Space Ramblings

Category Archives: Essays

Why George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice Novels Suck

640_george_rr_martin_conan_tbs

I’m talking about the George R.R. Martin novels, not the terrible campy TV show that hipsters watch in soccer bars. That’s just Deathstalker the 100 million dollar TV show with a better class of actors, slightly less nudity and more gay references than a season of South Park.

I liked Game of Thrones. I liked Clash of Kings. By Storm of Swords, I was having my doubts. By Feast of Crows, the problems were too obvious to ignore.

 

1. A Song of Fire and Ice depends on soap opera gimmicks, not consistent plotting

Think of 24. The show’s plot was incoherent but it kept you watching by constantly throwing in twists and turns. An entire season made no sense but it didn’t matter because you were watching for the suspense and the shocking turn. The Following does the same thing now.

The Game of Thrones novels are a novelistic version of 24.

George R.R. Martin depends on gimmicks to make up for what he lacks in plotting. His original novels, Dying of the Light, Armageddon Rag, were big on atmosphere, but their plots made no sense. That’s still true in Game of Thrones, but Martin spent enough time working in television to borrow its plot gimmicks.

Characters are killed unexpectedly. Characters seem like they’ve been killed off, but they’re actually alive. (Martin has at least twice shown the body of a character only to reveal that he’s alive. Or is that three times?)

Some characters rise unexpectedly and then fall equally unexpectedly. There’s a name for this. Soap opera.

And just like on a soap opera, the gimmicks worked for a while until they became repetitive.

How many times have you seen this one? A character with no real battlefield experience, Robb, Daenerys, Tyrion, suddenly turns out to be Napoleon until they suffer an unexpected setback and lose everything.

All this furious activity disguises the fact that the novels are going nowhere and readers have figured it out. A lot of the frustration isn’t just because Martin isn’t writing novels, it’s because he isn’t moving the story forward. He knows he can’t move it forward. All he has is a bag of tricks. And he’s repeating them too often.

George R.R. Martin’s final trick is to sell the lack of forward motion and consistent plotting as gritty and realistic. Peel away all the gritty medievalism and it’s as gritty and realistic as Days of Our Lives.

 

 

2. Martin is good at Character, Bad at Endings

Do you know what Martin’s early novels all had in common? Botched endings. If you’re waiting for A Song of Fire and Ice sequel that gives you what you want, don’t wait. Martin isn’t capable of it. He’s a good writer, but a bad novelist.

Think of Lost. The show was great at telling the stories of individual characters. It just couldn’t do anything with them in a story. The character sketches were compelling. The story went nowhere. The ending was a disaster.

After five novels, Daenerys is the only character with a meaningful arc whose story has been advanced. Tyrion has a meaningful arc but his only job is going in circles. The less said of the rest of the crew, the better.

In Game of Thrones and Clash of Kings, Martin builds the equivalent of Lost’s early seasons. But once that’s done, like the show, he has nowhere to go. He’s bad at plot and he doesn’t care about it. Like the Lost writers, he just wants to play with character sketches. He doesn’t want to do anything more with them.

Like Lost, Martin randomly kills off characters. He brings in new compelling characters. But the real goal is a status quo in which the setting continues and nothing gets resolved.

Lost wasn’t a mystery about a secret island. Viewers just thought that. It was a way of letting the writers play with a bunch of characters. A Song of Fire and Ice is about letting Martin play with characters. It’s not about big battles or figuring out the mystery of what lies beyond the wall or how the dead can walk again. Readers just think it is.

They’ve been wrong all along.

 

 

3. George R.R. Martin isn’t Tolkien

The Game of Thrones novels are promoted by claiming that George R.R. Martin is the American Tolkien. There are writers who might deserve that honor, probably Robert E. Howard, but Martin isn’t one of them.

There’s very little original worldbuilding in Game of Thrones. Most readers never realize that because the books are told intensely through first person immersion that create a sense of unearned reality. The world seems like it exists, even though it’s very thinly sketched.

Also most of them have never read Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. The similarities are so heavy that if Williams had the guts he could put “The Series that Inspired Game of Thrones” on the reprints and dare Martin to do anything about it. And while Williams isn’t as good at the characters or the intrigue, his world is more realized than Martin’s poor copy of it.

The pseudo-medieval European religion and history are far more realized in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Martin just tosses them out there inconsistently. He doesn’t create a compelling fantasy universe the way that Williams does. George R.R. Martin creates compelling characters. That’s a lot, but it’s not great fantasy.

