Archive for January, 2012

The Rich Kid One Day From Retirement Just Wants Friends; A Discussion of Cliche’ , Tropes, and Originality

It’s difficult to call Real Steel anything more than a Rocky clone with robots, because truthfully speaking, it is a Rocky clone with robots. The overarching plot deals with the same underdog story that Stallone’s masterpiece dealt with, and the “down and out” boxer trope is immediately evident, literally since Hugh Jackman ends up playing a down and out boxer who tries to make ends meet with a host of fighting robots. Sadly, he just can’t win and somehow he ends up reuniting with his son after 10 years because the mother’s dead and someone has to have custody of the child. Factor in the fact that the underdog robot that Jackman’s son finds has to work its way up the ranks to stardom, plus the additional detail that the underdog robot gets to take on the reigning champ (and “Strongest fighter ever”), and the final detail that he almost beats the champ but loses because the judges say so, and you’ve got Rocky with robots.

Granted, 2011 had more than one Rocky clone, with Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy’s Warrior, where two brothers join a mixed martial arts tournament to scrounge up enough money to live – one to provide for the family of his dead friend, and the other to provide for his very real and very alive family. Suffice it to say, the same tropes are present, except the element of “down and out boxer” are replaced with “down and out MMA fighter” and “down and out soldier who deserted, but saved the lives of his fellow servicemen by ripping the door off a tank.” Again, the film is filled with training montages, difficult relationship between family and friends, and an almost miraculous rise to the top that culminates in one of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen on television or film.

That being said, the term Rocky clone has quite a bit of significance, as any critic who uses the phrase immediately implies four or five things; first, the main character is down on his luck, second, the film is filled with training montages, third, the main character has difficult relationships with one of the other characters, fourth (and finally), the main character experiences an unprecedented rise to the top where he faces off with the reigning champion. The optional fifth is the victory; whether or not the main character beats the champion is up to the director and the genre of film. Usually, however, the main character loses the fight against the champion, but wins with the other characters. Rocky doesn’t beat Apollo Creed, but he does win the hearts and minds of the audience, and the love of Adrian. Warrior has two main characters and it manages to combine both victory and loss into a single believable element (no, seriously. Warrior is amazing).

As further proof, when it was first released, The Karate Kid was affectionately dubbed “The Ka-Rocky Kid” for following the guidelines set out by the first Rocky, except Daniel-San wins the fight in the end, in addition to the love of Ali and the respect of the brutal Cobra Kai fighter Johnny.

Obviously, Stallone’s film was not the first movie to use the aforementioned tropes, because Rocky was a David and Goliath movie, where the main character represents David, and his opponent, an almost unstoppable force of nature, represents Goliath. In fact, all of the aforementioned movies are David and Goliath affairs; each main character must overcome his own obstacles, in addition to the obstacles set up by the characters around him to win his personal battle, and do incredibly well against a champion that everyone else expects to beat him. In summation, the main character is expected to lose, and even if they do, the damage is done to Goliath in such a way that the audience understands that it was David’s victory.

Of course, David and Goliath weren’t the first to follow their tropes either, because even before their story was recorded, there were civilizations far before who had similar warriors fighting similar battles. Some lost, some won, but under each circumstance, the real victor was the underdog, and that’s exactly what it comes down to. Humanity enjoys a good underdog story; we, as an audience, enjoying watching people rise up and confront their challenges. We enjoy watching people win when we know they have no discernible reason that can explain their triumph, other than an unparallelled force of luck combined with a terrifying level of determination and, of course an outstanding training montage.

Interestingly enough, I’m not against these films for portraying no-win scenarios with victories provided by hard work and determination; once again, I’ve joined the “Never give up” school of thought. What I’m interested in is far more intrinsic than a seemingly impossible victory by a hockey team during the Winter Olympics, or a dog that can play basketball.

For a moment, however, I’d like to discuss ABC’s The Middle, a show that, on the surface, appears to be nothing more than a clone of Fox’s Malcom In the Middle. Right down to the inclusion of “middle” as a reference to middle class, ABC’s program is almost identical to Fox’s; both have fathers who struggle to provide for their families, both have mothers who are far more neurotic than should be healthy, both feature older brothers who are academic failures, but prodigies in other areas. Not to mention, both feature youngest children who express odd quirks , both shows feature misunderstood or neglected middle children. Finally, both shows feature middle class families struggling for money, while trying to overcome their natural dysfunction.

Also, back to the matriarchs, both shows have mothers that would terrify and potentially damage children if they existed anywhere outside the creative universe. No, seriously, envisioning Lois or Frankie as real mothers is an incredible feat. It becomes all the more incredible once one considers that families like these exist and situations like theirs are far more real than fictional; strong willed humans like the aforementioned mothers are created everyday thanks to difficult home lives and even worse social climates. I do digress, however.

