Tuesday, January 30, 2007

For Those Fans of Day Break

Ack! I watched 2 of the unaired episodes at ABC.com (click on launch when you get there) and have two more to go!!!

So many questions answered and so many more made!


Monday, January 29, 2007

Shakespeare was SOOOOOOOOO right [about motivation]!

An e-mail I wrote to the fiancee today:

This is one of those moments where you go, "Yeah, I know. . .."

But this is kinda big for me.

I just never really realized the extent that people will go to get attention. . .It's mind blowing to me.

Maybe because I kinda do the same thing, just by being busy all the time and apparently not having time for people.

It just blows my mind that I didn't understand Iago. . .even though he made a great villain, if somewhat transparent to the audience.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Another Confession: Acting too Generic

Since I can't seem to manage my time well enough to actually work on my writing, today's entry will center on my acting like an ass last night. To some degree it touches upon writing, or characters in writing, as Denis McGrath has addressed it in The Eyeballs of Men. I don't really know how much I can add to it here, but maybe something will come out of it.

Small lead up: after my day of work on Friday, when my immediate supervisor had the day off, I metaphorically slapped myself a couple times because I slacked off big time. I really should have tried to learn more and take on more responsibilities, especially if I want to get a raise after my 6-month review.

Thinking about my slacking there also brought up my feeling deficient about not really acting very outgoing in the office. At least, not like my dad, who got into some actually itneresting conversations with people while selling and maintaining insurance policies. Who would have thought that a trip to your insurance agent could provide for an interesting experience? And why couldn't I do the same thing? Then after seeing him do it all the time, I see new my employers doing something similar, instead they go out to meet people.

Friday night, the fiancee and I went out to Naperville (which inspired me to come up with: "Where Chicagoans go to die.') to see Dawn play. I didn't care too much about going out into public or really getting too social, except that I knew I should do it. I should do it to feel more comfortable in social situations and get that gift of gab.

Back when I worked at Blue Green, I had to gab. I had to get into conversations with people. Other people did better than me, but I had gotten to a good point of talking with people. Sure, they all had the goal of getting them make an appointment for a tour. Nonetheless, that position got me to push myself.

Then, at Fannie Mae, I got into some pretty natural, organic conversations with some co-workers. I had a good time there until they dropped me all the sudden. And now I'm working at an insurance agency, again, not really knowing how to have conversations again.

And last night (Saturday), I feel like I had a revelatory moment, one of those times that it feels like life hits you between the eyes. I won't go into too many details, but I pretty much tried to enter into conversations with a mostly female crowd in a male fashion. To summarize for people not familiar with the differences, men regularly rag on each other and focus more on action-oriented experiences while, supposedly, women actually have conversations and talk about feelings.

Before I go on, for the people who read this blog and were at the karaoke bar, please, let's not talk about specifics on this here blog. As for even talking about specifics, I will gladly take the blame for dumbness. I feel like I acted like something of a dumb ass that night.

I think I've been entering into conversations in a semi-male fashion lately, too. Not so much in regards to ragging on people, but in the way that I approach a topic head on, even as I argue against the way I approach the issue. I've approached conversations more from an "ethics of justice" approach rather than an "ethics of care" approach. There's a place for "ethics of justice" as much as we need to make room for an "ethics of care" approach. Nonetheless, I don't like taking a solely "ethics of justice" approach.

My problem with the "ethics of justice" approach originates in the fact that it relies on people's rights. Yes, rights have provided civilization with a good stepping stone for treating people in better ways than in the past.

From where do rights originate, however? I won't get too deep into the matter. I'll just say that a political right comes down to a person demanding that they get treated in a certain way. And from a political philosophy reference, those rights come from individualism, possessive individualism or the economic rational man.

In other words, Western political philosophy has essentially established certain negative rights because without people agreeing to them, we would supposedly have anarchy. But, in the long run, until very recently, only white men got those rights.

White men essentially got those rights and freedoms of individualism because everyone else provided them with a supportive foundation for economic and rational freedom. Without that supportive foundation (in other words, if men had an equal share of domestic or reproductive responsibilities), they wouldn't necessarily have come up with all their innovations, or at the very least, individualism wouldn't have the form it has now.

Political philosophy would probably have more emphasis on the community and a person's embeddedness in that community. But by trying to rag on people Saturday night, trying to have them give me their rapt attention and provide me with a degree of support (at the fiancee's birthday party, at that!), I found myself supporting the dominator, male individualism at the center of my culture. Instead of trying to have a sincere conversation between people, I tried to create my own personal supportive foundation.

