The Fertile Earth that is Post-Post-Modernism

“And then what happens?”

This is the question I’ve been hearing in my head a lot lately. When talking to other writers trying to get going with their first project, or more importantly, with my own work. It’s the question at the heart of every Stephen King novel (by his own admission during an interview) that drives him to completion. It’s driven me through every tabletop RPG I ever ran. If the characters have a lot of stuff, steal it/break it/lose it. If they are sitting around doing nothing, attack them. Basic D&D fare, but it keeps the players entertained and gives hooks to hang a plot on.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the little brushes I’ve had with Post-Modernist philosophy as I sit there watching the world burn around me in this soon to be Post-Covidiocy world with monetary collapses, market collapses, and the death of western civilization staring me right in the puss.

“And then what happens?”

As a spec fic author, this is really important when I start considering the future. How much of it will be Mad Max? How much “1984” or “Brazil”? Will it be “A Brave New World”? Anyone for “Soylant Green”? Or will it be all of it with a side of “Hunger Games”? My money’s on “A Brave New 1984 in Brazil while having Soylent Green for Tea with Mad Max”.

Photo by Artem Lysenko on Pexels.com

But it’s also got me thinking more deeply on the roots of creativity thanks to a video by “The Quartering” who talked about the new “Cruella” film being a female version of “Joker”. Mind you, I’ve seen the spoilers and went…. really? Not my cup of tea, but at least the fans seem to like it so who am I to criticize too severely (of course to laugh yourself silly, See the “Pitch Meeting” video on Youtube lampooning it… come to think of it, that’s really what got me into the question I’ve been facing lately.

BTW, all this pop culture jargonist mish-mash has been in service to my point today.

What all this spawned in my head lately was this: If Post-Modernist philosophy posits the smashing of the old symbols, semiotics and semantics in which to create new things out of the wreckage (think mashup music, crossover films, retellings, trope twisting and pop culture pile ups like “Ready Player One”… none of which am I criticizing because I LIKE much of these things) at what point are the symbols so broken down that they become the fertile soil for the creation of NEW ideas?

Yes, yes. Stop there now. I know “there’s nothing new under the sun”. This has all been done before. I, for one do not believe that history repeats itself, but lean more to the “but it does rhyme” school of thought. I’ll go so far as to say it will also riff and ad lib too. The broad tropes/genres/mediums will always exist to some degree for they speak to the human experience, but consider the evolution of how mankind reacts. How does it cycle through history? There’s always been horror stories for instance. But what was once cautionary fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm have evolved to slasher films and torture porn of today thanks to mankind’s memory and boredom for the familiar.

So, now that I’ve committed to using up my allotment of “Quotation Marks” for the month… I’ll sort of get to the point of what I’ve been pondering. When will we start seeing some new and “truly unique” creative endeavors in entertainment? When will it stop being a recycling of “Star Wars”, or a perversion of “Superman”? Is it possible to break free from the Pixar Formula? Will we finally be far enough removed from nostalgia porn to want to put something great and new that can thrive on the silver screen instead of just crappy imitations of the masters who came before? Are there any masters left or do we have to wait till we are sufficiently removed from them to finally have new ones show up on the scene again?

How many people know or have read great authors or playwrights from the Roman empire? Beyond Cicero that is, but that also belabors my point. There’s a good chance that the tens if not hundreds of thousands of artists who existed then, and may have created great works are lost to time. Destroyed by neglect or burned up in the destruction of institutions like the Great Library fire. Some may say that’s the same conundrum looked at by sci fi in dozens of books/shows/movies as they try to save mankind from becoming extinct. But that type of extinction seems to be central to existence in this world. Species go extinct. Houses rot away and are reclaimed by the land. We are just dust in the wind, and so are our ideas.

I look at my own work and wonder if it will stand the test of time? In 500 years, assuming the Rapture didn’t happen, will my books be remembered like “Pilgrim’s Progress”? Or even “The Chronicles of Narnia”? Now that would be the real achievement! The real blessing of God. At least in heaven I may know the true impact of my work. But on earth?

