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Why the urge to align with the good guys persists, even when the good guys don’t

May 25, 2012 1 comment

Alyssa Rosenberg has a characteristically thoughtful post on the trend of TV shows which return to the clear designations of good guys and bad guys. It’s got me thinking about how some of my favorite characters who fit this bill actively serve as anti-anti-heroes within their own morally grey universes.

Sometimes we need the stark simplicity of white hats and black hats—if only to remind us of the first principles on each side, the values that continue to give “good” and “evil” meaning and set the boundaries inside which the grey areas exist. Just as we instinctively search our stories for the people to root for, sometimes, so too do those stories’ inhabitants.

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Stratford-On-Hellmouth

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Measure for Measure Act II, Scene I / “The Gift”

One of the many reasons I adore Twitter is the way the hive mind can concoct some amazing things. A good idea can become a great idea can become something truly gazoinksbo, in the best possible way.

In that spirit, I give you a sampling of how I spent much of Monday evening with a group of Twitter comrades. In the wake of the news that some of the Joss Whedon Players have made a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, we naturally took it upon ourselves to cast some of the Bard’s other works with our favorite denizens of the Whedonverse. And Christine Becker, who curates the wonderful @GoodTVeets, was there to chronicle the wackiness.

Check it out, shan’t you? And then be sure to follow all these participants on Twitter, so as not to miss out on the next bout of inspiration that strikes we few, we happy few, we band of Scoobies.

UPDATE 11/3/2011: This carefully curated bit of tomfoolery is now available in Tumblr form, with all the original participants playing along.

Categories: Literature, Pop Culture, TV

Anti-Superman screeds are wrong – but not because Superman’s fictional

The hysterical kerfuffle over the latest issue of Action Comics, in which Superman renounces his American citizenship, has predictably inspired a huge amount of jingoistic blathering. And of course there have been plenty of calm, well-reasoned rebuttals from people who actually understand the point of the story and who aren’t, y’know, morons.

But one counter-argument I’ve heard around the Twittersphere – partly in jest, partly not – basically amounts to, “Calm down, Superman’s not real.” There are many valid reasons to reject the anti-Superman screeds, but this isn’t one of them. If you believe that fiction has a serious role to play in demonstrating and shaping societal values, then it’s perfectly reasonable to be angered by a work of fiction that seems to spit in the face of the values you cherish – or worse, one you once regarded as sharing your values which suddenly seems to upend or reject them.

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Words worth a thousand pictures

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere recently – fulfilling my duties as both a Sandman devotee and a literary Chicagoan, since the book is April’s selection in our Public Library’s “One Book, One Chicago” program. As any Gaiman reader would expect, the story is propulsive and chock-full of rich world-building and encyclopedic literary allusions. But at times, I feel like the strictures of prose lead to pitfalls that a comic book would skip over: some of the characterizations are a bit too on-the-nose, and descriptive passages occasionally lean on triteness.

And then I come across a passage like this one (which I quote here without context in order to prevent spoilage):

“The marquis felt, then, that much of what he had gone through in the previous week was made up for by the expression on Hunter’s face.”

Only pure prose can render that moment so perfectly. In a comic book, the expression on Hunter’s face would have to be drawn by an artist, who interprets the meaning of the sentence and the scene a certain way. The reader’s interpretation of that drawing may, in turn, diverge from the artist’s intent, but will nevertheless be restricted to the range of emotions conveyed by a particular physical image.

As it stands, that passage encapsulates the competitive advantage of a verbal medium. By relying on the limitless malleability of language, Gaiman allows every reader to process the meaning in her own way. In that sentence, Hunter’s expression might be one of anger, shock, bemusement, respect, relief, astonishment, joy, disbelief. It might contain any combination of those emotions. So it contains all of them, while stating none of them. It’s a Schrödinger paradox of a sentence. It forces the reader to do a bit of work, to invest himself in a way that a visual medium cannot.


ATTENTION STARZ: I have your next historical-but-not-really drama right here

April 20, 2011 1 comment

 

Followers of my Twitter feed will not be surprised to learn that I’ve been brushing up on my mythology – specifically, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, a sort of greatest-hits compilation of the gods and heroes of Greek, Roman, and Norse legend. What remains striking about virtually every one isn’t what they reveal about the values and mentalities of antiquity so much as what they reveal about timeless human nature. This isn’t a terribly original observation, but it’s true: the roots of all storytelling are here.

Anyway, the one I’m really loving, one of the preeminent stories of its time but lesser known today, is the saga of Theseus. He was Athens’s greatest hero, and dude was a straight-up knight of the realm: brave, just, and wise. And his story would make for a pretty kick-ass graphic novel or 13-episode TV series.

The details in most myths are fungible, stemming from an oral tradition written down by a handful of poets sometimes centuries after they originated. So the plot descriptions herein come from Hamilton’s volume; other versions may vary in certain particulars. But check out some of these TV-ready story elements:

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Categories: Literature, Pop Culture, TV