is so important and also why we often end up with these weird and cringe-worthy cut-out ‘geek’ or ‘book loving’ heroes that fans are meant to empathise with.
Because writers/showrunners/creators of fictional things for mass consumption are acutely aware of the cockles-warming nature of relatable heroes it’s understandable they jump on this and try to create one that will connect with their audience, who they think they also acutely know. This can go one of two ways and, I’m afraid to say, does not always end well. The internet has given rise to a new generation of TV writer, for example, that is able to have much more contact with and a better look at the people consuming their shows, whether it’s through chatting with them on Twitter or delving into the fandom circles of journals and blog sites or even, dare they, the world of fan works like art and writing. This exposure can give them an idea of the kind of people that are fans of their series, and that can spark inspiration for a character, be they a cameo or the hero of a new venture, that the audience is sure to see themselves in.
Here’s the thing: while this is ultimately well-meaning (most of the time?), representation of geek culture in media is a world of hits and misses. One only needs to look at the horror that is The Big Bang theory to know that this is how the enthusiastic and nerdy are best perceived on TV. To be fair, they have their fun with pop culture references and there are probably elements of the characters that viewers can see themselves in or be sympathetic with, but for the most part the show stars a pile of stereotypical caricatures with story driven by making fun of fans while masquerading as being relatable to them. Do you see why that’s a problem? Continue reading →
August 8, 2013 · 12:16 am
In fictional worlds of boundless possibility and imagination, why are they so often riddled with the prejudices of the real one?
Fantasy and science fiction have a serious problem where it comes to equal representation… which, from my humble point of view, is offensive first of all but mostly just bizarre. I mean, the definition of fantasy is that anything is possible, and science fiction shows us a world that we can strive towards in the future. So why are we so limited to the thought processes of the modern (and the not-so-modern) world?
The most obvious example of this is that fantasy worlds are commonly very, very white. This is a topic of much discussion all over the Intertubes and beyond, and a pretty prickly issue. It’s also really weird if you think about it. If the world itself is completely made up, you can do whatever you wish with it. You can have floating mountains and creatures with six heads and people turning each other into frogs. Your main characters could live in a world covered in volcanoes or hanging over the cliff to different portals of existence, your fantasy landscape designed with any level of implausible ridiculousness in mind. The same goes for the people who populate it… yet most of them seem to look overtly European.
Well, there is some solid reasoning behind this: first of all, if you make your world and its populace too bizarre it won’t be relatable and it will be more difficult for your audience to connect with, whether through a question of empathy or just them going “This is silly” and tossing the book aside. This, and a combination of the infinite inspiration lying wait in history, leads to the Fantasy Counterpart Culture, fantastical or alien civilisations with traits we can recognise in societies that exist or have existed in the real world.
The most common example is the fantasy landscape based on Medieval Europe. This is basically Tolkien’s doing, when it comes down to it, seeing as The Lord of the Rings and company were the first books to really make the fantasy genre cool, and thus authors that followed have looked to their master for example. The fantasy archetypes that we’re comfortably and stereotypically used to all come from Tolkien, from the landscape to the Orcs to the armour to the big dangerous faceless force of evil.
And that’s okay. Let it never be said that The Lord of the Rings isn’t amazing. However, with everyone following Tolkien’s archetype we’ve ended up with a market swamped in Europe-esque fantasy worlds, leaving things suspended in a rather absurdly Caucasian persuasion. Continue reading →
Filed under Fun with Isms
Tagged as A Song of Ice and Fire, Avatar, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Earthsea, fantasy, Firefly, Game of Thrones, J.R.R Tolkein, media representation, racism, science fiction, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Ursula Le Guinn
October 4, 2012 · 2:53 am
So since last time I talked about some of my favourite villains, I thought I’d dedicate this post to some of my other favourite characters who aren’t total assholes. Looking through my list, however, I discovered that not one person on there was without flaw or shade of darkness in any form, and I decided that perhaps devoting a post simply to “good” characters would be too blasé.
I mean, where’s the depth and intrigue? I would rather talk about something I noticed while reviewing my favourite fictional persons, which is that a lot of them seem to change a lot over the course of their respective stories. So maybe I’m interested less in their characters and more in their character development.
