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Rich Puchalsky
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Well, here's the outline of the Ember Island Players argument: the differences between the two cases outweigh the surface similarity. It comes down to an interpretation of why the show is showing that scene (i.e. the kind of thing that a focus on eye-lasers tends to displace). In Ember Island Players, the people cheering for the death of a child aren't us, the real audience -- we're not encouraged to even cheer for the death of the Firelord, an adult (as Aang's extended agonizing about whether to kill him makes clear). Nor is this audience the Avatar and friends (who stand in, in that episode, for the show creators reacting to fan interpretation of the show). The people cheering are from the Land of Fire, pleased by the patriotic ending in which the Avatar is defeated. Since it's about the most downplayed death-in-a-play ever, with the actor playing the Avatar remaining sickeningly cheery until the very end, the effect is to make the cheerers look pretty deluded. The Avatar and friends are aghast at this reminder that the story may turn out badly for them. But we the actual audience of the show know that it can't actually end badly. The major characters are not going to all be wiped out by the Firelord, not in a children's show. They're going to win. But the audience within the show think that they are watching a similarly pre-plotted story in which the Firelord has to win. The end effect is to encourage the idea that there may be multiple potential endings for this story -- something that goes along with the reaction to fans and their fan stories about the series in which different people are paired off. I haven't seen the Game of Thrones episode; I've only read the book. But, taking the book as a guide, here the author is emphasizing that there can be only one story. It's said over and over within the series: when you get involved in the Game of Thrones you can't lose or leave, you only either win or die. Joffrey is a weak king and his death scene is therefore inevitable. You may have sympathy, as the viewer did for the Stark contenders when they lost, or you may feel like a sadist got his just deserts, but how you feel isn't going to change what's happened in the story. (In the TV series, at least, both Robb Stark and Joffrey are 19 when they die, supposedly). Why does George R.R. Martin do this? It's central to the apparent purpose which I imagine animates the series, which is that he's authorially pissed off that little girls want to be princesses and little boys want to be knights, and wants to depict a "real history" in which the brutality of their lives can't be separated out from the fantasy. One of the many keys is the scene in which the Hound describes how he played with his brother's toy -- a wooden doll of a knight -- and his brother angrily pushed his face into the flames with no one there able to stop him. Joffrey's problem isn't that he's sadist -- there are plenty of successful ones in the series -- it's that he doesn't use his sadism instrumentally, to create useful fear at the right time, but instead uncontrollably, making mistakes and alienating people. The winner at the game of kings can't have vices or virtues that aren't turned towards the business of kingship. Does the TV series play up cheering for Joffrey's death in a way that the book doesn't? I don't know; haven't seen it. Btu the book's politics make the scene necessary, in pretty much the exact same way that the Red Wedding was necessary, and that's diametrically opposed from Avatar's emphasis on a multiplicity of possible outcomes. It's not fundamentally a good comparison except at the most summarized level.
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I thought twice about checking in just to argue... but why not. People read recaps for the same reason they read criticism of a book they've just read, to see if a reading of it by a critic will give them a different way of thinking about it, and point out things they've missed. Of course you know this, so are you indicating tension about what you're writing, or what the format is constraining you to write? Because the whole eye laser thing ... well, to me it seems like literary criticism that focuses on reading all works via sentence structure. "Look," you say to your surrogate students, "Some sentences are long, and some are short. The short ones indicate action! The long ones are kind of a long, discursive ramble, suitable for descriptions and areas in which the writer wants to slow things down." Yes, that's all true, but haven't they gotten it already? Eye height and gaze direction, very important, used by directors to produce intended effects. The whole Valve experience taught the participants many things (such as: none of the intended purposes for the blog would really work) but it also did show that repeated interaction with interested people could lead to some progress in what you could talk to those people about. I looked back over the last few recaps and saw the one in which you mentioned the Ember Island Players episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender as being similar to the episode in Joffrey is poisoned in that both have the audience rooting for the death of a child. And I read the completely predictable comment thread. And it's possible to have a really long argument about this, especially if you look in detail at what that Ember Island Players episode was trying to do, but it seems that you're writing in a place where that can't happen. Is that a solid constraint?
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"Palin's ambiguity here seemed significant because it undermined the very claim she tried to make. " Well, no. I think that you may be confused about the sequence of events. As far as I can tell, it goes something like this: 1. Palin goes to a rally and says something like "Take up your arms!" 2. News media blame Palin for incitement, based on the "Take up your arms!" comment. 3. Palin goes to another rally after that and says the exact quote I quoted above: {...] I'm trying to get people active in their local elections [...] And telling people that their arms are their votes is not inciting violence." In step 3 she's referring to the remark that she made in step 1. It's not that she can't help herself. Or maybe she can't, I don't know, but when she says "their arms are their votes" she's referring back to a prior statement. She can add a reference to votes that may not have been in the prior statement, in order to excuse herself. But she can't take the reference to arms out, because then it no longer refers back to what she said, and no longer excuses. So all of the ambiguity / slip / undermining just becomes the ordinary spectacle of a politician saying "When I said we should bomb them, I meant bomb them with democracy. And telling people that we're going to bomb them with democracy isn't inciting warfare." Lame excuse, yes. Suitable for readings involving grammatical ambiguity, no.
Toggle Commented Mar 29, 2010 on Grammar time! at Acephalous
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You're missing the lede here. The headline is not "The New York Times Comes Out in Favor of a Genetic Elite." The headline is "The New York Times Makes Secret Agreements Not to Embarrass Political Leaders."
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OK, here's a larger quote, with context, from the article that you linked to: “Now when I talk about it’s not a time to retreat. It’s a time to reload, what I’m talking about — now media try to get this right, OK? — I’m trying to inspire people to get involved in their local elections and these upcoming federal elections,” she told the crowd. “And telling people that their arms are their votes is not inciting violence. Don’t ever let anybody tell you to sit down and shut up, Americans!” Palin was evidently referring to some previous statement of hers that she thought the media had misinterpreted as a call to violence. What was it? Probably this, or something similar. Palin apparently said something like "take up your arms" to her supporters, and she's denying that she meant to incite violence by saying that. All right, yes, I agree that saying "take up your arms" to a crowd of angry gun nuts counts as incitement, or at least as dangerous recklessness, whether Palin says it is or not. Just as putting a picture of a politician inside a circle-and-crosshairs picture counts as incitement, whether the politician says it is or not. Palin's denial doesn't hold water. But what did Grammar Time! and the equals sign and the whole explanation of metaphors add? Cleverness? But I don't agree with it, and I think that a good number of people wouldn't agree with it who would agree with the much more simple point. Palin's statement "Telling people their arms are their votes is not inciting violence" is not necessarily true or false, and determining whether it's true or false doesn't seem to have much to do with what you're building on top of it.
Toggle Commented Mar 29, 2010 on Grammar time! at Acephalous
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With the rape cartoon, the literal rape was clearly a metaphor for what Obama was supposed to be doing to the country. I didn't see anyone deny that the cartoon depicted a rape. But, as with all political cartooning, the literal picture is supposed to symbolize political events. You know, just like the Join Or Die cartoon (first Google hit for my search) literally depicts a snake cut into parts, but metaphorically stands for the supposed need of the colonies to join together. How is Click supposed to have signaled that it was metaphorical other than by depicting Liberty being raped? I mean, yes, stupid, racist, and offensive metaphor. But still a metaphor. To answer the current part, well, I'll be back with a quote in a moment.
Toggle Commented Mar 29, 2010 on Grammar time! at Acephalous
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Mar 28, 2010