Forbes on Fiction: Audience and the Author, or Something

Forbes on Fiction: Audience and the Author, or Something

Audience and the Author, or Something

I was watching Vince McMahon in a slight stupor, having probably one too many Coke and Courvoisier (is that how I spell that? I don’t know, don’t give a shit you know the cognac, Jesus, man) and he was talking about paying attention to the consumer, and he knows, because he destroyed all competition so that now every wrestler in America is either an employee of his or just sits around in high school gyms shooting steroids and cursing Vince’s name like peasants in the east used to curse the Golden Horde.

Paying attention to the consumer. I don’t understand this. I spent my formative years as a vicious communist who spat on the name of capitalism until I found out how fun it was to have some money. I missed out on things like customer service, general decency, stuff like that. Paying attention to the consumer, well. I guess I should do that.

But what does that mean? Sometimes I think authors pay too much attention to the consumer. Now that sounds silly. Counter-intuitive. You should pay attention, right? You should think about how your audience, your consumer, thinks about the material and how’d they react. You should think about what they want to read about, right? Give the people what they want, right? That’s an American tradition, like apple pie and road trips.

Whatever, bro. I think naught. Look at the state of movies in America right now. There’s an awful lot of supposed blockbusters and films out there now that do “what the people wanted.”

And what do you get? Same old shit. These creations, involving hundreds of talented people on and off stage, with millions of dollars, churn out some regurgitated mess where every surprise is already known, where every “twist” is lame, where we all know the bad guys are going to lose and the good guys when and blah blah blah I’m already tired writing about this stuff.

So many films (and increasingly, gasp, books) follow the same old tired formulas time and time again. It’s because of this audience worship bullshit that’s out there. I’m sorry, audience. But deal with some change. You’ll like it. Remember, your whole life has been taking chances about stuff that’s weird or new. When you were a kid, you probably were scared of rollercoasters but found them to be awesome to do. Same thing with sex and drugs and armed robbery. Like me.

Authors and screenwriters should remember that all great successes were done even though they were scary to pull off. Think about it. Come on.

The Godfather.
You thought you were going to see a film about Marlon Brando being an Italian gangster with a speech impediment and what do you got? He was shot and out of the movie for like forty minutes, and you’re following around his son played by this nobody Al Pacino, who has to take the reigns. Interesting, yes? Formulaic? Nope.

Breaking Bad. A chemistry teacher becomes an asshole drug lord? And he just becomes more unlikeable as time goes on with little redeeming qualities other than using a robot machine gun to kill Nazis? What? Typical audience stuff for sure.

The Stand. So the end of the world is just the beginning of the story? Credits aren’t rolling, and the anti-Christ doom figure shows up, and the good guys follow around a 108-year-old African American woman from Nebraska who is a prophet of God?

Watership Down. Typical ultra-violent rabbit stuff that we’ve all read a million times.


See what I did? Those films, shows and books, all huge successes, never ever played into audience expectations. True originality at work. There was no audience to work with before hand, no consumer base in mind (and good luck explaining the premise before they read/see it- think about explaining Avatar or Terminator 2 by only explaining the plot). The authors and writers of these works decided to basically do what they thought was awesome and go for it. Yes, it could be a major disaster a la Cop Rock with its singing police thing or whatever that tv show was, but it could be a chance to really break out of the pack.

Too many times, authors just want to do a paint by numbers and hope that the audience gets suckered into and digs it.

That works too. Unfortunately. Vince McMahon has millions of dollars doing the same shit over the last fifteen years since the end of the Attitude Era of the WWF (now WWE) and still rakes in cash. Fast and Furious will never die anytime soon. They play up to what the audience wants. Cars, muscles, explosions, quips sequel hooks, more quips. Guns. Every Michael Bay movie made.

Wait, what was my point then? Don’t know anymore. Shit. I guess you should pay attention to the audience and then not, or- maybe it’s because WWE has- I don’t know. Lost track here.

All I know is that if I attach my name to something, it should be original. Nobody is bragging about being a writer on the WWE. Or Fast and the Furious.

Pride means something, I suppose. This is America.

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The End of the World, You Jerk.

