Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

My mind is open and my body is yours… A short response to a long response by @PieBandit

While following links on Jen’s blog, I came upon a response to my post about spoilers by Notorious Pie Bandit.

Before I discuss the response and outline my response in kind, I have to pause here for a second to let you all know that I’m the proud new owner of The Unrelenting Penance of Federalist Isaac Isaacs 1897-1947 by L.F. Crisp.  It’s the good ol’ 1981 ANU Press fixed character width edition which I picked up second hand for $3.  $3?!  I couldn’t believe my luck.  Holy frijoles.  It’s page after page of how much Sir Isaac Isaacs (Australia’s best ever Governor General and second best ever Justice of the High Court — first place goes to Sir Owen Dixon) and Crisp absolutely hated the Senate.  I’m increasingly sad that so little of Australia’s early years is well known.  On a day when we’ve got pro-Nazi protests in Melbourne and people having a sook that multiculturalism destroys our way of life, I can’t help but feel we would be more patriotic and inclusive if we celebrated these great characters from Australia’s past.  Sir Isaac had to deal with unrelenting pre-war antisemitism (even Sir Sam Griffiths referred to him as ‘Jew boy’).  In other words, multiculturalism and integration aren’t new, post-war inventions in Australia: they were there from the beginning.  Asians in the goldrush.  Afghans navigating the Australian deserts with pioneer explorers.  And minorities like Sir Isaac Isaacs drafting and redrafting the Australian Constitution.

So, yeah.  I’m totally thrilled to bits.

Back to Pie Bandit who describes me as ‘ the kind of person I remove from my life completely’.  Awwwwwwww…  Sad face.

In my post about spoilers, I noted a social trend which rewarded a particular kind of non-creativity: ‘twists’.  We have built cultural norms around protecting (white, middle class, bourgeois types) from ‘spoilers’.  It is now considered ‘rude’ to discuss plot developments of cultural outputs just in case somebody in the audience hasn’t watched that particular episode or seen that film or read that novel or whatever.  I deduced that the only way to get storytellers to focus on more creative aspects of literature was to consider it a moral duty to spoil things.  If authors couldn’t rely on tabula rasa audiences, they would stop relying on twists to create excitement.

It’s a little bit difficult to understand what her objections are, but I think they’re roughly grouped around three ideas:

  1. The point of reading a novel is to discover what happens next, therefore spoilers disrupt the point of engaging with literature.  Twists are always necessary.
  2. Authors aren’t really being pushed towards ‘twists’.  Twists aren’t always necessary.
  3. If you know how it’s going to end, it will change the way you consume the literature.

The first two are obviously contradictory.  If twists are always necessary, it’s not possible that they’re not always necessary.

But we can unpack them a little bit more.  Sure, the point of reading a novel is to find out what happens next, but that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘in the form of twists’.  Look at Greek and Roman drama, for example.  The course of the action was already well known to the audience.  The ‘twist’, as it were, was in how the characters brought you on the journey with them.  To take the classic example: nobody read The Iliad (or listened to the recitals) wondering if the Trojans would win, for example.  ‘Twists’ aren’t necessary.  Even in the literature cited by Pie Bandit, she doesn’t highlight anything which is vastly improved by plot twists.  In short, plot twists are cheap and unnecessary.

As for the third one, I agree.  Modern fiction is so poorly written — like the Harry Potter series which is just flatly awful and has been proven to make people worse — that knowing the plot does affect the enjoyment.  It was, indeed, the point of my original post.  If, indeed, we made a point of spoiling literature for people wherever possible, authors and producers would create better literature built around the knowledge that the audience already knew what was going to happen and still enjoyed going for the ride anyway.

In conclusion, I could have just pointed out that Pie Bandit liked the Neil Gaiman episode of Doctor Who and left it there, but I think it’s illustrative to work out what the point of difference is on the spoiler front.  We have a culture which is encouraging lazy writing, and people will response passionately in defense of it.  See also the Amanda Palmer controversy: people were defending Palmer’s choice to exploit labour like Gina Rineheart.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: