The Stars and the Moon

Anna Sasaki encounters Marnie five times. But it only takes a first glimpse of Marnie through the lit window of the spectacular marsh house for Anna to become captivated.

Marnie was a light for Anna, offering her attention like no one else had, and then was herself in return idolized by Anna as this perfect girl. Marnie shined bright and warm but still just outside of Anna’s grasp: her Stars and Moon.

Marnie offers something different. She engages Anna.

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"Faced with Reality"

Spongebob is a character iconic for his wacky antics and esoteric understanding of the non-logical physics of the undersea, Bikini Bottom world, a foil against the relatable, bitter Squidward. And through his infinite earnest and optimism, Spongebob experiences a flurry of effortless successes. But that bubble is occasionally popped, and Spongebob is “Faced with Reality.”

The “Straight Man” is a core part of traditional comedy. He acts as a grounded foil to point out the silliness of some other character’s antics. He knows what real life is. Some shows never break the kayfabe, and despite any Straight Men, still maintain the rules of the universe as being absurd and non-logical (eg: 30 Rock). But many shows do occasionally pop the bubble and show that there is a world outside the show (or park, in the case of Danger & Eggs). And that crack in the surface can either lead to comedy or tragedy. It’s shocking when it leads to tragedy.

Not every story with a Fairy Godmother ends “Happily Ever After.”

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“A Dad for all times, a Dad for all ages, Laika writes a new shitty Dad within its claymated pages.”

Studio Laika. They’re known for lovely and charming claymation films, including the recent and widely popular Kubo and the Two Strings. However, Kubo was an anomaly for them. Matthew McConaughey’s dedicated impression of George Clooney made for a dedicated and convincing father. By contrast, the other three feature films in the studio’s official lineage share among them a similar take on their neglectful, prideful parents who harbor distant relationships with their protagonist-of-a-child.

I’ll introduce them:

Coraline’s workaholic garden-catalogue-author parents ignore her, shoo her away, scold her unfairly, and neither trust nor believe her when strange things start happening (Coraline). Norman’s parents do not believe in his ability to see ghosts, and his dad resents his being less-than-normal as much as any bully he faces at school (Parnanorman). And Winnie’s dad ultimately cares more about his social status and his cheese than about her well-being (The Boxtrolls).

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The Chosen One

“You’re the only one who can save the world!”

Media bombards us with the concept of “The Chosen One,” telling us there is a singular character preordained to save the world. Whether it be Doctor Who or Jesus Christ or the President of the United States, there’s going to be a singular person bequeathed with this fateful responsibility.

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Failed Genius

Genius speaks for itself.

Talent is not an end in and of itself. There’s more to it than that. Born ability can be seen as a means to an end, a tool, even, and with or without the opportunity to foster genius, one can make something, or nothing, of oneself.

Success is just one outcome, a singular goal. It is not always the end product of genius, in which case media deems that genius, “failed genius,” often with some obstacle getting in the way of “success.”

What obstacle?

I present my three cases: Christopher Langan, real person, the primary case study for said chapters of Outliers; Malcolm from Malcom in the Middle; and Will Hunting from Good Will Hunting.

 

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Danger & Eggs: Progressivism and Party in the Cartoon

Progressive social values, diversity, and modern social themes in cartoons are becoming increasingly prevalent, usually embodied in characters. Whether it be the romance of Ruby and Sapphire in CN’s Steven Universe or Clyde’s two dads and referenced family therapy in Nick’s The Loud House (among another dozen examples in those two shows or repeat scenarios in other shows), there’s a lot going on that either wasn’t relevant or wasn’t talked about in the past of cartoon history.

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The Perfect Person

What does this mean? The Perfect Person. Is this the Saint? Or the enlightened Guru? Prophet or Messiah or Avatar? What about the Machiavellian Prince? Or Nietzche’s Übermensch?

...
"The unexamined life is not worth living" (Socrates).

