Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Love-Hate Relationship

Want a dichotomy? I hate romantic comedies, and my favorite movie is a romantic comedy.

What's my favorite movie? A Japanese film called Densha Otoko, or Train Man. It's the true story of an internet phenom known only as “Densha”. He stands up for a woman on the train when a drunk harassed her. He got her phone number out of the deal, and, being a geek, he turned to internet forums for advice on what to do.

The movie is split between the 2chan segments, where Densha seeks advice and empties his heart online to a rotating cast of listeners, whose forum speak is portrayed excellently onscreen through kinetic typography, and the dates with his dream girl, where he awkwardly and cutely tries to pitch woo.

From there you can probably guess the rest. He screws up and almost loses her, he works out his problem and gets her back, and they live happily ever after.

It's not the best movie I've ever seen. Citizen Kane is better, obviously. So is Ben Hur, Sunset Boulevard, Seven Samurai, all the standard choices. In terms of being a great movie, Densha Otoko isn't even in the top 100. I'm not even sure if it's really a good movie.

But, it is my favorite, and not as a guilty pleasure or “so-bad-it's-good” thing. In terms of pure enjoyment, this formulaic and only slightly visual innovative romantic comedy is my favorite film of all time.

And yet, I hate the romantic comedy. I hate it as a genre. Not universally, obviously, but the odds are really high that if you show me a romantic comedy, I will hate it. Not just dislike it, mind you, I will find it an utterly loathsome film.

Why do I love a formulaic romantic comedies, then, if I hate the genre? That's why I hate it. Because it is a genre which has perfectly good potential, and Densha Otoko's example shows off perfectly what the failings of this genre are.

So, at its core, the romantic comedy is the story of a relationship. The conflict starts with them apart, and ends with them together. That's the problem.

Love is... essentially... a selfish motivation. There's nothing wrong with it, I'm not against love, mind you, I want it like any red-blooded American. But, if I were to meet a girl and strike up a relationship I would not expect anyone else to be invested. It is between me and her, and, although ideally it will benefit both of us, it won't make the world better for our friends or coworkers or society in general.

If I'm watching a movie about two people falling in love, why should I care about them? There's nothing inherently heroic about what they were doing, and nothing at stake beyond one relationship not working out. So, why should I give a crap about your characters and care about your story?

Well, in Densha Otoko I care because they make a point about why I should care about Densha and want him to succeed. He's a geek whose life has been limited to online interactions, so much so that he uses it as a crutch to live his life for him. By pursuing this girl, he grows in confidence and interpersonal skill. His relationship is not the ONLY aspect of his character that grows.

That's good drama, a character starts out as flawed but sympathetic, and over the course of the story he improves as a person. It's why I love the character, it's why I love the movie. It's not just some wish-fulfillment fantasy about getting women, it's about realizing that you can be the person you want to be if you have confidence.

So, let me ask you: Why is that so rarely the case?

Romantic comedies, as a rule, fail to remember this very necessary element. The hero is almost always just someone whose life is fine but they don't have a relationship. Or, if it's a man, usually that he has tons of sex all the time but no desire for a relationship.

Who cares? Why should I want to follow the story of someone who has 99% of their life in order and every reason to be happy but for one last luxury. Well, most movies don't give you a reason. There is no growth outside of the relationship and that just makes for a frustrating movie, not only because it isn't very dramatic but because the subtext is insulting: The pursuit of personal joy is enough to carry a movie.

It isn't. That's not good storytelling, it's just wank. It's just wank. It's just pure, self absorbed wank of people saying “Look how awesome are attractive people are and how awesome things happen to them. Although there's some entirely survivable slapstick antics.” At they're worst, and they commonly reach the worst, the characters are hopelessly unlikeable, since they've benefited from negative behavior their whole lives without any real consequence.

I've been told that people who are actually in relationships like these movies sometimes. Just like people who are parents like movies about kids with no real story value.