My point is, The Middle and Malcolm In the Middle are shows that exist in different eras (literally, Fox’s program doesn’t air anymore; its run ended in 2006) but maintain a similar core set of guidelines. As I continue to write, however, I’m beginning to notice a trend where my assumptions are thoroughly and vividly dashed, which is exactly what happened when I watched a few episodes from ABC’s comedy. The show is hilarious, the characters are brilliantly acted, and Neil Flynn is in it playing a normal guy (instead of a homicidal, psychotic, and sociopathic janitor, like he did on Scrubs).

As I continue to watch episodes of the show, though, my original point about it being similar in nature to Fox’s hit remains, regardless of how much I laugh at the truly brilliant humour.

Despite this fact, I can’t call it a Malcom In the Middle clone for the simple reason that it’s not. I don’t mean that the premises aren’t similar, because they are, and I don’t mean the characters are the same, even though they almost are, and I don’t even mean that the random setting is the same, because it almost is. I mean that I can’t call it a clone, because it’s not a clone, just as much as Real Steel and Warrior aren’t clones of Rocky.

Quite the contrary, these independent properties are dubbed clones because they share the same core guidelines; in short, they share the same tropes, and therefore share similar details in character and plot. There is, however, one point I must make abundantly clear; a trope is not a cliche’. Instead, a trope becomes cliche when it is used poorly; the “one day from retirement” trope only becomes cliche’ when it’s inserted without any genuine reason or detail (unless it’s used for comedic effect, and then it’s a trope again). In a similar fashion, the “rich kid only wants friends” trope also becomes cliche’ when it’s clear that the rich kid is violent and sociopathic to the point of brutality. I can guarantee that that child doesn’t want friends who can end up dead in a deep freezer, but therapy – or a role as a supervillain.

I’ve noticed that whenever an individual dislikes a certain property originality is attacked first. The claim is made that “there’s nothing original these days; only remakes and reboots of popular properties are done,” and, quite frankly I don’t disagree.

The important thing to remember, however, is that originality is very rarely original, and regardless of how original one may claim their work is, it’s most likely been done before. Something original is only made once one takes the tropes created in the past and uses them in an amazing way, like Rocky, or The Middle. I suppose my main point can be summed succinctly: no matter what a person might think of Inception, a Scrooge McDuck cartoon from years ago did the “Dream within a dream” thing first.

The only difference is that Christopher Nolan did it better; Oscar wins, or not.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

The Relationship Between The Artist and Their Art; With Help From Roland Emmerich and Lev Yilmaz

Stating that Roland Emmerich is a bad director is both unfair and entirely inaccurate; it’s impossible to say that his films are boring or uninteresting because that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Quite the contrary, Emmerich’s movies are designed to be mind numbingly entertaining; filled with special effects, cliche’ dialogue, flourishing and often melodramatic music, and “End of the world” themes, Emmerich’s films aren’t designed for major analysis. The director himself has stated repeatedly that his movies aren’t meant to enlighten or educate, so much as entertain; he makes movies “…for the masses,” and this point of view is glaringly evident throughout most of his films.

It’s due to this lack of substance that critics often find themselves at odds with his films; most of his popular films have performed terribly with critics, but fantastically with audiences. It’s impossible to deny that while his movies are obvious and cliche’ (not to mention filled with terrible acting), they are amazingly shot and directed; the special effects are astounding, and the music adds to an overall cinematic experience. That being said, when Emmerich actually does try to make a genuinely thought provoking (and equally entertaining) film, he succeeds; his most recent foray, Anonymous, tackles the question of Shakespeare’s identity by working on the Oxford theory of ownership, suggesting that the real Bard of Avon was actually the Earl of Oxford writing to protect himself during a time of great political difficulty.

The film succeeds in its acting, its plot, its direction and cinematography (obviously, since this is Emmerich), and while there are several anachronisms and factual errors, it has to be said that this so called “Made for the masses” movie has far more intellect than all of Emmerich’s other movies combined. The film quite thoroughly proves that given the right circumstances (and the alignment of some form of universal body) Emmerich is capable of creating something genuinely substantial. Yes, it’s still not a brilliant movie, but compared to his other films, like 2012, it’s certainly fantastic.

Though, my interest lies not in Emmerich and his odd direction, so much as the question at the heart of Anonymous. The Oxford theory is not recent, and while the Bard will be turning 448 this April, the question of his identity has existed for generations. It’s actually due to his identity that I began to ask myself why we, as a cultural, care so much about the artist, instead of their art. In this way, what difference does it make who Shakespeare was, considering that his identity does not change his literature, and his face does not change the effect his work has had on both English, and world literature. Why does it matter so much who Shakespeare was; more importantly, why does it matter who any artist was, so long as their art remains?