I doubt my co-diners have had the same reaction as me. Nonetheless, after coming home, I found myself somewhat distraught and angered by the whole experience. I, admittedly, had felt self-righteously wronged. After starting to read a book called Conversationally Speaking: Tested New Ways to Increase Your Personal and Social Effectiveness by Alan Garner, I began to see the error of my conversational strategies of late and the opportunities they've made me miss.

The Blue Green position had taught me some useful skills for having conversations, especially active listening, which includes focusing more on what you want to say than actually listening. I came to see that approach as useful for the event marketing situation, though, and eventually had just started approaching each encounter formulaicilly. Find people with just the slightest interest in the product (walk away from the ones I could sense didn't have an immediate interest) then build up the excitement for the product and me. Until that last crazy woman, this approach worked pretty well and got results I wanted.

Getting dropped by Fannie Mae didn't necessarily help. Thinking back to it, the actual dropping didn't get to me that much. The temp jobs I got afterward did. A couple companies asked me back a couple times, one to do receptionist work with very minimum activity or any real intereaction and the other, to take notes and transcribe market research interviews. Social interaction reduced to a minimum. I think my social skills got a little rusty, and my self esteem took something of a beating without getting responses to my job querying.

In the end, I need to actively work on my conversational skills. Conversing like a guy doesn't help me at work nor do I necessarily want to act like a generic guy. Sure, I could somewhat miss out on something of a full experience. Looking back into my history, though, I can see myself experiencing life more fully when not conversing like a guy. Sure, I wanted attention just as much and didn't get it when I REALLY wanted it, but when things worked, THEY REALLY WORKED.

This whole experience and some research I'll do into it has provided me some interesting data to use for writing. I can apply it quite a bit to the main character of that short story I want finish relatively soon. In addition, though, this whole experience has provided me with an interesting direction to think about my personally perceived dysfunctions. Possibly, I don't have some crazy deep psychological emotional abandonment issue, as I had thought at times. Maybe I just never really had good conversation skills taught to me in the past, which then led to not so positive encounters with people. Just the possibility of this having occurred gives me tons of hope, not only of having good conversations in the future but also for reconciling negatively perceived past relationships.

If that doesn't provide for plenty of story fodder, I don't know what will. . ..

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The More Thinking About Money, The Less Helpful We Become

Once again, my night will get taken up mostly by catching up on some TiVo while filing about a year's worth of financial paperwork. At the end of the night I plan on editing the current short story for 10 minutes or so.

Someday, I will write a little rant about some problems I've run into with the short story. I think the title of that entry will be something like 'The Devil in the Details.'

For the lack of coming up with anything substantial, myself, tonight, I submit to my audience Does Money Make You Mean?

And who said that I wouldn't encounter real stimulating stuff while working at an insurance agency?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Something that Would Kick the World's Ass

Imagine if all the people that write fanfiction wrote TV or movie specs. And, if possible, wrote some kind of spec for a franchise series of novels. If that happened, the world would rock so much more, and I bet some great talent would break out.

Seriously, as some who always wanted to become a professional writer, I just couldn't understand fanfiction and all the skiffy activities. With age, though, I can see that these activities can help develop some interesting and possible talents. Now if they developed and shared these skills, I can see potential for interesting change and innovation. Everyone has their own view on the world.

And I say bullcrap to people that think it would lose its fun if it became a job. If you love it that much, you will bathe in the amount of time you have to do something you love.

But alas, there's plenty of people out there who, not knowing enough about the world or themselves, think that equating work with anything means boring. . .or that hobbies don't come with frustration and tediousness. Come on, realize who you are, stop letting those kinds of cliches get you down! Or if you don't have an inkling, try looking harder!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Radical Muslims Hate Atheists, Secularists and Pagans, not Christians

at least, not real Christians.

Not a clash of religions

This article strikes me as one of the best analyses of the situation. Nothing like the unending, clawing spread of market capitalism to piss off people. . .especially when done without the consideration of the people it affects.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Weakened Societal Utopias and the Psychological Utopia of Action Heroes

With the arrival of a real winter, the Chicago free rag market apparently has taken upon the responsibility of making dark social criticism. A reviewer from the Chicago Reader reviewed a collective art exhibit, theatrical act and music performance last week. Reading the review, I couldn't stop myself from feeling amused and frustrated about the reviewer's disappointment in the lack of an original utopian presentation.

I would have linked to the article, but we would each have to pay $1.75 to read it. For the purposes of The Lextopia, though, I don't think it needs to get linked.

