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Visiting the Precipice

I just got back from a play in which a mother kills her child and then kills herself. I found the conclusion satisfying. It made sense for the character’s arc. But most of all I found the “perversion” of such acts deeply satisfying.

I enjoy the “fucked up shit”. There is a reason I surgically graphed myself to Hannibal, and why I love Hamlet and The Color Purple, amongst other fucked up works.

For me, it’s the pleasure of visiting the precipice: of peering over the edge, into the dark void of what it means to be human. It’s not about finding satisfaction in suffering or pain, but of seeing a glimpse of our humanity in extreme situations.

Some people don’t have the stomach for this material, and that’s fine. Others protest the “immorality” of these works, as if art is rigid and uncomplicated.

But art — good art — is fluid and dynamic. It makes you think, and see, and feel the world differently. And in these cases, it’s visiting that precipice and learning about who we are.

It’s Just the Hours He’s Been Keepin’

It’s hard to pen criticism of a TV series which has had only one episode. Yet that is precisely what I will be doing with Prodigal Son.

On the surface it seems like a novel idea: a TV series about the son of a serial killer, who is a gifted yet haunted profiler.

The problems are many, however, beginning with the criminal misuse of Michael Sheen, who plays the father and was a serial killer. Sheen is a gifted actor. Take a peek at his work in Masters of Sex or Good Omens to understand what an acting juggernaut he is. In Prodigal Son he is reduced to shmarmy grinning to make him creepy.

The main character Malcolm is haunted . . . perhaps too haunted. The stereotype of the gifted yet haunted profiler is well documented by now, especially with Hannibal’s Will Graham. Malcolm is depicted taking at least half a dozen pills, suffering from night terrors, having trouble sleeping in general, potential suicidal ideation, amongst others. All of this coupled with his preoccupation with his father and murder in general. Yes, he’s haunted, but the show dove right into the deep end with Malcolm. It would have been more interesting to have Malcolm seem like he has everything together, and then, throughout the series, expose the cracks in his veritable armor as he grows closer to his father.

Next is the portrayal of “evil” via anti social personality disorder (formerly called psychopathy) and sociopathy. Evil is a nice cliche in this series: a glittering grin, a sweet looking man in a sweater, a thuggish bald white man. Evil has no name, no face. It’s just a hammy thing sent to do harm. In order to be effective, evil must have a name and a face. It must be multifaceted. It must speak with its own voice. To do otherwise is to do a disservice to victims, survivors, and to our essential humanity.

The world of the story is hammy too, screaming at you at the highest decibel. There is no subtly and it does not do any service to the plot.

Speaking of which: I think this is why Prodigal Son may be experiencing severe growing pains, and why the series, in a nutshell, is having trouble finding its footing. Fox is foolish enough to try and cram their novel idea into a humdrum police procedural. In doing so, they loose the originality and vitality of the series, and the chance to explore the characters.

I will keep watching it (I admittedly love psychological thrillers), but with reservations.

Recipe for a Work of Art

I was going through my old journals and I found this. It was written in June of 2001, by a then seventeen year old me.

I took the liberty of editing some of it simply because it was a bit bloated.


A Recipe for a Work of Art

Ingredients:

  • First and last parts inspiration
  • Enumerable cups of fortitude and determination
  • 3 tablespoons of compassion (a little goes a long way)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of love (again, a little goes a long way)
  • Several cups of frustration
  • 1/4 teaspoon doubt (more will ruin the batch)
  • Many MANY cups of discipline
  • A gentle sprinkle of laughter, joy, tears, etc.

Directions:

  1. Mix well in a bowl while dancing or singing (whistling or humming works as well).
  2. Perspire freely into the bowl until your creation begins to solidify.
  3. Remove from bowl and knead with learning, choice, and care.
  4. Preheat the oven by means of patience and bake your creation for as long as necessary.
  5. Consume your creation in the same manner, dividing it up for many or few or none at all. Any way you desire, always keep a portion to nourish yourself whilest you begin your next creation.

In Want of a Husband?

I just finished watching Becoming Jane, and while I was glad to have done so, I found parts of the story hollow.

In some parts they teased us with a Pride and Prejudice Darcy/Bennett like budding romance between Jane Austen (Anne Hatheway) and the dashing Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). When the characters finally surrender to their affections, the story becomes mired in heartbreak and heavy as a leaden ball. There is joy in the story, to be sure, but it is overcome with a sense of tragedy, of a relationship which never came to fruition. (Spoilers: Lefroy and Austen never marry, despite their best efforts.)

