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December 5, 2006

“Qualities of experience”
Posted by Patrick at 12:32 AM *

I’ve never met Bruce Baugh, but based on his online writings I’ve come to think of him as one of the smartest, sanest people I know. Here’s an example of why.

Comments on "Qualities of experience":
#1 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 03:13 AM:

I just posted on exactly the same theme...spooky...

Somebody commented in Bruce's LJ to the effect that there are some things you have to turn off your brain to enjoy. I don't agree. What you have to turn off is precisely *that* attitude, the ego-driven need to "punch holes in things just to demonstrate that [you] can," to kick over sandcastles and scribble all over a little kid's picture. The "turn off your brain" comment, even though the commenter is agreeing with Bruce, smacks of the same attitude: let's go slumming and *not* smash in the windows. How kind of us. Anyone who doesn't feel that they are superior to what they are watching is thereby made to feel inferior to the critics.

There is a place for reasoned, honest criticism and in-depth analysis. There is a place where the deficiencies of the shows I like to watch, the books I love to read, should be tabulated and known, so that the breed can be improved. Just not while I'm watching. :)

#2 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 07:21 AM:

And you know when you should turn that bit of your brain on?

When you're revising your own stuff, that's when.

Damn, I'll start taking my own advice one day...

#3 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:48 AM:

I agree that "good entertainment" doesn't mean turning off your brain. It's more like an accepted world (suspension of disbelief), as long as the entertainer doesn't do anything to jog you, you'll accept the muppets/marrionettes/cartoon/written word world is "real" and go along. I was reading a short story last night. It was very fantastical, had lots of impossible actions (or non-logic), but within the story, the language, it all made sense. The author did nothing to say, "this is handwaving" or "I'm making reference to this myth/fairy tale here, get it" or any such nonsense. So I went along with the story. My brain was working harder on the story (both in reading, getting meaning, and dissecting to see how the author was doing it so well so I could do it too) than it does in business and government meetings. All because it was engaging. I think the best "escapism" is exactly like that. The brain isn't off, all cylinders are firing in synchronicity and running of rich fuel.

#4 ::: Tracey Callison ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:12 AM:

Crossposting from my comment over there:
[in reply to someone who wrote, "but what about prejudice?", in effect]

There seem to me to be two levels of ... 'disillusionment', or critique, with works. One involves what you might call basic skills, or skillcraft - is the characterization decent, the plotting good? Does the writing suck?

A lot of people just really don't care about these things until they get in the way of the story. And that boundary is different for everyone - for some people, as long as the plot's compelling, it doesn't matter that the characters are all made of tissue paper. Or vice versa.

There's another level, though, that is beyond the ability to actually tell the story, and that's the content of the story itself. And just as the craft of conveying a story takes years to hone, so does the craft of *creating* a story that isn't cardboard. That isn't a mash of stereotypes and whatever elements of character and story are just floating on the surface, easy for the grabbing. This is where your lazy writer will think, "Hm, I need a character who's going to provide plot coupon X, here..." and grabs a handy stereotype off the shelf, because hey, it's not a main character... Which is why you end up with your Magical Negros, and your Elfin Princesses, and Strong-Thewed Dumb Warriors, and any of a million mindless stereotypes.

Some people, as long as the story's well-written, couldn't care less about whether or not the content is original.
Hence the wild popularity and million-dollar market of series romance novels (which, while they may contain some fine writing, do not have as their stock in trade original characters or ideas).

I guess the last thing I want to point out is that there are different levels of social acceptance for criticism and/or tolerance of the two kinds of flaws. Picking on bad style is an easy target - it's hard to defend that you don't mind reading it. But it doesn't do anything to advance the enjoyment of the story - it can only detract. And other readers, all of whom have their own break-points for tolerance for bad writing, can just accept or dismiss the arguments of those who get caught up in knots over continuity errors and the like.

Pointing out flaws in content-creation, character-building, social significance.. those are things that can also detract from the enjoyment of the story, and in places from the enjoyment of that author's entire inventory. Once you've realized that author A has a particular hobbyhorse about political activism (or stereotypical portrayals of women, or of racial minorities) that creeps into every one of their novels, and it's something that offends or disgusts you, their writing has a high chance of no longer being entertaining for you.

But I'd still rather know it than not. I think it's important to let the authors know it, too - it's one thing to hope that their skillcraft will improve with time - usually, it does. Yay editors. It's another to hope that they're going to come to a more nuanced understanding of female characters, or black characters, if they've been lazy enough (or ignorant enough) to employ stereotypes in the first place. Sometimes, you just need the clue-by-4.

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:12 AM:

I confess that my wife and I are among those people who like their TV shows to be self-consistent. TV is allowed to do lazy storytelling that would have my wife's editor justifiably throw her manuscript back at her if she tried to pull the same stunts. And yet one of our favorite (now very defunct) shows was Firefly, because it had stuff in it that amply made up for the silly world-building.