I mean, consider one of the greatest films of all time that was on the verge of being forgotten till someone missed the deadline to renew the copyright and it lapsed into public domain: “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Thanks to that mistake, the movie was run almost non-stop at Christmas in the US because it was cheap and nobody wanted to work in the TV station on the holiday so it was discovered by a whole new generation of viewers, and was reborn without ever having changed. An artistic resurrection.

So what fertile soil is coming from the grinding down and emulsification of the symbols of western civilization as multi-culti-green-globalism tries to roll over everything? What new fronds will grow up from the digested mass media and symbols that once were considered holy and proud? Even my own “Tales From the Dream Nebula” is supping on small pieces and inspirations from dozens if not hundreds of sources, drawing itself a new vitality from the loam of creative history. Am I making something new and fresh, or am I making a mosaic out of the pieces of entertainment symbols as I dance in the graveyard garbage dump that is the current state of pop culture?

Early in my writing endeavors that I realized there was a chance my books would be my only bid for immortality in a world where there is no immortality. With no prospects for progeny, this was where I would grasp the mane of eternity and attempt to hang on as long as I could. But in the end, just like every artist that came before me, how long would it be before I was forgotten. Would it be the day after I died and my manuscripts were thrown into the trash? Would my tombstone wear away in the rain? The internet is not forever. It must have electricity and human desire to persevere… or would (as some would believe… not me) some A.I. rise up and delete all of man’s history in a microsecond? None of us know for sure, but we who create all hope to be the exception to the rule, and are re-discovered like “Beowulf” or never forgotten like Homer’s “Odyssey”.

So we circle back to the original question, but now standing on top of a giant societal “Butte Des Mortes” and cry out to any who will listen:

“And then what happens?”

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The Breakers: Mad Max:Fury Road -Something Wicked This Way Comes

The Breakers was the original idea for this series title.  Its more of what I was thinking of but derped when trying to name it.

Just for those who didn’t guess it by the title:

spoilers

 

Originally, I was going to write about only one movie, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.  A gem of a little film and the first horror film that Disney ever really did.  Sure there are scary parts throughout many other films (The Black Cauldron or Darby O’Gill and the Little People), but this one was devoted to it.

What I was going to discuss was the dissection of story with the Hero’s Journey again, but had an epiphany about it while talking to a friend on what I was going to write.

I realized that Joseph Campbell’s “Clock” denoting the 12 main ideas of the Hero’s Journey were handed extremely differently between Mad Max: Fury Road and SWTWC.  I further realized that this is not an isolated thing, save for MMFR.

First, here’s a reminder for those who don’t remember what the clock looks like.

What is this monster realization?

Well, first off, In SWTWC (and also in T5E I looked at last time) is that if you look at the clock, and treated it as proportional time given to a story, proportionally.  On the other hand, when you watch most movies, the first six steps take up well over three quarters of the plotline, leaving sometimes only 15 minutes of a two hour story  (and in some cases even less… I’m looking at you SW:ANW).  For the last three steps (Return, New Life, Resolution) it is somewhat short shrift IMHO.

Furthermore, sometimes half the movie is spent in steps 1-3 and then spends most of the last half shoving through 4-9, while leaving 10-12 hanging.  I realized that I saw this in many films actually, but this is the first time I realized that Roger Miller did something very different from this in MM:FR.  He flipped it to a certain extent.  Now, the setup (Status Quo, Call to Adventure, Assistance and even Departure) are all crammed into the first 15 minutes, while the ending four slices of the clock take up almost 30-40 minutes on their own.  Even better that it works astoundingly well.

Mind you, Roger Miller got to cheat a little.  He was not establishing anything new.  If you were going to this film you had either seen all of or at least some of the previous movies so you knew what the status quo was.  In such an apocalyptic setting, it didn’t take much for him to get that call to adventure, nor help… though he does get it twice (The first when Nux demands him up front on his car and the second when Furiosa includes him on the escape getting him to drive the war rig)

The best part of this film is that it pays off with an all in royal flush even though a lot of the action occurs after a lovely trick of a “Lesser Reward”.  They are already looking a “New Life” and ready to start their resolution when Max shows them a greater reward and that is to reverse the “Return” and try to stealth by Immortan Joe and the rest and steal the coveted green space from him.  I am not sure if this is a pushing back of the clock to the “Crisis” point again, or an expansion of the Return.

