Tag Archives: story

Dare to be a Satirist

Let’s start with an English lesson, shall we? Today I’m going to be writing about Terry Pratchett’s particular use of satire in his writing. Before I can get far in that, though, it’ s important to establish what satire actually is. 

“It’s that English thing,” one of my college friends said one day when I asked them to define the word. “Like when an author is really mean, right?”

Another of my friends piped in and said, “It’s when they suggest horrible things like eating babies. That was Swift that did that one, wasn’t it?”

Well, while those definitions seem to be the more common view of satire, particularly in America, I prefer the official definition:

 1) A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.

2) Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.

So basically yes– it’s a work that is “mean” about a topic. It generally specifically attacks a certain topic, or event, or prejudice of society and using exaggeration and sarcasm, points out just how ridiculous we can be as human beings sometimes.

Needless to say, I adore satire when it’s done well. I have never known any other words to both infuriate and inspire quite so poignantly as those by a satirist. There’s just something about extremes and double meanings that gets people up-in-arms, and it’s wonderful. Because when it comes down to it, what is a story really about? Is it about existing in its own quiet bubble, or is it about being listened to, engaged with, and responded to?

Well, each author has their own preference, of course, but I’m inclined to say it is the latter. If you create a story and at the end nobody feels any differently, what was really the point? Every good story has at least one element that will stick with the audience. It might be something happy, or sad, dramatic, or especially clever. But it should be there.

For satire, it basically takes that one element and makes it the subject of the piece. It uses wit to cleverly make the reader think they aren’t reading about social change or the dismal condition of whatever group that our society has forgotten this time– it tricks them into thinking they’re just reading for fun.

The problem with satires, of course, is that they aren’t always understood. They aren’t universal. A reader must both pay attention closely and already have a background knowledge of the subject to fully appreciate a satire. Otherwise it comes off as anywhere from unnecessarily harsh to downright barbaric.

Take perhaps the most famous satirist, Jonathan Swift. His famous (sometimes infamous) work “A Modest Proposal” is the hallmark of everything I love about satire. It shocks, pokes fun, and generally plays with the reader’s emotions throughout, then sweeps in at the end with the “real” solutions. For those who haven’t read it, go google it right now and read. It will take you 20 minutes max, and if you aren’t hooked by the first page by means, put it down. I doubt you’ll be able to.

For those too lazy for that bit of reading I will sum it up in a single sentence. Swift’s persona suggests that the Irish poor get out of poverty by selling their overabundance of children as a food source and status clothing source for the wealthy. Yeah, delightful, right? But as you actually read the work, hopefully you’ll be able to see the humor in the scathing sarcasm. Short jabs at the landlords, wealthy, and those uncaring about the Irish poor make the whole piece really come together as a clear satire rather than a serious suggestion.

Even so, after this essay came out, people were outraged. Nobody seemed to get the joke, and those who got it were not half as loud as those who didn’t. Which of course meant that by the time everyone got it, most people felt embarrassed by the excessively poor plight of the Irish as well as by their own lack of understanding.

This is a good place to pause and point out why many people consider satire to be overly harsh or “mean.” Satire is rarely understood by everyone it is read by, and I am certainly not a person who claims that anyone who doesn’t understand is stupid. Certainly satire requires a very specific audience, and if parts of that audience still fail to grasp it, it’s as much on the writer as on the reader. Satire should be written to the point that if you look for the humor, it should be easily found. Granted, you have to start out looking. Someone has to tell you “No really, read Swift again. He’s hilarious!” before you really start looking for the jokes, but as long as they can be found on a second read, the author has done their job well.

Which brings me to a more recent author: British writer Terry Pratchett of “Discworld” fame.

For the last year a good friend of mine has been trying to get me to read books by Terry Pratchett. She knows of my excessive love for satire of all sorts, and had I not been swamped with all of my reading for English classes, I probably would have gotten to her suggestion sooner. As it was, I ended up reading two of his books this summer. And let me just say, they are fabulous. 