Martin’s early novels and stories did do some compelling worldbuilding with the Manrealm. It could have been one of Science Fiction’s great universes. But Martin dropped it and did a lot of television. And television is the only thing he can do.

The HBO series Game of Thrones bastardized Martin’s novels, but before it did that, Martin bastardized other people’s work to create A Song of Fire and Ice.

 

 

4. Martin is a good writer, but he never learned to write novels

George R.R. Martin has written some amazing short stories and novellas, but he never learned to write novels. Instead he gave up and went into television. He still doesn’t know how to write a novel.

A Song of Fire and Ice is popular because he used television writing gimmicks to disguise that fact. But the novels stretch on indefinitely because it’s all gimmicks and filler.

Martin can’t end the series because he’s never successfully ended a novel before. Each new novel in the Fire and Ice series just drags on even more. By Dance with Dragons, Martin wasn’t even bothering to pretend that he was ending a novel. And he didn’t. It’s just a chapter in a serial. And the serial can go on forever if the audience doesn’t notice that it’s going nowhere.

Kill a character. Bring him back to life. Up. Down. It’s all an attempt to avoid another failed ending.

If Martin really wants to do right by his audience, he needs to take a break from the universe, which he’s been doing anyway, and write a separate unrelated novel, and not one of the Cards universe collections, plot it out and end it successfully. Then he can take what he learned and apply it to the series.

Not that he will. The HBO cash and all the associated merchandising money keeps flowing in. Martin has become ridiculously famous. He can keep cashing in without delivering. By the time the HBO series ends, he can copy whatever it did with the elements he laid out or he can drag it out for another ten years.

But whatever he does, A Song of Fire and Ice will be mostly forgotten in a generation. The novels are not going to stick around because Martin can’t deliver and soap operas have limited rereadability.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if Martin, like David Gerrold, never releases a final chapter, but just basks in the fame until it goes away.

 

Why the Hobbit Trilogy is a Disaster

Warner Brothers loves money. Peter Jackson loves money too. I can’t blame them because I also like money and candy and trains that go really fast. But The Hobbit isn’t about those things and it’s not a trilogy. It’s not even two movies, but now it’s being turned into three movies.

The Hobbit

“So you’re saying we’re going to have to make three movies to pay for all this?”

There’s nothing wrong with making a single children’s book into a three film epic that can’t be fixed by making it into a single movie instead.

Peter Jackson is justifying the decision to rape The Hobbit and the childhoods of some 90 year old men by claiming that J.R.R. Tolkien would have wanted it this way. And I know that’s true. If there was one thing that Tolkien loved and trusted it was Hollywood. Also the Huns. And I think the old man was in love with modern technology.

But what does a three film Hobbit really mean?

Have you seen the three Lord of the Rings movies? It’ll be like that, except with a much poorer story. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies already went too ensemble and diminished Frodo’s role and Gandalf’s role.

The Hobbit trilogy will do the same thing to the max. It’ll go as ensemble as it can to show us all the other stuff going on. Cut from Frodo riddling with Gollum to show us Gandalf leading the dwarves away and the Goblin king’s son vowing revenge for his death and then cut to what’s going on in Mirkwood and the Dale.

Obviously we’re going to need a female warrior in this, because girl power! So maybe work in Rohan or just bring in a female warrior elf. The only people who will care are nerds and they’ll be drowned in wankfic about L’io’rasalluma, the new female elf who can backflips and rescues Bilbo seven times before the trilogy is over and Gandalf once.

Oh sure that probably won’t happen. Except no, it totally will. Unless you think Jackson and Warner Brothers hired Lost’s Evangeline Lilly and flew her out to New Zealand just to spend two days shooting a scene or two as Bilbo encounters Galadriel. No Lilly won’t be playing Galadriel, she’ll be playing Tauriel.

“She is a warrior. She’s actually the head of the Elven guard. She’s the big shot in the army. So she knows how to wield any weapon, but the primary weapons that she uses are a bow and arrow and two daggers. And she’s lethal and deadly.”

…because Girl Power!

Now I don’t object to girl power, but The Hobbit is not a story where the characters are expert weapon wielders and spend a lot of time kicking ass. It’s a book about a Hobbit who goes nervously on an adventure with some dwarves and a mysterious wizard.