#6 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:28 AM:

While reading the discussions of "polished turds" in that other thread, I couldn't help thinking "One man's crap is another's croissant." Maybe there are some Absolute Literary Standards (Platonic ideals) that writers should respect; still, even as a picky critic myself, I know how much tastes can differ and how thankless and futile it is to try and serve as a universal arbiter. My reviewer's niche may not always be as big as I'd like, but there are parts of the field I'm not fit to cover -- and ditto for just about everyone else.

If my sense of the good outweighs the bad (especially in a first novel), why go on the attack? Mild chiding can be enough.

#7 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:41 AM:

let me echo the admiration for Bruce Baugh.

Every time I see a comment of his somewhere, I make sure to read it. (E.g. at Obsidian Wings, where unfortunately not all of the comments are worth reading).

I didn't know he had his own blog--I'll have to start reading it.

#8 ::: Paul Herzberg ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:06 AM:

I feel, though, that part of the problem is the set-up of some of the fandoms themselves, especially the bulletin-boards and newsgroups.

The fans (or whatever) in those types of places feel the need to add something new to the discussion and, like some bizarre branch of science, they end up saying more and more about less and less until they are writing pages and pages on obscure plot points that only the most committed might conceivably care about. On popular shows this can mean that you'll get threads on whether Spike really would raise an eyebrow at that point or not.

It's not that the non-nitpickers are turning off their brains and slumming it, but that the nitpickers are, in an effort to cover everything, often seeing things that just aren't there for any but the most fannish. I know that when I finally got my Angel boxsets, episodes that I'd been dreading turned out just fine (I'm not going to look for the discussion but a vocal few on uk.media.tv.angel hated an episode called Billy, whereas I felt suitably creeped out by it). After a couple of seasons I just couldn't stomach all the negativity and gave up on newsgroups as a whole.

It turns out, when I bother to look, that I'm enjoying some episodes of Battlestar Galatica that I really shouldn't (although universal dislike for that black-market episode is wholly justified).

SFX magazine seem to have fallen slightly prey to this in their "Spoiler Section", as they've done reviews of certain episodes of BSG, in particular, that are so muddle-headed that it can only have come from an all-night session arguing the shows merits on a bulletin board somewhere.

#9 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:28 AM:

Patrick: As always I feel a slighty embarrassed happy glow. Thanks, man.

Zander: Love it. :)

Steve: I think that this business of accepting premises may well be crucial. Some kinds of fan seem uninterested in accepting any premises other than a particular kind of literary naturalism. If the premises don't work for me, I figure that's neither the creator's fault nor mine, just a matter of not hooking up, and I'm comfortable saying "I could see that it's well done but it didn't quite speak to me" and moving on. But one of the things that makes me happiest as a reader and viewer is when a work opens up new premises to me by fusing them with characters and a story that do speak to me.

Tracey: I think you've got a standard that both dooms you to unnecessary frustration and simply doesn't fit the way human beings routinely tell tales. Bluntly, recycled stereotypes, plot coupons, and the like are the stuff of our tales. Their presence is no reliable clue to suckitude, their absence no promise of quality - if anything, a too-enthusiastic effort to weed them all out is a good way to get to a work that is either sterile because of being disconnected from the general human experience or too ingrown to really mean anything to anyone but the creator.

Paul: Remind me to write up the results of my study of forum culture someitme.

#10 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:36 AM:

One person's stereotype is another person's archetype. One person's cliche is another person's trope.

#11 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:49 AM:

*quietly adds Serge's #10 to the list of wise words to swipe and reuse in the future*

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:01 PM:

Really, Bruce? I'm honored.

#13 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:03 PM:

Serge@10: Also, one person's intense emotions, struggles and epiphanies are another person's repetitive melodrama and wallowing in angst.

I have nothing against people deriving whatever gratification they like from whatever fiction they like, or there being fiction to suit every taste. Personally, I'm more than a little OCDish, and reasoned criticism and in-depth analysis are things it takes a conscious effort for me to turn off when experiencing fiction; I would prefer not to have to do so by default, I would prefer fiction that holds together at those levels, in whatever medium and whatever format. I do not see this as being at all exclusive of having real and moving emotional content. In an ideal situation I would hope these virtues could be mutually complementary.

When I see exercising reasoned criticism and analysis being described as ego-driven, as knocking holes in things just because one can, it feels like an active personal attack, because it feels like being sneered at for the way my brain is wired. As if the underlying assumption is that people don't think about logical consistency and world-building and so on except with destructive ends in mind, and I am being assumed to be nasty-minded and hostile just because those particular metrics are part of what makes something enjoyable to me and I kind of like things to be enjoyable to me.

#14 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:45 PM:

Emmet, I actually do mean to attack a certain amount of "reasoned criticism and analysis", because I feel that in the end it fails to do the critic and analyst much good. Or at least I feel that it failed to do me much good when I needed it most - when in the space of a few weeks my father died after a few months of fighting a brain tumor and then one of my closest friends died in a car accident at 39. It's been a long time since I felt confident that the world made much logical sense - the study of history cured me of that - but that double blow left me clutching for extra support, for points of reattachment to the living world. The works that sustain me are very, very often ones that would not pass much muster as "reasoned criticism and analysis". But they seem to me to carry a couple kinds of important meaning:

Emotional truths that help me feel less isolated and more connected to all the others who've felt the same things, and

Emotional states - hopes and fears - written large, free of external constraints (or at least some of them), which help me enter into the feeling more fully, and feel it for a while as vigorously as I would wish to.

