Shakespeare adaptations I would stage that would still be better than some productions I’ve seen

Romeo and Juliet but with gangster zombies and all of the music from West Side Story

The Cyberpunk Merchant of Venice (Shylock is a lender of Bit Coins)

Pericles, Prince of Tyre but with Muppets

Sci-fi Julius Caesar. Juugron Caesar has big plans for the Shaafl’zar Galaxy, but a band of rebels led by B’rutus see Caesar as a threat…

I Henry IV but everyone is dressed as a dog

A re-imagining of The Taming of the Shrew where Kate and Bianca kill all the men at the end

Othello where everyone is black except Othello

King John but in Nazi Germany

A production of Lear (Second Folio version) where one actor plays Regan, Goneril, and Cordelia

A 2-night crossover event between the characters of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labours’ Lost

A groundbreaking examination of the ways that consumerism is rewiring our brains and the media is turning us into pacified, unthinking, and uncritical children in The Comedy of Errors

A one-man-show of The Tempest, by David Bowie

Antony and Cleopatra but in Nazi Germany

A re-focused version of Twelfth Night that takes a grim, hard-hitting look at Sir Toby’s alcoholism

Goth Richard III

A big-budget Titus Andronicus musical featuring the greatest hits of superstar American rock band Journey


(Repost) Metafiction

I sat down to write my story.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I could have written about doomed lovers, or an underdog triumphing over adversity, or an epic battle between good and evil. I could have explored the human condition, what it means to love and be loved, or the negative effects of capitalism on the proletariat. But that’s all been done before.

I wanted to write something different, something that hadn’t been done a hundred times before. But what is there left? After millennia of making up and telling stories, is there anything original left? Is there anything new to say?

I closed my laptop and groaned. Maybe this would be easier with a pen and paper; it would be more symbolically potent that way, at any rate. I doodled for a few minutes, but that was getting me nowhere so I went back to the laptop.

“Have you seen him?” said a voice from behind me.

“Um, who?” I turned around, to be greeted by a tall man with excellent mutton-chop sideburns.

The man grunted in a way that suggested I was eating into his very valuable time. “The prisoner 24601. The man called Jean Valjean.

“Oh. Uh, no. No I haven’t. There’s a prison just down the street, you could-“

I was rudely interrupted by another man walking in from another room. Upon seeing my other guest, he mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “merde.

A fire lit in Javert’s eyes but before he could speak, I jumped in. “Gentlemen, while I have you here, I need some advice. I’m supposed to be writing a story, a metafictional story, but I don’t know what to write about…” I trailed off and hoped that the ellipsis implied the question.

Looking me straight in the eyes, Javert said “all stories end when justice is served. Write about a wrong that is righted.”

“Compassion for fellow man is more important; if we show compassion we are being just,” sermonized Valjean, although probably more to his cohort than to me.

Javert snorted, “Compassion is what the meek call weakness. It is far nobler –“

“Okay! Okay! Thank you, that’s enough,” I sighed. This was no more helpful than the doodles I’d been drawing. Maybe less helpful.

“You could write about me. I’m always popular.”

Death leaned her scythe against the wall and stepped between the pair of men. “Although isn’t every story about me, in a way?” She smiled sweetly at Javert, who seemed unnerved.

“Death is the noblest act of all, if it is done in sacrifice!” proclaimed Sydney Carton, who was now lying on my couch.

I mused for a moment. “But what do I know about death? Even as a teenager I never gave it much thought, except in horror stories. Obviously I’ve never actually died, or even come close, and I find the whole subject kind of depressing to be honest.”

Death smiled again, this time at me. I could see why that had made Javert so uncomfortable. “No one knows anything about me, honey, that’s why they talk about me so much. I’m life’s greatest mystery.” She stretched out her arms as if to say ta-da!

I swallowed. This conversation was not going in the direction I had hoped. “Well, I’ve never liked mysteries very much, and I’m not philosophy student.” I snickered awkwardly, but was cut short by a trumpet flourish. A balding man stepped down from his lion-drawn cart and held up his hand, as if to silence the room. No one was talking anyway, so he just stood there for a minute, establishing a more sombre atmosphere, I suppose.

“The great battles of history are forever a dignified subject for writing,” Caesar announced grandly. “I’ve written volumes about my experiences in Gaul which are still read today. The truth will endure longer than any fantasy you can concoct. For –“

“HEY!” I shouted. Valjean had been eying my fresh Bavarian multigrain bread, but gave me a look of feigned innocence when I jumped out of my chair. Now that Valjean knew I was watching him, I turned back to my laptop, where a striped cat was stretched across my keyboard.

The Cat grinned, “but what is real, really? Is your real really more real than mine? Or theirs? Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

I didn’t really have a response to that one. I was still mulling it over as the Cat disappeared when I felt a cold hand on my shoulder. “He was correct, you know,” said a thickly-accented voice. I turned to face glinting fangs and black hair in a widow’s peak.  “Human lives are nothing more than compilations of imperfect memories, coloured by bias and emotion. History is written by the winners, as they say.”

Gesturing to Caesar, who was already in a snit at having been interrupted, I agreed with the Count. “Scholars’re constantly arguing over history anyway, finding new angles and arguments for who won or lost, who was lying, what they didn’t tell us…”

Dracula chuckled. “You do the same in your own mortal life. You edit your own experiences through a lens of emotion. You hold onto the things you wish and discard the rest. My story was committed to paper, and is more real to the masses than you are. In the minds of the masses, I truly shall live forever!”

I raised an eyebrow. “Until another author comes along and rewrites your story. The Dracula of the public unconscious is as-played-by Bela Lugosi, not Stoker’s version. And don’t even get me started on him.” I pointed at Frankenstein’s creature, who had shoved Carton off my couch, where he was now languishing dramatically.

“Woe is me,” he wailed, “my story has been re-written more times than I care to count! A man tempted by the bounds of human imagination, by the bounds of science and nature, is eternally tantalizing. In more than two hundred years, this fable has never become irrelevant or untrue. You constantly test the limits of human ingenuity, and feel obsession, madness, longing, and loneliness along with us.” Through this whole speech, he gesticulated wildly with increasing fervor. “For our tale speaks to the very core of human nature, something I profess to know little about, for I am a wretched, loathsome monster. My hideousness is kept vital forever by thrill-seekers unable to look away, and every time I curse myself and my creator anew –“

“YES, okay, thank you.” I had to stop him there. If I hadn’t, I’d have been forced to add another ten pages to this story.

Elizabeth Bennett stepped with care over muck left by Caesar’s horses. “Whatever you write, it should include a woman who knows her own mind. There are few enough of those nowadays,” she said coolly.