The Hobbit is not going to be THE HOBBIT TRILOGY because there’s no room for that small quiet story in the belly of the horrible epic trilogy beast. The Hobbit is going to be drowned in the epicness of WB and Jackson making their money.

What Peter Jackson and Co. will do is make up their own poor copy of Lord of the Rings, wedge it into The Hobbit story, make the whole trilogy as epic as possible with more monsters and battles. It’ll be like Clash of the Titans but with some hobbit stuff thrown in.

Jackson will expand the conflict at the end of the book and stretch it out through the whole movie, find ways to bring in Mordor, and a ton of monsters and references from the Tolkienverse to play up to fans. And then instead of Gandalf tricking the Trolls into arguing and turning to stone; Tauriel will leapfrog over them, shoot one with her bow, stab another one with her dagger and then set a First Edition of The Hobbit on fire… because that’s what the Hobbit trilogy is really about.

Here’s a thought.

Maybe Peter Jackson and the WB can drop that Hobbit name which doesn’t really communicate epicness and rename the trilogy to something cooler. Like “Clash of the Hobbits”. No, still too Hobbity. Okay, “Clash of the Titans.”

Yeah that works. And it’s what J.R.R. Tolkien would have wanted.

How To Fix Futurama

I’m not going to bother arguing that The Butterfly Junk Effect was the worst episode of Futurama. Beats me if it was or wasn’t, but it’s a terrible episode and it comes from Michael Rowe who also wrote the robosexual episode, Proposition Infinity, and also Bend Her and Fry Am the Egg Man.

A first step to fixing Futurama would be preventing Michael Rowe from writing episodes for anything that doesn’t have Family Guy in its title.

I don’t care about the argument because The Butterfly Junk Effect was filler. It was there because they had to put something there. There was no internal logic, it wasn’t funny and it accomplished nothing. It aired because Futurama once used to be good and it got picked up because it once used to be good and it airs episodes that aren’t any good, because it once used to be good.

Sound familiar? Look up, Simpsons, The.

 

1. Hire younger and better writers

I don’t want to be Ageist but Michael Rowe’s bio talks about him working with Andy Kaufman, Rodney Dangerfield and Rip Taylor. That would be fine if he were any good, but he’s terrible.

The average Futurama writer this season is over 50. You can tell that without looking up their bios because Nixon is a recurring gag on this series. Nixon. And Spiro Agnew.

Michael Rowe and Eric Horsted were writers on Coach. Yes Coach. We’re watching a cutting edge animated series written by writers from Coach.

Horsted wrote The Mutants are Revolting and A Taste of Freedom. This season he wrote The Bots and the Bees. I rest my case.

The only tolerable episode this season was written by Dan Vebber who got his start on Buffy and Space Ghost. The moral is fire people who have Coach in their credits. Hire people who have Buffy and Space Ghost in their credits.

 

2. Change the characters

Futurama’s dateline is 2012. Fry and Leela have to be in their mid-30’s by now. The world has changed. So change it.
futurama sucks

I’m not saying that Futurama needs hard core character development, but they shouldn’t be the same people they were 12 years ago. Not just for creative reasons, but because characters who don’t change are one-joke characters. That’s what Fry and Leela and everyone else on the show is.

And start killing off and replacing some characters. Do we really need Amy around all the time? Do we need Hermes whose one joke is being Jamaican? It’s not just change for the sake of change, but c for c would also pull the show out of its rut. Bringing in new characters would force established characters to react to them. It would shake up the static setup of the same jokes.

Bring in non-human characters. Have them create problems. Blow up the earth. Again. Do something to seriously change the format.

Ugly Americans was poorly executed, but it still had the energy that Futurama is missing. Futurama used to have that energy because you didn’t know what was going to happen next or how off the wall it was going to be.

Futurama has become sitcom stale. The characters fall into routines. Sometimes they’re just doing wacky things that the show wants them to do that make no sense. That’s how you get a roller derby butterfly steroids episode. But comedy is based on what characters want and what they can’t have. If the characters have no motivation there’s no comedy.

Either Fry is a mentally retarded cretin whose IQ is about Homer Simpson level, or he’s a slacker, but has human emotions and drives. Figure it out fast because Fry isn’t anywhere as funny as Homer and seeing him fall down only goes so far.

 

3. Drop the Staples

Mom’s Robots, Nixon, Zapp, just drop them. The funny varies and they make the show lazy. It’s like always falling back on “Take my wife, please.”