On another pessimistic angle, the Chicago RedEye observes that movies have taken to portraying a lot of tough guys (takes a few minutes to load & the article of note is on page 40 and 41) rather than other characters. Some interesting speculations on the matter:

Paul Dergarabedian, President of box office monitor Media by Numbers, LLC --

a lot ... to do with the way movies present these characters, who have very dubious moral and ethical compasses. The cinema can manipulate audiences to where they're cheering for people they wouldn't want in their homes.

Article writer --

Why are moviegoers responding to these questionable heroes? Perhaps young people, made cynical by the behavior of public figures they've observed, are less willing than previous generations to accept black-and-white morality, preferring the more realistic gray

Eric Roth, screenwriter of The Good Shepherd --

I think it may just be serendipitious . . . I think people were a little more willing to acept it because of the current political situation and perhaps the film [The Good Shepherd] resonates more now than it would have earlier.

Michael Barker, the co-president of Sony Pictures Classics about The Lives of Others:

Not only is there a character you never would have seen before, a Stasi agent, but he's redemptive! That's the thing. People love that. They love the power of redemption.

The "state of society" speculations feel somewhat pretentious and charged to me. I don't know how well I warm up to the people loving the redemption theme in regards to people going for complicated and morally ambiguous characters. Look at the heroes of Homer, most especially Odysseus. In the Illiad, the guy thought about slaughtering a camp of enemies in their sleep, while in the Odyssey, the guy slept with tons of woman while his wife waited faithfully for him at home while also hoodwinking plenty of other people and creatures to survive. Take a look at Achilles, too: he drags the guy who killed his shield bearer behind his chariot. Plenty of them also loot the dead after having killed them. These stories of morally ambiguous characters got told millenia ago, and people loved them.

Personally, I think the enjoyment of these morally ambiguous, realistic characters and the failure to create original utopias comes more from a social and economic pessimism. In the book Utopias and Utopian Thought edited by Frank E. Manuel, I found an essay by Crane Brinton called "Utopia and Democracy." It explores and expounds the interesting idea of the liberal utopia, which put simply: through democracy, capitalism and technological advancement, we will become more efficient and not have to work so hard to have the material plenty that will enter us into full integration, which I define as Utopia.

Funny, reality seems to show that in a capitalistic society with a focus on justice (as opposed to care) ethics, this whole efficiency thing screws people over. We needed tons of people in the past to do the work of machines and computers. Sadly a long time ago and still in some "backward" parts of the world, slaves did and do that kind of work (thus making the angry machines in The Matrix and other evil machine stories somewhat sympathetic characters). Technology has also brought about medicines that can help us live longer.

But sadly, in this day and age of our capitalistic country/world, people need money for the medicines that will help them live longer, along with food, shelter, etc. etc. The world centers around money, and we don't have enough money to go around. Maybe we do, actually. Maybe we do have the resources to go around to everyone. Whether we do or don't, the capitalistic system works horribly to create a utopia when there's enough efficiency in it. Essentially, those who have the productive resources will consolidate those resources and materially require fewer other people.

At some point, that money could become worthless for material goods once it becomes consolidated under one roof along with the rights to all the resources. Where does that leave the people in this world? Some people theorize that America has reached a point where it produces enough culture and knowledge to trade elsewhere. Everyone becomes required to create knowledge and culture to possibly get money from the person who has all the money (everyone's screwed if that person doesn't care for more knowledge or culture).

But the main guy who has all the money can get overwhelmed by the culture and knowledge. I'll imagine that things have advanced so far that this world has some kind of machine that can judge the quality of knowledge and culture. Even with the machine, though, only a limited amount of the knowledge and culture can make it to the person or family with the money. I already feel overwhelmed by the huge amount of all that stuff in our world now. Some of that money will get released out into the general public, but what happens to that money? It would essentially all return to the person/family with all the material goods.

We haven't necessarily reached that point yet, but we do have a world with tons of mass poverty in it. The US has tons of poverty in it, too. Even plenty of people who once had good jobs find it difficult to get another one. China has started developing, but do we know the whole story? The same to other prosperous nations. Also in the world, we have tons of irrational killing and warmongering. . .and terrorism, yes, terrorism. I won't get incredibly deep into theories of terrorism, but I feel that I can realistically speculate that the sole purpose of terrorism isn't to destroy democracy for the sake of destroying democracy.

The world has progressed far in terms of technology, but it still has lots of work for growing in the department of compassion. On a certain cultural and primordial level, I think everyone on this planet understands this point, even the people who lash out and terrorize. The fair trade of compassion, caring and support often proves difficult. On some level, we all want that foundation of support so that we can have freedom. Aristocratic European White males have pretty much had this privelege since the dawn of time. I don't have to wonder too much to understand how and why men came up with idea of possessive individualism.