“Oh they can be found, if one knows where to look,” declared Dorian Gray with a rakish grin. He slid a questing hand toward the small of Elizabeth’s back. She slapped him.

“A mystery is the most satisfying of all tales, mademoiselle,” smiled Hercule Poirot. “It provides stimulation for the little grey cells, n’est-ce pas?”

“And It must have plenty of food and plenty of songs,” added Bilbo Baggins, before joining Valjean around my pantry.

“That’s enough!” I all but screamed. The room had long-since descended into a noisy mess, my control unravelling along with it. I took a deep breath and tried to calm the cacophony of voices surrounding me.

I managed to quiet the voices down to one. “I think I may be able to help,” said the Bard. “Take a collection of stories the public knows well, and write them in a way that will transcend time and place. If your story speaks to the human condition, as said the Creature, it will be lauded by the masses.”

“That’s easy for you to say! I’m not trying to write the next Hamlet here! And what help are you anyway? Some people don’t even think you wrote your plays! You’re not helping me at all!” I leapt up, my frustration reaching its peak. I looked around the faces in the room and shouted “NONE OF WHAT YOU’RE SAYING IS HELPING!”

“Then make us say something different,” said Shakespeare gently.

Yet again, I had nothing to say. I closed my eyes, but I could feel the crowd slowly fade away. Shakespeare did have a point; my culture-obsessed mind is a permanent jumble of everything I’ve ever read or seen or heard.  Rather than try to ignore or sort through this mess of influences, maybe I’d be better off working with them. Maybe acknowledging my literary predecessors would be the best approach. I took another calming breath and turned again to face my desk.

I sat down to write my story.

This was originally published as an assignment for ENGL 488, Queen’s University, Prof Yaël Shlick, October 31, 2012.

A Lesson in Satire

You may have heard by now about Matt Forney’s “humour” piece entitled “How to Rape Women and Get Away With It.” Trigger warning: this piece ‘jokingly’ condones rape and describes it in vivid terms. EDIT: A mere 2 hours after I wrote this piece, the original article is down, but I think you can get an idea of its content based on the title alone. He did however post this hilariously insincere apology, which is almost as good. In response to backlash this caused, Forney has informed we “pansies” who were offended that his piece is satire.

But is it?

I am increasingly seeing satire being held up as a shield for comedians to hide behind when offensive aspects their work are challenged. They claim that readers are taking their works too seriously, as they are meant to be light-hearted. Many writers seem to believe that satire is an excuse to say whatever one wants, no matter how offensive or crude, but that isn’t quite right. Let’s look at some technical definitions of satire:

A poem, or in modern use sometimes a prose composition, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule. Sometimes, less correctly, applied to a composition in verse or prose intended to ridicule a particular person or class of persons, a lampoon.  – The Oxford English Dictionary

That’s good, but a little general. Let’s get a bit more specific:

A literary genre or mode that uses irony, wit, and sometimes sarcasm to expose humanity’s vices and foibles. Through clever criticism, satirists debunk and deflate their targets, whether persons, groups, ideas, or institutions.  Unlike comedy, which is primarily geared toward amusement and entertainment, satire generally has a moral purpose: to provoke a response to correctable human failings, ideally some kind of reform. – The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms

I especially like the second definition, which notes that satire often isn’t funny at all, but is intended to bring about a new way of thinking in its readers, if not actual social change. Satire originated in ancient Greece and Rome, but one of the most famous pieces of Western satire (and one of my favourites) is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, wherein he explains that the solution to 18th century Ireland’s struggles with the British would be solved if the poor Irish sold their babies to be eaten by the rich. As he says, “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.” Swift goes on to describe the various ways babies can be prepared and served, and what can be done with various parts of the body. It’s kind of funny; a reader might laugh from shock or at his creativity concerning some of the baby-dishes (the only aspect of satire that some modern comedians seem to understand). However, it is clear from the beginning that his piece is intended to be a condemnation of the aristocracy’s exploitation of the working classes. Swift’s horrible comments have a clear purpose: to bring about a new way of looking at the rampant poverty in Ireland, hopefully leading to real social change.

Stephen Colbert is an excellent modern satirist. He can push the envelope himself, but it is always clear that he is meaning to display how dangerous the ideals his character holds can be, and is not advocating them. The Daily Show often does similar things with its correspondent sequences. The reporters will take on a stance of agreeing with the people they interview, but with the eventual intention of revealing their views as being ridiculous and even harmful.

Although it doesn’t have to be, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report demonstrate, as did many from Horace to Alexander Pope to The Simpsons before them, that satire can be very funny. Humour can be an accessible and entertaining way to deflate a subject, whether individuals, institutions, or society in general. But this is the most important point – the aim of satire is always to reveal hypocrisy, vice, and other wrongdoing or wrong thinking. Tackling taboo subjects is not foreign to satire, as Swift’s piece demonstrates, but simply saying something offensive is not, in itself, satire. One must have the intention of changing the way that the reader sees the subject at hand, or forcing them to recognize the ridiculousness of the target subject.

Technical definitions aside, I’m not even sure I understand the joke of pieces like Forney’s. He is just saying horrible things for the sake of controversy, hoping to shock readers into laughing. That isn’t comedy – that’s laziness. Anyone can imagine horrible things to do to dead babies, but it takes a creative mind to turn that into biting social commentary. Satire is meant to change the target’s (and often the audience’s) way of thinking, and humour should make the reader laugh because of some kind of unexpected or appreciated connection or punch line. You don’t necessarily need humour to make satire, nor do you absolutely need to make controversial comments along the way. It is possible to use humour and take a satirically-straight tactic on controversial issues if you successfully open a door to conversation about the issue and if you make clear that you don’t condone the views you are pretending to hold, but that is difficult and is rarely accomplished well.

A good general tip: if you can’t identify a target or way of thinking that you’re trying to change or bring down, your piece isn’t satire. If your focus is on a group or person who is already hurt by society the way it is – such as, say, rape victims – rather than the person or group who is doing the attacking, you’re doing satire wrong. If you’re not trying to change anything and are trying to offend people for a cheap laugh, you’re probably just an asshole.

The Importance of Storytelling

As a pop culture junkie, I tend to get very invested in the books I read, the TV shows I follow, and the movies I watch. When I find a story that I really like, I spend more of my time than I probably should thinking about it, talking about it, and analyzing it. With that much thought tends to come an emotional attachment, so when I finish particularly long series, I tend to spend the rest of the day in a… let’s call it Reader’s Melancholy. I’m sad to have to leave characters once I’ve been through so much with them. Sure, I can re-read or re-watch, but I’m sure everyone can agree that nothing is the same the second time through.

