Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 04:12 on 15-11-2011, Sister Magpie
The people on it. The main example: Don Draper is as realistic as Edward Cullen. For exactly the same reasons.


That sounds more like a "Don's a Gary Stu" criticism. I mean, one could probably also say that Jay Gatsby's as realistic as Edward Cullen.
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at 03:38 on 15-11-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
The people on it. The main example: Don Draper is as realistic as Edward Cullen. For exactly the same reasons.

But isn't one of the main conceits of the show that "Don Draper" is a completely fake personality even within the show's reality? "Draper" is just a skin he wears, pieced together out of a dead man's ID and the imagery of 1950s corporate culture. To go a little further, isn't his central tragedy the fact that he's erased his original persona and replaced it with the mask of Draper, not only isolating himself from everyone around him in a bid to maintain the charade, but at the same time dooming himself as America changes around him and the Draper persona he's crafted becomes another relic of the past?
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at 03:17 on 15-11-2011, TryCatcher
The people on it. The main example: Don Draper is as realistic as Edward Cullen. For exactly the same reasons.
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at 03:01 on 15-11-2011, Sister Magpie
on Mad men in particular, I suspect (and I'm sure I've probably read this somewhere because it doesn't feel like an original thought) the main problem with how it deals with racism and sexism is that its period setting allows it to realistically deploy examples of racism and sexism that are so blatant that the average liberal-ish middle-class western white male viewer can recognize them easily, feel pleased with his progressive self for being so enlightened, and be glad that things are so much better now that racism and sexism are basically over.


That's probably a pretty common criticism of it, I would think! I was just using it as an example of a world where everybody is bigoted, pretty much, including the nice characters, sometimes just as a "this is what this character would probably say" way. The show obviously uses the discrimination it does bring up for drama, but discrimination isn't the driving force of the drama on the show.

I just find that a fascinating thing about any conversation about things (assuming you're starting with the hints in the article where you acknowledge that other opinions are valid, especially coming from somebody who's lived through the same experiences), then you've got the question of how something *should* be dealing with the issue, which is sometimes easier to get to than others. Like with something like MM when you get down to it it's often about whether the show should be doing what it's doing, not that it's doing it wrong.
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at 02:54 on 15-11-2011, Sister Magpie
The problem with Mad Men is that is as accurate about the 60's as Merlin is about Arthurian Legends.

Which is, not very.


Is there a specific thing that refers to?
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at 01:10 on 15-11-2011, TryCatcher
The problem with Mad Men is that is as accurate about the 60's as Merlin is about Arthurian Legends.

Which is, not very.
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at 00:00 on 15-11-2011, Robinson L
New business:

I've always understood "hackneyed" to mean badly constructed sentences/purple prose/wooden dialogue/overdosed with cliches. (I'm not surprised to learn the actual derivation, but I'm a little disappointed.)

I generally consider a work to be hackneyed if it's either unspeakably dull with no entertainment value worthy mentioning, or if its' only entertainment value comes from how awful it is. Under this definition, I wouldn't call Joss Whedon a hack (unless I was only counting certain episodes from Dollhouse), nor J. K. Rowling. On the other hand, I'd have no problem labeling Paul S. Kemp a hack on the strength of Star Wars: Crosscurrent and Deceived, nor Chris Chibnall of Doctor Who and Torchwood (though his Torchwood episode "Countrycide" was pretty good, title notwithstanding).

Old business:

Okay, scratch my last comment, I read the NaNoWriMo message wrong, the official Week Two pep talk is indeed, from Jonathan Lethem (reposting link because I screwed up the last one and it won't take you to the right page).

... It's crap. Six paragraphs devoted to making a decent point about writing ("I'm trying to tell you to ignore transitions. Skip to the good stuff.") bogged down with bland metaphors and multiple tangents and vagueness which make my writing look clear and straight-forward in comparison. He could've made the same point and made it better in a mere paragraph or two, and the fact that he devoted his entire pep talk to this one point suggests that we're supposed to find it a lot more revelatory than it actually is.

Also, I may be wrong, but I thought NaNo pep talks were supposed to say something along the lines of "I know what you're trying to do is difficult; hang in there," not just give bland writing advice which applies more to aspiring professional writers (who're going for quality) than people who are just trying to crank out 50,000 words in a short period of time (and are therefore more interested in quantity).

I've gotta admit though, the joke at the end was actually pretty funny.

(I'd post the whole thing here, but I'm not sure if that's kosher. If people like, maybe I can pull out some choice excerpts.)
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at 23:03 on 14-11-2011, Jamie Johnston
PS: on Mad men in particular, I suspect (and I'm sure I've probably read this somewhere because it doesn't feel like an original thought) the main problem with how it deals with racism and sexism is that its period setting allows it to realistically deploy examples of racism and sexism that are so blatant that the average liberal-ish middle-class western white male viewer can recognize them easily, feel pleased with his progressive self for being so enlightened, and be glad that things are so much better now that racism and sexism are basically over.
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at 22:56 on 14-11-2011, Jamie Johnston
Sister Magpie wrote:
That article's interesting because on one hand yes, everything is reasonable. But I still get a little twitchy reading comments that can't help but get prescriptive about how things need to be written.