My late friend once explained deadpan that "Real men feel heroic despair; weenies feel angst. Angst is the emotion for those who haven't done anything worth despairing over." One of the things I've learned about grief is that it can even interfere with feeling properly sad, let alone tragic. So there is an unexpected place in my internal landscape right now for works of great tragedy and horror as well as for dramas of intense conflict, comedies full of joy and unexpected success, and redemptive tales of joy after suffering. This is what my heart needs, and also what my mind needs, to be able to think and feel wisely about what I've lost and what to do next.

The work that offers least to me right now is very often precisely that which holds up best to an intellectual critique on rigorously enforced standards of internal coherency and such. It's the presence of chaos, handled interestingly, that most seems to convey real truth and satisfaction to me now. And yes, I am generalizing a bit, because I think that if art doesn't help one in times of real need, or worse, leaves one unnecessarily unprepared, then there's something wrong with it.

#15 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 12:53 PM:

All these talk of fan and fandom reminded me of that nice, if somewhat unrelated, little piece.
I just hope I didn't originaly found it here.

I think you've got a standard that both dooms you to unnecessary frustration and simply doesn't fit the way human beings routinely tell tales [...]

Sums up perfectly one of the two reasons (nay, make it three) why I hardly ever write anymore, and both its implications.

Damn.

I used to be guilty as charged when it comes to constant nitpicking about consistency. Then I read the whole X-men bodywork of comics over a weekend and it struck me: it doesn't matter. What matters is the two or three pages which on their own will work for you when you stumble upon them.
The vaster, more fractured and unbalanced the work, the more chances anyone might find a little bit to claim and love.

It's the presence of chaos, handled interestingly, that most seems to convey real truth and satisfaction to me now.

I use te same one to explain why I prefer listening to carefully worked upon noise than to actual structured music.

#16 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:02 PM:

MD: Hey. Wow. Neat thoughts, particularly about the active merits of a sprawling and fragmented work. (It's not like I'm about to give up reading Gene Wolfe or Neil Gaiman, mind you, or re-reading Tolkien. But then I think that the rigorous construction doesn't have to conflict with the emotional resonance.) Also very, very interesting about the listening.

#17 ::: Rob Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:09 PM:

What you have to turn off is precisely *that* attitude, the ego-driven need to "punch holes in things just to demonstrate that [you] can," to kick over sandcastles and scribble all over a little kid's picture.

I agree with this. Like Bruce, I've recently been finding that my enjoyment of certain shows - namely DR WHO and TORCHWOOD - has been soured somewhat by reading commentary of the sort described by Xander. I'll probably be curtailing my reading of such commentary in future since I'm too long in the tooth now to be impressed by this sort of point-scoring. Yes, new DR WHO episodes often have significant plot holes - and I can see these for myself when reflecting on them afterwards - but they also have heart and often pack an emotional punch (none more than the season 2 finale) and when watching them, when 'in the moment', I'm happy to experience them as the writers intended, to enjoy the ride. TORCHWOOD is all over the place at the moment, but it's the first series and I fully expect it to settle down. I certainly won't be joing with those who want it banished to the outer dark.

#18 ::: Pedantic Peasant ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:20 PM:

Serge:

Yes, your stereo-type/archetype at #10 is awesome. Thank you.

Another of the general proof that all human traits are measured on a scale, and are relative.


Weird synchronicity here, I was reading Alastair Reynolds's "Alternate Futures" article in Locus this weekend, and he talked about Niven's world, and the joy of reading a collection of his stuff all together, and enjoying the inconsistencies as much as anything else.

At the time I thought he was nuts, as in books and comics(though not TV, strangely) I have always hated obvious inconsistencies. But I've been thinking about it since then and this discussion helped crystallize some of my own thinking:

A lot of reading (or viewing) is done for the comfort of familiarity. It is the obvious inconsistencies that blow/pull me out of the story the "This doesn't make any sense" reaction are bad.

More differential inconsistencies, that one needs to come back and think about (analyze) to discover are much less of a problem ...


Gotta run, more later.

#19 ::: Kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:24 PM:

agreed.
is it bad that I still get distracted by errors in science and technology when watching things like CSI or Grey's Anatomy? I love Grissom's one liners - but photoshop just can't do _that_.

#20 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:31 PM:

Kimiko, I think it's at least applying a not-terribly-useful standard. I'm not going to flat out say it's wrong if in the long run it leads to you finding the stuff that does satisfy you and getting more enjoyment out of it, but I don't see that it fits very well with any expectations actually raised by the shows. There's a difference between what amounts to technological divination (wish I could remember who described CSI that way, it's a damn good label) and genuinely realistic portrayals of the sort you might see on forensic documentaries.

