Monday, April 19, 2010

Why Sex, Violence and Romance Work Better Than Philosophical Mumbo-Jumbo

"The verb is the chassis of the sentence. It's the framework to which the other parts are bolted."
Steven Pinker

I'm going to advance the following proposition, which parallels Pinker's assertion:

'Story' is the chassis of the human mind.

I've been searching for a short way to express this idea for some time, and this here works for me. I'll leave you to think about it for a while.

Meanwhile though...

It's often been asked, and in some circles bemoaned, why stories have to be full of sex Imagined or actual) and violence (mental or physical) in order to attract large audiences. Either that or some serious romance—possibly with an element of tragedy, as long as it isn't just depressing; thus Shadowlands, for example, is OK, because while very sad it's not depressing.

Note that I was talking about 'large audiences', ignoring the arty-farty literati and cinemati. There's been plenty of literary and cinematographic fiction without either sex or violence—at least none I can necessarily see. But, let's face it, it's actually boring. Boring, boring, boring. It's the stuff you read for the 'language' or see for the sake of the 'performances' or the 'brilliant script/direction/cinematography', blah blah blah. When people come out of movies of that ilk, they end up talking about these things, and very rarely about 'story'.

That's because—and defying my statement above—there was no story to speak of, and because of that the other stuff, what made it worthwhile spending money and time on, seemed brilliant by comparison. I would claim that, contrary to what academic wisdom asserts—that no literary work would ever make it to literary stardom without there being a good story in it—this is indeed possible. That because people—like they did with 'Chance, The Gardener' in Being There—project their own stories upon this dismal void of blah; and since people usually think their own story is important and significant and so on, they tend to look kindly upon the almost-blank canvas that has just enough of a hint of something on it, so that they aren't scared of the complete blankness; a common enough fear, as almost every painter knows, and authors, too, I guess. I haven't got it and never had, mind you; so I 'm conjecturing, based on anecdotal evidence from real people, as well as those I've only read about.

But any story that has Sex, Violence and/or Romance, and preferably all three, in it, starts from a solid foundation of what you might call psychological predisposition in the audience members. Doesn't mean the writer/director can't screw it up and make it shit, but that's not the point. Basic Ur-needs, experiences and inclinations of our psyche, fashioned from SVR provides an instantly recognizable and relatable-to framework. Male chases female. Female selects male for breeding. Security is threatened—in reality or imagination: doesn't matter—and actions need to be taken, 'defensive' or 'offensive', to neutralize the threat. You can't get it more 'Ur' than that. Everything else is a MacGuffin, background, plot-driver, life-complicator, obstacle to fulfillment and so on.

Of course, when I say 'framework', we're not talking about something static. Rather it's about a framework of driving forces, which serve both, as causal and teleological, direction-givers. Put in restraints and constraints, and you have the story. Push the button and off it goes, with a gentle push from the author here and there to make sure the story goes this way but not that.

And, to speak from an author's point of view—mine anyway—writing about SVR is much more fun that penning, say, something along the lines of Waiting For Godot, which, I'm utterly certain, was anything but fun. And an author is allowed his fun, damnit. We're just people, you know!

More on this in the next blog. Maybe.

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