Month: August 2016

Discover Challenge: Writerspiration of the week

I’m going to participate in a Daily Prompt I saw originally on Participating in Prompts and Challenges. The author who has inspired me this week is Stephen King, and I’ve been reading his novel Carrie online. I really like his teenage protagonist, Carrie, even though it’s not a teen fiction book. However, this has inspired me to write a piece of teen dark fantasy fiction after reading his novel. The scene where the protagonist starts menstruating is quite bold and dynamic, yet Carrie’s isolation provides a sense of dissonance for the audience.

Since adolescence is often a traumatic time before a budding individual begins to bloom, the main theme of my project will be about catalyst events which shape us into the person we become. Since it’s my first time reading a Stephen King novel, I’m quite excited to see how the plot unfolds as a reader, but also understand what makes Stephen King tick as a writer. You can expect the occasional update on how I’m finding the book, but this will be an exciting new experience.

Which author inspires you the most? Comment and share!

 

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The commercialisation of books 

This post is going to explore how books are commoditised by the media (regardless of their genre or literary status). Because, nearly anything can be advertised – and if it raises an author’s publicity profile, then that’s even better.

The condensation of words goes something like this:

Oral speech > written word > visual medium

Reading books is extremely unpopular, largely because they’re viewed as academic/literary. This means that they’re unappealing to the masses, and that too much brain power is required to read a book. Whereas you can watch a film or TV show regardless of your IQ, and still enjoy what’s happening.

How does merchandising happen?

So, we have big blockbusters, and we have serious art films. Then we have merchandise. Merchandise combines everything – spin-off to shows, dolls, costumes, toys, albums from songs sung, musicals, and just about everything else. The more heavily franchised something is, the more financially successful it becomes. The prime target audience tends to be children, because children are often dazzled by sparkly dresses and don’t have to worry about money.

The first commercialised film: Star Wars 

Star Wars is said to be the first  merchandised movie – with prequels, sequels, lego toys, action figures, and the Star Wars motion simulator rides in Disneyland theme parks. Since then, nearly every film series has done the same thing. Targeting children and young people does seem to be a recipe for success. Let’s look at a few popular franchises and see how they’ve gotten famous.

Some good examples:

Harry Potter 

Harry Potter has just about everything you could want to merchandise a series – quirky sweets, famous film locations such as Alnwick castle, Quidditch broomsticks, odd facts about Hogwarts for Top Trumps and Trivial Pursuit, and there’s even 4D motion rides and Butterbeer served, and you can even travel between parks on the Hogwarts Express. Universal Studios can make money out of just about any movie, such is their huge influence.

Twilight 

There are many reasons why Twilight has become very successful. Firstly, at the time it was released, teenage vampire and dark fantasy fiction was all over bookshelves. Secondly, its cast is fairly high-profile thanks to Robert Pattinson. And thirdly, the romance genre appealed to the masses.

The Lord of the Rings

Like Twilight, LOTR had Orlando Bloom to raise the status of the films with his sex appeal. But fantasy is something people can really get on board with – both geeks and ordinary folks love it. After a large following due to books, the films took off due to their wonderful special effects, GCI and graphics.

Frozen 

Loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time. The Little Mermaid film, by Disney, had bouts of success with a Disney theme track, Ariel costumes and dolls, also by Hans Christian Anderson. But Frozen outdoes The Little Mermaid  100xs. The last time I visited Disneyland Paris, there were outfits for both Anna and Elsa, Frozen parades every 30 minutes, and the logo on every object with a price tag on it.

Frozen, Harry Potter and Twilight have three selling ingredients: social triangles, magic and a troubled past (Lord of The Rings is a bit of an odd one out). First, a trio of characters usually adds drama in either the form of a romance or a third wheel friend. Magic usually comes in the form of either costume or mystical creatures (usually both) that can be eventually sold on as plush toys. And a troubled past – whether it’s the death of parents, bullying or just being different – plays on the sympathy note.

Other fictional formats: comic books

Good grief, in 2016 there is absolutely no way of escaping the adaptation of comic book characters (much to the delight of cosplayers attending Comicon). The latest version of action movies, these films have witty side humour, actors and actresses oozing sex appeal and plenty of CGI.
An unusual middle ground: Alice in Wonderland 

I’m going to use this story over Greek myths like Hercules and Cinderella, because Alice in Wonderland has one clear author: Lewis Carroll. I’ll admit that perhaps the novel’s adaptations have been more faithful than other tales, but this is in part because French Surrealists have snapped up the story, as well as Tim Burton.

Once again, after Disney snapped up the movie, the teacups ride in the Magic Kingdom, Alice plush toy and movie soundtracks came running along with the franchise. However, niche markets such as the Steampunk community, cosplayers and followers of the lomita fashion movement have seen its appeal – leading to Victorian and Edwardian clothing stores, independent teashops and even Alice-themed alternative events. The trouble is, though, that Alice doesn’t have a pretty factor; most of her appeal lies in her personality, and it’s usually adults who want to cosplay as her. The point being, that Lewis Carroll’s book has turned into a hybrid platform between niche and mainstream.

 

Why are featureless characters assumed to be white and male? 

In a cartoon, the male character is often very basic, sometimes just a stick figure. Often they have no eyelashes, visible lips or even hair. Female characters, however, have bows, ponytails and skirts. Even the toilet sign distinguishes the ladies with a skirt, assuming men wear trousers (despite women being allowed to wear trousers for quite a few decades). The simplest answer is probably that White, straight males are assumed to be the norm. This makes sense, since many characters are often white, and thus are assumed to be caucasian. Thus, the artist has to use a distinguishing feature to set nonconforming characters apart. Considering no features should mean gender neutral, the association of decorated characters with being female is unusual. 

One author, Dorris McComics has tried to combat this trope. Many of the characters are featureless, and stick figure types are usually in unnatural colours. If there are any distinctively human characters, later drawings are often androgynous. Dorris even refuses to give many of them names, whether to avoid gender labelling or due to artistic license. The illustrator, Alex Norris, has frequently chosen to deliberately not state the gender of many of the characters  who appear in the panels. 

Webcomics are a great way to convey simple, but funny, sketches in an accessible format. But there’s by no means any less politics than in any other meme form – just look at what Garlic Bread Memes did with their comment on the number of genders on Facebook. And trying to either reaffirm that there are only two genders or that genderless characters aren’t a good idea just causes trouble on either side. 

Commenters on social media are the new literary critic; as readers, they might enjoy the story. But as soon as you find one who thinks they know about how to write a plot for a comic, they’ll tear you to shreds. Nearly every bad article about a  movie, classic author or artist is usually written by some crappy writer on Buzzfeed, a journalist on the Guardian or a tumblerina picking apart plotholes. Any merit a piece of work has, a savage critic can transform into a negative (also known by its more PC version “room for improvement”). So maybe it’s best to ignore the void of negativity and save it for the experts instead. 

Carey Mulligan and Eddie Redmayne as actors 

These are two very talented, but not particularly well known, actors. Both Mulligan and Redmayne tend to star in either critically acclaimed or memoir genre films. These actors are in the middle of indie, art cinema and mainstream  movies. Whilst the BBC tries to bridge the gap between serious and pop culture films, there are a few actors which run a fine line – Naomi Watts could be a prime example of how surreal cinema and the mainstream collide in Mullholland Drive. 

Redmayne: 

First gaining popularity in biographical romantic drama The Theory of Everything, Redmayne  played Stephen Hawking during his early life as a PhD student and young professor. Later, he played Lili in The Danish Girl, another biographical film about the first transsexual woman. Both these films have similar proponents with their themes about complex romantic relationships, and true stories. Having won a BAFTA, Golden Globe and an Oscar, two of which for Best Actor, Redmayne’s charming, posh persona has led him to be a rising star. In future, Redmayne will star in more mainstream movies, but still retaining his eccentric image. 

Mulligan: 

In films such as An Education and Never Let Me Go, Mulligan is typically cast as a teenage schoolgirl due to her youthful appearance. Her reputation as an actor in critically acclaimed films has meant that she has not appeared in any blockbusters. Her initial choice to remain in independent cinema has meant that she perhaps sees film as an art, rather than as commercial product. In Never Let Me Go, her appearance in a novel adaptation set the stage for The Great Gatsby 2013, with a more famous cast, but still under a high  profile industry with Baz Luhrman’s dramatic style. 

What do you think, are Redmayne and Mulligan more serious actors? Or do they just choose unique film genres? Tell me in the comments below! 

Web mania 

Webcomics:

Combining memes with traditional comic books, webcomics are images which illustrate humorous topics in short panels. Whilst traditional graphic novels, comics and and manga are surely kept alive – albeit either help of ebooks – webcomics are easy. Cyanide & Happiness, The Awkward Yeti and Cheer up Emo Kid are just a few artists who are trying the movement.

Webseries: Netflix and YouTube 

YouTube:

The Annoying Orange originally started as a series of mini clips on YouTube in 2009. Because talking fruit with human faces was rare, it was intriguing (which also made the scenes fairly easy to animate). The orange in question was more of a recurring character rather than a central one, because there was no plot. The basic story shops originally set out with videos around a minute and a half with Orange trolling a new fruit or vegetable, before they were cut up in a mock horror movie ending.