In this world of disparity, though, people of one stripe of another have grown sick of not getting that compassion, care and support. Even the Aristocratic European white male and working class white male feels rejected when those without means demand the fulfillment of their rights to compassion, care and support. After all, in this capitalistic and just world of ours, people have to work (or inherit) to get the material things they deserve. If they don't work or can't demonstrate ability (unless, of course, they're retarded or have a physical disability upon birth. . .if you hurt yourself later, you should've been smart enough to have disability or health insurance!), then they don't deserve anything.

So in a world that has the pretense of sophistication and potential for integration but can't show compassion, care and support to strangers, can we really blame the paradoxes of Jack Baeur, George W. Bush, Jack Bristow, 01 Boxer and others? Can we blame them for acting in a "might is right" type of way to protect the things they find important? Is it that hard to understand why radical Islamists may turn to terrorism to fight for compassion, care and support? Don't kids act out because they think it's the only way they can get attention?

I feel that the utopia event the Chicago Rader reviewer attended couldn't create an original utopia because our world has yet the ability to express it. Utopias only really started addressing the human desire for compassion, care and support in 19th century, according to the research that I've done. Even then, they generally focus so much on the unity of a country or community, materially supporting its members and providing people with work as a form of meaning. Even then, the 19th-century utopias mostly provided a criticism of material inequality in larger society. The acknowledgment of utopia as integration in a social psychological type of way only seems to come out in the 20th century. And even then, it comes out in ambiguously utopian ways or in dystopian expressions of want.

The attraction of morally ambiguous and complicated characters, I feel, doesn't come from some cynicism about our disappointing public figures or even as a reflection of the world that experience. Rather, I think it comes from the cynicism of our realistic, everyday, boring world. The "silent majority" hasn't lost their values and neither have the inner city drug dealers, either. The machine, the ticktock man, the bureaucracy and the order and predictability of progress and production has turned on the everyday man. Frankly, the world hasn't ever shown kindness to the everyday man. Those on top have pretty much exploited the everyday man to support their fat asses up their on the top.

Stuck up intellectual types and outcasts that feel misunderstood don't necessarily think of the everyday man as rational. If they were rational, wouldn't they vote, wouldn't they take part in public life, wouldn't they protest about the condition of things they don't like? And the risk their fragile livelihood? Why should they? It's fragile, but it's materially good, especially when they've got people depending on them. Furthermore, the people on top give them the means to support their family and also protect them, so they can support their family. And, even more to the point, God has created the natural order that allows for it all to exist in the first place. So for people for people who don't see their vote counting for much and feeling involved in the meaningful current world, I can see them rationally supporting the world system in which they live.

At the same time, many studies have concluded that salary, health benefits, bonuses or even necessarily responsibility doesn't provide an employee with real satisfaction for more than a couple weeks. They stay there, but they may not necessarily enjoy their job. Just look at how many people complain about work on a regular basis. People find more satisfaction in meaningful relationships, opportunities to grow, learn and understand and even prestige and appreciation. A small minority of people actually get these elements at work and a fair amount probably get it in US society. After all, the people of the US haven't really had any major armed conflicts with each other since the mid-19th century.

Nonetheless, a fair amount of people, on some level, feel that they don't get the full amount of compassion, care and support available to them. This scarcity of it causes them to believe that they need to horde and protect it. These morally ambiguous and complicated characters embody this fight to acquire and keep that good stuff. We find these people fascinating and even sympathetic because they will fight for it. On the other hand, the audience believes they have the most they can get and that fighting for more feels like too much of a risk. Why try to grab onto more if losing the battle means losing the small amount of compassion, care and support held now. Classic situation of why people don't try, they feel failure.

Thus, these macho, tough guy characters represent psychological utopias. Societies and institutions have proven empirically that they can't provide enough people with all the compassion, care and support they desire. Complicated and morally ambiguous characters, however, demonstrate the worthiness of protecting those good things or the value of maximizing all those good things for an individual or for a small group. We forgive them because they do the things that the everyday person won't do. The everyman goes through repetitive, boring day-to-day life to keep it, but the complicated and morally ambiguous character lives to the fullest in meaning because they fight for their meaning. It may not have a good moral quality to it, but it still has a lot more feeling than our everyday lives.

We can live their fantasy life for a couple hours here and there, or we can even live it vicariously through a leader. In the end, though, we still have to go back to our predictable, boring lives to protect what little compassion, care and support we have. Do you really wonder why we keep going back to those psychological utopias of meaning and can't imagine original utopian societies anymore?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Screw It

You won't find a thoughtful entry tonight.