#21 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:38 PM:

Bruce@14:

I feel that in the end it fails to do the critic and analyst much good. Or at least I feel that it failed to do me much good when I needed it most

This is a lovely piece of writing, and I can entirely sympathise with where you are coming from; the uncritical bond I have with James O"Barr's The Crow and pretty much all of its various spinoffs comes from encountering it at a point of severe upset when it was precisely what I needed, and I wouldn't begin to defend that on any criteria of reasoned analysis.

And yes, I am generalizing a bit, because I think that if art doesn't help one in times of real need, or worse, leaves one unnecessarily unprepared, then there's something wrong with it.

The residual concern this leaves me with, as someone who aspires to be able to reach people through writing, is that I have seen human reactions in times of real need vary quite widely, and I'm not sure how many of the meaningful choices one has to make in putting any piece of art together can be made without excluding some of that range of possible reactions. It would feel presumptuous to me to assume I know how any particular reader is going to handle grief or what any particular reader will find meaningful, nor would I want to feel that excluding something had to come across as not regarding it as valid.

#22 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:44 PM:

@Bruce Baugh: thanks.

It's the presence of chaos, handled interestingly, that most seems to convey real truth and satisfaction to me now.

Coming back on this one, I just remembered that paper on linguistics who's theory was that the sentences that conveyed the most meaning weren't the more exact and concise ones but those containing a certain level of unnecessary noise.

Maybe it works the same for stories ? (And now I have Steven Jesse Bernstein's "More Noise Please" playing in the back of my mind.)

Which would explain one strengh of video games as a narrative medium: you can put as much noise as you want, the player will take only as much as necessary, then cut the chase directly to the meaningful bits.

#23 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 01:57 PM:

Emmet: That's intensely sensible and I have no quarrel with at all.

#24 ::: moon_custafer ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:33 PM:

This is starting to remind me of debates in art school I used to watch from the sidelines: (I think people are defining criticism in different ways). Thanks for keeping it more polite than those debates.

As for me, my standards (apart from the most basic does it entertain me or not) go, does a story follow the logic it's set up? Good. Does it break its own rules? Bad, unless the writers can pull out a convincing explanation within a reasonable time for the apparent exception. In which case, good.

#25 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:34 PM:

"Hitchiker's Guide" should pretty much put to bed the idea that stories must make logical sense to be good.

#26 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:49 PM:

I don't want my tv viewing or my fiction reading to mirror reality. I get lots of reality the rest of the time.

I want my tv and my fiction to be bigger, better, more emotional, funnier, wilder, sexier, scarier, cleverer, and far more compelling than my life.

I want Alan Shore to say things that would get him sued if he were real. I want Joss Whedon to feel free to make "soul" mean whatever is most useful for his metaphor of the week. I want the Enterprise, or Photoshop, or DNA testing, or [tech device of the week] to be able to do whatever it needs to do to keep the story coming. And I want the story to be so good and so big and so strong that I don't care about the inconsistencies, even if I do notice them.

I want to be five, reading under the covers to see if Dorothy gets home all right.

#27 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:53 PM:

Greg@25: To my mind many of the most memorable bits of Hitch-Hiker's Guide stick precisely because of the brilliant bits of logic in them - absurd logic, but with its own continuity. Douglas Adams had an absolute genius for explaining really quite complex intellectual constructs fluidly and transparently enough that you barely notice - I'm thinking of things like the description of the invention of the Improbability Drive - which reading Last Chance to See convinced me he was as capable of doing to convey real-world information and make real-world and quite serious points as in the interest of the sort of tale-telling the best bits of the Hitch-Hiker corpus are doing.

#28 ::: Anaea ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 04:57 PM:

I agree with the need to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy story telling, but that disbelief doesn't have to stay suspended.
About six of us watch Friday's episode on Sunday nights, generally very quietly, then spend the next three hours or so tearing the episode up and down ever way we can. Not always in a bad way - the giddy joy after Torn was nearly palatable - but extremely thoroughly. It makes it more fun, and the fact that we can do that really speaks to the quality of the show. One of the guys and I go on and on teasing out archetypes (we're determined to have the correlation between the 12 Cylon models and the 12 Lords of Kobol worked out before we get told or it becomes clear that it's not set up that way). Another one of the guys likes drawing comparisons between these episodes and Star Trek episodes that may have inspired it, why things were done differently there etc., etc.
It isn't about one-upping each other, it's about exploring all the fantastic material that show provides. So, yeah, we're really disappointed with how the virus story line played out, but man did we ever enjoy our disappointment.

#29 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 08:29 PM:

#27

Emmet, the thing is that the Improbability Drive is rubber science. It doesn't make any "real" sense. It doesn't even make any fictional sense. The reason it works is because the infinite improbability drive was built from a finite probability drive, and the finite probability drive had been thought to be really good for only one thing:

teleporting someone's clothes three feet to the right.

It works not because it makes sense, but because it's the backdrop for a f-ing hilarious gag.

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a strip club....


