Category Archives: Advice

Alienating your Audience

Nightwish

I’ll be honest, I *think* this is has the newest singer in it, but they change them like shoes with the season, so . . ..

Okay, let’s just throw it out there. Artists are artists for a reason– they want to put their music, literature, art, whatever it may be, out there for the public to experience. (If they hide it in a box, this still implies a vague hope that someone will find it after they die. Otherwise, you’d burn that stuff.)

This often includes putting in a huge chunk of your ideals, religion, philosophy, and (most certainly) your personality. That’s just the way it is. And people’s opinions, religions, philosophies, and such all change over the course of your lifespan.

Certainly, I’m not the same person I was 18 years ago when I was doing most of my writing. So many things have happened to me that aren’t public record, so many little changes, experiences, traumas, and joys . . . you couldn’t expect someone to stay the same for that long. So I don’t expect artists to do it, either– and I don’t simply listen to artists whose views perfectly align with my own. I spend a good deal of my life explaining to people that, yes, I can listen to a musician who happens to be a flaming atheist without the least remorse. Some elements of their beliefs may come through in their music, sure, but I’m an adult, I can pick out the stuff I like and ignore the ranting bits.

And, hey, sometimes ranting is not a binary sort of thing. I was amused when Rage Against the Machine objected so strenuously to Paul Ryan naming them as one of his favorite bands. We don’t get to choose our audiences– what kind of art would that be? Some sort of self-referential masturbatory exercise, bleh. My opinions on Paul Ryan aren’t much more positive than Tom Morello’s are, I’m sure, but you have to admit that a rich musician has more in common with a rich politician than he’d probably care to admit. And, hey, Morello can always hope that his sometimes bizarre guitar solos will induce a seizure in the politician and bring about some kind of late-in-life political swing.

But anyway, wouldn’t you like to at least admit the possibility that the most folks in the country STILL don’t disagree with the people on the opposite side of such things on basic principles like babies shouldn’t be starving and nuking our world is probably a very bad idea. Maybe having people who disagree with you listen to your music or read your books or look at your pictures can be a good thing. Maybe, hey, you can open eyes through your art, who knows. Living in an echo chamber is boring AF.

The problem comes in when you suddenly do a 180 degree switch to something that’s out and out religious or political when your audience has previously not looked to you for wisdom of that sort. If you’re at all familiar with Rage Against the Machine, the fact that they stood naked on stage to protest censorship, or that they support the Zapatistas isn’t going to surprise you. If, however, Zach De La Rocha suddenly released a cd of Marian hymns and polyphony chant, you’d be more than surprised. Some people would be thrilled (hey, I would) but most of their audience would be pissed. That wasn’t what they were selling before, so what’s with the switch?

The Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish did something of a similar sort with their 8th album, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.” Oh, Nightwish has always been a little wonky on the religion side of things– Finland isn’t exactly a hotbed of Christianity at this point, our efforts to Christianize them having fallen through quite some time ago. Finland actually has the lowest population of Catholics in Europe, and even most of those are emigre Poles. But the songwriter/mastermind of the band mostly confined himself to topics of fantasy, nature, and whimsy, with the rare song like “Wish I Had an Angel” that is actually blasphemous (in a sort of “I want to write a bad-boy metal song” kind of way.)

Then, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful. . . in which, Nightwish suddenly swerved into atheistic Darwinism of the most unthinking type– the type that considers religious people to be deluded and stupid and inferior, instead of just people who happen to disagree with you about the probability of the existence of a deity. Sigh.

It’s a painful thing when a band which you’ve enjoy, whose albums you have bought, decides to write songs telling you that “You live only for the days to come, Shoveling trash of the upper caste” in “Weak Fantasy.” And in “Yours is an Empty Hope,” he follows it up with imagining the vitriol that he will receive online with musings like “Feed me to pigs in your fantasies, Your sea roars bitter elegies . . . Yours is an empty hope.”

Well, gee, I don’t know what you expected, Tuomas. Basically, since Nightwish brought on the uilleann pipes guy, the lyrics have started to sound like they were written after a few too many late-night marijuana-induced discussions of the nature of reality. You had an audience, and doubtless you will retain a great part of it and probably gather in new listeners, too. And I don’t wish them ill in this. Musically, Tuomas Holopainen is a gifted artist. I’m just surprised, myself, at the tone that Mr. Holopainen has taken. A decade ago, he stated that he wasn’t religious, but “doesn’t consider religion to be bad.” Then, a decade later, there’s a bunch of trash-talking, virulence, and . . .  all this.