Find new staples. The old ones keep Futurama from finding and developing new ones. Every time Nixon and Mom show up, it’s “Take My Wife, Please.”

 

4. What If?

Futurama is a sorta Science Fiction series and its better episodes work like Science Fiction does. They ask, “What if?”

What if the death star was a place where the elderly went into a giant senior center?

What if moon exploration  was as boring as Disney and as fake?

What if there were a robot hell and a robot devil?

A good “What If” episode asks a ridiculously smart question. It doesn’t ret con, it doesn’t tackle current events and it shows you something genuinely new.

New isn’t space roller derby. It’s not Leela’s mother moving in with Zapp. It’s not robots having babies like people. But it just might be an alien actor whose ego is also his id and feeds off acclaim.

 

5. Make 3012 a Darker Place

I don’t mean dark dark. But Futurama’s pilot had suicide booths and career chip implants. Its current incarnation is nicer and more problem-free than our society, except for Nixon. Even the mutants got surface rights by just staging a protest. Robosexuals got what they wanted after a short debate. White Obama was elected after a brief argument.

The future shouldn’t be that nice. It should be a bit strange and unfriendly. It should be a place that freaks us out a bit. Not too much, but enough to make for comedy and new and strange effects. Social problems shouldn’t go away in one episode. There should be a sense that Fry is still in a strange and dangerous world where there might be something as freaky as suicide booths that he was never even aware of lurking in the background.

Fry has gotten too comfortable. The whole series has gotten too comfortable. There are no tensions or challenges. Change that and Futurama might just be a show worth watching.

 

 

Batman is not a Republican

I don’t like to talk about movies before they come out, but since The Dark Knight Rises is a sequel to a movie that I did see and that had the same political interpretations attached to it, let’s go for it.

Was The Dark Knight a commentary on the War on Terror? Obviously. But was it a commentary on the War on Terror? No.

Wait what? Exactly.

The Dark Knight was a commentary on the war of ideas, not just the obvious ones, like can I rendition a guy from another country or eavesdrop on cell phones. Like all the Nolan movies it was about the tug of war between those who are trying to destroy the city and those trying to hold it together.

The Dark Knight Rises is about the same thing.

I have seen essays pushing The Dark Knight as Bush boosterism. Bullshit. The Joker got to make his case and make a convincing case. His case, like Ra’s al Ghul’s case, like Bane’s case, is that Gotham didn’t deserve to survive. That Gotham was too rotten and didn’t have a single good thing in it. The only way to fix it was to destroy it.

Batman never denied Gotham’s problems. He denied that it was hopeless and he rejected the extremist solution of blowing it up. And he was willing to do anything to stop it. That’s what a vigilante does. He breaks the law for a greater good.

How does that line up with Democrats and Republicans? That’s subjective. Batman = Bush looks silly now that Bush is gone and we’re raiding other countries and killing terrorists with remote drones every month.

Remember Two Face? The great politician. The bridge between Batman and the Joker. Batman thought Dent would do his work, but Dent became like the Joker instead.

The twist is that Batman and the Joker are the same person. Batman has to break the rules to stop the Joker who doesn’t believe in rules. But break enough rules and there are fewer differences between Batman and the Joker except character. And the Joker kept trying to prove that character doesn’t matter. That one big decision and one bad day can break anyone.

Chaos and order.

Bane is Batman. He’s more Batman than Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker who wanted to clean up Gotham by destroying it. Bane wants to make Gotham a better place. He’s a vigilante like Batman. He’s making Gotham a better place by beating the hell out of the people he thinks make it a worse place. But like Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker he has the wrong prescription.

Bane, the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul are all one step over the line. They show what Batman can become.

Is Batman a Republican? Sure. He’s also a Democrat. And he’s none of those things. He’s the guy at the top who sees a problem and breaks the rules trying to fix it. He wants to bring back hope, but he does it by punching people in the face.

He’s a superhero.

In the Nolan movies Batman is always fighting villains who have a big picture. They have a vision of life and the world. But he doesn’t have those things. All he’s trying to do is hold on to one city.

Batman has no politics. He doesn’t care about abortion, oil drilling or gay marriage. He has no opinion on 99 out of 100 issues. When Ra’s al Ghul talks history or the Joker talks about foreign wars or Bane talks economic justice, Batman doesn’t care. Those things mean nothing to him. The Nolan Batman movies are about ideas, but Batman is a helpless player in their wars of ideas. He knows that he has to become larger than life, but unlike Ra’s al Ghul, the Joker or Bane, he doesn’t want to be more than human. He has to be more than human for the sake of his mission.