It doesn't matter that its completely illogical. Readers will accept it if you give them a good punch line for their efforts.


#30 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 09:47 PM:

Greg London @29: [..] the thing is that the Improbability Drive is rubber science. It doesn't make any "real" sense.

I thought it was eminently sensible when it was described (passing over its creation from a warm cup of tea and a Finite Improbability generator). I'd heard the notion that the electron's position was described in terms of its probability, where the electron cloud was its most probable location. I had even heard it asserted that there was a probability (perhaps infinitely small) that said electron might be found in the neighborhood of Arcturus. The idea that all the particles of a spaceship might be transported to Arcturus through some manipulation of probability makes sense in those terms.

It's played for laughs, of course. And I'm sceptical that it is even remotely possible for a single electron... I think it may have been some fanciful interpretation of quantum physics (from The Tao of Physics? somewhere else?), but the idea was in the air in the late 70s.

#31 ::: Kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:49 PM:

Oh, I see what we are discussing more clearly now!
Yes, I am in favor of criticism that tells me "this is worth suspending disbelief in a certain way." The whole concept of genre fiction is that the expectations surrounding the genre make it plausible. Positive criticism is a more specific version of that.

Now, I will point you all to Shaenon Garrity's Festival of Overlooked Manga in which she describes (and shows!) some really cool stuff - and tells why it is cool.

#32 ::: Kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 10:57 PM:

Bruce Baugh, you stared out with:
I agree that "good entertainment" doesn't mean turning off your brain. It's more like an accepted world (suspension of disbelief), as long as the entertainer doesn't do anything to jog you, you'll accept the muppets/marrionettes/cartoon/written word world is "real" and go along.
Definitely.

But later, you are saying:
There's a difference between what amounts to technological divination (wish I could remember who described CSI that way, it's a damn good label) and genuinely realistic portrayals of the sort you might see on forensic documentaries.

I don't have a problem with CSI's unrealistically short turn around times for DNA tests. I giggle a little bit at the fingerprint matching graphics flashing by, but hey, that's part of the show. But when they misapply a tech that I use every day - Photoshop* - that jogs me out of the show every time.

*It's a fairly standard trope: take grainy satellite photo/security cam image/etc and "zoom in and image enhance" to read (in one example) a flight number off of a plane ticket. WTF? Did everyone who copied that bit out of Bladerunner not understand the premise of futuristic super high rez digital photography?

#33 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2006, 11:41 PM:

Kimiko: What I mean to say is that I don't think an expectation of technical accuracy is reasonable. Nothing in the history of CSI or crime shows in general or Bruckheimer productions in general suggests that it'll be there. A lawyer I used to know referred to courtroom dramas as generally presenting "law-like artifacts" rather than the law, and I've always loved that phrasing. Lots of entertainment relies on X-like artifacts, for various values of X. Most of these pretty quickly establish that they're not even trying to hew to rigorous realism in detail, and sometimes (maybe often) not in broad scope, either. I can understand preferring that details go right - and indeed I think the argument "it's no more work to get it right than not, often opens up story possibilities, and very oftens would be a net savings in distractions" should get mor respect in film/tvland than it does. But where I'm using you as a springboard for my own babbling is in thinking about my friends who keep being surprised, shocked or offended by inaccuracies well after they should have learned that this show/crew/genre/whatever is simply not as concerned with detail accuracy as my friends are. That strikes me as just plain obstinate, and when they plow ahead expecting to be dissatisfied and unhappy, I think that's actively stupid.

Note that I say this as someone who gets jostled out of engagement with various kinds of technical, historical, and other inaccuracies. It's easier to give this advice than live by it. :)

#34 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 12:24 AM:

Bruce Baugh (#33): "Bruckheimer productions in general"

I love The Amazing Race. Even so, when they show an airplane landing that absolutely, categorically, cannot be at the airport claimed in the caption, it drives me batty.

I think they even once managed to label the interior of an airport as "Frankfurt" when it was blatantly Paris-CDG.

None of this stops me from watching the show, though...I take it for what it is, which is "reality" as filtered through the Amazing Editors who need storylines to sell commercials. Not being a big watcher of Bruckheimer's stuff in general, I don't have a good idea how much influence he has on the style of the show.

#35 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 12:51 AM:

Kimiko @32: take grainy satellite photo/security cam image/etc and "zoom in and image enhance" to read (in one example) a flight number off of a plane ticket. WTF?

My favorite along those lines, is when the subject is not in view of the security cam/digital camera photo, they zoom into the eye of a person in the picture, and capture the desired info from the reflection in the person's eyeball. They liked that gag so much, they've used it twice (that I've noticed).

#36 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 01:56 AM:

Serge @10: I like your stereotype/archetype duality. Someone once told me they didn't like E.E. Smith's work because it was clichéd space opera. I remarked that it wasn't clichéd, it was prototypical.