Granted, I’ve only read two, and they aren’t his “best” according to most, but they are amongst the greats. So far I’ve read Small Gods and Guards! Guards! and both were awesome and special in their own way. Apart from being brilliantly written novels which had strong characters, pacing, and plotlines, they both acted as a satire of particular things.

 

Small Gods was a satire primarily focused on religion and some of the silly things that come up there (like wars, rules taken out of context, how prophets are made, etc.). It was great because it was the sort of thing just about anyone could understand. Everyone has had some sort of dealing with religion, positive or negative, personally involved or just as an observer. And since Pratchett was focusing on an imaginary religion that mimicked just about every religion out there, there wasn’t any direct offense to be made except by those easily offended by anything religion related in general.

Similarly, the book Guards! Guards! focuses on satirizing the typical role of guards in fantasy novels. While this one is certainly funnier to someone who already knows about the fantasy genre and can relate to the different elements being made fun of, it’s not necessary to read and appreciate the book. For instance, I’m familiar with the cliches of fantasy books, but far from an experienced reader in the genre, so I was a little concerned starting. As it was, while I got most of the references and satire that was in the book, there were plenty of things I didn’t need to have any prior knowledge of to understand.

That would be Terry Pratchett’s brilliant poking fun at the English language itself. He uses common phrases and sayings to really subvert the reader’s expectations and remind them that anything can follow the start of that phrase. Honestly, I might in the near future do a post all about Terry Pratchett’s word use in enhancing his stories, but for now I’ll just end this very long post with a few choice examples:

“The reason that cliches become cliches is that they are the hammers and screwdrivers in the toolbox of communication.”

“If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn’t as cynical as real life.”

“They felt, in fact, tremendously bucked-up, which was how Lady Ramkin would almost certainly have put it and which was definitely several letters of the alphabet away from how they normally felt.”

“You had to hand it to the Patrician, he admitted grudgingly. If you didn’t, he sent men to come and take it away.”

“A number of religions in Ankh-Morpork still practiced human sacrifice, except that they didn’t really need to practice any more because they had got so good at it.”

“Thunder rolled . . It rolled a six.”

That’s all for now! Thank you to anyone reading this blog. No idea what the schedule for posts will be here but hopefully more frequent than it has been!

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And they lived happily ever after?

MEGHAN ORY, EMILIE DE RAVIN, ROBERT CARLYLE, JARED S. GILMORE, JENNIFER MORRISON, JOSH DALLAS, GINNIFER GOODWIN, LANA PARRILLA

With my posts so far, it shouldn’t be any surprise to any of you that I am a huge fan of fairy tales in all of their forms. That being said, when I heard about the show “Once Upon a Time” beginning I was ecstatic. Watching a show with all of my favorite characters brought to life? What could be better?

Well, now that the show is progressing through the end of it’s second season, there is a trend that I feel must be brought to light. Thus far the characters and the way the story is weaving itself together is refreshing and, although sometimes confusing, adds a new layer to the storytelling of these classic tales. However, addressing the more mundane, run-of-the-mill-TV-show aspects of Once, we can look at the main character, Emma Swan.

For those who haven’t seen the show, Emma is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, and she was the one who had to be there to break the curse that had been placed on the fairy tale characters. She grew up in the real world, never knowing about fairy tales, and until this show started, her biggest worry was more average-person drama. She dated a guy, he got her pregnant but then betrayed her, and Emma gave the kid up for adoption. The kid ten years later showed up on her doorstep and took her to Storybrooke, the town full of fairy tale characters, where she is destined to break the curse.

It’s a lot more complicated than that (like I said, kind of a confusing show to try and explain) but that’s all you really need to know for this post.

So as this show has gone on Emma has remained the main protagonist, and while she definitely has her faults, she’s a pretty strong female character overall. Which is great. Fairy tales could certainly use more of those. The thing is, it is a show about fairy tales, and so naturally, everyone is waiting for Emma to find her own “prince charming.”