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The Genius and his Companion

The story’s named after you. You are the hero of the story. You have the power, you have the drama, you have it all.

But is the story actually “about” you?

Simple answer: no.

Who’s it about, then? It’s about the female companion. It’s about the girl who serves as something between an audience-insert and a foil for our eponymous hero.

The Genius and his Companion, “companion” being the Doctor Who terminology.

This trope guides a handful of major stories. The top few that I think of are Doctor Who, Vampire Hunter D, and Sherlock Holmes.

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TV Adaptations of Movies

Okay, so there are a lot of these. TV Adaptations of Movies, that is. And the quality varies quite a bit. Honestly (obviously), most are in the realm of “bad” and “lacking.” Perhaps even “uninspired.” Oooh, that’s right! I said it. Though worse can probably be said for movie adaptations of TV shows.

But… there are good ones. There are good TV shows derived from movies that bring something entirely new and exciting both to the world of the film and to the world of television. Are those the ones I’m going to talk about? Well, maybe just a little bit.

So, how am I going to approach this topic? Well, I’m really just going to talk about two specific shows that exemplify different elements of adaptation (ie, I happen to have been watching them recently and “just kinda decided”).

In a world where every other box office hit is a remake or reboot of something “classic,” (that’s the world we’re living in right now, for any not following along) it should be no surprise that shows pop up on the television every so often that are just derivative of popular film work already out there. But it does surprise me when shows like this get more mainstream attention. For every Voltron and Trollhunters that Dreamworks produces for Netflix, they produce a few cheaper shows: Dreamworks Dragons, The Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show, Dawn of the Croods, Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh… just to name a few. Spinoff series from their own movies.

But I am going to discuss Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Cartoon Network) and Tangled: The Series (Disney, previewed with the TV special Tangled Before Ever After). There, I said it. These two.

I have not seen the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie. I don’t know that I ever had an interest, especially now, since I’m getting a healthy (small) dose of the franchise without having to deal with the whole “raining food” plot that doesn’t quite appeal to me.

The TV show, though, has some perks. I’ll say that it has a few likable characters (Sam Sparks, Flint’s Dad, and the Mayor/Principal). They all have some level of fun, uniqueness, or depth to their characters and voices. (I’ll let you decide who has what.) But protagonist Flint Lockwood himself is lacking. He’s pretty one-dimensional; he has his one-note, childish obsession with “inventing,” a crippling emotional dependence on his relationship with Sam, and every plot of his involves a cliché “I was short-sighted and didn’t regard our friendship but now I do at the end of the episode.” And some of the other characters’ gimmicks are not quite up to the snuff of “entertaining.” Not to mention the town’s singular obsession with sardines getting a little old after the few episodes I’ve seen (probably worse if you watch more of the show; can’t promise that, though). Also note: none of the movies original voice actors return; though these voice actors are just fine. For Flint, I do like Mark Edwards better than Bill Hader.

The show’s animation is fine, though not great. Flint has that annoying thing where from any non-face-on perspective, his nose makes up half the silhouette of his face—a “side-nose”—being on the far side of his eye. I’ve seen this, or similar things, done just fine (reference: Matthieu Cousin, @InsideMatthieu; though usually side-mouth and not side-nose), but it lacks the charm here to be anything other than distracting and annoying or unsettling (b/c spatial discontinuity).

I sound a little harsh on the show. I’ve been mostly enjoying it. The plots are hit-or-miss, but the hits can be solid and give us some humor and characterization.

(Sony is also developing a Hotel Transylvania series in the same vein. It’s pre-Andy Samburg’s character. I’m kind of excited, since I enjoyed the movies.)

But onward:

Tangled. Tangled: Before Ever After. Tangled: the series. It’s Tangled. Tangled was good, right?

