Category: Story Pile

Here’s where you’ll find the blog entries that are about examining – specifically – TV, movies, and other forms of participatory media that interest me. This is the space you’re going to find talk of characters in TV shows, or specific moments in greater narratives, or why you might want to watch a particular show or why I love – or hate! – a particular movie.

Story Pile: Batman V Superman

I don’t need to talk to you about this movie. General wisdom is that this movie is bad and you have a bunch of different sources giving you different reasons for it to be bad, and there’s even a comprehensive, thoroughly done, four hour long video essay breaking down a whole host of the problems I had with it.

Honestly, if you’re into movie criticism it’s a very engaging, thoughtful and thorough examination of the movie’s failings, complete with a very reasonable perspective on Zack Snyder’s work, and a recognition of some of the movie’s virtues.

That’s if you want to go look into the movie. It seems pretty unnecessary though.

What’s interesting to me, though is the people who love this movie.

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Story Pile: Rounders

I normally try to set April aside to talk indulgently about stuff I really like, because it’s the month with my birthday in it. You know, a theme is as good as any other theme. I haven’t really done that this month, like I didn’t dig down to make an ostensible show of picking out five of my absolute favourites I wanted to babble about self-indulgently. Still, this is the last Story Pile for April, so why not.

Let’s talk about a movie that I freaking love.

It’s also kinda bad. Continue reading

Story Pile: Altered Carbon

When you get down to it, Altered Carbon is a series that doesn’t so much need recommendations as much as it needs content warnings. Up front, the series features gender, race, and general body dysphoria (being in a body that’s ‘very wrong’), graphic torture, death, murder for pleasure, torture for pleasure, sex workers, sex worker abuse, sex worker marginalisation, realistic and sympathetic AI death, sensory overload, sensory deprivation, descriptions of nightmares, depictions of trauma, hetero bonking, consent-comprimised hetero bonking, nudity, violent nudity, cutting and –

Good grief, what isn’t in this series.

I feel a bit bad about this because the avalanche of things to warn people about in this show are all reasonable things. It paints the picture of this series as gaudily, grindingly nasty and full of vile indulgence. It’s not like that, I promise – it’s more that the series has such a breadth of nasty things it deals with that to have one leap out of you in the story as a surprise is like finding a razor blade in your ice cream. It’s not only unexpected it’s also extremely bad if you weren’t expecting it. The emotional punch is all there, I just don’t want people going into this series blind, especially since, for all of its content warnings, I really liked Altered Carbon.

I’m not going to talk about the greater universe of the story, though, I’m not going to run down the plot or its themes or its meanings. The story is a neon noir cyberpunk dystopia that uses income inequality as its most intense theme, its central character is a jerk, and it weaves together his history and his present. That’s all good and I might talk about them another time, but instead, we’re going to talk about one thing.

We’re going to talk about Poe.

Don’t worry, we’re also not going to spoil the plot!

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Story Pile: The Zombie Apocalypse Of The Author

I’ve written about the idea of ‘the death of the author,’ but to crash course it: The concept of death of the author is the idea that the interpretation of a story is about the person doing the interpretation, not about the person who made it. That is, there is no ‘author’ who can be said to truly represent what the story means in any and all circumstances. There’s a lot more to it, but it’s mostly cigarettes and sadness. That’s your basics:

The Death of the Author is the idea that the Author does not have exclusive rights to define interpretations of their work

This is a great idea and its most obvious modern application is fanfic and fan media. The story says Snape is an ugly snooty jerk, but that doesn’t matter, because you read the book and your interpretation involves no such thing, and the image of these characters interacting in your mind is perfectly valid. You don’t get marks for how the story works in your head, nobody’s grading you. If other people can grasp what you’re expressing when you share it, then that’s all that matters.

The thing is, thanks to Twitter and the Web 2.0 era of produsage, one of the groups of people getting involved in further creating fanfiction for these works and they are most annoyingly, the original authors.

Thanks to the unprecedented access we have to authors these days, we have a whole host of authors who are actively and aggressively attempting to insert into their own texts things they didn’t bother to try and put there the first time around. I’ll always kick at the Harry Potter franchises for any reason, but specific way that Rowling has claimed that Dumbledore is gay will always bother me. This has recently come to a head – again – with the upcoming Fantastic Beasts 2 movie that wants to have Young Dumbledore but also is ensuring to absolutely not show any of that icky gayness that the story isn’t about at all.

What this means is that any given reading of the text, these days, is not taken as a reading, with people willing to examine it, but as with all things in nerd cultures, we bury it under the toxic intention to prove it. Work must be tested or verified to be acceptable, interpretations must be justified to our satisfaction, and thanks to the availablility of certain authors, and their willingness to pontificate on what their work really means, we are now facing Zombie Authorship.

The author lies not still in their grave but shifts and moves, ever tumultuous in their position, expanding the work a tweet at a time – Werewolves are AIDS, the nudity is justified, you will e’re love the story for its manifold purpose. Tarantino, Martin, Rowling, Kojima, they each inflate their work not for its art but to remain alive a word more, to continue, to consume.And so the zombie slough flows over us all, and we do not engage with or interpret or study art, but we see it all as grey slurry that washes over us. The nerd cries out, be canonised, be purified, be true, and our eyes grow dull and dull and dull.

As for the Death of the Author, the sad thing is it contains within its own explanation; we bring out experiences to bear interpreting work.

The act of creating the work is one of those experiences.

Story Pile: Kakegurui

It’s not often people approach me and suggest anime to me. I’m pretty fidgety about anime these days, because I watch it subbed (for no reason I can adequately explain) and I don’t like watching TV shows I can’t watch while I work on other things. Still, it was in Netflix, it was easy to get, and what they hey, it looked kinda interesting so let’s check out this anime.

It opens with a character losing a poker hand based on an Amazing Hand, which is a huge red flag for me about people not knowing how poker works. This was not an auspicious beginning for a series that I later heard described as Death Note For Money.

Anyway, I quite liked Kakegurui.

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Story Pile: The Good Place, Season 1

Let’s not talk about spoilers.

The premise of The Good Place is a pretty good one, a robust hook they serve at you in the first episode. We’re introduced to the character of Eleanor Shellstrop, as she comes to consciousness in an afterlife, which the story then underscores is not ‘Heaven.’ It is, to simplify, ‘The Good Place.’ The drama of the narrative comes then from her revealing, in private, to her first potential friend, that she isn’t the person they think she is, and that she doesn’t belong there.

That’s our basic premise, and it’s a strong hook. Rather than a whacky situation comedy, where there’s this good scenario and the story repeatedly dumps into this status quo a new strange setup, and the story refreshes around it, you get a really interesting story that’s also very funny that builds on the premise of the story established in this opening. It’s strongly continuity-driven, and that means that you aren’t really tuning in for an episode as much as you are tuning in for a few at a time.

It’s a good show to watch all of over the course of a weekend, that kinda thing. Good quality Netflix Content.

And I don’t want to talk about what happens in it. I want to talk about a joke. Continue reading

Story Pile: Sonic Boom

What right did this series, this series of all things, did this series, have to kick ass?

Sonic Boom is a tv series made up of ten minute shorts based around the adventures of a hedgehog named Sonic, his enemy Dr Eggman and his friends, Knuckles, Tails, Amy, and Sticks, and a host of other characters. And from there… what is it?