Gotham is Batman’s political agenda. It’s his only political agenda. And he’s fighting to protect it from men with big ideas who would tear it apart over those ideas.

Oliver Stone, Prisoner of the 80’s

Oliver Stone released Platoon, his first significant movie in 1986. That was followed by Wall Street in 1987. Before that he had worked on the scripts for 80’s classics like Scarface and Conan the Barbarian. It’s impossible to think of the 80’s without Oliver Stone and it’s impossible to think of Olive Stone without the 80’s.

oliver stone
Oliver Stone’s career ended when the 80’s did. JFK was the last movie that Oliver Stone made that anyone cared about. Like most of his movies, it was loud, dumb and stupid. It got your attention and hoped you wouldn’t realize how much of your time it wasted once it had it.

Stone in the 90’s kept trying to be Oliver Stone in the 80’s. Natural Born Killers was loud and stupid. But it was ignored, except as a goat for advocates against violence in film. Oliver Stone went back to Vietnam, he went back to Nixon, he did loud and stupid. but no one was paying attention anymore.

Things got worse the next decade. He kept trying to talk to the Zeitgeist, but the Big Z had moved on. In Natural Born Killers, Stone proved he had nothing to say about violence in the culture. In World Trade Center, W and a Wall Street sequel, he proved that he had nothing to say about terrorism, Bush or Wall Street. It was all coming up empty.

Harvesting more 80’s chic, Stone went south of the border looking for some of that Sandinista energy, but no one cared. The 80’s were done. Oliver Stone giggling with Hugo Chavez over drug jokes wasn’t anything. Just more 80’s smoke. The big stuff was going on in Pakistan, while Stone was still searching South of the Border.

And now Stone gives us Savages. Savages is the real Miami Vice. Forget Michael Mann, Savages is real Miami Vice. All those colors, all those guns and all those tilted shots. A classic R Rated 80’s boys against the mob movie. They used to roll them out by the dozen. But no one makes those anymore. No one except Oliver Stone. Prisoner of the 80’s.

How retro is savages? The script comes from Stone and a guy who wrote the Shaft remake in the 90’s, one of the Alien vs Predator movies and a bunch of episodes for the Hawaii 5-0 reboot.

Poor Oliver Stone. The man just cannot escape the 80’s. His scripts, his esthetic, his whole focus was flash frozen in 1986. He hasn’t evolved or learned anything new. He can’t. All he can do is post-process Vietnam, chew over the 70’s, turn out unironic pulp fiction like Savages, biopics of “great men and women”, play around with his bag of visual tricks and try to be a Great Director.

But what is a Great Director? The answers vary, but most of them concede that it isn’t Oliver Stone.

Google Glass and Augmented Reality Ads

You probably already saw this promo for Google Glass, the augmented reality mobile eyepiece that spams you with friend updates, lets stalkers know where you are and keeps shoving Google Plus circles at you. Google has announced that it’s selling the Explorer Edition to developers and will begun running off actual products in two years.

Now take a look at the Google Glass ad and see if you can spot what’s missing. That’s right, it’s ads.google-glasses

Google’s search and social offerings are just ways to shove ads at you. But you don’t see ads while the hipster heads to a hipster bookstore, gets hipster coffee and plays the Ukelele for his girlfriend. But the ads have to be there. There’s no point in a search experience without getting the ads in there.

So what will Google Glass ads look like? Who knows. Audio ads are obvious and obviously annoying, but remember Google Glass is augmented reality. It’s primitive augmented reality that functions like a basic mobile device, but if they stick around, they will get more sophisticated.

So what will augmented reality ads look like? Take a look at this augmented reality demo and remember that it was developed by an ad agency.

augmented reality

The future of advertising

Remember all those ads you run into while browsing? The weird guy wriggling his head? The half-naked girl? The bug flying around?

Now imagine those in augmented reality. And then start imagining the dinosaurs in there too. And people so real that you have to take off your glasses to realize they don’t exist. Or you can just wait for their product pitches.

Rendering those kinds of graphics will be beyond Google Glass, but not beyond many mobile devices on the market already. And the processors are getting more powerful, lower energy and capable of doing more with graphics, while graphics hardware companies and engine developers are aiming harder at the mobile market.