This is something that is so very, very good when done well and so very, very sad when… not. Some writers are just flat-out afraid to change the mould of their characters, maybe, I don’t know, in fear of an audience’s negative reaction to the “new” them? But that’s what people do, they grow and change, especially when faced with epic adventures and other, you know, life-changing stuff that fiction often throws unceremoniously into the faces of its patrons. And it’s always a gradual process; change of character cannot simply happen overnight and be chucked to the audience.
So this is a post dedicated to some of my favourite characters, not necessarily all good but all interesting, and all the product of well-done character development. Continue reading →
September 27, 2012 · 6:00 am
There’s just something infinitely interesting about evil.
Heroes are all well and good, but let’s face it, if they are merely heroes (and not anti-heroes existing in a story of skewed morality or reformed villains themselves) their one layer of goodie goodness can appear a bit flat. They may be the most lovable, honourable character to ever set foot upon a page, but that doesn’t make them intriguing. Also, the story will often be told either from their own perspective or centring around their workings. The bad guy looms on the edge as a menacing shadow. They’re a mystery.
And people love mysteries.
Like, why is this guy such an asshole? Was he/she made this way by some trauma of their childhood? Or is he/she merely inherently evil? What inspired them to want to take over the universe and/or cause the general unhappiness of other people? Or are they just an unthinking agent of chaos? Or perhaps an Eldritch Abomination?
Continue reading →
Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings
Tagged as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Black Butler, books, entertainment, film, Harry Potter, Kuroshitsuji, Loki, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Portal, Portal 2, The Avengers, The Phantom of the Opera, villains
August 30, 2012 · 6:00 am
It’s an experience we’ve all had: sitting down to enjoy a few hours of G-rated fun with friends or family, and then bam — you find yourself staring at the screen with your mouth agape, and this cry seeps from your slackened jaw:
“How is this in a kid’s movie?!”
Take DreamWorks’ Shark Tale: the plot kicks off when a car wash employee is left to die by mafia hitmen when he loses the money he owes them on a horse race. He then witnesses the accidental death of the mafia boss’ son and claims fame for it, leading us into a story of greed, fame, violence, revenge, kidnapping, a tense and emotional love triangle, and the internal struggle of a shark who wants to be a vegetarian. (minus the last bits, that sounds like the freaking intro to Chicago!)
The mafia, and gambling. In a children’s film. Granted, the mafia are sharks and the hitmen are jellyfish (and the racehorse was a seahorse, badum tss) but the point remains. Continue reading →
Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings
Tagged as Avatar: The Last Airbender, Bambi, Bridge to Terabithia, children, Disney, DreamWorks, entertainment, film, Legend of Korra, Nickelodeon, Shark Tale, The Lion King
August 23, 2012 · 6:00 am
A fan’s train of thought takes a certain journey when it is announced that a favourite work of theirs is getting a movie of it. First, it sets off at a happy chug down the track of excitement and joy. At last, your adored series or book has gotten the recognition it deserves and the awesomeness it contains shall be displayed upon the silver screen to be embraced by a wider audience! You’re going to see all those great scenes come to life, those characters you love become three-dimensional in front of you, and the world and setting be mapped out visually in all their splendour.
And then with a clunk the track shifts and the course diverts — what if they screw it up? What if they leave out important bits? What if the characters don’t appear like you had them in your head? What if it gains a less cultured movie-going fanbase who don’t appreciate the intricacies of the book? The horror!
Note: I have never had that final worry, but for many it’s a legitimate fear. (Just look at all the Hunger Games fans weeping over the newcomers who have only seen the movie and have no idea who Madge is.)
We’re seeing a lot of adaptations lately. I dare not suggest that Hollywood are running out of ideas, and lean instead towards the possibility that many good books are simply being recognised as just that, and so the story is lifted from the page to become a good movie.
Hopefully. Continue reading →
Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings
Tagged as adaptations, atla, Avatar: The Last Airbender, books, City of Bones, Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, Jennifer Lawrence, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, movies, The Great Gatsby, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments