SYMBOLIC: ADVENTURES IN TEXT
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February 14, 2005
114: Action vs Reaction
I've been working through my Tivo backlog the last few days, getting caught up on the few TV shows I've allotted myself this season. It comes down to Alias and 24 for my action fix. I gave up both last season -- just a little too much going on with the new baby and all -- but figured I could find time for both this year and, with a complete lack of knowledge about the events of each show over the last season, I thought they would be marginally more entertaining if I had to play catch up. As it turns out, there isn't a whole lot of catching up to do.
On Alias, Sidney and Vaughn still stare at each other like dogs in heat with electrodes attached to their genitals -- that constipated look of consternation that says "I want you, but it will hurt and I don't know what to do." Jack Bristow has the same look but his expression is brought about by being constrained by his need to be validated by his daughter who doesn't appreciate the fact that he's about the only man in the Abrams-ian universe who could kick ass and take names if he wasn't so hampered by his overly developed sense of moral guilt. Meanwhile, on 24 Jack (funny how the men of action are all named "Jack") Bauer still abides by the Man of Action's First Rule: If something gets in your way, you are fully authorized to break it. Of course, the flip-side of the 1st Rule is: the consequences of breaking shit is that, invariably, your situation will get worse. It's the escalation effect of the First Rule which keeps us all glued to the tube, eagerly watching the compounding cycle of Things Get Worse.
It's an interesting contrast of styles and one that I'm currently wrestling with myself. Too much of the Alias Factor and your characters start having conversations like "We're spontaneous, aren't we? We don't over analyse situations. Do we?" Yeah, note from the audience: too late. When you don't have a larger canvas against which you are playing, moments between action pieces are filled with over-wrought self-reflection like this: the characters stand around and draw attention to their basic flaws. They don't have anything else to do; they're just waiting for the next isolated opportunity to go break shit. Or you have conversations filled with self-generated angst or just turgid info dumping.
Sloane: "We need information about the October Contingent. Vaguely Russian Sounding Character has it. We need to contact him."
Bristow: "Prudence dictates not involving VRSC."
Sloane: "I surmise from your tone and word choices that you think I haven't considered the ramifications of contacting VRSC."
Bristow: "No, it is my job to bitch and whine about every choice we make because I'm an old lady and I'd rather not be disturbed from the hours and hours of torturous guilt I need to inflict upon myself about the choices I've been forced into in order to protect my family and my country because you've made decisions to utilize characters like VRSC in the past."
Sloane: "Noted. Do it on your own time after you've made contact with VRSC."
Bristow: "I may have to hurt someone."
"Yes!" We shout from the couch, "And start with the pinhead behind the desk."
Bristow: [Heavy sigh. Pained look.] "My daughter must never know of my actions. She may think less of me."
Meanwhile, over on 24 Jack Bauer has killed about 87 people already.
It's the difference between being a Man of Action and Man of Reaction. Especially when you are talking about thrillers (and, yes, mainstream contemplative novels are all about Reacting), the story needs to be propelled by Action. It's certainly permissible that the main character be clueless as to the Nefarious Plan but his efforts to discover that plan must be pro-active -- he's got to be out there kicking in teeth and knocking down doors in an effort to ascertain the source of the Nefarious Plan. It's when you write a line like this that you need to rethink your plan:
"Even though there was only six hours until the missiles launched and nuclear armageddon swept across the face of the planet, Jack paused while changing clothes as he noticed a grey blue ball of fuzz in his bellybutton. 'Where does navel link come from?' he wondered, plucking the fluffy mass from the deep trap of his bellybutton. 'I wasn't wearing a blue shirt today.'"
Yeah, kill them all now. Save us the time.
Posted by Teppo at February 14, 2005 08:01 AM