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Monday, April 04, 2011

In the Era of Snooki, Perhaps I Expect Too Much | Death of Story

The Death of Story

Everything you know and love, going the way of the dodo . . .

In the era of Snooki, perhaps I expect too much. Nothing against Snooki. I wish anyone who happens to find success continued success--as long as it's not to the detriment of others. The insidiousness of celebutants might be debatable, but I find it hard to begrudge anyone's *moment* in the spotlight. Not even the Olive Garden brand of performers out there: Enticing packaging, Insipid product. (Yes, Olive Garden is the epitome of big scale American commercial mediocrity. I said it.)

Where substance is lacking, I quickly stop paying attention. So, yes, let them all have their day in the sun. They are just a symptom, not the problem.

My lament is not about Snooki nor the current breed of pantless figurehead songstresses who package a mite of substance with a mountain of legs. No, my lament is that . . . Art is dead. Entertainment, on its death bed. Writing, moribund. And I find it all to be terribly depressing. The way a Vaudevillian in the 1920s and 30s must have found watching everything he/she knows and loves die a slow death.

Vaudeville theater, c. 1900

I've pondered it and I reject the idea that I expect too much. I expect exactly what any consumer or artist should:  quality and richness.

"A depressed guy smoking a cigarette is not a film." -Family Guy

90 minutes cobbled around 1 stellar scene is also not a film.

Big Fish, Little Fish

My friend Steven Boone has had a beef with film editing of the past decade: e.g. start a film in the midst of an event and then progress with standard storytelling AFTER that scene (prime example: *The Dark Knight* or the currently airing *Kennedys* miniseries which follows this schema to near incoherence). He describes modern cinema as feats of engineering, spectacles of technology. My beef is MUCH more basic than that though on the same continuum. My beef is with the loss of writing:  the muddling of storytelling.

Revenge of the Fallen
Quintessential Big Film

Big Film

or chain-store assembly that doesn't concern itself with character. Focus is on plot. Which is great. Plot is amazing. But "plot put on a leash" or "taken to the gym" with steroids or maybe even LSD? Who cares if your story elements and character actions make no sense at all as long as the whole thing is BIG? Maybe no one will notice.

Sorry, Thanks
Woeful Little Film

Little Film

or BEING-equals-drama is mired in believing that character IS plot. It can be . . . when your characters are developed and interesting. Existing is not drama. Quirk is not drama. Damage is not drama. And none of these amount to character development. Idiosyncracies and BEING are facts, characteristics, not noteworthy in and of themselves. Something needs to happen for them to be Story.

Goodbye Story. Embrace Fauxry.

To be clear, Story involves Beginning, Middle, and End (not necessarily in that order). No character (arc) means no story, just events. Half a character arc means incomplete, unsatisfying story. No end means incomplete, undersatisfying story. Muddled middle means . . . promising idea that could not be adequately sculpted into a story. (See any number of J-horror films/remakes.) Incoherent character means contrived story. Contrived plot means perverting Story to fit a theme. (E.g. *Crash* (2004)) On and on and on.

You can get away with an abbreviated/elliptical beginning, implied ending, open end, but flaunt character development and the audience won't care. Make your characters and situations so randomly specific and atypical as to not be credible and guess what? Your audience won't care. (See most modern horror films.)

And what happens when you consistently dwell in Underwhelm? The audience will turn to formats that don't require writers or YOU: Reality, YouTube, themselves.

The Entertainment Creep || The Slippery Slope

Turn on a TV. The sitcom is basically dead, only a handful still being aired. The 1-hour drama is puffing its last breath, and generally only when centered on high-stakes professions: cop/lawyer/hospital/crime/prison-breakout procedurals--inherent situational tension. So, what's left when you take the TV out of TV? "Reality." Competition-based shows (i.e. built-in tension), check-out-this-crazy-footage shows (i.e. YouTube in Lunchables packaging), negative perspective shows (à la *Hoarders* or *Housewives of Insert City*). Confrontation = conflict = drama.

I watch reality shows. I understand why Reality is popular: cheap to make, quick to churn out, easy to watch (consistent premise/plot), easily relatable/self-substitutable given "everyday" people in "real-world" situations. And NO WRITERS or ACTORS (or even discernible talent) REQUIRED. (Important to note after the Writers' and Actors' strikes / potential strikes of the 00s.)

30 Rock recently touched on the endangered state of the Writer when Liz Lemmon, head writer for TGS, is confronted with having to Plan B it as TGS faces cancellation. What’s a writer to do in the face of becoming obsolete? In a world where *Transformers 5* posters brazenly proclaim "WRITTEN BY NO ONE"--the 2nd having admittedly been shot without a script? Vie for a spot on a reality show with the likes of Oscar & Emmy-winning writer Aaron Sorkin.

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