I can't tell you enjoyment is wrong, but I just want you to recognize why these movies just don't have a lot of logic or real drama to them. It's cool if you like it because you like seeing happy things be happy, but the genre is capable of more.

Go watch Densha Otoko. That is the watermark, that manages to have everything the average romantic has plus a solid character arc and genuine likability. So, I don't feel bad saying I hate romantic comedies because I have a solid standard to hold them to.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In Defense of Lois Lane

"Nope. Not bitter. At least
they aren't killing me off."
Geoff Johns has certainly been pulling his weight around DC. First, he manages to keep his own Green Lantern continuity shielded from the The New 52 reboot, and now he's supplanting the most iconic relationship in comic history. Good bye Lois and Clark, hello Wonder Woman and Superman.

A lot of people are reacting to this pair, and I'm definitely in the “Negative” camp. I don't like this pairing. I have never seen any real chemistry between them. At best, it seems like an uncreative impulse to pair your biggest male and biggest female characters. (Not including Batman that is) At worst, it seems like a reactionary need to pair wonder woman with a stronger man.

That said, I don't think it can't work, because there is almost no concept that can't work. I'm sure there's a talented writer could probably come up with a story that makes sense for these characters and that I'd enjoy reading. It all depends on the reason for the pairing.

That's what worries me about this decision: the reasoning that people are using to justify it. Here, I'd like to focus on one in particular, and that is that some people don't like Lois Lane.

I'm not going to tell anyone they're wrong, since not liking a character isn't something you can be right or wrong about, but I can ask that you to consider a few of the points that inform my opinion of Lois Lane.

1. Clark loves Lois

I know, this is kind of a circular argument, saying that the pairing should exist because the pairing exists. Still, I think this is more than just a minor truism. Lois and Clark is the most iconic pairing in comics. Period. It is not just a geek pairing, it is mainstream Americana. It it is a Comic pairing that spawned a mainstream TV series. It dates all the way back to Action Comics #1. It is older than the Daily Planet. Lois and Clark were a pair before Superman could fly.

And this isn't a tangential detail, Superman's love for Lois has been a major trait that has motivated actions, affected how he relates to people, caused him sorrow, happiness, and introspection. Who you love is a major part of your are, and Superman has loved Lois for over 70 years.

As a result, everything Superman has ever done has, on some level, involved Lois Lane. Part of his personality was his love for her. Even if she wasn't related to the event in question, the part of him that loved her was, influencing how he related to people and what he thought was worth protecting. Without it, Superman would need to be an entirely different character in order to make sense.

Lois and Clark is one of the cornerstones on which Superman as a character has been built, and you can't just pull out a cornerstone and expect everything else to still hold up.

2. Lois Loves Clark

This isn't my way of restating point one, here I'm referring to the fact that, post-silver age, Lois was explicitly in love with Clark Kent and not Superman.

Contrary to what Kill Bill will tell you, Clark Kent is not Superman's secret identity. Superman's origin started on Krypton, but it's really important that that is only half the story. It's just as important to his origin that he was found and raised by the Kents and, wherever he was born, that is who he is. Nurture over Nature is a major part of the Superman mythos: He was born with incredible power, but he didn't become a villain and he didn't become a fascist. He was raised with the values of the Kents, to believe in helping others, that powers didn't define you, and that they didn't make you better than others. Clark seeks belonging in “normal” society, because that's where he was raised and that's his identity.

People talk about how Wonder Woman has more in common with Superman because she shares his superhero status, but that's the problem. Under the best writers, Clark Kent doesn't want to lord over the world as King and Queen of the ultrahumans, he wants to belong to the society he was raised in. I think that Superman would honestly prefer a world where he could be Clark all the time, and never need to wear the cape again.

As a geek who's often struggled with feeling different and wanting to belong, that's one of the reasons that Superman speaks to me as a character.

How does that link back to Lois? Well, because she loves that part of him. She not just attracted to him as the ultimate masculine specimen, she loves the good-natured, noble, boy from Smallville, who can fly and punch meteors and yet doesn't consider a 40 hour work-week beneath him.