Over time, as DaneBo gained more popularity and views, the Annoying Orange gradually expanded with more characters who originally had cameo appearances. In turn, the characters orange met were not just fruit a veg, but other foods too – sometimes even objects like footballs and iPhones. There were even special spoof episodes of Mario, PacMan and Saw.

Eventually, Cartoon Network snapped up The Annoying Orange, and made it into actual TV show. The cast of  characters include Grapefruit, Passionfruit, little apple, marshmallow and Pear.

Twitter: Six words story

This trending movement  involves quote pictures and tweets telling the shortest story possible, in just six words. The short sentences often pack a mighty punch, and can sometimes have a depressing tone. Sometimes, in the comments section of a social media post, commenters write their short replies in response to either a post which says “you’re driving along in the back of a cop car. You turn to your best friend and say….” or to another commenter.

What do you think of the new web medium, has it killed the book? Or is the book dead because it’s old fashioned?

 

Best short films 

1. Paperman

A black and white animated short, this story tells the tale of two urban office workers who fancy each other. The setting could be 1940’s Boston due to the mise-en-scene, with the scene at the train station, sepia filter, props in the office such as a filing cabinet, and pin curls of the protagonist’s love interest, Meg. The young man is an accountant named George, and the main point of the film is trying to get her to notice him with paper airplanes. The narrative structure is reminiscent of A Brief Encounter, and the train station could be a vague allusion to the film.

2. The Blue Umbrella

Yet another romance, two umbrellas fall in love. Produced by Pixar, this endearing story allows the paths of two young lovers to cross. Chasing after each other in a busy city, the blue umbrella won’t let his soulmate be a flash in the pan. The two umbrellas are eventually reunited when their owners go into a coffee shop.

3. Creature comforts

An original stop motion film, Creature Comforts is a parody of zoo animals. Directed by Nick Park, the piece retains his original elements of ordinary, somewhat working class life portrayal. Set up as mockumentary, different creatures are interviewed about their living environments.  Some of the animals are happy with their living conditions, some are dissatisfied and some feel neutral. Topics such as going to doctor’s, sleep patterns, gardening, the possibility of alien life, foreigners living in Britain and the fear of the sea. Displaying a wide variety of English accents in the short, these delightful clips show how wonderfully British the people of the UK are.

4. Stick Man

It wouldn’t feel quite the same without having a children’s short on here. A stick family live inside a tree, and the father sets out on an adventure to be back in time for Christmas. The family tree is quite symbolic of the classic “voyage and return” story with a quest. The stickman seeks out help from various characters in the park to find his way back home, and is eventually reunited with his family. Some National Trust forests even created a Stickman trail, to encourage families to get out in the wildlife.

5. Plastic

A short film following an Australian woman about to go on a date, this is about how women are influenced by the media about their body image. When she digs her nails into her forehead, there are marks left.As the woman tries to erase the marks, she then learns her skin is pliable. The woman takes her inspiration from a fashion magazine, to shape herself into the perfect woman. The result, however, is horribly distorted as the woman’s body parts are exaggerated.

6. Porcelain

An Indie film, porcelain is about children’s dolls. Produced by White Alchemy, the main theme of the plot is about how young women still act like young girls. The protagonist holds tea parties, writes in her diary and preens her porcelain doll. The next morning, she finds the doll alive, with glowing red eyes. When the doll comes alive, the young woman takes on a maternal role by dancing with the doll and allowing it to write in her journal. Upon reading the young woman’s journal entry of an unseen young man she loves, the doll becomes jealous, scribbling out the words, and instead writing “MY MAMA”. The protagonist puts the doll in a toy chest. The woman grows wary of all her dolls in the apartment, carrying an axe, and the film ends driving herself insane, crying.

What’s your favourite short film? Share it in the comments below!

Popular Action/superhero movie and tv tropes

Martial arts:

Why does nearly every character who doesn’t have magical/psychic powers or the powers of technology know martial arts? Throwing in Samurai, Dojos, Masters, Ninjas or any other Eastern reference definitely does not help either. Seriously, learn a new trick for taking down the bad guys.

Spies, secret agents and assassins

James Bond, Marvel’s and S.H.I.E.L.D are notorious for having top secret agents. As a result,  this tv trope has become a staple in many action movies – being Russian is optional. I’m not going to spend too long on nationality here, because an entirely separate point about foreign characters could easily be made here.

