Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D

-Or The General Narrative Shifts in Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D -

“I hope they cannot see

The limitless potential

Living inside of me

To murder everything

I hope they cannot see

I am the Great Destroyer.”

- The Great Destroyer, Nine Inch Nails

“I hope they cannot see

Living inside of me

To murder everything

I hope they cannot see

I am the Great Destroyer.”

- The Great Destroyer (Modwheelmood Remix)

If there is one thing I could probably talk your ear off about at this point, its the narrative shifts between Year Zero and it’s companion album, Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D. Since I didn’t have room for this analysis in my Academic Webtext for Writing and Digital Media, I figured I would put some of my thoughts on the remix album’s narrative qualities here.

First off, if you start Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D like I did, and you look through the track listing, the first thing you will notice is that the songs are in a completely different order. Secondly, you’ll notice that The Good Soldier is missing and Hyperpower! has been renamed Guns By Computer.

Why is this important? Well, the construction of albums, especially those that set out to tell a story, is incredibly important to the narrative flow of the music. The tone of each perspective in Year Zero shapes the story, yes, but God Given might not have been half as powerful the first time around if it hadn’t followed up The Warning. Having the songs placed in a different order completely changes the feel of the story as we listen through it. The Great Destroyer feels more like a protest song. The Warning feels soul shattering and terrifying. But, more than that, we are presented an image in Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D of a future actively in chaos. The Beginning of The End doesn’t come until after the riot of My Violent Heart, and it only goes downhill from there.

In Year Zero, on the other hand, we have a sense that things are going poorly, and that The Warning is the tipping point into chaos.

The fact that The Good Soldier is absent from the remix album also speaks volumes to the narrative arc of Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D. Year Zero is an album chiefly made up on perspectives – as illustrated in the dual-perspective of The Warning – and leaving out the soldier’s perspective changes the focus of the story.

The Good Soldier presents listeners with a globalized view on war; a soldier fighting for his country, which fights for a cause they don’t believe in. Leaving that song out makes Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D a domestic album, chiefly, focusing on the chaos that America has fallen into, and silencing the voice of the soldier forced to war. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, this silencing of a voice that is so often ignored (at least after they return from war), but it is a very powerful omission to make.

The story of Year Zero is a powerful one, and I like to think of Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D as yet another perspective on the tipping point. Perhaps, to the content, Year Zero represents the reality – a build up to chaos – when, on the other hand, the reality is that the world is falling apart, and chaos is the norm.

It’s all up to interpretation.

Thoughts on Remixing

- Or In Which Emily Links You to Many Things -

I doubt I’ll ever pay someone to do a remix again, because there’s some amazing stuff just coming out of bedrooms.
- Trent Reznor

When I am displeased with how a genre is handling itself, I endeavor to write what I would like to see out of said genre. This, according to the video series Everything is a Remix, is remixing – the process of copying, transforming, and producing something new based on the work of others. In this instance, I am taking a genre, which has certain conventions and tropes associated with it, and reusing or transforming the tropes associated with that genre.

But what is the actual argument here? What is Kirby trying to say – because he certainly sounds negative. Well, that’s an issue of delivery, and we’ll return to that.

The point Kirby attempts to make over the course of four videos is that everything is the product of people accumulating ideas, playing around with them, and rereleasing those mashed-up and revamped ideas into the world as original products. This concept applies to music, movies, books, inventions, tv shows, and a myriad of other things that comprise our digital and physical culture. The problem is that American society has all but made remixing impossible by condemning copying.

Don’t get me wrong, simply reproducing someone else’s work without crediting the original creator is wrong (like, disgustingly wrong). However, as the remix videos point out, we learn by copying. Hell, that’s how genres become genres; someone writes a fringe story that doesn’t quite fit current conventions, someone else writes based on that fringe concept, and suddenly we have an All-Vampire young adult section at our local bookstores.

