Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 05:39 pm
An interesting tumblr post which makes the point that a lot of didactic works are the equivalent of a porn film with "AND THEN THEY GOT PREGNANT AND DIED" at the end that claims to be encouraging safe sex/abstinence etc.

Some thoughts I had as a result:

First off, not all works depicting things the author disapproves of are intended to have a moral about how those things suck. It is possible for a pacifist to enjoy violent revenge stories for their own sake etc. And sometimes people want to explore a more ambivalent point of view. So it's worth making sure anything I'm considering is intended to have that kind of "THIS THING IS BAD" moral.

A sort of reverse case: All the old stories about same sex relationships which ended in death so as to "not encourage perversion". They still worked as depictions of queer people being people, finding love etc, even if it ended badly. Of course they had a strong negative psychological/social effect along with the positive, and anyone aiming for positive representation in a post-Hays-Code era needs to do a lot better!

Lord of the Rings is a sad example, where there's lots of complex anti war, pro-compassion/peace etc stuff going on all the way through, but a lot of people still just remember the triumphant battles, and that's what gets emphasised in adaptations and pastiches. The explicitly anti-war "Scouring of the Shire" ending got cut off entirely in the Peter Jackson movies, undercutting Tolkein's point significantly.

See also: Lolita :/

Something like Fury Road, which is entirely from the point of view of the people who suffer as a result of the Bad Thing and doesn't depict the Bad Thing on screen much at all, is absolutely a good way to avoid this problem. Though I personally found it pretty triggery, because the implication was still there.

I'm thinking about whether you can effectively tell stories which, Like Fight Club, intend to seduce the viewer with The Bad Thing before undercutting it. Maybe if the undercutting happen relatively early on, with the seduction lasting just long enough to make it's point but not being the central aspect of the story. Pleasantville aims for this, I think, it doesn't entirely succeed but I think that's more about the writers not being willing to totally commit to their premise.

Which of course is one of the big problems: creators who intellectually want to criticise The Bad Thing but deep down enjoy wallowing in it too much to properly undercut it. I'm often left wishing they'd just be honest and wallow unashamedly, I might not enjoy the work but at least it wouldn't be presented as having a moral it doesn't.

An example of this I find really annoying is people "subverting" romance tropes in a subtly mysognistic way ("Girls are so silly for liking this! We're somuch cleverer for subverting it!") but still basically telling a romance story, and taking advantage of the romance genre's tried and true formulas to make their story compelling, then at the last minute going "Oh but this isn't a really a romance it's DEEP AND BETTER and if you don't like that you're an idiot for enjoying the romance haha!". There are legitimate criticisms to be made about romances, but this is not how to do it. Arsenic Tea are a "deep" visual novel company who do this all the time, the most obnoxious is the fetishistic slave romance which has an anti-slavery "You are gross for enjoying a slave romance" moral at the end, when they're the ones who objectified queer brown people for a whole game. The "otome heroine turns out to be an annoying Mary Sue who is jettisoned so that one of the male characters can become the real protagonist" twist was pretty annoying too.

And that's all my thoughts for now!
Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 04:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I definitely agree.

Your first point reminds me a lot of the great Renaissance villains who get dutifully killed at the end after we've been breathlessly following their exploits—Edmund in "King Lear," Giovanni in "'Tis Pity," Vindice in "The Revenger's Tragedy," Vittoria in "The White Devil," etc. They have to die for an appropriate moral (that will get past the censors), but you can feel the creaking of the gears to get them there, and they're given these splendid airing of grievances that forces you to listen to them. And in a lot of cases, the grievances are entirely legitimate and real injustices, with plausible deniability granted by putting them in the mouths of villains slated for death.

And yes, I think the "depiction is not endorsement!" and "fiction creates reality" crowds tend to ignore the large swaths that don't really fall into either camp. There's a ton that isn't a warning, that rolls around in the drama without much interest in preaching.

And there are also, definitely, things like LOTR and Lolita that get profoundly misunderstood in what they are at their cores. But I don't really feel that it's on the author to cater to people who are going to ignore blatantly obvious themes.

Austen actually ranted about this with Lovelace-stanning men who managed to glom onto the most indulgent aspects of Richardson's writing while ignoring what he was actually saying. And that's definitely a mix of "enjoying wallowing in it" with intellectually criticizing.

I'm not entirely sure where I stand, beyond the furthest edges of exploitation porn. It does seem that anything beyond relentless one-dimensional vilification or outright absence becomes easy to misunderstand. I think it's what goes on with Tolkien, who does write the stirring glorious battle scenes and builds an entire (likable) society around the glory of war, shows how it's possible to see things that way, while ultimately treating it as inherently problematic (see: Boromir).

And I am completely with you on those sort of vampiric subversions that are just feeding off something else and taking credit for its appeal. It was one of my greatest annoyances with the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, for instance, which mined P&P for the vast bulk of its ~female bonds!!!~ material, simultaneously refused to restructure P&P around something other than Elizabeth/Darcy, and scolded fans for caring about the wrong things.
Monday, September 12th, 2016 07:49 pm (UTC)
Heh, thank you very much!