And therein lies the problem. Jane Austen lived to be forty-one, before falling ill one day and never full recovering. But surely, between her youthful acquaintance with Lefroy and her latter years, she would have had joy in her life. She was a wildly successful author for her time, and had close relations with her family. Amongst many other happy things. Instead the film depicts the older Jane Austen as this austere woman, saddened by some long ago love.

The film-makers do Austen wrong in this. There were many ways to be a happy woman, and not all of them involved marriage, though it would have been difficult simply because of familial and social expectations. But the film-makers seem to forget that women did forge their own ways without men. Austen had a productive and probably happy life, regardless of her not marrying. This oversight helps mire the film in sorrow, and renders Austen into a one dimensional character, concerned mostly with Lefroy. I cannot count how many conversations focused on Lefroy, Lefroy, Lefroy . . . wasn’t the title of this film Becoming Jane?

Focusing so exhaustively on Lefroy diminishes the relationships Austen has with other characters, namely the female characters. I don’t think there was a single conversation between women in the film which was not about a man in some way, and 90 percent of those conversations were about Lefroy. I believe the film failed the Bechdel Test (Google it!) and as someone who enjoys Austen, both originals and adaptations, for the companionship women share between them, this vexes me. This is a poor representation of Jane Austen’s life if it can’t pass the Bechdel Test.

If the film had given light and life to other characters (ie, screen time), if it had shown women in each other’s company (no talk of a man in sight!), if it had given Austen more of a three dimensional character (at bit like Lefroy!) this film could have been stunning. Instead it it a betrayal of Austen’s life and work in some ways, and leaves you empty.

I understand it is supposed to have that effect, I just think the story could have been more, and more than focused on Lefroy to the point the story suffers.

I will, however, say this: I kind of don’t blame the film-makers for focusing so much on Lefroy. McAvoy is a charming, handsome man, and looks damn fine in those tailcoats of his. He is also a very good actor, of course. I think the entire cast was good, in fact, it was only the way the story was handled which “rubbed me wrong”.

Ssssh (Very Top Secret)

Four years ago, I started and then shelved a manuscript about a folk hero. The primary action of the story was set during the Regency, an era I adore. At the time it was too daunting for me to take on, which is why I put it away. But now I am a stronger, better writer, and I feel the urge to finish this thing.

So I’m going to. Even though parts of it worry or scare me, because I have no idea how I’ll finish this thing. I’ll figure it out as I go.

Anyways, aside from this blurb, it’s very top secret. I am currently combing through the first chapter and frantically trying to figure out how Japanese people could have landed in Britain during the Regency, given the fact that Japan had laws in place against foreigners setting foot on Japanese soil, and there was no trade or diplomatic relationship between the two nations. Guess I’ll just have to figure it out?

 

A Slice of the Murdering Pie

I recently rediscovered a short story I had written a few years ago, featuring an absolutely wicked queer couple. It is the antithesis of what I usually write, which is quaint domestic character studies. And I thought the story was fantastic. A fun, murderous romp.

I remember writing it and believing “no-one will ever publish this because the gays are evil”. Now I am thinking of including it in a collection of short stories for a contest.

Why not?

I well know the “evil queer villain” trope, where the villain is coded as effeminate, or trans, or pick any flavor of queer. I am well aware of the negative representations of queer people. I fully understand and appreciate, therefore, the current social push to represent queer people more positively. It’s important to counteract hundreds of years awful representation.

But there must also be room to let queer people be . . . bad. Monstrous, even. We are as capable of murder and violence as anyone else, as unpopular as that “take” may be.

Queer people are well, human. The “evil queer” sought to paint us as inhuman. Because of this, when we are written, it is imperative to present us as complex human beings rather than simply “good” human beings. The former gives us our humanity, the latter just goes back to making us inhuman on some level. Even a positive representation must show parts of us that are unflattering, or which contradict some of the positive.

Similarly, when we write evil queers, they must be complex human beings. A murderer may show tenderness and express love even though they kill people. In this way, it becomes a subversion of the “evil queer” trope. Instead of distancing us from our humanity, it brings us closer to ourselves: those carnal, bloody desires which sometimes make our hearts caper.

I am not sure I succeeded in my own story. We’ll find out. Until then, I would actually like to see more well rounded queer villains get their slice of the murdering pie.