Sailing for adventure on the big blue wet thing

The thing about thinking about tropes as much as I do is that it starts to follow you around. Today, I just wanted to see a funny movie, and I ended up thinking about genre standards and suspension of disbelief.

The movie in question was Muppet Treasure Island, and of all things, I focused in on the sailing. I blame Scott Lynch, because Red Seas Under Red Skies so thoroughly deconstructed the idea of a character taking off to sea without knowing how to sail a ship. This previously came up when I read A Darker Shade of MagicLight spoilers ahead: the ending of that book included a character going off to become a pirate, with no previously indicated nautical experience. After having read Red Seas, this bothered me to the point where it’s part of the reason I haven’t yet read A Gathering of Shadows.

The part where I noticed this in Muppet Treasure Island was when Jim told Squire Trelawney to take the helm of the ship. For context, in the Muppet version Squire Trelawney is played by Fozzie Bear, he refers to the ocean as “the big blue wet thing,” and everything he does is on the advice of an imaginary friend who lives in his finger. So Trelawney’s lack of sailing experience is almost the least of the reasons this seems like a bad idea. But Jim asks him to take the helm and nothing goes wrong. And I’ve been trying to figure out why that didn’t bother me more than it did.

I think the answer comes down to genre and suspension of disbelief. Now, sci-fi and fantasy get some kinds of suspension of disbelief standard in the package. All but the hardest of hard sci-fi is allowed FTL travel, and fantasy novelists don’t have to explain how dragons exist or why they’re physically able to fly, unless the author is really into that sort of thing. But that doesn’t mean those genres get a free pass on everything; accepting the existence of aliens or magic doesn’t preclude applying other kinds of real-world logic. (This is where most of my Harry Potter posts come from.) So I can accept characters in A Darker Shade of Magic traveling between worlds, but that doesn’t stop me wondering how exactly a character with no sailing experience is going to fare at sea, because it’s outside the category of things the author set up as part of the fantasy world.

Comedy, though, is playing on a totally different field. Under Rule of Funny, almost anything goes; as long as we’re laughing, we’re not going to question the logic of it, which is how Mel Brooks, Monty Python, and Douglas Adams get away with all sorts of ridiculousness. But as a corollary, the sillier the surrounding work, the lower the standard for suspension of disbelief overall. Going back to Muppet Treasure Island, the moment where Jim tells Fozzie to steer the ship isn’t really setting up a joke in itself. But… come on, it’s a Muppet movie. It just seems silly to quibble about the realism of anything in it.

Of course, suspension of disbelief also varies from person to person, based on your particular background. I have friends who are much more concerned than I am with the realism of spaceship physics in Star Trek, where I tend to handwave it and get on with the story. But since this one particular issue of realism has popped up for me, I’m trying to think of other examples across genres of when this particular issue did or didn’t bug me. The one that springs to mind is the Redwall series; I’m sure that had a few characters who went off sailing and did it skillfully the first time, but Brian Jacques more or less made it work, and I couldn’t say how much of that was the suspension of disbelief allocated to a talking animal story and how much was Jacques (a former sailor) genuinely knowing his stuff. I might also have grouched about this back when I read Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, but it would have been the tip of the iceberg of my complaints about that book.

Maybe the sailing issue is just standing out to me because of Lynch; I should start paying attention to other instances of characters succeeding immediately at something that should really take extensive training. Which, let’s face it, fictional characters do all the time.

Edit: It occurred to me later that it’s not just Rule of Funny that gets exemptions from plausibility. Welcome To Night Vale, for example, runs on Rule of Weird: the weirder something is, the better it fits into the established setting. Everything in the show is so surreal that when something doesn’t quite make sense, it comes off as intentional weirdness rather than a plot hole. (And the authors can patch actual plot holes by invoking the town’s weirdness to invent a bizarre law or local phenomenon that explains the discrepancy.)

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Arisia!

