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(That title is very funny if you watch the show. 😁)

…is that THE HORSE HIMSELF IS BASICALLY NOT IN IT. That blows my mind a little. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a central character entirely missing from a season trailer for his own show before.

Herein I am obsessively analyze everything I see in the trailer for the next season of Bojack Horseman (debuting THIS COMING FRIDAY WOOOOOOOOOOO!) I did this with last year’s too and got pretty much everything wrong. Whatever, I enjoy it. But be careful if you’re not caught up, as spoilers be ahead. You can watch the trailer here.

The structure of the trailer is provided by Diane leaving Bojack a voicemail. Apparently she hasn’t heard from him in three months. That the last image we saw of him in season 3 was him driving out into the desert and experiencing strong emotion in response to seeing a herd of “wild” horses— not sure what “wild” means in the context of this anthropomorphic universe, but that was clearly the concept being drawn upon. Bojack has a history of running away and blowing off his life when things get challenging, so there’s a strong chance he’s been doing that for the time he’s been incommunicado. Did he join with that herd he saw? He doesn’t seem the type to want to live a simpler life, given his addiction to the various excesses of his celebrity, but we know from season 2 how living as just a normal person that was part of a nice family made him the happiest he’s been in years. So maybe that was able to be an escape from him.

But, because we see him in basically none of the trailer, we don’t know much of what he’s up to or what he’s doing. In fact, in sharp contrast to the season 3 trailer, we focus entirely on the doings of the important supporting cast.

Diane has a new job at the blog run by Ralph Stilton’s rich little sister, voiced by Kimiko Glen, or Brooke Soso on Orange is the New Black. She compliments Diane on not caring if anyone reads her work, to Diane’s disappointment, which suggests that the blog job is not working out as well as she might have hoped. The offices of the company seem hyper modern and full of “fun” accoutrements, which are visual shorthand for “cool startup.” Diane works at a giant screen in a nonstandard chair that looks too low, which make her seem weirdly helpless.

Mr. Peanutbutter is running for governor of California, and their house is bedecked with campaign things, like a bus with his picture on it and a parody of the Obama HOPE poster. He has an image of a nasty-old-man-looking woodchuck on the wall in a red no symbol reading “Chuck Woodchuck,” so I guess that’s his gubernatorial opponent. Diane kisses him and seems supportive of his ambitions, but I could guess that she’s going to find the demands of campaigning and accompaniments like invasion of privacy very stressful.

Mr. Peanutbutter campaigns on being “specifically on the side of the fact and… also feelings,” which makes a reporter comically throw up his hands and declare himself satisfied with no questions. I can’t imagine that they won’t use this storyline to comment on the horror that was this most recent presidential election, especially since as Mr. Peanutbutter is basically a know-nothing celebrity who lacks governmental experience, he opens some interesting avenues for parallels and critique. I wonder what angle they’ll take, since he’s basically a decent guy even if he doesn’t seem remotely qualified. That’s a heavy, sad topic, but this show is never afraid to go dark. At a rally where everyone cheers for him, Diane looks down in distress at her phone. Is she reacting to something on the phone, or to the crowd’s reaction to her husband?

Princess Carolyn muses about how she’s always wanted a family, which we knew all the way from the first season when she complained that Bojack didn’t respect her enough to have a baby with her. Then it cuts to her lovely boyfriend Ralph Stilton asking, “Would you, could you, with a mouse?” as he takes her hand in a fancy restaurant. It’s suggesting a proposal, but we don’t actually hear the question get popped. Her reaction of “Wow,” is a slightly odd response if it was a proposal of marriage. I like Ralph though, so I’m kind of hoping they tie the knot. I note with that “Green Eggs and Ham” cadence that they like to do references to children’s literature with mice in it in Ralph’s dialogue, such as “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” last season.

Todd is still crashing on Bojack’s couch, at least at one point, because Diane commends that she hasn’t seen him in a while. The next shot is, hilariously, of him walking on a runway at a fashion show for “Sharc Jacobs” (this is the first point the trailer made me laugh out loud.) As we later see some chick in a hip bar basically wearing his outfit, I bet you a thousand bucks he wandered unwittingly onto that runway in the middle of the show, and then the world thinks what he was wearing was part of the new collection, so everybody immediately starts copying it.

He also seems to be hovering by a Rube Goldberg machine with a pink lizard looking person. No idea there. He skis down a hill and steals a giant bag of popcorn while hanging off a drone. No idea there either. He’s Todd. He’ll have a bunch of weird adventures that will end with a gut twist by the end of the season, because that’s what he always does.

In Diane’s message she echoes Bojack, with “This is Diane Nguyen, by the way. Obviously.” This strikes me because it’s the same way he ended his voicemail to her when he confessed he was in love with her. They do on occasion draw parallels between the two of them to explain their bond, but that one gives me pause, as I really hope they’re not going to have her develop romantic feelings for him. That would not make me happy. I could, however, see the show have her turn to him for validation in a low moment, which he would be too weak not to take advantage of, and have it fuck things up. The show goes to places like that, and while I’d buy it, I care about the characters too much for that to happen to them. I want better than them for that, and again, they’ve never been afraid to blow relationships up and let them stay that way.

Diane narrates further. “It’s funny. Last time I saw you, you told me you needed me in your life. And then you just disappeared. Anyway, things are even crazier around here lately.”

We see a yellow convertible driving along the desert, which is presumably where Bojack is, given where we last saw him. We don’t see the car’s driver, but it’s definitely implied that it’s Bojack.

Diane wakes up in bed alone, with only Mr. Peanutbutter’s sunglasses in his place. Mr. Peanutbutter appears to be somewhere snowy, wearing a ski suit I think. So he’s traveling and far away from her, a reversal of when she went to Cordovia.

A shadowy figure in a Vincent Adultman-style fedora and trench coat appears, and it turns out to be that horse girl we saw trying to get in touch with Bojack through his agency at the end of last season. Todd initially freaks out when she approaches him, and she says, “Ever since I was a baby, people said I looked like Bojack Horseman.” She even points to a picture of baby Bojack in his signature sailor suit. To which Todd replies with the line that caused my second big laugh of the trailer, “That’s a terrible thing to say to a baby!”

It was pretty heavily foreshadowed last season that Bojack might have a child he never knew about. The most obvious was the fact that this horse girl was trying to get in touch with him, and she was described by Judah as “sounding like a teenaged girl.” The other suggestions that this might happen were more oblique. Thematically, one might say his taking responsibility for the seahorse baby last season was sort of an indicator that he might have it in him to be somebody’s parent. More literally and less literarily, when he hears Diane is planning on having an abortion he comments on how many abortions he paid for in his time, ending with, “Gee, I hope those women didn’t lie and actually just kept— my money.”

The joke at the end is a distraction for the possibility that what they actually kept is the baby. The timeline I suppose makes sense, as this likely would have happened during his stardom in the 90’s, and a child born at some point in there could conceivably still be a teenager. She has an odd voice, one I don’t recognize, honestly that doesn’t sound particularly teenaged to me. I’ll have to look the actress up, but I held off for fear of spoiling myself.

As a side note, in the alums beside baby Bojack is a very handsome vintage-y looking picture of two horses in sepia tone and fancy old-timey outfits. I like the picture very much.

Princess Carolyn tells Todd, “The world is dark and scary and full of creepy clown dentists.” We see the two of them surrounded by what appear to be wasps, him in a towel and her in an evening dress, and there’s even a shot of a boy being worked on by the aforementioned creepy clown dentists. For what purpose, I know not, but one of the clowns is a platypus in clown makeup wearing a pretty dress carrying a hockey stick. So that’s fun. She continues, “But you gotta push through and hope there’s better stuff ahead.” We see her walk out of an elevator with Judah, which implies they’re working together again, and Ralph come up and kiss her as they’re both wearing bathrobes.

