Thursday, 6 December 2018

Outsmrted!


I've had this one discussion about the arts many times over the years which never goes away. I'm not sure how common it is among other groups, but among mine they became more than sick with discussing one of my issues in particular.

I can deal with subpar content. I can abide by bad faith actors or overambitious flops. I can even stomach liars who consistently promise endlessly climbable tall mountains only to deliver a post-apocalyptic crater of pure garbage instead. Artists and entertainers are a varied lot.

But one group of content creators always manages to push the wrong buttons. This would be those artists who cannot avoid cramming in their hamfisted views of the world into every single thing they do. And not just any hamfisted view. This is about those who have found the secret of life, the universe, and everything, and are going to tell the uneducated rubes what billions of people across the world and throughout history haven't yet figured out. This is about the truly smrt people.

And, yes, that spelling is intentional. This is about a very specific group of people.

Mecha and space pirate author Brian Niemeier describes the game in a recent post:
"Here's how the trick works. The Smrt author presents himself as a sort of Gnostic oracle who's got the dirt on some formerly sacred Western tradition. He doesn't break the fourth wall and make these claims overtly. Instead he establishes his credentials by portraying the skeptics attacking the fable as cool, informed characters the reader wants to emulate. At the same time, those who cling to traditional Western beliefs are mocked as credulous--often violent--dupes. The Smrt author carefully frames the window of allowable debate in his world to exclude any compelling arguments for the defense. 
"Skilled Smrt authors will introduce some last-minute ambiguity to allow the rubes some wiggle room. This conceit is just a sugar to coat the poison pill. It's usually presented as an afterthought, and often for a laugh. The story's main impression remains: The reader has joined the cool kids who know the truth behind the fairy tales."
I'm sure you've seen plenty of stories following this very predictable formula. The recent Castlevania Netflix show does exactly this. Dishonest characterization, ahistorical examples to tar certain groups, and hack one dimensional characters, are used to warp the story in the fashion the writer wants. This is done to send a message, and it's wrapped in shiny plastic coating to distract from it.

This is inherently dishonest storytelling.

Why the dishonesty, you might ask. Is it a pathetic cry for attention? Losers in life striking back at what they're too smrt to grasp? It could be any number of things, but it's motivated by ego.

People have an inherent desire to have something over others. Riches, knowledge, virtue. This is Pride. It has ruined many otherwise solid pieces of art. The temptation to use a large platform for yourself instead of for your customers is tempting, but it remains a purely selfish act to weaponize storytelling.

Art is made to connect with the audience. It is an equal exchange between the artist and the customer to exchange product with compensation. But here's the key. No one is going to be paid to be told they are horrible and everything they believe is a lie, because nobody is that stupid. But what if you give it a candy-coating and color the pill so that a casual observer is none the wiser? In this way the smrt artist can slip it in unnoticed.

But it's not just the West that suffers from this.

See Japan and religion in the '90s. So many games and anime were made about an enlightened secular modernist main character that preaches ideas completely out of joint with the setting about their post-modern ideas of God and those following thousands of years of tradition. Stop me if you've played a JRPG in the 90s, because you know the drill.

"Good and evil are both illusions! Now let's destroy both evil ideas so us good people can rule."

This is literally the same muddled, and intellectually bankrupt, theme in so many stories that would otherwise be fantastic. It's all about attacking tradition and wonder which are intrinsic to fantasy. But for near a decade you would get the same tired points.

In some case, like Grandia 2, it makes an already pedestrian plot feel embarrassing. A wandering warrior learns that the "devil" is sympathetic and the "god" is no real god at all. In fact, this means all gods and religions are bad because of this incident. You even get many characters delivering speeches about this as if any of that actually follows. All this in the middle of a bunch of tired anime tropes and plot moves that were already played out by 1999. But it gets sillier.

In Lunar: Silver Star Story, it's not even sensical. The party spends the whole game endowed by magic and relics given by the goddess in order to fight the evil wizard. But, you see, the wizard did all this evil because man is so terrible they need a god to rule over them. Since the goddess power is what stopped the villain before the start of the current story, his point actually does make sense. Without the goddess that villain would not have been stopped.

