Discussion, critique and fannish obsession over the works of Joss Whedon and his band of merry geniuses

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader

(Apologies in advance, J, if any part of this sounds insulting or condescending to you. I don't intend it as such — you are a dear friend and I have naught but respect for you in every way — but I fear my command of the English language is not enough for me to avoid that tone.)

So I have a theory.

It started when I read a few movie review essays on the personal webpage of an eloquent English gentleman by the name of Andrew Rilstone.
His review of The Matrix Reloaded
His review of The Phantom Menace, or more correctly a tangent in the process of that review
His open letter to BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey regarding the proposed new Doctor Who TV series

In these essays he makes a number of points, most of which I actually agree with. But the one that really stuck in my mind and got me thinking, the one which I want to deal with in this post, is the theme that runs through all three. To wit: Sometimes stories are supposed to be short and simple, and extending their length by way of exploring their "universe" or "back story," more often than not, ruins them.

I thought about this, and thought about it, and thought about it, and eventually my thoughts led me to a conclusion about a question I'd had in my mind for quite some time: What is the difference between the way J and I consume stories?

For a long time I'd suspected a fundamental difference. J, much like I did when I was younger (and still do to a smaller extent), seems to find his "payoff" — the joy, the point of consuming the story in the first place — in details like continuity points (such as, for instance, the unexpected reappearance of a character from the past) and major world shifts (like the Doctor's regeneration). I differ from that in that I have come to find greater enjoyment in what I call Truth — the ways in which the emotional or causal aspects of a story reflect the world I live in and illuminate ideas I did not understand or was not aware of. For that very reason J is more able than me to enjoy long-running serial stories like, for instance, the Superman comics. I would feel that nothing worthwhile to me can be illuminated through a character that is seventy years old and whose point, more often than not, has been "Can he beat up this bad guy?" J, on the other hand, can reference a current villain to his last appearance, for instance as Kal-El's childhood friend on an alternate Krypton or some such, and take enjoyment or a lack thereof from that linkage.

To boil it down, I think the fundamental difference is the ability (or lack thereof) to enjoy stories that relate meaningfully to no world other than their own fictional world. The difference is how much we can care about the fictional world for its own sake, instead of as an adjunct to reality.

And I understand this now. Herein lies my theory. J, tell me if I'm wrong: Such little details are the reward. As fanboys (and I include myself in this), we devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to the appreciation and enjoyment of what are to the rest of the world mere stories. If there was nothing to be gained from them other than simple literary aspects like theme and character, we'd be sad obsessives wasting our time. But when some bit of "canon" or "continuity" comes along, something that has no real relation to the "real world" but that jazzes the world of the story intricately, we fanboys are justified. We've been vindicated. Because here, now, is this point that no one can properly understand except those who've put in the requisite time and attention. "They" might think we're obsessive, but "they" can't possibly understand this event the way we do, and that understanding (and sense of "getting" something others don't) is the most oh-so-satisfying feeling in the world, innit? And we can then discuss and argue about "canon," the new twist's effect on it or even arcane standards of inclusion in "canon" until we're blue in the face, loving every minute of it because we understand it to that extent and no one who hasn't could possibly appreciate this story the way it was meant to be appreciated. We just know that we have satisfied the intentions of the story's creator (who we invariably regard as idols or even gods in a certain secular way), and we just know that if we ever met that creator, he'd be proud of us for getting it more than the simple masses.

So that's my theory: The different sources of pleasure derived from story, and that J's greater adherence to the latter source (the "fanboy source," if you will) than me is the fundamental difference in our viewpoints as reflected in this blog. I don't think I made my points as clearly or as powerfully as I might have intended, but I think I got them out there. And now we can discuss them. In and around arguing about canon, of course. ^_~

  posted by Brian @ 08:46

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