Here, we have many returners. The voice actors. Alan Mencken on music. Disney distribution (Disney Channel). And it shows. The production is phenomenal. The animation is clever, unique, and fluid. The music is solid and has a few highlights here and there, although I have little love for the opening theme. The acting is really quite dynamic and exciting, too. I don’t think I’ve ever been as convinced by Rapunzel as here.

And now we get to go beyond the linear plot of Tangled and beyond the figurative castle walls. We get Rapunzel, Eugene (Flynn Rider’s real name), Maximus (that really cool horse), Pascal (chameleon, definitely relevant), and newcomer Cassandra (lady-in-waiting and daughter of mustachioed guard captain), all put into fun, episodic situations around the kingdom for us to enjoy. There’s some over-arching plot, but it’s not important; though it does give us back Rapunzel’s golden locks.

Did I say “fun” episodic situations? Well, that’s only partially true. Despite all the good, the show seems to somehow be lacking in this one department. The plots aren’t always good. In fact the first regular episode of the series (post-TV special) is quite disappointing. The gang visits a random mad-scientist kid in another town to figure out what’s up with Rapunzel’s newly regrown hair. But there’s awkward secret-keeping, an unlikable mad-scientist kid, and very little happening, not to mention an uninformative conclusion. Of course, it’s an obvious segue from the TV special to go straight into pursuing the main plot. But it wasn’t interesting. A shame.

This problem does seem to be in remission, though, after a couple recent good scenarios. And I hope that this show’s successes (is it having these?) will get us more quality TV shows branching off of core Disney franchises. I’d be excited to see more adventures with Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde in Zootropolis/ Zootopia. Or Moana or Big Hero 6, or whatever. This is the type of media I enjoy, and I appreciate its presence in my time.

I know I skipped over countless other examples of TV adaptations of movies, as well as countless facets of production and execution and marketing. But that’s not the point. This is, effectively, a topical double-featurette, and I wanted to look at developing trends in media. TV animation especially is going through growth and appears to be reaching for ever-higher peaks. Look out, you ever-higher peaks! Animation’s pioneering flag of conquest is sharp.

Technical Language in Everyday Speech/ Conversation

Just today, I spoke out against technical speech and communication. That it was not a common language between people and could be offputting or open to any level of regular misunderstanding. That was in the context of “b to b” (“business to business,” for those as uninitiated as I was when I woke up today) sales. And now, in an even less stringent sense, I come bearing the flag of “technical language,” a couple shades of gray and maybe some caricatures of gears and circuits included.

I also bring up this topic today, in particular, in the wake of guest writer Nick Dashing’s recent piece on pro wrestling lingo and the applications in general life and media. My topic is just a bit less organized and a more general sense. And it’s talking about a different thing entirely. “Technical language” isn’t a random glossary of vocab words you find tattooed on the cartoonishly large traps of some pro wrestler.

I’m sticking with this title. It’s the note that I made on my phone when thinking about writing on this topic. It’s partially artistic decision and retroactive example of how I write and express myself. The ultimate cycle of synonyms, alternatives, and never being able to find the word that I actually want.

And the body…

A technical paper or lab report consists of a pretty set list of sections: Abstract, Nomenclature, Introduction, Experimental Apparatus and Procedure, Theoretical Analysis, Experimental Results and Discussion, Conclusion, and References. There are variations, sure, but this is what I use, and it’s good.

Notice how every part of the setup is aimed at making everything as clear as possible. There’s a synopsis that tells you what you’re getting into beforehand, a list of terms, relevant supporting scientific theory, and a conclusion outlining the author’s interests by ways of the results’ implications. Scientific experiments are meant to be repeatable, and this is nothing if not repeatable.

But technical language describes not just the intent of things said, as you can figure from each different section of the sample technical paper outline. It’s also how things are said.

There are words like “significant” and “considerable,” “enough,” “a lot,” etc. that either refer to some specific statistical property (the former) or that mean nothing without an extended host of qualifiers (the latter). Technical language uses words like these correctly according to discipline or avoids using them altogether.