But with them going back regardless of how you look at it, the return, is fraught with its own peril akin to the “Result” on steroids.  Immortan Joe is defeated… messily, they take the citadel and begin their new lives, with only Max deciding to be Max in the end.  Oh well.  Helloooooo new sequels!  (Which apparently are already started).

Such a bad trailer… I mean wow.  Marketing really didn’t know what to do.

 

On the other hand, SWTWC spends almost 30 minutes setting up the Status Quo alone.  Now, this is definitely NOT a poorly spent 30 minutes.  It is immersive and very much a pleasant departure to a pastoral 1930’s small Illinois town that is somehow untouched by the Great Depression.  It’s one of the first times you will see a writer “Chew the Scenery” like Ray Bradbury does, and Disney lets him get away with.  Some of my favorite in cinema.  It sets up the dichotomy between the evil that is coming and what I think so many of us wished we still lived in.  Not only that, the “Call to Adventure”, “Assistance” and even the Departure almost take a full 50 minutes or so into the 90 minute film before the approach starts.  I like to consider the Departure to be synonymous with the breaking of Miss Foley’s window.  Although we have been watching the damage done by Dark’s Pandemonium and Carnival, its been set up for the trials or at least dangers that threaten Will and Jim and Mr. Halloway.

The final conflicts of the movie occur in 2 points, and they are mostly internal in nature.  Heavy on the temptation and the ultimate failure of Mr. Halloway to stand up for the boys in the face of evil, but he is only toyed with as Mr. Dark retrieves his McGuffin (the boys) and is satisfied with having suitably cowed Mr. Halloway into cowardice.  Of course, this fails, and the final confrontation of inner demons happens at the mirror maze in what could be viewed on one angle as cheesy, but on another, it makes a great morality play on the power of love over regret and sorrow.  Even if you call that the “Result” stage which culminates in the freak storm, it has stepped over the “Reward”, which it turns out has become a bitter sweet reward of a new, changed perspective while retaining a lot of what was loved about the first 30 minutes of the film in protecting the status quo.  Yes, it has changed for poor Mr. Tetley, Miss Foley, Ed the Barman, and Mr. Crossetti forever, but that is to be expected, and thank God Disney did not insist that they be saved from their choices.

BTW, the Reward, Return, Result and New Life take place in the final 3 and lasts less than 1:50 of the movie before the credits roll.  But on the other hand, the handling of those final 110 seconds is masterfully done.  In that, the establishing shots reconnect the viewer with the original ideals, explain what had changed for the characters but yet what was still retained.  In this, Ray Bradbury, who wrote this screenplay as well, was sublime.  It takes real skill to provide a satisfying ending like that in so short a time and not leave us feeling cheated.  Of course, having good skill in using the narrator’s voice helped a ton.  The use of voice-over at the beginning and end are well handled and appropriate as it is done by an adult Will.

Now, why do I consider though this to not be bad goes back to a ‘throw away’ piece of set design.  When the Barber, Mr. Crossetti is discovered to be missing, the only indicator is his pole is still turning and a sign in the window saying “Closed due to Illness”.  Now, I find this brilliant because of something I know of history.  The nation had become numb to many horrors thanks to WW1, which is hinted at with Tom Fury walking with his army uniform and Campaign Hat on with chin strap.  But also a sign like that in Mr. Crossetti’s would have been very familiar thanks to the Swine Flu epidemic which ravaged the US in 1918.  That influenza epidemic was horrifically deadly and often killed those who seemed healthiest in society (by a process which we now understand called a Cytokine Storm), and left many a house behind the quarantine sign.  Which made the excuse perfectly legitimate and believable as well being a very subtle touch for authenticity.

Honestly I thought the movie was more into the early 1920’s, but then realized that the bar was operating openly during a time of prohibition.  Therefore, it must have been after, and I doubt it would have been before because of the cars.  Otherwise it goes into that magical Disney era of Walt’s youth that blends the most pleasant aspects of society from a child’s point of view during that era.  Walk down Walt Disney World’s Mainstreet USA and see what I mean.

What this all is teaching me is that there does not be a balance in how much time is devoted to each “hour” of the Hero Journey clock, but rather how it moves the story forward.  Not only that, sometimes the reward is not always what you think it means.