Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Same-Old, Same-Old

Mr. Plinkett has a new review out after quite a long absence ~ and although tasteless in parts, I cannot help feeling captivated by the rational, unrelenting deconstruction that he manages where films are concerned.  The two fellows he's connected with through RedLetterMedia are infantile man-boys of the lowest order (must be 9gag users), so I can't begin to fathom how that association works - but Plinkett, apart from his need to pander to the lowest denominator, is well worth the movie-length perspicacity of his reviews.

This one is about the Force Awakens - which I haven't seen and which I am likely never to see, until three kidnappers break into my house someday, tie me up and force me to watch the film.  Obviously, I know just about every plot-point of the film from beginning to end, even though I've never deliberately sought out a synopsis, because I use the internet.  The reasons for my disinterest came from the fact that I don't like Star Wars.  I find the characters stale and wooden, I find the story of the first three pictures strained and fairly hokey and - I would guess - I saw the films for the first time at a sufficient age that I just don't feel that wave of nostalgia that seems to possess other people.

Plinkett brought up a good points, however.  Some of his arguments about the film (which don't get started until he spends about 55 minutes eviscerating the Star Wars universe and its new corporate masters, Disney) momentarily made me want to change my mind.  For a fleeting five or ten minutes I was thinking, I'll finish watching this and then I'll load up the Force Awakens on Netflix and watch it.  I was that close.

Then Plinkett killed that compulsion.  He outlined a point that resonated with me, that resonates with me regarding a lot of fan-service content.  The film (apart from plot and character) repeats exposition that we already know, because it is "cool" to hear these new characters talk about the force and the dark side and all that jazz all over again, even though every person sitting in the theatre already knows every detail about it and has known it for most of their lives.

This puts me in mind of something that will seem, to some, like a strong departure, even an unfair departure.  Once upon a time, I used to go to church.  I was raised as a Lutheran boy and for many years I sat through services every Sunday morning.  Then I married a woman who had been raised Anglican and - although I had long ceased to feel any faith or belief - I was married in an Anglican ceremony and I continued to attend services because that is what she wanted.  That was a long time ago now.  I haven't attended a ceremony outside a wedding in 25 years.

The Anglican church is all about repetition, Sunday to Sunday, season to season.  The process is this: after dressing through the morning in readiness to look the part, parishioners arrive at the church and enter a foyer where dozens, perhaps a hundred, other people are milling about.  These people see each other every week and it is a quiet, pleasant opportunity to chat and feel a belonging before groups slowly depart to find their places on the pews.  There is a quiet time for reflection while people control their kids and start to find their sense of self and humility.  A ritual entrance of the choir is followed by a pastor moving up the aisle with a small collection of altar boys or an associate clergy.  The choir opens with a hymn and everyone stands up, finds the hymn in their books and begins to sing together.  They've all sung the hymn before, though there are a lot of hymns and there are generally months that pass before a hymn is repeated.  The hymn finishes and the pastor begins to speak.  There are a few announcements and then the service begins with the same words that are heard every week, with moderate changes for certain times of the year like Advent, Christmas or Easter.

It is comforting.  Even if we don't believe, experiencing the pattern, knowing that it will happen in precisely the same manner, week after week, is comforting.  The failure of religion isn't that the mode doesn't work, it is that we found - as a people - other ways to find other repetitions that can be experienced among a smaller group of people and from the comfort of our homes.  Every football commentary begins exactly the same way, with the same muttering phrases and the same attributions to expectations and predictions.  Every morning we turn on youtube or find our personal news feeds or load up the video game we were playing the night before and slowly we immerse ourselves in something familiar and comforting, with the same expectations and patterns that we know from hundreds of previous mornings.  We read to see what the candidate we don't like has just said the day before that will encourage us to believe they're going to lose.  We scan through the humour sites to get ourselves a little laugh that will make us feel ready to face the day.  We discover that a favorite reviewer who hasn't reviewed a movie in three years has finally released new content and we are reborn.

But some people, see, want to live in this place all the time.  Some of us enjoy the familiar for an hour or two in the morning and then we get on with our day, making new things, reading new things, enjoying the change.  But others just want the same-old, same-old from the moment their eyes open until they blissfully fade into unconsciousness again . . . without any real evidence that consciousness was ever achieved.

I play D&D because it is different from session to session.  The way I design my games and motivate my players, the way that their actions have consequences and the way that their participation has to adapt to the consequences that they created, causes my game to move forward in a way that a dull, familiar hack-and-slash campaign never can.  I don't want to run the same game I ran last year.  I'm here now, in this new place, in these new strategies and this new method - I can't get excited about reliving, I'm too busy living.

There are things that I do enjoy again, particularly movies.  I have movies I have watched many times and I often laugh at the same jokes or enjoy the same sequences.  I often see something new in a film or read something new in a book that I didn't notice before.  But these are my weak moments.  These are the moments when I'm tired or run-down or frustrated with a problem I can't solve.  I relate any and all repetition to weakness ~ just as I relate the people who go to church and bet on football and drink every Saturday at the bar as people who use a crutch to survive a life they are plainly not up to living.  I don't like that weakness in myself; I would rather be working, I would rather have something new to point at, that I can say I did.

So when I think a new film or a new book is just going to tell me something that I already know, I'm apt to choose a different film, a different book.  I have yet to hear anything about the Force Awakens that suggests I'm going to see anything new.  It may be pretty, it may be funny, it may have all the nice actors in it that people liked before, but frankly it doesn't look that pretty or that funny or that nice in the trailers.  It looks, I'm sorry to say, same-old, same-old.

I have better things to do.  Watching Plinkett tear it down, for instance, along with a lot of other things.  Or writing this post about it, which is creating something new.


  1. @ Alexis:

    That "slave to repetitive comfort" thing feels a lot like the reason an alcoholic enjoys his bottle or the stoner his weed. It's in direct contrast to the "need to work" thing that you describe in Acts of Faith post from last month.

  2. It's hard not to draw a distinction between types of people, JB. I don't really think there are two types, mostly just a lot of grey ~ but I do think that fulfillment is found on the end of the axis that promotes the accomplishment of something, whatever that is, whereas despair necessarily corresponds to people who drift into the comfort zone to satisfy themselves hedonistically.

    What happens if I don't accomplish something? I can still control that thing, I can redress it and try again. But what happens to the dependent when the liquor stores are closed on election day or the fantasy nostalgia they love so much is acquired and then systematically gutted by a corporation interested in money. What can those people do about that?

  3. Certainly evident in the nature of the conflict and resolution in the movie, which seemed copy pasted from the first one to come out. I called it "A New New Hope". Despite the fact that the dissolution of a vast empire should be a big deal, the major powers in the movie are pretty much reskinned stand ins for the previous ones.

    I suppose the D and D equivalent would be "Team Awesome has defeated the evil emperor! Meet the new evil king!".

    I don't consider myself a brilliant creator. I just find cliches boring.

    Your post made me realize that this is not purely the result of a lack of creative ideas, it's an intended outcome. I better understand the attachment some people have to official, canonic products. To the point where a game without Tiamat is not really D and D.

  4. Hare, You'll be pleased to know that I still have Tiamat in my world somewhere, tucked away safe and sound.

  5. Well, just because I could live without Tiamat doesn't mean I couldn't live with it. heh

    I believe a good campaign has both the known and unknown.


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