We get a bunch of shots in quick succession as Diane intones, “I’m sure you’d say, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”” Diane stands between a blonde lady and the badger upon whom she pulls a gun from her purse. Mr. Peanutbutter has meets with his woodchuck rival, who bangs furiously on his desk. Diane furiously hurls her giant computer screen to the ground. And then, one of the most shocking shots in the whole trailer— a growling Mr. Peanutbutter holds an angry Diane by her wrists and shoves her against a wall.

Now what is THAT supposed to be? I know trailers can’t always be taken at face value every moment because they pull moments out of context to create interest. But it looks like an act of aggression, which given that they’re married has some rather horrifying implications. Are they going down an actual spousal violence route here? That’s heavy, and rather shocking for these two characters whose relationship has been presented as occasionally troubled but overall mostly loving and supportive. For the record, Diane does not look scared, she looks like she’s fighting back, so it may not be totally straightforward.

But Bojack does NOT do the “haha, isn’t it funny how terrible these people are” thing and leave it with no consequences. Maybe with a peripheral character, but never the leads. They would not show an incident of spousal violence without it having IMPACT. Like, it would be a storyline and they would deal with it. Again, I would find that a shocking direction for these two characters. And again, context may matter and give it a different vibe. For all I know, it’s bait for the BDSM furries in the audience— of which I am sorry to report I know the show has a fan base.

Princess Carolyn and the horse girl both say, “Where have you been?” to an unseen person, who I’m betting on is Bojack. That’s a pretty basic guess, but they went out of their way to keep him out of the trailer, so it may not be intended to be misleading.

Lenny Turtletaub asks if the world’s gone mad in his office. He has great film posters— “Glockerspaniel,” “Americanine Shooter,” and “Bulletproof Principal.” I confess I don’t get the joke of the last one, but it’s of a Great Dane with a gun in a bulletproof vest.

Mr. Peanutbutter and Pinky Penguin are at a black-tie party where a guy in a tuxedo is on fire, which is the mark of a good one.

Todd plays the triangle with an orchestra. We get a quick shot of Rutabega Rabbitowitz, to which I cheered because I love that smart Jean-Ralphio, amid a bunch of white roses with red edges. Makes me wonder if it’s an Alice in Wonderland reference, though he’s a black and white rabbit with red eyes like Bunnicula.

A mouse boy dances on a table in a grand house surrounded by other mice, so I guess we’re going to get to meet the Stilton family. They’re all wearing what look like cat ears and carrying torches, to which Princess Carolyn looks on angrily, so I think we’re going to get a clash of ethnicity or religion storyline as they contemplate getting married. Given how often cats have been used to represent Nazis and mice their Jewish victims, that’s an interesting possible reversal. OH, or maybe she’s like the white person who doesn’t understand racial minorities distrust of white people? Hm, but I doubt a show like this would involve torches in that case and make it look unreasonable. They’re usually pretty good about that sort of thing.

Princess Carolyn gets smashed at a party where one of the clown dentists hovers over a passed-out boy with a handsaw. Todd carries in jugs of mouthwash, which suggests this is not an upscale party. Actually I think it’s supposed to be at Princess Carolyn’s apartment. She may be dealing with the revelation that her boyfriend is prejudiced in some way. That would make me sad, as I like the character of Ralph.

A row of beetles dressed like Ancient Egyptians twerk. That’s… cool.

Brief flashback to what appears to be a scene from Mr. Peanutbutter’s old show, “Mr. Peanutbutter’s House,” with what I guess is a celebrity guest star.

Office Meow Meow Fuzzyface, another character I love, stops Carolyn and Ralph in traffic but appears to startle at the sight of them, then pulls a gun. Again, racial issues to be explored?

A child’s foot in pink slippers reaches down toward a gas pedal in a car, only for an adult foot in a green wedge sandal press down on the pedal alongside it. It is juxtaposed with a shot of Mr. Peanutbutter backing a tiny child’s toy-looking car through the wall of a hospital room. Shockingly, the patient appears to be his woodchuck rival, who has bandages on his wrists and what appear to be lobster claws where his hands should be— and a balloon that reads “Get Hands Soon.” I guess… that’s a thing? I cannot wait to see what happens there, as this show's trademark is to juxtapose the truly absurd with the deeply emotional.

Beatrice Horseman, Bojack’s mother, in her present aged state (as in, it’s not a flashback like when she usually appears) stares out a window, hands pressed to the glass and eyes wide in horror. There are many photographs taped to the window from the inside and we only see a faint outline of them through the back. In my headcanon his dad Butterscotch is already dead, but I wonder if this will resolve it one way or the other.

Diane narrates over all this. “THEN you would be so overwhelmed by the sheer ludicrousness of the situation that you would get in your car and drive to Hawaii!”

Finally, we see our only glimpse of Bojack— from behind, in the driver’s seat of the yellow convertible we saw driving through the desert. He pulls up to a little cabin which may be the same one in the picture Charlotte sent him from the brief period she lived in main thirty years ago. The one where he once fantasized about having a whole normal life, married to Charlotte, raising a little girl named Harper.

“Wherever you are, I hope you’re happy,” Diane finishes over this. “I really do, Bojack.” But once she’s done, a digitized version of Amy Sedaris’s voice says, “The mailbox is full. Goodbye.” So Bojack doesn’t even get the message.

Wow. I am excited. I miss the dulcet gravel tones of Will Arnet, but I am quite intrigued that they didn’t even show the series lead. Makes me think that there’s a TON of plot packed into this, as we have no idea what the main character is doing on top of all the rest they’ve teased.

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I completed the 31 Plays in 31 Days challenge for the sixth year in a row this past month!

I did it a little differently than I ever have before, but honestly I’ve been creeping toward this for several years now. Basically, I completed the challenge in July rather than in August, in order to get a play written earlier. These sprints to generate content are always most effective and efficient for me when I have outlines of what scenes I’d like to write. Because I knew I wanted to complete Mrs. Hawking part 4 this summer, but far enough in advance to have it edited to begin rehearsing in the fall, I didn’t want to be drafting it in August. So I did my outlining in June, drafted it in July, and editing was saved for August.

Part 4: Gilded Cages was in fact drafted, though I haven’t completely finished the editing for it. Most of what I posted for the challenge this month was from that first draft. But I ran into the problem, as I often do, that I wrote stuff that spoiled the ending of the piece and I didn’t want to just throw it out there. But that meant, in order to have something to post for all thirty-one days, I had to write new stuff. I suppose I could have just counted my credit privately, but I very much LIKE having something to show every day. And that made for a lot of extra writing work when I was busy, with editing, and with writing for my day job on Susurrus: Season of Tides, which honestly I could have done without.

I think the truth is, as [personal profile] inwaterwrit pointed out when I discussed it with her, that I’ve more or less outgrown this particular structure. The need to just generate scenes, content— regardless of what it is —is just not that important at this point in my writing. It’s more much important to use structures that facilitate the creation of larger works. I can sort of use 31P31D for that, as I did this month, but it comes along with certain problems— most obviously, the need to write extra stuff to fit the structure rather than just focusing on what I actually NEED to write.

I suppose I could just quit doing it… but I like having done it. I like the feeling of accomplishment, I like making lists of and analyzing everything I wrote, and I like having things to post on my blog. So I guess writing more— and having those scenes as groundwork for the future —is a small price to pay. And I had like six scenes drafted that were at least somewhat to very useable all ready for Gilded Cages because of previous 31P31D. Maybe I’ll stop doing it someday, but this was not that day.

To be continued in my analysis of what I wrote this time.
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This scene piece comes immediately after Day #2 - "The One" in Mrs. Hawking part 4: Gilded Cages. It might be a little bit too much of "connective tissue" scene to be worth posting, but it takes us into Nathaniel's major issue for this play, his discovery that the Colonel turned down a knighthood— and that he'll never know why his uncle did it.

A small random observation. You'll notice at the bottom of this scene is a mention of Nathaniel's father. Though we've never actually featured Ambrose Hawking, it occurs to me that he's been mentioned in every single play in the series at least once, even the ten-minute companion piece. In part 1: Mrs. Hawking, our hero mentions "visiting his brother in the south country." In part 2: Vivat Regina, she tells Nathaniel, "All the men in the family have that look. Your uncle, your father, and you." In part 3: Base Instruments, Justin brushes off Clara's comment on his black sheep status with "We can't all be Father's favorite." In the ten-minute, Like a Loss, Reginald puts off a visit from Ambrose, and worries that his brother will teach his dislike of Mrs. Hawking to his two young boys.

I think he is the single most mentioned character who has never actually made an appearance— since the Colonel has now appeared in both part 4, and in the ten-minute companion piece Like a Loss. I've always wanted to do something with him, though I don't know if he'll ever be able to appear. He tends to mostly come off like a bit of an ass in his mentions, but in my head he's a bit more complicated, and it would be nice to get to portray him and his relationship to the rest of the family.

Here, Nathaniel communicates with him off-screen, and it actually would likely be an interesting conversation to hear. But sadly there is no place for it in the Gilded Cages script. Maybe for fun I'll bang it out and see what it looked like, but it would be just for an academic exercise.

Day #10 - Letter From the Queen )
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Recently I got a chance to try out Blue Apron, one of those meal subscription services that has become popular recently. Basically I got sent a box with three meal's worth as a free sample that Bernie, who also tried out the service, was allowed to send to somebody. It's an interesting idea-- they send you the raw ingredients plus recipes for chef-designed meals to cook in your own kitchen. You can choose what gets sent to you from a number of recipes offered each week, and you can personalize a little according to your dietary habits, such as vegetarianism or not eating pork.

I tried it for the first time at Bernie's house, when he had received his own free samples from his brother. The food is very high-quality; everything they send you is fresh and even mostly organic, and just the right amount for the recipe. The plates are clearly designed by creative and talented cooks, who put a lot of thought into flavor combination and ingredient use. Each plate is fairly balanced too, with a protein, vegetables, and a starch. The recipes are clear and well-written; you don't have to be a good or experienced cook to follow them, and none of the techniques are difficult to execute. The results are really good meals, particularly if you like a lot of variety and combination in what you're eating.

They had some downsides, though. While not exorbitant, each meal is not cheap-- they work out to about ten dollars a portion, which if you order out a lot is low, but if you're used to doing your own grocery shopping to cook, like I do, that seems excessive. None of the cooking is difficult, exactly, but because the recipes favor lots of ingredients and many-step dishes, they always took me a fair bit of time to prepare. Finally, there is a LOT of plastic packaging for the individually-portioned ingredients, which seems wasteful. I think most of it is recyclable, but still. And I'm annoyed with the fact that despite the three-meal sample being free, they basically immediately sign you up for another three-meal delivery which they don't give you a chance to cancel.

Ultimately, I am not going to continue using it. It's too expensive for me, especially since I cook pretty regularly already, by doing my own much-cheaper grocery shopping. I also generally prefer to eat a little simpler than this style, with fewer ingredients, fewer sauces, fewer starches, that sort of thing. It's a very good product though, and if you want an easier way to get into cooking restaurant-style meals, it's probably worth it for ten bucks a plate.
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I remember back when, as a child, I had strong impulses to write but not as much practical knowledge or exercise of the craft, I first noted that some people seemed to often come back to the same ideas or even tropes in their stories again and again, particularly as their bodies of work got larger. At the time I was somewhat judgmental of it; why would you repeat yourself like that? Didn't those writers have any new ideas? I felt like I had literally dozens and dozens of story ideas that all felt meaningfully different, so it seemed uncreative to return to concepts you'd explored before in a new piece.

As I became more knowledgeable and experienced, I think I've found the truth, as it often is, to be somewhere in the middle. Yes, often very prolific writers do end up reproducing work they've basically done before and quit creating new characters, new scenarios, or new takes on the ideas they're dealing with, and that can represent a kind of creative death. But that isn't necessarily happening just because you find yourself dealing with the same concepts or themes in more than one piece. You can explore those ideas from different viewpoints, examine them in different ways. By placing similar notions in different contexts, you can see how the different circumstances change things. If done thoughtfully, and if truly taken from different angles, it can make lead to greater depth and complexity in the ideas' expression in your work.

When I came to realize this, and as I started writing more and more, I found myself examining how I dealt with this in my own work. I often invoke this under the conception of the Creator Thumbprint, the TV Tropes notion marking how writers tend to work with the concepts that interest them over and over again in a way that is unique to them. Partially because I'm amused by it, partially because I believe I improve my work by being self-aware and analytical concerning my own habits, and partially because I want to avoid the trap of actually repeating myself. I want to keep track of this so that I ensure actually do have different perspective on the things I examine repeatedly, so each new take actually adds new dimension.

In the days to come I'm going to write entries examining my preferred tropes, the ones that emerge most frequently in my work and the ones I'm currently feeling most interested in. I want to think about how I use them, and what various approaches I've used in order to explore them. And yes, there's more of them than just the Complicated Feelings About Babies One.
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This past weekend I got a chance to see the production of Mrs. Packard by Emily Mann with the Bridge Repertory Theatre. I wanted to go because Eric Cheung was in it and I enjoy watching him act, but it was also a play that was relevant to my interests-- it took place in the 1850's and was about a woman who'd been unfairly committed to a mental institution because of her outspoken views that challenged those of her husband. Obviously I'm very interested in the feminist issues of that time period, so I was excited to see what it was about and how they would do it.

Overall I enjoyed the production very much. It took place in this gorgeous open-room theater at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge, with elaborate crenellated architecture and a beautiful balcony ringing around the top of it. The set and costumes were lovely, in low-key grays and blues, and the space was shaped by large curtains that they pushed in and out to make frames. It was clearly a very professional production, with high acting quality, direction, and production value all around, though not all of the actors were exactly to my taste. The woman playing Mrs. Packard, while clearly talented, didn't appeal to me. She was very broad and without a lot of emotional levels-- she was kind of at eleven for the entire performance with little variation. I also noticed that Mr. Packard was played by the guy who read for Lord Brockton at the very first ever reading of Mrs. Hawking part one that happened at my grad school and was organized by my teachers. As for the script, overall I enjoyed the story, though I would say it was a bit heavy handed with its ideas, full of people talking alternately how absurd and how important it was for women to be able to speak their minds, depending on which side of the argument they represented.

It also spurred a lot of thoughts about how I wanted to incorporate mental health abuses as an issue in the Mrs. Hawking plays. The idea that a woman can be committed for behaving what the men in her life believe is "strange" or "inappropriate" is definitely a good source of threat for those stories. Honestly it's probably something Mrs. Hawking has specifically been concerned about that causes her to so carefully hide her activities. I actually already have an idea for utilizing it, though not until parts five and six. Those are a way off, but in watching Mrs. Packard it got me thinking about how I want to execute on those concepts. I am not going in the same direction as Mrs. Packard takes, but I hope it make it meaningful and really invoke the horror that a woman could be committed against her will, not because she's mad, but because she doesn't obey or conform.
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More drafting for my planned deep-dive exegesis on one of my all-time favorite films, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This is rough, disorganized, and unedited, and I will polish it up once I have a fuller draft, but here's some of the work I did on one of my favorite parts of the analysis-- the surprisingly sophisticated workings of Roger Rabbit as a character. Previous scribbing on how the noir genre factors in can be found here.

Now I want to talk about Roger Rabbit, who is in my opinion the most remarkable character in the film. Roger is my favorite, and honestly has been since I saw the movie as a tiny child. But now, as a critic with a slightly more mature perspective, I’m fascinated by him because there is much more complexity to his character than his surface affect suggests, and by how much dramatic weight his narrative actually carries.

Despite being the title character, Roger is not straightforwardly a protagonist in the strict sense. Much as I love and am fascinated by the workings of the character, I will admit that his arc, such as it is, is… minimal. The fact that he is fundamentally the same throughout the entirety of the story, with minimal personal growth from the experience, automatically subordinates his narrative to Eddie’s, who is in fact the true protagonist of all. But his story function is not simply to act as a foil and motivator to Eddie Valiant. Though secondary, Roger has the very important protagonistic quality of wanting something and taking actions to get it. And in fact, his Want and his Actions toward that Want drive the entire film— A Want, by the way, that is shockingly mature and sophisticated. You see, EVERY EVENT IN THIS FILM stems from and is driven by Roger’s constant assertion that his marriage is real. And this is important, not to mention necessary, because none of the people around him seem to believe it.

Our very first awareness of Roger is his act in the Baby Herman short that opens the film. It is done in classic cartoon style, characterized by invented exaggerated reality and broad ridiculous humor. It is quite funny— Roger Ebert said he seldom laughed harder at anything that he did the first time he saw this cartoon —but it’s also narratively important. By seeing Roger “at work,” we see him as most people in this world see him— as the silly cartoon character, not just ridiculous, but the fall guy, the butt of the joke. The guy who is, despite his best intentions and efforts, continually whacked around by the circumstances of life, not somebody who has any real perspective or outlook to take seriously.

With Roger so established in our eyes, we see where R.K. Maroon is coming from in talking about Roger as if he’s blind to the truth of his own life. Maroon seems smarter and more on the ball than Roger, so when he gives his assessment that Roger’s wife is obviously a tramp and the rabbit just can’t see it, we’re inclined to accept it. We are induced to dismiss Roger just as the characters do.

But beyond that, it allows a means for the inciting event to occur. The director calls cut at the end of the cartoon because instead of seeing stars after a wallop, Roger produces tweeting birds— cleverly classified under “blowing his lines” the same way saying the wrong word would be for a human actor. It’s evidence of a problem Roger’s been having lately, that his ability to focus on his work is suffering due to distress over a rumor that his wife Jessica is being unfaithful to him. The story kicks off when Maroon calls in Valiant, who is engaged to take pictures of Jessica in the act of cheating to prove to Roger that she’s a tramp and not worth wasting any more time over.

Take a look at that. The issue Maroon feels needs solving is Roger’s disbelief, his refusal to accept that his wife’s having an affair. Maroon’s action is in direct reaction to Roger’s assertion. What is that assertion, that reason that he refuses to believe it? “My marriage is real.”

So the entire story kicks off because of that. But even after that, all of Roger’s actions (or at least all his character-driven ones) stem from this steadfast belief. When he is shown the pictures that Valiant took, he gives some small indication that he can no longer deny that an affair took place, but he violently insists that whatever’s happened, he and Jessica are going to get past it. What enables him to insist on this? His belief that his marriage is real.

The next scene offers up a beautiful, sad little moment where he’s alone, crying over the photos of the two of them in his wallet— on vacation, cuddling up in a booth at a restaurant, and on their wedding day. This is lovely and important character moment. There’s no anger there, only sadness— a hint to the audience that his mindset upon leaving was not vengeful enough to have run out and commit a murder right after. And there’s something beautifully mundane about those photos. While perhaps a bit on the glamorous side— they are Hollywood performers, after all —they are such shockingly normal moments in the life of a couple. These show what’s important to Roger, and how he views his relationship.

And there’s an interesting juxtaposition of the photography in this scene versus the previous one. As we just saw, photographs are evidence, and these are evidence of the reality of their marriage. But we see Roger’s struggle to reconcile the way these supposed records of truth conflict with one another.

The next time is onscreen Roger, it's when he turns up in Eddie's office to ask for his help in clearing his name. And what justification does he offer for his claim that he couldn't possibly have killed Marvin Acme? He has nothing to take revenge for because he doesn't believe Jessica actually cheated. He tells Valiant that he reflected on the whole issue and came to the inescapable conclusion that, those pictures aside, the Jessica he knows could not have done wrong by him— that she’s “an innocent victim of circumstance.” Why doesn't he believe she cheated? Because he knows their marriage is real.

Now notice that Valiant still thinks Roger's nuts to believe in Jessica. Even after he accepts the case, he remains convinced she's a tramp, and that Roger is too ridiculous a person to see the truth. I would argue that perception persists most of the way through the movie. He definitely still believes she stepped out when he confronts R.K. Maroon, as he describes the events as "a story of greed, sex, and murder." What else could "sex" be referring to, other than he still thinks Jessica put out for Marvin Acme? But this, that even Roger’s ally and advocate can’t possibly believe in them, it makes it all the more powerful and that Roger is holding fast: his marriage, God damn it, is real.

More to come later.

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Just doing some early drafting of my essay analyzing Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This is all rough and somewhat cursory-- I may want to reorder some of this later. But I'm working out some of the stuff I want to talk about now, specifically how it relates to the conventions of film noir.

The debt Roger Rabbit owes to the film noir conceit is clear. It has a setup straight out of a classic-- a disgraced private eye haunted by the demons of his past must take on a case for a person who challenges his dim outlook on life and the world. Said private eye, Bob Hoskins's Eddie Valiant, immediately calls to mind his detective predecessors of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and even Jake Gittes, with his once-honorable career, his traumatic backstory, and his current bitter outlook leading him to become a disgraced alcoholic shadow of his former self.

It may seem all this care to evoke the tropes and traditions of film noir are just in the service of setting up the parody. And it is an excellent parody, given the skillful way it spins up many of the expected elements of noir. Roger is an extreme exaggeration of the holy fool the noir protagonist is often called upon to protect. Jessica is a deconstruction of the classic femme fatale. The primary thing Eddie is unable to believe in his the power of humor and laughter. But it doesn't stop there-- Roger Rabbit pulls off the remarkable feat of not only being a spot-on parody of a certain genre, it's actually a really strong entry in the genre itself.

Film noir is a bit tricky to define. Part of that difficulty comes from the fact that it refers to a weird blend of both a narrative genre AND a filmic visual style, and even then the constituent traits of these are not rigidly agreed upon. French critics Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton, whose 1955 book Panorama du film noir américain (A Panorama of American Film Noir) is considered the seminal work on the subject, cluster some descriptors around it, such as "oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel," but acknowledge this is an oversimplification.

However, an observation of the classics of the genre trend toward the inclusion of a handful of characteristics. The films tend to be shot from a flat, stark perspective, making using of off-kilter compositions and low-key, high-contrast lighting to a chiaroscuro effect. The stories tend to be less about their subject matter-- though there are a number of associated subjects, such as detective stories --and more about the mood of the world, the pervasive cynicism, and themes of guilt, regret, disappointment, tragedy, loss, and sometimes even the flickering flame of humanity to be found within people consumed by those things.