No, you shouldn’t expect your audience to like every change you make. Ask Chris Cornell (who was in Audioslave with three members of Rage Against the Machine)– he made a more pop-sounding solo album with Timbaland as a producer and the critics and audience savaged him over it. They have tastefully stopped talking about it now that he’s impressed them with a new Soundgarden album and his Songbook tour, so he’s largely been forgiven for his unexpected shift into different territories. (Me, I loved that cd, so I never considered there to be anything to forgive. I don’t see eye to eye with Mr. Cornell on many political subjects, but he’s a damn fine musician and a great artist.)

But, you know, there’s being dignified when you make a change and it upsets and angers people, and then just moving on, deciding what you’re going to do next, and working on that next thing. You can take some of the advice you get, reject the rest, and do whatever your heart and mind and soul tell you is the right thing to do. Or you can get pissy about it and probably finish the job of alienating those people forever. It’s always, always, up to you.

All I can say about my own work is that I welcome thoughtful criticism. Trolling and flaming, well, those suck, so don’t comment with those and we’ll get along fine. Trolls get banned, that’s the standard rule of the road around here.

And I can guarantee that there’s going to be religious and spiritual and psychological and horror and fantasy and blood and guts and sexuality and all sorts of messy topics in my work. Just so you know. But my treatment of those topics is what makes my work, well, MINE. Unless I have one of those guitar-solo-induced seizures and suddenly change my basic personality, none of that’s going to change too much.

 

 

 


Gratuitous Gore in Game of Thrones

Caution: Extensive Spoilers Ahead! For both the Song of Ice and Fire books AND the Game of Thrones HBO series! Abandon Hope, All Ye who Enter!

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So, anyway, last night I finally caught up with Game of Thrones on my DVR. What can I say, it’s been a busy week. Anyhow, I was generally pleased by the changes that the tv series has made to the book storyline– at this point, I am almost ready to call it a completely alternate universe of Westeros and be done with comparing the two universes. Most of the main characters have been improved hugely beyond their characterization in the texts, and many of the pacing problems of the books have been avoided. One tiny little thing niggled at me, though, when the show was through . . . a tiny pinkie finger, and the torments thereof.

You see, in “A Storm Of Swords”, the book that Season 3 of the show is mostly following, we do not see or hear of the fate of Theon Greyjoy. He basically disappears from the text, only reappearing in the later books, transformed utterly by the experiences he’s had in the interim. Those experiences, at the hands of the bastard of Bolton, are essentially tortures that are almost unimaginable in cruelty and sadism. Thankfully, GRRM doesn’t subject us to every detail of them. The aftermath, and the slow reveal of all Theon’s missing appendages and broken bits, is horrifying enough.

The television series, on the other hand, has subjected us now to several scenes of graphic torture. I have to say that I entirely disapprove of this– not just because torture is sickening to watch (which it IS), but because it’s a lousy choice to portray something so graphically for such an extended time. Eventually, the audience recoils– if you’ve ever watched the movie “Casino”, I bet you can remember the point at which you sat back and said “Now, this is just sick for sickness’s sake.” There comes a point where the mind, in order to protect itself, just shuts down the empathy section and refuses to care about these characters anymore.

A lot of people had that reaction to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, so it’s not just mobster movies that can tilt the emotional pinball machine. By choosing to hit us with graphic scenes of torture, both physical, as in the first scene of having his feet broken in the screws and the later scene where his finger is flayed, and psychological, as in the mind-boggling false escape and the later game of lies, the television series risks the very real possibility that the audience will just dissociate themselves from the events. I’ve read several comments on various websites that lead me to believe that a lot of people are having that reaction already. They’ve gone from squirming in their seats in horror to just walking out of the room to get a soda or something.

In a way, it’s a sort of PTSD of TV. Not to trivialize the very real disorder, but for sufferers OF those types of disorders, especially, these scenes may be unbearable even to read about.

