Saturday, November 18, 2017

The inconceivability of different stuff

I wasn't sure I wanted to illustrate this with a cheap Princess Bride joke, but it gave me an excuse to post a picture of Wallace Shawn, which one should always take. To be clear, none of this paragraph will be on the test.

Humans are built pretty stupid, in a lot of important ways. I don't mean that to sound cynical. We are also built to be brilliant in some amazing ways that should be celebrated, and mostly are. It's simply not what I'm talking about here.

One of the key things we all do is see the world that we live in as natural. It's not entirely bad. That's the way we processed it growing up. Most of us just never quite grow out of that when we grow up. The ideas of how life is in the time, place become our definition of how things are supposed to be, and it's very, very difficult for us to move outside that conception to see possibilities that are different but equal or even better.

Whenever people start to discuss Joseph Campbell or similar theories on how stories work, I'm reminded of them. Not, mind you, that he doesn't have worthwhile ideas to discuss and explore. It is worth considering, however, that specific interpretations of the common themes of specifically religious storytelling might not be the limits to the possibilities open to us as a species to use story, our primary tool for communicating ideas.

It returned to my mind while reading Why All the Comedy Men Are So Awful by Drew Magary. It's interesting how much of what we think of culturally as comedy developed out of an accident of circumstance, or a series of them. Different sorts of people with different backgrounds running theaters in the early 20th Century, different people running radio, TV and publishing in the middle of the 20th Century, different people running comedy clubs in the '70s... everything about it becomes different, step by step.

When Chris Rock complains that he needs space to workshop his material without the attention the Internet brings now, he's referring to a specific type of comedy. The one we all grew up in and around, so we don't always notice. I suspect he doesn't notice, because he's not just been culturally surrounded by the idea of comedy, but inside the comedy world, in which the rules of that kind of humor are discussed and codified at length.

It's obvious when you start realizing how much the subversives were influenced by the previous generation. In comedy, this was the biggest disappointment, because so much of the generation of comedy prior to the one I grew up with is awful to me. (There's some in the generation preceding that I enjoy, for what that's worth.) Of course that's who they were influenced by, but it was one of my first experiences dealing with that dynamic.

There's another discussion to be had about music, as well, of course, as well as most other aspects of our lives. There's probably nothing that we don't somehow think we're doing it or it's being done the only way possible or the best way.

This is most dangerous when we discuss the economics or politics of the future, we get caught up discussing the ways of the past without any consideration that our field of discussion is limited.

In the age where Robots are taking your job and Moderation is failing our future, the failure of humanity to consider our biggest issues from perspectives that move beyond the arguments of the 20th Century and the specifics of the time and place in which they came about is going to be suicidal.

If you think any of the 20th Century political or economic systems are going to lead us into the future we're entering into, I think you're absolutely wrong.

No, I'm really not sure what that right system is going to be. That might be for the best. I suspect if I had some confidence in specific solution to our problems, I'd be even more awestruck at our collective failure to take any action toward it.

As it stands, I see people everywhere arguing the ideas that aren't good enough against the ideas that aren't good at all, and I despair.

I can only hope vainly that when the solutions are presented, they'll be obvious enough to get people behind, and that there will be enough society left to move it forward.

Monday, November 06, 2017

One stream to rule them all

Ok, so I'm behind because I didn't mean to blog about this. It really makes me seem far more concerned with the issue than I really am.

But then I also felt I wanted my thoughts out there and saved for posterity, so maybe I'm more concerned than I allow myself to acknowledge.

Lord of the Rings.: Amazon, Warner Bros. in Talks for Series Adaptation.

Is this series a good idea at all? The books are wildly important in fantasy literature. The movies are great achievements. I love all of them strongly and sincerely, not only for what they are but for what they built for genre work and the perception of it.

And a series could put the work in, dig in and really complicate all of characters and relationships in ways that are more tenable to a modern audience. Certainly Peter Jackson and company took big strides in that work, and I love them the more for it. I just revisited the Extended Editions about a year ago and still love them wholly.

But really, the message of the story, much as J.R.R. Tolkien struggled to deny it, is so anti-modern and the divisions of the people of Middle Earth along racial divides that are real and important are so big a part of their DNA that I'd worry that trying to reach them beyond that by giving them more room, you seriously risk exacerbating the problem.

