Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On Fan Fiction

Why does fan fiction (known as "fanfic" in serious circles) capture the imaginations of so many fledgling writers and amateurs? Judging from the size of popular sites like FanFiction.net (which boasts over 2 million writers), there is, to use a Buffy metaphor, an entire legion of Potential (literary) Slayers out there, who, instead of creating new and brilliant work, are instead toiling away at someone else's fantasy.

Why? When you go out to do the gardening, you don't go and plant flowers in your neighbors' yard to complement their design; you plant them in your own and create your own tropical paradise. Yet with media and the arts, it seems that the urge to fanfic is irresistable. The Author himself has, in idle daydreaming, conceptualized an entire sequel trilogy to the original Star Wars Saga, both a "sidequel" and a "sequel" to Harry Potter, and series 6/32 of Doctor Who.

According to Wikipedia, media scholar Henry Jenkins (and when you read the words "media scholar" as a title, you know it's going to be rough) says:

The encyclopedic ambitions of transmedia texts often results in what might be seen as gaps or excesses in the unfolding of the story: that is, they introduce potential plots which can not be fully told or extra details which hint at more than can be revealed. Readers, thus, have a strong incentive to continue to elaborate on these story elements...Fan fiction can be seen as an unauthorized expansion of these media franchises into new directions which reflect the reader's desire to "fill in the gaps"

Basically, Mr. Jenkins' view seems to hold water. Even such esteemed personages as Russell T. Davies and J.K. Rowling have expressed their support of the fanfic medium for that reason; Ms. Rowling said she was flattered that others wanted to write their own stories using her characters as a base, and dear RTD deliberately left bits and pieces of the Doctor Who canvas blank to allow fans to fill in the gaps in their imaginations.

Yet I can't help but wonder if there is a deeper reason why fanfic is so seductive. In writing this stuff, all the hard work- introducing characters and relationships, creating a believable setting, building a history and personality for each character- has been done with you; you get to do the fun stuff, like blow things up that have already been made by the author, consummating relationships that have already been played out by the author, killing off characters that have already been beloved by the author. Let's face it: it's the writing equivalent of empty calories.

What about games then? Mass Effect 2 is a sequel (obviously, to Mass Effect), which allows you to import the character that you played in the original game, meaning that all your actions and deeds in the original game will have consequences in the second game. This has forced many players to go back and play the original game, making choices and decisions (e.g. one sequence allows you to save either character A or character B from certain death, but not both) knowing that they will carry over into the next game. Or, if you're sneaky, you can go to a save file depository, where players who have already beating the original game upload their characters (and by extension, the choices they have made and the personalized stories they have created) for others to download. Who is the "author" and who is the "fanfic" creator in this case? Obviously, the choices that are presented in the first game are products of the game developer, but the choices that are made are product of the individual players. In theory, with enough choices, and a broad enough universe, each individual player could have a unique experience they upload.

So if each one is different based on the player, shouldn't the player/audience have some credit for the story creation as well? After all, the experience of a piece of art depends heavily on the background and knowledge of the audience member. For example, the Crucible is a well-written play, but it become far more disturbing to an audience member who has studied McCarthyism. In that sense, the Crucible is really one work written by an author, that becomes two works when watched by a historically-aware and -unaware viewer, respectively. The aware viewer "fills in the blanks" and draws meaning from the play based on his/her own experience, adding to the work in their own mind, in the same way a fanfic writer does.

In a videogame sense, Mass Effect is also partially a product of its audience, and its experiential content is even more starkly drawn from player knowledge, ability and creativity: certain areas of the game (like later levels) aren't even accessible unless the player brings a level of accomplishment and skill with the game. Thus if you don't have a deft enough touch with the conversation wheel, you can't have a romantic relationship with one of the characters, meaning that that part of the character depth is lost. If you can, however, it is because of your own choices and contributions. That is, in a way, authorship of the fanfic kind.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Because EDSBS is the greatest journalistic site in the world...

They report on how the Auburn University administration refused to allow Justin Bieber's "Baby" to be used as the football team's theme song, and comment on Bieber's reaction:

"Bieber will be waiting for the right moment, stalking you patiently like a praying mantis on Adderall with a sniper rifle. And when the time is right, he'll kill you, because Bieber's favorite dish is revenge, and he likes it served three tenths of a degree above absolute zero, bitch. "

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thoughts on Being The Author

From the inestimable Bill Simmons (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/100514&sportCat=nba):

"Final point: Between Games 5 and 6 of the Cavs-Celtics series, an Austin, Texas, reader named Chris Rider sent me the following e-mail:

"I figured LeBron out, dude. I think you define a player by defining what is most important to them in one word.