Let’s talk, real quick, and by that I mean the bulk of this article is going to be about it, about intertextuality.

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Story Pile: Shadow The Hedgehog is Queerness

In music theory there’s this understood idea that brasses sound heroic and powerful, and strings sound gentle and feminine, a theory reinforced by years of musicology in theatre. What happened is when movies were new, and attaching music to characters in a particular way moved out of the Musical and into just telling stories, a sort of language of music got started.

We already had it that brass music sounded powerful and forceful and heroic – something that John Phillip Sousa sort of ran into the ground as a theme. By comparison, strings sounded delicate and Not Like Brass, so the formed an obvious counterpart for the fragile and the frail. Then over several thousand movies and repeated use of these two ideas in movies where boys were strong and girls were objects, we wound up where we are now, where despite never actually being true, horns ‘sound masculine’ and strings ‘sound feminine.’

I mean, think about this: What’s the Superman theme sound like?

Anyway, this means that when we reach back into earlier, pre-movie theatrics, though, we still now see that same coding. The association with the music extends beyond the media it’s in. Now, marches that predate movies are seen as ‘masculine’ because the movie comes with them. This is the power of the archetype, where when you’re seen as relating to a thing, it doesn’t really matter what you are doing, because it’ll all be seen in relationship to the archetype.

What does this have to do with Sonic The Hedgehog?

Shut up I’m getting there.

The point is, movies wound up this way because they were being slowly but steadily built for bigger and bigger markets. The more people you want to get involved, the more you lean on those archetypes, on a frame of reference. Brassy heroic music is, archetypally, masculine, and so, when you want to signal a masculine dude, you use brassy heroic music. This means that lots of this media is full of signals that are more about telling you A Thing Is A Way It Is Because It Is The Way It Is. An archetype is, basically, lots of reinforcing, circular story stuff. It doesn’t have meaning of itself – it’s just a way of signalling a thing should be sort of like these other things.

And now we get to Sonic The Hedgehog, the media franchise. We’re not talking about the game character – Sonic doesn’t really belong to games any more. When you’re talking about cultural impact, Sonic’s been in twenty five years of comics, three manga series, six books, and five television series, with a live-action CGI movie in the works being financed by a man who’s also repsonsible for the XXX and Fast and the Furious franchise. Sonic is a transmedia property, and matters more as being Sonic than he matters as a game entity. And despite all of this, this enormous spread of media representation, when you go looking for an answer to the question who is Sonic the Hedgehog you don’t find anything, really.

You get an archetype.

But that archetype gives us structure – and that gives us a place to look at the Sonic the Hedgeverse.

What then, is Sonic? What archetypally remains around this character? Well, he’s a Cool Hero. He’s edgy, in a very generic, mid-90s kind of way, in that he thumbs his nose at authority, he likes speed and going fast and doens’t like rules, man, but at the same time you know he’ll never blow off something that matters because that plays against being a hero, so what you’re left with is this character who is simultaneously unreliable but also very reliable. This is reflected in Sonic’s writeup on Wikipedia, composed of multiple sources, saying that Sonic is

…”like the wind”: a drifter who lives as he wants, and makes life a series of events and adventures. Sonic hates oppression and staunchly defends freedom. Although he is mostly quick-witted and easygoing, he has a short temper and is often impatient with slower things. Sonic is a habitual daredevil hedgehog who is honest, loyal to friends, keeps his promises, and dislikes tears. In times of crisis, he focuses intensely on the challenge as if his personality had undergone an astonishing change.

If you sit down and cross out those sentences that mean nothing like ‘makes life a series of events,’ you’re left with a loose drifter without any fixed goal who is a staunch defender of freedom who always stands by his friends, easygoing until he doesn’t have to be, patient unless he’s not and is like the wind except he also always keeps his promises. In essence, there’s nothing there, but despite that you can still say you know something of who Sonic is. It’s even there in his visual coding – red, white and blue. Sonic is a Bold Hero Guy.

Once he’s the Bold Hero guy, everything else kinda falls around him. Tails becomes the Sidekick Boy, who has to be smaller and worse at everything than Protagonist Guy by default, so he can be rescued but also so he has some reason to aspire to being like Protagonist Guy. He can be sweet and kind (which aren’t edgy and cool), and he’s probably a tiny bit more femme than Protagonist Guy, in the vein of the nerdy friend. Tails fits this archetype pretty easily – he’s better than Sonic at machines, which builds in that ‘nerdy friend’ slot.

You can play this outwards; Knuckles is the voice of authority, with his stable position and opposition to Sonic because Sonic isn’t following the rules. There’s Amy Rose, the Good Girl who hangs around him and has an interest in him (which shows he’s desireable), but for some reason he never has to commit or dismiss this – Amy will want him regardless of what a doofus he is and she will usually be at fault for any discomfort he experiences. Rouge introduces a sexy other to Amy, again, a reflection of an image of Sonic, and then, finally… we get Shadow.

Note that up until now, none of the other major characters (Sorry, Big) introduced have been like Sonic. They’ve been explicitly unlike him – Shadow is the first opposite to Sonic (unless you count 1994’s Anti-Sonic The Hedgehog, which we don’t, and he didn’t come back as Scourge the hedgehog until 2011, well after Shadow’s appearance so don’t @ me). And when you’re dealing with archetypes, there is an identity that exists for the characters in movies and TV series like this. The place for a character who is the same type but not the same way. He is coded cool, but 00s edgy to 90s edgy, making him seem slicker, more fashionable, more aware, compared to Sonic’s suddenly oblivious-seeming 90s sort-of-surfer coolness. Shadow is angry, he is resentful, and that casts Sonic, for all of his quick temper, as almost a beach bum. What’s more, Sonic is surrounded by friends and is a celebrated hero – he’s the Protagonist Guy.

In a template where the Cool Guy is opposed by someone Equally Cool But More Distressed, we enter the cinematic tradition of The Other. He’s bad, but not that bad, he’s an opponent, but not a villain. That makes him a humanised Other, a character who stands to contrast with the hero (in a way that once, Knuckles did). The thing with The Other is, they take on a LOT of forms in different media, but if you’re queer, chances are your favourite character is a The Other. Camp LOVES them to bits.

In the greater narrative space of Sonic the Hedgehog, these characters are still mostly empty. They’re a description of a handful of traits in relationship to one another. In that space, Shadow the Hedgehog is a camp antagonist, an example of The Other, who can be – and sorta IS – All Queerness. What you see there is what you can pour into him.

Story Pile: Black Panther

There a lot of words being spilled about Black Panther. I do not believe that spoilers are particularly important to the enjoyment of a product, but I know that people dislike spoilers. So no talk of spoilers. I know that a specificity of information is part of spoilers – by avoiding spoilers I can sweep along without providing detailed examples, which has a nice side effect where I can talk about more stuff without having to bog down in reference points.

Still, everything else aside, everything else aside: Black Panther is a great hecking movie. It’s a fun ride, it’s kinda like a spy movie and a kung fu movie and it’s a really good hero movie, and really, you should just check the heck out of it, it’s great. Believe the hype. I am a nitpicky motherhubbard and I think that every complaint I’ve heard about this movie so far comes from a place of digging deep in an attempt to find something to complain about, or ‘I wish there was more of this movie.’

Oh, and racism.

