Archive | February, 2013

Everything at once

15 Feb

By Ayo

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*Stuart Immonen w/ Brian Bendis*

Last night I watched a bunch of episodes of the CW network’s evening drama Arrow which is based on the comic book hero Green Arrow.

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It wasn’t a great work of art but neither is Green Arrow as a comic book. What does distinguish it is that it is solidly entertaining. There is an overarching storyline for the entire series, a storyline that seems to comprise the season and an individual storyline or each given episode. Just like most other evening dramas. And not at all like most comic books. This isn’t rocket science but it is something novel in the comic book field: trust.

Trust that you have created an engaging premise with captivating characters. Trust your writers. Trust your art direction. And then don’t rely on cliffhangers to try and compel people to return to you. End the short term plots and slowly build up the long term, character-driven plots. It’s very basic, my friends. People don’t come back because your hero is in danger. We know he’ll live. So stop trying so hard to extract drama out of the immediate conflict and simply resolve the immediate conflict in the same episode. People come back because they like the hero and they like how he or she solves (or simply manages) problems. If you take six months to get to a resolution like comic book writers do, you lose readers. That’s because the readers lose sight of what is interesting.

Each unit of storytelling that is sold or released should give the audience a plot with a resolution AND the seeds for developing overarching plots. It’s not a secret. So stop writing comic books all wrong.

That goes for all of you.

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On HBO, there’s a show called Girls that you probably heard about. Some of the characters have storylines based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn which is where I live. It’s a pretty good show. Much more amorphous than many other modern television dramas are structured but much more interesting for the fact that this show eschews many of the tried and true formulas. Yet it clings to other formulas.

I’m not usually happy with the way sex is used in popular entertainment stories but the sex scenes in Girls are pretty shocking for how lived-in they feel. These aren’t sex scenes where the cameras cut to artful montages of knees and shoulder blades. The sex scenes are actual stories in themselves. With each participant wanting something from the sex and often with differing results.

Sex that is treated as a battle of sorts, something that can leave participants happy, empty, deluded or amused. It’s very rare to see sex depicted as the lively, continually-evolving part of a relationship that it factually is.

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Speaking of sex, here’s a page from Cable designed to appeal to women whose fetish is men who are literally half-automobile. By Ariel Olivetti.

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“You up against: Jesus Freaks, farming corporations and Young Republicans

2 Feb

Indelible NATO forces, hidden agenda, puppet governments.”

By Ayo

So I was—

“Walking down the street/to the hardcore beat—”

—and it occurred to me that one of the things that binds the cultural narrative of this society together is homogeny. We can talk about how the idea of a “melting pot” subtly implies the loss of individualism as the ingredients of the mixture melt and meld into one continuous mixture. But again, that’s implied in the name itself. What isn’t explained so often is the way in which the loss of discrete identity is harmful. Because the culturally dominant force doesn’t lose anything, the minority loses its identity; the minority dissipates into the melting pot just as a sliver of onion dissipates into a literal cooking pot.

As storytellers how do we push against that? Today’s lesson challenges the assumptions that we commonly hold about vantage point characters. Protagonists. The common mode is for a protagonist to be hollow. A default setting. The protagonist is generally the character who (in the context of that particular narrative) is closest to our cultural norms. The Everyman. Within the constraints of the story, the protagonist is The Most Normal within the cast. On a large scale, a cultural median is established and people are reminded of what their culture wishes for them to conform to. As the narrative advances, the protagonist’s normalcy (or relative normalcy) plays against the foils, and antagonists. There is a villainous force which seeks to disturb the social order represented by the protagonist. There are foils, characters who are generally share the protagonist’s goals but disagree on the details. There are the disinterested, characters who lay outside of the range of the narrative’s objectives and also are cast into relief against the protagonist’s goals. All the while, the protagonist is the median perspective.

No matter the story’s outcome, we are given little choice in how to perceive the world through that narrative’s lens: a protagonist designed to be inoffensive and median will always represent social norms and thus, remain passively hostile to cultural diversity. That is to say the fiction of the story will be hostile to real-world cultural diversity.

Every piece of media enforces an idea in a public’s mind. Whether they admit to it or not. This is why women and minorities instinctively know that they must seek greater representation in the arts and the media. Because being represented means having their perspective dealt with. This comes before being tolerated, accepted or embraced. This is just awareness.

Having different perspectives play out through characters is positive for a story and for the society from which the story is a part. But having those different perspectives come from the central actor in a narrative, the protagonist, does all of that while also rejecting the idea of self-normalcy. The hollow, easily accessible everyman protagonist is “me” in the narrative. But given specific traits and strengths and weaknesses, the “me,” becomes “that person.” But lest you worry that putting distance between the Generalized Protagonist and the audience makes for a colder experience, the simple fact of being a protagonist gives an audience an intimacy of character that we all seek in fiction. It’s more challenging to the reader but also more rewarding.

One of the primary effects of fiction is building and encouraging empathy. In order to do this effectively, storytellers must give the audience somewhere outside of themselves to “go.” Be aware of the generalized social standards and moral ideas of a society. And trust an audience enough to give them a character who isn’t perfect (or near-perfect). The audience wants to be challenged. They want to explore. Take them on a journey. Little by little, story by story, storytellers can nudge the world toward a different place: where diversity isn’t melted and absorbed into a larger whole but rather a place that is inclusive yet appreciates life’s textures.

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