Gadgets

If there’s no superpowers or magical abilities, then there’s gadgets. Batman is well known for his gadgets, as is Inspector Gadget and James Bond. I don’t know why hi-tech gadgets are such as staple in action movies. But they add to the whole secret agent image.

Watchers

(A.K.A Tutors, Teachers, Mentors, Guardians) the protagonist is an imperfect idiot who requires near constant supervision. Young Jackie Chan in the tv show is one such example (once again, we’re thinking a sensei in The Karate Kid). But there are countless others

“Secret organistions”

Look, the ministry of magic, MI5, the FBI and the Council of Elders aren’t even that secret any longer. If they’re combined with the media and/or government, we’re hoping into post apocalyptic territory of The Maze Runner, Divergent and The Hunger Games. Bring  rogue scientists into the picture and we’ve got the X-men, Powerpuff girls or the scientists WICKD again.

Bad gangs

Team Rocket, The Brotherhood, Hydra…..stop it with these mafia parodies. Team Rocket especially, with a name like Giovanni and his stereotypical pet Persian. Sometimes, the evil members don’t have to be a large corporation or organisation, or even a mystical or divine force. Sometimes it can be just a freak accident which is the indirect result of something else.

Crappy/boring day jobs

Not all characters have terrible day jobs – Tony Stark and Poison Ivy being a couple of notable examples. But for most superheroes, they have two identities to prevent being discovered. Surely if at least someone was self employed, the characters wouldn’t have these problems? There’d still be drama, like with the neighbours wondering and fighting bad guys, but it’d be more original to try having a character who doesn’t work in an office cubicle.

Scientists:

Something these characters or the villains use has been made by a scientist  – genetic mutations, drugs, costumes, weapons, gadgets etc. Or, in a few cases, the protagonist is a scientist themselves. Inventors and psychologists basically fall under the whole scientist category as well. Could we not have maybe a different kind of profession, like a mechanic?

Films/TV shows which parody these tropes

Megamind:

the basic movie summary is that an alien supervillain accidentally kills his tally  his arch nemesis, Metro Man, and decides to create his own new hero he can fight. The twist in the film is that Metro Man actually faked his death and Mega Mind’s new town hero turns about to be the bad guy.

The Incredibles:

Like with many superhero films, this story tells the life of a suburban, slightly  family dysfunctional family (because we’re all a bit quirky and have special talents). Violet’s invisibility and force fields are metaphors for her defense to protect her feelings and just disappear, Dash is a young and white Usain Bolt trying to sprint, Helen’s elastic body symbolises her flexibility in life (along with spreading herself too thinly), and Bob’s strength is a symbol for his roid rage  as a result of his bodybuilding.

Austin Powers:

A 90’s parody of the James Bond series, Austin powers is a comedy movie which spans the agent Austin from the 1960’s onwards. Notable for being exceptionally goofy, Austin is well-known for acting up around women.
Bolt:

One of the things i liked about bolt was that it was a movie about an actress and her dog. The relationship between the pair is incredibly strong,  and Bolt would do anything to help his owner. Admittedly, what sets the action going is Bolt’s disappearance after he thinks he’s going to find Penny. Instead of being an actual normal dog who, by some freak accident, is transformed into a superdog, Bolt is led to believe he has always been gifted and has to learn to be normal instead. Mittens, a stray alley cat, teaches bolt that there’s more to life than what Hollywood makes out to be. One of the most extraordinary features in the film is that bolt learns to be a hero in real life, not just on a silver screen, after he saves the crew from a fire.  The story concludes that fame isn’t everything, and they go to live a simpler life.

The Mask:

Yet another comedy parody of the superhero genre, the mask illustrates how superheroes in real life parody cartoons. The mask’s facial reactions mimicking that of the wolf from old droopy cartoons, and his wacky sense of humour. Jim Carrey’s caricature expressions highlight how hammed up cartoons and comic action scenes truly are.

The Crimson Chin and Mermaid Man:

Oh look, cartoons are parodying action heroes from comic books. Why? Just to try to tell you that the cartoon you’re watching is totally real. Whilst this is all fair and well, a frame narrative doesn’t bode particularly well with mirroring reality. However, I will give kudos to the author at least trying to reach out to superheroes and being metafictional.

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What’s up with superhero movies?

Superheroes have been popular since the first superhero, Superman, appeared in comic books in 1933. Metahumans been popular since Ancient Greece, with gods such as Heracles/Hercules popular in myths and legends. Since the digital age, we have a new breed of superhumans; either the genetically modified human 2.0 as seen in Divergent or transhumans/cyborgs such as Robocop. Let’s examine a few of the most recent releases.

