Wednesday, June 11, 2014

GoT: Perhaps the Nail in the Coffin for Nerds

Jesus told me that before commenting on the speck in one's eye, to remove the log from thine on. And in the holiest of spirits, I've managed to watch many an adaptation from printed material into TV's and movies without ever consulting the original material. Dexter for example was a series I enjoyed one season of, and was never inspired to pick up the books, nor avoid watching the shows until I had read ahead. True Blood I managed to watch for longer, and can honestly say if not for HBO I would never, ever have picked up one of it's source material books. I also never did, and probably never will.

Furthermore, in the most abundant source of adaptations - movies - there must be hundreds of books I've never read but enjoyed the films of. It is in fact quite rare for a film, like American Psycho, to inspire me to actually go read the book. That's probably the only example I can think of. But even rarer is for me to read a book, and then want to go see a movie of it. It's been a long time, probably half my life when news of an adaptation of something I liked brought excitement to my mind, not a scowl to my face.

And much of my life, I just dismissed it as hype backlash. I don't like things I like becoming popular. But more recently, I realised - no. I'm not that (or just) petty and spiteful, I was actually looking at the data, the facts the evidence and making worthwhile predictions. The main prediction being that a movie adaptation can only diminish my enjoyment of the source material.

Notable exceptions - Dexter, again I never read the books, but the TV series departed quickly from the author's plot lines, and from the wikipedia synopses I read, made a wise decision as the author actually managed to lose the plot. And perhaps in the greatest exception of all time, Peter Jackson managed to take historically important but ultimately poorly written and dull collection of books, and turn them into actually entertaining films. A process he reversed with the Hobbit.

HBO's adaptation of GoT lost me with it's opening title sequence. But being a passive medium, I managed to watch it until Robert Baretheon's pre-death scene, a ham fisted sequence where the Lannister Page keeps unsubtly offering Robert 'more wine'. Then I was truly lost, and can't remember whether this was before or after writers added a ham-fisted exposition scene where the mastermind Littlefinger outlines his plans for domination to two whores fisting each other, because this is who brilliant masterminds confide in. Ultimately I decided the show was ruining my own rich visions of the novels in Tyrion's trial at the Airy, very early on in the first season, where the liberties taken to inject humor instilled no confidence that Tyrion's character would be even able to live up to his stature in print.

So I made the personal choice to just stop following the show, figuring at best it could luck out and actually match how I envisioned the novel on my own internal visual sketch pad. There just wasn't any casting decisions, writing decisions, directing decisions, costume decisions etc. to convince me that was possible.

And whatever, I've done this before. I assume I wrote about the adaptation of Watchmen a couple of years ago, now thankfully forgotten, with it's prequal series launched by DC 'Before Watchmen' forgotten almost as soon as it was released.

See as I figure, I can't be alone in my general stance on adaptations, my general skepticism. What I also figure is that my mindset and what I experience emotionally watching all this shit, is not unique either. Somewhere in 1931 as Las Vegas, Nevada legalized gambling, some statistician/mathematician/economist probably felt very similar emotions as they realised that the populace at large was never going to actually conclude based on the evidence that the house always wins.

Because I'm not anti-adaptation per se. Though generally down on them for the following hopefully succinct reasons 1) the creator should create for the medium they pick, specifically for the medium they pick - if you are writing for a comic, it should be intended to be a comic. 2) adapting material is risk averse, if producers are only going to adapt material that has a proven following, or remake past hits then we are deprived of all the best possible films - films written with the intention of being films. 3) they have a long track history of being bad, due to the concessions and limitations and expense of the film medium.

That said, there are good things adaptations can do - they can expose a story to an audience that would never have discovered it otherwise. Old product - new fans. They can also direct new fans to the source material. In the lead up to Watchmen's release, there where whole shelves of the Watchmen collected volume.

And now, GoT is different. It's different from Harry Potter, also a fairly crappy adaptation film franchise of novels beloved to seemingly the entire literate world. Yet unlike GoT, reading the source material of Harry Potter was practically mandatory. Thus you never in the lead up to the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince movie, got in trouble for dropping that Snape kills Dumbledore.