As usual, I will be at Arisia this coming weekend. This year is particularly special to me because it’s my first time as a program participant! I will be on the following panels:

Fri 8:30 pm: Dragons!!!
Sun 10 am: Riverdale: A Great Place to Get Away With It All
Sun 1 pm: Marvel Cinematic and TV Universe, 2017 Edition
Sun 8:30 pm: Getting Started with Experimental Video Game Dev
Mon 1 pm: Songs of Drink

I will also be co-running playground games for kids and just might be entering the Doom, Gloom, and Despondency Song Contest. If anyone reading this is going, come say hi!

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Number one with a bullet (journal)

Happy New Year, if anyone out there still reads this! I’m not going to resolve to blog more this year, because frankly there are so many things I want to improve on that blogging probably doesn’t make the top ten. Instead I’m resolving to take up bullet journaling — the idea being that getting my to-do list more organized will help me improve a lot about my habits at once. Well, we’ll see! I wanted to do it because the idea seems very compatible with the way I already keep lists, and I’m excited looking at all the shiny things people do with bullet journal layouts, so maybe at least a little of the organization will stick.

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Don’t mind me, I’ll just be sitting in this pumpkin patch…

Because I’m a sap for tradition with a needy and demanding inner child, I still make a jack-o’-lantern for Halloween. Last night I finally carved out (ha) some time for it, and I cued up my DVD of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. 

I watched this cartoon every Halloween as a child. As an adult, I’ve been using it as my pumpkin-carving background noise for years. By now, it’s a comfortable routine; I wasn’t even paying much attention. And then, during the scene where Linus writes his letter to the Great Pumpkin, it hit me right between the eyes that the Great Pumpkin is a metaphor for God.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by the revelation. After all, another beloved cartoon has made a similar analogy about Santa Claus, and Linus explicitly calls out the parallelism between Santa Claus and the Great Pumpkin. But somehow I had never seen it before. The rest of the episode only strengthened the metaphor: Linus, the true believer, ridiculed by those who don’t share his belief. Preaching the good news of the Great Pumpkin to potential convert Sally. Denying himself worldly pleasures to wait patiently in the pumpkin patch for a reward from a being who never appears and may or may not even exist.

And from there, I had to wonder: did Charles Schulz do that on purpose?

It’s plausible. Schulz often made references to Christian theology in his work; this is the same man who could turn a baseball game into a meditation on the Book of Job. It seems significant that the Great Pumpkin believer is Linus, the same character who quotes the Gospel of Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas and who in the comic strip is something of a pint-sized Bible scholar. And Charlie Brown frames his and Linus’ differing beliefs (in Santa Claus and the Great Pumpkin) as “denominational differences”, which makes the metaphor nearly explicit. But if Schulz did intend the metaphor, what was he trying to say? Was he implying that God is no more real than the Great Pumpkin, or is Linus meant to be an admirable example of holding fast to faith without proof? Or, following the Peanuts theme of failure, is it that whether or not God the Great Pumpkin is out there, Linus has no more chance of seeing him than Charlie Brown has of kicking Lucy’s football? Or is none of it deliberate, and Schulz just wanted to make a silly joke about Linus confusing Halloween and Christmas?

But really, does it matter what he intended? Sure, it might be interesting to trace the history of the Great Pumpkin Peanuts strips and see if they reflected changes in Schulz’s religious beliefs over time. But even if Schulz deliberately set up a parable about faith, he doesn’t hit anyone over the head with the allegory. (I’m looking at you, C. S. Lewis.) Most viewers watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and enjoy it without reading it that way. Up until this year, that included me.

Nothing has changed about It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown since I last watched it. If anything was different, it was me. The text revealed a new meaning because I had changed in some way, or happened to have different things on my mind. It’s Death of the Author: whatever Schulz was thinking, the work is going to carry whatever meaning a particular viewer sees in it. Maybe all art, done well, is bound to carry undercurrents in it that the author never consciously set up.

 

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Ace headcanons (and a TV pitch)

Coming in late to Asexual Awareness Week, but I had to jump in on the AAW Fandom Challenge! Since I only just discovered the challenge, I’ll do a few days at once (cherry-picking the ones where I had something to say).

