Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Man Who Paid Them: The Mechanics of Villainy

   

   I’ve always found myself particularly attracted to villains and their function in storytelling. Game of Thrones is absolutely fascinating in the sense that there is no shortage of antagonists, all with their own manner of cruelty, each one representing unique facets of villainous behavior. They all have their own grotesque shine; whether they be sadist kings/queens treating their subjects as objects to torment, the “Good Masters” perpetuating a system of human misery, ancient evils dawning from the days of the First Men, etc. There’s too many downright awful characters to name. Every type of vile and detestable behavior has a character representing it in this universe. And in the middle of it all, there is this greasy, shifty, backstabbing accountant(with an impeccable sense of style). Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish ended up being a major catalyst for the events that transpired throughout most of the show, to the point where you’re left wondering how much more he was responsible for.

   I love a solid underdog, and who’s a better underdog than a man of low birth and limited resources, a man with no legitimate reason to be mixing it up with all of these high-profile players? Beyond being on the Small Council as Master of Coin, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. However, he’s got cunning, ambition, and he understands how society works as opposed to how he would like it to work. The foundation of his success is in his ability to use these talents to manipulate people/situations in the most self-serving way possible. Game of Thrones is very much so a story where unimportant people with the wrong names/circumstances are brutalized, sometimes for no reason at all. He should be an itch, an irritation, and yet despite everything, he is the knife that finds his way into everyone’s backs. And I admire that. 
                      
  One primary function of a villain of any kind is to serve as a foil to the protagonists of the world they live in. The honest, honorable, and lawful nature of Ned Stark is contrasted by the deceptive, no-love, illicit nature of Petyr Baelish. Ned Stark was incorruptible, incompatible with the means by which Lord Baelish would pursue his own ends. Ned Stark was also incapable of understanding that he could be so easily manipulated and betrayed, because he is so very unlike Petyr in every way. And when conflicting, unyielding, and opposing personalities arise in a story…somebody has to go. Unfortunately for Ned, this was a situation where the circumstances of the clash were dictated by Lord Baelish’s rules; a fighter faces a fucker in a conflict where the winner is determined by who can fuck over who. And Littlefinger’s unparalleled experience in this field left Ned the loser. This specific conflict from start to finish was beautiful from a storytelling standpoint. The Game of Thrones universe was able to use a villain like Petyr to introduce you to exactly what kind of game these characters were playing. You can be a commoner or Hand of the King, but you’re still forced to play by the rules. It was a critical lesson for us as viewers, and the effects rippled throughout the story all the way to where we are now. All thanks to the subversive Master of Coin.


  The demonstration of fatal flaws in a villain is important as well, because it allows the qualities of our protagonists to shine. We all knew Ned was honorable and just, because literally every character mentions it. Constantly. Lord Baelish was ineffective or even redundant in this capacity in relation to Ned. However, his disingenuous nature reinforced the values of both Catelyn and Sansa Stark throughout the story. The Stark women were honorable, with clear sense of the ideas of family, duty, honor, also known as the words of House Tully. These concepts are absolutely foreign to Littlefinger. Their relationship and interactions with him reinforced their own inherent goodness and further cemented his own incompatibility with his own desires for them.

   To go one step beyond that, Lysa Arryn is the antithesis of this idea. Her love, coupled with his indifference towards her, once again strengthens the character of Catelyn and Sansa while widening the cracks in his own. It brings us to the real tragedy of his character: He was never fully able to comprehend that his ambitions and the means by which he would go after them meant that he could never truly have either of the Stark women. He was suited for the women in his whorehouse or the easily manipulated Lysa, making him distinctly incompatible with the ideals of Catelyn and Sansa.  An effective villain is one who is able to add depth to others as they progress in their character arc, and I believe he does this better than most of the villains we see in the Game of Thrones universe.

“Thank you for all your many lessons, Lord Baelish. I will never forget them.”

   I was looking for a quote that would adequately represent Lord Baelish, but the very last line spoken to him is the most fitting when it comes to encapsulating his role as a villain. He would not and could not accept his station in life, to the point where he devoted everything towards learning the rules of society and how to circumvent these rules to raise his stock. Littlefinger provided a very specific type of exposition, another mark of a truly exceptional villain. He taught major characters significant lessons, rules, and mechanics that he understood better than everyone else. His journey communicated to us the real conditions of the game, he helped our protagonists grow, and he looked so goddamn stylish doing it. However, in the end, he exposed himself to be just as susceptible to these very same rules as everyone else. 



   And indeed, this is the case. He was incapable of loving earnestly, he was devoid of a sense of duty, and he started on a path chasing things he assumed he understood. Every single character in this story pays the price for what they are unwilling to realize, and Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish failed to realize that his distorted idea of love/power and the means by which he pursued those things are what ultimately left him on his knees, bleeding from his throat, vainly trying to utter one last lie before the lights went out.

I’ll miss you Pete. I’ll fly my Mockingbird banner proudly. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Alteration of Symbols and What They Represent

   
    When it comes to my love of comic books and comic book characters, nobody comes close to The Punisher. I love the artists that have done work drawing him(Joe Jusko, Steve Dillon, Goran Parlov) and some of his best comics are written by one of my favorite writers, Garth Ennis. So it
’s a point of frustration to see the above image used the way it is. In case you are unaware, this is a popular image used by some groups in support of the Blue Lives Matter counter-movement. I see the decals on the backs of people’s cars, I’ve seen patches sporting the logo, and of course t-shirts. Nothing makes me cringe harder than getting a nod from one of these guys when they see me wearing my regular black and white Punisher shirt. I just wear the shirt because I like the goddamn comics and the character, and you’re bringing some off-brand political reality I don’t affiliate with into this. I’m not here to argue against anyone’s belief systems or question why you believe what you believe, but I am here because this altered logo represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Frank Castle and the overall message that almost all of his comics send. The Punisher is not interested in justice, peace, or a better world. The Punisher is and always has always been chasing a war that will never end. That is the end all be all of his wants and desires: a means to quiet the deafening misery of his own existence. The character behind this symbol and the symbol itself represent a system of ideas that is inappropriate when applied to the real-world context of the altered symbol's use. 