3. Lois DOES Understand Superman

I mentioned people talking about how Wonder Woman “gets” the hero lifestyle and Lois doesn't, but I disagree with that. Lois totally can understand heroism, why? Because she's a journalist.

Remember the Superman tagline: Truth, Justice, and the American Way? Well, what's more American than the first amendment? (Answer: Bandit Keith)

In addition to being based on the hard-boiled reporter archetype of the 30s, Lois was based more specifically on real-life journalist Nellie Bly, who bravely infiltrated a psychiatric hospital and endured backward treatment in order to bring attention to inhumane conditions there. Truth: Exposed. Justice: Promoted. American Way: FOR AMERICA.

It's no accident that the creators of Superman gave Clark Kent a job at a newspaper, it's because that's a form of heroism that Clark deeply respects. And I'm not just talking about when Lois sneaks into a LexCorp building to steal sensitive documents. Journalists, at least in their ideal, bring knowledge to the public, promoting democracy. They're everyday heroes, like firefighters or schoolteachers.

Under the best writers, Superman doesn't judge heroism by scale. He repairs hydroelectric dams with laser vision because that's what he can do, and that doesn't make him any better than the average person. Superman's concept of heroism is to do your best for others with what you have, like Lois does. (Again, why he speaks to me), and I think Lois understands and has that in common with him.

4. Superhero Comics Need Normals

Here's one area where I'll focus on Lois as a better choice than Wonder Woman and not just as a character on her own merit. Superhero comics, as a whole, tend to suffer from a lack normal humans. And I don't mean de facto superpowered heroes like Batman or Booster Gold or computer experts enabling the heroes via earpiece, I mean normal humans with no powers, tech, or extraordinary martial arts. I'm talking about the parents, the siblings, children, coworkers: people who don't directly aid the superheroes in conflicts but who provide emotional footholds for the stories.
There's actual reasoning for this pairing,
but it's way too close to a healthy
relationship to feature in Batman stories.

These are important characters, and sometimes it seems like all that comics want to do is get them kidnapped, or turn them into macguffins, or kill them off.

I can see the reasoning to this. You want to focus on the heroes because that's what people pay to see. You buy a justice league comic to see superheroes, not boring normal people. Still, though, I think it's necessary to have them.

In superhero comics, you're dealing with a necessarily unfamiliar setting, and its important to have points of familiarity to anchor the audience to what happens. Giving Batman a butler who is a just a normal person gives us a point of reference for seeing who Batman is as a person and not just an absurd concept.

That's another reason I like Lois as a character, she gives us a jumping off point into the Superman/Clark Kent universe. With Wonder Woman.... not so much. That's where you start to lose the relatability, when you have the superhuman man and superhuman woman living in a satellite with powers nobody else can equal. If you don't cultivate a cast of non-superhero characters, you start to lose the emotional core of the series and you end up with something that's almost self-parody, a fight between costumes and other costumes over arbitrary forces of good and evil where all impact on actual humanity is lost.

That works if Alan Moore is doing a satire series, but not for main continuity.

I have more reasons to be against WW/SM, but I'm stopping it here. I just want to focus on the positive reasons for Lois, since I don't want to condemn comics that haven't been actually published yet. And, frankly, as long as Superman doesn't sell his marriage to the Devil we'll know that the story could have been worse.

I don't really expect to change anyone's mind or affect future stories, but I'd just like to put out there some reasons why we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss Lois, and try to demonstrate how a pairing can inform a lot about a character instead of just providing a diverting sideline for shippers.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go put the finishing touches on my 63 page thesis on why Korra-Bo-Lin would make for a better Book 2. (What? I'm not against HAVING or ARGUING FOR the wrong pairings, just against them becoming canon)

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Abed Op-Ed

There's a movie coming this Christmas called War Horse. It's about a lost horse that tries to find its owners during World War I. Directed by Steven Spielberg, score by John Williams. If you hear tapping sounds, that's the entire crew nailing up shelves for their new Oscars.

