Monday, June 25, 2012

In Defense of Story...

You step into an already darkened theater. You settle on the couch with your favorite blanket. You crack the spine and gaze for the first time on a brand, spanking new cover page.

It is the genesis of magic. And magic, among other things, is personal. It is intimate. It is individual.


My first experience with TV haters was a few months out of college. Understand, I knew people when I was in high school and college who didn't have TV's, and who were perfectly capable of having a television. They chose not to. But on this sunny day, I asked a perfectly normal-seeming woman at my work if she watched something. Buffy, maybe. I don't remember.

"Oh," she responded. "I don't watch TV. I don't have cable or whatever. I only watch movies." She said this with a certain condescension, a certain air of superiority. As if she couldn't understand why I would watch TV.

For my part, I was a tad embarrassed to have so unwittingly altered her opinion of me, but mostly I felt sort of sorry for her high-flung pseudo-intellectualism.

Since then, my experience with haters has grown exponentially. I'm not sure, being me, if this is due to my personal experiences or due to a general increase in intellectual elitism. Because the default position for many now seems to be that if you don't like what I like, you're dumb.

If you like TV, you're dumb. If you enjoyed the Twilight novels, you're dumb. If you can stand to watch a movie with a budget bigger than the average household income and not be snarky, you are dumb. So where does that leave a person like me? A person who loves a lot of things - some of them good and some of them lacking, some of them "smart" and some of them not so much?

There are lots of things on TV. And not all of them are stories, but most of them are. I like stories. I like characters. I like that feeling of slipping into a totally foreign world.

For years, I've maintained that what makes good SciFi is universality. Yes, people thousands of years from now that travel the entire universe in space ships made of trees are different from us. Obviously. But they are not really at all different from us. People are the same. What makes us tick. What makes us wonderful and horrible and miserable and happy. It never really changes.

The same is true for all stories, really. I don't have all that much in common on the surface with a vampire in Virginia or with two brothers who travel across the country fighting evil from an Impala, or an alien who moves through time and space just because he can. But at the same time, I do. I am driven by the same things - I am touched by the same things - hurt by the same things. I am just like them in so many ways.

And to me, the story is the thing. I love to read. I love the theatre. I love movies. But I also love TV, because all of these things are just conduits for the story. The are just the chips and the story is whatever delicious dip is your favorite. The medium does not determine the quality.

I have seen weekly TV shows, hour long dramas and half-hour comedies both, that are better written, more emotional, more full stories than some books that I have read or movies I have seen. Every version has its limitations. But none are really better or worse. They are just the door. The world beyond, the magic is what happens once you enter.

The magic is the story. And the story can survive anywhere.


Suze said...

Do you read the blog Dispatches from Utopia? she's got this whole series on writers with kids. A few weeks ago, I read this nugget by Geraldine Brooks (I'd never heard of her before, but whatever):

"We are in a golden age of literature for the young, it seems to me. And those writers understand plot…the inexorable necessity for x to lead to y, with x being something interesting and y being exponentially more interesting. Often, I set aside the book I’m reading to my son with regret–having read him comatose in my own effort to learn what happens next. And when I crawl into bed with a luminous, liminal, critically acclaimed adult literary novel, I sometimes want to drop kick it out the window. Too many writers of adult fiction seem to despise plot. It’s unwelcome, embarrassing, like a zit on a wedding day. Reading to my sons reinforces my own belief that story is central, and is ignored at a writer’s peril."

Jessi said...

Suze- thanks so much for sharing that. I actually do that to brynna a lot. But after reading almost continuously things that I never got to choose as a lit major, I just decided to read what makes me happy. Sometimes that means really challenging stuff and sometimes it doesn't. and to me what makes me happy is plot, story and engaging characters.

Strangeite said...

It seems that we are currently living in a golden age for television. And they aren't all story driven.

How's It Made from the CBC and Top Gear from the BBC are two very different but incredible programs. Neither has plot, characters or a developmental arc but are brilliantly produced.

Trailer Park Boys and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia have almost zero plot, but the characters make them two of the most original (and funny) pieces of entertainment I have ever seen.

Then you have your Sherlock, Firefly, Battlestar (maybe, I still have issues with it after Season 2.5), Walking Dead and many others that deliver the goods in the plot and character departments.

Sure there is a TON of crap on television but to dismiss an entire medium is not being intellectual, but closed minded.

Jessi said...

Okay, I'll admit, I almost only watch plot driven stuff on TV. The exceptions to that totally include Top Gear (but on the BBC version, American Top Gear sucks). The other exceptions are Deadliest Catch and occasionally that show with the guys who make duck calls. That show is hilarious.