Analysis, Politics

Sean Spicer at the Emmys: The Use and Misuse of Political Humour

It can feel a bit sour-faced to discuss the ‘purpose’ of humour. The primary purpose of humour is, of course, to make people laugh – to help us relax, bond, and bring enjoyment to a stressful day. But in the political sphere humour has another, arguably more important role – to puncture the pomposity and propaganda of the powerful, and challenge the stories they tell about themselves.

Stephen Colbert’s performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a near-perfect example of this. In character as ‘Stephen Colbert’ (a right-wing not particularly good television propagandist) he challenged the contradictions and hypocrisies of the Bush administration, right in the heart of Washington with the world watching. The performance is hilariously funny, but also serves a useful social purpose in challenging the Bush administration’s presentation of themselves as strong and wise protectors of the American people. Really ruthless political satire of this sort draws drawing attention to the emperor’s nudity, reframing him from a strong, dynamic leader into a small, pitiful creature worthy of contempt.

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Egotism

IWSG: The Problem of Consistency

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. It cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016

One of the biggest problems I have as a writer is writing steadily and consistently. Looking back through my blog there is plentiful evidence of this – I have often gone months without posting, and my posts seem to cluster around a few weeks of activity at a time.

Most writers will have felt the instinct to wait for inspiration to strike, to write when the ideas are flowing most readily. But sometimes ideas have to be wrung forcefully from our minds, so that there is at least a terrible first draft when inspiration does strike – a rough skeleton that a better version can be superimposed on top of.

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Opinion

Feminist Values in the Life and Fiction of Joss Whedon

Over the weekend Joss Whedon’s ex-wife Kai Cole wrote an article on The Wrap saying that Whedon had “multiple affairs” during their marriage, including with women he had authority over on shows he ran. Obviously, social media’s reaction to Whedon has not been gentle.

When I first saw Chinatown I wasn’t aware of Roman Polanski’s crimes, and so I was (and to an extent still am) able to think of it separately from it’s director. Maybe it’s because I formed an opinion on the art before I knew about the artist, or because the film is an excellent neo-noir that is incredibly compelling and immersive, but I’m able to keep my opinions of the two separate. Even though Polanski appears on-screen in a significant role, I’m able to draw a line in my mind and consider it as a story in its own right.

When Polanski adapted Robert Harris’ novel The Ghost, his involvement caused controversy throughout production. (Though he’s always directed steadily, this was a fairly big name cast, including Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor, alongside Kim Cattrall and Tom Wilkinson.) I felt the film was a slightly inferior adaptation of the novel, which lost a bit of the tension but added more action. But I also felt a little uneasy about the film’s existence before watching it, and the extent to which McGregor seemed willing to defend Polanski struck me as self-serving. That’s not to say that I totally condemn McGregor’s statements – the fact that Polanski’s victim has forgiven him and wants the conviction dropped complicates the issue. But I doubt I’ll be able to watch another Polanski film without a sense of unease.

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Analysis

Themes of Abuse and Solidarity in Netflix’s Jessica Jones Season One

Trigger Warning – abusive relationships.

The goal with this blogpost is to build on the post I wrote the other day about the importance of themes in fiction. I’ll be exploring the themes and thematic importance of characters a particular work of fiction and their relation to the real world, in this case the first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones is the story of a superpowered private investigator in the superheroic world of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ – the world of The Avengers. The scale of the story is smaller, making the tone more grounded and noirish. The first season covers Jessica fighting against her abusive ex-boyfriend Kilgrave.