On that note, I’m going to try and minimise whatever I have to say that’s basically about racism. This is  great movie and it’s very heavily anticolonial and it does a lot with African cultures and there’s language and clothing and worldview and a lot of stuff and straight up, I am neither qualified to talk about it nor do I have anything interesting to say. Colonialism is bad, slavery is bad, and anything I have to say on that topic is mostly only useful in light of how some white people talk to themselves about it. Don’t expect anything there.

Okay, enough preamble! Go!

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Story Pile: My Two Pennies, Part III

Marshal McLuahn as any Canadian will tell you, codified the idea that the medium is the message; that modes of communication are greater than the ideas that we communicate with them, changing infrastructure around them. Consider this:

One of these is edited in some fairly inconsequential ways. One of them is the original. Any serious scrutiny will tell which is which. But could you, without the comparison, tell easily what was ‘wrong’ with the strip?

The comic panel is a visual medium that allows us to convey a wealth of information through single slices of momentary time, instances where we do not see animation but its cessation. A panel invites scrutiny and we construct time through the transition of panels.

A man opens a door, a wide panel showing much of the street; a narrow panel, showing little, focusing our attention. The second space becomes smaller, threatening, and the man becomes less distinct. We observe him then we become the observor he approaches.

Narrower still. A frame within a frame. We are observing the man moving away from us, within the building now (look at the stairs), a neighbour peeking out. He is not unnoticed. He is not unfeared – even as we know nothing about him from this. I am not, I want to underscore, saying that Penny Arcade needs to be Watchmen. But Watchmen has in it valuable lessons about how comics work, what comic panels do and how you can use them. Moore famously wrote entire pages of description about world, setting, tone and the space of each panel so that Gibson had the tools to actualise the right visual atmosphere.

Here now is literally every single thing that needs to be provided to convey to an artist the information in the PA strip:

here is that exact same idea:

Now here’s the funny thing. Penny Arcade know that this is a bad way to do comics. compare and contrast, 2000 to 2012

The first one is just the same joke held for three panels; effort was done to re-draw them but they only show a degree of animation, the enthusiasm for the Hat Of Money that, y’know, we’re all learning, I’m not going to complain and the line was pretty funny at the time.

The second one is, like the first, basically a monologue, but they use the cinematic space of the comic panel to do something. You get an implementation of the art: Setting, diner, public space.

Tycho’s haunted expression, closing in on the face.

That near-reverential moment where he closes his eyes

and struggles to vocalise what he has learned,

what he has experienced.

What this has made of him,

what he has become.

It’s a poop joke.

Now here’s a similar application of the idea: The camera conveys that this conversation is slow and peaceful, that there is a pastoral gentleness to this comic. It’s not funny but it is warm and nice and I don’t hate it.

Maybe this was just a lazy day. Maybe this was just one day where they decided they wanted to spend 68 words (not even nice) to make a 10 word joke. A 10 word joke they’d made before! It’s like the most basic of gamer jokes, following only after That Person Didn’t Understand Our Jargon, Therefore We Must Overreact Massively. This strip is just Genesis Does What Nintendon’t for arseholes who don’t like Polygon.

I don’t know what comparisons YOU want to make about Penny Arcade, but here’s mine:

They’re Garfield.

The comic as a medium is visual. You can do talking-head dialogue if you want, and lords knows a couple of millionaires are entitled to phone it in on a day to day basis. It’s only poor people who get graded on the quality of their work.

The strange thing is, that as a projection of its author, of the things that I feel this comic is trying to do, I feel this comic very deeply. I feel it because I know I want to do the same thing. I know that I love the feeling of a rolling avalanche of Oh BURN! of mocking someone over and over, with multiple hilarious off-the-cuff comparisons. You start with something small and dismissive, then you double down and then you double down again and again when the sheer depth and quantity of your endless riffing becomes, itself, a source of comedy. It’s an amazing moment!

Then imagine going home, sitting down, working all day on that rolling avalanche of burn, coming up with your list, then getting an artist to make a visual for it for which you had NO ACTUAL NEED, and put it before your audience

And it’s this.

L’esprit de l’escalier mécanique.

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Story Pile: My Two Pennies, Part II

Last time, I took this Penny Arcade strip and explored how it conveyed its message, and what it was trying to say.  We wound up at this:  

Here’s that panel with like, the miscellaneous random crap and a bunch of weirdly unnecessary face lines cleaned up just because I find that strikingly different.

Penny Arcade as a brand is estimated at being worth $37,900,000. They do not, I am absolutely sure, care a whit about what I have to say about their work, unless I somehow catch one of them on a randomly spiteful day, which I am pretty confident I won’t. Plus they have the raftload of excuses – this is how they do things, this is their art style, this isn’t made for critics, they don’t care, they’re extremely not mad – that anyone can use when their webcomic is mocked.

The amazing thing about this clearly great, great comic, is that there’s so many ways it can be used to tell the exact same story, the ways it reinforces and multiples upon its own intricate, endlessly deep thesis.  Such a confidence and absoluteness in its message, so coherent and deliberate in its overwhelming reassessment of its meaning, it is the only work that knows itself, that knows what it is for, what it means to say. As art, it proves to us that it is real – and we, ephemeral.

When I am gone, this art will remain, perfect, unchanging, a message unto eternity, perfect in its affirmation of what it, more than anything else, knows to be true:

it’s like you get three individual comics at once! Then, wrapping it up, you’re presented with one big comic that is itself, made up of three individual comics each saying exactly the same thing of its own opinion. It is postmodern in that it challenges the assumption that a comic need have a structure, that comedy need be funny, that there needs to be anything else in life but spite and disdain for the other, and that you can use a position of media prominence to do nothing but snipe needlessly at things you assert that don’t really care about.

It is a russian nesting doll made of Pickle Ricks.

Which is a thing that exists.

Thankfully, we will always have the branding we can wear, with which we will adorn ourselves and show that we, more than anyone else, care about this art. Oh, how we care.

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Story Pile: My Two Pennies, Part I

I see some people are having a hard time interpreting this Penny Arcade comic, and so I figured I’d try and help you out here. I am, after all, an academic, exactly the kind of person that Penny Arcade love to bash for our difficulty understanding their intricate, street-level Derridan medium, so I figured it was best to conduct some study and provide a clear, explored version of their original text for other people to consume.

I hope this deciphers this intricate political statement and is worth the years of study. It’s a difficult puzzle to solve, and you can see here how they’ve cleverly used the rhetorical device of repeating themselves three times to ensure that we clearly understand their joke. Now, conventionally, comedy would dictate that you don’t belabour your joke – that you make your point, deliver the joke sharp and smart (like a ‘punch’ line, as it were), but the Penny Arcade magnates are proud and above such things. They instead opt for this very advanced form of comedy where they restate their joke repeatedly.

Some people have argued the original third panel was actually mocking the idea of people caring about politics, which is kind of true, but only in that it’s meant to be mocking Polygon for its daring to care about this as it relates to clearly ridiculous things. That is, they believe that the source, Polygon, is wasting its effort and energy on things it shouldn’t be doing. Like this.

Now, when I see things like this, I think we all recognise that the true greatest genius of 90s comics, and genesis of most webcomic as a genre was the work of Gary Larson in the newspaper single-panel comic The Far Side.

Of course, Larson was a believer in, and advocate for active minimalism in comedy.