It’s not only the length of the story that brings this on though; stakes are equally, if not more important. You need to go through serious ups and downs with the characters, have gained and lost with them. So it’s not by virtue of being long that. Even finishing Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities I felt something similar. Maybe it’s just being at the close of the characters’ journey. Finishing Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic series prompted my writing this post, because I was genuinely sad to leave those characters and that world, even if I wasn’t completely enthralled for every single moment of the series. I’ve read and loved other longer series, but this one was, well, ‘epic,’ in all senses of the term. There were incredible stakes for both the characters and the rest of the world. Another series to which it is often compared, Fables, is also amazing, but I sort of created my own ending for that one. The main story wrapped up after 100+ issues, and the characters had lost very little, all things considered. I love the series, but I don’t know if I want to read more of it, since it seems like it should be over, and that not much was lost, despite a huge war. Many super hero comics and fantasy/sci fi shows have similar problems; death loses some potency when characters can come back to life. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example,featured some permanent deaths, but they were the exceptions to the general rule. I like to pretend that the comics don’t exist (and, to some degree, neither does season 5 of Angel) to make the ending of Buffy seem more permanent and powerful. Finishing that series the first time, I cried in the final scene simply because it was done. There was no more, and my overwhelming thought was “what now?” It was hard to leave Buffy and her friends behind, but I also felt like I had to. Their story in Sunnydale was done, and even if they are still having adventures in comics, I feel like I’m not a part of them anymore. I was a silent but heavily empathetic spectator of seven years of their lives, and somehow, it feels to me like my journey with them is complete. The story they were telling, the story I was a part of, is done. I stopped watching Being Human after series 3 for similar reasons.

Think about the ending of The Lord of the Rings. Would anyone really be interested in a sequel about Frodo’s and Bilbo’s adventures over the sea? Or Sam’s quiet family life, for that matter? We were with them when they saved Middle Earth, but that tale is done, and so is our part in it. We know that they’ll go on to live their lives (and via appendices can get quite a bit of information about those lives), but to keep reading would seem… wrong. Like selling out, almost. I can imagine that Harry Potter fans would feel the same way. A good ending closes the story, but lets you know that the world will keep turning whether you’re there or not (unless you’re reading Cat’s Cradle or similarly apocalyptic fiction).

So what is the point of this? Do I just get too invested in fiction? Am I just a crazy fangirl for crying everywhere for the simple reason that Les Misérables or King’s Dark Tower series ended? Well, I think that this Reader’s Melancholy (or Watcher’s Melancholy, as the case may be) is a testament to the importance of storytelling. We like to feel connected to other people, even if those people are fictional. You can get inside the mind of a fictional character in a way you never can with another person. You can see these characters at the best and at their most vulnerable. And we connect with real people through mutual love of stories; when meeting someone for the first time, once you get past the requisite questions about work and family, movies and TV, sometimes books ultimately come into the conversation. We bond with our friends and family over the shared experience of watching fiction together. Once you’ve seen Darth Vader announce that he is Luke’s father, waited for Hamlet to just make up his damn mind, or watched Jack sink into the ocean and wondered why Rose couldn’t just shift over a little bit, you now share that experience with Luke, or Hamlet, or Rose, and with every other person who has shared that experience too. Not to mention stories that transcend time and culture, or at least borrow from earlier stories. The legends we have today about King Arthur were being changed and molded and re-appropriated all over Europe for hundreds of years before they got to the versions we know today and we’re still changing them! There’s something king of magical about the thought that the stories and characters in shows we’re watching today – like BBC’s Merlin or historical dramas like The Borgias, Spartacus, and HBO’s Rome – were exciting audiences hundreds or thousands of years ago. Sometimes, even more than that, where ancient stories and mythologies are involved; who isn’t somewhat intrigued by the stories from the Odyssey or the Aeneid ­even if we aren’t reading them in verse? Stories become ingrained in our cultural minds; you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the Western world (and probably beyond) who has never heard “to be or not to be,” or who wouldn’t understand that something is unnatural if it features the “Franken” prefix. Characters from literature and myth live longer and burn brighter than do most historical figures.

Besides, it must be boring to live in the real world all the time. Or, as Shirley Jackson states, “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.” Daydreaming, making up our own stories and engaging with others’, keep us sane. Stories let us bond with other people, but also let us escape inside ourselves from the stresses and monotony of every day life. You can learn about yourself and about other people, feel less alone, even pretend to be someone else through stories. And there are so many different kinds of stories out there in different mediums, there’s something for everyone.

I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me that I need to get out more and spend less time reading or watching movies. I’m not denying that I probably do spend too much time immersed in the fictional, but I can’t really say I regret it. I’ve read stories that were written hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and I can connect them to stories and real life today. Through them, I feel connected not only to the characters about which I’m reading, but to the other people reading the stories – living or dead. I like to escape from everyday tedium, even if just to read about someone else’s. My life is enriched by all of the stories I’ve heard or read or seen, and through them, I’ve learned much about myself and about humanity in general. Stories help us interpret ourselves, each other, and the world around us, and I think that life would be less interesting and less rich without them.

Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.
– Neil Gaiman,
The Sandman: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Reading Paris by Reading Les Miserables

For one of my classes, while I was in Paris (for class, no big deal), I had to do a walk based on anything I wanted, and “read” the city, then write an essay about my walk. I’m not really sure what I concluded, but here’s my essay. This the kind of stuff I’ve been doing, preventing me from writing a proper blog post about Paris. Sorry.

Paris, like any old city, has a long memory; one that is conserved in its streets, its culture, its historical buildings, and in the minds of Parisians and tourists alike. For those of us outside, Paris is a fairytale land, a city where one might be inspired to write a poem or create a painting, debate philosophy in a cafe, or fall in love with a stranger.  The romanticization of Paris is largely maintained by media and art, and few if any cities are constructed to the same degree or with such variety of forms as is Paris. Most of my conceptions of Paris are informed by literature, especially the works of Victor Hugo. In Notre Dame, I could not help but imagine Quasimodo scurrying over the roof or along the corridors. However, walking through Paris at large, I could not escape visions of Hugo’s most famous work, Les Misérables. Seeing significant spots from the novel, especially those seen by Javert on the final night of his life, I pondered over the ghosts of Paris’ past, the real and the fictional, and how they are (or sometimes are not) still present in the modern city.

Before leaving, I found a list of Hugo’s most significant surviving locations in Paris. The city has changed much since the time of the novel’s writing, and had changed between then and its setting. Hugo would have been writing about pre-Haussmann Paris while living amidst the new modern buildings, so even he was writing about ghosts of a city that had dramatically moved on. Using the list of settings and a map of Paris in 1832, I created a walking route for myself, using as much as possible streets that existed in pre-Haussmann Paris.

I began at the site of the students’ barricade near Rue St-Denis, which today seems an unlikely spot for an attempted revolution. The actual location is a simple, unmarked alleyway made up of garbage bins and back entrances to surrounding stores. Coming out of the alley, I was accosted by sounds and sights and smells I associate with most cities – stores, crowds, and neon lights, especially garish as it was just after sunset. The stores on rue St-Denis were not those of the Champs-Elysees, but mainly dealt in sex and items that likely fell off the back of a truck. I was somewhat unsure how to react to such an unexpected collection, as they seemed such a far cry from the city I was expecting. I knew that the city would have changed, but I was not expecting it to be so kitschy. My confusion was exacerbated by the sight of the St Denis church, ignored amidst the glaring, glowing, modern chaos around it. The church clearly predated Hugo’s time and was a piece of valuable history that was being completely ignored. The juxtaposition of the old and new is present everywhere in Paris, more so than in many other cities I’ve visited, except perhaps London. Uncomfortably, I saw police officers hurrying past me as I stood pensively in front of the Church, so I headed toward the home of Marius Pontmercy’s grandfather. The street itself is unspectacular now, but the streets I used to get there were magnificent. Walking down Rue des Gravilliers was one of the highlights of my time in Paris; the street is still tight and winding, barely wide enough to admit traffic, so people strolled unabashedly down the middle of the road. It is not a popular tourist area, and I felt like an obvious outsider. The Parisians moved leisurely but purposefully, paying no mind to the history surrounding them, while I paused in front of nearly every building, marvelling at the late Victorian architecture. Small second-hand shops and take-away restaurants made up most of the stores on the street level, but beautiful old architecture was still obvious in the apartments above, with ornately carved iron fences in front of most of the windows. Converted gas lamps hung over the street, lighting it in pools of yellow.

The forgotten or ignored history of Paris was ever present on my walk. Parts of Paris are proud of the heritage, like the Louvre and Notre Dame, and they work hard to conserve it for the tourists. The booths of books and paintings along the Seine in some areas are clearly there for visitors, and even the image of Paris as a city of fashion is in some ways exaggerated for tourists. Paris, like any city, is less interesting to those who live there, and I wondered how they saw their own city. I was able to feel the way Hugo felt toward aspects of the city in his novels, but his city and modern Paris are a far cry from one another. Hints of it are still present, as in the rustic hanging lamps, but in some areas, like the area surrounding the church of St-Denis, it seems to have mostly disappeared.

As I mused on this, I realized that my walk was taking longer than I had anticipated, so I gained some speed on the way to Jean Valjean’s final home. I continued down the older streets and passed a few poorly maintained historical sites, which I could only identify by tiny, dirty plaques denoting them as such. Hugo was very particular about how he represented his city, using existing locations and describing them in detail. However, Valjean’s house at 7 Rue L’ Homme Armé does not exist, and never did, according to the map of Paris in 1832. I had included in my map the street’s probable existing equivalent, but meant to just look briefly and move on. However, when I glanced down Rue Pecquay from rue Rambuteau, I saw Valjean’s house as it was in my imagination. It was unspectacular, a town house in a row of many without any distinguishing characteristics. Yet looking at the second-storey window of this house, I knew that it was the one. In typical Parisian fashion, an intimate couple occupied the street-level doorway of the house next door (which now holds an art gallery), so I waited until they left to inch closer. I could vividly imagine Javert walking dejectedly down the narrow street, which was still largely untainted by trappings of modernity. When the couple returned inside, I walked up to the house and realized that I was standing, appropriately, in front of number seven. The number plaque was too small to read from the other end of the street where I had started, and I wondered briefly if I was in touch with some kind of deeply-buried Parisian memory. I have no way of verifying whether or not this was the home that Hugo was thinking of when he wrote the novel, but for me, it was getting in touch with an entirely fictional world. Paris does then hold onto memories, but people need to unearth and interpret them. To anyone else, this was an ordinary townhouse, but to me it was both my imagination come to life, and a portal into the past.

I moved quickly through the more tourist-cluttered areas to get to the spot, near Pont Notre Dame, where Javert plummeted into the Seine. In my hurry, I got lost, and I never made it to the exact spot, but I did get to look out onto the Seine at night, and try to image what it would have looked like in the 1830’s. The light of the city reflecting in the Seine looked peaceful, like an impressionist painting, and I could imagine why it would seem appealing to someone experiencing extreme mental turmoil. With that thought, my tour was concluded.

Perhaps tourists can unearth Paris’ memories because they seek them out more than Parisians do. Our own ideas and preconceptions about a city do influence our reading of it, and a person living in a city is less likely to think what it means to them beyond home. The definition or conception of a city is made up of a plethora of factors, all of them experiential, so cannot be defined by the experiences of one person. Hugo’s Paris is still there, and it may be well-hidden by cheap stores and fashion districts, but those things comprise simply one aspect of Paris. Like a person, or indeed, a work of literature, many facets make up “Paris;” it is an experience more than it is a geographical location. So, perhaps a painting of Paris through a novel, especially one as varied and complex as Les Misérables, is not inaccurate. It is incomplete, certainly, but no one description can ever be said to represent the whole of the phantasmagoria that is Paris.



Preface to My Posts About Lord of the Rings

EDIT: It was brought to my attention that my intention with writing this was maybe not so clear. I’ll talk about this more later, but I am told that when discussing a movie or a book or something that I focus too much on the negative. Friends and family have asked me many times why I can’t “just enjoy” something, and why my positive movie reviews generally have to include a “but…” moment. I analyze things, and in doing so, analyze the negative as well as the positive. In this post, I try to explain why I think about these things the way I do, and to have something to refer back to if it looks like I’m being to hard on something I’ve talked about loving so much.

Firstly, news! The titles and release dates for the movies have been announced! The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is scheduled for release on December 14, 2012. The Hobbit: There and Back Again for December 13, 2013.

Now, a few words of explanation before I begin my journey: some of you may feel, in upcoming reviews, that I am focusing too much on the negative. The reason for this is mainly just that the negative things tend to be fewer and more specific, so they are easier to put into words. If I recorded everything I liked, the post would be endless. Additionally, I just naturally think more critically about movies now than I did when I was 11, when I just accepted movies as they were. As a result, many of the negative things will be things I’ve newly realized, or at least realized toward the end of my 3 year love affair.

Now, by “thinking critically” I mean thinking analytically, not searching for flaws. I think that engaging with a work in this way is important for my kind of fan – the kind who would blog about their favourites, discuss them on message boards, that sort of thing. I don’t mean to imply that those who prefer to accept and enjoy a work as it is are lesser or bad fans. Bad fans are the type who show up on message boards and unquestioningly – and unintellegently – defend their love. You know the type. Here is a dramatic reenactment for example:

The sixth was my least favourite season of Buffy. The “magic drugs” storyline was so transparent as to be insulting, I think Spuffy was destructive for all involved, and don’t even get me started on Dawn.

