The Ugliness Of Modern Entertainment

5 mins read

Editor’s Note: I changed the title of Last Redoubt’s article. He wrote it over a year and a half ago, and it is more true now than then. I think this title reflects the content better.

While I haven’t spent as much time as a good chunk of the pulp rev crowd discussing the crap that often composes modern storytelling and entertainment, I’ve certainly posted a couple, such as my recent run-in with the Bandersnatch. I certainly haven’t done the heavy lifting that, for example, Jeffro has with his Appendix N series.

Many of the modern issues go deeper than just an SJW desire to inject politics – or as Xavier more properly notes, the virtue signals of having particular political positions – into everything a la the politics is personal.

One issue is an addiction to ugliness, and frankly a hatred of people. Leaving aside Stephen King – who I’ve read far too much of and if I’d ever realized that “Bachman” was him when I stumbled across The Long Walk I never would have touched anything by him again – you see it everywhere. Not just in the nihilism of the Black Mirror series, but everywhere. Take this highly polished bit about the ugliness of war:

“Paths of Hate”, get it?

So yes, the animation, design, movement, etc. are amazing. But the story is shit. Yeah, I know, there’s quite a few out there who are like “this is sooooo deep”, and so on.

Nevermind the false equivalence – that even in the one liberal “good” war we are no better than what we fight. Never mind the fact that despite the horrors of the German National Socialist regime many of the individual soldiers and pilots were proven to be honorable people to the degree such things apply in war – see the Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident as but one example.

In the end it revels in its ugly inhumanity.

Examples abound of short stories where the kicker is how much better off the world is without us, or how we killed ourselves off, and isn’t the world idyllic and recovering without us?

I catch shit for pointing out and avoiding watching where possible the ever-present nihilism that infects so much of what is around us these days, even that which isn’t off the charts SJW. The ugliness in what is on the surface beautiful and executed with skill and craft.

Nevermind the question of how much of my childhood or earlier, our “aging acceptable entertainment“, despite being classics, is too “problematic” to allow, for fear of badthink.

Getting back to Xavier, his blog has a whole series of posts worth digging into, on just the technical aspects that are simply poorly done these days. First, a post on how “deep POV” causes more problems than it solves, and how it’s ubiquity results in less depth.

For the same reasons, I don’t see why it’s a unique quality of Deep POV to let “readers into the head and heart of a character, allowing the story to be seen and felt through the characters experiences and history and thoughts and feelings.” That’s more a matter of good writing, honestly, and there’s no reason a more distant narrator couldn’t do that either.

So what defines Deep POV aside from the promise (that is, the effect, but not how to get there) that it gives you superior descriptions of the characters feelings and experiences? Nothing, apparently. I believe that what defines it is something that doesn’t appear in any of its definitions, it’s something that is implied but not acknowledged, an unintended consequence: killing the narrator as an independent character and observers. In other words, no text will be written unless it’s perceived or processed through some character’s (deepish or not) POV. I don’t believe deepness is really the point here; it’s that the narrator disappears as an independent character.

If the expression “narrator as a character” seems strange to you, that probably proves my point about how mainstream this way of writing has become. A non-deep narrator or an “omniscient” (I’m not sure if there’s a difference) is an extra observer, even as an extra character — sometimes they even have a personality, certain quirks or sense of humor. They are not recording machines attached to someone’s shoulder, which is what most novels I read seem to be now.

He then compares best sellers, new and old. Along the way he compares Louis L’Amour to far inferior writers, and Jack Vance to among others, Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is entirely fairly eviscerated.

Later, a look at writer based vs reader based prose.

Have you ever noticed that many experts are awful at explaining their knowledge to outsiders or novices? The problem is very similar here. The experts have all that information encoded in what could be described as a private language. The beginners have nothing. Well, many fiction writers are experts about the fictional worlds they have created, but nobody else is, and they have to persuade readers to care enough to buy, literally and metaphorically, their description and explanations. That’s a rhetorical problem.

Incidentally, I believe there is a related problem, that of writing for writers and editors, not for the readers. This is also I think why, despite my love for Rush, and a lot of individual pieces by Yes, ELP, etc., that my tolerance for “progressive” rock is generally pretty low. Why? Because – and I know it’s subjective – a lot of them get lost in showing off what they can do technically with the instruments and structure, showing off to other musicians, as it were. Not every band can put together something like 2112 and keep it focused.

Incidentally, he has an interesting post on how much easier it is to recognize words than it is to bring them forth and use them when writing. It also maps to an issue I’ve observer when one is very rusty at a language, even one learned in childhood. It is easy to understand, not so easy to speak, to structure sentences and put the ideas together, until one has been reminded or refreshed .

How does one do it right? Well, Jeffro has started a new series on Solomon Kane, and how Howard efficiently used every word to convey character.

The man whose long, swinging strides, unhurried yet unswerving, had carried him for many a mile since sunrise, stopped suddenly. A movement in the trees had caught his attention, and he moved silently toward the shadows, a hand resting lightly on the hilt of his long, slim rapier.

These are the first sentences describing Solomon Kane and check it out: just one brief aside about the way he walks and you catch the fact that he’s basically The Terminator. Unhurried yet unswerving. This guy has a mission and he will not be distracted from it even for a moment!

This is a note Howard will touch on yet again before the first section break:

Slowly he rose, mechanically wiping his hands upon his cloak. A dark scowl had settled on his somber brow. Yet he made no wild, reckless vow, swore no oath by saints or devils.

“Men shall die for this,” he said coldly.

Mechanical… like a death machine robot from some dark future.

And yet it’s tempered. He can betray a strain of gentleness when speaking to a dying girl, sure. But more than that… this is someone that works for the guy that instructed his followers to “swear not at all”.

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