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 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.
permalink
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.)
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
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?
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
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.)
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
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".
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
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.
permalink
at 18:31 on 13-11-2011, Sister Magpie
At the risk of waaaay overanalysing this, I think there are three very subtly distinct things going on here, although obviously they all overlap. To put it another way, I think you and the article are both right, and probably agree more than you think.


Oh I agree that I do agree with it! That's just what I thought was interesting in reading it, because I agreed with the article, and yet I could also easily think of both works and reactions in fandom that would make it hard to follow. Especially given what you said in the other comment, about how it's hard to just present facts without implying something about how you think about it.

For instance, the article was often talking about the reaction many people get when they bring up problems, where someone just tells them they're being over-sensitive or silly. They can't acknowledge that just because something doesn't bother them doesn't mean someone else's being disturbed by it isn't valid. 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.

Really it comes down to what you described, where it depends on the context of the work (in a world populated by complex characters the nice but bigoted character is going to be taken differently than a simple world where bigotry's treated as correct).

One character I was thinking about, actually, was Molly Weasley in HP. That's a series that is dealing with bigotry openly, and I think there are a lot of scenes where Molly's shown being bigoted, while at the same time being a good character.
permalink
at 17:25 on 13-11-2011, Wardog
Also, Joss Wheldon[sic] is a hack.


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.
permalink
at 17:25 on 13-11-2011, Dan H

Is perfectly fine to show characters that don't fit with 21st century morals as good people, as long as it's done on a consistent manner that fits with the rest of the world.


You realize that's another meaningless soundbite, right?
permalink
at 16:43 on 13-11-2011, TryCatcher
Might as well stop beating around the bush:

Is perfectly fine to show characters that don't fit with 21st century morals as good people, as long as it's done on a consistent manner that fits with the rest of the world.

Also, Joss Wheldon is a hack.
permalink
at 13:56 on 13-11-2011, Dan H
For instance, there's a note about how if you have a character who's a bigot, it needs to be shown as a trait of a bad person and showed as bad. And that makes sense. But then, what about a character for whom bigotry is just part of who they are and otherwise they're a nice person?


At the risk of waaaay overanalysing this, I think there are three very subtly distinct things going on here, although obviously they all overlap. To put it another way, I think you and the article are both right, and probably agree more than you think.

The first issue, I think, is one of expectation clash and what you might call "escapism inconsistency". 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. Nothing says "this book is not for you" like a setting which leaves all *your* problems intact while making somebody *else's* conveniently disappear.

The second issue is what (and sorry I seem to be inventing cutesy names all over the place here) I think I'd call "dealbreaker disparity". There's an old saying that if somebody is nice to you, but not nice to the waiter, then they are not a nice person. Again (sorry I'm very much thinking as I write here) I think a lot of it comes down to what is presented as being compatible. I think there's a massive difference between "this person is generally nice, but they are also bigoted, and this is a serious flaw in their character" and "this person is a bigot, but it's okay because they're nice apart from that." There's a big difference between bigotry which is presented as a reason *not* to sympathize with an otherwise sympathetic character, and bigotry which is represented as a not-very-significant (or worse, endearing) flaw in a character with whom you are never the less expected to sympathise. A good example here might be Spike from Buffy post Seeing Red - for a lot of people all the soul-getting and redemption-arcing in the world doesn't excuse the fact that he actually tried to rape Buffy.

The third and final (and sorry this has become such a wall of text) issue is when a character is bigoted, but the text fails to recognize the fact. As you point out, people often assume bigots can't be nice people, and the flip side of that is that people often assume that nice people can't be bigots, which means you sometimes get bigoted fictional characters who are given a total pass on their bigotry (you might think of this as an extreme version of 2). The classic example here (and I'm feeling a little bit bad about using so many Joss Whedon examples, but there we are) is Mal Reynolds in Firefly, whose behaviour towards Inara is *actively sexist* but which the show presents as being okay because he loves her really (or, in my favourite piece of Whedon fanwank, as being okay because "Firefly is set in a post-patriarchy society").

tl;dr - there's obviously nothing wrong with portraying bigotry, or with otherwise sympathetic characters being bigoted, as long as that bigotry is textually recognised, and as long as it isn't treated as unimportant or as a harmless bit of escapist fun.
permalink