But how is this useful to everyday conversation? The talk where we call every third person “literally” a “cuck.” Well, first we could… not do that. But that’s boring. Technical language is good for communication, though. For that one time in the week that we actually want to get some sentiment across clearly. That. But not to the extent where we’re analytic philosophers.

Suppose we talk in terms of discussions and implications and based on certain premises (that theoretical analysis section). As opposed to talking about a political opinion you heard and why it sucks for reasons other than what I might assume. Or, you could just not mention it because it probably doesn’t have a useful conclusion. (It’s politics. What do you expect?) Yes, I’ll stay that general. This isn’t, like, a technical paper. Deal with it.

So, think about it. Think about talking with intent. Bye bye !

The Sit Com Legacy

So far as I see it, there are certain 'families' within the world of sit coms. Many of these are very directly linked by the people behind the production, but some just follow a certain chronology of legacy, whether by chance or intention.

We can look at certain LA comedy communities. The one I focus most on is that one that somehow surrounds podcast host and talkshow host Scott Aukerman and regularly appears on his podcast and eponymous TV show Comedy Bang Bang! . This group includes a wide range of people, including a lot of actors and writers from Parks and Rec like Adam Scott, Ben Schwartz, Chelsea Peretti, and the late Harris Wittels; as well as a bunch of actors from shows on NBC's comedy service SeeSo (specifically Bajillion Dollar Properties, on which Aukerman is an executive producer) like Paul F. Tompkins, Tim Baltz, and Tawny Newsome.

But regardless of the personnel, there are trends in sit coms. And I'll approach a few of these, categorizing by both style and distribution studio.

The first, classically a favorite of mine, is the series of "NBC Comedies." It's pretty straightforward. There's a whole tradition and genre of sit com that has made its mark on the world, and it centers around NBC shows, with one exception. The list: Seinfeld, Arrested Development (yeah, I know, Fox), The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and, to a lesser extent, Community. These are all character- and joke-driven comedies. Although there are plenty of heartwarming stories and whatnot, these don't have the same family-driven plots and appeals that a lot of shows on other channels do.

Secondly, I make the distinction between family-driven plots and family-friendly. Family-friendly involves mostly heart-warming and positive-minded plots and characters at the expense of joke-telling and characters who promote bad values (best example of that: Seinfeld; they're depraved). These are, like, the Friends and How I Met Your Mother-s of the world. Quality, but not, like, rooted in the jokes of an NBC-comedy.

And then that third, aforementioned category: the family-driven comedy, aka "ABC comedy." I don't really watch these. But they're on. And they get ratings. What's on TV these days? Modern Family, The Middle, Black-ish, Fresh off the Boat? Those things. They fit the bill. I might say that they stem from stuff in the vein of Malcom in the Middle (Fox, right?) and older stuff like Home Improvement, Cosby Show, whatever.

Fourth. This is a good one. An oft-discussed, and jealously-loved one. The Seinfeld tree. Most commonly-recognized are Seinfeld itself and Always Sunny (it's not my place to debate Always Sunny here). Curb Your Enthusiasm is taken for granted. And my proposed contribution to the list is The League. It fits the category of TV-Ma Seinfeld, but not as bad or progressive. It fits the mold very snugly. Mark Duplass = Jerry (new girlfriend every episode, top billing, easily upset or obsessed by small quirk of girlfriend). Kevin + Taco (Jon Lajoie)--the MacArthur brothers = Kramer, each embodying bits and pieces; wacky ideas, no sense of the social norm, and over-the-top acting. Nick Kroll = George; short, stout, loud, crude, bad luck, occasional great luck with women, etc. And Jenny MacArthur is kind of the Elaine; like, sexually liberal ("vaginal hubris") and those other important characterizations of Elaine. (maybe this little analysis is really why I wanted to write this whole blog post to begin w/  ;)  ).

