Since I wrote about fans’ feelings of entitlement over the creative directions of the things they love, I’ve been wondering on and off about Lost–specifically, online reviewers’ claims about what ought to have happened/been revealed in any given episode. And as we get closer to the series finale (3.5 hours to go, at this point), it seems that this tendency to demand is growing fiercer.
This was especially apparent as I read through the stellar soundbites of “Across the Sea” reviews collected over at Cultural Learnings (a site I’m especially eager to visit more often since that blogger seems to have decided to watch Buffy for the first time at just about the same time I did–we’re both in season 3!). Repeatedly, people who clearly love Lost and know all kinds of arcane details (mine: I tell people that Jack’s mother shares a name with my wife) write sentences with a nagging mother’s “I disapprove” tone. Things like (and I’m making these up, not quoting actual articles):
- “They should have given us more time with Desmond and Penny instead of introducing these new characters.” (But would you want to just see Des and Pen hanging around, without a thick, complex plot to move around in?)
- “They should have told us more about what Mother/Eve’s motivations were.” (But for someone to have simplistic, easily explained motivations would be exceptionally anti-Lost, where every sick action can be partly explained through prior abuse and partly through real seeds of grossness in the heart.)
- “They should have let us learn MiB’s motivations through his actions, not through hit-you-over-the-head narrative.” (But you’re the same person who wanted clearer answers, I thought…?)
I guess this sounds as if I’m more annoyed than I really am. But I’m at least . . . surprised/confused that at this point in the game, without seeing how it wraps up, people really feel they know better what should come when in the series. I don’t mind when people have serious critiques, but I tend to be more supportive of those that are textual or thematic critiques–“I think that character’s actions seem to imply an inconsistent motivation or meaning with the motivations and meanings we were given earlier”–than with those that are big-picture or super-structural critiques–“It was wrong for the producers to do X at Y stage in the series.”
And finally, the reason this is actually worth writing at all: because as I said in my post back in February on “fans loving too much,” I usually A) have these gut-level reactions against Lost critics, and then B) feel kind of surprised at myself, since I intellectually support folks who take ownership of a series and do new stuff with it–say, in fan fic or vidding or art or whatever.
Maybe it’s that creative fan activities feel like a different genre–or, in Lost language, a parallel timeline. Whenever someone says, “I wish they hadn’t shown ‘Across the Sea’ at all, and I’m going to write the episode that I would have put there instead,” the timeline splits and there’s beauty and coolness in both parallel worlds. But when someone says, “I want to pretend that I know as much as Darlton about what ought to have happened in the canon Lost universe,” well, I think that people should sometimes (but not always!) let Lost be Lost.
I wrote a few days ago about the rhetoric of fiction, musing about what kinds of expectations fiction authors create in readers, and the weird reactions that result when readers’ expectations aren’t met.
I’m thinking these days less about the rhetoric of fiction as a whole and more about examples of rhetorical appeals in fiction, as made by the characters. I think it would be fun to teach a course to English majors by using fiction (and TV shows and movies) to give examples of people persuading each other in all kinds of complex ways.
I’m writing this post because I’ve never really approved of using literature to teach rhetorical writing skills. That’s because it’s fairly common for graduate students in literature at my university to teach first-year composition for their first few years, and it seems to me that they often try to turn it into a literature class, not an introduction to rhetoric class. Like, I would rather spend my precious little class time with students’ writing as the focus of the class, not in an open-ended, interpretive, lit-class-style conversation about whatever novel or short story we were assigned to read. I’m partly passionate about this because I’ve been convinced by rhet/comp scholars who feel similarly, and partly because I see this as the biggest failure of my two years teaching high school English: I thought chatting about books would make students better writers, but it usually didn’t.
BUT. I’m increasingly interested in the idea of an advanced comp class, for folks who have already taken the required two comp courses, where we read examples of characters using persuasive appeals. Here’s where I would start:
- G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday (full text and excellent free audiobook): I would have students read the first three chapters, which are full of arguments between individuals, arguments given in speeches to a group, and identity-switches (which are necessarily ethos-switches). I don’t want to be too spoiler-y, but this stuff is begging to be analyzed rhetorically–and if students read the whole book, it could even be read from a big-picture angle too, as we question the big-picture argument that Chesterton makes in the novel about the nature of God.
- Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game: I want students to read the chapter where Ender’s story is put aside as we learn about the online rhetorical genius of Peter and Valentine as they literally change politics through disguised pseudonyms in a chat room. (I’ve written about this before.)
- “The Constant,” a season-4 episode of Lost (and probably my favorite episode of the series): Desmond’s consciousness is traveling between his 1996 self and 2004 self, and he has to convince people that he’s telling the truth or he’s going to die. He relies on all sorts of persuasive appeals with increasing desperation–and (SPOILER ALERT) he’s saved when he finally finds his constant in both time frames–or perhaps it’s not a stretch to say he focuses on his thesis throughout his essay. Just sayin’. (I was honored to give a presentation on my efforts to teach this episode from this angle at the 2009 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.)
- “Hippocratic Oath,” a season-4 episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, for very similar reasons: characters disagree with each other on really sticky ethical grounds, and they argue about it in all kinds of fascinating ways. And to DS9’s great credit, they refuse to cleanly resolve the issue. Love it.