I'd really like to write one, but I'm tired. Writing for ten minutes and doing a little reading before bed just strike me as more important right now.

That's the annoying thing about having a full time job and tons of non-writing stuff to do before I can get to writing. 5 or 6 months of financial statements to file. An insurance license to study for. A full time job. . .

As a friend likes me to say, ugh.

And oh, right. Twenty minutes of meditation that I started donig again. Thanks for inspiring me Young Adult Circle Worship at 2U. Just what I needed, something good, relaxing and doesn't take much effort, even if it takes time. And darnit, it relaxes me too much. . .I can't work myself into a fury doing all types of tasks at night until 1 AM. I will probably meet plenty of benefits, but darnit! It makes me feel lazy.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

An Awkward Elitist Confession and Revelation About the South

I don't think I get along easily with progessive liberals from the South. My "political" methods and bases probably come off as too passive aggressive or weak to them. On the other hand, I feel that they come off as too aggressive.

I hypothesize that these differences come from the Northern passive aggressive segregation of race, sex and politics compared to the Southern combination of real mixing without real communal integration between different groups. In the North, rationality pushes for attempted multiculturalism and "diversity" while remaining physically seperate. The South, in the meanwhile, the weight of economics and the political majority's tradition propagandizes while alienating those who don't fit into the dictates of Southern genteel society.

These differences cause an atmosphere that develops different personalities for people who believe in the same principles. The Southern liberal can become more direct while the one from the North shows a flip flopping desire to please everyone.

Then again, I could be wrong. I get annoyed with plenty of radical idealogues from the North, too. Maybe the South just makes left-of-center liberals look more radical because the South just has a stronger force of conservatism. After all, a Massachusetts Republican generally has more social liberalness than the rest of the country while maintaining the fiscal conservativeness. I heard that last bit on WBUR/NPR once.

And to end on a question, does Republican anti-liberal propaganda have more to do with dividing Northern and Southern liberals than anything else? After all, "a house turned against itself can't stand."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Welcome New Readers

Starting a week or so ago, my readership increased by quite a bit. My recent popularity probably comes from posting links to my movie reviews at Chicago-SF along with the pretty heated discussion there.

The writer of Shire in the City has taken some responsibility for the escalation in readers (hopefully not a surge in my audience). Unfortunately, after viewing the Myspace and Blogger versions of Shire in the City, I didn't see the link to my site.

Either which way, to all the new readers, welcome! I think you deserve a little introduction to The Lextopia.

The blog started unofficially as the Ontok Cafe, hosted by the college that I attended from 1996-2000. It presided on that server from 2001 until they took away my server space around 2002. For a year or so, I had stored those entries on a computer somewhere while experimenting with Blogger. My early Blogger work had a range of themes from trying to have a topic a day for discussion to trying to have a story written by multiple people to creating an H.P. Lovecraftian persona that had taken over my body and vied to bring its into this world.

At some point, I settled on The Lextopia where I focused a lot on my bachelors project, that I still need to finish, politics, diet and other personal interests. I had even transferred the original (horrible) entries from the Marlboro College blog to The Lextopia. It worked fine for awhile as just a place where I could ramble, ruminate and write spontaneously.

Then the fiancee and I moved to Chicago, where I started looking for a new job. I, then, discovered Google Adsense. In the meanwhile, I had also stumbled onto some marketing and business intelligence blogs. Maybe I could make some money by doing what I had done before, maybe focus a little more on politics and Chicago, and just copy entries onto multiple blogs. That latter element proved too time consuming and labor intensive. I scaled it back to creating blog gateways to here, where, once a week, I posted a list of links to Lextopia entries.

One of my readers had even inspired me to set up a mailing list, which I use to inform subscribers of entries written on a particular day. This particular idea sounded really great to me because it cut down on people needing an RSS feed and cut down on people needing to check for entries everyday or as frequently as they would. They can just conveniently receive an e-mail then look at the entries that sound interesting. In my opinion, this features feels like the least utilized element of this blog. If you really want to keep up with The Lextopia but want to cut down on the hassle of checking it out on your own, you really should fill out the subscription form in the right column.

Back to the history, though: The Lextopia started heating up when I decided to have more of a focus. Inspired by Denis McGrath, over at Dead Things on Sticks, I decided to write more about narrative and writing than anything else. Sure, I'll foray into politics, personal issues, etc. etc., but most of the time, you'll find me writing about narrative and writing, even if that writing comes in the form of criticizing movie narrative, book narrative or TV narrative. I also intend on mentioning some books I've read recently about writing and narrative.