It stands to reason when you’re working for an editor and need to turn around your comics quickly for quick redraws and re-works, you might favour a style that’s very clean, and avoids excessive extra lines or notes, and makes the small space you have maximally expressive.

As you refine the process, you realise how little of what you need is useful. You start to appreciate how much you can express with a small number of narrative and visual tools. The chaff you thought was essential melts away and you’re left looking at what you’ve chosen to present, and how, in its purest form.

Anyway, I think we’ve all learned something today.

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Story Pile: Minna No Boku No Hero Academia

Curious what you think of the permeability of shonen anime into the general consciousness, as seen in Everyone Making BNHA OCs. – Casey

First things first shonen anime is and has been part of the general consciousness for about thirty years now. My dad knows who Tobor the 8 Man was even if he didn’t, at the time know it was Anime, and Astro Boy is an institution world-wide. What’s more Goku, from Dragonball Z has the cultural cachet of Superman, which puts their general awareness in public attention around about the same level of, literally, Jesus Christ.

That said, there is something interesting about Boku No Hero Academia, a name that I feel it’d be a bit tired to make fun of at this point, and how it relates to Everyone Making BNHA OCs. Specifically, the thing that’s interesting isn’t that Everyone Is Making BNHA OCs…

… its that people feel okay talking abouti making BNHA OCs.

OCs are a really interestingly contentious part of culture. For a start, all creative characters both have them and don’t – the nature of all creative culture as a gigantic remix machine where things we experience become part of the things we create and how it’s all part of this greater framework generation and what we see as originality is really a shift in perspectives or a paradigmatic repositioning and oh god you’re falling asleep – but the other thing is, OCs are seen almost inextricably as embarassing. We use the joke ‘OC, do not steal’ as an inherent joke to describe something people shouldn’t care about, where the speaker is meant to care very much. The Sonic OC is a whole psychosexual bazaar at this point, something most people observe from the outside and awkwardly step around.

Fanart is an interesting mill of media where people often have very one-sided relationships with the work; they do not care about the artist and their opinions or input as much as they care about the other media work the artist invokes. Artists can use fanart as a stepping stone but there is a lot more fanart that goes nowhere than anything else, and the nature of the decontextualising internet means it’s often appreciated by people who have basically no connection to the artist, because they have connection to the media it flows from. Typically speaking, fanart is not a space to get creative – if there’s a character in a lineup from a show that didn’t come from the show, people will almost always see them as not appropriate.

Yet, BNHA has this strange phenomenon where people aren’t just making OCs for it, they’re also comfortable labelling them as such, sharing them, and then, within the framework of the series, using those characters to make fanart of the series. Here, check out this character, who I’m using to show off the way that powers in this really weird and interesting and cool universe could work out!

I don’t think BNHA is uniquely suited for this; you could have seen the same thing back in Ranma 1/2’s heyday, where characters all had ridiculous martial arts and possibly their own ridiculous magical spring. Heck, there was a ten year long roleplay thread on a newsgroup called GRIT that was just about people’s Ranma 1/2 OCs (at first – it spiralled off, as anything would).

What I find more interesting – what I find exciting – is that we’re at a point now where showing off your BNHA OC isn’t seen as inherently ridiculous. We’re reaching a place where when people say I care about this thing, and here is my inclusion in it, nobody says get that out of here. There is a welcoming in this concept space, and…

well, I find that exciting. I wonder how much stuff I’d love better, how much better I’d be at some things if I didn’t feel I was constantly being told I wasn’t good enough.

Story Pile: Yes Minister

I feel old.

I’ve taken in my efforts to stave off this feeling, but it’s undeniable. I feel old, even though I know full well that ‘millenial’ talk is targeted at me. Part of why is because the things of my youth are not the things of other people’s youth. I was raised on The Goon Show and I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again and obscure Christian media. My media background was ultimately not for me – it was for my father.

Lots of it went over my head. The Goon Show had overtones of sex farce and tons of racy humour that I completely missed. I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again built on a host of tropey fantasy and panto skit comedy that I totally missed, and I only now realise what a slide whistle means.

One series of my father’s loves, which was contemporary to my birth, and therefore, completely beyond me until, well, now, is Yes Minister.

It’s fascinating actually in that it has a lot in common with Seinfeld. While the point of Seinfeld was that it was a show about nothing1., with stories that showed people spending huge amounts of effort on tiny nothings, the thrust of Yes Minister was inverted. Episodes of Yes Minister are spent ranging across spaces of days at a time, with enormous outcomes on the line, in which almost nothing ever gets to happen. But while Seinfeld’s narrative structure is bent to the frantic expenditure of energy achieving nothing, the narrative of Yes Minister is the frantic expenditure of energy achieving nothing.

It’s that kind of word play is throughout the series.

It’s also a show where instantaneous communication as we have it now would totally desolate some plots.

One of the challenges of making a sit-com is that it’s meant to be a situation comedy, a comedy that exists, as it were, in situ, in its own place. The dialogue therefore is trying to serve both comedy, with timing and wordplay, and also be some form of naturalistic. You can look at the comedy of say, Everybody Loves Raymond or Big Bang Theory with gigantic, stratified pauses between people talking to allow for reactions, which well, we’ll pretend that’s actually about the jokes being funny rather than signalling that they are meant to be. Anyway, the point is that it’s very difficult to make dialogue serve both funny and natural.

Yes Minister achieves this by having the comedy in dialogue mostly derive from the three voices in almost every given room be either deliberately obfuscating and smug, well-intentioned and prone to blurting, and wavering between the three the voice of Jim Hacker trying desperately to be funny and score a point of the others as a way to signify his own intelligence. This is a series of people being witty at one another, and in the context of the space they’re in, this is naturalistic dialogue. They want to show they’re smarter and funnier than one another.

The really interesting thing to me, now, about Yes Minister, watching it in hindsight isn’t so much that it’s funny – it is, it’s very funny, if you like a particular kind of playfully cynical word play and manipulation – or even that, it’s about how much of the narrative is things that we are dealing with now.

British Government is a fascinating warren of discretions and traditions and importantly deliberate vaguearies, and Yes Minister is set in a time when the EU is about to come into being and the Cold War was still quite cold. Countries in Africa were escaping colonial power. There’s a recognition that America is both powerful and blisteringly foolish as a global power, and there’s a reasonable expectation that the government is spending much of its time trying to move things around and that a lot of what’s going on is actually in service of nothing.

There is a fascinating intricacy to it all where largely, the sheer scope of British bureaucracy is presented as both a problem and a result. The size of government and the people involved in it, the story tells you, are related. You can’t ask for more work without asking for more people to do them. There’s talk about the UK’s role in the then-nascent EU, which was explicitly framed in terms of the very cultural reasons the UK saw the EU as an opportunity to join – or rather the EEC, at the time.

It’s all so interesting to me because it carries within it some very real but very cynical truths about the way things happened. Things that I like, things I believe in, could almost always be viewed in terms of short-term pettiness and spite. And it serves as a counterpoint to The West Wing, which was as much fanfiction of how America could have been in the late 90s as it shows an England of the early 80s.

What brought me to check this out again?

It was this quote:

Sir Humphrey: The only way to understand the Press is to remember that they pander to their readers’ prejudices.

Jim Hacker: Don’t tell me about the Press. I know *exactly* who reads the papers. The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country. The Guardian is read by people who think they *ought* to run the country. The Times is read by the people who actually *do* run the country. The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country. The Financial Times is read by people who *own* the country. The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by *another* country. The Daily Telegraph is read by the people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don’t care *who* runs the country – as long as she’s got big tits.