But the wizard is proclaimed as in the wrong via a very shallow argument. The heroes' respond that they don't need gods at all anymore because they're grown so much and humans are above that old superstition and nonsense. This despite the very common knowledge that the goddess power was needed to save the world in the first place from a different evil before the game began. By the way, the party touches the goddess statue to refill their health, remove poison and ailments, and recover magic throughout the entire game. For free. All magic and artifacts were also created by her. But these heroes don't need gods, even though the quest would have been impossible to complete otherwise! The goddess in question only created a world on a moon with flying magic cities, mystical dragons, and wondrous creatures, but sure take that away to prop up a modern world completely devoid of magic where an overly congested metropolis with high suicide rates and unending media addiction is the ideal universe. The fantasy game actually argues that fantasy is bad for you.

An entire line of magical dragonmasters is wiped out because they're not needed anymore. In a fantasy world where evil can rise up at any time and observably has.

It takes a smrt kind of person to structure a theme like this, but here we are.

And I didn't even get into the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion where the plot is forgotten for full blown propaganda for moral relativism and the writer teaching the audience the secrets of the universe. That wasn't otherwise a smrt show, just a solid and entertaining one. But that ending is among the worst.

You might have noticed a theme with smrt stories. They tend to make the writer look arrogant in their attempt to teach a point, and if you dig deep enough they end up contradicting the work in the process. It's always been in fiction to some extent, but entropy is real. What was once chest congestion has morphed into a full blown flu.

Audiences don't really want it anymore. You can see that in how more customers are choosing to spend their money as the years pass. Industries are dying, long-running franchises are being sucked dry and left as husks on the side of the road, and meanwhile the audience only becomes more and more fractured.

Soon there won't be anyone left to look their way. The art gallery, concert hall, and movie theaters: all empty.

So the end result of trying to lecture the audience has ended in them waking away instead of stopping to listen to those peddling poison. You can call it an own-goal. It doesn't get more laughable than that. I guess you could say it is the ultimate smrt move.

And that kind of special smrtness deserves a special song. (Lyrics included below!)

*WARNING: High dosage of Rock inside!*

Outsmarted!

I used to be the kid who always got caught
I used to be the one who never let thought
Interact one bit with intellectual shit, diversity and wit!

You used to be the kid who waited in line
For an opportunity to waste away time
Trying to be so cool, but no suspicion, no clue
You've been...

Outsmarted!
I'm selling you for scrap!

Now I'm the kid who put the shit back in place
And I'm the one who threw it back in your face
It took a bit of intellectual shit, diversity and wit!

Now you're the kid who put the "L" back in Lame
And you're the one who always fitted the frame
Still such a fool! No suspicion, no clue
You've been...

Outsmarted!
I'm selling you for scrap!

You're outsmarted! Yeah!
That's what I said! Yeah!

Only throwing back what you've been putting in my face!

Outsmarted!
I'm selling you for scrap!



And in other news the print version of DimensionBucket Magazine should be available on amazon soon enough. I'll post when the date becomes known. Until then you can try out the digital version of it here. There's also the very exciting action adventure StoryHack magazine which has some of the most fun fiction you'll read today. I'm in issue #3!

16 comments:

  1. I remember Grandia 2. The plot was such a ball of cliches that I just couldn't take it seriously. The Pope is evil? Wow, what a "twist"!

    Never played Lunar: Silver Star Story but that honestly sounds like a parody. "Secularist fantasy" is one of the lamest things around.

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    1. The Grandia games are impressive. Each game the battle system gets better while the story becomes monumentally worse.

      Lunar painted itself into a corner which prevented any sort of franchise. Any further sequels would (rightly) prove that the theme in the original was full of it. They only did one sequel, and it kind of does end up proving the villain of the original right in several ways.

      It really is a shame so many JRPGs in the 90s leaned on this crutch, because it ended up hampering them in ways it wouldn't have otherwise.

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    2. Dragon Quest didn't jump on that bandwagon which makes me appreciate it all the more. Dragon Quest 7 poked fun at the trend of making "God" a villain like in that one crappy Star Trek movie, Dragon Quest 8 had some bad clergymen but religion on the whole is presented as good.

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    3. Dragon Quest has never gone subversive, even in the 90s when just about every JRPG series tried at one point.

      It was just such a shame when you're on this imaginative quest and all of a sudden someone brings up God or a church and you just know every plot beat you're getting from there on out.

      If you're going to deal with those subjects, you can at least do something different with them. Terranigma is a good example of feeling fresh without having to call religious people stupid. In fact, Quintet in general was good at it.

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    4. At least Xenogears was honest about wearing its gnosticism on its sleeve. Pleromas. Sophias. Sectioned off souls. Adam Kadmon. Evil Demiurg. Etc.

