Alis

/Alis

About Alis

Alis Franklin is a thirtysomething Australian author of queer urban fantasy. She likes cooking, video games, Norse mythology, and feathered dinosaurs. She’s never seen a live drop bear, but stays away from tall trees, just in case.

Nonflict.

Rachel Manija Brown on story without conflict.

I’m always really (a-har) conflicted by these sorts of posts, because on the one hand I agree—I love quiet scenes and cutrainfic and so on—but, on the other, I think in some respects they sell the notion of “conflict” itself short. Yes, there is an over-emphasis on superficial external conflict (e.g. violence, arguments) in a lot of media nowadays, see pretty much every action movie, for example. But, also, I think it’s possible for subtler forms of conflict to exist within a narrative, including metatextual conflict between the narrative and itself, the narrative and other works, or the narrative and the reader.

Brown mentions the “secret garden” genre, for example, as one that tends to be without conflict. But I’d argue that the attraction of the secret garden is, in fact, rooted in a metatextual conflict in this latter sense. That is, it’s the conflict between the reader’s unfulfilled desire for their own secret garden and the fact that the protagonist has one that the reader, by the very action of reading, intrudes upon and eventually takes over (by subsuming the book, and thus the garden, into their own memories).

Curtainfic, meanwhile, is a work that’s almost always in conflict with its own source material. A solid third of all fics tagged curtainfic on the AO3, for example, are in the Supernatural fandom, with the next biggest chunk coming from the MCU. These are not canons known for their fluffy domesticity! As someone who loves a curtainfic, and particularly loves its Villains Out Shopping subtrope, I can assert the fun in both reading and writing these scenarios is definitely in exploring the conflict their quiet mundanity presents against either the canon or the characters. (See also: why villain/antihero/antagonist fandoms tend to be full of “fluffy” memes.)

Like Roadhog and his pachimari.

For another, related, example, see any time anyone trots out kishōtenketsu as a “story without conflict” trope… and then proceed to give a handful of examples all of which include some kind of conflict. The fact that the conflict is usually framed as the story presenting contrasting narrative elements, with the conflict between them occurring within the reader’s head as a kind of dialectic—as opposed to direct “on the page” action—does not, in fact, actually mean the narrative is “without conflict”. But, like. Good luck getting anyone to admit that.

“But, Alis!” you might be thinking. “What you’re describing is contrast, not ‘conflict’. You’ve even used the word multiple times!”

Yeah. And what I’d argue is that, in almost all circumstances, when people talk about “conflict” in the context of narrative what they actually mean to talk about is contrast (a.k.a. tension). Two random characters having a fight is conflict, but it isn’t narratively interesting unless you’re one of those people who nuts to mechanized descriptions of fight scenes.1 Two characters having a fight over differing ideologies, on the other hand, is interesting, particularly when each side has some valid points and the audience themselves is engaged with attempting to determine who to root for and why. This is also why so many “popcorn villains” are so flat and kinda bullshit.

Think about, say, Strickland in Shape of Water, for example, who is pretty much the epitome of an uncompelling antagonist. This isn’t the fault of Michael Shannon, who does great; it’s because in the context of the narrative Strickland is just a one-note bad guy. He’s a bigot who hates the fish man! Okay, well… good on him, I guess. But the reality is Strickland could be replaced by literally anything else—including nothing at all—and the film’s conflict would remain the same. Why? Because the conflict in the film isn’t “oh no gubba gonna getcha fish, gurl”. It’s “ahaha in every other story like this the fish guy is either evil, or dies, or turns human at the end”. It’s a metatextual conflict, in other words, between the audience and their expectations for the genre. This is also, incidentally, why I thought the film was kinda meh; because I read a lot of monster romance, I have no genre expectation of the narrative going in any way other than “girl fucks fish man”. Because that’s how monster romances work!2 Which means the actual narrative itself felt empty in the “superficial conflict no contrast/tension” way.3 Also, the romance was really flat. Like, really flat.

