The Press Gallery

K.I. Press on writing • literature • publishing

Category: TV

Sometimes A Light Sabre is Just a Light Sabre

Happy New Year! It must be time for me to post on my blog.

What I Did with My Winter Holidays

First, why do I hardly ever post? It’s not just “time,” because, let’s face it, we make the time for the things that we want to make the time for. I was telling folks in class today, I had “Watch Netflix” on my to-do list over the break, and as a result, I didn’t even, because putting it on a to-do list made it into work. (Hey Matt, the one thing I did watch was In Bruges, though! Thanks for the tip.)

Instead, I played video games and read books. I mostly only play one game. Final Fantasy VII. I played it when it came out in 1997, and I am too old to learn anything new, and I don’t really play games enough to justify buying anything else anyway. Plus, though I do have the original game and console somewhere in my basement, there’s an iPad port, and I always have the ol’ iPad with me.

There was absolutely no good reason for me to spend my precious leisure time playing Final Fantasy. This was just absolutely classic procrastination, with a strong hint of dopamine. I mean, sometimes it seems you are just SO CLOSE to earning a W-Summon in the Battle Arena, but then it takes another five hours for some reason. But to compensate for this phenomenal waste of time while pretending to be a little cartoon dude wielding a sword bigger than he is, I also spent some time reading a Very Serious Book which has itself been influential on storytelling in, among other things, games: Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

The Hero’s Journey

Oh, yes. I have been trying to read this book on and off for years, as I find it a bit of a slog. I’ve made better progress this time around, but I’m still only maybe a third of the way through, and man, I sort of want to punch him, except that he is dead and also may have been a nice man.

You can’t study screenwriting (or novel writing or game writing or comic writing or whatever) without hearing about The Hero’s Journey, ever since Christopher Vogler’s influential book on the subject in 1998. Vogler, who was a story editor at Disney, based his book on Campbell’s theory, applying it to story structure for screenwriting.

Campbell basically says that stories from around the world follow the same patterns, and then elaborates on those patterns. Which I’m willing to go with him on, because saying that you should recognize pattern in storytelling is kind of another way of saying that you should read a lot and learn from what’s successful in what you read (or consume in other media, too, but no matter what medium you want to write for, if you want to write, you need to read).

Vogler acknowledges the problem of the inherent maleness of the “hero” in the narrative journey, and the model he presents is flexible enough that the gendered nature of the journey didn’t seem like a big stumbling block to me when I read him. Not ideal, but it was something you could take and mess about with.

But now I’m reading Campbell, the legendary man himself. I’m paraphrasing here, but he says stuff like the hero needs to get past competing with the father in order to become “master of the world,” but that, if the character in the story is a woman, she has to similarly get past competing with the mother to become “the world that is mastered.” If I’m reading that right, he’s saying that the woman is the prize. People who defend this kind of thing will go all “you’re not meant to take it literally,” but if you’ve been paying attention you should know by now that language and symbols and stories matter and change the way that we see ourselves. (See Rebecca Solnit’s as-usual-excellent recent essay “Men Explain Lolita to Me.” )

The best part of the Campbell book for me, so far, is all the examples of stories from around the world, which he cites at length– the comparative mythology part. But he pulls the whole comparison through the filter of psychoanalysis (the book is from 1949), relying heavily on the traditional family as the be-all and end-all of human existence and leaving no room for anything other than a straight, male, cisgender hero.

Much more can, and has been, said about this, not by me. In Vogler’s nod to the topic alone, he cites a number of feminist takes on the hero’s journey. But my frustration with Campbell so far has just been one of those moments for me, you know, when you go WHAT THE HELL PEOPLE, IF THIS IS WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN CONSCIOUSLY BASING HOLLYWOOD MOVIES ON THEN NO WONDER!!!!!!!!!!!!! DIDN’T YOU NOTICE?????? DON’T YOU CARE????

Sometimes a Light Sabre is Just a Light Sabre

Which naturally brings me to Star Wars. George Lucas famously used Campbell in crafting the original series. A good article in the New Statesman the other day cited Campbell in a less than flattering way while discussing the seeming rise in female heroes lately (Rey, Furiosa, Jessica Jones). Let’s hope this rise is not a blip, because we’ve been here before. Thelma and Louise (1991) was supposed to usher in a whole new era. Did it? And that’s just at the edge of my adult memory – I’m suspecting there were moments like it before.