The writers of the show clearly understand this, because thus far they seem to be sincerely enjoying teasing the fans of the show with possibilities. To date there have been 5 possible love interests introduced, each one a little more “dangerous” than the last. In order of appearance in Emma’s life (hopefully, the timeline is kind of hard to follow) we have Neal, Graham, Jefferson, August, and Captain Hook.  I’m going to briefly go into each love interest and say why they are either still a possibility, how likely they are to survive the series (because the odds aren’t good lately), and give my own person preference (because I wouldn’t be a fangirl if I didn’t.)

Neal

Neal– He was the love of Emma’s life for some time. He was there for her when no one else was, and they had an adorable relationship of stealing and living in a car (cause I mean, who doesn’t love that?) Neal got her pregnant, which wasn’t a huge problem, because she thought they’d get married and be together forever, except that then Neal mysteriously left. As it turns out, Neal left because August (another love interest) came up and showed him a slip of paper revealing that he knows who Neal REALLY is (Baelfire, Rumplestiltskin’s son. He’s running away from home… Still. He’s also probably Peter Pan in a weird twist of events.) So Neal’s plan was to never grow up and it was worth it to him to hide from his father over something that happened 300+ years ago rather than staying with Emma and his unborn son. Classy. For these reasons, I will be sorely disappointed if he’s a real love interest.

Graham

Graham–Wonderful, adorable, and also, the Huntsman from the Snow White tales. Really, all the issues I had with him have been explained and resolved, and he remains a lot of fan’s favorite love interest. Problem is, he died in the first season. Since then he’s only been in the show in flashbacks. For obvious reasons, he probably won’t end up being “the one.” RIP Graham.

Jefferson

Jefferson–The mad hatter, very crazy (in a pretty creepy way when he’s first introduced), but overall not necessarily a terrible guy. He’s got a sweet backstory about protecting his kid, and trying to find her, and it’s all very tragic. The thing is, Jefferson disappeared several episodes ago and hasn’t reappeared since. No one really knows where he went or why or if he ever found his kid and got her back (actually, last I checked he may have found her and we just never really saw past that), and it’s terrible. So as far as I’m concerned, I think Jefferson needs to resolve his own issues before he is ready to be the love interest of anyone, least of all Emma who has plenty of messed up life moments going on already.

August

August–Otherwise known as Pinnochio. I mean, really? What is up with Emma getting paired up with overgrown children? First Peter Pan, now him? I’ve never been a huge August fan, especially not after we found out August was the one who convinced Neal to leave Emma and so really, he also betrayed her. There’s some other stuff there I won’t get into as well, mostly because it doesn’t really matter at this point. You see, he’s not really an option anymore. Last episode he was turned into a child version of himself before he went off and did bad things in the real world. Because apparently that’s what redeeming yourself means on this show… Having your memory wiped and turning into a child. But it’s okay, I laughed for like 10 minutes after this happened and moved on. Because we’re finally getting to the love interest I support.

Kid<– August as a kid

???????????

Hook–Hook, or Captain Hook, is a villain on the show who is out to kill Rumplestiltskin for revenge. Other than that, he pretty much looks out for himself first. He and Emma flirt a lot on the show, and it’s adorable. I personally am the biggest HookxEmma fan out there, not because I think it’d be Emma’s real happily ever after, but because as far as an engaging story goes, Hook and Emma banter always beats out Neal moping around the set. Plus, since it’s pretty much down to Neal or Hook at this point, i think we all know which one is cooler.

So now you’re probably wondering–what does this fangirling have to do with stories? An excellent question, and I assure you I didn’t forget. I wanted to show that in a show about fairy tales the writers do fall into some usual show and fairy tale stereotypes, but they also continue to surprise. There is less emphasis on a female protagonist finding her prince charming, and much more on her finding her family and learning to be the hero she was born to be. Especially for a genre with such traditionally weak female characters, this is a huge step up in my eyes.

Sure, the creators continue introducing love interests (and for that matter, really attractive love interests) because it boosts views and caters to their primarily female audience. But isn’t that just a storyteller recognizing their audience? Isn’t that just a storyteller doing anything they can to keep someone watching? It may not be the classiest move, but it certainly does seem effective.

