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I before e, except after c... 
25th-Jul-2009 11:14 pm
Ben Browder (is Gonna Smack a Bitch)
Why is it that so many writers of popular fiction have a tendency to be complete douchebags? I admit, I have never been a fan of Russell T Davies anyway, because I have always thought his writing is shit, but this (very spoilery for the latest Torchwood mini-series so don't even link-hover if you don't want to know) interview made me actively loathe him.

It reminded me strongly of that other British SF show writer who once made some ill-advised and fan-rage inducing comments. But at least he has more than three times Rusty's talent --- even if he himself doesn't always recognise it in such a way that he doesn't, you know, also occasionally write shit things himself. It was something about the condescending and mocking tone --- the whole "if you can't handle drama" --- pompous head wobble --- "go read poetry." It struck me as very, very similar to "now turn off the telly and read a good book".

No. You don't get to tell people how to react to your fiction. It's done, it's out there, it's not yours anymore. I understand being protective about your creation. Writing is hard. I don't do it professionally and it gives me hell. That doesn't mean you have automatic immunity to criticism.

But it wasn't just the comments that riled me. It was the sensibility behind them. It was that whole "oh, this will make the audience...[insert verb of your choice]" approach to writing. That aspect of relying upon a reaction you will then dismiss if it's not the one you want. I know that writing is about manipulation to a large degree, and television works on audiences understanding that, but it doesn't mean you have to be so callous and calculating all the time. Once in a while it would be really nice if a writer described an event in their fiction as happening because they felt like it was how the story should go --- not that they wanted to set people gnashing their teeth/whooping for joy. Does it sound like you know what you're doing? Maybe not. Do you always know exactly what you're doing when you're writing? I sure as hell don't.

But then, I truly think you're a cad if you write something merely for a cheap sucker-punch to the guts of your audience. It's something I always struggle with, and partly the reason why my plotting leaves a metric fuckton to be desired. And these writers who make these douchebaggy statements are, invariably, popular --- so what do I know?

I just feel that you should serve the story, not your ego. And not a) whine, or b) mock when your audience reacts badly to your lazy writing. Is that too much to ask?
Comments 
25th-Jul-2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
Ok, I was on his side, and even enjoyed the tongue in cheek Supernatural comments.... And then I read his reply to the fair question about if there had been pressure to de-gay Torchwood, which basically amounted to him saying that no one else on the planet has a clue about gay rights issues or has suffered like him for their sexuality. and then I stopped reading and also wanted to play the world's smallest violin for the jerk. and avoidance of actually answering the question by going on about other shows he's made also tells me that the answer is "yes, there was pressure and I had to bow down to it." >_
25th-Jul-2009 02:39 pm (UTC)
Also. I fail at capitalisation....
25th-Jul-2009 02:47 pm (UTC)
I read the article yesterday or the day before. Does anyone else think that he's inviting creepy, uberobsessive people to sharpen their knives by being so nonchalant and 'yeah, what a bunch of pussies' about it? IDK, the way I see it he can ignore fandom all he wants but he shouldn't feel entitled to kick it when it's down. These people buy the DVDs after all. And where would TW be without the die-hard fans who watched the shit even when it wasn't at all coherent and had glaring plot-holes and erratic characterisation?
25th-Jul-2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Did you read the AfterElton article as well? It was equally rage-inducing.

These writers never seem to think it's not really a great idea to alienate a large part of the very audience they enjoy toying with. I don't know why, but they don't.
25th-Jul-2009 03:41 pm (UTC)
I so agree with everything you've said here.

I think sharing creative work is at least slightly collaborative by nature (consumers of your work invariably bring their own prejudices, expectations and experiences which can affect how they react to things) so... no. You don't get to tell me what to think.
25th-Jul-2009 11:08 pm (UTC)
And I don't know about you, but I love the collaborative nature of writing in particular. I've had people give me negative/lukewarm criticism, and yes, I was totally butthurt at the time. I took a step back and thought about what they were saying for a while.
25th-Jul-2009 04:09 pm (UTC)
I just feel that you should serve the story, not your ego. And not a) whine, or b) mock when your audience reacts badly to your lazy writing. Is that too much to ask?

Yes. Story and characters first, wants of the audience next, ego of the writer last or not at all. If you know you've done your level best with something and the audience don't like it, it's neither your fault nor theirs - just an incompatibility between you. I've missed the controversy your comments are based on - frankly wouldn't touch Torchwood with a disinfected bargepole - but going for a cheap reaction from the audience is not the way to write well, and the fact of an audience not 'getting' what you're trying to say doesn't make them an inferior audience; it just makes the writer one who has failed to get his point across successfully.

But then I think fan writing in a way is a lot 'purer' than the professional stuff because it isn't commercially motivated. A debate for another time, I suspect.
25th-Jul-2009 11:14 pm (UTC)
Yes. And yes.

In the AfterElton interview, RTD goes more into the plot reasons as to why a particular event occurred, and, his whole attitude about it really put me off. Partly because he goes on and on about how brilliant he is, and really, I just thought it was the laziest, easiest route to take to get what he wanted.


25th-Jul-2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
YES. You've managed to pin-point all the reasons that interview made me angry, which I just couldn't articulate at all. You are ace.
25th-Jul-2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
It made me angry, and I'm not even a fan of the show. It was in poor taste.
25th-Jul-2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid I can't offer a fully informed commentary as yet, because I haven't finished watching Children of Earth and don't want to spoil myself. I intend to come back and read this after watching it, if I remember. XD;;;;

But I want to respond to this:

Is that too much to ask?

No, absolutely not. I think we're pretty well in accordance here, as has been previously demonstrated. Obviously writing is a monumentally huge and stressful task, and I can only imagine what it's like to do it under that level of microscopic tension from everyone's expectations of you. But at the same time, all you can really do is express yourself in the best way you know how, and hope like hell you got the point across that you intended to do. And if you didn't, you need to accept that art is a dialogue. Art is not something you can force-feed. :P
25th-Jul-2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
People tend to go on and on about fannish entitlement in a way that narks me off --- they rely upon fans to fall head over heels for their text and then they mock fans for getting so involved - and, often, as a fan you're invested and you're being pulled through an emotional wringer. To a degree, there's an unwritten contract between writer and audience. It's a relationship that depends on dependence. So sure, write what you want to write if it's what makes the story work on a basic story level --- why the fuck shouldn't you? But if you write something purely for the reaction it will provoke, and then the reaction is bad, don't make mocking comments about the reactees, it's poor form.

Sure, a lot of fans acted in wanky and vitriolic ways --- I don't agree with what some of those fans did either. (For all the times I've talked smack about Matthew Graham, I've never directly contacted him or anyone who works with him to talk smack to his face, this is also Not Cool). Maybe a lot of people were acting like whiny, entitled brats. But what do you expect?
26th-Jul-2009 02:02 am (UTC)
One of the interviews on You Tube--pre second-season--had this egotistical twit saying, "Oh, yeah, everyone in Torchwood is young because nobody lives very long." Which kind of set the BS alarm, because, I'm sorry, that doesn't quite fit with "Everything Changes... And Torchwood is Ready!>.

Yeah, Torchwood is ready. They've got reserved freezer drawers. I'm sorry, but you can't run a functional organization with only half a dozen people, most of whom are replaced every year or so due to high mortality rates. In the first place, you're not likely to attract intelligent people because intelligent people are, by definition, not TSTL. In the second place, when you're handling great whoop-ass menaces from outer space and sideways in time, it helps to have some experience, and given Jack's habit of running like hell, that doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the organization's leadership.

Killing off established characters was once almost unheard of. Back in the 80's, series television had established the expectation that series regulars usually survived the crisis-of-the-week. The cliche was that if a regular fell in love with someone, s/he might as well get measured for a coffin. Then Hill Street Blues pulled a shocker (at the time, it really was one) and killed off a regular. Another season, they lost another cast member to cancer, and had his character die on the show. Some time later, MASH killed off two beloved characters (seasons apart)--believably, since it was wartime. Ratings jumped, even though fans were heartbroken. Next thing you know, all the shows are jumping on the bandwagon. Want to goose the ratings? Write a cliffhanger with WHO WILL DIE...???

Fast-forward 20-odd years, and what do you have? Character death, the new cliche. It ain't brilliant and cutting-edge anymore, Rusty.

If you've got a strong ensemble, a big enough ensemble, you can afford to kill off a chacter once in awhile. But when you've only got six people to start with, and you kill off one in the first ep (and again later in the season) then end the second season with two more deaths (Owen made sense, Tosh was gratuitous) and then finish off the third season with yet another... you are not giving your audience time enough to recover.