SCREW YOU!!!!!!11 You are not a fan if you cant see the marvel of the show u dont even deserve to be in it’s presence GTFO

There is no thought in this argument, and it is pointless, because we’re here to generate discussion. A conversation of “OMG ITS SOOOO GOOD” can only go so far. Given the amount of time I spend thinking about pop culture, I have to think about it actively/critically. I can only wonder about plots and such for so long. I admit that I’ve come close to the “blind defense” thing – I absolutely loved this season’s finale of Being Human (UK), and many seem to feel that it was either too short or dragged, that the last scene was cheesy, etc – and my first mental response is usually NO YOU’RE WRONG IT WAS AWESOME >:-( But I can’t exactly deny that the newly introduced “big bad” seems to be the boring archetypal villain that the show has mostly avoided, and that it has drifted from the housemates, their close relationships, and their attempt to Be Human (durr) that defined the show’s first series. On the other end of the spectrum, you get the angry “former” fans, who loved the show/books/movies at the beginning, and now won’t listen to any defense of the later incarnations. I have these tendencies too, occasionally, as my housemates can confirm; the 5th season of Dexter frequently threw me into apoplectic fits because I used to love it so much, and now it’s just… not… good. I generally try (successfully, I hope) to find a sort of middle ground between these two extremes. I believe that real fans don”t blind themselves to a work’s flaws, but recognize them and love the movie/show/book/comic/etc anyway. I love LoTR. I always will. I wouldn’t be writing about it so much if I didn’t. However, yeah, there are some small problems, and I’ll mention them because many will be new to me, and because not to would be boring. I’ll talk about the specific things I like too, but if you feel bogged down by the negative stuff, just picture me enjoying any of the scenes I’m not talking about, probably giggling and clapping my hands.

Speaking of which, check out this picture PJ posted, featuring Galadriel, Gandalf, and Elrond preparing to attack Dol Guldur, Sauron’s lair, “brandishing an array of fearsome Elvish weapons.”

Words cannot adequately explain how happy this picture makes me

This also seems like a good opportunity for a confession: as much as I call myself a fan of the books, I have only read The Hobbit, LoTR, and its appendices. When I initially read everything, I was unaware of the additional material, like Unfinished Tales, and The Silmarillion. I had enough trouble trying to sort out the history I was given as it was, I didn’t need to read extras in that department even when I learned about them. I tried The Silmarillion when I was around 16 (it’s still on my bookshelf, half read), but I guess the magic was mostly lost for me at that point. It was essentially a history textbook; I think it gets more… story-y later in the book, but I never made it that far. As I’ve said, as I got older, I valued character more than plot (and found Silmarillion the opposite), but I had always loved the hobbits, and they were absent from the early history. I mean, I really liked the elves too (I was a 10 year old girl, of course I did), but the hobbits had my heart.

Now, however, it seems like I may need to read them, as PJ is involving in his movies a bunch of the epic stuff from the additional material (mostly from the period between the two more well known stories). I’ll start my negativity by saying that this worries me a teensy bit, and that I hope that the quieter hobbity stuff isn’t overtaken by the huge battles. I also hope that the Hobbit movies’ tones are different from the earlier films. I’m fine if the battles (both those in The Hobbit and from the other stuff) feel a lot like LoTR, but that sense of roots in the Shire should follow Bilbo around, more so than it did the other hobbits. I do think that the scenes we did get in the Shire in the trilogy were well handled (Shore’s music, especially, was just perfection), and if that tone is maintained beyond the initial scenes, I think we will be fine. The Hobbit also has a much better sense of humour than the solemn LoTR books, which is especially evident if you compare the presentation of the Elves in both books. Now, you don’t want to retcon the LoTR movies by having the company’s reception in Rivendell as cheerful and singy as it is in the book, but the Elves certainly don’t need to be all speeches and pursed brows either. However, Stephen Fry has been cast in a human role, and if comedians are playing more than just the hobbits, it seems that humour is not something the film will lack. Hell, Martin Freeman on his own is a funny guy, I can’t wait to see how he brings this character to life.

In conclusion, I’m still really excited over here. I should be starting to read The Hobbit by Thursday, as soon as I finish the book I’m currently reading. I’ll keep you updated.

Movie Pitch: A Modern Reimagining of A Tale of Two Cities

On the heels of my previous post about Hollywood running out of ideas, I learned that several adaptations of Frankenstein are currently in development, along with a number of gritty fairytale reboots. I feel I could cash in on this current trend, so I have decided to pitch a movie to you. I have re-written this with the same reverence and care most screenwriters seem to be giving their source material these days, so calling it a “loose” adaptation is even pushing it. May I present to you, gentle readers, my pitch for a modern re-imagining of A Tale of Two Cities:

Our protagonist is Sydney Carton, a broody, mysterious teenager. He is a man with a secret – perhaps he saw his family killed as a child, as that seems to be a hot topic these days. Or maybe he is a superhero, or a vampire, or a government agent. Maybe he’s Keyser Soze, I don’t know. Specifics can be ironed out later – point is, he is mysterious. Instead of the French Revolution, he is caught up in THE WAR ON DRUGS – or maybe OF DRUGS – in Miami.

Lucie Manette, who shall be renamed Lucia, was born in Mexico. When she was a baby, her American mother was killed by drug lords in a drive by shooting. Her father was arrested soon afterward for connections with the drug cartel – and this combined with his wife’s death drove him crazy. Lucia was then shipped off to her mother’s family in America, where she grows up.

FAST FORWARD about 15 years, Lucia’s father gets out of prison, and comes to live with his daughter. He recovers most of his sanity, and still claims that he was falsely accused, so he and his daughter both loathe the drug cartels. Lucia is attending high school where every boy has a crush on her, including Sydney of course, but she only has eyes for Charles Carlos. Their fathers had known each other in Mexico, and Carlos’ father had also been accused of connections to the drug mob, although he was never thrown in jail. Nonetheless, they are brought together by shared family experiences and are so totally in love.

However, their love is threatened by Carlos’ secret: although in this version, he’s actually the bad guy. Ambiguity in who to root for is confusing, let’s get rid of that. Not only was his father actually involved in the drug cartel, Carlos is starting his own business at the school! He is selling drugs (whichever happens to be a hot topic for mothers closer to the time of the film’s release) to the students at his high school, with hopes of expansion. Sydney knows this, but he can’t tell Lucia, because he knows that she will never believe him without proof. So, he decides to reveal Carlos’ evil ways to Lucia and win her love.