Sun 22nd, Day 1: Post about canon and headcanoned asexual/spectrum characters in books and comics.

Canon: Jughead, obviously! I might do a post later about Riverdale and ace erasure and trying to watch the show with my Wishful Thinking Ace Goggles on. But comics!Jughead is an ace representation treasure.

Headcanon: The Fool, from Robin Hobb’s Farseer/ Tawny Man books. He/ she (the character is canonically genderfluid) clearly has a massive thing for Fitz, but gets really offended when Fitz construes that as being necessarily sexual. I think the Fool is asexual and Fitz-romantic, which kind of sucks because they keep running headlong into Fitz’s wall of heteronormativity, allonormativity, and transphobia, none of which their universe has words for yet. The later books, where the Fool spends more time in their female identity of Amber, have some painful scenes of Fitz Tries and Fails At Allyship.

Mon 23rd, Day 2: Post about canon and headcanoned asexual/spectrum characters in shows and movies.

Canon: Sadly thin on the ground (see my earlier lament about Riverdale), but apparently I need to watch BoJack Horseman.

Headcanon: Adrian Monk. It’s been a while since I watched Monk, but I remember him being very sex-repulsed. He clearly had a loving relationship with his late wife Trudy, but there’s a scene with his therapist where he refuses to discuss their sex life that I choose to interpret as evidence that their relationship was non-sexual. I’ve just learned the term acevague (asexuality influenced by neurodivergence), which I think applies here because it’s likely his sex-repulsion is tied up with his OCD and germophobia.

Sat 28th, Day 7: Post about asexual representation in general. What does it mean to see asexual/spectrum characters in the media you consume? Why is it important to you to see asexual/spectrum characters in the media you consume? What sort of stories/plotlines would you like to see about asexual/spectrum characters? What genre do you really want to see asexual/spectrum characters in? How would you like to see asexual/spectrum people represented?

I’ve written this post already, but it bears repeating: asexual representation is how we normalize asexuality. It’s something for aces to latch on to for validation of our identity, but it’s also for the benefit of people who don’t know much about asexuality–like, say, that it exists. I also think that wider awareness and normalization of asexuality might help challenge some of our toxic cultural narratives about sex, which hurt both aces and allos. (And hoo boy, has this been a month for confronting the consequences of our culture’s fucked-up ideas about sex and consent.)

For example, compulsory sexuality. In the older post, I mentioned the asexual relationship at the heart of Pushing Daisies. Even though neither Ned nor Chuck is asexual, I love that their inability to have sex with each other isn’t really an obstacle to their relationship. In contrast, I had soooooo little patience for Richard and Kahlan’s angst over not being able to have sex in Legend of the Seeker.* Ned and Chuck can’t even hug each other! Stop whining about your lack of orgasms when you’re supposed to be saving the world! I want to see more fictional relationships that aren’t centered around sex, and having ace characters in the mix is a great way to bring that issue to the surface. I would love to see ace/ace couples in fiction, but I’d also love to see long-term ace/allo couples who have figured out something that works for them.

But hey, the aros can come join the party too! Let’s have some plots about aro characters dating and figuring out that it’s not really what they want, or dealing with the social expectation that they’re supposed to date.** Let’s have some gray-A and demisexual characters. The more I think about it, the more I think there needs to be a rom-com anthology series about every shade of the ace spectrum. Love, Asexual Style?

 

* Yes, I watched Legend of the Seeker. I also watched every episode of Heroes Reborn. I hesitate to use the term “pop culture junk food”, because I hate genre snobbery and that kind of judgment gets disproportionately aimed at SF and fantasy, but it really is a bit like eating a whole bag of potato chips when you know you should have a proper meal.

** For example, the story in Jughead where aroace Jughead goes on a date with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, thanks to a misunderstanding and Archie’s misguided attempts to play matchmaker. Sabrina tries casting a love spell that will amplify any tiny bit of attraction someone feels. On the one hand: that’s perilously close to date rape. Not cool, Sabrina! But I appreciate that in this case all that happens is that Jughead feels hungrier.

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