CBS also makes comedies. High-ratings comedies, too. They include The Big Bang Theory and The Great Outdoors, currently, at least. I'm sure they make other sit coms (do they?). But these shows have things like laugh tracks (studio audience?) and appeal to old people. Like non-millenial old (gasp!), and they focus a lot on perceptions of millenial-/ young-people-culture and how parents view it. There are some jokes sometimes, but the characters can be shallow and the laughs offputting.

What was that? 5 categories. There are more legacies, especially looking at certain groups like SNL (30 Rock, Parks&Rec, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, whatever Bill Hader's show is called, Portlandia, Kimmy Schmidt, etc). There's a 6th. A nice even 6.

I intentionally ignore the analysis into continuity behind writers, producers, etc. As well as other styles of franchises, like on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. And the whole Matt Groening-Seth Macfarlane set of series. That's not within the scope of this blog post.

Anyways, go watch a sit com and be disappointed. Or laugh. Whatever you like to spend your Sunday evenings doing. Let me know in the comments if you think I'm missing any core sit com legacies from the last 20-or-so years.

The Unattainable, Most Irresistible Woman

So, I've been working with observing a theory for a while that is very interesting as far as characters and stories go. It's the conception of the "unattainable, most irresistible woman."

Granted, there are countless different projections on what makes a woman "irresistible," both in media and reality. But across different forms of media, I've found a repeated archetype that has been the most convincing and is most consistent to me.

I'm working across three examples here. Let me know in the comments if you think any other characters fit the mold. The three characters are Brett (Lady Brett Ashley, from Hemingway's     The Sun Also Rises), Ilsa (Ilsa Lund, Casablanca), and Denna (from Patrick Rothfuss' series The Kingkiller Chronicle).

The archetype is pretty simple. There is an obvious mutual attraction between the male protagonist of each story (Jake Barnes, Rick, Kvothe) and the given female love interest. They'll oftentimes even share an affair or short-term romance, on-and-off. But it always ends up that, due to some baggage or past secret, she cannot be with him in the end. The clearest setup and resolution to this is with Casablanca's Ilsa. She can't be with Rick because she's married, and even when Laszlo is presumed dead or she has supposedly given up on him, there are clear reservations. But Rick at the end of the film (and, conveniently, resolution to his arc as tragic hero--but that's for another time), is able to give up Ilsa to Laszlow. Though this is perhaps the greatest loss to him, it is the only way for him to be at peace and experience resolution.

There are other elements to this character archetype. I might also bring up Cowboy Bebop's Julia as an example, especially to demonstrate the "run away with me" trope. The difference there is that she and Spike actually run away together, and it is not her intents and character that prevent this from happening as planned. In the other cases, however, it is some hangup relating to each female character that prevents them from running away together. Brett always concludes that she and Jake could never actually be together despite their friendship, feelings, and compatibility--as though it's a missed opportunity. Ilsa discovers that her husband is still alive and has escaped the concentration camp, and she stands up Rick. And Denna veils herself in a vague fear of commitment and ptsd-style reaction to Kvothe's further advances.

So, how does this all add up to be some "perfect"/ "idealized" woman? I mean, it doesn't sound super convincing: she's in another relationship and has a fear of commitment despite obvious attraction to the male protagonist. But this near-attainability is what makes it so attractive. There's an infinite appeal to something you can "almost" have [and that inherently wants you to have it]. There's also infinite tension in a relationship that is teetering on the border of perfect and nonexistent.  These are all beautiful, charming women who are wholly compatible with the male protagonist but who resort to more shallow relationships with other men. But they are also personal, insecure individuals who struggle with feeling any sort of happiness or fulfillment in life. Due to something between a personal quality and tragic convention, these women are never going to lastingly be with the male protagonist. And Rick shows us that resolution comes with letting go. And isn't resolution so much better than infinite tension, no matter how tragic it is?