For the purpose of this analysis I’ll be focusing on the following key themes:

  • Abusive relationships
  • Entitlement and abuse of power
  • Trauma, PTSD and guilt
  • Heroism
  • Female solidarity and empowerment
  • Male allies and ‘nice guys’

and the following key characters:

  • Jessica Jones – a superpowered private investigator
  • Kilgrave – her superpowered, abusive ex-boyfriend
  • Trish Walker – Jessica’s closest friend
  • Jeri Hogarth – Jessica’s lawyer and employer
  • Hope Shlottman – Jessica’s client and a fellow victim of Kilgrave
  • Will Simpson – Trish’s love interest, a cop and an ally to Jessica and Trish
  • Luke Cage – Jessica’s on-off lover and ally
  • Dorothy Walker – Trish’s mother, a TV executive
  • Albert and Louise Thompson – Kilgrave’s parents
  • Malcolm Ducasse – Jessica’s neighbour
  • Dr Wendy Hogarth-Ross – Jeri’s wife
  • Pam the Secretary – Jeri’s secretary and girlfriend
  • Guy in the Jacket
  • Guy at the Bar

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Analysis

The Importance of Theme in Fiction

In fiction, theme is what the story is about. So a romance novel will be, on the surface, a story about two characters falling for each other. But looking deeper, the themes will be what the work of fiction has to say about the fictional universe which the story is set in, and to our universe. Love is worth the pain that precedes it; love is where you least expect it; true love conquers all, and so on.

For Jurassic Park the most obvious theme is that dinosaurs are cool, but few films can become as successful as Jurassic Park was if that’s all they have to say. There’s also a key theme that it’s dangerous for humans to think that they can control their new technology – Frankenstein ‘playing god’ theme. It’s a recurring theme in Michael Crichton’s fiction, including Westworld and Prey.  Another Jurassic Park theme is the importance of family, in this case the non-traditional ‘family’ that forms between the central characters in the process of protecting each other.

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Film & Television Opinion

Be More Joey

Earlier this week a twitter thread by Claire Willett defending Rachel and Joey’s relationship in Friends went viral. Willett not only defended the broadly unpopular coupling, but made the case that Joey was a better, more supportive partner for Rachel than Ross was. I’d recommend reading the full thread (Buzzfeed has compiled the highlights).

When you’ve done that, I’ve a few thoughts on what writers can learn from Ross and Joey’s behaviour towards Rachel.

 

We often mistake epic romance with healthy romance

…in fiction at least. It’s easy to forget that – in the opening scene to Romeo and Juliet – Romeo is heartbroken over Rosaline, who had rejected him before he fell for Juliet. While Romeo and Juliet is a story of teenagers in love separated by an idiotic feud between families, it’s also the story of a double suicide for the sake of a romance between teenager who’ve only just met.

At the beginning of Friends Ross is recently divorced and Rachel has ran away from her wedding. You can see the foundations of a story they could later tell people about how this shows that they were ‘meant to be’. With Joey and Rachel, by contrast, the romance grew out of friendship while living together, at a time when Rachel was pregnant with another man’s baby, which doesn’t seem as romantic in a thirty second anecdote. But looked at in detail, it’s warmer, more human, messier, more relatable.

 

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Analysis, Close Reading, Egotism

IWSG: Lazy Reference Humour

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, which cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016

The suggested theme in this month’s edition is ‘pet peeves’.

One of my biggest peeves is writers using references in place of humour. Both Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory get stick for this – rightly in my opinion – but during the last week I’ve read an extract from the Ernest Cline novel Ready Player One which takes this to an incredible extreme.

There’s nothing wrong with fiction drawing on references to real life of course – in fact it’s a good thing, as it connects the fictional world to the wider real world, giving the fictional world a greater sense of depth and a broader range of material to draw jokes from.

One of my favourite examples of this kind of humour is from the second ever episode of Family Guy. After Stewie Griffin opines that television is evil because of its influence on Charles Manson, the show cuts away to Manson’s jail cell where he’s watching TV. Manson says “If I haven’t seen it, its new to me” – a slogan NBC were using at the time to promote their repeats. On the surface level this is (darkly) amusing because of the contrast between the very serious image of the mass murderer and the very silly idea of him repeating back an advertising slogan.

Thinking a bit more deeply, this is also a joke about the nature of advertising. By attempting to mould viewers’ desires to suit their own, advertisers are basically trying to do what Manson’s paranoia convinced him that The Beatles were doing.