I’ll be interested to see where this show goes with it’s roller coaster of love interests for Emma. Perhaps eventually it will focus on one, and it’ll be about her “happily ever after,” but the way it’s going now, I think that it will be some time before this happens. Emma is the hero of this story, and the hero rarely has time for love until their quest is complete.

Thanks for reading!

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I’d like to end this post with another apology–with school as hectic as it has been I simply haven’t given this blog the time I was expecting to. Having said this, I will try to update once a week rather than twice, as I think that will work out better. Thanks for reading!

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No! Don’t Cut That Out!

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As a kid I never understood why it took so long for the movie industry to make an adaption of some of my favorite books. Sure, some of them simply weren’t popular enough and never were adapted, but then you had others like my all-time favorite series–Harry Potter.

Now I was a Potterhead back before it was cool to be one. I dressed up as Hermione Granger four years in a row, adn by the last year, a few people were starting to catch on that I wasn’t just “a witch” I was THE witch, the coolest witch ever. But now EVERYONE knows what Harry Potter is, whether they’ve read/seen it or not. It’s just that popular and that well received in our culture. 

Harry Potter was probably one of the those books that large companies love and fear to take on. Love because there is almost a guarantee of profit simply because it is Harry Potter, and fear because the fans are ready to rip the movie apart scene by scene to prove why the book will always be better. And let’s be honest–the book usually will be better, but that’s no reason to rip apart the movie. Despite popular belief, a movie can coexist peacefully with its book as entirely different things (Wizard of Oz, anyone?). But then, you can also have a series so ridiculously popular that it simply is unacceptable to mess with the story too far. This is the case with Harry Potter. 

Now the first two movies were near replicas of the book, except for the small detail that the book was WAY too long to portray the whole thing in the movie. Since the writers were unable to tread far from the original dialogue and plot, the first two movies ended up being very similar to the book, but almost as if someone had closed their eyes and removed large, important chunks of plot and character development. 

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But then you had the next movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. By now the kids were coming into their own lanky-awkward teenage years, and the movies also seemed to be entering their newly found independence. Most people probably remember that the third movie was less of this: 

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And more of this: 

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It was less about cute kids in wizard’s robes with their pet owls, and more about the adventure and danger these kids face. The costumes were different (suddenly everyone wore muggle clothes… Anyone else find that odd?) but so were the attitudes of the actors and the writers. It was like when they got a new director he just went “Screw this, let’s see how far the fans will let us go” and he just flew with it. Now many people absolutely hate the third movie because of this. They hate that it isn’t as faithful to the book as the first two, or even as later movies. They hate the way it seems to stand out and say “Look at me!” But I’m the opposite, because I like the third movie. It stands on its own as a story and as a movie, and it spices up the things that needed spicing up for a visual storytelling form like the movie industry. Is it perfect? Of course not, but I truly believe it was one of the best things to happen to the Harry Potter industry. It gave the writers freedom to adapt the story when they needed to to avoid the awkward moments where things were obviously taken out and to just let the movies flow. 

I think what people forget with adaptions is that the point of a movie adaption of a book is almost never to exactly replicate the book. Harry Potter was one of the few that did seem to try this, mostly because J.K. Rowling had such tight control over her work. But most adaptions are there to spread the story further, to get more people interested, and above all, to tell the story. Movies are NOT the same as books–they have different purposes, different ways of telling the story, and different ways of being received. People get so caught up in their favorite characters, or lines, or scenes that they forget the importance of the story as a whole. 

So next time your favorite book is going to be adapted, stop and think for a moment. What is it that you like so much about the book? Do you like it because of that one line that better-make-it-in-the-movie-or-you’ll-die, or do you like it because it’s a powerful story that meant something to you when you read it? If it’s the latter, just think about how great it would be if the adaption can take such a powerful story and touch someone else. 

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Stealing the Story

les-miserables-film-hathaway

Let’s be honest–no one was surprised that Anne Hathaway won best supporting actress in the Oscars this weekend. No one. They even made jokes about it before the show because it was so entirely inevitable.