It is my belief that remixing – in it’s true, transformative role – fundamentally changes the concept behind the original work. It’s why the song The Warning by Nine Inch Nails sound completely different from The Warning [Stefan Goodchild Remix]. The remixed song conveys a different message; even though it contains the same lyrics, it tells a different story*. And if you change the story, you haven’t reproduced an exact copy. The story, for me (if you’ve been paying attention), is key to the ‘originality’ of something.

(As it happens, Nine Inch Nails runs an official remix site in which they release the tracks of all of their songs and encourage fans to remix to their hearts content. Trent Reznor has also released a nine-part album [four parts of which were free] to the world so that anyone could remix and change those tracks.)

I’m not going to get into an argument about copy right law here – though I want to, because copy right law is the most ridiculous thing – because Part 4 of Everything is a Remix makes the argument better than I can. What I will say is this – without remixes in music, we would have never had the ‘golden age’ of hip hop. We wouldn’t have an alternate interpretation of Year Zero (an album that went so far into storytelling, it created a universe). We wouldn’t have Star Wars or Star Trek or Stargate. Society would have missed out on countless books loosely based on life, on genre, on problems with fantasy.

Let the world remix, because we’re missing out on that kind of originality.

 

Alpha Meets Omega

- Or Tech in Dollhouse-

Mag (regarding the Dollhouse): They really thought they were helping, huh? Giving people what they needed. Is this what we needed?
Iris/Caroline: No. Kids playing with matches and they burnt the house down.

- Epitaph 1, Dollhouse

I find the relationship between tech and the supposed ‘human soul’ in Dollhouse to be…disconcerting. Perhaps it’s because, for the most part, Adelle thinks she’s doing good by ripping the personalities out of people and then using their empty husks as wish fulfillment for the rich. Or maybe it’s because sometimes I find myself agreeing with her, at least in some cases. (Most of those cases include helping the helpless or helping those in mourning.)

For the most part, the concept of a ‘dollhouse’ and ‘actives’ is one that terrifies me. For one, how does the person uploaded into a wedge know that Rossum will keep their word and release the active (with the correct memories) after five years? More than that question, though, I find the concept of personalities being interchangeable unnerving. To me, the soul and the personality are the same thing, and the remove one constitutes a crime against the very nature of humanity.

I think that, especially in Epitaph 1, this view becomes more common, especially when Rossum asks Adelle to offer eternal life, to sell the actives, and she refuses. It also affects Topher (who previously did not believe in a soul) in the form of guilt and mental illness, in response to the ‘army in an instant’ situation that resulted in the collapse of society. The problem is that it takes the extreme to make the administrators of the LA Dollhouse realize that their actions are fundamentally wrong.

Of course, this is probably intentional – as an exploration of what makes us human, as well as what humans would do with the technology that allows us to rip personalities out of a body and replace them with another, Dollhouse probably accurately recreates the ‘oh shit’ moment. People only ever seem to react to extremes, or when it’s too late.

What I do agree with, most definitely, is Caroline’s quote from Epitaph 1, listed above. The dollhouse is a box of matches, waiting to catch fire, as we see through the ‘memories’ left behind for Mag, Zone, Iris, and Whiskey to go through. (I only put memories in quotes because Joss Whedon has stated before that the memories may not be ‘actual’ – like the personalities routinely put into the dolls, they could be fabricated.) Technology in Dollhouse may be extreme, but it makes you think about how we currently use the tech available to us, and whether or not we are just children playing with matches.

 

My Eyes

- Or Billy and Dr. Horrible: The Dual Identity-

And I won’t feel/A thing.

- Everything You Ever, Dr. Horrible/Billy

There is something about the duality of Billy and Dr. Horrible that has been bugging me for two years now, and I think I have finally come to a point at which I can articulate my ideas around it.

Dr. Horrible is a persona of power for Billy – you can see this very clearly in the ‘Blogs’ and in the situations where Dr. Horrible is dealing with the world of Heroes and Villains. But Billy is still a very important part of Dr. Horrible; for most of the film, Dr. Horrible and Billy are the same person. Once again, you can see this in how Dr. Horrible acts in terms of social, non-work situations.

He blinks more.

I know this is a weird, tiny thing for me to notice and latch on to, but Billy projects his anxiety so incredibly clearly through his eyes that it’s hard for me to ignore. When Dr. Horrible is talking to Moist about Penny, he blinks frequently and squeezes his eyes shut. He also exhibits the same behavior in regards to his anxiety about the Evil League of Evil. Billy exhibits the same behavior when talking to Penny in the alley, in the laundry mat, and in…basically any other social situation.

But Billy and Dr. Horrible split.

Dr. Horrible, I contend, Billy uses as a way to talk to the world (via blogs) about the issues he sees with society. Yes, he’s evil, but he just wants ‘social change!’ Dr. Horrible is the persona that gives Billy to confidence to act on things he thinks are wrong (such as the heroes of this city being total jerks), but in the end (at least in acts 1 and 2) he is still Billy.

Then, Penny dies. But Penny doesn’t just die. Penny, who has been ‘dating’ Captain Hammer for the entirety of the film, and then Captain Hammer accidentally kills Penny with the shrapnel of Dr. Horrible’s death ray and she dies. But before she dies, she sees Billy, (“Billy,” not Dr. Horrible, she said, even as we saw her realize that they were one and the same during Slipping) and says “Don’t worry. Captain Hammer will save us.”

This breaks Billy, and it’s truly a brilliant break, because you can see the transformation on his face. Dr. Horrible was a tool, but now he is Billy’s shield. Billy shrinks in on himself in grief over Penny (and anger, possibly, at her faith in false heroes), but Dr. Horrible tells the world “I am fine.”

The break is more clear with the last image of Dr. Horrible, during Everything You Ever. Not only does his costume change – from white, which is usually associated with innocence, to red, which is normally associated anger – but he pulls his goggles over his eyes. Again, this is possibly a case of over analysis, but Billy’s eyes are so expressive that putting that barrier down is important. Billy’s anxiety can no longer be shown in Dr. Horrible’s eyes. There is no room for Billy’s weaknesses anymore. This is further highlighted in the ending ‘blog’ – Blogs are Dr. Horrible’s domain, but suddenly we are faced with Billy, whose line in Everything You Ever is ‘a thing,’ following Dr. Horrible’s statement that he ‘won’t feel.’ Billy, though, is clearly feeling – he looks as if he has just finished crying.

This line is significant – Dr. Horrible will not feel, cannot feel, so Billy has to shoulder all of the guilt, grief, and sadness that stems from his continued Villainy. He has achieved his goal – The Evil League of Evil – but at the cost of the woman he loved and his faith that people could see past appearances to the truth (“Captain Hammer will save us”). Billy and Dr. Horrible, once the same person, are now dual identities, and the audience is left with the horrible feeling that Billy may never exist outside of his apartment again.

At the risk of this becoming too academic for this blog, I’ll end on this – Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long blog is rife with themes of identity. Some people are layered with a “third, even deeper layer, that’s the same as the first. Like with pie.” Others constitute a duality that is easily broken. My point, I suppose, is that this film is more than just a silly thing the Whedons made during the Writer’s Strike – it takes a serious look at different types of identity, and how sometimes our archetypes do not work.

Take the Sky From Me

- Or Why Firefly is Different from Buffy, and How It’s Air Schedule Crippled It Narratively -

Aside from the obvious, Friefly demonstrates a departure from the narrative structure of Buffy. Starting from the episode Serenity, which is the canonical starting point for the series, viewers are thrown into the end of a war that serves as a backdrop and anchor into the setting that Mal and Zoe are a part of. Over the course of the episode, we are introduced to the well established crew – family – of the Serenity, rather than watching the crew form (as with the Scooby Gang in Buffy). All of this would be super overwhelming were it not for Simon, River, and Book, three passengers on the Serenity who get caught up in the crew’s antics. These three characters provide a relatable and stable (or unstable, in the case of River) anchoring point for views to get used to the banter, relationships, and conflicts common to Mal’s motley crew.

The way Firefly was aired, however, ruins this anchoring point.

Firefly’s first official episode, according to Fox, is The Train Job, which, in order of filming and production was the second episode. In this version, all viewers have in the way of anchoring is a short series of clips from the first episode narrated by Book, and even that doesn’t fully explain what the hell is happening. The bar fight does little to explain Mal all that much (though, he is a rather complex character, so not a whole lot of introductions are adequately going to explain Mal), or Zoe, or Jayne. Or Wash, for that matter. Simon and River are already established parts of this small community (though they are still outsiders) and Book is really…full of questions.

This, understandably, leaves the audience confused.

In any good work of fiction – book, television, movie, or otherwise – it is vital that you give the audience what I have been calling ‘anchors.’ These are concrete details about the setting, the main characters, or the plot that the reader can latch onto before they figure out how the universe they are entering works. In Firefly, the passengers Mal picks up are anchor characters – they are just as confused and out of their element as the audience is. When thrown into a show where the anchor characters have already been explained in an unaired pilot, the audience is left groping for a handhold and are let down. This causes them to abandon the story except for a few heroic cases (the original Browncoats).

To avoid turning this into a rant against Fox, I will end on this - Firefly is a weird story. It is a non-conventional mash up of the Sci-fi and Western genres and a mash up like that requires narrative anchors, or the story will never float. Joss seemed to have provided those anchors in Serenity, which where then not provided by the cable network. The situation surrounding this show is, of course, complicated, but some of the blame (I think) on why it failed is because the airing order and dates provided by the network ruined the narrative construction of the series.

Overly Ambitious Crafts

- Or When a Project Gets Out-of-Hand -

Projects, for me, often get out of hand. I always set out trying to think of the most unique and interesting way to achieve the goal of assigned projects (especially with projects I am passionate about), and, usually, I end up compromising towards the end (closer to the due date) because I find that I lack the skill to accomplish such ambitious projects.

Perhaps this is why writers block is such a common issue for me – it’s not that I don’t have ideas, it’s that I am afraid that I will end up settling for a half-assed product.

Well, not really half-assed. I always push myself, and try to create the best possible end product, but I find my ambition exceeds my skill. For example, for my midterm project in my Honors Colloquia, I was going to create a website for the aggregation of my thoughts on the Whedonverse. Luckily for me, when I sat down to plan out my study/work schedule, I realized I was creating more work for myself than needed. So I settled for designing a booklet from scratch. It only took me about 4 hours to do, and I am proud of it, but can you see where my reasonable-project meter might be off? I had another project due this week, have to get a head start on my homework for next week, and have real-life adult work that eats up valuable project time. I am lucky I knew exactly how to create the type of booklet I wanted, or this would have been yet another project I ended up disappointed in.

I guess I understand where this comes from – I care about the subject matter, so I try to push myself when creating something around said subject. But, what I don’t understand is the disappointment. I push myself, I try new approaches, and sometimes that results in a less than perfect product. At least I can say I tried something new, right? Unfortunately, that’s the opposite of the case – I set off to be perfect and failed. Failure stings.

I guess the point of this meandering post is that I push myself, fail, and then rail against the failure. Sometimes the best thing to do is to get up, and start working again. Improve, rather than complain.

The Tap Essay

- Or How To Avoid The Rant -

Recently, I have been developing a tap essay for one of my digital media classes. I chose to write this tap essay on “girl gamers.” Boy, was it difficult.

Every google search for the two particular women I was focusing on brought with it more anger and disgust than I was expecting. People have turned the narrative of gaming away from the issue of misogyny in games, and towards the sort of rash, hate-filled overreactions that cause critics to cry misogyny in the first place. (And that is all I have to say about that right now.)

It is incredibly difficult to write about something you are passionate about and remaining calm and rational. The first draft of this essay was more like a beat poem than anything else, and was filled with quite a bit of rage.

Rage is not going to improve the environment that I am throwing this Tap Essay into. More hatred is only going to bring hate down on my head, and add to the issue.

I legitimately do not care if you like or dislike the women I talk about in my tap essay. I do not care if you think they are devils or saintly. What matters is the recognition that something is deeply wrong with the reaction of a group of people that, in my experience and in person, is one of the more welcoming communities I have encountered. On the internet, the loudest win. I simply wanted to argue that those who where as horrified by the reactions of ‘gamers’ needed to stand up and get louder.

So, I accomplished this task by sticking to the facts and remaining as removed as I could (which wasn’t very removed). It’s an interesting and challenging task to remove yourself a few degrees from something you are passionate about. I believe my essay is better for it.

Anya

- Or The Body  -

But I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s, there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore! It’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid! And, and Xander’s crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.
Anya; The Body; Buffy the Vampire Slayer

If I were petty, (or perhaps just lazy) I would simply post this quote and leave it at that. But it is unfair to rip quotes out of their context and just expect people unversed to understand why something, contextless as this is, can be so important to a character.

I have always admired Joss for how he writes his characters. Namely, his characters are people — though, with Anya, that is a little less than true. She’s technically a demon (is this a good time to shout SPOILERS? Okay, spoilers). To top is off, she is, essentially, a replacement Cordelia – not totally Cordelia, of course, but she fills the roll of blunt, at times inappropriate, and generally the fringe member of the Scoobies.

But this speech defines her. It is a fantastic bit of dialogue that I bet my bottom dollar most writers would never think to give a character like Anya. Anya is supposed to be the 1000 year old blonde girl who is a bit on the evil side – better not humanize her in any way. That’s what makes this bit of writing unique.

Anya is terrified. She has never had to deal with the mortality of those around her, because a) she was previously immortal, and b) has never taken the chance to get to know the women she previously avenged. She doesn’t know what to do, so she asks the most morbid questions because she literally does not understand. No one is telling her why or what to do and she literally cannot comprehend the idea the Joyce is gone. And how could she – death was never real to Anya. She asks things like “Will we see the body” and “Will they cut open the body” because she is Anya, and mortal things confuse her, but it is incredibly plain to see that she has no concept of how one operates in grief.

We are meant, at first, to react like Willow does – horrified and disgusted that someone would even say such things about a women they all knew. And that’s why this speech is so important. It humanizes Anya in a way almost nothing else can and carries through the scene (the worry in hr voice when Xander punches through the drywall and ‘could have hit an electrical thingy’ is clearly part of her emotional hangover).

People are never only one thing – they are always changing, always growing in some way. To give a speech like this to a character that most TV shows would treat as a one dimensional cardboard cut out is what cements Joss’ skills (to me at least) in character development. He used emotions we all know – aching sadness and grief – and applied them to a character that would not understand the situation and (much like a child), grows up because, in the end, know one really has the answers she seeks.

About The Process

-Or Visualizing the Writing Process-

blog108

While reading through Toward A Composition Made Whole this week (it will never be finished. I will be blogging about this book until my dying day), I became enamored with the idea of visualizing my writing process. Perhaps it was because Shipka provides such an excellent example of a process map – done by a non English-y person, no less – or because it illustrated the idea that multiple things could impact your writing process, and that those things should be acknowledged, that I latched on to the idea.

So, here it is. Above is a scanned image of a hand drawn process map of my very own, tracking the vague writing process of a project I had in my Fiction class last semester. Now, to the explanations.