I did look pretty, though. So… there’s that I guess.4 Also, it won a bunch of Oscars, which just goes to show why narrative conflict is such a minefield, since it leans so heavily on being able to anticipate the mental/emotional states of your audience…

  1. No judgement, you do you. ^
  2. Except when they’re, like, “boy fucks fish man”, or “girl fucks eldritch horror”, or “enby shares non-sexual intimacy with demon”, or whatever. ^
  3. Also see: the Obvious Hints that Sally is also, in fact, a fish monster. Meaning the story isn’t even “girl fucks fish man”, it’s “fish woman fucks fish man” which… eeeeeh. ^
  4. Though don’t get me started on the whole “sassy Black best friend with deadbeat husband” and “tragic queer uncle” tropes because, ugh. What is it about del Toro films and throwing intersectionality under the goddamn bus? ^
2018-07-27T14:30:20+00:0023rd September, 2018|Tags: fandom, fanfic, film, pop culture, writing, xp|0 Comments

Six twenty-nine.

Interesting take on what happened to The Simpsons, from someone who binge-watched all 629 episodes.

For the record, I don’t agree with their “turning the show character-driven killed it”, if only because a lot of the “Golden Age” Simpsons episodes were extremely character driven.1 You can’t tell me episodes like “Bart Sells His Soul” (7×04) or “And Maggie Makes Three” (6×13) or even “The Crepes of Wrath” (1×11) aren’t “character-driven” and/or focused on emotional catharsis. And the thing is… I couldn’t even really tell you a single one-off joke from any of those episodes. But I can recall every one of the climaxes: Bart’s growing wonder watching his “soul” flutter down in front of him, and his subsequent heart-to-heart with Lisa; “DO█IT FOR███ █████HER████████”; Bart suddenly speaking French to the policeman.

What I do think is that the Golden Age was better at integrating serious—or even emotionally complex—plotlines in around the jokes, which I think is also why people tend to remember the jokes and the plots separately. I mean, which episode is Lisa’s “I AM THE LIZARD QUEEN!” even from? I had to look this one up; after some thinking I was pretty sure the immediate context was the Duff Gardens episode, but… what episode even was the Duff Gardens episode?

Well, as it turns out, it’s “Selma’s Choice” (4×13), which is the one about Selma wanting to have a baby.2 And here is I think the real crux of the difference the Golden Era and the post-Golden Era. In the post-Golden Era, the plot would’ve been about the Simpson family visiting Duff Gardens, because someone thought the concept of “Duff Gardens” was lulz in-and-of itself. But in the Golden Age, the presence of Duff Gardens as a vehicle for humor is framed in the context of the broader, and (crucially) completely mundane set-up; an older woman struggling with her relationship to the social pressure for her to have children.3 In other words, what makes the Golden Age golden was its ability to successfully hide its humanist dramatic elements underneath its one-shot set-piece jokes. It was a clever (and humanist) show that worked very hard to convince its audience it was stupid (and nihilistic) and, for the most part, it succeeded. The fact that it eventually succumbed to its own version of Flanderization on a meta-level—making its jokes “jokier” and its humanist elements more glurgy—is both a bummer but, also, not surprisingly for a show that, if it were a person, would be old enough to vote.

All that being said, I do totally agree that the show massively, massively fucks over Lisa…

  1. Also, I’m sorry, but if you think the “Australian” episode was in any way anything other than awful your takes don’t count. I don’t make the rules. ^
  2. You remember it too, now, don’t you? She adopts Jub-Jub the iguana at the end. ^
  3. This is also why, for example, I think “The Crepes of Wrath” works in a way “Bart vs. Australia” doesn’t, even though they’re both technically Golden Age and have the same kind of “lawlz foreigners so weird amirite fellow Americans?” set-up. Under the jokes, “Crepes” is fundamentally about Bart’s own insecurity over his intelligence—a common theme in older Simpsons episodes, where Bart is shown to be smart, just not academic–as well as Homer’s relationship to his troubled-and-troublesome son. Meanwhile, “vs. Australia” is… I don’t even fucking know, man. It is its one-shot joke premise, all the way down. ^
2018-07-27T14:30:19+00:0022nd September, 2018|Tags: pop culture, tv|0 Comments

Kockring Ken.

[The designer of Earring Magic Ken] was looking for new ideas for the next year’s Ken—because a survey the company had done asking girls whether Barbie should get a new boyfriend, had returned the results that girls wanted Barbie to stay with Ken, but that wanted Ken to be “cooler.” The designer, realizing one of her nieces was exactly in the age group that played with Barbies, took her niece and several of the nieces friends out for ice cream at a mall. And there, she asked the girls to point out all the boys who they thought were dressed “cool.” As people walked by, the girls would point out guys (usually older teens or college-age looking), and the designer took notes and made quick sketches of the clothes and hairstyles.