If Google Glass is a success, the third generation of devices will be able to shove high end graphics in augmented reality at you. And while XBox 720 may already have something like that (if not the next generation of consoles will have it for the home environment, imagine fighting battles in your living room instead of a warehouse full of crates, not too exciting, but you’re less likely to bump into walls, the living room can also be used to map out the warehouse, your sofa can be one of the crates, kick it to pop out health packs) things will start getting properly weird when you encounter this stuff on the way to work.

Remember ads play for all the tons of free internet crap you get. Mobile has made ads more challenging, but augmented reality takes away the challenge. It’s the brass ring of ad agencies and Google. Instead of a few obscure AdSense or Facebook ads that no one clicks on, you’ll meet a dinosaur on the way to work who will try to sell you something.

It’s going to be a strange world.

Taken 2 Trailer and the Return of the Action Movie

Taken was a movie that came out of nowhere. The standard response to it was, “You’ve got to be kidding me”. Liam Neeson, the guy from a bunch of Oscar nominated movies, as an action hero? A plot this old?

But it worked. Now here comes Taken 2 with a trailer.

Taken 2 looks like it works too. It’s silly and ridiculous on one level. But on another level it’s Liam Taken 2 PosterNeeson as the new Harrison Ford and it’s the revival of an action movie that doesn’t rely on a bunch of conspicuous special effects.

The action movie never really died. Steven Spielberg buried Last Action Hero, the coda to the 80’s Action Movie, with Jurassic Park, the new CG fueled Jaws, that made the disaster/monster movie driven by CG into the new blockbuster again. Arnold was out, CG critters were in. (These days Spielberg oversees the attack on movies by producing Transformers.)

But the action movie kept coming back. Jackie Chan brought it back to America from Hong Kong. And English, French and Russian filmmakers have brought it back with Transporters, Wanted and Taken.

Taken 2 doesn’t rely on anything too elaborate. The family goes on vacation. The gang responsible for the last kidnapping looks to get revenge and the rest follows. It’s Frantic with a cold ruthless trained killer instead of a nervous tourist. And again it looks like it works. It’s a script from the guy who did the Transporter movies and the original Taken (not to mention the Karate Kid movies). And it’s directed by the weird French director of Transporter 3. There will be lots of running on roofs and lots of cold-blooded no-hesitation trigger pulls.

Sure it could be awful. 20 minutes of it could just be Liam Neeson hugging his family or Maggie Grace auditioning for American Idol, but it probably won’t be. Because it’s efficient. The Transporter movies were about a guy with no time to spare. Taken had that same sparse no-time-to-spare formula, counting down every second. Taken 2 promises the same thing.

The action movie isn’t quite back. For every Taken, there will be a dozen board games adapted into movies (Liam Neeson was in Battlefield) and comic book movie reboots. But like its hard-charging never-say-die protagonists, it also refuses to go away.

Examining Female Role Models in Pop and Geek Culture

female role models pop vs geek

Variations of this infographic have been making the rounds for a while. It’s comforting for “geeks” to believe this is true, but it could just as easily be switched around to look like this.

female role models pop vs geek real

If I wanted to rub it in, I could swap out the Pop section with Adele and a few better role models. Which do exist. Just as they exist in geek culture. They’re just not that representative. Just like they aren’t in geek culture.

Here’s the thing about geek culture.

 

1. Geek culture is mostly not made by geeks.

Not if you take the examples of TV shows as representative. Even on the rare occasion when a TV show is created by someone you can claim as a geek, getting it to the air is the work of producers who are not geeks and who treat it like any other product.

 

2. Geek culture is representative of the culture as a whole.

Big shock. You can call the general culture Mundanes and call geeks Slans or any of the other names that pretend there’s a fundamental boundary, but geek culture comes out of and then influences pop culture. There’s no forcefield or magic barrier here. And even if there were, the same attitudes and drives would still influence both. And that includes is attitude toward women.

 

3. Geek culture is mostly not meant for geeks

Most geek culture, and I don’t mean the people who cynically pander to that narrow demographic like John Scalzi or Cory Doctorow, is not intended specifically for the consumption of a special group of people. The cult hits are usually the things that failed to reach a wider audience. Think of Star Trek or Firefly.

