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So... Subversion

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by matt0044, Jul 18, 2019.

  1. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    The recent discussion in regards to subversion and shocking the audience has taken an interesting turn. It’s never been anything new as gritty reboots like Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman have been dressed down for striving for what they saw as “realistic” at the expense of the story as well as the characters. Trope Talk made an excellent video all about it:

    However, that was more in regards to how being overly dark and bleak in its tone at the expense of how their source material tended to be more light-hearted or, at the very least, a balance of both. The criticisms have often been about how DC has been so keen on making Batman do what he does because he’s “cracked” and “damaged” rather than having a genuinely good heart.

    Now, with Game of Thrones dropping the ball big time as of recently, it has become a rallying point for how writers are flagrantly throwing out the rules of basic storytelling for the sake of a “flash-in-the-pan” shock for the audience. A moment that wears off and comes apart at the seams the second that one puts any basic thought into analyzing it. And far from it for me to disagree with this.

    To grant some amount of sympathy (to those who aren’t totally jerks at least), there always has been this amount of unspoken peer pressure put on writers to try innovating on storytelling. Not fall into the same old, predictable plotlines we’ve seen on repeat. Not just from the “snobbish” critics but also the audience where the regular Joe might say things like, “Eh, it wasn’t anything special…”

    For amateurs, there’s a burning need to burst onto the scene with the next big thing or get swept away in the tide of new content being pumped out almost every other day. For the more experienced, there’s a growing fear of losing your touch if you can’t challenge yourself to think outside the box. The word “predictable” sends the message of, “What makes you worth anybody’s time?”

    And that’s not even getting into certain big name franchises that are aware that sticking to the status quo or a certain formula is detrimental to their longevity. Unfortunately, many of these writers and (most especially) their producers have it in their head that subversion involved flipping the switch from “boring writing” to “spectacular storytelling” within just one second’s thought. No more, no less.

    However, any writer worth their salt will tell you that it’s NEVER that simple. Rules are meant to be broken but that only WHEN you know how to break them and if you should break them. Innovate but don’t rush into something you haven’t fully thought through first. Subvert expectations but don’t do it for the audience. Do it because you thought it over on how it’d work for your own story.

    Writing is hard. Full stop. There are no shortcuts. That said, what I said earlier still applies in how a lot of us kind of let this culture of “ugh, so predictable and boring” grow unnoticed. It’s the natural evolution of the “realism” craze of the 2010s and all we can do is, at the very least, get a conversation truly started.
    Majespectre and Monozu like this.
  2. Monozu

    Monozu Cosmopolitan Dragon

    I always hate it when somebody shoves in a plot twist for the sake of being shocking, especially when said plot twist has had no setup at all. Since so many popular films and TV shows have begun doing this, it's almost become a cliche in itself...
    WishIhadaManafi5 and FlamingRuby like this.
  3. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    It's like being hoisting by your own petard. Striving for originality so hard that your story suffers for it. There's something to be said about how certain tropes and cliches still persist. There's an obvious affinity for things like the "Chosen One" or the "Hero's Journey" that writers can't resist.

    Of course, that can lead to the opposite end of the spectrum: where tropes are utilized because... they're expected and little else is done about it. Movies have a history of producers pushing for this type of plot beat simply because of how other more successful movies pulled it off.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2019
  4. Venia Silente

    Venia Silente [](int x){return x;}

    In the defense of Subversion, it's not a bad software, it's just a rather inadequate collaboration model for today's requirements.

    ...Oh wait, wrong forum.

    Aaaaaanyway. I could in this essay I will about subversions and how badly are they handled in modern media, but it'd likely turn into a 2500 words rant, even if well justified, about Game of Thrones and some early 2010 shows.

    In my appreciation of the entire subject, capitalism and instantaneous consumerism in a world of TvTropes, Twitter and Whatsapp are largely at fault of this thing happening to big franchises like GoT. Any publicity is good publicity after all, and having a sudden twist of any kind that draws the saucy internet to your series like moths to flame means literally gaining millions in cash for the marginal cost of barely above that of a post on Twitter.

    Less renowned artists, and fan artists in general, have much less of an excuse to fall into that particular pitfall, although they are still easy prey to some of the other mechanisms that lead into these things happening. The most frequent one from what I can gather is the idea of "schools of thought" that teach that you can't copy what someone else does, you "~have~" to make your story Different and Unique™ in order for it to become survivable in a world of the internet; and another pitfall that authors fall into is disregarding, or simply not being aware of, the Two Cakes Theory that suggests that, on a macro level, stories that have the same common structure are not direct competition to each other. (After all, how many of us are suckers for all things romance and shipping?)

