Msnowe's Blog

Whose story is this anyway?

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on February 24, 2010

Imagine the steam is my essence...

Last night, m.snowe was sucked into the twirly, tornadic cultural zeitgeist and watched the last two episodes of Lost (that twirly zeitgeist is kind of like the smoke monster, FYI). Apparently, Lost has a penchant for inserting literary/philosophical references into the show, and sometimes even uses them as clues into what might possibly happen to the characters. But more often than not, the characters themselves engender the ideals of what they value, or are connected with. In one of these episodes, a character references Of Mice and Men as his favorite book. Of course, knowing the character fairly well, somehow I couldn’t see him as the type to actually sit down and really enjoy some Steinbeck.

But we’ll disregard that for a second. Why is it that fictional characters need to define themselves by their allusions to other fictional characters? And why do we take these cues and also declare our favorite books for similar reasons? The Favorite book question can be a daunting thing–selecting one or two books that  people will absolutely judge you by, whether they admit it or not. In a fictional setting, this type of judgment is helpful to the author (ex. the character likes Hemingway, therefore they are justifiably terse or stoic). One character’s or novel’s mood can be used to apply to the other. This might be helpful, but it can also cause the reader/viewer to misattribute things or try to fit together pieces like some sort of puzzle, even if that puzzle doesn’t exist in the creator’s mind. (Which is one of the biggest exercises of those who watch or read stories like Lost). This kind of theorizing will inevitably happen with every piece of art, but more so when we are asked “to get” all these quasi-intellectual references.  This exercise usually does one of two things: it can artificially evoke an intimate familiarity with a text through other texts, or it can completely alienate the audience by relying on  a body knowledge the audience does not have. Also, m.snowe just thinks that sometimes, it’s cheating. You rest on the shoulders of others to try and give your story relevance–but who’s shoulders were those stories resting on? And is it fair to bog down an audience with so many connections in order to distract them from simply enjoying/evaluating the story right in front of them? This feeling of dissatisfaction happens every time m.snowe reads a story that riffs off of something else in a major way–essentially, the story is reliant on the stories it references–but if your kernel is crap, then how can you be blamed for a story based off of it? And if it’s brilliant, then aren’t  you just expropriating? And how much allusion is too much? All stories borrow from the traditions before it, but direct comparisons, or lifting plotlines and characters are another. thing, and much less respectful…right?  These are all questions m.snowe doesn’t have answers for.