I’m a Buffy gal from way back. Reading Campbell has given me a new tingle of appreciation for a certain last-season episode in which Buffy gets transported back in time, to a mythic time, to meet the men who created the first Slayer, so they can basically give her a power boost for the final battle against evil. Thing is, it turns out that what they did to create the Slayer, and what they want to do to her again, is kidnap her, chain her to a rock, and force a demon on her to imbue her with demonic essence. Buffy says, no way, old dudes, I’ll find some other way to fight evil, and kicks their asses.

At the end of the series, of course, Buffy figures out how to fight evil by sharing her superpowers with others—she rejects the whole lone hero thing. My point? This mythic structure stuff can totally be messed with in a satisfying way. Buffy’s heroism still follows the pattern – descent to the underworld, fighting both inner and outer demons, encountering shape shifters, guidance from a wise mentor, death and resurrection, using her powers to change the “regular” world, check, check, check, check! Even her sharing of her superpowers fits the “return with the elixir” stage of the journey – the elixir being, in this case, heroism itself, which is the real twist on the structure.

Anyhoo. Enough Buffy talk. A casual glance at current Star Wars fan chatter does reveal some people commenting on how the essence of the Kylo/Rey conflict is potentially very gendered – not just, hey, a female hero! But, hey, a different manner of heroism! I’m not totally getting that yet, since there’s an awful lot of emphasis on daddies and light sabres. There was some interesting sexual subtext in the mind reading scene, though. (I’ll be murdered for likely misquoting, but is the line something like, “You know I can take from you anything I want?”)

It’s Late and I’m Tired Now

I also wanted to talk about Outlander and Game of Thrones. See, now I have something for next time. All part of the plan.

Back full circle: why I don’t much like blogging, and don’t do it often. Clearly, one reason is that I haven’t mastered the form. I’ve now been noodling about this topic for three hours (nearly four hours after a couple quick read-overs) and am at about 1400 words.

Also: I really put off making known my circuitous thoughts, because I feel like there’s no point in saying anything unless I’ve done a cartload of academic research to back up what I am talking about. Or at least, you know, finish the darn book before I shoot my mouth off about it. I’ve just committed all sorts of sins, not only in potentially misquoting Star Wars, but in, say, making sweeping generalizations about psychoanalysis without ever having studied it.

I’m basically reluctant to commit my informal noodlings to publication. I think I just have to get over this, because, heck, at least I’ve written something, and maybe someday with time and motivation aplenty, and after having finally achieved that W-Summon in the Battle Arena, I’ll take up Buffy scholarship and feminist comparative mythology and write an awesome paper.

But not today, and not on a blog.

“I’m from the ’90s, and I’m a sucker for Puccini”: Q & A With Myself

Myself and I realized that we hadn’t posted anything for a while, so we sat down at our disorganized desk today to ask and answer a few questions. The theme: personal taste, naming the books, movies, TV, and music we’ve actually been into lately, because the actual titles can tell no lies.

Q: What happened to the other blog post you were working on about that play you went to see last term?

A: It’s gotten out of hand. I feel like I need to do scholarly research for it. Maybe some day I’ll release it.

Q: So this was the only lame thing you could come up with?

A: Apparently.

Q: What is the purpose of this Q and A?

A: You tell me.

Q: Um… okay. I’m trying to give readers an idea of my… your… our taste in movies, music, TV and books by listing stuff I/you/we having been consuming. Because people like reading about that stuff.

A: Awesome. You know, you could adopt the double “I” pronoun like the angels in Angels in America.

Q: Um, or not. Have you been reading that lately?

A: How astute. Yes, I just did.

Q: What are you listening to right now?

A: You mean, right this minute? Hang on, let me check… it’s something from La Boheme.

Q: Tell me about when you went to see that opera last year.

A: One of the singers fell off a piece of set furniture and twisted his ankle or something. They improvised by having one of the other dudes sing two parts. Luckily, it was close to the end.

Q: What books are on your desk right now?

A: Writing Short Films by Linda J. Cowgill, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

Q: What’s the last thing you bought on iTunes?

A: The HBO miniseries of Angels in America.

Q: What have you been watching in Netflix?

A: The Killing, the U.S. one, just started Season 2.

Q: Last feature film you saw?

A: The F Word. Canadian! No, wait. I watched Frozen (again!) with my daughter since then.

Q: Last time you went to a movie in the theatre?

(Tumbleweeds blow by for a second.)

A: Um… I think it was one of those Hobbit movies. The one last year, the second one. I think.

Q: Last album you listened to in its entirety?

A: The new one by The Decemberists.

Q: Last novel you actually finished reading?

A: I finished book two of the Karl Ove Knausgaard thing. But that’s only sort of a novel. Before that, I read David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. I thought it was delightfully weird.

Q: New releases you are looking forward to?

A: My friend Peter Darbyshire’s new book The Dead Hamlets, under his Peter Roman pen-name. I’m always a season behind on Game of Thrones because I don’t have HBO and prefer to get it legally. I’m number 24 at the library for pre-ordered Season 4! Waiting impatiently for whenever there are going to be new seasons of Orphan Black and the French zombie show Les Revenants (I think there was one of the latter, but I haven’t got my hands on it yet).

Q: What are the songs in the “Top 25 Most Played” list in your iTunes?

A: Ooh, that’s an evil question. There is no hiding there. Here it is:

  1. Shot in the Arm – Wilco
  2. Zombie – Cranberries
  3. Loser – Beck
  4. Boy in the Bubble – Paul Simon
  5. La Boheme: O Mimi, tu plu non torni – Puccini
  6. (I’ll Love You) Till the End of the World – Nick Cave
  7. Manic Monday – Bangles
  8. Polyester Bride – Liz Phair
  9. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
  10. It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) – R.E.M.
  11. Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper
  12. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
  13. Once in a Lifetime – Talking Heads
  14. Bittersweet Symphony – The Verve
  15. All I Really Want – Alanis Morissette
  16. La Boheme: Si. Mi Chiamano Mimi – Puccini
  17. Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor
  18. 9 to 5 – Dolly Parton
  19. La Rondine: Chi Il Bel Sogno Di Doretta – Puccini
  20. Tubthumping – Chumbawamba
  21. Buffy Theme – Nerf Herder
  22. What’s the Frequency Kenneth? – R.E.M.
  23. Gianni Schicchi: O Mio Babbino Caro –– Puccini
  24. Islands in the Stream – Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers
  25. Carmen, Act 1: Près des Ramparts de Séville – Bizet

Q: What can we learn from this list?

A: I’m from the ’90s, and I’m a sucker for Puccini.

Q: Last thought?

A: Two of those songs were written by Prince. Who out there can name which two without the help of Google?

Julie Wilson with Jason Booth

February 9 • Julie Wilson • Evening reading 7 p.m. • with Jason Booth • Aqua Books • 274 Garry St.

February 10 • Julie Wilson • College reading 11 a.m.• RRC Roblin Centre at the Exchange District Campus • Room A104

Julie Wilson is a professional publishing fan, writer and blogger. The literary voyeur behind the SeenReading.com and the editor of BookMadam.com, she thinks reading looks good on you. She’s also the author of Truly, Madly, Deadly: The Unofficial True Blood Companion (ECW Press) written as Becca Wilcott. Follow Julie on Twitter: @BookMadam @SeenReading

Jason Booth is a graduate of the Creative Communications program. His poetry has been published in The Collective Consciousness, the quarterly journal of The Manitoba Writer’s Collective and the Winnipeg Free Press. He resides in Winnipeg with his wife and percolator.


There’s something about The Simpsons

Okay, just one more thing before bed. I have to post this from More Intelligent Life (see last post, below). It’s an article about The Simpsons being the new Disney. I can justify posting it ’cause there’s a big bit in the middle about the writers.

I’m quite attached to classic Simpsons–the first season premiered the same fall I entered high school. I remember the morning radio in the car on the way to school playing “The Bart Man” with incredible frequency. Favourite episodes: the Monorail episode, of course, but also the one where Lisa sabotages the other smart girl’s diorama–not for the main plot, but for the sub-plot where Homer steals a truckload of sugar. “A mountain of sugar is too much for one man.” Who’s with me?

I’ll leave now.