The ones that hit that audience, like Star Wars, shook off the geek crowd and thumbed its noses at them. Remember Shatner on Saturday Night Live. He didn’t need the geek crowd and he told them that. Then he decided he needed them again. Remember Nimoy, “I Am Not Spock”, “I Am Spock.”

 

4. Even when Geek culture is aimed at geeks, its creators have no idea what geeks want

Star Trek Voyager producers thought that fans wanted an emotionally dead woman in a silver catsuit. And they did the same thing with Star Trek Enterprise. Take a look at all the booth babes.

Geek culture is not created by geeks. It’s mostly created by people who have stereotypes of it and who program in terms of those stereotypes. And those stereotypes are a mark of contempt. Not just toward women, but the entire audience.

 

So that was quite a few things. But here’s the punchline.

Science Fiction and Fantasy are heroic narratives. So there are going to be more male and female role models in the mix. Heroes are heroic and even if there are 200 women in skimpy clothes whose only job is to cling to the hero while begging him to save them, there are going to be some heroines. And there are going to be more than a few heroines, because writing the other kind of female character is boring even to the most sexist writers.

That also means Science Fiction and Fantasy will have more heroines than pop culture, which isn’t running on a heroic narrative. It will happen to have more role models, not because it set out to create them, but because it’s adventure oriented. That may be why it’s better for boys and girls. Not because it’s progressive, but because it’s adventurous and adventures summon characters who have to be better than average, who can face challenges and overcome them.

Science Fiction and Fantasy will have characters of all races and genders doing amazing things, not because it set out to create role models, but because it tells stories about people beating the odds, traveling to other worlds, slaying dragons and saving the planet. And those people can be anyone. They’re likely to be like the people telling the story but that’s human egotism. And enough of them aren’t that geek culture is better than pop culture, not because it’s made by better people for a better audience, but because it tells a different kind of story. A story that used to be common until it got replaced by the story of people getting famous and screwing up their lives.

Reviewing Authority

Do you look at your master carpentry credentials when you take note of a stairway or deck or a door that is falling apart before your very eyes?

Of course you do not.

So then, why is this kind of question tolerated when talking about film-making, novel writing, TV shows, or comic books?

Heavy Armor at Loose Cannon asks the question. (I almost spelled that Loose Canon, which would be a whole other topic.)

Movies, books, comic books are products you buy. They’re products that you pay for.

 

The first authority for reviewing something is as a customer. That attitude has proliferated all over the internet with producti am legend poster reviews for everything. On Amazon you can register your opinion on a new hard drive, a new mop or a DVD of Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica.

Even if you didn’t hand over cash for the experience, you paid in time. The Simpsons in their Poochie episode mocked Comic Book Store guy (the default mode of TV producers and writers for imagining what their critics are like) for complaining about a TV show he didn’t pay for.

“What,” the episode has Bart tell him, when he complains about an episode,  “They’ve given you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? I mean, if anything, you owe them.”

Uh no. Nothing is free. Free television sells your attention span to its advertisers. It’s still a product that you’re paying for, the arrangement is just more complicated and it’s a three way transaction.

Set against this is the aesthetic argument that reviewing a creative product is different than reviewing a mop or a new hard drive. It’s not a wrong argument. A creative product has a deeper level of engagement, but that just means there’s a deeper level of expectations. But the same rules still apply. If a product doesn’t satisfy you, doesn’t meet its expectations and is poorly constructed, then it’s your duty as a paying customer to speak out about it.

 

The second authority for reviewing is creative. The authority for acting as a reviewer comes from the same place that the authority for being any kind of writer does. You can do it well or you can do it badly, but there’s no source of authority for it.

A script or a book isn’t good or bad because of the authority of its writer. If an episode is bad or a poem is terrible, will the author resorting to citing his education history or his awards make it any better?

If you read, then you are an authority on reading. If you watch television, then you are an authority on television. If you watch movies, then you are an authority on movies. Your experience is your authority. You know what you like. You know what you don’t like. You know what you want to get out of it. That makes you, your own authority.

Sure you might not know the difference between a single camera sitcom and a multi-camera sitcom, until it’s pointed out to you. You might not know what a tracking shot is. You might not be able to define irony. You might not realize the author’s whole fourth chapter is a reference to a famous epigram from Proust. But do those things really matter? I can talk for three paragraphs about a tracking shot, because it matters to me. To someone else it’s just a really long boring stroll where nothing happens. You are your own authority.

