ELAYNE RIGGS: The Stupid — It Burns!
I’m sure most readers will agree that we all bring our own unique views to our entertainment experiences, our own desires and prejudices and lifetimes of baggage. And many of us try to partake of those experiences bearing that baggage in mind, allowing for it or disclaiming it or even using it to enhance our POVs.
For the average consumer, baggage is something you try not to let get in the way. But a certain subset clings to it like a badge of honor. That’s the portion of the crowd that brags of specialized knowledge, and will accept nothing less than that same level of specialization in their entertainment. Which is silly, in my opinion. You may be a rocket scientist, or a medical intern, or a lawyer, or even a secretary, but the people who write movies and comics and whatnot, well, they’re just storytellers.
This is not to say that a certain verisimilitude isn’t welcome. A story needs to be internally consistent, after all, to keep you involved in its world. But if you’re from Cleveland and the movie you’re watching is supposed to be set in that city and it’s pretty darn clear that it was shot in Vancouver, it can take a bit more effort to stay with that story when you keep going "But that’s not the street I used to walk to school on!" If you’ve just come home from a day in the newsroom, opened up the latest Superman comic and noted that the Daily Planet scenes don’t resemble your job in the least, I can understand the irritation. Many’s the time I’ve watched actors pretend to type or play a musical instrument as just something to do with their hands, not as though they were actually performing the task at hand. (By the way, how things have changed on the typing front since the advent of PCs and laptops; one of the things I love about the TV show The Office is how the actors actually type IMs to each other during filming; they look like they’re at their desks doing actual office work, just like me!)
But obsessing on these comparatively minor things to the point where they ruin your enjoyment of the story is, to my mind, just silly. It’s not seeing the forest for the trees. Even if they’re palm trees and the story’s set in a northern climate.
There are ways to amuse yourself and your readers with anecdotes about perceived storytelling gaffes in your areas of expertise. For some good examples, see Bob Ingersoll’s The Law Is A Ass column in CBG or Scott’s medical-related posts at Polite Dissent. And on the other hand, there are ways to show off your narrow-focused in a way that’s more irritating to others than the perceived fictional gaffes are to you.
Recently, Shakespeare’s Sister contributor Quixote wrote a piece entitled Science goes to the Movies wherein he exasperatedly exclaimed, "As a professional biologist and a rarely-paid science fiction writer, the thing that drives me screaming batshit crazy is when the mental midgets don’t follow their own rules…. The excuse for the crap is always that the story comes first. Can’t get in the way of the story. So why do they get in the way of their own ignorant plots?"
The post is actually kinda funny, as it tears apart a movie that’s by all accounts pretty awful anyway, the idiot-plotted
Rock Vin Diesel vehicle The Chronicles of Riddick. But what got under my skin was the way Quixote chose to express his frustration, as he decried the lack of attention screenwriters pay to science and logic and their tendency to foster Teh Stupid (which, as we all know, burns):
"Don’t get me wrong. I know fantasy has to break some rules or there wouldn’t be any point… When the broken rule is necessary to the story, and when it does not foster day-to-day ignorance, that’s different. That’s allowed and necessary. What I mean by ‘fostering day-to-day ignorance’ is paltering with the truth for no reason at all, and in such a way as to make people stupider in their real lives. The reason for doing that has nothing to do with ‘the story.’ It has everything to do with sheer laziness on somebody’s part: writers, directors, Vogons who are secretly trying to destroy humans, somebody."
Now, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve been "pre-dumbed down" to the point where I don’t even notice these leaps of logic in a darkened theatre. Heck, I close my eyes during (or completely avoid movies featuring) the violent stuff because it disturbs rather than entertains me. So I tend not to partake of entertainment featuring flying buses that apparently cause stupid viewers to think they can "try this at home" and get stuck in foot-deep potholes. (As a daily driver I don’t think some people need the movies’ help to turn their brains off, I think they start out that way.) The stuff I do watch has occasional "huh?" moments, but I tend to weigh them in the context of how the entire package makes me feel. I rarely exit a theatre fuming over a minor point or two.
Comics are a little different than movies. I would think most people tend to watch a movie straight through the first time they see it, even when viewing a DVD at home, so stuff that’s "just wrong" goes by pretty quickly and escapes most notice (at least mine). But a comic is by nature static. One panel can stare you in the face with its perceived wrongness to the point where you can’t even turn the page, or want to hurl it against the wall or straight into the trash bin. Goodness knows that’s happened to me with some art featuring badly-drawn female characters (which I too believe "has everything to do with sheer laziness").
And when reading comics, art is what tends to jump out at me. It’s what gives comics their value-for-money; in no other medium can you get a fully-illustrated sequential story for pennies a page. If you’re only reading the words (and judging the comic’s value by that alone), you’re missing out on the point of comics. So sometimes I’ll gloss over a sentence or two if I’m engaged in the sequential storytelling, particularly if the art has, pun intended, drawn me in. Besides which, I’m not a continuity geek. I don’t have the mental capacity nor the desire to hyper-check every back issue to see if Creative Team B is following in the exact footsteps of Creative Team A. I just want to know that each team is telling the best story it can, and enjoy that story to the best of my consumption ability. Niggling over throwaway details is also, in my opinion, missing the point. A recent example from the comics blogosphere involved a complaint over a conversation about the younger Green Arrow, where a character made a reference to a villain whom the writer thought was Connor’s mother. Let alone the legions of casual comics fans who probably don’t even know there are currently two Green Arrows, the father and the son, even a non-casual reader like me didn’t remember who Connor’s mom actually was, so to tell you the truth I thought it was that villain as well. In any case, yeah, it’s niggly if you’re the type who actually keeps fictional family trees in your head, but it’s one throwaway sentence in an entire 22-page book. It shouldn’t be enough to turn you into a real-life version of the Comic Book Guy and proclaim the read "Worst. Comic. Ever." demanding the editor’s head on a block.
We all have our pet peeves; for instance, one of mine is the spelling of the singular of Female Furies, which Kirby et al decided at the onset would be Furie with an "ie" and not a "y." It’s just a matter of weighing our expectations against what’s really important, of realizing when it’s more our baggage than the storytellers’ stupidity burning us. I don’t expect to ever see "Furie" in a New Gods-related comic again, and That’s Okay. It’s my little bit of trivia, nobody else notices it. Just like I and most others probably don’t notice whatever’s niggling at you. It doesn’t make us stupid, it doesn’t even make the writers stupid. It just means we have a different perspective on how to experience a story, and we’re not necessarily obligated to fine-tune that perspective to suit the areas of your expertise.
Elayne Riggs is ComicMix‘s news editor; her favorite Female Furie is Stompa.