Truthfully, I first asked myself this question while reading an article in The Toronto Star about the identity of Shakespeare (“If Shakespeare Didn’t Write His Own Plays, Who Did?”), but it wasn’t until I watched a video by Lev Yilmaz on his YouTube channel (AgentXPQ’s I’m Sick of This) that the concept of celebrities and our interest in them became important to me. Well, as important as Kim Kardashian’s divorce can be to any individual.

I found myself drafting a series of reasons for our interest (and I do use the term “Our” in a very general way); some of us (“Us” also being used generally) are judgemental, and we like judging other people. Some of us are voyeurs and we just enjoy knowing everyone else’s dirty secrets. Some of us are gossips, and we simply like talking behind people’s backs. Some of us are just nosy, and we like poking our noses, and ears no doubt, into situations that neither concern us, nor pose any intrinsic value past merely knowing.

I can understand having the desire to know something that really shouldn’t concern me (and that doesn’t anyway), and I absolutely understand having the urge to know useless and trivial things that will never effect me in any way, shape, or form. That’s why I spend so much time staring at the back of Dasani bottles and trying to figure out why a supposed “Thirst-Quencher” like bottled water has such a high salt content (long story short, it’s so we buy more of their water, and it’s because it helps the nephrons in the kidneys maintain homoeostasis). I understand having the desire to know, in summation.

That being said, I’ve always found it difficult to relate to those who got upset at Kanye West for his outburst regarding Taylor Swift and Beyonce’, and I found it even more difficult to understand why so many people cared about Ricky Martin’s sexuality (or Clay Aiken’s for that matter). That’s why, for a moment, I’d like to bring up the obvious point that not everyone cares about the artist. Some people genuinely only care for the art, and when these people watch a movie, or listen to a song, they don’t ask themselves questions like “Is this person gay?” or, “Is this person married?” or, “Is this person a potential murder and how quickly can I run to the internet to complain about how little I like him for ruining my favourite cartoon franchise by submersing it in liquid filth, and releasing it to a pack of hungry brands to make the most profit from the end result?” Instead, they find themselves saying things like “This is a fantastic movie!” or, “That actor is brilliant!” or even, “I can’t believe this director has ruined my favourite cartoon franchise by submersing it in liquid filth, and releasing it to a pack of hungry brands to make the most profit from the end result!”

At the same time, I’d like to mention that there is a stark difference between fame and infamy, and not everyone that’s famous deserves to be so. The same can be said about celebrities and artists; not all celebrities are artists and, disappointingly, not all artists are celebrities. Some people are famous for reasons no more simple than the fact that they released a sex tape and cashed in on it; I can’t argue that there are some celebrities who have remained famous for far longer than their allotted 15 minutes. That being said, when an artist actually produces art, and when they became popular and recognized for this art, why do we care what kind of a person they are?

In short, I propose we care because we want to better understand their art, and their motivations.

Since Anonymous, I’ve been using rappers and musicians as defence of my point (because through some twist of fate, rappers have managed to reveal their identities through blatant and terrible lies shrouded in nothing but the absolutely truth) when, instead, I should have been using Neil Patrick Harris (whose name will hereby be shortened to NPH).

NPH was famous for playing the child medical prodigy Doogie Howser, and once his time on television ended, and his youth dwindled, very little was heard from him, until he reappeared in two places playing an egomaniacal, womanizing jerk. First, in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (in 2004, playing the egomanical Neil Patrick Harris), and second, on How I met Your Mother (in 2005, playing the egomaniacal, and hilarious Barney Stinson). Before I continue, understand that Neil Patrick Harris is gay, and he is certainly not a womanizer, nor a jerk. Quite the contrary, he is perhaps one of the nicest people I have ever seen though I do digress.

Out of context, the transformation from medical prodigy to blatant disregard for all things human might seem like an incredible range on acting; being able to play good and bad characters (both, incredibly well, I might add) means that an actor is capable of acting. NPH’s sexuality doesn’t matter, but it makes his roles all the more amazing, and far more interesting. It’s due to knowing this one extra detail about the artist Neil Patrick Harris that makes his art so much better. Of course, he’s a fantastic actor on every level, but understanding his sexuality makes the roles seem so much better.

Obviously, understanding the artist to better understand their art also provides a false sense of companionship; just because I watch PATV doesn’t mean that I know Jerry Holkins or Mike Krahulik, but it certainly does provide an extra aspect to their work that merely reading Penny Arcade doesn’t. In this way, I feel that the colloquial desire to know about the artist to better the art is most obvious when regarding painters, designers, and visual artists who aren’t writers, or film makers. Knowing what Frida Kahlo went through so much doesn’t take away from her art, it only adds to the emotion and complexity. Furthermore, knowing about Diego Rivera doesn’t ruin his work, but only provides more detail to it. It’s the fact that we know about the artist that makes their art seem so much more substantial.