Eventually it turns out that Lucia’s mother had discovered Carlos’ father’s deep involvement in the drug trade, had planned to report him, and was killed as a result. Sydney will reveal this fact, there will probably be a fight involving GUNS, and father and son will go to jail… somehow. Probably American jail too, just for drama’s sake, so we can see them on trial and in prison. With Carlos out of the way, Lucia realizes that she has loved Sydney all along, and (probably in some teary eyed speech about how Carlos hit her) confesses her love. Sydney gets the girl, that’s a much better ending. The immortal “far better thing I do” lines could be applied to his exposing Carlos to Lucia and/or the police. OR there could be a moment where he gets shot, and we think he is going to die, but he lives, it’s fine. A happy ending is imperative.

The love story and drama will attract young women, the drugs and fights will attract young men, and the dealing with hot topics will attract parents. It will be a huge summer blockbuster! We can also call it progressive for putting minorities in major roles. Maybe Sydney Carton can be black, who knows. There’s probably also room for a gay character – Stryver, perhaps? He tries to woo Lucia, because everyone else seems to want to, but she helps him realize his true feelings, and encourages him to come out to his friends and family. She does this because she is the paragon of perfection.

Now sadly, certain characters and events will have to be altered greatly, or cut altogether. The Defarges may become Carlos’ family members, as too many antagonists will be confusing for the general American audience. They can pretend to want to help Lucia’s father make his way in America, but really only want to throw him back under the bus on behalf of Carlos’ father, who is still in Mexico. Miss Pross could become a sassy black nanny or something, maybe she looked after Lucia because her aunt/uncle/cousins wanted little to do with her. Mr Lorry could be a social worker, or maybe Miss Pross’ boyfriend. I haven’t quite worked out his role in this, he may be left on the cutting room floor in the end.

For a director, I’m thinking either McG or DJ Caruso, based on their previous experience with the summer Blockbuster genre. The main cast will be mostly unknowns, I think, this is a good vehicle for young talent. Terry Crews will probably make an appearance, maybe in the as-yet-unnamed Defarge role. Scott Bakula seems father figurey, I think he will play the school’s principal, and will have a personal relationship with each of the teenage protagonists. He might get killed near the end, for drama. Maybe that’s how Sydney avoids death, we’ll see. A recognizable Latino actor will probably play Lucia’s father, and there is always room for another cameo…

So there you have it. I’m sure something will come out soon enough that sounds similar. Just remember that you heard it here first.

Fanboy Confessional: Lord of the Rings and Me

Do you remember Spider Writers and gel pens? I do.
I am planning to start my read-a-thon in a few weeks, probably in the last week of May. I don’t think The Hobbit is going to take me very many days to read. Before I begin talking about myself, some movie updates, for anyone curious: Rob Kazinsky, playing Fili, had to leave the film for “personal reasons” and has been replaced by a Kiwi actor named Dean O’Gorman. So, I hope he is good too. In other news, Lee Pace has been cast as Thranduil. So… movie news! Yay!
My RoTK ticket. First day, baby.
A word of explanation: this post is really about my life, not Lord of the Rings, as such. I’ll mention plot and character details, but what I’m really interested in here is my younger self, things that were once so important to me, and general reminiscing. So if you’re interested in that, read on.

I’ve been talking for a while about my obsession with all things Lord of the Rings, and now is the time for you to see the best representation I can give you of the full extent of that obsession. I am going no holds barred here; you are going to see all of the embarrassing stuff. Sadly, I have no photographic evidence of a few plays I did with my friend Elizabeth. These plays were all adaptations of chapters from our favourite books:  Lucy meets Mr Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (starring me as Mr Tumnus), the lead up to Harry Potter fighting Voldemort in the first book (I was Harry), and the chapter called “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit  – wherein I played Gollum.  For reasons I have since forgotten (secrecy, probably) we referred to them, respectively, as “It,” “That,” and “The.” Sadly, we didn’t record or take pictures, so you will not get to see me, with green face paint and housecoat, riding around on a skateboard in my front hallway. Sorry about that one.

For things you can see pictures of, here is my Folder:
This is a folder made of Rice Krispie boxes and black construction paper, where I keep all of my ticket stubs, magazine clippings, and other things related to LoTR. To start us off, a smaller folder called “Songs & Poems (some internet sites too).” In there are pieces of paper onto which I’ve copied poems and songs from the books and movies. The real gem, however, is a poem about the trilogy that I wrote with my bestie, Mitch. There’s a rough copy, with a signature from a kids’ poet who was visiting our school, and an enigmatic note saying “bring the singing hamster.”  Here is an abridged version of the poem:
By Allison O’Toole and Michelle Eals:


