Tuesday, 10 January 2012

I Carp Because I Love: A Disclaimer

So I sat down earlier to write a post about A Song of Ice and Fire. I have an unreasonably deep affection for both the book series and HBO’s Game of Thrones: I love the mountain men, the zombies, the direwolves, the epic battles and gloriously pretentious speeches, the howling landscapes of the North and the Grecian-Medieval opulence of the South. But when I tried to shit out something to that effect, I somehow seem to have ended up with some reflections on the series' identity politics that quickly morph into a lengthy rant on how much I hate Sansa Stark, detailing the ways in which the character sucks and is terribly written. I got to wondering how that happened.

 Apart from the obvious, I mean, like her stupid whiny fucking FACE.
I’ve always believed that it’s important to be critical and interrogative of art in general, and of the things we enjoy most of all. We are all inclined to forgive faults in things we love – which is fine, but we need to know what they are before we can do so with any degree of lucidity. Otherwise, we might find ourselves reaching the point where we can’t tell an artist’s best work from their poorest – it all becomes identical under the umbrella of uncritical habitual loyalty. People simply decide, “Yeah, I like South Park/Doctor Who/whatever”, to the point where they fail to notice the slow slide into stale concepts and overused jokes, or gaping plotholes and rampant self-contradiction. Some even get pissy and defensive if you point them out.

Take the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who, who made their first appearance in the brilliant episode Blink. As well as being some of the most genuinely scary monsters in Who history, these guys have a pretty cool premise: appearing in the guise of stone angel statues, they can only move when no one is looking at them. The statues usually cover their faces, hence the name “the weeping angels”, to avoid accidentally being seen even by one another. As the Doctor puts it, “They're quantum locked. They don't exist when they're being observed. The moment they are seen by any other living creature, they freeze into rock. No choice, it's a fact of their biology. In the sight of any living thing they literally turn to stone. And you can't kill a stone. 'Course, a stone can't kill you either, but.... then you turn your head away. Then you blink - and oh yes, it can.” (Blink, written by Stephen Moffat.)

But here’s his advice in a  later episode, in which Amy is surrounded by weeping angels and is unable to open her eyes: “You can’t stop them in their tracks by looking at them? No problem. Just… pretend like you can see. I’ll guide you on this little monitor thingy. It’ll be just like Knightmare, yo!” (Flesh and Stone, also written by Stephen Moffatt. Well... I may have paraphrased. But honestly, not that much.)

I seriously can’t tell you the arguments I’ve had about this. The other side’s counterpoint is usually some variant of “Well it’s fantasy, rules are fluid, get over it”. I WILL NOT, because they know she can’t see them because if she could, they would be physically unable to move. The very fact that they are not forcibly frozen TELLS them that she cannot see them - those are Moffat’s OWN WORDS and you can take that to the fucking bank. I am right about this and fuck you all for being too dumb to see that you're being taken for FOOLS.

 Pictured: my White Whale, and the ruination of every party I've attended since FaS aired.

However, despite my strong feelings on this and other such pointd, I love Doctor Who with a ferocity that means I'll probably never stop watching it no matter how ridiculous the storylines get, how poor the writing, or how annoying the sidekicks.

My friends often accuse me of being ornery when I pick apart things they (and I) like. I prefer to think of it as refusing to eat shit along with my art, but whatever; you say potato, I say fuck you and learn to distinguish an artist's best work from the product of their withering contempt for you as a person. 

Anyway… that’s essentially my way of telling you that just because I might from time to time tear something apart, ridicule its plot devices or make fun of its stupid name, it doesn’t mean I’m not secretly a massive geek for it. Things should be pulled apart, even if they're things you love. Artists should be called bullshit on if they try to feed you shit that doesn’t make sense within the bounds of their own stories. Suspending disbelief is central to enjoying fantasy, even more so than other art forms, but that doesn’t mean you get to create an intricate world with its own set of rules only to flagrantly ignore them when you can’t be bothered to accommodate them any more. It’s lazy, annoying, and implies very strongly that you think your audience is stupid.

This is what I want to tell people when they get pissy and jump to the defence of plot-holes or annoyingly generic stock characters or whatever, on the basis of “Lighten up”. It’s almost as though the reasoning goes: You are making fun of something I like; therefore, you are making fun of me; therefore, you are being arrogant and treating me like I’m stupid. But this is the whole point of what I’m saying. Take the Doctor Who example above. I love DW too. The subtext of my ranting is not that you’re stupid for liking it; it’s that Moffatt  sure seems to think we’re all freaking idiots, who won’t notice if he just skates over a total change of rules with no explanation. (Speaking of, Walking Dead, I’m coming for you. Just as soon as I run out of weed.)

And in that so-called contrary spirit that isn't really, I should probably note that I consider Moffatt’s work on Doctor Who during the Russell T. Davis years to be among both the best Who and the greatest things ever... fair do's and all that.

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