"MJ -- Winning. Hands down, all he wanted to do was win. And that's over-used for a lot of athletes, but not him.

"Kobe -- Greatness. Yes he's going to win some, but only because he wants to be considered great and that will be a by-product at times. But you'd also see him shoot his team out of a game; jack 3s when he should press the issue and get to the paint. He didn't mind losing a few games if people came away saying 'Kobe is great; look what happens when he doesn't shoot.'"

"LeBron -- Amaze. I think he just really wants to amaze people. Which is why he spends 10 minutes before the game throwing underhand, left-hand half-court shots. Why he celebrates amazing dunks and blocks, but isn't working just as hard to win. I know the Cavs aren't great without him, but he's got PLENTY on that team to win rings with."

Is that totally fair? Probably not. But just for fun, let's extend Chris' game …

Russell, Magic, Bird, Duncan, Walton, West and Havlicek: Winning.

Wilt: Numbers.

Oscar and Barry: Perfection.

Shaq: Fame.

Kareem and Elgin: Pride.

Moses: Rebounds.

Malone and Garnett: Work.

Barkley: Fun.

Cousy, Stockton, Isiah, Pippen and Nash: Team."

What's the word that describes what's most important to me? I want to say God, should really say Acceptance, will probably say People, and might say Spinach, if I'm in a weird mood.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Some Notes about Pot

-Apparently, "Brother Number One" from yesterday's post is a reference to Pol Pot, which was pointed out by Lovely and Talented Author's Girlfriend. This is the kind of hard-hitting analysis I have come to expect out of her; her ability to find symbolism and esoteric references in my writing is amazing, especially given how many of them I had no idea about until she pointed out.

-On the subject of Pol Pot, my mother yesterday asked me to find her a YouTube video of "Pol Pot singing Nessing Dorm", which took me a very long time to do, as the dictator was better known for destroying his own people than singing what sounds like a children's song. Only after much consternation was I able to understand she meant finding a YouTube video of "Paul Potts singing Nessun Dorma", which is a powerful little performance you should check out if you have a chance.

-Speaking of powerful performances, check out ARETHA FRANKLIN, one of the greatest soul artists of all time (and really, one of the greatest artists of all time) singing Nessun Dorma, at the Grammys, in its original key, on 22 minutes notice.

-Immigration reform suggestion I thought of in the shower: Legalize them. All of them. Of any kind (although the vast majority of them are Mexican, for geographic reasons). Set a date, six months from now, when the amnesty policy ends. All illegal immigrants would have to do is go get fingerprinted, register at the local INS/FBI/police station, start paying taxes (flat tax rate of maybe 20%- exemptions are for citizens), enroll any kids they have in local school, and be registered for a Selective-Service type draft. *Dum Dum Dum* No, not for the Army- conscripts make poor soldiers. But think of what we could do with an enlarged Peace Corps/VISTA program in this country- fix roads, maintain schools, expand ESL options, enhance border protection etc. etc. Moreover, the knowledge that you might get drafted and taken away from your family will either deter people from immigrating, or, alternately, force people to remain undocumented, which will be more difficult now that all their friends and neighbors are documented. The final aspect, to enhance enforcement, is to step up border patrols using some of that tax money, and raise penalties for companies that use illegal labor. Whaddaya think?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Liver and Bunions: How to Take 10 Years Off Your Life

OR


Moaning Myrtle

OR


Cuba Libre, Irish Car Bombs, and Red-Headed Sluts: A Novel


The crashing of waves against the shoreline is white noise: it is consistent, it carries no content, and it can cull the wakefulness out of you and lull you to sleep, just like a lecture on postmodernism. (A lecture that contains nothing on a philosophy about nothing that actually contains no clever ideas, wrapped up in a story about nothing written on a blog that...how meta). I stare out towards the ocean blankly, the pounding headache causing blood to rush through my ears in a kind of syncopation with the waves breaking.

I lean on the balcony railing. Below me, some kids who will soon be Mired in Court are being taken away, their attempts to have a "wizard duel" with roman candles having failed on account of alcohol-influenced firing at the strip of hotels alongside the beach. Next to me stands (Pledge) Brother Number One, leaning against all that remains of a great statue of something that had only four toes. We've been sitting there, occasionally eying the cork in the bottle of wine sitting at our feet.