The Ring is very small and tiny,
The armour that they use is shiny.
Ents are not trees,
Do not mistake them please!
Merry is sort of twitchy (what does that even mean!??! – ed)
Saruman, you could say, is witchy.
Gollum really, truly, rocks!
You’ll never see him wearing socks
Arwen really wants to marry,
Éowyn wants Aragon too,
But his heart is taken, Boohoo Boohoo
Sadly not in the folder is Leonard Nimoy’s “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.”  Likewise missing is a picture of a Shrinky-dink I made of a screen cap from some hilarious old Flash videos by Legendary Frog that we used to love as well. They’re pretty funny, I’d still recommend them.
Two nerd thing united as one!
Some other gems are letters written to me by Aragorn, courtesy of my friend Carolynn. My mother used to write me letters from fictional characters, and Carolynn witnessed my receiving a love letter from Voldemort. (Mom also sent me an email from Kevin the Backstreet Boy, and I thought it was legitimate, since I didn’t understand the Internet at the time.) The following Monday, Carolynn “delivered” me a letter from Aragorn, on who I had an enormous crush. Hell, he is still a lovely hunk of man. Here are some snippets from our romantic correspondence (in the choppiest paragraph you will ever see, bad English major):
Aragorn regrets missing my 13th birthday at The Rainforest Cafe
He began the first letter by informing me that Gollum was marrying the Ring. He gave me his phone number, 1-800-I-HAVE-TO-SAVE-FRODO-ALL-THE-TIME I sealed my first reply letter with a kiss in my pinkest lipstick, so his next letter was sealed with a blue fingerprint, because “putting on lipstick and kissing it would have been weird.” In one letter (there are 6 in all, 3 from each side), I ask Aragorn if I can see his sword, which current self can’t help but see as euphemism. However, those were more innocent times, and I apparently meant actual sword, as Carolynn Aragorn can’t let me see it, since the cops confiscated it after he poked Frodo in the eye with it – and not for the first time. The second letter contains a list of Aragorn’s family members, including uncles named Tostitos and Takito, and I’m sure there’s an inside joke there that I have since forgotten. Speaking of his family, Aragorn met Carolynn at the dollar store when he was buying Tupperware for his mom. Unfortunately the letters aren’t dated, but it looks like I didn’t respond to one letter very quickly, as I received one with covered in tear drops which look suspiciously like they were drawn on with a blue pen.  My explanation for the lack of response was that I decided to get back together with Voldemort. Since Aragorn was ruining all of Legolas’ shirts by crying all over them, I say he can have them cleaned because “I hear they have a great Laundromat in Rohan.”
Another prize in here is a list of all of the names of people in my grade, and their hobbit names according to a website which is sadly no longer active. I compiled this list painstakingly with my friend Laura, and it’s very organized. We made sure we got everyone, and since there were two grade 6 classes, we colour-coded the names by their class. We then moved on to fictional characters, and laughed for months over the fact that Harry Potter’s name was Minto Danderfluff, because that name is inherently ridiculous.
I could probably turn this into pretty interesting wall paper…
I’ve got a plethora of magazine and newspaper clippings. I set aside each one I could find, as long as it was favourable. That was pretty much all it needed for me to deem it worthy of keeping. Amidst the clippings is my program from the LoTR exhibit in 2002, I believe. They had costumes and set pieces and stuff from the movies, Elizabeth (of “It,” “That,” and “The” fame) and I went with her mom and had a grand old time. I seem to remember us laughing at a picture of an orc in there somewhere, fighting over who would get to have him as a boyfriend. Again, simpler times.
See the huge Ring on the Arwen bookmark? I made that out of Fimo.
I also have a few of the bookmarks they used to sell with the ring at the end of the tassels, as well as a few I made – that weird one at the bottom is made of glitter glue. I used to wear the Ring from my Gollum bookmark on a chain around my neck, and I confess that I still wear it for good luck on occasion. I also still have the Evenstar from my Arwen Halloween costume, and I still wear it sometimes because it’s pretty. In fact, this picture was taken in September 2010…
Stayin’ classy with my costume jewellery
We ripped this off a wall.
We are rebellious nerds.
I don’t have any extant proof of this, but I took lots of personality quizzes, and prided myself on getting Frodo on like every one of them. I think the first few I didn’t quite manipulate, and got the same answer maybe 3 or 4 times naturally, so I started to manipulate the answers to get the answer I wanted. I can’t remember now if the name was a result of these quizzes or the other way around, but I earned the nickname Mr Frodo by the time I turned 11. Mitch, who I’ve mentioned many times, was called Pippin because she is a bit loony, and Pippin was the dumb comic relief in the movies. Our friend Nat was Merry, mainly because she liked him the best. She had an enormous crush on Dominic Monaghan, so we bonded over our LotR crushes which were not on Legolas or Frodo. The three of us all loved the movies, and we had many discussions and antics related to them. Sadly, we lost touch with Nat by the time the LotR musical debuted in Toronto, but Mitch and I went together, and cheered at the passing mention of Tom Bombadil like good little fanboys. We even stole some posters for our bedrooms, and let me tell you, that was an interesting subway ride home.
Mitch and I were both very lucky additionally, to get scripts from The Fellowship of the Ring signed by the cast:
My mom bought it for me for doing well on a speech in class. In retrospect, it was probably the least enthralling of my speeches, but mom loved it because it was on LEADERSHIP, her favourite subject, because she is super business woman. She didn’t mind the movies, but took me to all three of the them, and even let me skip school to see The Return of the King. I was a little bummed that I couldn’t go to see it at midnight in downtown Toronto, but I was 12, so she was probably just exercising good parenting on that decision. And asking her to watch a 3 hour movie she barely cared for independently at midnight was probably asking a little much. So thanks mom for taking a day off work to bring your daughter to a movie! That firmly established you as the coolest in the eyes of my classmates!
My beloved books.
Now, obviously I was quite a fan of the movies, but when it comes right down to it, I am all about the books. I got the books for my 10th birthday. I had purchased The Hobbit a few months before in a gift shop in Stratford, Ontario (where I had seen The Sound of Music) and I adored it, so my parents got me the sequels, of which I think I was mostly unaware. I read Fellowship over that summer and into the fall, and it was a mission, to say the least. I was interested in the story, but the language and style were a bit dense for my newly 10 year old brain. I was less than enchanted, shall we say, by the amount of walking they did. I remember that I had to put it down a few times and come back to it, but somewhere in there I became incredibly invested. I almost finished The Two Towers the day I went to see the Fellowship movie – but before we left, I didn’t get far enough to see that Frodo doesn’t actually die (I’m not going to bother hiding spoilers guys, you’ve had 10 years). I was quite convinced that the story could go on with Sam as the ring bearer, and when Gandalf died in the movie, I knew he would come back, but I teared up a bit in remembrance of Frodo’s death. Thankfully, I finished the book that night and my emotions were calmed. You know, that’s the first book I can remember crying in. Let’s just say it was, for drama’s sake. Anyway, the movie came out in December, so it took about 6 months in total to read the first two books (I don’t remember how long it took, but I definitely did a book report on The Return of the King). But the second time read them (when I was 12), I did it all in about 3 months, so not too shabby. The second time around I knew that there would be interesting stuff amidst the walking and history lessons, so I was captivated.
Pages are literally falling out 😦
In between readings, I think I brought the books with me on vacation, probably for comfort reading. I remember finishing the fifth Harry Potter book on some long car ride, putting it down, then immediately picking up RoTK and trying to spell my name in Dwarf Runes according the appendices. Now, I bring up Harry Potter because in those days they were constantly being compared, despite little to no similarity (although my younger self could have listed for you the ways JK Rowling ripped off Tolkien, things that only someone who had read and loved HP could have known). I really loved the first three Harry Potter books, and they really opened my imagination, but LoTR completely changed my reading habits. By the time I turned 10, HP just didn’t hold the wonder for me that LoTR did, and I started to want more challenging language and plots and characters. Harry Potter helped along the way (The Sorcerer’s Stone may have been the first novel I read by myself), but LoTR was a large contributing factor to my continued love of reading and eventual English majoring. So I made a big show of being antagonistic toward HP because everyone else was comparing them, and the fifth book just happened to solidify my lessening interest. They’re great books, I just sort of grew away from them, and they became representative of the stuff I wasn’t reading anymore. I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed the Narnia books as much if I had read them after LoTR either. Or once I became old enough to interpret the relentless hamfisted allegory therein.
That is some durable lipstick, Mom
Now, having read the books in addition to seeing the movies, I admit that I felt a bit of superiority over my classmates who loved the movies only. I also bonded instantly with other book-readers, who also felt that superiority, and we always made our passion for the books a sort of competition. Other fanboys didn’t think a girl would care about the books as much as she did staring at Legolas (but I was always and Aragorn girl obviously), so I gained their respect and admiration through trivia contests. My killer question was always sword names. Everyone knows Sting, good fans know Narsil and Andúril, big fans know Glamdring – but I knew the name of Éomer’s sword. I remembered the rest of those I just listed, but I had to look the last one up: Gùthwinë. I can proudly say though that it took about 30 seconds for me to find it in the book, and I knew it when I saw it. I’m pretty sure I never really knew how to pronounce it though.
Now finally, let’s look at my books themselves. I didn’t know how to properly take care of books when I was younger, so they’re falling apart and smell like old books, and I wouldn’t have them any other way. My mom, like me, was a fan of Aragorn, and planted a big kiss mark in my copy of The Return of the King. I quickly pointed out to her that she missed his name completely, but insists that she marked it slightly off intentionally. I love this now, but these days she would not get away with that sort of shenanigans.
Mitch, Me, and Nat: Best Hobbits Forever!

