The funny thing about storytelling is that it’s less about surprising people with what happens than how and why. When you get right down to it, spoilers aren’t really that big of a deal. I wanted to smack a friend for giving away the ending of The Sixth Sense (he mistakenly thought I’d already seen it), but I rewatched the movie some years back and discovered that it holds up pretty well. My favorite example of this would be the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder”, which has a twist that has become legendary in pop culture. I knew it before I even started watching the show, but when I finally got there, I was still horrified. At the same time, there’s nothing like a well-done surprise. I generally avoid learning the ending of anything I haven’t reached by myself yet, but I get frustrated with people who throw a fit if I tell them that yes, the good guys win in the end. (Occasionally, you’ll come across one in which the bad guys win, which is fine, since that happens in real life sometimes, but did anybody seriously think Harry Potter wasn’t going to defeat Voldemort in the final book? What, was Rowling going to depict the Dark Lord winning, then sipping tea while sitting atop a mountain of children’s corpses? Also, this is tangential, but I think Death Eaters is a stupid name for a group of evildoers. So…you eat death, huh? What’s that like? It’s supposed to sound intimidating, but it’s really just dumb.)
Of course, it’s acceptable to let the bad guy get away at the end, or to be somehow converted. I’m a sucker for characters who start out insufferable, then become more and more sympathetic as the tale progresses. Rorschach is a good example. Also the Witch from Into the Woods or Barfee from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. And while I’m at it, I think I’ll throw in Sansa from Game of Thrones. In her own way, she is every bit as clever and ballsy as her sister, but since she’s not as badass as Arya, she sometimes gets shouldered aside. It’s a pity, because I’m really rooting for her.
As a general rule, I avoid anyone who says that yeah, maybe they’re an asshole, but deep down, you know they’re right. Shouldn’t you focus on being a decent human being before you go around claiming to know what’s best for others. I guess the root of any good conflict is that a person insists that they deserve control over somebody, and that other person won’t give it to them. It reminds me of that Louis CK line, “You should never rape anyone, unless you have a reason, like you wanna fuck somebody, and they won’t let you, in which case…how else are you supposed to have an orgasm in their body if you don’t rape them?” I think a lot of rapists/murderers/thieves/abusers think that way. They say to themselves, “Okay, I know this is wrong, but [insert name here] gave me no choice, so in my case, it must be justified.” Somehow, they’ve managed to dissociate themselves from other people, to rationalize their evil by saying that they’re not like all those other people who rape, murder, pillage & plunder, etc. Everybody wants to believe that they’re the victim. The rest of us want to believe that they’re not irredeemable. Sometimes, we’re wrong. And letting go is always painful.
I’m currently reading three books at the same time (four, if you count the audiobook). I’m pretty good at keeping the various characters and plotlines separate, which is good, as some of what I read is pretty involved (Hi, George R.R. Martin!). I didn’t plan it this way; it’s just that after finishing the last one, I couldn’t decide which of the three grabbed me more, so I started on all three at roughly the same time. If I had to pick one as the “primary”, I’d probably go with Faulkner’s Light in August, which has been sitting on my shelf for two years now. Faulkner is a major influence on Cormac McCarthy, one of my all-time favorite authors, so it makes sense to dig into this one. And yes, I know I’m rambling, but here is a video that is unrelated to anything else in this post, but will restore your faith in humanity. Donate here, if you like.
I think I’ve said this before, but the crazy part about a vacation is that the first couple days are in some ways more stressful than whatever came before. I have next week off of school, and last night, I slept worse than I had in a good, long time. It was as if my brain knew that I didn’t have to get up for anything anymore (well, I had something sorta class-related today, but never mind that) and decided that I should spend hours lying on my side wondering whether I should stay where I am or say fuck it and begin my day already. I hate it when that happens, although yes, it probably does beat not getting any sleep the night before a big test or whatever. It still sucks, though. There is so much shit that I want to do over the next week and a half, and I know I won’t get around to it, but goddamn, I wish the screaming voices in my head would be a little bit more patient. There will be time to catch up on my favorite TV shows and watch the art house movies I’ve been meaning to watch later. Can I just sleep now? No? Sometimes my life feels like a U2 song.
I had something else I wanted to talk about here, except that I can’t remember it now, so I’ll say only that whether the writer of a good series wants to end on a happy or sad note, they must be able to make us doubt, even for a moment, that it might end up that way. It’s not just about the suspension of disbelief, but the recognition that this is only one story of many, and nothing is preordained.
And now, I think I’ll watch some Mad Men.