Ah, yes, perhaps I ought to have said that I didn't read and do not endorse or recommend the comments. For lo, I have heard, like, a zillion voices crying in the wildertubes, 'Read not ye comments upon ye social justice blogges', and now I read them not.

But the article itself is, I think, wise to focus on How To Be A Fan Of Problematic Things and not the much harder questions of How To Write Non-Problematic Things and How To Objectively Prove Beyond Any Argument That A Thing Is Problematic. It could perhaps have been called How to be a fan of things that some people regard as problematic, because it very sensibly highlights the fact that people can reasonably disagree and everyone is entitled to their own dealbreakers (as Arthur mentioned).

Perhaps the one major omission from the article on this point is that, when you're having that sort of respectful disagreement about whether something is problematic or not, you should bear in mind not only that it's okay for people to have different opinions but also that if the person you're respectfully disagreeing with has personal lived experience of the oppressive forces that they're saying the text exhibits, and you haven't, then you're probably wrong. Which is easy to forget when it feels like a theoretical (because it doesn't personally affect you) conversation about fiction.
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at 20:35 on 14-11-2011, Sister Magpie
This is my favorite description of what a hack is. Somebody said it on TWOP referring to a character who was a hack director. They were asked what made the character a hack? Milburn Stone replied:

A hack director is a director of medium skill, good enough technically to get the job done without being good enough to raise the end product to any level of distinction. He's emotionally uninvolved with a project and yet paradoxically quite emotionally proud of himself for his ability to get a project done. He tends to be thoroughly (and excessively) satisfied with mediocre results, perhaps because he's not capable of perceiving the difference between mediocrity and excellence himself. He tends to view directors who are better than he is, and projects that turn out better than his, as "the emperor's new clothes," since it would kill him to come to terms with the fact of his mediocrity.
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at 20:15 on 14-11-2011, Ibmiller
I have no clue. On paper, I should adore the show - animated, cute, funny. After all, I loved Avatar: The Last Airbender (not the film), Kim Possible, Tangled, etc. Animation meme - but My Little Pony just bored me. Plus, flash animation isn't as interesting to me as standard 2D or even CGI animation.
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at 17:22 on 14-11-2011, valse de la lune
Of course, there's different criteria of reasonable. If someone stops being friends with you because you didn't take them being offended by something they considered racist seriously, then that says more about you than them. If someone stops being friends with you because you thought being huffy about something mocking My Little Pony fanboys was a bit thin-skinned then that's a different situation.


MLP seems to be quite a Thing. What is up with that, anyway?
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at 16:41 on 14-11-2011, Sonia Mitchell
I think maybe I'd use it as a multi-genre extension of 'pulp'; commercial, somewhat trashy but not intrinsically bad.
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at 16:22 on 14-11-2011, Shimmin
I always interpreted it as being a writer who writes for hard cash rather than "for art's sake", who likely writes to commissions rather than on spec (or at least, writes what they think will sell), and who doesn't have any particular qualms about "compromising the artistic integrity of the work" or any of that fluff when they're trying to sell a story and someone demands changes. Like Andy said, churning out work fast and to order. Which I suspect covers a lot of authors, at least for some of their careers, even if they otherwise produced WOGAMs. I mean generally those are associated with lowest-common-denominator writing and lack of artistic merit, but that doesn't have to be the case. There's a suggestion (in Private Eye, admittedly) that recently some authors have been writing specifically to try and win literary prizes, which strikes me as not that different.

It tends to be used negatively, but fundamentally it's how most people approach their jobs, it's just the Art Man Art thing that clouds the issue.
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at 15:47 on 14-11-2011, Arthur B
I dunno, I'd say Matt Reilly is a variety of hack - every one of his novels seems to be written with the express intent of convincing Hollywood that his ideas should be made into films - but his work oozes passion and individuality. (Also crazy. But it's a delicious variety of crazy.)
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at 15:21 on 14-11-2011, Andy G
I've always heard "hack" not so much as a synonym for "bad", rather meaning someone who can churn workmanlike stuff out to order without any passion or individuality. Opposite of an auteur.
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at 15:11 on 14-11-2011, Arthur B
Yo dawg, I heard you liked glib soundbytes, so I put "glib soundbyte" in your glib soundbyte so you can write "glib soundbyte" while you write a glib soundbyte.
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at 14:56 on 14-11-2011, Wardog
I think it's probably fair to say that the accepted usage nowadays has narrowed from this to simply mean a bad or lazy writer, based on the largely unchallenged assumption that it is somehow morally and artistically 'worse' to have an eye on the bottom line. It's just ridiculous to assume that "Art" somehow takes place in a financial vacuum.