My secondary motivation for The Lextopia comes from a desire to promote myself. For those who don't know me, I dream of becoming a fiction writer and/or a freelance writer. Poetry could also become an interesting addition. Right now, I have a few projects lined up: my bachelors project that involves a novel and psuedo-thesis, a short story and an attempt at a psuedo-editor position that I still consider mostly under wraps for now.

After reading my blog, an original member of my unofficial fan club has described me as "he's like a walking TV Guide. Good to know he likes LOST." (Have to mention, though: Except for a few isolated episodes, I haven't liked LOST in awhile.) I dumbly objected to that fan club back when it started, but as someone looking to build an audience, I now welcome it. I feel that I just need to legitimate my ability to write narrative by publishing someday and by also displaying enough knowledge of it here that I attract people's attention.

With the start of a new job this past Monday, the need to study to get a health and life insurance license then plan and promote a wedding, I can't say how often I'll write an entry. No new TV and missing new movies doesn't help, either. Nonetheless, I'd like to make somewhere between 2 to 3 entries a week. Hopefully I can make them more about narrative, writing or even just SF than I have done in the past.

Please keep in mind, however, that I don't dedicate too much time to drafting entries. Since this blog doesn't present too much opportunity for instant return, I can't justify putting tons of work into writing perfectly here. So, if anything, you'll get something more raw than you would get otherwise from me. Maybe it will provide for some interesting entertainment or even gossip. Who knows?

For now, though, I've got to end this entry. My many other responsibilities call, along with my belly and slumberland. Ahhhhhhh. . .slumberland.

Thank you for coming and hopefully I can entertain and enlighten you readers in the future. Also, please feel free to pipe in anytime with any questions, comments, feedback, criticism, argument, what have you. And one last favor: please keep responses to these entries on this blog as much as possible, especially if you get the link here from me. Thanks!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Criticism of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

From the director of Run Lola Run, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer left me with a similar impression. Interesting in its attempt at experiment, but it simply doesn't deliver anything satisfying. Technically and artistically, I can appreciate it. Along with most of the people in the theater, though, I didn't appreciate it as an audience member.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer chronicles the life obsession of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw). Born with an amazingly strong sense of smell and entrenched in a filthy life, his encounter and subsequent murder of an enchanting young lady (with impossibly red hair, especially in 18th-century Paris) inspires him to capture scent forever. From there, he impresses a perfume artist (Dustin Hoffman) to apprentice him, performs failed experiments to try capturing scent, learns about a perfuming process that could accomplish his goal and that he'll have to go to another city to learn the process. The movie works relatively well up to this point, except that the characterization of the perfume artist doesn't lead to his actions progressing logically.

After Jean-Baptiste leaves Paris, Perfume falls deeper and deeper into artistic self indulgence that pushes the bounds of the audience's tolerance. This young man, who has no experience or training in the wild, goes into the mountains and lives there until he reaches an epiphany. Albeit, it has an interesting premise, but it doesn't fit this movie or the character. The movie revolves around an emotionally immature character who has lived as a slave most of his life then has had an education in perfume. If the movie centered around some mystic or the character believably knew soemthing about the wilderness, I could accept this bit but. . .no, just no.

Once Jean-Baptiste reaches the place that will teach him more about perfume and capturing scent, it actually gets interesting again. The movie conveys the type of work and the type of knowledge that goes into perfuming. While Jean-Baptiste works with flower petals, a supervisor or teacher praises him and criticizes other students. The movie shows great big vats of flower petals in animal fat getting boiled. The deft presentation of the town demonstrates how much their economy depends on perfuming. Like in the beginning with Jean-Baptiste apprenticed by the perfume artist, the parts that show the town and the perfume manufacturing process, Perfume does a good job of reaching a fascinating level. The myths, the legends, the science, it all makes for interesting stuff to learn about.

The movie then moves on with the plot and, once again, further into self-indulgence and utter audience skepticism. Jean-Baptiste has discovered the process that will capture human scent forever, but it involves murder. Suddenly Jean-Baptiste becomes a murdering and burglaring mastermind that the town can't catch. With such a unique modus operandi, the delay of his capture has some level of acceptability but not enough. Nonetheless, his spree doesn't totally wreck the movie. Not even the cross country hunting down of the penultimate beauty (who, of course, has that impossibly red hair) and her father, Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman), destroys the experience. In fact, Alan Rickman (like Dustin Hoffman before him) steals the movie, becoming the highlighting presence, sucking the audience into his character and plight.

