Friday, November 2, 2012

Open Thread: Deconstructions

It is possible that it has not escaped your notice that the first deconstruction roundup has yet to appear.  It won't be showing up this Friday, hopefully next week.  I dropped the ball on that, I drop the ball on a lot of things.  I am a chronic ball dropper

Anyway, in it's place I give you this open thread.  Not that I want to take away from the moderation discussion, working that out is vital to the future of the Slacktiverse, but I figured we should have something today and in place of the deconstruction roundup I was supposed to provide an open thread with a prompt about deconstructions made a certain amount of sense.

So here's the prompt: Deconstructions, some of us make them, a lot of us follow them, why?  What makes them so compelling.  Alternatively, if you don't find them interesting, this is a perfect opportunity to say why not (if it's the sort of thing that can be put into words.)


  1. Hmm. I think there's a few things going on.

    First there's the growth of what you could call the paranoid viewing style, which I think started really catching on somewhere in the 90s. In the paranoid viewing style, you approach a series* as if it's an unfolding mystery, hunting for clues and trying to spot subtle hints (which may or may not actually be there) of what's coming. Viewers create vast, complex conspiracy theories which (as conspiracy theories tend to do) sometimes take primacy in said viewers' minds over the actual facts of the work itself.

    There's nothing wrong with this approach (it's a lot of fun, and some shows are made for it), but it's become the default, at least among geeks. When you have people combing over an 8-minute preview of the new My Little Pony season for clues to the ongoing storyline the show *doesn't have,* it's maybe gone a little far.

    Anyway, I think deconstructions flex many of the same muscles (both for the deconstructor and the reader) that this sort of conspiracizing does, but in a more constructive way.

    There's also a sort of cultural phase shift going on too, I think. As a culture we're increasingly aware of the media we consume. One of the effects of "geek chic" (or possibly one of the causes, it's hard to tell) is the association of entertainment choices with identity--you are what you watch and read. That comes hand-in-hand (again, the causal connection is a bit fuzzy, but there seems to be a strong correlation) with a growing awareness of media not just as entertainment or information, but *as media*--that is, as vectors for the transmission of something. Deconstructions are all about identifying that something.

    Basically, I think what we're seeing is the mainstreaming of postmodernism--it's moved from hotly debated radical new idea, to last generation's hotly debated radical new idea that serves as background for this generation's critics and artists, and now through those works it's taken up residence in the collective subconscious.

    I think, in other words, that deconstructions are so popular for the same reason that you can now have a show for five-year-olds that makes an episode dedicated to critiquing (and ultimately doing away with) its own formula (My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Lesson Zero"): Active, analytical viewing is increasingly overtaking immersive viewing as the default mode in our culture.

    *This seems to be primarily a TV phenomenon, but I've noticed it happening with book and film serials too.

    1. Crud. I read the question (What makes deconstructions appealing?), and then ignored it and answered a vaguely related question I was more interested in (Why are deconstructions getting more popular now?). Guess I'm ready to be in a Presidential debate, then.

    2. Guess I'm ready to be in a Presidential debate, then.

      Too late, I already voted.

  2. So I had a more pleasant outlook but there's nothing like family to bring you down. I hope that that doesn't bleed over into what I write on this topic, but should it seem like it's all covered in a sheen of negativity, just be aware that that has nothing to do with deconstructions.

    I think part of it is that we don't do a lot of close readings very often. We do if we're looking at something like Homer in the Greek because we don't speak ancient Greek and it takes us a long time to get through a short passage and that allows us to see on a level that we normally don't in our native language.

    By taking the time to go through something damn slow, it forces us into close reading mode. It means that you're groking the work on a level you usually don't.

    Additionally many deconstructions, though not all, are of things that are bad. But while a reader may grasp that badness they probably don't take the time to look at the how and the why of the badness, which means that it can explain why you had that uneasy feeling you never pinned down.

    Moreover, looking at badness (or goodness) and taking a detailed approach rather than just dismissing it as bad (or praising it as good) and moving on teaches you about writing, about the culture we live in, about the nature of good and bad, about anything and everything really. So if you start from a genuinely awful book or set of books and are able to produce a years long project out of it that is good then it's an essentially transformative process. You've taken shit, you've made it into fertilizer, and you've grown an impressive crop.

    Left Behind is, under no stretch of the imagination, a good set of books or a good thing, Fred's deconstructions of it are good. Start with bad, end with good, it's redemptive in a way but more than that it's just plain appealing.

    And stuff.

  3. I agree with Froborr (soooo surprising...)

    I come at it from a fandom angle, too, and what you said about postmodernism definitely resonantes. IDK about the conspiracy angle, but my fandom experience is of enjoying things but reshaping them to give more of what we like. In order to do that we recognize (conciously or unconciously) themes and flaws in the source material. Or maybe the fanwork consumption/creation leads to close reading/watching? Probably both.

    For me, personally, though, I just really, really wish I had friends I could discuss books and movies with, but I don't, but I do, on the internet.

    Also what chris said about transformation. A lot the art in our cultures, and the broader culture too, is kind of toxic. But by engaging with it, we're being active and creative without having to struggle so much to change the larger cultural context. Maybe.

    I like myth

  4. Like, I wish this conversation was happening in my living room. Or at/near Anime Boston, over drinks.

  5. Deconstructions, for me, are about being able to see works in new lights and from new perspectives. Considering some pay of my work is matching tastes with works, being able to have as wide a perspective as possible helps. Also, the people who run deconstructions allow for close textual analysis outside of an academic environment, so no pressure for gears and no professors telling you that their way of interpretation is inherently superior.

  6. Hmm, continuing the trend of me pretending to know anything about the history and development of the arts: It used to be that there were two cultures operating more or less in parallel, though certainly there was some stuff passed back and forth between them: High Art, which was made by professional artists and paid for by wealthy elites, and Folk Art, which was made by anybody and everybody and paid for by its creators.

    Radio killed this model of the arts by introducing a third type, Mass Media. Mass media is also made by professionals, but sold to the masses; folk art simply couldn't compete, and came perilously close to dying out in the industrialized world. (Indeed, up until the 1970s when some of them were rediscovered in Appalachia of all places, it was believed that a number of traditional English ballads really were lost forever). Thus, for about a century, art has been the province of professional artists only.

    Except then the Internet came along, and, and DeviantArt, and OCRemix, and suddenly we have a folk culture again, called "fandom." The only difference is that fandom builds itself around copyrighted commercial IP, while folk art generally builds itself around public-domain traditional works from anonymous sources.

    But if art can be democratized, why not art criticism?

    1. I think there would be grounds for a very interesting piece about how the abuse of copyright-as-time-limited-monopoly has prevented "folk" art from expanding its domain (because nothing falls into the public domain any more), and how "fandom" has sprung up to force that process of folks-ing on works still by law under copyright. The resulting grey areas would take on an interesting color as either zones of contention or zones of compromise between a company that wants to hoard and monopolize its IP forever and a population that is relentless in the ways it wants to adapt and manipulate IP and make it more folks-y.

      We could spend time on the significance of Fifty Shades Of Grey without actually having to read the book, for example.

    2. I'll nibble round the edge a bit and say that gramophone records were a big part of it before radio was universal - but the effect was the same, in that instead of having the guy with the best voice in the village singing something, you could have the guy with the best voice in the world singing something without having to go somewhere for a concert. Of course, the range was much more limited, and you couldn't put in requests...

    3. I would be willing to contribute to such a piece, but not to write it solo. My last completed fanfic was... 17 years ago, I think?

      (Note I said "completed." I really am going to finish that Xenosaga fanfic one day. I made it 60,000 words in on my last attempt at writing it. Which was the end of chapter 4. Of 12. In volume 1 of 3. "One day" is most likely a couple decades hence.)

    4. I would include sites like Etsy and Ravelry as modern folk art too.

  7. What Froborr calls paranoid viewing, I think, came in when it became possible to make TV shows that would actually be shown in a defined order - Babylon 5 was the first example many people met of doing this wholeheartedly, and that was explicitly dropping hints right from the beginning. (Buffy slightly less so, but you still want to watch the episodes of a season in order.) Contrast that with something like classic Star Trek, which couldn't ever have a plot bigger than one episode because it was explicitly designed to be shuffled about and to let a new viewer jump in at any time.

    As for deconstructions in general... some of why I enjoy them is the fun of kicking a target that deserves to be kicked (which may not be terribly flattering to me but I think it's a pleasure that shouldn't be underestimated). That's the bait; the interesting stuff that the deconstruction inspires (e.g. Fred talking about how thoroughly inhuman the LB protagonists are) is the memetic payload.

    1. I'm not sure this is true. While B5 is awesome, I don't think it was actually all that influential--the serial style already existed, especially on British television, and ongoing story arcs have always been a staple of daytime dramas in the U.S.

      I think my go-to points for the beginning of the paranoia explosion are both a bit before B5 (at least I know one was before B5, and I *think* I'm remembering correctly that the other was): Twin Peaks and The X-Files.

    2. You may well be right - I know that quite a few people have said B5 was what sparked it off for them, and generated the distinction between "arc episodes" and "filler episodes", but that isn't evidence against something having happened earlier. Perhaps call it an early example in genre TV? (Doctor Who had its four- and six-episode stories, but there wasn't much bigger than that in the show - a season's theme was generally a pretty loose business if it happened at all. I gave up on The X-Files after the first season, but it didn't seem to have much in the way of overarcing plot then.)

  8. Oh, the X-Files had nothing in the way of overarcing plot, at least nothing planned in advance, but the fans were *thoroughly convinced* it did, that there was a master plan to it all. Basically Lost a couple decades early.

    1. Well, didn't the X-Files have exactly the same thing happen as Lost:
      Creator to Fans: There is a master plan.
      Fans: We believe you and will watch for years to see this plan unfold.
      Creator to Fans: It's been years, and I have a confession to make. There was never any plan.


      The upside to B5 was that there was actually a plan, and while that plan got seriously screwed up on either side of the Season 4-Season 5 change over because of the, "Could you make the five year plan into a four year plan because we're not giving you a season 5," followed by, "Take it back, you get a fifth season after all," thing from the higher ups the plan was there. Which meant that something strange involving time travel in season (2 was it?) really did come back seasons later, and was clearly planned to have done so.

      Battlestar Galactica (New Version) is in contrast an example of improv all the time. And after saying for however long it was, "And they have a plan" to have movie come out called, "The Plan" which revealed that, nope, they didn't have a plan just seemed insulting. Yet for the most part it was a good series.

    2. Actually, JMS has said the Season 5 switcharoo was the lesser of two causes. Basically, the last quarter of season 4 ended up running at double speed to absorb the first quarter of season 5 (Sheridan's imprisonment, IIRC, was originally going to be the season finale). Much more damaging was the fact that a hotel maid threw out ALL HIS NOTES ON THE FIRST HALF OF SEASON 5, and the only story arc he could remember well enough to write was the Lyta/Byron thing, so it had to stretch to cover practically the whole first half of the season. Pretty much the entire second half of the season is exactly the way the plan called for it to be.

    3. Sorry, "Viga Gadson" is me. Didn't realize my fiancee was logged in.

  9. Speaking of deconstructions, just saw Wreck-It-Ralph and it was AWESOME.

  10. Happy birthday, Raj! (Has anyone seen Raj around lately?)


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