But GoT has given rise to a spoiler etiquette that is seemingly unique, I've never come across it before. Which is, people who have read the books, the source material which has been out for over ten years for most of the series thus far are not allowed to talk about it, something I've been able to do most of my adult life up until the last 2-3 years. There's a riding gag order lest we spoil the viewing experiences of people who know the series as GoT.

Which you know, as per the first paragraph, whatever. I guess if somebody had told me that the serial killer in season 1 of Dexter was Dexter's long lost brother when I was only up to episode 5, I would have thought them a dick.

It's just that A Song of Ice and Fire wasn't like a New York Times Bestseller (which every book seems to be) but probably had eclipsed Robert Jordan's Wheel Of Time as the number one ongoing fantasy book series in the world.

And herein I'll draw a line between comics and fantasy novels, which I hope people won't find too much of a stretch. They are both quite large subcultures. About as 'mainstream' as something can get without it being truly 'mainstream' but consisting by and large of a vast swamp of nerds.

The tragedy of adaptations, I maintain was never about the mainstream getting hold of it, it was that the adaptation gets made because of the existing fanbase, the nerds. That's what makes it a safe bet and money maker for the producers. And it reveals the nakedness of the nerds low self-esteem. (and also confirms that the nerds key defining trait for me, is lack of imagination) They get excited by the prospect of Captain America finally making it to the silver screen, so the mainstream can discover how cool he is and finally the nerds excellent taste will be validated.

This is the eternal hope, this validation, that allows nerds to overlook that in the history of comic book adaptations (the most populous genre of blockbusters this past decade) the number of good films produced can be counted on one hand just about. Iron Man 1, Spiderman 1 + 2, Batman 1989 (and I'll put personal prejudice aside and go with consensus) The Dark Knight. And with comics, in particular the case of Batman, the screenplay writers have over 50 years of publication history to cherry pick the best storylines from. And they still rarely make a memorable or powerful film.

Highlighting the rare successes though perhaps doesn't make salient the long list of dud comic book adaptations that have been made. And sure, they keep getting made because they keep making money. But Casinos stay in business because people keep losing money. People keep losing money not because Casinos use nefarious tactics to trick people into gambling more (though they do) it's because mathematically over the long haul, they are set up so their customers will lose money. Nerds lose money to movies, they ultimately cry out for their IP to make big budget adaptations, shot on IMAX stock in 3D and to cast recognisible and expensive hollywood stars, and to litter them with expensive CGI effects limiting all the actual visually interesting stuff to just minutes out of 90 minutes sitting in a cinema.

And for what? The strongest argument I can make is that nerds get anticipatory pleasure out of the whole process even if ultimately it results in disappointment. But that disappointment is a permanent stain on your beloved subjects permanent record. Something that will pop into your head whenever you revisit it. I don't think most nerds are really aware of anticipatory pleasure to actually go in for it.

I would still assert that it's validation, for some reason, nerds worship and fetishize the silver screen. Unless their beloved nerd-obsession is made into a film for mass consumption, it's invalid. But which validation, the need for a film to convince you that you are actually into something you're already into. Which I think is in part true. But I suspect there's an anticipation, a baseless one if you look at history, that you will somehow be recognised and validated by the mainstream for being into something before everyone else was. It never happens, and nobody ever discovers something they are into, and wishes they had discovered it earlier (with the possible exception of bands that used to tour but now don't). But society has never ever awarded kudos to anybody for discovering something first. Not since explorers anyway.

And just as my historical 1930's friend might have realised that the Casinos of Las Vegas probably heralded that people would never realise the plain truth that the house always wins. I think GoT possibly indicates that nerds at large will never realise that adaptations are generally crappy and they should stop writing all their favorite authors and artists to ask them if one is in the works. Because GoT's first season probably induced as many new readers to pick up the books as the series is going to, leaving us with the vast majority 'the mainstream' who don't want to read the books lest it ruin the TV series for them. Thus those nerds who desperately seek their validation, are actually people they desperately want to avoid.

Leaving the most hopeless cases of all, that class of fans that have read A Song of Ice And Fire and still watch Game of Thrones. What's up with that? Fucken morons like my brother.

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