1. I personally don’t buy this. Seinfeld seems to really be a show about how it’s totally okay to be a self-obssessed prick.

Story Pile: Gargoyles

There are two ways to approach this introduction; there’s the good, virtuous, but also incredibly self-aggrandising way, where I talk about how the root of all humanity and empathy is an ability to connect things to one another through human interfaces that we would not have otherwise thought to do, and that drawing connections others haven’t seen is what we call genius. Then there’s the meanspirited way which is pointing out that being able to point out how two seemingly unrelated pieces of media are connected is basically the academic equivalent of popping a wheelie and demanding people be impressed.

Anyway, nobody made Gargoyles.

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Story Pile: Drive

Drive is a 2011 movie from Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn. Defining what Drive is is a little bit tricky, because while it has the elements of a heist movie or a crime drama or something in the vein of a mood piece it’s sort of none of these things at the same time. Described by some as neo-noir and by others as sunset noir, Drive is a brooding, slow-boil movie about being three quarters of the way home and knowing that something terrible is coming with you. Continue reading

Story Pile: Transformers: The Movie

To some people, the best Christmas movie is Die Hard. To some, it’s Gremlins. To me it’s The Transformers Movie.

But you might point out that the reason those movies are held up as Christmas movies is because Christmas plays into them! And, wittily, they might say, there is something essentially Christmas-toned about them which will allow you to watch them on a technicality on your Christmas weekend, as if you need to cheat the rules to enjoy your own time off, or the smugness makes the experience sweeter. You might want to make a point of the use of Christmas as a central plot element in Gremlins and that’s great, but that’s not why The Transformers Movie is a Christmas movie to me.

The Transformers Movie is a Christmas movie for me, because it, to me, feels like Christmas.

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Death Note 2017 – The Netflix Movie

I think I’ve given this piece enough time to cook. Let’s get business sorted out nice and early.

Here’s your super simple review: it sucks. Oh, you liked it? Well, great, thanks for bothering to ask. I’m glad we could have this fascinating exchange of ideas. Here’s a link for you to continue the conversation.

If you’re actually interested in why I think this sucks, then here’s a fold and you can meet me on the other side. I’ll spoil some things about the manga and maybe, maybe, I’ll spoil something about the movie, if it warrants discussion.

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Star Trek Discovery

Courtesy of my weird childhood, I never really was a Star Wars person or a Star Trek person. My sister and mother watched Star Trek on VHS rental when I was older, but there never really was any sense to me that these shows were a thing to watch. They were just a show on the television sometimes. Heck, I didn’t realise there was an actual arc to these shows – they weren’t like my continuity-driven, beloved and intellectual Robotech.

(Give me a break)

Point is, I’ve never been a Star Trek person. It’s not my thing, it’s never been my thing, and aside from being aware of the term ‘trekkie’ I never really got how or why the series actually played into this subculture. It was a show, it happened to other people, they loved it, and they maybe got a bit weird about it, but I got a bit weird about Transformers, so I wasn’t one to judge.

With all that in mind, when I saw people talking about Star Trek: Discovery, and complaining about it on all sorts of levels (it’s being distributed weirdly), and finding out that here, in Australia I can just watch it on Netflix, I popped open Netflix and had a shot.

And,

well.

Hey, wow, Star Trek is pretty cool!!

This series starts with – and some mild spoilers here, just structural ones – with a really interesting premise to me. Our protagonist isn’t a leader or a powerhouse or a figure of authority who makes final calls, but is instead someone in the midsection of hierarchy; she has to make decisions as best she can based on what’s going on around her, but doesn’t have the latitude to make a lot of free-wheeling, cowboy-captain style solutions, or back up her position authoritively in a negotiation of rules. There’s also her history, and the way her upbringing created a really interesting tension that highlights something cool to me about the universe she’s part of.

I don’t rightly know if Discovery is a good or a bad series, but I know I’m enjoying it three episodes in, and it even did something I found weirdly comforting. Episode 3 introduced a ‘science’ thing that I think is going to show up and be important to the rest of the story. It’s also total nonsense, which actually works for me, because it indicates that this isn’t going to be a series about establishing hard science fiction rules, and instead wants to talk about concepts and ideology that are more about where we are now, and use a framing device of a future that we want to get to.

The main character, Michael, is a mess of elements in conflict, and I like the ways I see the storytelling signalling it. First of all, there’s just the very basic conflict of her name. Normally when we go to the future in stories, we tend to treat elements of culture as reasonably static – look at how the original Star Trek didn’t really feature a lot of trans or queer characters; it looked forward to the question of race but that was a conversation that was already happening.

Michael’s name could be seen as queer-signaling but I don’t think it is. I think it’s taking the much simpler route of making us look at her and feel dissonance. We go ‘that’s a boy’s name’ in our culture (which, yes, is silly, but it’s definitely how the name is coded and don’t pretend that that reaction is unusual). That’s one point of contention – a now, versus a then. There’s her backstory of pure logic contrasting with an impetus of emotional perspective. There’s the tension of being a central character in a wide-open space while being beholden to the orders and mandates of the control structure around her. This leads to actions that are,

I find this really interesting!

I’m actually a bit sad hearing now,now the series is underway and going on, to see people around me talking about how it’s not that good or offering a sort of conciliatory well if the third episode is where it started tone or trying to fix a series that’s, what, three episodes long at the time of writing?

It’s a bit sad, to me. It’s weird, too – because to me, this isn’t a series trying to live up to a huge reputation. I don’t have a feel of what Star Trek should be, or how it’s meant to work? I just have, well, no real opinion. This is a pretty interesting science-fiction series, which frames itself as having a long history that we can discover, a huge infrastructure so the stories aren’t about how to get into space, and a canvas that features an enormous potential war on the horizon and a central character whose main story seems to be about an interesting contest between a logical and emotional contest.

That all seems, to me, to be pretty cool.

BraveStarr!

BraveStarr, with its internal capital and double-r, is the story of a lone Native-American lawman from (maybe) the planet of New Texas, with his small coalition of friends, opposing an outlaw gang headed up by Tex Hex, who’s best described as a sort of Zombie Cyborg Cowboy. The fearsome crew of idiots and screwball villains wielding big boxy space-guns spent their time ‘terrorising’ the citizens of Fort Kerium, which is a giant mechanised city (buy all our playsets and toooys) made to protect the Prarie People and their Kerium mines.

I feel that when it came to these 80s Merchandise shows, you’d often have details about the creators seep into the work. Part of what made M*A*S*K so remarkable was that there was so little there there, a story that just sort of farted out. If you looked at shows like GI Joe or Silverhawks, there was always a tiny drop of something going on there, an ideology you could point to and use to inform the work at large. It isn’t just something that a work is trying to say: creative people’s values and ideas become part of their work even subconsciously.

These subconscious biases are to me more interesting than a lot of intended messages: Especially when you’re dealing with media primarily designed for fast, forgettable consumption, the pulp of an era, people often don’t have the time to make media that has A Message. Bravestarr was a series that wanted to be a western, with a cool Native American protagonist who channelled nature spirits, espoused environmental and social consciousness, and protected the poor Prarie People of New Texas. That is to say, this story is about a Native American Cop protecting the Colonial invaders while they exploited the small, hairy subhumans who can’t talk properly.