She was not aware that the chrome metal ring some of the young men were wearing on chains around their necks were cockrings. And truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the guys wearing them didn’t know, any more than a lot of the girls in the mid-eighties inspired by Madonna started wearing silicon cockrings as bracelets. And also, most of those guys probably weren’t gay. It’s often been the case that certain marginalized groups, including by not limited to queers, establish fashion trends that get copied subsequently by other folks.

fontfolly on where fashion comes from.

Wait. A pash-band is a what now? themoreyouknow.gif

2018-03-29T10:14:20+00:0020th September, 2018|Tags: culture, quiltbag|0 Comments

Back to basics.

Anil Dash on returning to the building blocks of the web. Which is to say, the idea of “the web” being made up of thousands of small privately run sites, rather than a handful of giant data-sucking digital feudal states. (Among other things.)

For people who don’t know Web History 1.0, Dash was one of the key figures of the early personal web, involved in the development of services including Movable Type (and its hosted version, TypePad) and LiveJournal (before it got sold to the Russians, in a move that looks Portentous In Hindsight).1

As someone who has run some version of my own website since 1999, and my own server since circa 2000, obviously I’m biased towards Dash’s argument. I’ve always crossposted content to the big “social” platforms of the day2—see for example my Tumblr and Dreamwidth—but I don’t let content sit there forever (it gets auto-deleted after about a month) and the “master” copy is always held by me, in my own database. I like the “data sovereignty” aspect of keeping my own stuff on my own site,3 but the main issue is, and always has been, in discoverability/social interaction. Hence the crossposting.

This is not something I think is insurmountable. The current crop of self-hosted blog/CMS tools are not great on things like federation but there’s no reason that needs to remain the case. Services like Mastodon and diaspora* prove modern social features like dashboards, liking, and reblogging work fine in a federated/multi-server model… even cross-app, assuming everyone is using open protocols. (Remember things like RSS and trackbacks?)

Obviously running their own federated social network infrastructure is not going to be an option for everybody. But, again, I think there’s a happy medium between “everyone is their own admin” and “Facebook owns everyone”. Think family- and community group-run instances of Federated Social Platform X, which can talk to but retain backend infrastructure/data isolation from other instances.

This is, obviously, idealistic and the main barrier here is money. Facebook has the money to run servers and pay devs to put in the features in a way, say, diaspora* admins don’t.4 Again, this isn’t a new problem; more people use iPhones than Ubuntu, too, despite them both technically being forks of the same operating system. But Apple, like Facebook, has the money, and the devs, and the designers, and thus the ability to produce (and market) a polished, commodified user experience.

All that being said, money alone won’t save Facebook if, for example, its bad PR gets to critical mass and/or (more likely) its business model is ruled illegal. And if the empires of digital feudal lords start to crumble, then Web 1.0 v2.0 will be waiting for it…

  1. Speaking of LiveJournal; one of the things a lot of people seem to forget is that LJ was originally only the official hosted version of a free codebase. In other words, anyone with a server could set up a LiveJournal clone… and they did, which gave us things like DeadJournal, InsaneJournal, JournalFen, and Dreamwidth. In theory, you can even still set up your own clone; I’m not sure where the LJ code lives these days, but DW’s fork has some fairly straightforward instructions. ^
  2. … Assuming they have APIs to do so. ^
  3. Obviously, I don’t run my own datacenter, so I’m still on someone else’s infrastructure somewhere down the chain. But there is a lot more choice of providers here than if I were relying solely on a SaaS/PaaS service like Facebook/Tumblr/Medium/WordPress.com/Blogger/etc., and also the financial relationship is a lot more traditional; I’m my provider’s customer, not advertisers or data brokers or governments. ^
  4. This is also one of the reasons I think Mastodon has gotten much more traction versus Twitter than diaspora* has versus Facebook; Twitter’s more abbreviated service and kinda crappy product management makes it a much softer target. ^
2018-09-05T13:04:11+00:0018th September, 2018|Tags: social media, tech|0 Comments