As mentioned, the film slots in unexpected and on their surface ridiculous elements into the typical roles characterizing film noir. But for all those roles are carried out by odd actors, they all perfectly fulfil the story mechanism that role is supposed to. Yes, Roger is an absurd cartoon rabbit person, but he still does exactly what the client character in the film noir detective story is supposed to do. His need for help calls upon the protagonist's better nature to take action even in a world he sees as hopeless and uncaring, and his personal qualities inspire that protagonist to reevaluate his own failings he'd previously allowed to go unexamined. And even though the vibrant animated characters and set pieces bring a visual exuberance to the screen, they serve to underscore the flatness, heavy shadows, and even bleakness of the way the surrounding world is shot.

More to come later.

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In the last several years of my becoming more of a serious writing, I've developed a particular system to think about it. I've found that whenever approaching a craft, it helps my brain a lot to think of it in terms of a series of concepts with specific definitions associated with certain purposes. I believe that crucial to understanding how something is done well is simply to be able to identify all the inherent parts and what they're doing in whatever piece you're examining. And knowing how to put those concepts into practice effectively enables a person to perform the art well.

For instance, I've always believed the reason why the French approach to cooking became so pervasive is because they did so much to define the concepts in an identifiable way and systematized their functions. This enabled a commonly understood language, which allowed for discussion between practitioners to relate to each other, instructors to communicate ideas to students, and culinarians to analyze what they observed in practice. I find this defining of the various concepts and giving them corresponding names to be really useful in identifying and quantifying the practice of an art, so this is the approach I take in my work with writing-- in analyzing it, in making it, and in teaching it.

Others may disagree, but I think when developing a piece of narrative art, the first thing to do is build the substance of it. This may be the result of my particular biases-- I freely admit this is influenced by my personal conviction that storytelling is a highly-considered design process, and coming from a drama background the necessity of STRUCTURING a story always seems paramount --but I tend to believe you need to know what your story is going to be about and what's going to happen in it before you should be worrying about how you're going to depict it. In other words, I usually suggest with any writing, figure out the substance of WHAT you want to say before you figure out HOW you want to say it.

So to do this, I like to think of the elements of storytelling as a toolbox full of tools that have closely defined functions that can perform particular jobs. In understanding what those tools are, you can understand what you can use them for, and therefore have the best possible control over the resulting effect their utilization has on your story. Knowing what the province of that tool is allows you to ask the right questions that will lead you to the appropriate design choice.

Let's take point of view as an example. Point of view can be divided, of course, into first person, second person, and third person point of view; we're all familiar with those. "I am experiencing story," versus "You are experiencing this story" versus "They are experiencing this story." But how do we describe all the things point of view encompasses? To get really precise, I like to break it down into Perspective, Bias, and Filter, each with a definition that enables you to focus on a small aspects of the storytelling that POV can affect.

Perspective deals with the nature of the narrator's identity, and all attendant features of what information they are physically able to take in. What is possible for them to know? What is possible for them to experience? The guy in the mailroom can't know what happened in the company's executive boardroom. The girl who doesn't speak Spanish can't tell you what the Spanish-speaking people around her are saying. A human being can't know everything that ever happened in the whole world. So these people can't tell us even if they wanted to. But the CEO, a native Spaniard, and an omnisicient narrator could. So the point of observation of that storyteller matters in what information is even possible for the reader to get.

Bias is what I use to describe how the narrator naturally interprets the information they take in. These are not their conscious views on the info, but the stuff that occurs to them automatically because of the assumptions that come from the way their experiences shaped them. A native earthling may compare the strange aliens to birds because that's the closest frame of reference they have. An abuse victim may view any conflict at all as a potential danger. A novice horseman may interpret a horse's violent reaction as a sign of aggression rather than fear. This colors their narration without their realizing it.

Filter, then, is what that narrator consciously chooses to mention or not mention. A person who suffered a trauma in the past may remember every moment but declare they don't want to talk about it. A morally questionable person may leave out details of their actions so that their behavior doesn't seem as repugnant. This shapes their narration because of their choices of what to say and what to leave out.

So, when you think about point of view being made up of what is possible to know, what is slanted about that knowledge, and what of that knowledge is presented or withheld, now you have more refines axes to consider how point of view is used in a given piece, and how you can make use of point of view in your own writing. Again, this level of precision prompts questions-- what information do I need possible? In that case, what sort of narrator is in a position to provide it? That sort of thing.

I put this to the test recently, when I assigned a midterm in my literature class. I asked my students to choose one of three possible premises for a story, and then make a series of design choices as to how that story might play out in utilization of the various narrative tools we'd studied in the class. I found that a lot of them had much better ability to decide on meaningful storytelling choices because they knew what each tool's function was. They could choose strong conflicts because they knew that conflict was supposed to provide a struggle for that character that was specifically challenging to the ways in which that character was currently deficient, and would have to grow and change in order to manage. They could choose effective settings because they knew setting provided context for the events based on time, location, and continuity of the universe. A lot of them who never thought they had the capacity to tell a story were better able to because the tool's definitions let them ask the right questions-- what would be the toughest thing for this character in particular? What did they need to develop in order to manage this challenge? Where were they going to end up once they'd grown that new strength? I took that as vindication that this approach works, not just as a working style and analytical process as it's been for me, but also as an effective way to teach writing and literary analysis to people who don't know how to do it.

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One somewhat controversial thing I believe about writing is that it's very good to be able to imitate other writers' styles. Other writers and scholars thereof might disagree, failing to see any practical application for it, and protesting that it's more important to refine and develop your own unique voice rather than trying to copy someone else's. (You often hear that argument when people denigrate the writing of fan fiction.) But I maintain it's not only good practice, it's actually a skill worth having for its own sake.

Voice is an important aspect of writing, as it influences mood, feel, tone, and style. But I think an author shouldn't necessarily be limited, or limit themselves, to only one. As nice and useful as it can be to have a signature style, I think it's good to be able to adapt your writing to sound different for different pieces, or even for establishing different characters. If you don't find some way to be flexible that way, you run the risk of making everything sound the same no matter the feel of the piece you may be going for-- or worse, you make everything sound like you, which I find to be a sign of immature work. So imitating the sound of other writers' styles and voices is an exercise in developing your flexibility. It requires you to stretch yourself beyond your natural impulses or current artistics strengths in order to create something that sounds like someone else's work, which broadens the possibilities for what you're capable of depicting. It gives you more control over the voice you give any one project, and enables a wider variety of feels and effects you can impart to your work.

This for me ties into the appeal of fan fiction. I know not everybody is this way, but both when I'm reading and writing fan fiction, I'm looking for more of the story I already love, with more of the things I love about it. So I'm drawn to pieces that stylistically capture the soul of the original. That also means that when I'm writing it myself, that's what I'm shooting for-- something that believably feels like it could be part of what's canon. So I make a special effort to study and emulate the way the original material is written in my fic. The best job I ever did at this was with my piece for the BBC radio comedy Cabin Pressure. I wrote basically a script for an additional episode of the series which, after the fashion of its idiosyncratic episode titling system, I called "San Tropez". Cabin Pressure has a very specific, British style of humor with characters who have highly distinctive voices, and I worked very hard to capture them. If I may say so, I'm really proud of how good a job I did. I've gotten a number of comments from readers saying I nailed the style and voices exactly, and that it's both funny and extremely in character.

But not only do I think it's just good practice for increasing flexibility in other projects. I think it's actually a useful skill in its own right. For collaborative projects, particularly ones that run for a while and have teams of writers, being able to fit in with the "house style" is essential. I have dreams of someday writing for television, and writers' rooms have to have some degree of cohesion to make all the episodes feel consistent with each other. People tend to notice when the "voice" or "style" of a television show gets inconsistent or deviates from what is established, and reactions are usually disapproving. Sometimes it's even at fault for what people describe as Seasonal Rot. In that case it would be a necessity for me to be able to adapt to a certain voice that may or may not naturally be mine.