The project described here, a short story entitled ‘She Was,’ was one of the more difficult writing experiences I have ever put myself through. The drawing of my desk at home as the ‘production space’ was included because the idea was created there. I had been playing quite a bit of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and listening to the band Murder By Death at the time, so ghost stories and human augmentation were on the brain. I drafted a quick character study and left it up on my blog (warning: this post is an early draft and actually quite bad). Then, I forgot about it.

A month or so later, I started rearranging the character study and adding to it so that I could talk to my creative writing professor about it. He….was not impressed with my second draft. So I went back and, using his mark up, rewrote almost the entire piece in a night. Music was ever present, and tea was plentiful. The draft was finished at 4 a.m. on the due date.

The draft was read by my classmates. They critiqued it; later, I sat dow with a story that was too complicated and needed an extra 2000 words for my final portfolio, with critiques that were going to be of no help very rapidly. I put on a rap album on repeat and plowed through a fourth, and soon, a fifth draft. I rewrote that story from scratch about four different times over the course of the semester. I sat in plastic chairs and arm chairs, at desks and on the floor, and listened to rock, rap, and soundtracks over the course of 14 weeks, trying, desperately to get that story written. It makes me proud to see, visually, the conditions and places and things that helped me get through that particular project. It reminds me of how much work I put into that piece, and how much of myself is in it. It reminds me to be proud of it, even though (as I discovered today) it is riddled with typos.

Seeing a process is different than remembering it. I think it’s important to remind yourself of everything that goes into writing, and how not all of it is writing.

Silence is Golden

- Or How Stories Can Be Written Without Words -

The end of ‘Hush,’ the tenth episode of season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the most brilliant endings to a television show I have ever seen. It seems sort of obvious, but it’s fantastic.

But let’s start at the beginning.

There are a lot of ways to tell a story, but when someone mentions writing, society has taught us to think of text. Everyone recognizes that Television, Movies, Plays, and even Oral Performance involve writing because it is understood that the actors had to read a written script, or the performer is reading off of a written piece. This leaves out quite a bit, if we are only considering what is written out as dialogue, stage direction, or flavor text (in the case of multimedia presentations, including video games). It leaves out game mechanics, for example, and simple silence. This definition of writing leaves out musical cues, the absence of music, the cinematography decisions, and a myriad other things.

“But E,” you say, “those things aren’t writing.”

No, they aren’t writing in the traditional sense. In the case of ‘Hush,’ nearly the entire episode is silent. No dialogue. Yet, there was undoubtedly writing involved. It may have been in the form of direction on the page, which inevitably gave way to direction on set. Then, at the end, when all the characters have their voices back, Buffy and Riley sit down to have a conversation. There is no music, and, after the initial ‘I guess we need to talk’ conversation starter, there is no dialogue. This is brilliant, and was possibly barely written down (I wouldn’t know for sure, since I don’t have a script).

But let’s go to a more extreme example – the game Journey by That Game Company. Journey is a multiplayer experience in which the two players involved cannot speak to one another. There is no dialogue, flavor text, or reading involved in this game, which provides an interesting challenge to the players. They have to communicate through the game mechanics – drawing in the sand, or ‘chirping’ at one another.

The game itself is based on The Hero With A Thousand Faces  by Joseph Campbell, and is a silent exploration of the stages of the Hero’s Journey. At first glance, it is easy to say that That Game Company did not employ writers in the development process. Yet, at the end of the game, you have most definitely experienced a story. So where are the writers? They are the programmers, artists, character designers, sound designers, composers, engineers, and so on. Each person on a development team must have been aware of the story and feel that the game was supposed to have, and, though they did not have a writer, they wrote metaphors into their mechanics, cut-scenes, graphics, and music.

They told a story.

Writing, I think, becomes synonymous with story telling, but, like most things, we have to think about it more complexly. Writing words is on thing, but people also write code, scripts, directions, etc. and you can convey a story without any written words. Storytelling is more than just text on a page – it is action in a movie, metaphor in game mechanics, silence on the TV screen, and it’s time we recognized the writing is not the sole driver of these things. It’s the story.