      Its a giant pile of gnostic claptrap, but at least its consistent with being gnostic claptrap.

      Although even there we have the 'Ethos' who exist so the sky dwelling planetary overlords can keep mankind in ignorance.

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    5. I miss Quintet. I love Dragon Quest but it's sad how that's pretty much all the Enix side of Square Enix does now, they used to publish such a wide variety of games.

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  2. You nailed Castlevania exactly on the head, and after seeing Warren Ellis as the lead writer, none of us should have been surprised.

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    1. The original games starring the Belmonts were clear black and white stories. He managed to poison that atmosphere with his hateful characterizations and sub-90s edgelord dialogue.

      Just compare the writing in the show to that in Rondo of Blood. It's a completely different series.

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  3. Burning "wise women" as witches. Check.

    "The Church" being behind everything. Check.

    Sypha recast as a member of a fictional 'rational humanist' religious order instead of a wizard. - Check

    And then wasting the better part of the second season on vampire politics with characters whose sole function is to die in an action sequence.

    I like about 10% of the Castlevania series, the rest is nonsense. Trevor being portrayed as a cynic, is particularly odd given that he's introduced to us praying before a cross before setting out on his mission back in CV3.

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    1. It's literally the very first thing we ever see Trevor doing. You have to do some heavy mangling of lore to get the portrayal in the show from that.

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    2. I've heard the explanation its not based on CV3, but is instead based on one of the later Castlevania's, Curse of Darkness or something, I believe. Which is also why Grant seems to be nowhere to be seen.

      I honestly could forgive the rampant Ellisisms, if the pacing wasn't so ponderous. We waste so much time in Season 1 on the Archbishop and we don't even get the payoff people thought he was being built up to (him assuming the role of Shaft) and Season 2 has about five episodes of vampires just looming around like extras from a LARP.

      One of my friends argued that we need to see Dracula as a "compelling character" and that his original depiction as a Hammer-horror monster would've been 'bland' in a series since he mostly waits in his castle throneroom for a Belmont to come get him.

      I brought up Magus Lee from Vampire Hunter D as how you could do a character like Dracula right, but that got dismissed.

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    3. Castlevania has always been a mix of Hammer horror and Vampire Hunter D (which is also based on Hammer and the original Dracula novel for canon) and was only tweaked in the late 90s for the usual anti-religious nonsense Japan was fixated on at the time. The original games are straight on Good Vs. Evil stories. Then they messed with the canon with their silly story retcons and now they can't even decide if a game like Circle of the Moon even IS canon anymore.

      But that aside, I don't agree with the idea that one needs to make a villain sympathetic to make him interesting or compelling. Empathy is enough. We know why Sarumon became what he did in LOTR, but that doesn't excuse what he did. Hans Gruber in Die Hard is a very compelling character and he is 100% evil. We know and understand his goals, but we don't want him to win. That is supposed to be the main difference between hero and villain. That dynamic is everything.

      We know why Dracula became Dracula, and that is enough for the audience. Spinning the story to make him actually not a villain weakens him as a threat and lessens any sort of tension a victory over him would bring.

      If it were me I would have hired Yoshiaki Kawajiri to make a straight movie adaption of Rondo of Blood ignoring anything beyond that game. Guarantee it would have been far better than the show is.

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  4. I loved the Castlevania games and how it shows the Church as a force of good against evil. When I saw the 1st episode of the Netflix series, I could smell the anti-church stench from a mile-away.

    Haven't touch the 2nd season yet, but is it more of the same as the 1st season?

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    1. I haven't bothered with the second season, but I've heard even from people who like the first that the anti-Religious content has gotten way over the line and into fell fedora territory.

      Which, I don't care who you are, is not true to the original intent of the series. Neither the original Dracula or classic Hammer were anti-religious and this has always been built off those stories. Trevor Belmont is even seen praying before the start of Castlevania 3.

      All I hope is that if the series gets revived any time soon that it completely ignores everything beyond Rondo of Blood and goes back to the classic tone. We don't need anymore subversive horror.

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    2. I hope Konami doesn't try to revive the series with Ellisvania as the new canon.

      On that note, if vampirism is an evil parody of resurrection then Ellisvania is pretty much a vampire.

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    3. I'm going to hope Smash Bros. will be what does it. The way Simon and the Castlevania material looks in this game should be the series tone going forward.

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