The more you know about a subject, the geekier you get about it. It’s why creatives love reviewers with authority who can appreciate all the technical things. They like the idea of being judged on technique, not on experience. On the flip side, terminator salvation movie posterpopular trashy creatives like to be judged on audience experience, not on technique. And all of those are valid approaches because they’re all valid experiences with a product.

There’s no higher authority and no gated castle here. Entertainment is meant to be entertaining, it’s also meant to sometimes make you think and do a hundred other things that some speaker at AFI will talk about for fifteen minutes while looking at a bunch of old people wearing too much makeup.

A product is still a product. How much you know about it, can give your review more depth. A true expert can review a hard drive by going into detail about each component, discussing where the controller was manufactured, the manufacturer’s track record with components, how the transfer rate on the box differs from the actual rate that most users will experience under normal read/write conditions. And all that is important.

But if your hard drive is broken, if this is the third time that you sent it back, and you got it shipped back and it’s still bad, then your experience and your review and authority to review it is just as good.

Why Star Trek Enterprise Failed

(I’ll keep this brief after the earlier marathon post this morning.)

Enterprise was an attempt to get back to classic Star Trek. It wasn’t a very good attempt because the people making it didn’t understand classic Star Trek very well… or like it very much. Enterprise was how they saw TOS. It was their version of it.

Audiences had fled DS9 and Voyager. The ratings were low. The franchise was in trouble. So they tried to make a classic Star Trek series. Or star trek enterprise azati primewhat they saw when they looked at Star Trek.

Make the Captain an old-fashioned wild card type. Put in a Vulcan. Keep the crew small and mostly human. Make the technology cruder. Have the humans dislike the aliens. Show some skin. Break some rules. Get them to explore space. Show how the Federation got started. Then throw in some exit strategies so continuity doesn’t matter too much. A temporal cold war. Pre-Starfleet starship. There’s your classic Star Trek series.

That summary wasn’t completely wrong, but it was completely incomplete. It was something like Star Trek, but it wasn’t really Star Trek. It was Voyager with a new skin, but without the gimmicks or a large cast. It felt empty, because it was.

Enterprise wasn’t the show that the producers wanted to make. It was the show they had to make. There was nowhere else to go. The gimmicks had failed, so they went throwback. They went prequel, which was popular then. Then after them came the reboot, which is popular now.

Every story, every fictional universe has its built in rules. The parameters that cover how things work in it. First you learn the rules. Then you can break them. Berman and his favorites boasted of breaking the rules. They were going to make Star Trek their own way. And they did. It failed. Then they tried following the rules, but they didn’t know the rules. They never learned them. So they imitated what they saw.

When they looked at the Original Series, they saw a sparse show focused around the ship’s captain and one or two subordinates. They saw crude technology. They saw a lower comfort level with aliens. They saw space portrayed as a dangerous place. They saw sexism. They saw “seat of the pants” tactics and stories where the captain goes to a strange place, is captured, breaks free, acts like a jackass and moves on.

And they copied all those things. One after another. And they didn’t understand what they were doing wrong. They didn’t like TOS and didn’t really get it. It wasn’t a show they could take seriously. It was like the Adam West Batman to them. So they tried to make it a little more serious. And that made it even worse because their idea of serious was Voyager. On top of their bad clone of TOS, they pasted in Voyager.

The Original Series was more than the sum of its parts. It was more than Shatner and Nimoy breaking out of another cell on an alien planet Star Trek Enterpriseand then yelling at the aliens about doing the right thing. It was about more than a human dominated crew in an intergalactic federation. It was more than Uhura in a miniskirt and repeating back what she heard on her earpiece before being forced to make out with Kirk.

When Berman and Braga looked at TOS, they saw the flaws. And they thought, “If this is what the fans want. We’ll give it to them. We’ll have a captain who constantly gets captured and yells at aliens. We’ll have a Vulcan to be uptight all the time. We’ll have a good-looking guy who sleeps with chicks. We’ll try to fix it up a little so it’s not as stupid as the old one, and then we’ll give the dorks exactly what they want.”

But TOS was more than the sum of its flaws or its silly moments. Its core was its ambition. Its fans saw what it did best. But the people who made Enterprise saw it as a dumb silly show and tried to make a classier version of it. A show that fans would agree was classic, but that would also let the producers do their thing. Win-win.

That’s how we got Enterprise. That’s why it failed.

Post Navigation

 
Custom Avatars For Comments
UA-32485431-1
%d bloggers like this: