I’ve been composing this blog mentally since listening to a discussion of the critical reaction to The Killing on the “Firewall & Iceberg” podcast this morning, and it’s gone through a variety of thesis statements and witty titles. I was going to channel my inner Neil Gaiman and call it “Veena Sud Is Not Your Bitch,” until I realized that I have no inner Neil Gaiman and didn’t want to make a fool of myself by presuming so, even facetiously. Then I was going to go on a little Internet Rant about all those people going on Internet Rants about the ending of a show they already didn’t like, but didn’t like even more come Monday morning, but the irony/hypocrisy seized my fingers and I was unable to type. Then it was time for lunch, which was brought to me by a playdate’s parent for free. I didn’t even have to change out of my bathing suit.*
**I always thought it was weird that a fast food restaurant could get right old school egg rolls of the kind you can’t even get at Chinese restaurants anymore, until I learned that they make them with MSG. I remember well the year MSG disappeared from all the Chinese restaurants for “health reasons” and “popular demand,” because it was the year egg drop soup became watery and I had to move on to hot and sour.
You can read in a variety of places all about how the show runner of The Killing broke an implicit contract with viewers and insulted them with the ending of the first season and wasted three months of Sundays of people’s time and all kinds of invective ranging from carefully analytic to frothy tirades. All kinds. Critics are mad, fans are mad, and I don’t really understand the rage, but I do understand that there’s rage and there’s Internet Rage, and Internet Rage is a group process that doesn’t necessarily reflect actual emotions on the other side of the keyboard. If I can go by my own habits and the habits of people I post with on boards that discuss TV and other topics. For example, a particularly upsetting episode of, say, The Office Season 3, could have had people seething and hollering in the episode thread, but being funny and charming one minute later in the job thread or the chit chat thread.
Now I have to take a break to put a crumb coat on a cake I’m baking for Husband’s 60-year-old coworker who had a JoP wedding over the weekend and who, if I really had to guess, probably doesn’t need anything as a present. My Aceling of Cakes was excited about making a tiered cake for a while, and claimed first rights to cut off the dome, but now he’s crapping out on the crumb coat. Dude, no one wants to frost the crumb coat. It is admittedly the suckiest of the coats, but it’s the most necessary, especially on a pretend wedding cake with frosting tinted very slightly off-white because I have only real vanilla extract in the house instead that artificial colorless vanilla stuff.
So I’m not going to complain that people take TV too personally or lament the sense of entitlement that pervades modern culture or overthink the relationship between television producers, television critics, and television viewers, or even share my feelings about the Show in Question. I’m not going to worry about if Internet Rage is a good use of time or anything topical or intellectual like that. I’m just writing during my breaks between frosting the cake layers, and going off on a screed of my own about how Certain People–and today, the Certain People are creators of art–need to just shut up already and stop talking about what their work is supposed to mean or do and just let people watch and read the damn things and come to their own conclusions. Talk about why you made the choices you made or how you get your ideas, but stop filling in holes in narratives and flush this idea of “canon” down the toilet. Or at least–my god!–at LEAST limit canon to what actually appears in a book or episode that is part of the original series or broadcast and not material that appeared in something like, oh, JK Rowling’s book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, or some remark made by a director in DVD commentary, or some video that appeared at Comic-Con, or some podcast by a show’s creator, or some ancillary marketing material on some studio’s website.
Lessons from Grad School
There were lots of things I learned in graduate school, including the fact that literary criticism theories cannot be contained in my brain. It’s what held me back from all that academic reputation and glory that was my birthright, and most of what had me run from UCSD to SDSU when it was time to get my next degree (which I earned, believe it or not, for the money*).
*Long, boring story that ends in California Public School Teacher Pay Scale, if you were wondering.
Of the two classes I managed to pass on literary theory and criticism, the one I took at SDSU stuck the best. (I mean, at UCSD they gave us undergrads a French professor who actually gave us handouts in French, and who lamented the fact he couldn’t teach Racine to us in French and then did it anyway. Not that I’m saying anyone was biases or anything, but the student whose final project got the award had written on Proust. The French versions. I’m just saying. ‘Course, I’m the one who thought Phaedra was pretty damn exciting in English, so what do I know.) And by “stuck the best” means I can basically stammer out an explanation of what some of the schools of thought about literary criticism are (centerless structures!) and pick one I like the most (New Historicism, if that’s still a thing. I don’t keep up with the journals. I’m out of the loop.). The Formalists weren’t anyone that I thought were particularly interesting–they believe that a work should be judged on its own artistic merit (structure, prose, imagery, theme, crap like that) without pulling in from outside the work commentary based on the author’s life, or the political atmosphere of the age, or global events, or the appearance of Haley’s Comet (or crap like that). It was a point of view I found very annoying and limiting, and maybe it was the impetuousness of youth or the filthy untenured hippies in the lit department pushing their socialist agenda at the tax payers expense or maybe I was just looking to rebel against something I don’t care about anymore, but the more I think about it now, the more sympathy I have for this point of view.
Cake break. After letting it chill in the fridge for a while–per the recommendations of Liv Hansen at the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens–it was time to put on the exterior coat of icing. I finally had the chance to use to good effect the five-inch offset spatula that I got with the other cake tools for my birthday, and it really was a delight. I don’t know if it was flexible by design or just an artifact of small, thin pieces of metal, but it was very easy to manipulate, particularly around the many edges. I did the airplane touchdown technique to smooth the tops, I lathered the icing on the sides and scraped the extra off with a light hand. I didn’t go so far as heating up the spatula in hot water and smoothing it out by vaguely melting the top layer. I figured the decoration on the cake later would distract from the imperfections. Mostly I was pleased that I got edges as sharp as I did.
Where Formalism Would Have Made Me Happy
It’s been many years now since I’ve been in any discussions about Harry Potter, but I participated in some good ones. I can’t remember which book we’d all just finished reading, but I remember speculating in an online forum about what could be in the next one, and I came up with this pretty cool theory that involved Cruickshanks the cat. I had this idea about the animal companions that I don’t even remember, but it was neat and it was backed up by evidence from the stories and it put forth some interesting possibilities that could have kept my mind spinning for the next year or so until we could check our theories against the next installment. All of a sudden someone cut the conversation short by pointing out that JK Rowling had said that Cruickshanks wasn’t a regular cat, so none of that was going to happen. That shut us right up. I mean, what can you do? The author said so and that’s that. Anything I came up with, someone pointed out that JK Rowling had already addressed the mystery. And that woman was everywhere, doing Q&As, school interviews, media blitzes, publishing extra information about the Wizard World, everything. No loose ends anywhere. The only thing in the end people talked about was how great it all was, and whether the movies did justice to the books. I mean, cool story and all, but once you’ve read it, if there are no more roads for your mind to wander because the author has blocked them off, then there’s no real excitement to go read them again.
For a while I was able to blame JK Rowling’s ubiquity for these problems, and forgot all about it, until the same problems started surfacing for Lost and to a lesser extent The Office. Great shows, both, but a good two-thirds of my enjoyment of each was racing online to discuss the episode and see what everyone else had thought. Even after my interest in one of the shows started to wane (which one? you decide!), the online community was so appealing that I kept up with the program just to keep up with the conversation. Everything was hunky dory for two seasons or so, until theories I’d come up with BASED ON WHAT I’D SEE IN THE SHOW would be shot down by someone who had heard a DVD commentary that said something that happened in a deleted scene was supposed to count, or something someone had heard on a show podcast (I’m thinking of the Damon & Carlton one for Lost, which I didn’t listen to) that was supposed to inform the audience of what was really going on EVEN IF IT NEVER APPEARED IN THE SHOW. Then there was always some actor interview about some character development that we were purportedly supposed to take seriously, or some TV Guide interview that explained an ambiguity and there was no catching up. Someone always knew something more than me, and I was supposed to accept whatever it was as part of the story because somewhere some show producer type said so.