It's probably going to be great...why shouldn't it be? Spielberg has been making movies like this his whole life and he's great at it. Still, the engorged gland in my brain that produces hate practically explodes when I'm seeing trailers for it. I mean, it's maudlin, it's tear-jerking, and it's probably so formulaic that I've seen it all a million times.

Then again, who am I to be so jaded? I'm 24. I have a BA in English. If Roger Ebert wants to lecture about the overused devices in movies, he can because he earned that right by devoting his life to the study and critique of the medium.

My generation has been spoiled by access to the internet in general and in particular. We've seen the tropes and devices of literature chopped up and rearranged in a dizzyingly complete array. As a side result, I think we think a little too highly of ourselves. And so, like Icarus flying too close to the sun on wings of artificial genre-savvy, we're heading for a dangerous situation. (Not real danger, mind you, more quality of television and movies danger.)

To see this danger playing out, turn to NBC's very high-quality comedy Community. In it, the delightfully funny Danny Pudi plays the character of Abed Nadir. If you're not familiar with Community, Abed's main shticks is that he has encyclopedic knowledge of the tropes of TV and movies and frequently comments on them both in character and beyond the fourth wall. And there's a lot to like: The performance is great, his lines are cleverly funny, and his fascination with classic sitcom style comes from a place of honesty and genuine knowledge that makes it work all the better.

Unfortunately, as we've learned from Dark Knight, though, just because something is great doesn't mean that I won't have a negative influence on the creative landscape. Abed making an impact as an excellent character means that we're going to start seeing imitators, and unless we start cloning Danny Pudi, they won't be as good. I'm not against cloning Danny Pudi, obviously, but without the help of science I can't really offer that as a solution.

Returning to reality, though, there's a real danger that a “Too Smart for TV” character starts becoming the norm. We already saw it happen to slasher movies when Scream came along and an entire generation of viewers decided that they were two smart for slasher movies even if they hadn't seen enough of them to be genuinely jaded. Abed, though, is the universal expert who knows all movies and all television: the stakes are a lot higher this time.

As even TVTropes will tell you, tropes are not bad; they're useful. Formulas and devices aren't necessarily innovative, but they're still important to making likable stories in a reliable time-frame. Take Frasier, a long-running, high quality show. It lasted 12 reliably funny seasons on tropes and formulas and never stopped being funny. If we start pointing these tropes out constantly, however, then we're risking their long-term usefulness. Tropes run on a suspension of disbelief the same way that actors and props do. If someone is constantly pointing out that the Senator is really Laurence Olivier, then it's hard to get into the performance no matter how good it is.

What is going to happen when every single show has to have a genre-savvy snarker quipping constantly about how this stuff would only happen on TV? Not only will we play that joke out, but every trope that they quip about will be collateral damage.

Now, I can't ask to get rid of Abed and I wouldn't want to, but maybe we should start being a little bit nicer to tropes. People my age aren't jaded intellectuals who've seen everything under the sun, we've just had more time to read about tropes than other people. It might do us all some good to lie back and appreciate useful formulas for what they are.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Danse Macabre, Redux

Super 8 is out, and J. J. Abrams has established his style quite clearly: master of the let-down.

In Lost, a thousand perfectly concealed secrets wove together to end up with a cheesy group hug.

In Cloverfield, he built a marketing campaign around concealing the appearance of a monster that nobody will remember.

And now, in Super 8, he builds a marketing campaign around concealing the appearance of a monster that… well, at least he sticks to what he knows.

Now, it’s hard to criticize him too much, I mean, how could any monster fulfill our pent-up imaginations? I mean, Abrams is just following the classic rules of horror: show only shadows. The good horror writer creates the suggestion of something big and lets the audience fill in the details with they’re imagination.

Stephen King writes about it in his classic book, Danse Macabre. He also wrote about the disappointment inherent in this approach.