Unfortunately, after that episode, the movie falls down a cliff into a train wreck of self indulgence. It returns to the beginning of the movie, when Jean-Baptiste has to face the consequences of his actions by a truly harsh execution. He has a secret defense, however, his perfect perfume made from his horrid process. With it, he charms his guards and the village people who, a few minutes earlier, had entered the throes of ecstasy about his execution. From there, the movie literally devolves into a massive orgy and had one chance of redeeming itself but failed. After a masterfully dramatized speech, by Alan Rickman, about how he would be the last one watching Jean-Baptiste (and I can't believe that I didn't catch the allusion until just now) dying, Antoine Richis falls under the Jean-Baptiste's perfume charm.

The orgy then becomes another momentus epiphany for Jean Baptiste. Watching it, he feels guilt for the murders he has committed and realizes his mistake. If he realized that he had passion for the girls with impossibly red hair rather than obsessed over their scents and capturing the scents, he could have loved and experienced life fully. The movie montages between Jean Baptiste to the orgy to the girl with impossibly red hair, and the audience feels uncomfortable and completely unsatisfied by the conclusion. And the worst part, the movie doesn't end there. You won't get the ending here, and it doesn't matter, because the ending doesn't matter. It just becomes further self-indulgence with obvious meaning but communicates little satisfaction.

And the truly ingratiating thing, the movie actually has some potential. It has some humorous bits. The cinematography enchants the audience and sucks them into it. Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman provide stellar performances. The mythology and processes of perfume provide fascinating brain candy and an interesting education into the topic. The movie and Ben Whishaw as Jean-Baptiste Grenouille even charms the audience after he has committed his first murder.

The failure of the movie lies in the fact that it didn't provide enough characterization. The obvious failure gets demonstrated by the perfume artist. After he discovers that Jean-Baptiste just boiled the cat to death and shows disgust at the act, he then provides Jean-Baptiste with a journeyman's letter to allow entrance into the perfume city. The movie shows the perfume artist as a cantankerous old man but fails to demonstrate his greed. It took that interaction to show his greed. . .but it comes at the moment that requires the audience to have already believed in that greed. Even worse for this defining moment, Dustin Hoffman plays the part with his cute delivery.

The failed characterization of the perfume artist comes off as something paltry compared to the horrible execution of Jean-Baptiste's characterization. The audience sees the inhumane life of the character before he becomes apprenticed to the perfume artist. Also, the movie communicates Jean-Baptiste's ignorance of the world in regards to his lack of knowledge. Having the extreme low level of emotional maturity of Jean-Baptiste remains hard to believe. Maybe his strong sense of smell has something to do with it, but the audience will have a hard time understanding that element without more demonstration. It could have become more believable if before the numerous moments that matter, the audience had seen smaller demonstrations of this emotional immaturity.

Failing to characterize Jean-Baptiste feels especially disappointing because he feels like an interesting and complicated character. The execution in this movie sucks that interest level out of him. Coming from such a horrible past, having an amazing talent, possessing great ambition, meeting the early frustrations of having this talent, emotional immaturity and his failed understanding all make for amazing possibilities. Even his questionable morality, if executed well, could have created a really compelling character and exposed something about our human natures. The movie could have even made the character someone the audience would hate but also someone that would fascinate them, a hero that had reached a level of greatness but falls from grace. I can't begin to imagine concretely the potential possibilities of making this character work, but Jean-Baptiste had such possibility and the movie simply didn't do the work to reach it.

Clocking in at 2 1/2 hours and costing $10 dollars, this movie becomes time and effort wasted. With all the possibility and potential, it comes off as an even bigger failure than a B-movie, in which the makers don't even try to reach artistic heights. Like me, if you're a beginning writer who wants to understand complicated characters and the pitfalls inherent in them, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer might make for some good material. It may even provide a little inspiration, like it has done for me.

Nonetheless, in the end, it doesn't provide a good example of how to execute a complicated character in narrative. To learn from it, an aspiring writer would need to do what I did in this review, tear the movie apart and find the problems with it. As a form of entertainment, though, this movie only provides a modicum of possibility.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

More Concise Griping About LOST

Well, I've gone and found myself a whole new blog entry to write easily. And to think that I wanted to cut down on how many entries I made this week. Oh well.

This entry inspired by Doris Egan's essay on difficult characters. Good read for people into narratives.

While reading through the comments there, though, I encountered a spot on criticism of LOST. In addition to what I wrote in More Griping about LOST about mysteries getting built and revealed, the following hits things on the head:


The whole character selling issue was what really turned me off Lost in the end. If I had to watch one more episode proving that Kate may be a fugitive BUT SHE HAS A HEART OF GOLD!! or that Sawyer was a con man but OMG HEART OF GOLD AND HE LOVES KATE!! I was going to vomit. It makes shows far too predictable and unrealistic - not everyone is likeable by everyone else!