It still pisses me off.
Were I to go into the garage and look up in my book from that literary theory class a primary source definition of Formalist, I would have a primary source definition of Formalism, but because I am watching Twin Peaks while I write this and don’t feel like leaving the couch, I’ll just refer you to Wikipedia’s version:
In literary theory, formalism refers to critical approaches that analyze, interpret, or evaluate the inherent features of a text. These features include not only grammar and syntax but also literary devices such as meter and tropes. The formalist approach reduces the importance of a text’s historical, biographical, and cultural context.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? I don’t care about things that are not in the show when I want to talk about or understand the show. And I certainly don’t appreciate being corrected by people who pay less attention to the show than to the press tour and interview circuit.
Priorities, folks. And yours are effed up with a capital E.
I’m almost certain that it was Ryan McGee (The Boob Tube Dude) on the “Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan” June 20, 2011 podcast (maybe it was Dan Fienberg on the “Firewall & Iceberg” podcast from the same week) who made some comment that he was less interested in how betrayed his TV critic peers felt by Veena Sud than he was in all the ways The Killing’s finale failed from a narrative, thematic, and character analysis. YES! I love picking apart details and identifying all the ways a show (or book) went wrong, and lambasting all the stupid inconsistencies and logical lapses and unrealistic portrayal of how the world works. It makes me feel smart! It makes me feel like I’ve shared something with another person if we’ve seen the same problems, or like I’ve learned something if we find disagreement. It’s engaging. Not engaging is getting into some kind of one-upmanship over who has read the latest interview and how what Veena Sud and AMC portrayed the show treated you unfairly.
The New Historicist in me would probably be interested in a conversation about the relationship between purveyors and consumers of media, or how promising one kind of show and delivering another can have repercussions at the network level, or the interplay between viewers and critics, or how art has become so multimedia, or the significance of Rage as Performance, or whatever. It is worth pursuing all of these outside factors while keeping the core work (the episode, or the novel) in mind, and it is a fascinating look at how technology influences art, maybe. Yay, New Historicism! But it’s not about what the show actually contains, and getting angry about how the disparity between what you thought would happen and what did happen instead of expressing how what did happen made you feel (art is supposed to trigger emotions, after all), or speculating whether the creator had enough credentials to be allowed to create. There’s a lot to be said for making a work of art the primary focus of discussion.The Formalists really did have a point.
And that’s not a sentence I type every day.
After a Facebook chat and exchange of pictures via text messages, Clara and I decided to decorate the cake with purple accents. Had she been local, she’d have given me some purple flowers for the top tier of the cake, but she isn’t local. Clara’s wedding colors were lavender and sage–and it was a lovely wedding–and I had purple tint gel, and I was very happy with the choice. We decided also that the petiteness of the cake allowed me to just put bands of colors along the bottoms of the tiers instead of capping it with one last ring at the top, and she reassured me that the polka dots are cute and not at all reminiscent of some disease. It’s a shame the cake is presented on a foil-covered cutting board instead of my cake stand, but it has to travel by car and the cake stand just isn’t stable. Clara talked up the benefits of her cake carrier, and I said I would look into one. We decided that the rest of the icing would freeze, and that it would be best to freeze it before I ate the remaining twelve ounces with a spoon. Purple is not the tastiest tint flavor, but it beats the hell out of red. Red icing is gross.
Long story short (ha! it’s long. See what I did there?), I’m not going to argue that anyone’s reaction to The Killing is inappropriate. I’m just going to ask why people are looking for so many outside reasons to hate the finale when there are plenty of reasons to hate the show right there on their screen.
God damn it but that show makes True Blood look like Faulkner. Why won’t Mad Men just come back?