The question now, of course, is why? Why was it so obvious? After all, there was some pretty stiff competition, and while Anne Hathaway is a wonderful actress (I’ve personally followed her career since her “Princess Diary” days), it’s not as though she wins an award every time she’s in a movie.

My answer, as I’m sure you aren’t surprised to hear, is that it’s all in the story. Hathaway played Fantine in Les Miserables, a role that can be lost easily and steal the show if well done. Clearly, Hathaway stole the show with her portrayal.

For those who haven’t seen Les Mis (which you should), a quick explanation is that it’s a very long musical about part of a French revolution that wasn’t very successful, and more specifically, follows a large cast of characters as their lives intertwine. Fantine, the character Hathaway played, is really more a plot device than an actual character. She serves as a sign to Jean Valjean that in his focus on his own troubles (avoiding the persistent Police head, Javert) he has neglected to notice when a woman (Fantine) who works in his factory is being unfairly treated. Because of his inattention to the state of his factory, Fantine goes through a terribly sad list of events until she goes from a single mother trying to make enough to keep herself and her daughter alive to a prostitute on the verge of death. It is here that Jean Valjean finds her again, and here that he has fatherhood of Cosette, Fantine’s daughter, thrust upon him. Fantine dies and Jean Valjean begins the next chapter of his life as a father raising Cosette.

In the scope of things, Fantine is there to remind Jean Valjean of his duty to other human beings and as a way for him to selflessly end up raising a daughter by himself. I have seen Les Mis performed where Fantine’s death was the end of it and I didn’t think of her again, but Hathaway did something much more important–she made me care about Fantine. Hathaway took a very small chunk of the movie and made it the highlight. One of the most powerful moments of the movie was her singing “I dreamed a dream,” perhaps because it portrayed so well what the song is really about.

anne-hathaway-les-miserables

Many people sing this song every day for auditions, performances, or to show off their vocal talents in general. Generally when I’ve seen it done outside of the movie Les Miserables I have seen it done in an optimistic fashion. People smile at the end, and they make it seem like they’re about to be saved. When Hathaway sang it I realized what the song is really saying–what’s in the lyrics already, but was brought out by her voice and her acting.

“But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

So in other words, Fantine realizes that everything she hoped and dreamed for in her life never came true. She realizes that things really do suck too much to go on, and that even if she’s physically still alive, her dream and spirit have already died. Inspiring? I don’t think so.

lesmishathaway_620_112612This is a woman who has lost everything in her life and has no one else to turn to. She is at her end both mentally and physically and has fallen as far as she can go. That is the Fantine that Hathaway showed us, and that is why it was an award-worthy performance.

So where does this lead the story as a whole? Well, to be honest I was very disappointed when Fantine died in the movie, because it was never the same without her. The rest of the cast did a great job, but the usually inspiring group numbers lost some of their momentum because of the removed intermission and the poor filming choices. Also, the characters introduced for the second part of the show, namely Marius and Cosette, are never going to be as powerful as Fantine’s story because after watching Fantine’s tragic descent, it’s very hard to care about two rich kids who decide they’ve discovered love at first sight.

Hathaway absolutely owned Fantine’s story, and she was rewarded for it. Really, her short screen time owned the epic that is Les Mis, and that’s something to be truly proud of. To be entirely honest, I have never been overly fond of Les Mis, so it is truly impressive that Hathaway captured my interest so well. Congratulations to Anne Hathaway for making me care about a story within Les Mis that I had previously overlooked. I will never think so lightly of Fantine again.

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The Importance of Gender Portrayal, Part 1: Women

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I have a confession. I do now, and have always wanted, to be a Disney Princess. The thing is, I didn’t want this highly coveted role for the reason most girls my age did. I had no interest in being swept off my feet or rescued by some faceless prince charming. I didn’t need the castle, or the dresses (although wouldn’t it be awesome if you had a reason to wear a dress like that just once?), or anything that went with it. I didn’t want their lives, I wanted to grow up and become them.

Don’t get me wrong, I saw the flaws in this plan. The Disney Princesses provide plenty of negative images for little girls watching their movies, but they also act as some pretty phenomenal role models. For instance, take my favorite princess, Belle.