The protagonist throws [the door] open, and there is a ten-foot-tall bug. The audience screams, but this particular scream has an oddly relieved sound to it. 'A bug ten feet tall is pretty horrible,' the audience thinks, 'but I can deal with a ten-foot-tall bug. I was afraid it might be a hundred feet tall.'”

It can be a sad problem, because you have no choice but to show the monster eventually. Anticipation without an eventual reveal leaves an audience feeling hopelessly ripped off. Even if a reveal can’t live up to imagination, it’s better than no reveal at all.

So, do we have to forgive J. J. Abrams and other storytellers whose reveals disappoint us? Are they doing the best possible when trapped by the limitations of surprise and imagination?

Well, no. This big a flaw in storytelling can’t be left alone as the status quo, not as long as there’s a chance to do it right.

In my last blog entry, I talked about Pyramid Head of Silent Hill 2. Now, I mentioned that I believed he was the best character design in horror history and I stand by it. That doesn’t, however, make him immune to the principles of the Danse Macabre. As good as a design as he is, it doesn’t overreach the limits of human imagination. Somewhere in our deepest fears is something worse, even more carefully tailored nightmare for the shadowy reaches of our unique fears.

So why is it, then, that he didn’t disappoint viewers and instead became a memorable design?

Well, let’s break down his first appearance. At one point in Silent Hill 2, the protagonist, James, is walking down a hallway which is separated by a set of bars. Pyramid Head is standing behind the bars.

He doesn’t move. He doesn’t react. You can get a great look at him. Oh well, at least he’s not a hundred feet tall, right?

On the surface, it seems like this does everything wrong. We should be seeing only shadows, right? Why is he showing us the whole monster in detail and even giving us time to examine it?

It might seem like the introduction of Pyramid Head defies the conventions of the Danse Macabre, but, rather, it exemplifies the principles. What Team Silent understood so well was that revelation doesn’t require the end of mystery.

Staring at Pyramid Head just standing there, we start to wonder, “Why is he just standing there? Who is he? He looks like a grizzly, murderous fiend, so why doesn’t he attack? What the hell is going on?!”

Hiding a monster’s appearance is such a limited concept because appearance is something that you can understand completely. No matter how many scaled claws, fearsome fangs or rubbery tentacles a monster has, shape leaves no room for ambiguity. Even with its appearance concealed, the Cloverfield monster must look like something, and once you get a good look, there is no more mystery for its appearance to offer. Past that, there’s really nothing to know about him. He’s a huge monster that wrecks things. It gets rid of the mystery we have but it doesn’t replace it.

Pyramid Head, on the other hand, invites us into a mystery based around understanding complex actions. The darkness of the mind is an endless labyrinth, and for each door we open another ten appear. In the end, we look back on our experience with him like the patterns of an elaborate nautilus. A web of strangeness that is satisfying in its terror.

So, here is the twist, I believe, that can let horror survive the Danse Macabre without the letdown: the promise of the next dance. Horror works when each reveal compounds a greater mystery. The reveal isn’t about the ten foot bug, it’s about the staircase the bug came down from, and how it seems a little to long for the house we’re in…and why is the bug smiling?