#37 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 07:28 AM:

Exactly, Michael. At the other end, there's the case where the story is the culmination of a tradition. Take the first X-men movie. Someone who hates comic-books, or who dislikes them, would call it nothing but a bunch of cliches. I've been reading comics for a long time and it is true that there is nothing new in that movie, but, to me anyway, it was the distillation of the essense of comic-book archetypes and tropes. Remember the tag line from when there was one single X-men comic-book? Sworn to defend a world that fears them and hates them.

#38 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 09:30 AM:

Rob: A friend of mine lives in the persistent hope that before the CSI franchise runs out, he'll get to see Grissom dowsing and performing phrenology, all with the same glitzy production style. :)

Serge: Comic book movies are interesting for the archetype/stereotype thing too partly because of the ways audiences have experience with their sources. Lots more folks read comics as children than read comics as adults, or have seen particular panels and images than have read whole stories ever, let alone recently. So the familiar parts connect right off to viewers' limited experience and then the rest builds around it. It's a neat kind of juggling act, I think.

#39 ::: Stephen G ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 12:07 PM:

My reaction to things like fridge logic (to use a term John Rogers introduced me to) depends on how engaged I am in the work at hand. If the story is working well and I'm carried along, I'll shrug off inconsistencies and move on. As I am less and less engaged, I am more and more annoyed with inconsistencies and problems with the plot, until I do start actively looking for plot hiccups.

That's one axis of my response. Along another axis, there are works like Heroes that I enjoy so much that I spend time discussing plot minutiae with others. I'm not looking to punch holes, I'm looking to extend my engagement with the story.

Disclaimer: I've a long tradition dating back to my early teaching days of using scientific inconsistencies in pop culture as a springboard for talking about physics. That undoubtedly colors how and when I analyze shows.

#40 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 12:54 PM:

I think there are wildly different ways to engage with a work's detail, and that some disagreements may come from muddling them, Stephen G. There's a broad spectrum from de-contextualized or anti-contextualized probing for flaws and things that can be framed as weaknesses through more or less dispassionate study of intentions, methods, and results to willingly collaborative study of favorite bits, analysis of effects achieved, and so on. Actually, lest I sound too much the advocate here, I'll back up and say that both negative and positive criticism can be enlightening and useful, or self-congratulatory, numbing to the work's own meaning, and otherwise bad.

I am myself the fanboy analyst of (say) the current Battlestar Galactica series. I listen to the producer's podcasts, follow interviews, look at specific scenes repeatedly to study technical and narrative aspects, and so on. I'm starting to do that with Heroes now, too. (I'm terribly predictable in some ways. :) Like you, I'm looking for a deeper, broader insight into what pleases me. I think this is way away from (to poke once again at one of my least favorite examples) the attitude that would lead one to compile a "nitpicker's guide" to something's failings and foibles, as though anything short of perfection were innately deserving of scorn and mockery.

In short;

Wanting more more more!: Nearly always good
Wanting to understand more, and letting new understanding affect your earlier judgment: Nearly always good
Wanting to find reasons to dislike or disapprove of a work, or to just plain feel superior to it: Nearly always bad

#41 ::: Stephen G ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 01:07 PM:

At this point I think we're converging rather than disagreeing, Bruce. In thinking more about this over lunch, I've decided that my objection to what you're describing is primarily of intent and secondarily of effect. Why are you doing your analysis, and what are you hoping to get out of it? And in doing so, what are you doing to other people?

#42 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 02:25 PM:

Well, as much as anything, I'm trying to clarify my own conflicted feelings about the fannish cultures I move in, both as fan and as creator. I've been feeling more and more alienated from a lot of fanac that used to be a source of pleasure to me, and as I hope is obvious, I'm concerned about the loss of enjoyable hobby/fun time in the midst of a difficult life. I'm one of those people who often only finds out for sure what they're thinking when they try to explain it to someone else, so this kind of exposition plus feedback is sort of like me sucking all of your good ideas into my own vast pulsing brain, mwa ha ha. Or something like that, anyway.

Insofar as I think there is a problem, I hope to raise awareness of it, point at better alternatives, and make practice of the vice seem less appealing.

#43 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 03:18 PM:

Kimiko@32

I don't have a problem with CSI's unrealistically short turn around times for DNA tests. I giggle a little bit at the fingerprint matching graphics flashing by, but hey, that's part of the show. But when they misapply a tech that I use every day - Photoshop* - that jogs me out of the show every time.

Whereas given my line of work, unrealistically short turn-around times for DNA tests would be quite likely to be problematic, and, to take the most egregious example that comes immediately to mind, having your plot rest on the purpose of junk DNA being to develop into a series of increasingly "more evolved" monsters [ according to one of those Victorian hierarchical trees of more and less evolved organisms, which is one of those notions that's wrong to the point of actively harmful ] with the underlying purpose of protecting biological life against rogue AIs, that's liable to see your book hit my wall rather hard.

I think "will not make someone whose job is in the field in question froth at the mouth" is not an unreasonable standard. Or at least be aware that you are doing it, as well as you can be at the time, and have a reason. I have no problem suspending disbelief in stories set on a tidally-locked Mercury that are old enough for that to have been a reasonable thing for an author to assume, for example.