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Belle has it all. She’s smart, beautiful, and stands up for herself. She doesn’t put up with crap that men from her village throw at her, and she doesn’t let the gossip of other girls get to her. She watches out for her family and friends, and when it comes down to it, she’s a loving person who will give anyone a chance to change.

Yes, there are bad things about the story too, like the implication of abusive relationships, but this post isn’t about the subliminal messages Disney may or may not pass on with their plots. This is about the characters themselves, and specifically, how gender is portrayed in Disney.

What’s really interesting about Belle is that her entire fairy tale is about inner and outer beauty. Yes, it features a main character who just happens to be the most beautiful girl in town and also has a name that means, not-so-coincidentally, beauty. But that’s not what makes her an engaging protagonist. It’s her inner beauty that we care about, and it’s that which takes Belle to a positive portrayal of the female gender.

Looking at other Disney princesses the portrayal is not always so favorable. Ariel, for instance, is adventurous and inquisitive, but is also rash and stubborn. She is perhaps one of the most human Disney princesses simply because of her flaws, and yet the particular flaws she has makes her come off as rather childish. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except that she then makes a deal to leave her home and family forever, all for a guy she saved once that never even spoke to her. Not the best role model, is it?

Next take Jasmine. She grew up in the castle, she knew nothing but castle life, and when push came to shove she was a pretty kick ass princess. That is, she was until it came to the end of the story, where she suddenly was made useless so that Aladdin could save the day. I mean sure, she did help. She kissed Jafar to keep him from seeing and killing Aladdin, but that alone says something about the way she is portrayed. Aladdin saves the day by fighting and eventually outsmarting Jafar, Jasmine saves the day by snogging him.

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This was the Disney of old. The characters that I grew up loving, and yet in the back of my head, always had a word of warning. Their songs were magical, and many times they had some excellent, strong traits to aspire to. But when it came down to it, the portrayal of women was not an especially positive one in the Disney-verse.

None of this should be a surprise–feminists have been getting on Disney about these problems for years. What I’d like to touch on here is the notion of Disney’s newest movies where they seem to have tried to rectify this ongoing problem. I could easily talk about The Princess and the Frog (I tricked you by putting that picture there… I’m not really going to talk about it) or Tangled, but I am going to focus on those in Part 2 of this post, which will focus on the men of Disney films. Instead I’d like to focus on Disney’s newest princess:

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Sure, Merida never broke into song and dance as most of the Disney princesses did, but she is without a doubt part of the Disney Princess canon, and therefore an essential part to this post.

I have heard many grumble that Disney was trying a little too hard to fix their portrayal of women when they made Brave. It was clearly, critics said, a ploy to show that they could have a strong female main character.

To be entirely honest, that’s probably true. Nonetheless, Brave provides a new look at the Disney princess. Suddenly it is Merida, not her father or her love interest, who is the brave one of the film. Although one of the central conflicts of the film is an arranged marriage, the real story lies in the relationship between Merida and her family, especially her mother. It takes two strong-willed women and pits them against each other in a charming, and very realistic fashion. This is not a Disney-fied woman, these are two very real characters who could very well exist in real life.

What I especially loved about Brave was that it wasn’t about one of them learning a lesson and being wrong, it was about them growing together to understand one another. What I loved even more was that at the end of the movie the happy ending did NOT INVOLVE A MARRIAGE. It defied all Disney sanctioned “happily ever after”s and simply ended with a non-romantic relationship as the one that was resolved. Because the simple fact of the matter is that Merida did not need to get married to be happy, and she did not need to get married to bring peace between the different clans. She needed to accept her role as a peace-maker, and to listen to her mother’s experience and guidance, but this did not involve a one-time marriage contract. Instead it involved learning how her mother could stop a mass of brawling men simply by walking in the room. Seeing Merida master that skill, and seeing her later fight for her family (because who can forget this scene?)

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was simply priceless. I love Brave, and I love Merida, because even though I’m a college student now, when I saw this movie I was ten years old again, and Merida was my hero.