There’s a historical context here – and like it or not, thirty years ago is actually history. Not that the atrocities against Native Americans or the racism in media isn’t longer lasting than that, but the 80s as a creative period were a time when those symptoms of oppression and marginalisation were being expressed differently to now. Now, you present a Native American character poorly and there’ll be an angry online presence making its feelings known. That’s not to say that this tension gets things fixed, but there’s a reaction. There’s an easily recognised, publically searchable, clear reaction to this kind of thing, the sort of thing that results in a Criticisms And Controversies entry on a Wikipedia page.

For these works of the 1980s, though, we didn’t have that. It took a surprising amount of effort for fans to have a direct impact on shows and that effort was mostly isolated to people with the free time to do it. Even the classic Women In Refrigerators was an early internet list, and the 90s Hal’s Emerald Advancement Team still relied on people sending actual physical letters to comic creators. What’s more those were both very entrenched fans working hard – not the pre-teen Bravestarr ‘fans’ who probably were also equally entrenched in six other franchises that gave them reasonably similar or comparable toys.

There’s your historical context: Complaints about Bravestarr were not widespread, not because they weren’t legitimate or real, but because nobody with media platform space was asking questions and nobody was writing down the answers. This is not the same thing as being uncontroversial. It means that we weren’t listening.

At the same time, the 80s were definitely into that period of Native American presence in media (that some say ended with Disney’s Pocohontas) that treated them as just important enough to be magically otherised and also probably not actually whole people.

BraveStarr is noteworthy because Marshall Bravestarr himself is a Native American, or is ‘meant to be’ a Native American. We see glimpses of his childhood, moments where he was living in a situation best called Cartoon Tribal. We hear the story of Shaman the Shaman, who quotes some very Not-Native-American lessons translated backwards (‘to truly understand someone, one must walk a mile in his moccasins’). There’s a clear desire to have some sort of connection to Native American culture, but either by being too cautious to identify anything (unlikely) or genuinely believing that most Native American culture was airy-fairy and indefinite, it very much comes across as being ‘Native American’ culture, like a big broad sticker you can put on things.

Ultimately, BraveStarr earns itself a very white You Tried sticker from another white person. Someone involved in this production wanted to do something with the idea, wanted their silly space cowboy show informed by westerns they liked and space-faring science fiction they liked and also to include an oddball cast of alien-looking villains that included at least one Australian shape-shifting dingo. It’s fascinating that this series tried to do something, that it tried something, but it tried really stupidly.

It serves as an example of how you made an effort isn’t always a good enough excuse to be satisfied with a result.

 

Korra: The Darkest Shadow

How do you follow up success?

How do you follow up runaway successes?

How do you follow up literally the greatest example of its genre of all time?

Avatar: The Last Airbender is, broadly speaking, the greatest piece of long-form western animated storytelling  that exists. When you take into account its competitors, they’re usually storytelling forms that have different demands, but when viewed in terms of just itself – continuity-driven human drama stories told using animation – there just isn’t anything that touches it. I say that as someone who really dislikes some elements of Avatar and its coding, who thinks there’s waste in that otherwise dense series. I like Avatar less than I recognise its overall quality and its excellence as a story.

It sort of follows sadly then that Korra, a story I like better, is much worse made.

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My Guild Leader Is A Demon

First up, some disclosure: This series, My Guild Leader Is A Demon is made by a friend of mine, 0xabad1dea. While I know I’m in the dedication of one of her books, I don’t think I’ve had any influence or involvement in this project, and I’ve not been paid for this piece.

There is potential that she might implement/reject some ideas I mention here, as the series is ongoing, but as far as I know, no such thing is expected to happen. Basically, if I say something here and it winds up being true in this series, assume 0xabad1dea was going to do it anyway.


My Guild Leader Is A Demon is a web-series/kinetic novel. There’s some consideration on my part as to whether to treat kinetic novels – storytelling which has no major interaction beyond ‘keep going’ – as a series or a videogame. In this case, 0xabad1dea has taken a full play of the game and put it up on Youtube, where you can watch it as a single video. Continue reading

Iron Fist Week Part 5: Knowing Yourself

Iron Fist, the 2017 Netflix series, is bad.

Let us, for now, set aside its issues as an adaptation of a source material.

Let us set aside its issues with racial contexts.

Let us set aside the choices it makes heedless of women and culture.

Let us set aside its poor editing and the practical work of cinematography.

Iron Fist is bad because more than anything else, it’s a series that doesn’t know what it is about.

I’ve touched on this in these articles. The fear of the costume and the style of the superhero. The way they hired someone who wasn’t good for the role in any way. The excuses, the endless excuses for why the show isn’t very good, the defensive posture that blames their failings on, amongst other things, a presidential election. The way the took a story about a martial artist returning home to right a dreadful wrong through violence against an old disabled man, and made it about conspiracy and zombies and another hero’s villains. Every single one of these decisions is a bad one and none of them are bad enough to stand on their own as a sign of what made the series break, none of them are this series’ fatal flaw.

But every single one of them could only show up if you, when presented with the series as it exists, had no idea what it was meant to be. The show doesn’t know why it missed or what it missed, because the show didn’t know what it was trying to even be in the first place. Say what you want about Luke Cage’s position on Blackness, it at least knew damn well it was a series about a Black superhero dealing with Black Street problems. The identity of Luke Cage permeates its very being.

Let us then speak of what I feel represents the central coda, the most important and vital flaw of the Iron Fist series and the way it handles its central premise, the characteristic that the series is literally named for.

What is the Iron Fist?

It is the power that Danny has, which the story… sort of doesn’t really explain. It’s just, he has the power of the Iron Fist, and he mostly uses it to punch through walls. It’s not used creatively or cleverly. It is power, a direct application of force, and Danny can’t use it constantly. There is no explanation as to why. At one point he heals Coleen, and then that’s it. The Fist is returned to being vaguely explained. Defenders elaborates on it, but it still is building on the foundations of Iron Fist, inheriting its flaws.

Some comics fans may be seething, shouting at their screens about how the comics handle it and yes, the comics handle it better and you are right, but that is not important. This is not a point of comparison, this is looking at the series and its own message.

When and how does the character use the power? What limits it? What provokes it? What, in this superheroic story, is the thing that sets the character apart from the greater population, and how do they access this power? What, more than anything else, is the Iron Fist about?

I’ve watched this series now, I’ve double checked, and the single common trait with Danny using the Iron Fist is Danny getting mad.

Danny gets angry, and the power comes to him. When the power is not available, it is because he has not gotten mad enough. There is no philosophy, no coda, not even the most rudimentary of koan. The story doesn’t frame the Iron Fist’s power as a result of study, or training, or an emotional centering, or being able to spend his time fighting or charging up or needing to summon the megazords or anything. It connects very directly. Anger In, Power Out.

That is the story this show thinks is interesting. That’s the central idea of this series. Danny needs to find things that make him angry enough to act, angry enough to draw on that power. That’s your story. It permeates. Danny is mad that he is being denied his billionaire status – not because he wants it, but because he’s being denied it. Danny has outbursts of anger, he hates his opponents, he steps to violence in his very first scene for no really good reason. Opposition to Danny deserves violence, because Danny uses violence, and violence is directly and only connected to anger.

