29 May, 2012

The Future History of Humanity

    It seems that in the past month and a half I’ve blossomed in to quite the ‘Trekkie’. That is: my supplier, Netflix, has gotten me hooked on the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation*. It’s the one with the meme-prone bald guy:

Facepalm Copyright: CBS Television

    It got me thinking about a couple of things: about the maturity of the media we consume and where we’re headed as a species.

    I’m about waist-deep in to the third season now and have developed a great affinity to the characters on the show. I am realizing that as I aim down the barrel of middle age my patience for most of what transpires for storytelling wanes thin because it’s aimed mostly at the coveted male: 15 - 25 year-old demographic. TNG has the elements that appeal to this demo: there’s action, flashy lights and occasional sexy talk, but it’s the underlying philosophy that really grabs me. If you don’t know: the show’s premise is predicated on the idea that we explore space just to explore it. No need for money, the governing bodies of the future still quarrel, but Earth is unified and the enemies are now aliens with Pringle-shaped foreheads. The crew of Star Fleet (that’s like the space navy) devote their free time to art, philosophy, and sometimes wooing instead of the baser ideas of conquest and advertising liquor on asteroid billboards. Yes, it can be hokey, and indeed, you will be ostracized from party conversations if you bring it up, but the core idea of space exploration and moving past our most basest of motivators to be better than ourselves is why it endures.

    This, in turn, causes my un-greased brain to creak a bit pondering why I’m more open to the series now than I was, say, when I was entering my 20’s. It’s maturity, sure. But, I think it’s because I’m over Star Wars. It is unfair to compare the two because they are completely different. But having made the transition from “Warsie” ( what are Star Wars fans called? Star Jerks?) to “Trekkie” I believe you can immediately spot what sort of person a person is using them as a litmus test:

    Star Wars is medieval fantasy. It utilizes mythic stereotypes and plays to our sense of history and war-like nature. It’s a very good fairy tale to teach to children because in it’s own way it’s a modern epic poem in the style of the Odyssey and can be utilized as such.
    Star Trek, however, is a modernist allegory reflecting on modern themes. It’s a reaction to the current state of human affairs and an offering of how our future might turn out or might be improved. What it does well is interpersonal relationships and arousing that sense of exploration that is constantly threatened in real life by economic constraints and bad politics.
    Star Wars is for kids and Star Trek is for adults. You can like both, but it’s like the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones dispute. What’s on your stereo the most? (Assuming you like either one. I suppose I could include 2 Pac vs. Biggie, Beethoven vs. Bach, Dubstep vs. cats screeching, or Justin Bieber vs. Miley Cyrus... There: I covered my bases.)

The 'Inception' of memes... lol, pop-culture!

Then I stumbled across this:


    BTE-Dan, an engineer and space geek out there on the internet posits that, if we wanted to, we could make something like the U.S.S. Enterprise a reality within the next two decades for about a trillion dollars; which is a pittance compared to what the U.S. government alone will throw at the DoD in the same time frame.

24 April, 2012

The Duckie Ending: The Artist & the Audience.

Copyright: Paramount Pictures

    Way back in 1986, the filmmaker John Hughes was putting the finishing touches on his film Pretty In Pink; a cute little story about a teenaged girl named Andie who has to choose between her clingy, but sweet childhood friend Duckie who is in love with her and her “richie”, well-to-do, but sensitive crush Blaine. The film was being put through its paces with focus groups and, like most films, changes were made based on their feedback. It’s a pretty standard practice in the industry, and can be used to great effect to smooth out rough spots in a motion picture.
    But the original ending where Andie ultimately picks Duckie for her prom date didn’t play well to teenaged girls. They wanted her to end up with Blaine, played by then teenage heart throb Andrew McCarthy. So the filmmakers went back and re-shot the ending that we now have in the finished film and a couple of years ago the Duckie ending surfaced on a DVD reissue as an special feature.

    Not wanting to start a pointless debate on which was the better ending, I wish instead to examine the deteriorated dialogue between artist and audience. As Devin Faraci over at Badass Digest has recently opined, the modern audience has matured quite callously in the past couple of decades and has begun to co-opt the stories we storytellers are trying to tell. Wresting it away in fits of rabid fandom: a growing, vocal audience of dissidents is redefining how stories are told, pressuring artists to change their work for their satisfaction.

Copyright: Bioware

    I’m talking about Mass Effect 3 and its controversial ending. The Mass Effect series is a video game space opera telling the story of a human military man named Shepard and his battle to save the galaxy. The story itself is engrossingly rich and detailed, with character development rivaling some of the best television shows and films of our time. With each game’s story clocking in at a minimum of 40 hours, the time commitment is greater than a full season of a television series.
    For those of us (myself included) who have been with the series for nearly a decade, it was a shock in how brief and broad the ending to the series was. I would venture to say that it was quite vague. Many other gamers felt even more slighted and took drastic action by campaigning for Bioware, the makers of Mass Effect, to go back and alter the ending to be more pleasing to its fanbase. With much ado, Bioware has listened to the criticism and set a dangerous president by acceding to this request, reworking the ending for the “closure” these fans demanded.

    As a storyteller I can’t adequately express how this turn of events disappoints and terrifies me. It’s artistic bullying. The audience has surpassed co-opting the author’s work with fan fiction and is now the chief editor of the creative process. Why is this terrible? Well, imagine someone who has no real experience doing what you do telling you how to do your job. Oh, and this person is your customer, your only customer; and if you piss them off then you lose your job and your place in the market. So what do you do? Acquiesce and lose your creative voice or stand firm and lose your audience? In the case of Mass Effect I will say that it’s betrayal on both parts. A loss of trust. The line of communication has been severed and dialogue has become political; polemic.