I think GRRM chose the right path in his books. By letting us slowly see the results of torture instead of the torture itself, we are allowed to gradually build up some feelings for the broken betrayer of the Starks. He’s done hideous things, but what was done to him was, in a way, his payment for those crimes. The Theon at the end of Book 5 is not the Theon of Book 1. He’s been shattered and is slowly piecing himself back together. It’s one of GRRM’s better pieces of characterization.

By showing us the torture, perhaps the show’s directors felt they were making sure we knew that Theon paid his dues in the dungeons of the Dreadfort. I think it’s too much of an appeal to our worst sides, too much like what people call “torture porn.” There’s a faintly lascivious air . . . which is made even more apparent in the final scene of torment of the episode “The Climb” . . . a scene that I knew was coming but was very nauseated by anyhow.

I had a feeling that the character of “Ros” on the show was due for a death– she had no more real role to play in the events to come, and her usefulness was pretty much over once Sansa and Littlefinger went on to their next destination. I was expecting her to be written out . . . maybe not expecting her to be explicitly shown to be the harlot that Littlefinger sent to an unpleasant demise at the hands of a sadist. But her death scene, in her ripped clothes and cross-bow-crucified pose, was another instance of “too much” in the graphic (and sexualized) violence scale. Mercifully, the scene was brief, but the image lingers in the mind. It’s reminiscent of the queerly obsessive attention that we still pay to the Jack the Ripper Murders. Murder, when it involves a prostitute, seems to become another sort of “service” that they’re providing for the public. By being paraded around by the media in pictures (or carefully positioned and shot in a television reenactment), the public is led to what is, essentially, another exploitation of them.

Yes, yes, it’s all for the audience, and we keep watching so it must be okay with us . . . but will we keep watching? As the thousands of books, websites, and magazine articles about the Jack the Ripper case can attest, we probably will. The scenes of Littlefinger’s whorehouse are, mercifully, now at an end as he moves off to court Lysa Arryn, but the camera’s lustful eye will soon turn to Dorne and the scantily-clad southern women, to Meereen and the scantily-clad women, to Braavos and, well, more scantily-clad women . . . and then there’s the torments ahead for our various heroes and villains. How many more torture scenes with Theon do the directors expect us to endure? The one in this episode dropped my own internal rating of the show down. Any more, and I’ll be strolling to the kitchen instead of sitting on the couch . . . and I’m pretty sure that’s not what the people at HBO want me to do.

Cut the torment, Game of Thrones. Have some mercy upon your viewers, even if there is none (story-wise) for poor Ros and Theon.


Christmas distractions

So yesterday began our annual “12 Days of Christmas Baking” tradition, wherein my older daughter and I turn a significant portion of our energy over to cookies and cleanup.

So far, we’ve taken it easy– caramel marshmallow popcorn on Wednesday and decorated powdered donuts (store bought) for today. Things step up tomorrow, though, with the addition of St. Lucia buns. That should be interesting, as I’m also going to be steaming up a huge pile of tamales. Yum.

So, writing is about the last thing on my mind. I’m still reading the Pulitzer winners and I picked up some good reference books about topics related to books I want to write. So I’m still thinking, I’m just not writing. At least, not until after Christmas.

In the meantime, I’ll be reading, watching movies, and baking. And trying to enjoy this Christmas as if it were my last. You never know. My dear friend Judy is not with us this year. It makes me wish I’d done more to make the holiday brighter for her. We only get one chance at life, though.

So live the holidays well. Peace.


5 Things Never to Say to a Writer

So, I’ve been a bit discouraged lately, and in my discouragement I reached out to some friends and got varying advice from them. So, in tribute to my friends and their advice, I offer you some advice of my own: Five Things Never to Say to a Writer, no matter how Depressed and Discouraged they may be:

1. “Well, you might take up another hobby.” Doubly bad, implying that your writing is just a hobby and that you need a new one.

2. “You just need practice.” Ouch. So I’m that bad, huh?

3. “You’re not a bad writer, but . . .” Anything followed by “But” is automatically bad. Do not use.

4. “I just got busy and put your book down and then forgot about it.” Aha. So it does suck. Nobody “forgets” to read the newest bestseller.

5. “I hear that McDonalds is hiring . . .” The kiss of death. 🙂 Pick out your best black outfit for my funeral.

Thanks, guys. I guess I’ll be looking into pottery or stamp collecting next. 😉

(Not really.)