Come to think of it, doesn't the super-ultra-Photoshop in Blade Runner zoom in on a bit of the photo and then turn a corner in the room depicted as if it were a three-dimensional image ?

#44 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 03:42 PM:

Allow me to add my voice to the chorus cheering on Bruce Baugh, who once again shows himself to be one of the most sensible and humane folks in all of Geekdom. And once again, I'm struck by the knowledge that I know all the words in that post, and yet I doubt I could have put them together quite like that. Well done.

One thing I'd like to add, though, that's lightly touched on in Bruce's post and the followup comments. I feel like the phenomenon of critical nit-picking is one tentacle of something larger and uglier in many fan communities. I object to it not just because it sucks the joy out of joyous things, but also because it's so often a marker of snobbery. And I object to snobbery on the grounds that it's one of the more insidious forms of bullying.

I know that one of the major things that makes me keep a lot of fandom at arm's length is not wanting to expose myself to people who think it's okay to be horrible to other human beings on account of their tastes in entertainment.

#45 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 06:43 PM:

Thank you, Dan, seriously - I knew there was something else I wanted to get at, but wasn't sure what it was. You pegged it precisely: it's the mentality of "I can find more flaws in this than you can, and I'm superior because I know of more rationales for disliking it".

#46 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 07:52 PM:

I'm a frequent visitor to sff.net, and one of the things that I discuss occasionally with a friend over there is how we've all gotten to know each other so well that we don't get in flamewars much anymore. We know that so-and-so is a nice enough person but has wacko political opinions, and the other person is prone to flying off the handle when she gets her meds adjusted. We take that into account.

My friend views this as a flaw of the community, a sign that fans are aging and losing their passion. I'm more mellow about it. I can see the benefits. Who needs the tsuris of a big flamewar? (My mellow opinion may, in fact, be part of the problem my friend notes.)

One day not too long ago, a bunch of us were discussing the then-recently-released Serenity movie, and how we liked it, when somebody else came in and started flaming all over the place. She thought the movie was awful, that Joss Whedon was a terrible person for having released it, and we were all, by implication, contemptible for enjoying it.

Then she went off in a huff, offended, and was never seen again.

I actually rather enjoyed the whole thing. Reminded me of the good old days on the SFRT on Genie.

Here's the thing: She was actually making some good points. Two major characters were killed off in that movie, and the end result was to make the ensemble more attractive to teen-age boys. (I can't think of a way to describe it in more detail without giving away spoilers -- heck, I may have spoken too much already). Also, one of the character's deaths was inadequately telegraphed to the viewer.

Like I said, they were good points, but, man, did she take them seriously.

FWIW, I enjoyed the movie a good deal -- but, y'know, not as much as a lot of Joss's other work. And the Angry Fan may well have a handle on why.

Faren Miller (6): While reading the discussions of "polished turds" in that other thread, I couldn't help thinking "One man's crap is another's croissant."

Remind me we should never have breakfast.

Bruce Baugh (33): A lawyer I used to know referred to courtroom dramas as generally presenting "law-like artifacts" rather than the law, and I've always loved that phrasing. Lots of entertainment relies on X-like artifacts, for various values of X.

I've been a professional journalist for my entire adult life, 20+ years, and I've never once been one of a crowd of journalists chasing somebody up or down the courthouse steps. Yet, if you watch TV, you'd think that's all journalists do all day.

Dan Layman: ... one of the major things that makes me keep a lot of fandom at arm's length is not wanting to expose myself to people who think it's okay to be horrible to other human beings on account of their tastes in entertainment.

I most definitely do that as well -- but one of the nice things about fandom is that it's easy to keep such people at arm's length.

One of the benefits to succeeding in the wacky world of corporate media (as I sort of have) is that I have grown adept at projecting a kind of gravitas that makes a certain type of twit remember urgent business elsewhere. I can turn it on and off at will. Comes in handy, like having a can of Twit Repellent in one's backpack.

#47 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 10:02 PM:

Bruce, you're most welcome. One of the things I keep coming back to is that lots of people (in fandom and elsewhere) have a hard time distinguishing a preference from a virtue. And I think the weird persecuted-genius triumphalism theme of fandom has a lot to answer for, sadly. When you get wrapped up in the idea that the Common Herd doesn't get you because your own tastes are so far beyond their petty comprehension, it's easy to start believing that you somehow got a direct line to the True Sight, and anyone who doesn't see the same flaws you do everywhere - and have the same reaction to them - is a deluded halfwit. Or something like that. (And I'm subject to this particular sin of pride myself, speaking of it being hard to take your own advice - which is no doubt one reason it twists my knickers so much.)

Mitch Wagner, I can definitely do something like the gravitas you mention in person (I was a theatre major), but it's more challenging to find a way to convey that in pixels or print. As ever, the worst vitriol tends to come out of people who don't have to think of the folks they're interacting with as human beings.