This is this world’s Danny Rand. He is angry, not because of things he experienced, or internalised guilt. Not because of self-loathing or cruelty. I’d look at the subtext to work it out, but we don’t have to, because the story just flat-out tells you.

Danny doesn’t feel he has a place in the world, he feels like he doesn’t belong, like he needs something more in his life, a life that already features being an immortal god-fighting dragon-punching superhero billionaire. Danny was picked on a little bit as a kid, but he had loving parents who gave him everything, and even his father’s last words were that he loved him. Danny’s anger puts the loss of his family’s company on the same level as the loss of his parents at the same level as handcuffing him and so on, and it does not feel making his parents’ death an act he could be angry about is worthwhile.

There’s an attempt to represent his violence as like Coleen’s violence, as if the two share some emotional challenge, but it’s never explained because they don’t explain why Coleen is that way, because women don’t need backstories.

Danny’s anger is petulance at a void.

That’s not what the Iron Fist story really is about. That’s a stock character – it’s almost a cliche. Heck, it’s a Disney Princess at the most bland.

This, all of this, is what you get when your story doesn’t really know what it’s about. The people in the story talk about the trappings of kung fu – in a really orientalist way, of course – and about the idea of a business conspiracy or Rand enterprises or all these things, and there’s talk about centering Danny’s chi and connecting him to other stuff, but none of it connects, none of it really makes any sense because there’s no central throughline of the character, the idea of how you attain power, or how Danny relates to power and violence beyond get opposed, get angry, get power.

A final example, from the last episode.

In two scenes, back to back, Meachum forwards that he can do whatever he wants, because he has money. Cut. A different scene. Jill informs Danny that he can’t do whatever he wants, because he has money, meaning his actions will be observed. It literally uses the same funds to represent that Danny is unable to do things, and that Meachum can do anything.

This is a series that doesn’t know what it’s about, and doesn’t know what matters to it. What follows then is things cast down, to land near one another, in the shape of a narrative, ultimately hollow, ultimately meaningless.

There’s a sad irony here in that one of the most basic, well known pieces of actual historical philosophy quotes, a quote you can find on coffee mugs for executives, would help avoid this problem.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War

Surely even the kind of dinks who wrote this Danny Rand would know that one.

Iron Fist Week Part 4: Doing Poorly Poorly

Iron Fist is bad at doing all the things it wants to do.

We’ve talked in the process about things that will make your storytelling better. We’ve talked about looking at issues in structural ways, and we’ve talked about invigorating characters with character rather than as instruments for the story. We haven’t really dealt with specific, individualised incidents of hecking up execution. And this is a series that hecks up the execution a lot.

The Opening

Hey, remember this dark dynamic? This black arcing?

Why is this here?

Do you see this in the series at all? Does it tie into the colour dynamics of the rest of the series? Can you think of any time that the series does anything that looks like this? Danny has a clear colour dynamic of bright yellow, but dark black never really shows up to contrast with it like in this opening.

This is a visual motif that the show literally never uses except in its opening. In Daredevil, the colour scheme of the opening is a signifier; you see the red in Daredevil’s outfit, in Elektra’s outfit, in background colours and lighting and shots and it’s also a motif of the bloodstains and damage you see on Matt. Luke Cage uses yellow to indicate street signs, and imbalances (like yellow tinted windows, gold of crowns, the warm light of the club looking down on the patrons).

By contrast, Danny gets a yellow fist and that’s it. The Defenders builds on his colour scheme, of course, putting him in green light that helps to contrast him to Matt, while also suggesting a commonality in his space between Luke and Jessica, but in this opening, in this first impression, what is there of Danny that exists. What works?

Nothing.

Also, because this character is both animated and obscured, they can show that character doing a bunch of extremely cool things, as if he had, perhaps, mastered some martial arts, martial arts that let them do something like attain the powers of the Immortal Iron Fist. I hope you’re not attached to this sort of acrobatic motion with lines of energy like this, though, because you’re never going to see it.

The Chi Focus

If you go back and rewatch the first episodes like I did, because I dunno, I make bad life choices, you might remember there was this recurrent visual theme they tried to use for Danny to focus his chi. Lots of vertical lines, blurring and shifting over the film. Remember that? Danny’s inability to focus his chi is an early story beat that fades away, and with it, the effect. It’s not used later to represent when he’s out of focus with his chi despite the fact that his chi is out of whack is used as a story beat.

Remember? It was a whole thing? It was after Danny healed Coleen with Bakuto’s help and – oh, okay, Remember how Danny healed Coleen in the middle of the series? Remember that now he has the ability to do Amazing Healing Moves and he just… doesn’t do it again?

I bring this up because these are examples of rudimentary execution error. If you introduce a power in the second act of a story it should matter, in some way, by the end of the story. If you’re going to introduce a visual aesthetic to a problem, use that visual aesthetic again when you use that problem a second or third time.

In this, the healing is a doorway the story stepped through and forgot when they move on.

As a game, you can probably ask ‘remember when this happened’ about a lot of things in this series and watch people fail tell if you’re making it up or not, because there’s a lot of forgettable stuff here. There’s a reason we talk about repetition and patterns and structure in storytelling: These things make it easier – or possible – for the things you do to remain in people’s minds. It’s like telling a joke. You can’t just state a punchline – without a setup, it’s just a weird interjection pineapple.

Iron Fist’s central plot is mostly made up of about six or seven really short story beats, and the rest, because it is not anchored, it does not reside in the memory, is just… lost. It’s not just bad storytelling – it means much of this story is boring.

The Cu-Cu-Cu-Cu-Cu-Cuts And Edits

The fights in Iron Fist with one exception suck.

The excuse for this style of combat choppiness, with these super-short edits, is that it’s done to obscure the fact that half of the people in this scene can’t fight. Not in the style of the Iron Fist comics, not in the style of this series. Hell, not even in the style of Daredevil, the nearest approximate.

Now, this gets held up as an example of bad editing and I’d say it’s almost the opposite. The editor here clearly did a lot of work to try and turn pillowfist douchebeard into the person who was throwing punches. The editor can only work with what they’re given, and here, they’re given 56 individual components that they had to stitch together to fill 35 seconds. I give the benefit of the doubt, where I think this editor was using as much as they could of each shot, because editing is very hard.

With that, it means this bad scene’s fault falls on the person making decisions, and that means yeah, the director had to direct the fight coordinators and choreographers and camera people and the set managers. Some of these shots require cameras to be in places the characters physically are, meaning this was shot multiple times over.

There is nothing wrong with having Danny have a fight in this space, or even a fight with a bunch of cuts in it. But this way of doing it is bad, and has bad effects. It also gets to be easily held up as an example of a problem. It’s frantic and sloppy.

This is an example of an execution error, and not just stuff like the Line of Action that even a clueless donk like me knows about. I’m not a camera guy! I’m not a cinema guy! If I can look at this and say ‘whoah this is shit’ imagine what it’s like for editors and cinematographers and critics of that form! Imagine how it looks to them!

Oh and by the way, Finn, know what’s a great way to obscure when you change a shot from stunt double to lead actor?

A mask.

Like the Iron Fist wears.

Like he’s meant to wear.

LIKE A SUPERHERO SHOW WOULD USE.

Part 5: Knowing Yourself

Iron Fist Week Part 3: Fantasy That Mocks Reality

Let’s talk about choices.