So it's more than just an amusing little "party trick" for writers of fan fiction. It's actually a powerful developmental tool for a writer to expand their toolkit, and sometimes even demanded by a collaborative situation to keep the pieces all cohesive. So I like challenging myself to play in someone else's sandbox every now and then.

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Just writing it here for the record in case it happens.

I'm not one for believing in complicated conspiracy theories when simple greed, corruption, idiocy, and incompetence will explain everything. But for a long time it's bugged me how many Ruepublicans sided with Trump even after they denounced him as incompetent, or he verbally abused them. I mean, see above-- they want to be on the winning side, the slimebuckets. But last week it occurred to me that as Speaker of the House, the notoriously spineless greed-driven coward Paul Ryan is third in the line of presidential succession. And I found myself wondering if he threw in his lot with obviously unqualified and explosively controversial Trump, who he initially opposed and who in fact insulted him, in order to play a long con and at some point take advantage of that fact.

Trump's approval rating just hit fifty percent, a low that it took George W. Bush three years to finally reach, in the first goddamn week of his presidency. His indiscriminate use of poorly-planned and legally-unvetted executive orders, also in the first goddamn week of his presidency, are creating more and more of a case that we are in a Constitutional crisis. Not to mention Trump's other violations, such as his refusal to divest his business interests placing him in breach of the Emoluments Clause. People are already calling for his impeachment, and I think there is at least a fair chance, even if I'm not being too optimistic, that it could happen. It could be due to his recent unconstitutional policies-- like, there's been tape surfacing of Rudy Giuliani saying Trump literally asked him how we could find a legal way to institute a Muslim ban. And if it is, there's also a chance Pence would be found complicit in them as well, as it seems clear he's given his support and approval of them. So maybe Pence could be taken out too. Which would clear the way for... Paul Ryan. Who is the leader of the body who'd be bringing the Articles of Impeachment.

Yeah, that's ridiculous and unlikely. The Republicans as a self-interested, loot-and-run party probably stand to gain much more as an entity without their president being impeached. Even if Ryan wanted it, as a group I doubt they'd all go for it. But... Trump is nuts. And Ryan is probably more in line with their goals at large. We learned during the primaries that most of the establishment hates him, and even though they need him for their goals now, I seriously doubt that they have learned to like him any better. So... maybe?

If so, you heard it here first.

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MJ Rodriguez as Luna, from Instagram @MJRodriguez7

Thanks to a ticket generously offered to me by [ profile] niobien, I saw "Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women" at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge this week. It was described to me as kind of like the Vagina Monologues, in that it was a series of personal narratives of real people that were turned into dramatic pieces, but in this case from transwomen. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I found it to be a really excellent show, where you literally laugh and cry.

The thing I thought made it so strong was it dealt with a wide diversity of transwomen. They really did demonstrate how personal and individual a gender journey is, even within those who are ultimately exploring the same identity. Some were butch, some were femme; gay, straight; young, old. Some knew that they were women their whole lives, some came to it as a later step of their personal evolution. Some had no problem with sex work, some strongly disapproved. Some cared about the physical reality of their bodies, some felt their truth transcended it. Some wanted to be out and proud as trans, some just wanted to be able to walk down the street without anybody noticing anything about them. These various aspects in various combinations gave each character her own specificity, which conveyed an incredible humanity. That was the best part of it to me-- that everything was so human.

You may be inclined to think that was just because it was drawn from actual people, not made-up characters. But I think it was because the piece seemed to be put together in the interest of telling the stories of THESE WOMEN IN PARTICULAR-- not representing TRANSNESS AS A CONCEPT TO ITS COMPLETE DIGNITY TO THE WORLD. If you know what I mean. There did not seem to be a lot of concern of "Are we taking all the precautions to be as correct as possible for educating the people?" A lot of trans narrative I've read, including personal ones, are very concerned with this, sometimes to the detriment of the story because it turns it into kind of a dry, technical lecture.

Now I totally understand why people end up doing that-- transness is so widely vilified and misunderstood, there is definitely a need to prevent misperceptions, stereotyping, and anything else that could damage the ability of actual trans people to live their lives. But I kind of appreciated that the ladies were not trying to give me a gender studies lesson, but rather to just talk about themselves, their journeys, their feelings, their lives as trans people. The transness informs every part of it, like, trans life in practice rather than just in theory.

Honestly, there were probably a lot individual positions represented that some people would find problematic. Many of them used controversial terms to describe themselves. One woman's first step on her gender journey was becoming a really accomplished drag queen. Another resented the idea of other transwomen who weren't willing to commit to genital surgery. But I kind of liked that the piece didn't judge any of them for it. Not because I necessarily thought all of their positions deserved to be beyond critique, but because their imperfections and vagaries made them that much more human. These were NOT object lessons on gender theory-- these were the stories of real people's real lives.

There also wasn't a huge emphasis on negativity. They DID talk about some of the dangers trans people faced-- they mentioned the murder rate of transwomen of color, for example, but not much other violence, like sexual assault, for example. I wonder if they should have talked about more. But on the other hand, it reminds me a bit of how there are no lesbian date movies because lesbians in film always die, so it's nice to be able to give a lot of time to happy stories of marginalized people. And they did talk about struggle, in a lot of very personal and individual ways.

I believe five out of the seven actors were actual transwomen, while the remaining two were played by men. That kind of surprised me. I wonder if any of the actresses had a problem with that, though from perusing their social media and stuff they all seem to be very proud of the project, and there were also transwomen involved in other aspects of production. In theory, I believe it's basically an actor's job to pretend to be something they're not, but with so few roles for trans actresses, I sincerely hope it was because they just couldn't find enough of them to fill all the roles. For the record, all the actors were great.

Overall, I highly recommend it, and I'd even be open to seeing it again, in case anyone would like me to go with them.

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Something I find myself dealing with a lot when examining how people are affected by storytelling, and what powers that storytelling has to affect us, the concept of "relating" to something comes up a lot. Note that by "relating" I specifically mean that identification process-- NOT just what I would call the process of "connection," the larger and more general ability to find some way to emotionally engage with the story. Relating to a story is a way to connect with it, one of many. But a lot of readers' greatest source of engagement is being able to personally identify in some way. They relate back something in the story to something that is already understood or meaningful to them, which gives it an emotional resonance and a sense of investment.

Now, it isn't a bad thing to experience the feeling of relating to something, or enjoy it when you do. But I feel it's the most basic, even most unsophisticated, level of engagement with the story-- "am I able to bring it back to myself?" The real problem is when somebody can't get into a story because of the absence of that personal identification. It turns what should be an broadening experience into a narcissistic one. Because to me that demonstrates a failure of empathy. True empathy allows for a person to step outside themselves and conceive of feelings and experiences that may have nothing to do with them. If you can't care about, understand, or get interested in something that doesn't remind you of you, you are not only seriously limiting yourself, you're indulging in a gross form of self-centeredness. That's where we get the dumb ideas like "boys don't like stories about girls" or "white people won't watch films about people of color," which are dangerous and damaging, not to mention reinforcing of white supremacy and patriarchy.

As a teacher, I want to encourage students to be able to find a more sophisticated form of connection-- to engage with literature in a way that builds empathy. Asking people how they relate to the tale is perhaps a good basic starter way to get them to extend their emotions, but unless they move past that at some point, they're missing out on the greatest power that storytelling has-- the ability to give understanding about situations outside your own.
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Today is a heartbreaking day. The meaning has been stated by much smarter people than me, but I am stern in my resolve to resist and not give up hope that we can right this grave injustice.