Although I think is perfectly possible to be a bad writer, and a bad published writer at that, I think "hack" is a pathetically overused way of saying "not liked by me."

I should also say that I am aware of that we have several articles knocking around Fb in which we have various ways called a range of writers hacks (including ones written by me) - but I am happy to accept it as a summary position after I've been presented by an article worth of evidence, not as a OH WHAT'S THAT PHRASE glib soundbite.

Very soon glib soundbite will be a glib soundbite.
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at 12:21 on 14-11-2011, Ibmiller
That is certainly an interesting reading of "hack." I always thought it was more along the lines of "hacked pieces of other writer's better stuff and pasted them into their own."

Except, now that I've done quick googling, it's supposedly related to "hackney," referring to the writer's purely mercenary, rather than artistic, motivations.

Which wouldn't fit Whedon in most readings, favorable or unfavorable. Unoriginal, overly political, politically inept, one-note, all sorts of bad things (I would like to say that I don't necessarily subscribe to these descriptions, I merely list them as alternatives), but not doing it just for the money. If he were doing it just for the money, he'd probably still be doing script doctoring.
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at 11:33 on 14-11-2011, Guy
Although I am not a fan of Joss Whedon, I am really really not a fan of people randomly calling writers hacks because they think it sounds cool.

I'm not sure if this fits with the etymology or original meaning of "hack" but I've always had a half-positive image of the meaning of this word. I think of a hack writer as someone who can always "hack something out"; it may not be terribly original or beautifully constructed or whatever, but if you need 5000 words of *something* by the end of the day then a hack is a person who can always reach the mark. As a person who's tended to struggle at the far opposite end of the spectrum - writing one sentence, then thinking for a long time, writing a second sentence, pausing, then crossing out the first sentence, &c - I've always thought it would be worth a lot to develop some of those "hack" tendencies. OTOH, maybe I'm imagining something quite unjustified and "hack" really is just a direct synonym for "bad writer".
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at 20:02 on 13-11-2011, Michal
Obviously there's nothing wrong with an otherwise sympathetic character being bigoted in a text in which characters are *generally* presented as complex and three-dimensional, and which is consistent about presenting a complex and nuanced world. But often bigotry is the *only* unpleasant element left intact in an otherwise sanitized setting, and that does raise some quite serious questions about who a book is supposed to be *for*. You get this kind of double-standard a lot when it comes to gender in Fantasy novels - female characters experience "realistic" levels of sexism (which often involves a lot of rape or attempted rape) while male characters live in a world with 21st century social mobility and health care. It's not that it's wrong to depict racism (it obviously isn't) but I think you can make a case that it's wrong to depict racism as compatible with (or worse, a necessary part of) escapism.

We already had a bit of back-and-forth about this on my blog a while back, Dan, and now that you express it this way I completely see where you're coming from. I actually don't really know how to put this, but many authors seem to, uh, compartmentalize their supposed "realism", making completely inconsistent worlds which actually seem to reflect a kind of wish-fulfilment utopia for one specific group to the exclusion of others rather than reflecting any of the purported real-world historical context the authors claim after someone calls them out on it.

I believe on just introducing facts and let the reader decide whatever they are good or bad.

Fox News: We report. You decide.
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at 18:55 on 13-11-2011, Sister Magpie
Well, I think we've all agreed it depends on context here. But I guess I'd say that it's rather futile to tell someone they shouldn't be offended by something because, well, they are. All you can do is consider whether you consider their reasons for being offended are reasonable, and then hold your tongue or speak out at your own risk.


Right, a lot of time it's just better to not to say anything. But if you're analyzing a show you're agreeing to discuss different interpretations.
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at 18:42 on 13-11-2011, Arthur B
But of course, there's also the opposite where it's the person who's disturbed by the thing who dismisses people who see it differently as being insensitive or stupid or distracted by the hot stars or whatever.

Well, I think we've all agreed it depends on context here. But I guess I'd say that it's rather futile to tell someone they shouldn't be offended by something because, well, they are. All you can do is consider whether you consider their reasons for being offended are reasonable, and then hold your tongue or speak out at your own risk.

Of course, there's different criteria of reasonable. If someone stops being friends with you because you didn't take them being offended by something they considered racist seriously, then that says more about you than them. If someone stops being friends with you because you thought being huffy about something mocking My Little Pony fanboys was a bit thin-skinned then that's a different situation.
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at 18:42 on 13-11-2011, TryCatcher
Meaningless soundbite, why? As an example, is fine to show bigoted characters, and even protagonists on Medieval Fantasy, if the enemy tribe wants to kill them. I find the Dance with Wolves-esque plot to be extremely cliche and with almost no basis on reality.

Joss Wheldon is a bad writer who was lucky to have cashed on the early 90's vampire boom. And his ideas of how relationships work creep me out. A lot.
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