Of course, one doesn’t have to accept my opinion on this subject, though I absolutely must mentioned that whenever anyone mentioned Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and Beyonce’, and what happened at the VMA’s they always asked a single question after persecuting West for his action, and defending Beyonce and Swift; they always asked “What was going to happen to their music from now on?” They always wondered what would happen to the music once all the dust settled, and all three went back to recording and creating their art. They always wondered how that single personal moment would effect the artists and, most importantly, the art.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

Giving Up (Reprise); My Trip to New York

It’s not often that I disagree with myself, and there’s an even lower chance that I’ll actually allow myself to write a rebuttal to an already published article. Despite having written about admitting one’s mistakes before, I’ve found that I very rarely admit my own because they’re relatively minor (on the blog anyway); things that I can change quickly without much notice. In this way, grammatical errors and punctuational mistakes are fallacies that I try to fix right away; once a mistake has been identified, I quickly fix it without much pomp and circumstance, and I continue on my way.

Suffice it to say, if it’s an entire idea that’s wrong (in my opinion, ironically), I don’t feel it’s right to erase the original article and replace it with an updated edition. After all, I write for opinion and idea, and if I erase one of my previous ideas from existence, the hypocrisy would be daunting, if not rude and disrespectful to anyone who read the original.

Though, truthfully, it isn’t so much a matter of principle as it is a matter of accepting that I was wrong, and that my opinion, though still entirely valid, is no longer something I believe in. Simply put, I no longer condone giving up, with the only exception being no possible way to gain anything from moving forward. That, I feel, was what was lacking in the original article; by focusing far too much on why giving up is essentially a cultural “No-no,” I was taking away from the more important point, all the while making it look like it’s alright to give up after a single try.

Yes, there is a colloquial disdain for giving up, and in good reason. I’ve previously discussed the difficulties of life, however letting these difficulties impede progress and forward movement is absolutely unacceptable. At the simplest level, giving up after a single failure or marred attempt is one of the most reproachable actions any individual can carry out, even worse than changing an entire article while making no mention of it anywhere else.

Ironically, the reason I’ve been thinking about that particular article is because I’ve realized I can’t actually write emotional travelogues, and no matter how hard I seem to try, writing about my recent trip to New York without making it sound like an excerpt from a travel and leisure magazine. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with such publications, but considering my intent isn’t to deliver such a piece of literature, it stands to reason that my new-found ability to document sights and sounds in such a manner (though new and oddly hilarious) is in way beneficial.

I considered giving up on writing the New York articles altogether because I’ve fulfilled my criteria for doing so; I’ve tried for over three weeks, and no matter what I do, nothing I write is good enough. If I so chose, I could stop trying to write about New York and find it possible to enjoy a fantastic night’s sleep with no worries or concerns. Yet for some reason, though I have been sleeping incredibly well since returning, I’ve found that whenever I do try to write anything, my mind locates the same topic it’s been finding for over three weeks. Interestingly, though it wouldn’t bother me if I quit trying, I’m not ready to give up. Interestingly, though my personal creed would welcome the experience, I’m not quite yet ready to give up on writing about my travels.

As such, I’d like to offer an amendment to my previously defined rules on giving up; I refuse to give up on any situation, no matter how tedious it may be, until I can be satisfied with myself for doing so. That, most importantly, is what I managed to gather from my travels to New York; no matter how difficult something may seem, and no matter how impossible it may appear to gather any data worth acknowledging, there is no worse action than giving up altogether.

I wasn’t entirely wrong when I said that there’s a colloquial disdain for quitting, and I can finally understand why. Quitting, in it’s simplest definition, is acknowledging that we can’t do something, but it’s far more than that. Quitting is acknowledging that we have failed at something. Quitting is acknowledging that there is no reason to continue trying something. Quitting, in summation, is accepting that no matter the mistake, there is no solution.

Contrary to popular belief, there is always a solution, and there is always a reason.

I’d like to quickly mention that I’ve finally written about my trip to New York. I’d also like to mention that my plans involved discussing my 6 days, and making specific mention of the museums I visited, the streets I walked along, and the avenues I traversed. I imagined that I’d talk about the MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Bloomingdale’s (even though I was only there for a few moments) and 5th Avenue (especially since I was there for over 2 hours). I planned on making mention of how, on New Year’s Eve, I planned on seeing the ball drop live, but instead spent time with newly met acquaintances.

Instead, I wrote an article about my new-found belief in not giving up, though therein lies a very good point: if I had quit trying to write about New York, I doubt I’d have gotten a chance to share my new opinion with any audience – imaginary, or otherwise.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK