Monthly Archives: November 2014

Moffat and Metafiction

Moffat 2Steven Moffat’s Sherlock and Doctor Who are somewhat metafictional in that they increasingly appear to make reference to the viewers watching them. For example, based on Conan Doyle’s ‘The Final Problem’, Sherlock’s Series 2 finale ‘The Reichenbach Fall’ ends with Sherlock Holmes throwing himself from the roof of St Bartholomew’s hospital and the next scene showing him to be alive as he watches John Watson visiting his ‘grave’. In the months leading up to Series 3, the fan forums were filled with speculations as to how Sherlock faked his death. A production source revealed that ‘Sherlock fans are known for their penchant for coming up with theories to solve mysteries we set’ while Moffat noted the ‘many people theorising about Sherlock’s death online’. This fact is overtly referred to in the opening episode of Series 3, ‘The Empty Hearse’, in that the character of Anderson appears to be a stand in for the Sherlock fan base. After Sherlock’s ‘death’, Anderson is certain he survived the fall and forms a fan club obsessively dedicated to figuring out how. The group share theories similar to those you see online and wear deerstalker caps worn by fans at conventions.

Similarly, in Doctor Who, Moffat continues to make references to its fans. In the Series 3 episode ‘Blink’, Larry Nightingale is a member of a fan forum that theorises about the Doctor’s mysterious appearances on seventeen DVDs. Later in series 7, the character Osgood is also representative of the Whovians. For instance, she is what Robinson describes as a ‘meta audience proxy’. Similar to the cosplaying of Anderson’s Sherlock fan club, Osgood too appears to have been plucked straight from the masses at Comic-Con: she wears the Fourth Doctor’s iconic striped scarf in the 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ while in the Series 8 final ‘Death in Heaven’, she wears Ten’s shoes and Eleven’s bow tie while repeating his catchphrase ‘Bow ties are cool!’ Moffat’s Sherlock and Doctor Who are thus metafictional because characters within the show seem to be cosplaying the fans.

 

A clip from ‘The Empty Hearse’ that parodies fan’s attempts at figuring out how Sherlock survived the fall:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsaHUNKe-Cs

A clip from ‘Blink’. Here the show is making constant reference to itself: Larry discusses the online forums and The Doctor literally appears on a television screen as a character in a DVD. Also, the video shop worker at the desk is watching a television show in which the events mirror the events of the show we are watching as he shouts at the character on screen to go to the police. In the next scene, Sally Sparrow, the protagonist in the Doctor Who episode we are watching visits the police station:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvIw-Q3ogLw

A review of‘The Reichenbach Fall’ which points out some more metafictional moments of the episode:

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/05/shaking-hands-in-hell-sherlocks-the-reichenbach-fall

For some broader information on metafiction in popular culture, see this review of Scream 4:

stuartreviewsstuff.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/scream-4-once-again-i-didnt-scream-this-time-i-wasnt-supposed-to-and-thats-a-good-thing/

 

Doctor Who. Writ. Steven Moffat et all. BBC, 1963-present. Television.

‘Exclusive: Sherlock’s The Reichenbach Fall ‘fake death’ mystery revealed’. Metro, 1 Apr. 2013. Accessed 26 Nov. 2014. Web.

Robinson, Joanna. ‘Do Sherlock and Doctor Who Really Have a ‘Bad Fan’ Problem?’ Fanity Fair’s Hollywood, 10 Nov. 2008. Accessed 26 Nov. 2014. Web.

Sherlock. Writ. Steven Moffat et all. BBC, 2010-present. Television.

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumyia: A Postmodernist Anime?

HARUHIThe Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumyia can be read as a postmodernist text in that it not only employs experimental techniques typical of postmodernist literature such as non-linear narrative and repetition but also because the form of this anime mirrors its content. Form mirroring content is characteristic of postmodern novels. The protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five, for instance, is a time traveller and the form itself is also non-linear. Similarly, characters in Haruhi Suzumyia engage in time travel and the series when first aired was shown out of sequence. Indeed, the order in which episodes were shown appeared almost randomly selected, resulting in the audience being just as confused as the characters on screen as to which time the series is taking place in. Indeed, viewers were initially presented with a sequence of inexplicable events and given the explanatory details later on in the series. For example, the first episode to air was actually the season finale while we were shown the events leading up to that point towards the end of the season. Moreover, the form of Haruhi Suzumyia further mirrors its plot in its ‘Endless Eight’ arc, a series of eight identical episodes with slight variations in dialogue and costume. In the ‘Endless Eight’ episode arc, the protagonist Kyon and his friends are trapped in a time loop and doomed to live out the same summer vacation over 15,000 times. Viewers subjected to eight identical episodes experience a similar sense of boredom and fatigue as the characters on screen. Therefore, Haruhi Suzumyia is not only postmodernist because of its experimental form but also because its form reflects its content.

 

This is the final scene from the ‘Endless Eight’ arc. Here Kyon manages to break free from the time loop:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efa5viokn_Q

For a further analysis of Haruhi Suzumyia’s postmodernist features, see here:

http://nate.metroid2002.com/yuuutsu/

 

Dotdash. ‘Suzumiya Haruhi: The Case for the Defence.’ Plot Shield, 25 June 2009. 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumyia. Dir. Tatsuya Ishihara. Kyoto Animation, 2009. Anime.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. London: Vintage Classics, 2000. Print.

Death Note: Who is the villain?

DNThe role of the protagonist and antagonist is not always fixed in literature as characters often refuse to fit into a formula. Indeed, character roles and stereotypical characteristics can be reversed in an attempt to provide us with more realistic representations of people in texts. Instead of clear-cut representations of heroes and villains then, we are presented with anti-heroes, anti-villains and morally grey characters. For instance, it is Satan that fits the role of protagonist rather than God in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Julianne Potter is actually ‘the bad guy’ in My Best Friend’s Wedding while The Doctor in Doctor Who is neither hero nor villain, just ‘a mad man with a box’ that causes more problems than he solves.

A text that takes this idea of role reversal to the extreme is Death Note. In this anime, viewers are asked to take the perspective of the villain rather than the protagonist. Death Note centres on Light Yagami, a high school student, and his discovery of a notebook that grants its user the ability to kill anyone they wish by writing their names in it. While Light initially plans to turn vigilante and eradicate his city of its criminals, such power becomes dangerous and he begins to write the names of those he feels might get in the way of his ‘mission’. The inexplicable deaths of the city’s criminals, however, starts to draw attention. This is when a detective known as L begins to investigate the situation. He is determined to catch Light and the rest of the series depicts the intellectual cat and mouse chase between the two. It is evident then in the series that Light and L reverse the conventional representation of protagonist and antagonist in that we take on the point of view of the villain while the hero attempts to prevent him from achieving his goals. While Light is clearly the central character, he is responsible for the murders that occur throughout the series. However, he possesses all the traits of a protagonist. For example, his thoughts are narrated to us via voice over whereas the inner psyche of the conventional villain generally remains a mystery to the audience. He is also shown in normal environments such as high school classrooms and his brightly lit suburban household with his parents and sister. L, on the other hand, the character attempting to prevent the murders and bring the vigilante to justice, has all the characteristics of a villain. For instance, while we do hear L’s thoughts, much of his backstory remains a mystery. In contrast to Light, he is usually shown lurking in the shadows of underground basements not unlike a secret lair of a comic book super villain. A scene which brings home the idea of the protagonist/antagonist reverse is when Light and L stand beside each other on a stage at a college ceremony. Here, Light looks like a TV protagonist while L looks like a villain. Indeed, Light wears a suit, stands upright and confidently addresses the audience whereas L is hunched over, wears scruffy oversized clothing and appears disturbed. He immediately stirs suspicion among the audience and Light and L’s deceiving appearances are further emphasised in this scene when a conversation between two audience members can be heard. Judging Light and L on their appearance and personality traits, one comments: ‘These two are total opposites’ to which the other replies: ‘Yeah this one looks like a sheltered genius whose been groomed for success his whole life but the other one, there’s something not right about him, he’s just…weird’ (‘Encounter’, Death Note). These two audience members act as a stand in for the audience of Death Note and television in general in that we too have a tendency to read characters according to conventions and stereotypes. Series like Death Note break with these conventions then and instead attempt to give us something closer to reality where we can never tell who the villain is.

 

This is the scene where Light and L meet. Both of their appearances contradict their thoughts. L even remarks that Light does not look like a villain while Light takes note of L’s strange appearance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EXopqjz6-o

This is an outline of some of the main villain/hero characteristics and distinctions. Note how the characters Light and L contradict most of these:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ClassicVillain

An article concerning the rise of the anti-hero in popular culture:

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/tv/rise-anti-hero

A discussion of Death Note that debates the character roles in the series:

http://www.reddit.com/r/changemyview/comments/1whvge/the_main_character_of_death_note_light_yagami_is/

 

Death Note. Dir. Tetsuro Araki. Madhouse, 3 October. 2006. Anime.

Nargis. ‘Death Note Revisited: The eternal battle between good and evil.’ Anime UK News, 13 Jan. 2008. 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

Smith, Murray. ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know: TV’s anti-heroes.’ Times Higher Education, 17 Jul. 2014. Accessed 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

Pretty Little Liars: Subverting the ‘Teen Genre’

PLL

From the promotional photo above, Pretty Little Liars initially appears to be a conventional high school drama. However, it soon becomes apparent that it is in fact subversion of series such as Lizzie McGuire, Zoey 101 and Girl Meets World. Indeed, Pretty Little Liars centres on five high school girls, a typical character ensemble of the genre, but this is disrupted by the fact that one goes missing and is eventually reported to be dead. Following her death, the remaining girls start to get blackmailing text messages from an anonymous source known as ‘A’ and the rest of the series consists of them attempting to solve A’s identity. Rather than focusing on ‘teen issues’ conventional of the genre then, Pretty Little Liars turns them on their head and more closely resembles a horror or whodunit. Indeed, rather than focusing on the girls’ experience with school, family and friends, it is stalkers, sociopaths and live burials that occupy their attention. For instance, the conventions of the ‘prom episode’, a fundamental plot point in the teen genre, are distorted. Rather than ending the episode with the cliched dance between the protagonist and her date beneath twinkling lights in the school cafeteria, Pretty Little Liars has one of its girls running in fear from her prom date in suspicion that he might have murdered her friend. The episode ends with the her hospitalised due to a head injury she received while fleeing from him. The opening sequence of the series, furthermore, similarly distorts the conventions of the genre. A typical sequence would consist of the protagonist dancing with their friends or preparing for school, i.e. brushing their hair, trying on various outfits and smiling in the mirror as the credits role and in Pretty Little Liars, it initially seems to show something similar. Indeed, we see what appears to be a girl applying makeup, nail polish and shoes. However, we soon see that someone else is doing this for her. As the camera pulls back, it is revealed that her friends are in fact preparing her body for her funeral as a coffin chillingly slams shut and her friends are shown standing above in black.

While Pretty Little Liars clearly subverts the conventions of the teen genre, a genre that purports to represent the ‘teenage experience’, it is in fact a more accurate portrayal of teenage life where consistent paranoia, stalking, and violence are commonplace. Indeed, texting and social media can turn frightening when cyber bullying comes into play, a prom date can turn dangerous and teenagers certainly do get murdered. Such ‘teen issues’ are rarely addressed in series such as Lizzie McGuire. By subverting the genre that claims to represent teenage life then, Pretty Little Liars gets closer to accurately depicting it.

Here is the opening theme of Lizzie McGuire:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HijDtkzh1k

And here is the more macabre opening sequence of Pretty Little Liars:

An article that further discusses Pretty Little Liars’ subversion of the teen genre and its relation to the films of Alfred Hitchcock:

https://poppiejunkie.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/hitchcock-for-teens-in-defense-of-pretty-little-liars/

 

Milne, Isabella. ‘Codes and Conventions of the teen genre.’ Slideshare, 11 Aug. 2013. Accessed 10 Mar. 2015. Web.

Pretty Little Liars. I. Marlene King. Warner Bros. Television, 2011-present. Television.