There are some writers out there, and yes, I might mean you (and if I do mean you, I am judging you), who regard the story that they are writing as a wild creature that wanders and runs as it goes, and you, the author, are helpless to do anything but document it as the tiger whose tail they hold goes where it will. Which is to say, these people will blame the story for the choices they make about what to put in it. Which is to say, these people are cowards who don’t want to own up to the things they want to put in their story, the things they choose to do.

Choices like, for example, punching a woman in the face for no good reason, and treating an entire school of Asian martial philosophy like it’s a cereal box top. These are problems you can fix, if you acknowledge they are things you are choosing to do, and if you think about what you’re doing; they’re much harder to deal with if you pretend they sort of just magically slithered into the story themselves.

Does K’un-L’un Exist?

In Iron Fist Danny and Coleen talk about the philosophies of their martial studies. It’s a conversation that we see in small, clipped ways. He uses her sword in a way that’s kind of insulting, and the pair spar back and forth about the ideology of their worldviews. She cites this, he cites that. He demonstrates his superiority over her with physical force, imposition of his hand and body, while they discuss, her ideas being presented as tested against the ideas of his way, his way that seems to be winning all the encounters. Her ancient philosophy she learned from her family vs his ancient philosophy he learned from K’un-L’un.

Here’s the problem: K’un-L’un doesn’t exist.

The philosophies of Japanese martial arts are real things with real histories. Danny is talking made up D&D sourcebook bullshit, which is patched together with that special kind of ‘I just heard of this’ problem, things like travelling to a dojo to meet with a sensei to gain their respect as if that’s a practice everyone should know about despite it being a trend from one very specific period of Japanese history. Things like his disdain of shoes, his (unconsciously?) racist language when talking to the students, these are all covered under the heading of being ‘like K’un-L’un.’ Danny acts this way, and it is forgiveable in how it makes the character look in a world that is like our own, because Danny is from K’un-L’un.

But the problem is, again, that K’un-L’un doesn’t exist.

This is a worldbuilding point, this is about making the things you create in a universe feel like they matter, and showing them in contrast to things we know matter. It’s why heroes punch bricks to show how strong they are.

This story wants to juxtapose one culture it doesn’t really seem to understand or respect with a culture it invented. They chose to compare K’un-L’un’s ideals with Coleen’s and then present K’un-L’un as superior. It could have been a non-confrontational relationship; they could have spoken of old teachers together, of connecting to mysterious masters that don’t exist because of Coleen’s association with the Hand. Instead, they made this choice.

And again, K’un-Lun doesn’t exist.

That Time Danny Punched A Pliable Woman In The Face

This example’s been discussed elsewhere but let’s talk about Season 1, Episode 6; Immortal Emerges From Cave. It’s a tournament episode (that’s not a tournament, because Danny just has to fight everyone). That’s where we meet the Bride Of Nine Spiders.

Remember our Daredevil conversation? Here’s the short list of signals that a character isn’t a character but is instead an object.

  • Instrumentality: Does this character exist to explain something about the story?
  • Agency: Does the character have the capacity to make choices for themself?
  • Ownership: Is this character owned by someone else? Do they exist without that character?
  • Fungibility: Is the character interchangeable with other such characters?
  • Violability: Can you visit violence on this character without moral question?
  • Subjectivity: Does the character have a subjective perspective? Their own views, their own desires or values?

The character is not fungible – she’s got a standout design that contrasts with the rest of the Hand. Also, she’s a woman while they’re mostly represented by men. You can maybe read something into her introductory shot suggesting she’s a poison researcher… but you’d have to do a lot of work to claim that’s subjectivity or violability. Beyond that? She gets the whole list. Note that there’s nothing wrong with having a character be an object in your story, objects are useful tools to move things along. There sure is a problem with, for example, having a lot of characters who are just objects, especially if all those characters share a racial grouping.

The Sexually Dangerous Exoticised Woman is a trope so old it’s literally gathering dust, and she’s an Exotically Sexy Acupuncture Spider Lady, which is …Not A Good Look. I’m not against spiders, or sexiness, or associating spiders with sexiness; No, the concern is that The Bride of Nine Spiders isn’t presented as anything but that. There is no question of why she does things, or how she does things. She simply is.

For instrumentality, she does a bunch of stuff that makes no sense when considered as her actions to achieve her ends, and once she fills her role in the story she’s gone. Hypothetically her purpose is to defeat the Iron Fist. What we see is a sequence where she enables and explains things about Danny to the audience, things that the story has not shown to the audience. Somehow, we’re told, the Bride of Nine Spiders knows what Danny really wants, what he really is.

How is she supposed to know?

Why does she try seducing him after poisoning him? Why does she put herself in unnecessary danger? If she can close with him and pin him, why not just poison him more? If she had her own identity, her own personality, you could use that as your reason, but the scene doesn’t do anything to do that. The Bride of Nine Spiders is a tool Iron Fist uses to fill time in the story, to state some things about Danny, and then she needs to be dealt with so the story can proceed.

That’s why we get a full shot of Danny backhanding a pretty Asian lady who’s pressing up against him. It literally takes a beat to show us, oh hey look at Danny punching this woman who was flirting with him in the face.

Now remember: This is not a scene from the comics. This isn’t something in the actress’ contract. This is something they chose to show.

Why.

Who failed to think about this scene twice?

Part 4: Doing Poorly Poorly

Iron Fist Week Part 2: The Whiteness Of Danny Rand

Why’s Danny white?

We talked about how the truth of the comics is nonsense – they threw out everything in the comics that matters to the origin and structure of Danny. They didn’t even tell a superhero  story with him. They made a Daredevil knockoff, complete with giving Danny one of Daredevil’s villains to oppose.

Why then, is he white? The answer lies at the bottom of this post, but before we go there, a fold, and a conversation about what Danny should have been, in my opinion.

Continue reading

Iron Fist Week Part 1: True To The Comics

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
  Leo Tolstoy

While I’ve had things to say about Daredevil and Luke Cage, those works were largely mixed, fairly robust and reasonably whole things, things that worked. They were series that were not great, but were good enough and were mostly remarkable in the ways they could be better. They were, as it were, happy families: they were similar. Even outlining their failures was mostly best left to small, short summaries.

Iron Fist, however, is an unhappy family, and it is unhappy indeed.

Rather than try and hammer together every complaint there is about Iron Fist into one mega-essay, which, let’s not kid ourselves, it’d be a rant, lose focus, and it’d need to be a dozen things all at once. Instead, then:

WELCOME TO IRON FIST WEEK!

Oh and I’m gunna spoil the heck out of stuff. Continue reading

Blacklist’s Twist’s Piss

http://www.nbc.com/sites/nbcunbc/files/files/styles/640x360/public/images/2016/8/10/NBC-Blacklist-AboutImage-1920x1080-KO.jpg?itok=iok_kZEO

I’ve watched all of the Blacklist that’s available on Netflix Australia right now, which is to say up to the end of Season 4, and I did so only, I can assume out of some sense of ridiculous obligation. Blacklist is a TV series that establishes itself with a strong premise, a robust opening, a promising cast of initial characters, and stands back, arms spread, saying watch this unfold.

I have now after all this watching, some information for you which must come after the fold, because somehow someone out there might be fancying No, I want to watch this show, without that knowledge, so it can surprise me. If that’s the case, friend, please, first of all, brace for disappointment, but, for your sake, here is the fold: Continue reading