If you want a good example of what happens when this doesn't work, check out a series called War of the Worlds, from about 1989. It had corny plots, icky SFX, but it had a good ensemble team and a kind of hopefulness that felt like classic Trek. The creators were kicked off and the show given to some jerk from Fox, who promptly killed off the most popular character and a close second--analogous to Spock and Scotty--and made it "dark" and "edgy." There was a huge fan protest; Fox just stopped counting letters.

Next season, the show tanked after half a dozen episodes.

Davies may think his supposed brilliance is going to keep people coming back. I guess he doesn't realize that fans don't just watch series TV for the plots, they watch them for the people. And by the end of season 2, I had already decided I didn't give a damn what he did with Season 3, because it was clear the show was being run by a manipulative jerk.

Torchwood had a good team. It would've been better if we'd seen some of Tosh and Owen's background in Season One, rather than shoveling it in at the last moment to make people feel worse about their deaths (that was incredibly ham-handed, IMO) but basically Davies had a good ensemble cast.

Now...? Well, as I said--I'm not going to watch Season 3, or any of the other stuff. And as far as I'm concerned, everything after the season 2 "Adam" episode is nothing more than a long-term induced hallucination, and at some point Jack will snap out of it and banish the little parasite.

And Davies' sneering at fans who don't appreciate his "genius"...? Well, from where I stand it doesn't look much like genius. It looks like a wank. And that's best done in private.




26th-Jul-2009 11:14 am (UTC)
Oh man, the complete lack of competence in the Torchwood team has been mentioned thousands of times, but yes, totally. TOTALLY. As an organisation, they're utter, utter rubbish.

I have never really understood how Davies got as huge as he is, because I have always thought he was crap --- he doesn't give especially good dialogue at all, his plots often have massive holes, his characterisation is inconsistent. What he does doesn't generally appeal to me. But people keep throwing money at him to make his stuff. And I think --- why? WHY? :D

And as far as I'm concerned, everything after the season 2 "Adam" episode is nothing more than a long-term induced hallucination, and at some point Jack will snap out of it and banish the little parasite.

Dallas style, I love it.
31st-Jul-2009 09:33 am (UTC)
Oh God, and we're off again. RTD and his drama-queen of Doooom.

I hadn't read this because I saw it linked to off one of the Who comms, along with a squee ramble about how fabulous Rusty is etc etc, and that was irritation enough. Now I have!

It irks me when someone simultaneously writes for reaction and criticises those who react. Also, I don't like his attitude to online fandom - he plays it for all it's worth and then disparages it whenever he chooses.

I bristled at the SPN reference anyway, that being my fandom of choice at the moment. Sweet Lord knows those are beautiful boys, and OK I like that he's slashing them, but Supernatural is capable of long-term story arc-ing the like of which the lovely Rusty couldn't even fantasise about (and I totally don't care about the grammatical disaster zone that sentence became!)

And then the whole 'if you're not gay you can't possibly understand' thing, which is both patronising and puerile. Although, to be fair, that little bit of prima donna-ing did come in response to an utterly fatuous question, so maybe there's some justification.

I can't see a future for Torchwood without three of its five leads, and without the undoubted chemistry between Jack and Ianto. Hell, it'd be like trying to make more of Life on Mars without one of the two leads. Which nobody would ever be mad enough to...oh, wait.



Edited at 2009-07-31 09:34 am (UTC)
31st-Jul-2009 10:32 am (UTC)
I... I really don't understand people who think Rusty's great. Almost all of the other New Who writers are better than him. Paul Cornell and Steven Moffat run gigantic rings around him!

And the SPN reference was simultaneously oddly creepy and patronising. I don't like SPN (except for "The Monster at the end of this Book", that was a hilarious episode) and I had a knee-jerk defensive reaction to it.

Hell, it'd be like trying to make more of Life on Mars without one of the two leads. Which nobody would ever be mad enough to...oh, wait.

I see what you did there ;)
2nd-Aug-2009 10:48 pm (UTC)
But then, I truly think you're a cad if you write something merely for a cheap sucker-punch to the guts of your audience.

omg, yes, THIS. this is what made me finally break up with joss whedon, too. i just...look, there needs to be a relationship of trust between you and your audience. if something sad needs to happen, then it needs to happen, but don't do it just to fuck with your fans.
3rd-Aug-2009 06:51 am (UTC)
Hi! :D

I think I forgive Joss a lot on this because he also does some really interesting things with stories and has stellar dialogue, but, yes, I do not trust him even a little.
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