I hope that Disney continues to make movies with strong female protagonists. More than that, I hope that Disney realizes that the reason fans love Merida is not just because of her impressive fighting skills. In the movie Brave Merida’s course methods were in sharp contrast to her mother’s excellent diplomatic negotiations, and by the end, the two have grown to appreciate both as equally important. What I sincerely hope is that Disney picks up on the message of their own movie.

A female protagonist, or more specifically, a Disney princess, does not need to save the day every time. She can get married at the end. She can be a “traditional” woman. What’s important is that these things don’t define her. She shouldn’t have to get married for it to be a happy ending, and she shouldn’t have to be saved. She should be strong, indpenedent, and distinctly herself even in the face of adversity. That’s what we want our kids to remember, and that’s what we want them to aspire to. When I someday have a kid, I hope to show them new Disney movies that show just how wonderful they can be as a person, not as a damsel in distress.

Follow the blog for updates every Tuesday and Thursday. Part 2, which will look into the portrayal of Disney Princes, will be out Thursday. Thanks for reading!

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Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines Day!

In spirit of the holiday, I decided a romantic picture was in order. This is one of the most memorable kisses in America!
Remember, a photograph is a one-shot story!

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February 14, 2013 · 5:15 pm

The Catch of Being a Companion

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Today I’d like to spend a few moments on one of my favorite television shows–Doctor Who. This is one of those shows that has everything a really good story should. The characters are strong and rarely stereotypical, the dialogue is snappy, and the images and messages are important. While all of this is important, what ultimately drives the show is the plot.

It could be argued that because the entire show centers around The Doctor, the character is most important, but in the case of this show, I think The Doctor acts more as a plot element than as a character in what makes the story good and what makes the show popular. After all, the show is brief looks into a very long life of one extraordinary person. We laugh, we cry, we love him with all our hearts, but in the end, the personality of The Doctor changes often, almost as if he is another person (which, technically, he is to a certain extent when he regenerates). Additionally, the entire plot rests on him and drives every episode– “Will The Doctor save the day?”

An astonishing number of episodes later, and we’re still asking ourselves that. By this time in the show’s run all fans, new and old, know The Doctor does save the day. In fact, he does so every time. It’s like watching a Disney movie in the sense that whatever happens, when the day is over and done with, the world will be saved.

The biggest way Doctor Who differs from this disney-esque storyline is that unlike most children’s stories, any character is expendable. If The Doctor has a companion, there is a fairly good chance they will at some point die, lose their memories, be sent to an alternate dimension, or otherwise be semi-permanently separated from The Doctor. As heartbreaking as this is, the reason it happens is simple–to allow for a new companion.

And as sad as it can be, it really is necessary. Having a character be the driving force of a show is dangerous because it means that unless you want to end the show, that character is NEVER expendable. Harry couldn’t die in Harry Potter until the 7th book or there would be no book. We’d all be sitting around depressed because evil triumphed. Similarly, The Doctor cannot die in Doctor Who because there would be no show. Sure, he can have close calls, and he does, and they can tease us like they did recently with the notion that they could kill him if they wanted to, but it’s just not the same. There’s only so much suspense to be captured if the stakes can’t be high.

This is the role of the companions. They are disposable characters that are around just long enough for you to really identify with them–because you do, of course you do. They are, after all, the humans of the show. They are the ones you could dream of being. No matter how much you dream, you will never be a time lord–but then the characters disappear in awful ways. You know that at any moment during any season, the companion could die (although this predictably seems to happen at the end or mid-point of a season, but that’s television for you). This element of the plot raises the stakes. It invests you in the story. It’s no longer a story about a man who will never die–it’s a story about the man who continues living and tries to stop his friends’ inevitable endings.

That’s what this show is really about. It’s not really about “Will the Doctor save the day?” because we know that he will. The question really isn’t about The Doctor saving everyone, it’s about the characters we really know and love. It’s a question of whether he will save them. And what really keeps us on the edge of our seat is that sometimes the sad truth is that he won’t. Just like real life, things happen, and even if he saves the whole universe, losing his friends will never get easier. It will never be easier for him, or for us.

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