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, August 9, 2010


Inception is a very, very good movie, but that can’t hide the fact that it doesn’t live up to the high potential that it sets for itself.
Great efforts have been made to keep the story of the film a secret, but it really isn’t possible to discuss the film much without going into at least the outline. If you want to see the film completely untainted by potential spoilers, then don’t read any further and just go see it because, whatever problems I have, this is still a great movie, probably the best of this year’s summer blockbusters, and almost guaranteed for a best picture nomination.
Still here? Well, the setting of Inception involves talented psychics who can use shared dreams to enter other people’s minds to steal secrets. Leonardo Dicaprio plays Cobb, a master agent who takes a job to perform an “Inception”, the supposedly impossible task of planting an idea in someone’s head. To accomplish this, he assembles a team in classic heist movie sense, including Ariadne, a young prodigy played by Ellen Page, who Dicaprio’s character tasks with building the dream world. The one problem, however, is that Cobb’s emotional baggage is starting to pollute their operations.
All of this is delivered in a very long opening sequence which goes into great detail explaining the principles and rules of dream diving and setting up the pattern of the heist. Then, the team enters the actual dream heist, and three different layers of dreaming are created. At this point, the movie shifts somewhat radically into enter action-thriller mode, with each layer containing a different action set-piece. This is where the film starts to get disappointing.
Not enough is done with the original premise that all of this is happening in dreamscapes. The premise of the action is that human manifestations of the victim’s subconscious attack the invaders like white blood cells. It works in theory, but unfortunately it is kind of a let down since the result is an intentionally generic army of spy-movie mooks pouring gunfire on the almost inexplicably action oriented agents. The third layer, in which agents assault a snow fortress (for some reason), could have been put in a Bond movie without a single alteration. Nowhere can you find symbolic representations of the subject's mind or unusual or illogical dream architecture like in Satoshi Kon's much, much better dreamscape action movie Paprika.

There are great moments, particularly in an exhilarating and visually stunning scene in which shifts in gravity on one layer cause gravity to change in a deeper layer, leading to a spectacular shifting aerial duel, but unfortunately these moments are in the minority. In an expository scene, Ariadne plays with the dreamscape by literally folding a city onto itself, but in the actual heist the environments are rigidly static and not really that dreamy.

There are glimpses of greatness here, and the film does touch on questions of reality and subconscious psychology, but unfortunately it really only touches on them. Still, though, the action scenes are executed beautifully and cast is stellar, and when the film does get surreal the effects are visually stunning.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t be noticing how much greater Inception could have been if it wasn’t already so good that I didn’t feel the need to compromise to enjoy it.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cthulhu Syndrome: Horror Sequels and Diminishing Returns

I was watching a good neo-silent movie recently called Call of Cthulhu. Alright, it was actually a few months ago but shut up I’m trying to make a point. It was a faithful of adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s famous short story that everyone knows and nobody read, and kept up Lovecraft’s style of slow mysterious build-up and explosive fragmentary reveals. In the film’s explosive climax, a door to a cyclopean tomb opened and an unbelievable horror emerged… oh wait, it’s just Cthulhu.

I feel sorry for Cthulhu, he’s just not scary… which sucks for him since that’s kind of his whole shtick. Okay, I mean, I have to be fair, if I was actually in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and he popped out in front of me to start chomping heads I would probably be terrified, but in a movie he just has no effect on me. That isn’t a problem with him (her?), exactly, but it’s a problem that effects him more than perhaps any other figure: people know him too well.

The entire horror of Cthulhu, like most of Lovecraft’s work, came from mystery. Cthulhu was a weird alien presence, and his emergence into the world was to see the universe breaking. Once he’s a familiar figure though, he loses all of that. We know him from his flailing tentacles to his tiny baby wings, and people love him. People write fun songs about him. When you’re supposed to be scary, being completely known is a big disadvantage.

Ideally, though, even if he isn’t mysterious the thought of a man-eating horror should still be scary on its own right? Well, beyond just reducing the mystery, when we know and like a character, even as a horror character, we have a positive opinion of it. Even if we were afraid of it once, we won’t be afraid anymore.

As a practical example, take the great Pyramid Head of the Silent Hill series.

Now, I personally think Pyramid Head is the best character design in horror history. Team Silent built him to communicate pain and the violent potential of masculinity on a deep psychological level... and every time he showed up in Silent Hill 2 I was terrified.

Pyramid Head immediately became the mascot of the series and, in Silent Hill Homecoming he made a triumphant return. The fan reaction: He sucked. Part of it was that Homecoming wasn’t as good a game overall, but the reason why Pyramid Head, in particular, was poorly received was that he didn’t belong in a horror game anymore. Pyramid Head was so great in Silent Hill 2 that fans, or even non-fans, knew he was a great horror character, and so when he appeared the reaction wasn’t “Oh no, Pyramid Head is coming to slice me in two!” It was “Oh hey, I know that guy! What cool thing is he going to do?” Even if you’re excited because you expect something scary to happen, you’re still excited.