    In 2011, Steve Wacker gave the Frank an official kill count of 45,802 people. An absolutely insane amount of people for one human being, and every single one of them was a character who deserved it in the narratives being told. And you know what he has to show for it? Nothing. The only impact the Punisher has had on the criminal universe is that people are scared of The Punisher. There is no universal justice or dignity in what he does, and his actions undercut the very idea of creating a better society. His process is "treating" the symptoms of criminality, but never the cause. Frank is absolutely reviled in the superhero community for this very reason. His mere appearance in other comics is enough to throw heroes into fits of rage, and there are plenty of stories that revolve around trying to bring him down. Why? Because he is no hero. He barely qualifies as an anti-hero, because the people he does help are only a by-product of his wanton cruelty. He is the catalyst responsible for the creation of more cruelty, more criminality, and a growing resentment towards the idea of reformation.
 
   Personally, I think the true function of a justice system is the reformation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of criminals back into society. This process starts by punishing offenders for what they have done, but the takeaway here is Frank Castle stops at step one. He is uninterested in the preservation of human life if he deems a life irredeemable. And this is reflected in almost every character he interacts with to a significant degree. They end up dead, psychologically damaged, or more vicious and irredeemable than they were before. The criminal underworld doesn’t go away when he murders every part of the criminal element in a city, a new criminal underworld is created…often one worse than the one the one he wiped from the earth. He defies the deeply flawed system of criminal justice by creating a brand new system of injustice that breeds suffering. And this is why I love the literary idea of The Punisher and the symbolism of his stories so much: they take that idea of vigilante justice and they see it all the way through. What you’re left with is an infinite chain of empty conflicts, with no discernible end in sight. And THAT is the heart of Frank Castle’s very personal, never-ending war.

    If you’re someone that rocks this Blue Lives Matter bastardization and you’re thinking “Well yeah, that’s the whole point of his character” then why the hell do you think this an appropriate symbol for a real life counter-movement? Kill em all is not an intelligent, ethical, or even pragmatic approach to criminality. It does not lead me to believe you have the social awareness to be a mouthpiece in support of officers of the law. In the comics, seeing the Punisher logo means one thing and one thing only: You are about to die. It definitely fires up that “hell yeah” part of my brain that kicks off when I see fictional vigilante justice, but this symbol has no place representing any group interested in justice in the real world.


  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I Want Us All To Be Better Artists So I Didn't Proofread This

If you were to ask me(and it's my post so we can just assume you are asking me), finding your specific creative voice is one of those most difficult things to do in artistic work. It's easy to look at the body of work of your peers, look at what they've created, and feel like you aren't there yet.  I admire a lot of the people around me when I see how they're developing their work, to the point where watching some of you go at it is almost demoralizing. You'll meet a lot of people in your life that are just that goddamn good. And if you are one of those people, I want you to know that it's more encouraging than anything else. But it breeds an internalized insecurity in me when I go back and try to do something new. I feel embarrassed by my own voice, so I start to quiet it down.

Feeling blocked or particularly unskilled creatively is natural. You hear about it all the time; people looking at their instruments of creation, feeling absolutely benumbed. And a part of overcoming the limitations of your artistic self is working despite these feelings; sitting down and working everyday, being ready to create some of the worst work you're capable of. I know I feel that way when I push myself. I'll look at a page I worked on three days ago, and I'll get so embarrassed by it, you could probably use it to blackmail me. I'm not crazy about what I write every time I write, but I'm always glad to put the time in. It's easy to wait for the feelings of passion and mania to inspire you to pump out garbage, but pumping out garbage even when you're scared of creating garbage is key. But  sometimes, you really hear that creative voice of yours, and you make something you're actually proud of instead. It's important to take those little victories in stride. Once you start collecting all of those minor wins, you start seeing what regularly drives you to earn them. Even if your voice changes, where it comes from never does. And if you keep working, you'll inevitably hit it time and time and time again.

I like that this page still exists. Reading some of the old stuff is an great way to induce vomiting, and it's a great way to be real with myself. They aren't all going to be hits, I've accepted that. I think posting on here reminds me of a time when I didn't give a shit about making a lasting, good impression. I just wanted to have fun and play with ideas, maybe make at least one person identify with the complete nonsense I occasionally put out. Before times like how I feel now, where writer's block seems natural, instead of a meaningless self-imposed limitation. So I've already decided to post this no matter what, and maybe that's because I want to be more mortified of my own lousy writing, or maybe it's because I want to help ease the tension some people feel when posting creative work. If I can represent this, I hope that inspires you to express something yourself when all of your consciousness is telling you that it's not good enough. I want to help you fight against any self-decided sense of defeat, and I also desperately need to find my voice as well. And we all have to put out a lot of bullshit with no fear to realize what we want to be.

Or maybe just send me some cool shit and let me look at/listen to it if you don't want to put it out there. I wouldn't mind giving half my friends a good kick in the ass to remind them they're better than they think.