Have you? I don’t think so. I know that for a fact. Really, I do. You see, you are here, sitting in front of your computer, complacent as a cat on a warm windowsill, thinking, well the end will never come for me. I’m just going to play with a ball of yarn and think of sweet nothings…

BUT…. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN. IT CAN. Crack open a history book, Jack. It does. Oh yeah. Sick stuff happens. Oh yeah, sometimes the stars are just right… Gotta remember that. Things go south, and things get real ugly, like when you try to use a Diner’s Club card at Buffalo Wild Wings and that punk P.O.S. waiter with the acne looks at you like you just unzipped your fly and used the guacamole as a urinal. Remember the old Romans in Britain? They saw the last legion take off and leave them to the who-evers. Braveheart looking guys, from what I suspect, with murder and burning on their mind. Or maybe those poor Iraqis in Baghdad who saw the Mongols come swooping in, burning their libraries and then tossing their Caliph into a rug and then running it over with a thousand horses? They saw the “end of the world” and civilization as they knew it. Don’t get smart with me you know that’s a real thing. Civilizations end. Dinosaurs die. Jurassic Park is no more.

Continuing on a dark and uncomfortable theme, do you know how many times the world has almost ended for the entire human race? Twice in the 20th century, which most of us grew up, you say? You’d be right. Three times if you count the Cuban Missile Crisis. But you know all about that, smart guy. Hell four times, actually. You’ll see.

You see, World War Two was a close moment. I mean, it could’ve thrown us back into the dark ages. Nazis get Atomics; Nazis run the world, Japanese people making us bow to them in San Francisco under threat of Samurai attack, all that grim possible stuff. It would have been for every educated and decent soul a decent into total darkness and death if the Axis powers (Germany, Japan and their comedic relief partner Italy had won). The Cuban Missile Crisis like I said before. Or for example, if that guy in Russia hadn’t had stopped an automatic response to a radar glitch that could have caused World War Three in 1983. That could have been the end for a lot of us living right now.


Don’t know about him? Look him up, rube. Stanislav Petrov. Lieutenant Colonel. In charge of an early warning system in the Soviet Union that malfunctioned and believed that the USA was launching five nuclear missiles at the Russian heartland on September 26, 1983. Ignored it for multiple reasons, went against standing orders, didn’t report the launches to his gerontocracy of superiors that would have more than likely lead to the Soviet Union splattering U.S. cities with high grade hydrogen weapons that would have made Washington, D.C. and a helluva lot of other cities smoldering radioactive ruins that you could play Fallout 4 in for real. Because, if they launch, we would launch, and join everyone in a final dance of ultra-violence. That’s how people thought in the 1980s. Take the other bastards down, make them burn or eat radiation if they were doing the same to us. That wasn’t that long ago. Back to the Future was set in 1985 and that movie was crazy good, and everyone saw that.

So think about. You knew about two. Did you know about the third one? During most of our lifetimes, a simple man sitting in a small probably smelly bunker with nothing but Vodka and time saved the world. And you didn’t know about it. You had no idea. That’s how close the entire human race came to living in some cool Mad Max-esque poophole. You had no clue. I didn’t at all for the longest time. I didn’t know my life was owed to some Russian guy. So when I heard about this whole escapade, I wondered, wow, my life could be totally different (or totally not existing because I would be vaporized in the first wave).

It made me think about the end of the world, really. First off, I realized one truth. That one truth was when you die one day; that’s the end of the world. That’s your personal apocalypse. You’ll feel that deep in your bones and want to avoid it. But nope. LOL. By the way, that’s totally going to happen. Sorry. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Second, and on a happier note, what will you do when the world ends? In that sort of civilization-ending sense, not your personal existence being blown out to oblivion sense which will happen no matter what?

Sorry for the reminder on that first thing I just said.

Well, I know what I will do. If the big red balloon goes up and there’s nothing I can do about it, I’ll probably drink myself into a stupor and get up on the biggest high-rise in the area and watch it all play out like a Greek tragedy played by high schoolers.

Or… if it’s a cooler ending, and just like the world ended but I’m still alive, I think I’ll start a gang of cannibals who ride in diesel trucks. I’m a smooth talker, and I can present a damn fine power point presentation about the need to sack nearby still living towns for human flesh.

I’m sorry I don’t have anything more to say about that. But maybe you should think about it. The world could end. The Apocalypse could show up, and it could get weird soon. You should think about it.

And death. That’s gonna suck. That Apocalypse is always here for you.

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Forbes on Fiction: Lesson from Japan

I passed out for a few hours on the kitchen floor to be gently awoken by my cat licking my face and the gentle sounds of Detective Conan (AKA Cased Closed) playing on the living room television. I stumbled out to the living room cursing, slumped onto the couch and stared at the large screen television, slack-jawed and bleary eyed and intoxicated still, and realized Jesus Christ, what a program my wife likes to watch. This is some original shit. I don’t know if its good buts its original.

For those of not in the know, Detective Conan is a Japanese anime series that’s been running for the last twenty years to great success in Japan and is about a genius teenage detective who is poisoned by a crime syndicate who have code names based on types of alcohol (Vodka and Gin are two main adversaries in his life he can’t get rid of, something I can relate to). This results not in his death but being reduced to being ten years old all over again. He lives with this Detective guy with a moustache and a heavy drinking problem who regularly gains credit for Conan’s detective work because Conan puts him to sleep and uses his body as a puppet show to explain certain crimes and this girl who’s the detective’s daughter I think who liked Conan before when he was a just a regular famous teenage detective (?) He has a scientist friend that looks like Albert Einstein who does jack shit except equip Conan with rocket shoes and a Dick Tracy style radio watch that shoots tranquilizers. He mostly crosses his arms and agrees with Detective Conan’s conclusions. He also may be head of the syndicate. I’m very confused. It’s in Japanese.

I could be wrong about all these things, but I think this is a generally correct summary of the show. Conan also has another love interest in a woman assassin who used to work for the alcohol people who was also poisoned with what turns you into a ten-year-old poison thing.

Despite being on the surface to simple westerners as myself looking like a show for kids, it’s really not. Its pretty fucking adult. Case in point, one of the TV movie specials features a genius boy who jumps off the roof of his high rise, killing himself, but not before setting up a game in Virtual Reality that kills other children of the rich. Or there was another episode where Conan finds out about a next door neighbor who decided to thrill kill his pensioner neighbor in her eighties just for fun. Or the episode with the guy who strangled a woman in the woods outside Mt. Fuji and who used a hang glider to get away.

This is, needless to say, jarring, especially as the whole thing is a cartoon. It’d be like watching a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode where Splinter and the Ninja Turtles have to defeat Kevin Spacey from “Seven”. I’m pretty sure there was even a sex crime episode complete with DNA evidence.

That being said, it’s a show that, whatever you can think about it, does not give a fuck about convention. Oh, you think it should just kept to kiddie topics like defeating robot thieves because it has a 10-year-old boy, Detective? Nope, fuck off, its got real killers. Think it should kept serious at all times? Nope, there’s a guy with giant springs in his shoes who dresses up like the Phantom of the Opera.He’s a jewel thief. And a Detective.

Detective Conan is generally regarded as a classic anime in Japan and while I can’t say I can get behind that (first I would need to know some Japanese, sorry wife, and the English versions I’ve seen have the worst goddamn theme song in the history of mankind-it literally starts with the words “It was the first new century, in a hundred yeaaaaaars…” and feature lines such as “Wimbledon! It’s something about Tennis!” (NO SHIT), I can get behind the entire unrestrained fuck it all attitude of the writing that I can generally see. I mean there’s no real boundaries. There’s no limit on imagination here, no lines that can’t be crossed because of some arbitrary rules of genre that must be followed. A lot of Japanese anime operates the same way in this sort of Thunderdome-style no rules of fiction.

And that’s goddamn refreshing especially in this sort of postmodern age where really everything has been done under the sun.

Example, Star Trek: The Next Generation never could stray outside its own pre-set arbitrary boundaries. With one random and disturbing line about rape gangs by Tasha Yar in one episode (that was never ever repeated or discussed further because it made Picard uncomfortable I suppose), sexual assault, harassment and abuse of women has disappeared in the future, which I’m gonna go out on a limb here, I doubt will ever happen. Alcoholism and addiction apparently never existed except for that episode where Wesley gets everyone hooked on some sort of alien video game thing that was a plot against the Federation or something. No Federation officer ever straight up starts selling Phasers to some terrorists in the Bumblefuck sector, Riker doesn’t get called in for a poor performance review because he didn’t remember some idiotic bureaucratic procedure, Troi isn’t menaced by other women for dressing the way she does, there’s no unexpected transfers of personnel that costs the Enterprise, no giant space spider putting the ship in a web made out of the lost souls of children from late-term abortions…, etc, etc. You know it as an audience that Star Track was gonna stay a certain way, and the writers knew that there were certain lines that couldn’t be crossed, and that’s just a general shame for creativity.

I’m not saying Picard should have an episode where he went time traveling and fought crime with a talking dog while fighting off an addiction to painkillers, but, you know, having a show or novel or short story where literally anything was possible makes it much more of a fun ride for both the audience and the writers.

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