Over-exposure hurts all characters as they turn from interesting figures to overused memes, but horror characters are especially hurt by the syndrome. The moral of the story, sequels are especially bad for horror franchises…which sort of makes me wonder why they tend to have the most.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Abortion in Narrative

I can pretty much guarantee that you had some reaction while reading this title… some kind of uncomfortable pang associated with a hot issue. Well, I’m not going to discuss the issue itself here, but I want you to remember that pang because it goes directly to the point I am making.

Juno and its bastard child Secret Life of the American Teenager are pretty old by pop culture standards, but I feel like getting around to a point about them. I remember watching Juno and looking back over its pretentious hipster script, and I remember a set of scenes that stuck out. When Juno finds out that she’s pregnant, she decides automatically to abort. When she arrives at a clinic a single girl is standing outside with a sign chanting stupidly into the air like the village idiot.

At this point in the narrative, I saw the movie as put itself squarely in the “Pro-Choice…Duh!” camp and prepare to move on (After a laughably stereotypical discussion about kids taking prescription drugs extracted unaltered from any given episode of SVU or “Talk To Your Kids” brochure). When Juno walked into the clinic, though, she was confronted by an aggressive, vaguely-slutty receptionist and had a sudden change of heart, not wanting to kill her baby with ‘fingernails’. Boom! All of the sudden the movie pulled a complete 180 and was a pro-life fairy-tale about the infinite joys of full-term pregnancy with nary a backward glance to abortion.

And here we arrive at my point: Abortion just can’t fit casually into popular narrative.

That isn’t a judgment on the issue, and that isn’t to say that narrative is ruled by patriarchal pro-life sentiment, but it is to say that the way narrative works makes it impossible to bring in abortion without making it a core issue.

Going back to Juno, I don’t think that the movie can be classified as conservative/pro-life, at least not in a core or intentional way. Juno didn’t have its lead abort for a very simple reason that had nothing to do with politics: Aborting would have ended the story.

If Juno went back home having terminated the pregnancy, the entire creative argument of the story would have ended with nothing to show for it. Not only that, it would sort of feel like a retcon: the story presents you with a potential conflict and chance for development and then, in an effective instant, wheels back to a time to before that conflict.

Now, it isn’t strictly accurate to say that the status quo has returned, since the aftermath of abortion definitely offers psychological footholds to climb onto, but now we enter the territory of the Third Rail, wherein abortion is just too volatile an issue to discuss or deal with and without completely entering the fray of a divisive political issue; if the character is depressed afterwards you have a condescending pro-life message, if the character is okay with it you have a condescending pro-choice message, and if reactions are mixed you have an annoying namby-pamby cop-out.

I think this is what really makes abortion different from other equally hot-button issues like gay marriage or stem-cell research or Teapot Dome in that it sort of demands that you introduce a retcon in order to bring abortion into the story, and, from a pure narrative perspective, that’s a really jarring entrance.

You might say that Juno and works like it kind of disprove my point since they introduce abortion as an issue without the retcon, but I think that proves my point, rather. If she had gotten the abortion, it would have ended the narrative. Abortion exists in these only to highlight that the girl didn’t do it. As the Bright Lights Film Journal puts it correctly (Amid a generally more pro-choice slanted article) to say that “Abortion exists only as a faux option - something to choose against.”

So, it’s time in this discussion to get to the significance of all this. And that is that, whether for good or bad, popular media is going to see an absence of abortion and everything that that absence entails. I think, whether intentional or not, that that means that there is going to be a subtle pro-life leaning in stories involving pregnancy since the inherent demands of narrative structure coincidentally lead to a side in the issue.

Unless the woman has a miscarriage, which is typically just bad writing trying to undo a plot they don’t want anymore.

Labels: , , , , ,