"I will eventually find a loophole, you know," he says casually.

"Uh huh." If I could just find some water. There's a ship on the horizon, looking for all the world like it's driving directly at us. Like it's going to ground on the beach. Maybe its hold is filled with Pellegrino.

"It's a big cycle, this place. The same thing will happen next year, with a different group of alumni. Every single year." Brother Number One takes a deep breath and tugs at the v-neck he's wearing. "I guess it's time to go."

"Have fun killing Castro." I smile as Brother Number One vaults the railing one-handed and drops the five stories to the pavement, landing in a crouch like a cat, a product of superb gymnastic training. He sprints down the beach, across the shell-strewn sand, and dives headfirst into the water, where he begins swimming parallel to the beach. Eventually, if he follows the shoreline, he will run out of beach, and will be in open ocean with a pretty good idea of which direction Cuba and the revolution lie in.

I don't have the heart to tell him he's swimming north.

I yawn. I can't believe I've already been in Myrtle Beach for three days. My fraternity has rented out the top floor of the Crimson Cyprus Inn (*name changed to protect the guilty*), which looks like a cross between the Bates Motel and the shoot of a Girls With Low Esteem video. Here, for the low, low price of $40 a night and your dignity, every spring-break cliche possible can and will be played out, like a college-aged version of Westworld.

The scene: Sunday (of course). The place: a progressive, which is kind of like Bruce Lee's Game of Death, with different drinks in each room instead of different athletes trying to act. Partygoers arrive and go in sequence to each room, chugging the appropriate drink in each room. Tonight's progressive is themed "Alice in Wonderland", and along with my Big, I've been given the extraordinary responsibility of hosting room number 2, The Flood.

I was quite excited, practicing my Gravemind voice and driving around trying to find a store that sold plush monsters, but I was informed by Roommate that I had misunderstood, since apparently Flood can have more than one meaning. (Also, playing my audiobook recording of "The Fall of the House of Usher" was not what they meant when they asked me to play popular rap artists in the background). Going with the whole "Alice" thing, I am supposed to be themed after the second chapter of the novel, and when serving cups of punch out of a giant orange Gatorade cooler, am supposed to recite this monologue:

"When Alice ventured to explore the path that lead down the Rabbit Hole, one of the first things she did was to glance upon an exquisitely sliced piece of marzipan-cake, of which was written in large letters "EAT ME". Being a young lass of inquisitive and not overly cautious nature, she proceeded to follow the instructions, which made her grow to a proportion of gargantuan sizes. Aghast at the possibility of spending the rest of her natural life as a Giantess, she began to weep great tears that pooled together into a flood, and created a lake at her feet. And the lake tasted something like this *hand them a cup of punch*"

After a couple of servings to impatient carousers, this quickly gets shortened to "So Alice cries, and her tears taste like this." Occasionally, such as in the case of the Anime Character, this evolves into explaining that if you like the drink you're a terrible person. This is going against the entire theme of the progressive; I'm not supposed to be making pseudoBaptist value judgments of the people enjoying it. Of course, I'm also not supposed to be just telling people what's in the punch (Gatorade and frozen pineapple juice concentrate, in case you were wondering). I'm also not supposed to be ordering a large pepperoni pizza for myself, Brother Number One, and the Girl Who Fits in a Dryer, but given that everyone keeps telling me to drink a little of theirs first to prove it's not poisoned, getting a food base quickly will be vital.

As I go about serving, (Pledge) Brother Number Three makes his way through the crowd. The most studious Asian in a fraternity full of studious Asians and studious Jews (and some Bulgarian guy) is currently "bro-ing out", and not in a self-consciously ironic way, either: he is wearing a baby-blue polo with the collar popped out, plaid shorts, and easily the largest New York Yankees baseball cap I have ever seen, backwards. Brother Number Three, having already demonstrated that he sinks beer pong cups as easily as he sinks the Putnam, will eventually go through the eight rooms of the progressive a total of four times, yet will be the only member of my pledge class to not utterly humiliate himself tonight (though some might argue the Yankees cap would be humiliation itself).

"How are you doing, Brother Number Three?" I yell over the din of the crowd.