Love the character selling point about LOST! I couldn't put my finger on why I started disliking the show other than they were or weren't revealing too much or not enough. But it makes sense that they wasted practically the first quarter of season 3 selling characters (especially Locke who I didn't like from the beginning. . .and why the need to sell Mr. Eko when everyone liked him already?)


I liked Mr. Eko from the beginning since he seemed to do what so many of the fans wanted to do themselves - march onto the set without a word and start hitting people.

The selling on Locke was really annoying, especially the trouble they went to to make him some sort of mystical figure (not answering questions is not the same as mysticism), but it was Kate and Sawyer that irked me the most. They were supposed to be outlaw figures of some kind, but they weren't believable criminals since the writers spent so much time trying to make them likeable. I liked Sawyer when he was an asshat - it added variety! But I half expect that when the show returns we'll discover that he became a con man solely to raise money for orphans in the Congo.

Egan's essay has also really gotten me thinking about the short story in development. Does the character have enough complication? Maybe not necessarily, but does he have to? Could the whole setting and interaction between characters betray enough complication? At the same time, it acts as somewhat of a satire of high school social life? I know the ending feels a little rushed, maybe I can get into more complication there? But, in addition, I need a good, catchy title. Argh!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Day Job Will Let Me Write


You read that headline right. I got myself a job. A full time one at an insurance agency, to be exact, that starts Monday. They call the position an Agency Representative. I'll pretty much do a lot of what I did while working in Massachusetts, with a lot more potential for growth. Beyond that, I'm happy to make money to pay bills, so I can start writing regularly again. Yay!

After this week, though, I'll have to wait a little bit until using my nights for writing again. I can transfer the insurance license I had in Massachusetts. Since I'll start working in another line of insurance, however, I'll need to do some heavy studying for that test. Fun. . .yeah.


Since I more than likely have the rest of the week free, I'll spend most of it doing writerly stuff and a bit of reading. I pretty much have the same list of projects as before, with an addition or two:

+ Bachelors project, which involves a novel and 6 papers
  - Writing rough draft for 3rd chapter in novel
  - Doing research for rough draft of paper 6

+ A short story originally written in high school
  - Finished a major revision last night
  - Need to type up revision
  - Review again for revision
  - Come up with good title
  - Market to SF magazines
  - Maybe get a person or two to read and react

+ Need to do some preliminary research into SF personages in Chicago. I will either write articles or act as editor for a Web publication section

Lately I've invested a fair amount of time and emotional energy into the short story. More to the point, the emotional energy has focused on marketing the story. It has a bit of angst to it and after Columbine, I wonder about its appropriateness. Then again, back in high school, I wrote and published in my high school literary magazines a story or two that wouldn't work post-Columbine. One, in particular, focused on a teenage serial killer who only ended up with the serial part because people would get too close to finding out about the original murder.

I tried to get another, longer, angsty story published in a more serious magazine. This story involved kids coming together all around the United States, blowing up their schools, breaking into military installations then destroying the US with simultaneous nuclear explosions. Suffice to say, it has yet to get published, even though I worked real hard revising and revising that thing. . .and I don't intend on trying to publish it again.

That effort didn't turn out completely fruitless, though. Even though I didn't receive a writing credit or any money for the effort, I proved extremely lucky to reach an editor that provided tons of great criticism on the piece. Not only for the piece itself, either, but also tips on how to format a manuscript for editors. The editor didn't even talk down to me or necessarily say anything derisive about my thoughts or ideas, just that the story didn't feel believable. A nice lady who watched over me as I volunteered for a data entry job at a nonprofit said the same thing about all fiction.

Either which way, I haven't tried to seriously publish anything since I got that response from that editor. I did open mics with poetry, submitted some poetry to a contest or two and published a silly poem in a college literary magazine. Reworking this story and submitting it really just highlights this little history of mine and brings up a small amount of anxiety. Will this story have enough believability to it? Does it have too much angst in it, especially post-Columbine? Does it compel the reader enough? Do I try too hard to say something rather than entertain the reader?

I keep telling myself that I can't think about all that stuff too much. It will just hold me back. I need to just work on the story as best as I can until I feel like I can't make it any better. The believability and the abilities to compel and entertain touch me as valid questions. Nonetheless, I'll have to deal with those as I get closer to the point where I feel that I've done the best I could on it. And after that, I'll just have to say, "Screw you, doubts. I'll find a place for the story and get myself some writing credits."

After all, I'll probably need those writing credits when it comes to marketing the novel.