As far as your Angry Fan encounter goes: See, the thing is, delivery is everything. It's perfectly possible to say that Serenity didn't work for you for the reasons mentioned, and even that nothing else about it could overcome how much you hated those things, without acting like the people who feel differently are unworthy of anything but contempt. All opinions may have worth, but all attitudes do not. IOW, having a point doesn't mean you're not an asshole.

#48 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2006, 11:55 PM:

Dan Layman-Kennedy - Oh, in pixels it's even easier. You just ignore the loonies. Or don't go where they congregate -- and by saying that I guess I'm agreeing with what you're saying.

As for the Angry Fan Encounter: I think the fact that she was right in her analysis of the movie -- or at least she made some good points which nobody else had thought of -- somehow made the whole encounter even more spectacular than if she'd just exhibited the typical fannish weirdness toward shows they obsess too much about.

#49 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 03:29 AM:

On the whole "suspension of disbelief" thing... I go with the old quote about being willing to suspend my disbelief, but not to hang it by the neck until dead. Here are a couple of examples from Bones, which is the only TV show I'm currently watching.

1) Angela's holocube thingie. Yes, it's well beyond anything we have the technology for today. But it's a good plot-advancing device, so I'll let it slide on the basis of "artistic license". (Besides, I'm used to holodeck stuff because of Star Trek; the only real issue is that it's a little ahead of its time.)

2) A recent episode involving a body that was left in a bathtub full of corrosive chemicals. Halfway into the episode, we get the exact chemical mix supposedly present: lye, some other fairly strong base, and hydrochloric acid. Excuse me? That's not a mix of corrosive chemicals, that's a loud BOOM and a cloud of lethally-toxic gas! It was enough to bounce me right out of the story -- and if I, who went thru both high school AND college without taking a single chemistry class, knew it was wrong, the writers should never have been allowed to get away with it. And hell, it's an easy fix -- just use either 3 acids or 3 bases, but DON'T MIX THEM.

#50 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 09:25 AM:

Mitch Wagner (46): Remind me we should never have breakfast.

Oh, don't worry -- when I eat out for brunch, I always order waffles with maple syrup (and I don't make croissants, in any form)!

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 09:42 AM:

Lee a@ 49: Sue and I stopped watching Bones early on. Yeah, the holodeck thingie is a little far-out, but at least it doesn't break down all the time like the one in ST-TNG. What got us is that the main character is supposed to be a mystery writer and yet she seems to know very little about the real world.

#52 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 10:32 AM:

I don't want my tv viewing or my fiction reading to mirror reality. I get lots of reality the rest of the time.

I want my tv and my fiction to be bigger, better, more emotional, funnier, wilder, sexier, scarier, cleverer, and far more compelling than my life.

Preach it!

That being said, CSI does bounce me every once in a while--I don't know a whole lot about the kind of science they do, but sometimes a blooper* (that I am capable of recognizing) shows up.

CSI clearly takes place in TV Plot Land (this is not the same as the World Without Shrimp)--if it didn't, Grissom&Co would be nationally famous. They make noises about "career-making cases" every once in a while, without acknowledging that most of the cases on that show would be "career-making" in the real world...

*What gets me every damn time is blood. Why is it so hard for TV people to grasp that blood goes brown within a few minutes of being exposed to air? It's probably some combination of "people wouldn't know it's blood" and "it wouldn't look good on screen", but the first one could have been handled quite nicely with two sentences of dialog and the latter doesn't seem worth it to me.

#53 ::: JBWoodford ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2006, 11:59 AM:

Lee (#49) quoth:
That's not a mix of corrosive chemicals, that's a loud BOOM and a cloud of lethally-toxic gas!

Nope, no BOOM when you mix lye & hydrochloric acid, and no lethally-toxic gas, either...just hot salt water.

...just use either 3 acids or 3 bases, but DON'T MIX THEM.

Absolutely! I'm only quibbling about the details, above; something like that would've bounced me out of the show, too.

(It occurred to me as I was writing this that handled badly, it'd be an example of what Bruce was talking about. Yes, I'm nitpicking, but I mean it in a friendly way.)

#54 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 01:02 AM:

JB, #53: It's entirely possible that I'm misremembering one or both of the two chemicals that I listed -- I'm notoriously bad at details like that, and blanked completely on the third one. I do remember that at the time I saw it, my reaction (and my partner's as well) was, "whoa, that would be like mixing ammonia and bleach!"

Serge, #51: Obviously, you haven't read some of the mystery novels that I have. :-) And honestly, I watch it as much for the secondary characters as the principals -- I have a Huge Fictional Character Crush on Zack!

#55 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2006, 02:43 AM:

I find it odd that people are put off by what seem to me to be trivial scientific errors on CSI, when the entire central premise of the show is bogus.

Lab techs just don't do that kind of investigation. They don't question suspects or get into gunfights. They just do lab work.

Also, the equipment in real CSI labs is nowhere near as fancy as the stuff the gang at CSI work with. They go to hardware stores a lot and build stuff that looks like sixth grade science fair projects. (Which might, now that I think of it, be more interesting for a lot of people to watch.)

Still, I like the show. I used to love it, but I think it's gotten a bit old and tired.

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