"I'm flying!" he yells back. He then follows the rest of the crowd outside to the balcony, where everyone is staring at the flaming and charred remains of a car, with a shell-shocked Hungry Howie's pizza delivery boy staring at his job going up in smoke. I make sure to tip him well; he's going to be walking home tonight. As I walk back up to the room I'm supposed to be hosting, I run into the Fencer, who is smooth and melancholic, and who is drunk enough that his Irish accent is coming out.

I tap him on the shoulder. "I forgot you used to work in the IRA's Wittenburg office. Was that you?"

"Bloody English. That'll teach Lord Howard to mess with us!"

Back inside, Big has returned from his sweep through the eight rooms of Wonderland, and takes over the Gatorade shower so I can make my way through. I take a deep breath and make my way to Room 101.

The first room is hosted by Brother Number One, who calls on his extensive network of friends to relieve him so the two of us can continue to progress together. We start with red and blue-flavored Jello shots (Jello comes in exactly three flavors: red, blue, and yellow. Anyone who says differently is a liar and a communist), to go with the whole Matrix "follow the white rabbit" Alice in Wonderland theme (more postmodernism). Jello shots, for those who aren't aware, are like jello, except the sheer deliciousness is permeated with something that burns and turns everything a bitter flavor.

Next, we go into the second room and see Big and Steve's Tall Friend chatting on about the relative merits of cars or some unimportant thing like that. Brother Number One and I clink our cheap clear plastic airline-type cups and drink down some punch, which tastes terrible and doesn't taste anything like either Gatorade or pineapple, or even alcohol. It reminds me of bug juice from summer camp, if that bug juice had been left out by a careless fPendl who was too busy playing Nintendo 64 in his air-conditioned cabin to remember to bring his campers' sustenance and lifeblood back into the refrigerator. It's so bad, I have to drink another one just to wash out the taste.

The next room is supposed to be hosted by Brother Lights Out, but he's currently...er...lights out, and being taken care of by Girl Who Fits Into a Dryer. At the behest of Brother Owns Mass Effect 2 And Beat It Before I Got Home to Play It, Brother Number One and I take over. The room's theme is Cheshire Cat, and the drink being served is Sunny Delight and something that doesn't really matter, because Sunny D is not only delicious, it's healthy. Clearly being concerned with my own health, I survey the "Cheshire Cat Grin": a smiley face which has been made out of little paper shots full of orange mix, and feel my own mouth turn upwards.

While Brother Number One cautions me to take shots out of the right eye and not the rest of the smiley face (otherwise the Cat wouldn't be disappearing symmetrically), I see the one person who can confirm that this is about to become a Drunk Story: Max himself, along with his Girlfriend from California, who was under the mistaken impression that the theme for this party was "Back to School", and dressed accordingly. We cross arms and take a shot, or maybe two, or maybe...I had not thought to bring a permanent marker to keep track of the number of shots I'd drank on my skin, and if I got arrested for tonight's behavior, I was definitely unprepared.

After that, things become a bit of blur, to be honest, but I remember that I realized being drunk is so much fun- why aren't people like this all the time? I make my way back to our room, where a box of delicious delicious Capri Sun that I had bought at the beginning of the trip is waiting for me. In a magnanimous gesture, I decide to give it to the President, who, cursing his misfortune, is required to be sober the entire night in case the Po-Po show-show (as happened last year, due to a noise complaint). The next morning, people will tell me that all night I followed him around extolling the virtues of Capri Sun, but that's absolutely ridiculous.

Towards the tail end of the night, people are leaving for the Black Rock, which is a converted Spanish galleon that is now a nightclub with not one, but FOUR different cages on its floor. Kindly brothers are helping each other out, having remembered their childhood admonitions against drinking and driving, calling cabs, and one of them, the Mexican, is kind enough to bring me to a bathroom, which is occupied. He then steers me out to another bathroom, where I decide to rail against the injustices of a 21-and-up drinking age policy that leaves law-abiding kids unprepared for the joys of rum by vomitting everything in my entirely full stomach into the sink.

Sleep it off, I think to myself, as the hands of various brothers and alumni and concerned lookers-on carry me back to my room, pallbearer-style. Sleep it off, and wake up tomorrow at three in the afternoon, completely cured.

Of course, I wake up at eight the next morning, heart pounding, and am completely unable to go back to sleep for the next four or five hours as the Earth rotates around me. Somewhere else, Brother Number One has also had his issues, but that's a different story altogether. He and I are going to go meet on the balcony, and maybe talk about life. And also, the liberation of Cuba.