One thought that gives me hope is the conviction that I do believe this blast of reactionary conservatism is an extinction burst. It is VERY common, including when dealing with the behavior of an abuser, that when efforts are made to push back against and stamp out the bad behavior, the perpetrator doubles down and explodes with a final effort to try and overcome the resistance before flaming out. The way of life where white supremacy was taken for granted is going away, as is the ability to remain ignorant and insular against the wider world. The people who don't want to grow and evolve into the modern world are lashing out against all the changes. But the world IS changing and no one can stop it. The fact that Clinton won the popular vote and the evidence that millennial voters were overwhelmingly more liberal confirms to me that viewpoint is dying, and is just privileged by the outdated relics of the system. We ARE moving toward a more progressive world, even with this enormous travesty occurring. So, if we can survive, I believe we will truly move past it as a society.

The only problem is surviving. And that's what frightens me. I'm afraid we won't survive. Individuals who are not privileged under this regime are certainly at risk, but I'm talking ALL of us, not just as a nation, but as a species. If we have a nuclear war or an environmental apocalypse, we won't get the chance to see what happens after. And I'm afraid those are real possibilities. God help us. I truly do believe this is the death knell of this particular form of atavism. But the earth has to hold out for us to get there.
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On a recent rewatch of Bojack Horseman season 3-- I taught Bojack in my class recently, which always inspires a rewatch --it jumped out at me how much they emphasize how influenced Bojack is by the opinions of others. Basically, any time somebody tells him what they think about something he's doing, he immediately changes course in deference to that opinion. It was an immediate, obvious response, and it happened again and again across the season.

At first I thought that might be something they were presenting a recent development for Bojack as a character, but they made a point of including it even in the flashbacks to 2007. So that made me want to go back and look at earlier episodes to see if this was something as present before season 3. After looking, the answer I'd give is it's definitely always been a minor part of the character, but not nearly as strong, obvious a trait that it becomes in season 3.

It's something that makes sense for somebody as depressed and self-hating as Bojack, that he's dependent on what other people think of him and his actions for any sort of direction or confidence. But I do wonder what they were trying to suggest by giving it so much emphasis this season. I'd guess that they were suggesting a deterioration of ego, that he was growing less secure, but as I mentioned, they included it in the 2007 flashbacks too. My best supposition then is that they were not saying this is a NEW thing for Bojack, but that they were trying to DRAW MORE ATTENTION to this facet of him.

So then what does that say? That in his desperation for connection, another thing made much of in season three, makes him especially malleable to win the approval of others? I kind of like that. Or is it literally an ego deterioration-- that something about his sense of self, or at least faith in his own judgment or perceptions, has degraded? That's actually a scary proposition, that could have some pretty dire implications. I wonder if more of it will be made in season 4, as it was never really dealt with-- in fact, the season closed out with Bojack having a freakout due to sudden outside input on something he was doing.
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When it comes to literary interpretation, I have a few concepts I use as guides for understanding the meaning of a work. Since I got into some discussions where people didn't necessarily see the delineations I did, I thought I'd talk about some of the concepts I use to make it clear how I approach things-- specifically as regards the impact of design.

By "design" I mean the choices the artist made in putting the piece together that creates some effect on the audience. In writing, the storyteller begins with a theoretical "blank page," and anything that makes it onto that page had to be put there. The level of thought or intention behind each thing may be variable, but still the writer had to decide to include it or else it wouldn't be there. That means it had the potential to be done for a particular reason, because of the effect it would create in the audience experiencing it. Authors rarely approach their work with zero intention, so there is almost always at least SOMETHING they included specifically for the effect they hoped it would create.

This makes up the first level I think you can analyze on-- taking into account the author's plans, choices, and efforts. The creator decides they would like to imbue a particular meaning in the work and makes design choices that are designed to achieve that effect. It's not the be all and end all, of course, but these are important if only because they shape the final product; in their absence, you would not have the work as you know it. Now, jsut because the writer meant to put something into a story doesn't mean they succeeded. They have have failed, in whatever way for whatever reason. But the intentions still matter, because of how they influence what choices are made in the design.

On the other end of the spectrum is of course Death of the Author-- where once an artist has finished a work, they have no further influence over its meaning, and whatever the audience sees in it is legitimately present. Personally I use a limited version of this in interpretation. This is a very necessary perspective, as you cannot influence the way an audience experiences your work, so what it brings out of them in response is always important no matter what the intended effect was. I tell my students that whatever you can justify with a line of reasoning, you can legitimately say you see in the piece. I tend to draw a line, however, when things are so far beyond the scope of the creator's possible perspective, or when the reading requires so much extrapolation as to be completely removed from the text. For example, I doubt Shakespeare has much to do with ideas on artificial intelligence, given the subject matter of his plays and the period of history he comes from. But still, I believe the way an audience experiences a work is always relevant to examining it.

Most people are familiar with those two lines of thinking. But I also think there's something in between. Not just things the author intended, nor what rises from the audience's experience-- but also what got in there through the author's actions but in the absence of intention, or sometimes even awareness. This comes from the idea that no one is one hundred percent self-aware and may do things without realizing, or at least without realizing why. As this is true in our everday lives, so is it true in the making of our creative work. Writers can do this with how they design things and gets results that may not have been intended, but were still demonstrable results form the writer's choices.

Here's an example. Say a writer is including a father character in their work. This writer had a dad who was kind of a jerk, but doesn't realize that this was a quality unique to their father in particular. Unconsciously, the writer has generalized this to all fathers. So, when the writer goes to write a father in their story, he incorporates the jerk qualities without intending to write a jerk, because they don't see that in their mind, "jerk" and "father" are inextricably bound. This results in a character who is readably a jerk, and whose jerk qualities demonstrably rose from the choices the writer made, but NOT because the writer meant to create a jerk.

This may seem like a pointless distinction, but I think it's important-- because both the writer's choices AND the audience's perceptions are important. This extra shade of classification helps for better understanding of how stories are made, and what factors create the meaning and power of a story. The better we understand that, the better we understand how stories affect us, and how to build stories with the power to do so.
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I really like compliments. I love getting them, of course. I want them all day long, about everything; one year I even asked for them for my birthday. (I'd do it again if I didn't hate drawing attention to my aging!) But I also really like giving them. They cost nothing and they make people really happy if you do them right, so they make lovely little gestures of esteem that can really change someone's day. It's amazing how such a small, easy thing can have such a great effect.

I think I'm pretty good at giving them, too. The trick, I find, is to make them specific. Don't just say general nice things, like, "Good job." Take the time to notice particular things that are well done or worthy of appreciation about the person. When I come up to a person after seeing them in a show, I don't like to say, "You were great!" I like to say, "I loved the expression on your face in that one moment," or "My favorite part was the way you interacted with your scene partner in [scene]." Or if somebody wrote something, I mention "I loved the way you phrased that," or "That characterization really rang true to me."

It shows that you were really paying attention and put some thought into what they did. Because if your interest was captured enough to notice particularities, it speaks to meaning and significance of their efforts. And it's harder to fake-- anybody can say you did a good job even if they didn't even pay attention to it, but mentioning the quality of specifics is something that required you actually focusing on it and caring about it. For people who aren't confident and inclined to worry that people are just being kind rather than voicing genuine approval, it helps reassure them that the compliment is sincere. I find even people without that problem people enjoy getting that kind of compliment the most, so I try hard to find particulars I enjoy in order to make the ways they excel are really appreciated.
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I've been watching Westworld on HBO, and I intend to watch it through to the end, but I'm not very satisfied with it. I mean, besides the fact that I've always had a huge mental block against sympathizing with robots as characters, as I still basically think they're always going to just be things, it's not that fresh a robots-as-people narrative. Basically, they're gaining sentience as their programming advances, and they're probably going to make humans pay for the horrific treatment they've undergone when utilized as things. I am absolutely sure that will happen if AI ever gets advanced enough in the real world, and we've seen it in stories a million times before.