A sign of a blossoming English major, I also annotated my copy on the second read through, marking my favourite scenes and passages. One of my favourite things about going through all of this stuff has been just seeing what sort of thing was important to me as a pre-teen. So what in the books did I see as worthy of cataloguing?

In The Hobbit, it seems to be mostly lines that I found amusing, such as “eagles aren’t forks!” as well as Bilbo’s epigrams, which I remember trying (unsuccessfully) to work into everyday conversations. Things like “never laugh at live dragons.” I also book marked “Riddles in the Dark” because I love Gollum. He and Sam were always my favourites, so I marked down the scene in The Two Towers when Gollum, after sneaking away to see Shelob, returns and sees the sleeping hobbits, and briefly recovers his former humanity, so touched is he by the scene. Sam’s first glimpses of Mount Doom and of the stars in the sky over Mordor are also noted. He isn’t the only hobbit who gets love though: Pippin challenging the ruffian in Hobbiton and generally being bad ass was also one of my favourite parts. And of course, nearly all of the poems and songs (many of which I still have memorized, by the way) are marked as well.
Did you know that Arwen once had braces?
Or that she hung out with Anne of Green Gables, Dark Helmet, and P!NK?
As you can see, I’ve had some good times due to Lord of the Rings, and I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if I had never come in contact with the books or movies. Again, they were a big contributing factor to my English majoriness, since (especially in retrospect) I could see what an impact literature can have on one’s life. I look forward to beginning to read the books again, and once I do, I’ll be blogging more about the books and movies themselves than my own life, but don’t expect that aspect to disappear completely.

Theorizin’ Jersey Shore and Oscar Wilde

I’m going to be talking about these videos for a while, so you should probably watch them. The two leads from the current Broadway production of The Importance of Being Earnest read transcripts from Jersey Shore in their Wildeian characters. Hilarity ensues.

This was originally a Facebook note, but I thought I’d post a cleaner version here, for posterity. It was prompted by comments on the video observing that it was odd that the two went so well together, being at “opposit ends of the cultural specturm.” I am here to argue that they are not so different after all.

Jersey Shore features the same sort of characters who frequented Wilde’s plays – people who are obsessed with triviality. In both cases, we laugh because we realize how ridiculous these characters are being. Now granted, the objects of their affections have changed – in Wilde’s Victorian upper class society, it was velvet and china, but now it seems to be more spray tans and huge hair. There’s obviously something dandyesque about a man willing to put that much effort into his hair – and the same observation could be made of hipsters and their obsessive cultivation of ennui.

We love to watch Jersey Shore (I’ll admit here that I’ve only seen one full episode, but I hear enough about it from friends who do watch it to confidently talk about it this way) for their bizarre behaviour. They are anything but common personalities, and those were the sorts of people Wilde was satirizing. Many of the Shoreians’ actions are condemnable, and yet we love it and continue to support them. Some say that they watch the show “ironically,” so there’s something about their exaggerated personalities which intrigues us. Snooki never approaches “normal” – at least not in what we’re allowed to see. Their craziest moments are hand picked and edited in, and they’re probably overdoing it somewhat. These are fabricated personalities, not to the same degree as someone like Lady Gaga, but I assume that Pauly D is at least slightly less abrasive in his personal life.
Wilde exploited his dandy image in the same way, wearing velvet suits while travelling North America, lecturing on interior design. Most of his public persona was already there, but he exaggerated it – the Shoreians are the same way. However, in both cases, the actors need to “play it straight” – they are certainly over the top, but there’s still a small degree of believability or recognition in the characters. If the characters are constantly winking at the audience then the performance becomes a parody. If the characters take themselves seriously, then the audience can take a step back and laugh at how ridiculous they are – and probably at how they are different from (or even similar to) what they see on stage or screen. Imagine a parody of Jersey Shore from those “_____ Movie” idiots – it wouldn’t be as funny as watching the actual show. They’re caricatures, but they’re still real people. With just a little more hair gel, spray tan, and muscles, we’d see that we were watching a parody. If a character believes that they are normal or serious and the audience knows differently, it is far funnier than if everyone is in on the joke.
So where am I going with this? Well, my interest lies in this concept of a huge separation between “high” and “low” art. I don’t think I’m saying anything controversial if I assert that we would consider Wilde to be the former and Jersey Shore the latter. I hope I’ve illustrated that these two examples are not as different as they might appear on the surface. Some of the lines, like “lobster is alive when you kill it,” “she’s just furniture,” “being called Angelina is one of the worst things a person can be called,” and the comment about “chicken cutlet night” could easily have been penned by Wilde. Granted, his characters would never have said “squirrel-monkey” or “drop it like it’s hot,” but if he were writing today – who knows? Thinking about this way – in a way that’s relatable to our current lives – may provide a point of interest in work, like Wilde’s, which may be seen as stiff, old, and boring to some people these days.
So called “high art” of old does not have to be the sort of thing enjoyed only by grandparents, teachers, and pretentious Arts students. “Classics” become so because something about them is enduring. I just finished re-reading A Tale of Two Cities, a classic if ever there was one. We can’t necessarily identify with the plight of oppressed 18th Century citizens on the brink of revolution (although we’ve seen some not wholly dissimilar images come out of Egypt and Libya recently), but its themes – redemption, sacrifice, freedom, oppression, family, and a number of other things – are perpetually important and interesting. Literature doesn’t have to change or become less relevant with time, although it does sometimes. We should keep these old things around, because they can still teach us things, which is why we all had to read Shakespeare in high school. In the case of Wilde’s work, people will always be ridiculous, and we will always laugh at them. And isn’t that sort of comforting?