    It's even worse than that: them both are parallel evolutions of the "real is brown" trend in visual media emerging in the early 00s. They both evolved as different answers to the same perceived problem (a more general "death of adventure" in the late '90s which was seen in the evolution of TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and X-men) but that carve their own path by responding to different stimuli: "muh realism" is about how people grow to believe that advancement in the capabilities of media imply that in general emulation should become simulation (such as Sim City, or many sports videogames), whereas "muh subversion" is about the mistaken belief that an audience needs constant, pressing engagement in a specific work for them to not flock to the next direct competition.
  5. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie "It is my destiny."

    I don't get why content creators now feel like they have to be subversive just because some word-of-mouth audience reactions to various scenes in various blockbusters got some attention. Good subversion happens naturally because the creator had a story to tell that they thought was interesting and not just because audiences responded positively to it. And even then, sometimes the reaction is negative because some people just don't like the feeling of getting the rug pulled out from under their feet or of empty promises about such-and-such. It can either be a knee-jerk reaction or it will have merit to the complaints (hence why test audiences are a double-edged sword), but unfortunately, Hollywood producers don't weigh the critiques and instead look at the revenue to determine whether-or-not to use that same subversion again, because you can have a good subversion in a bad film (bad films will flop or succeed) and a bad subversion in a good film (good films will flop or succeed).

    Deconstruction and subversion tend to go hand-in-hand but not always ("realism" doesn't mean you're being "subversive", and I don't get why people want realism in escapist fiction), and everyone wants to be the next big "deconstructive" series that'll inspire a new generation to be just like them. Doesn't mean it'll be good, though.

    Here's an example of a good subversion with One Piece (which happened years before the "everything is subversive" craze):

    Prior to Marineford, character death wasn't really a thing outside of flashbacks. People got injured a lot because the fights are brutal, but they always found a way to bounce back. Given One Piece is a quirky shounen series, the concept of characters dying just didn't seem to be plausible. But Luffy, being the hero, always saved the day. He rescues everyone he meets who want his help. Everyone gets their happy ending thanks to Luffy.

    Then the Summit War happens when Luffy gets word his brother, Ace, was going to be executed, and he left Amazon Lily to go save him. He goes though literal hell that is Impel Down to get to him--but he's too late, Ace was already on his way to Marineford. He escapes with other prisoners and makes it to Marineford while Ace is on the scaffold about to be executed. Also at Maineford is the Moby Dick, Whitebeard's ship, there to rescue Ace. In the nick of time while Marines and pirates are in the midst of battle, Luffy manages to push his way through the crowd and frees Ace, and the two make a run for it.

    Then Akainu jumps in. Luffy watches as the Magma-Magma Fruit user punches a literal hole though his brother who took the blow to protect him.

    Ace dies in Luffy's arms. Whitebeard falls shortly afterward. Luffy goes into shock, having failed to save his brother.

    Two prominent characters were killed off in a series that up until then was lighthearted and goofy, and the hero blamed himself for it. No one saw it coming because that wasn't how the series presented itself before. That is the subversion that changed One Piece, but it was a natural, crucial progression.

    Subversions are meant to freshen up a story and surprise the viewer, it's not meant to be an expectation. We're not supposed to hype ourselves up to be subverted or we're going to be disappointed by the outcome if we decided we don't like that outcome, because I guess we were expecting something else in place of it.
    Venia Silente and wolf jani like this.
  6. matt0044

    matt0044 Well-Known Member

    Well, as you said, there's a rush to be the next big thing. Especially on the internet.

    Mind you, this talk of "natural" gets me wondering about what the difference is between a "natural narrative payoff" and a popular fan theory? One that seems plausible but isn't something the writer actually had in mind. My experience in fandom has taught me how slippery of a slope this mentality can be. Like... really based on presumptions and a whole lot of guesswork. Fans get too attached to headcanons only to be overtly harsh when it doesn't happen.
  7. TheWanderingMist

    TheWanderingMist Daikuro, Keeper Of The Gates Ambitious

    I wish people understood that "realism" and "cynicism" weren't synonymous. That's what leads to people doing "shocking, dark" plot twists from nowhere in the vain hope of being more "real". There's a reason Miyazaki films are usually so well-received, and it's because they feel real.
    matt0044 likes this.
  8. WishIhadaManafi5

    WishIhadaManafi5 Still miss you, Lorne. Staff Member

    Oh can so relate to this one. The X Files did this with the last two seasons especially, and somewhat during the original series. I could ignore it back then, but during the revival... it was just horrible. It was just shock for the sake of it, nothing more.
    Venia Silente and Monozu like this.

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