Those of us who have grown up with fantasy through the Middle Earth saga, Dungeons & Dragons and all of the works inspired by them take for granted core confirmations of the underlying ideas of racism that they confirm constantly, in barely veiled metaphor, but I believe there is fantasy out there that approaches these kinds of worlds with a more modern view.

The deadening silence my concerns have met upon being voiced tells me that many fantasy lovers are not quite ready to face this head on, but I can't help thinking that if Amazon Video wants to avoid being committed to something that looks backward while it's still going, they might want to consider that.

I think the environment of whichever future year it delivers this, will be a different on than Jackson and company walked into in 2001, and how this story is responded to in this environment could be different. So the political concerns I suggested are a real concern that I think they'll be foolish to ignore.

But the more obvious concern here that I'd see as a executive considering developing this into a new Game of Thrones type property is that people know it. A huge part of the watercooler appeal of "Game of Thrones" is the "what's going to happen?" With the novels unfinished, this even offers one of the addictive parts for people who had read the books and were largely see adaptations of stories they knew early on, with the producers supposedly knowing the ending and having Martin's involvement could be adapting it in ways to lead to that as well as foreshadowing in ways the books hadn't.

There's really nothing to compare to that in "Lord of the Rings". There isn't an alternate ending or missing twists of significance. Being able to meander the story to visit goddamn Tom Bombadil isn't going to generate a lot of chatter at the watercooler, literal or virtual.

There are plenty of fantasy series out there that could be developed into something that would fit their needs if they could make them right.

A Song of Ice and Fire, the basis for "Game of Thrones" certainly didn't have anything like "Lord of the Rings" recognition with the general public when the show came on. A show that delivered the intrigue and excitement of "Game of Thrones" could bring the audience.

I'm not sure even a solid "Lord of the Rings" show brings a substantial group of viewers to Amazon. I think it might really need to be better than the Jackson movies in order to generate the kind of excitement it would need to bring in the audience they'd want to justify that kind of expense. That seems to me like a taller order than you want to need as a starting place for a new series.

Disney owning the world

How do we feel about Disney owning the world?

The 21st Century Fox has been holding talks to sell most of the company to Disney story buzzing all around begs the question.

Mind you, whatever Marvel and Star Wars rights are in this are not much of an issue for me. That's just consolidation. And while I'm less enthusiastic about Marvel Studios generally than many others, I still agree that they stand a better chance of making a decent Fantastic Four movie than Fox, so it's all good.

I have three major thoughts on this.

First, and the one I'll keep coming back to, is that there's too goddamn much media consolidation. None of us should be ok with this. The possibility of seeing a live action Wolverine vs. Hulk should not be enough to make it ok.

Second, maybe if anyone has to consolidate all of Hollywood under its envelope, it should be Disney. We pretend it isn't true, but Hollywood is fucking Klan level racist. We all ignore it, because of like artistic freedom or the need to make boatloads of money that might be partially jeopardized by having non-whites in too many significant roles. We can't all risk the fun of big movies all the time by being on the right side of history, can we?

Well, Disney is the only one that seems to be making a real effort in this direction. The Star Wars movies are looking genuinely diverse. Black Panther is coming.

Mind you, the Doctor Strange and Iron Fist controversies are still pretty recent, and the fact they very weirdly took nearly everything about Miles Morales, made him white and just called him "Peter Parker" for Spider-Man: Homecoming shows they have a distance to travel before they reach a point that civilized people would consider decent, but that is still a good ways ahead of the standards of their industry.

Third, well, there's something less interesting about everything Disney touches. I've not gotten to Phil Owen's I’m Breaking Up With Star Wars yet. And with a Rian Johnson movie on tap, I have at least that far to go before I give up, but bringing in Ron Howard and bringing back J.J. Abrams are discouraging, even while understandable, moves for me personally, especially from a studio that has made a lot of things I like just fine in the moment, but only a few I really connect with.

Mind you, I can accept if I need to break up with Star Wars, and I've never connected beyond the moment with anything of the Marvel movies that weren't made by James Gunn, although the Captain America movies have come close. I'm not bitter about any of this. I'm glad other people are getting what they want from them.

And I, like everyone, mostly end up talking about Marvel and Star Wars, all of which I'm fine consolidating further.

The rest seems like a lot of overreach and a borderline monopoly on mainstream entertainment, which I'm more than a little troubled by.

Until it actually happens, I don't really have more to say, but some part of this feels like something we should be worried about more than we are.

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