But the thing that gets at me the most is the logic behind the Westworld park itself. It's appeal is basically presented as a place to indulge your darkest urges free of consequences-- specifically, they assume, things that take the form of hurting others. The park is full of robots, not people, so you can hurt or use them in any way you want and it doesn't matter. And that's basically the reason why people like to come.

Well. Even leaving aside what a morbidly cynical view of humanity is-- I don't even think that's all that representative of the way people's badness manifests. Personal I'd say most of the worst of us manifests not as sadism-- the desire to cause or the enjoyment of suffering in others --but rather as selfishness. It's not so much that you WANT other people to hurt, it's that you care so much about yourself and your own gratification that the harm you do to others doesn't matter to you. Sure, causing pain often gives us power over others, which is another thing we're all susceptible to, but again, I'd argue that you want the feeling of being powerful so much that you don't worry about causing pain. True psychopaths, who LIKE causing pain in and of itself, exist, but they're much rarer. Faced with no consequences for our actions, that morbid indifference to the feelings of others in favor of indulging the self is the true danger that is likely to come out of us.

I mean, I can imagine if I were in a scenario like this-- leaving aside the other problems with the workings of Westworld, which are beside my point here --I might have fun being the best shot in the West and beating a horde of rampaging gunslingers by being the fastest draw. That appeals to my sense of adventure and excitement, plus the thrill of being the best. I could see conceivably being so selfish that I care so about my enjoyment in that way I don't care that I subjected a bunch of people to painful death. But it adds nothing to that appeal to see the men I beat twitching and gasping in pain as they die from the bullets I put in them. I could see prioritizing my sense of fun such that I didn't care that I killed them. But having to witness their suffering is distasteful, such that the imposition of their pain is a consequence that would make my victory less fun. I think it would be to most people.

But even beyond that-- the version of the "dark urges" the park is designed to caters to? Is this totally one-note, stereotypically masculine conception. Basically, the form of indulgences it expects its guests to want are all extremely retrograde masculine fantasies, mostly sexual, violent, or a combination of the two. Sure, given how toxic they expect people to want to behave, you'd expect them to appeal to people's toxic masculinity, but there's no appeals to any impulse that are not coded masculine. It's all just about the chances for brutal violence or increasingly outre sexuality.

I can't figure out if it's intentional or not. Is it as a statement of how prevalent such fantasies are in people, or even how hypermasculinity encourages it? Or is it because the SHOW can't imagine dark impulses under any other encoding?

If it's intentional, there has yet to be any explicit acknowledgment that Westworld is designed under that assumption. I've seen no commentary on the problem of that conception. There's been no connection of the horrors being committed to the idea that they rise from hypermasculinty-- in fact, the only suggestion the show gives is that it comes from HUMANITY in general, rather than specifically from males. And I don't think depicting an idea without any form of critique, in so many words or otherwise, counts as commentary.

On top of that, most of the women characters in the show have been portrayed in really limited ways. The only female guests tend to be either wives supporting the adventures of their husbands, or else having identical dark urges to straight men. (There's been some portrayal of lesbianism, but it all smacks of "chicks that act like straight guys" rather than women attracted to other women. By contrast, the one bisexual dude's orgy? A woman riding his dick, another woman making out with him, while the one other guy... rubs his belly. Cowards.) The women host robots fall into a pretty stark virgin-whore dichotomy. Again, if there was some suggestion of critique of this, that women suffer even more when people act like objectification is just okay, then I might see it as a meaningful choice. But again, I've seen no sign of this.

So it's increasingly striking me as unintentional, which is both a staggeringly limited view of humanity-- even humanity's darkness --and also misogynist. I mean, why do women come to Westworld in this universe? Just to support their husbands' hero hypermasculine-coded hero fantasies, or if they want to indulge in THOSE EXACT SAME HYPERMASCULINE FANTASIES themselves? Is there nothing here to enjoy that's actually geared toward the interests of women-- or even the ways women specifically tend to break down? If nothing else, where are the hot male whores throwing themselves at female guests?

I'm only three episodes in. Maybe they'll deal with it. But I don't think it's been handled well so far.
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I really enjoyed Luke Cage and thought it was awesome. I have a handful of criticisms, nothing major— except one thing was pretty glaring to me.

In episode 10 “Take it Personal,” I did not like how they made Mariah’s crusade against Luke Cage look like a successful attempt to co-opt a movement like Black Lives Matter. Her bending people’s real lives and feelings to her own ends is appropriate for her character arc, but I don’t think the way she did it scans. They showed Mariah appealing to people who were sympathetic to a pro-black safety movement, thereby invoking the suggestion of BLM. But BLM is a movement to demilitarize the police, while Mariah was calling to arm them with experimental weaponry. And instead of facing down the social structures that systematically devalue and destroy black lives, she was attempting to take down one man, and a black man at that, who had been shown to stand up for average people and was mostly cast as a threat by an attack on cops. There is no equivalence there, so to show her efforts taking in those people suggests that the people in pro-black safety movements are easily swayed by incorrect rhetoric and corrupt leaders. I don’t think they intended that, but I find it an offensive implication.

What I would have done was had Mariah increasingly side with the system to take him down, even at the expense of the people of Harlem she used to champion. Have her use the rhetoric of “law and order” and respectability politics, saying how a dangerous person like Luke Cage damages the reputation of the black community, appealing to the fear of white people of scary powerful black men to get institutions on her side to take him down. She’s on a path to darkness anyway, so to have her go from a champion of black culture to joining with the corrupt system that harms black people in order to serve her own heads would show a nice thematic following. I think that would have been a way more effective way to show her growing corruption than to draw any kind of equivalence between the rhetoric she uses to persecute Luke and the efforts of Black Lives Matter.
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Bernie and I have begun work on Mrs. Hawking part four, and we're running into some challenges. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, as we've had this happen with each subsequent installment, but this one has presented some difficulties that are thus far unique.

The biggest thing to deal with is the fact that we're writing a colonial story. Part four is going to be split into a present day case in 1885, and a flashback story to Mrs. Hawking's youth in the colonies. We haven't decided WHICH colony, though, as we are still doing research to figure out if there are any historical features that would serve our turn. What I'd really like to display is that some terrible event that happened during Victoria's childhood demonstrated to her how corrupt and broken the system is, which helped to shape her worldview in the present. A natural possibility is witnessing something of the horrors of Victorian colonialism. But I really don't want to just turn the suffering of the local people to be just a lesson for my white hero, or make her into a white savior for those same. And I definitely don't want to sidestep the issue and just end up tell a story set in a colony that's only about the white invaders.

What I've got here is a Problem of the Protagonist, to use my own theory-- when the need to centralize a particular character ends up objectifying or dehumanizing other characters. Because my hero is white, it runs the risk of turning any characters I include of the local people into objects who exist only to facilitate my protagonist's story. And I definitely do not want to do that with characters of color.

I'm going to put in the work on this. I've got a lot of researching and developing to do yet. But I do know a good way to keep a character human is to give them their own arc, demonstrating that their story is one worth following, and affording them agency in the story, making them take actions in the service of achieving their goals and needs. So, while I'm by no means certain yet, my current idea I'm exploring involves having a local character whose personal mission is the central arc of the flashback's story. This character, who'd probably be female, could have the protagonistic qualities of wanting something, taking actions to pursue it, and driving the plot with their efforts. Perhaps if she drives the story, and other characters are in the position of being reactive to that, I can avoid making any such person being subservient to Victoria's development.

I'm not sure yet. I'll have to do more work. But I'm resolved to figure out how to do this in a respectful, conscientious way.


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