1. X-men Apocalypse

Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Sophie Turner, X-men apocalypse brings the mutants fighting Armageddon against Ancient Egyptian pharaoh mutant En Sabah Nur. With a terrific cast of actors forming the X-men in an action packed movie of mutants saving the world. Seeing the binaries between good and evil makes a refreshing change from the typical Marxist stance that mutants are second class, oppressed citizens.

2. Marvel’s Thor

One of the many comic book threads to merge gods with superheroes and alien life forms, Thor’s golden locks look like they’ve come out of a L’oreal advert. The antagonist, Loki, has proven to be infinitely more popular than Thor, and follows the British villain trope.

3. Suicide Squad

Instead of a team of superheroes, we have a gang of supervillians fighting the  alien Aztec god Enchantress trying to rule planet Earth. With Harley Quinn  getting the most attention  of the bunch, her fairly recent relationship with Poison Ivy has highlighted the key differences between Harley in the comics and Harley on screen, particularly her relationship with The Joker.

4. Deadpool

Dubbed as the anti-spiderman, Deadpool follows Wade Wilson – a man who follows a revenge plot to kill the man who ruined his life. The film briefly spans Deadpool’s journey on becoming a superhuman with regeneration (or “accelerated healing factor”, as the comics call it), to cure his cancer. Because of this, he’s effectively immortal in a similar way that Doctor Who is, and as a result he became an assassin  and mercenary. Oh, and he’s aware he’s comic book character, a trait he uses to get the upper hand of his opponents.

5. Supergirl

The popular TV series follows super girl in 21st century New York and her double life. Not unlike the 1990’s series Smallville, Supergirl follows journalist Cara as she tries to live up to her cousin’s image.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy

Intergalactic space criminals with special abilities join forces to become superheroes defending Earth from outer space. Groot, the sentient tree, won the hearts of the viewers by defending his team with his roots. There’s supposed to be an upcoming sequel due to the success of the film, which will probably dig deeper into .

7. Ant Man

A criminal mind becomes a professional thief performing heists in a suit that allows him to be a tiny super soldier. Plus, he can communicate with real ants and make them his minions. Instead of being a crook struggling to find work, despite his Master’s in Electrical  Engineering, Scott can put his stealth to good use.

8. Watchmen

A lesser-known neo noir superhero film, Watchmen focuses on the investigation of a fellow superhero. Set in 1985 during the Cold War, many of the characters are ex-superheroes due to the events which happened around them. Considering The Comedian is a rapist and killer, and Laurie’s complex family history with him, the film is pretty dark. Silk Spectre’s outfit is very eroticised as well; with skin tight latex, thigh high boots, and only covering her crotch to reveal her legs and butt.

9. The green lantern 

Like Thor, the Green lantern is a superhero who uses a power ring fuelled by his determination  and imagination. The green lantern belongs to intergalactic military and police force called Green Lantern Corps, controlled by the Guardians. The movie is quite symbolic, since Parallax wanted control the yellow essence of fear, whereas the green essence symbolises willpower. A green lantern can control and conjure constructs telekinetically. 

10. Green Arrow

Often dressed similar to  Robin Hood, the Green Arrow is an archer who defends Seattle. The Green Arrow has a few similarities to Marvel’s Hawkeye, but is more of a side character than a main one. He has yet to appear in any live action media, but made a noteable appearance in Justice League: New Frontier. Some may suggest that the Green Arrow is better than Hawkeye because Hawkeye is more of a solo character. 

 

 

 

How to keep a Pokemon Go diary

Ever since Pokemon Diamond & Pearl, there has been a log of activities in the game. But, what if you wanted to create an actual journal, telling your story as a trainer? There are two styles you could use, one being purely objective and descriptive, the other being more vibrant and personal.

Objective style:

11th August, 2016:

I joined the game and met Professor Willow. I caught Charmander, my starter pokemon, and Caterpie using a lure.

15th August, 2016:

Joined Team Mystic, and found the Team Mystic Facebook group for San Antonio. Overtook 3 Team Valor gyms and 1 Team Instinct gym.

As you can see, this journal logs the highlights of a trainer’s day. This approach works well if you’re most interested in the progress you’ve made as a trainer. Below is the more personalised approach with three different scenarios:

17th July, 2016:

My FitBit told me I’d walked 15km and nearly 20,000 steps today whilst on my Pokewalk. I’ve lost 3lbs already in the past fortnight, and want to lose another 5lbs by the end of the month. It felt so satisfying seeing my silver medal from Pokemon, I want to get fitter again.

4th August, 2016:

I made our Costa branch was made into a pokestop today, which attracted dozens more customers to the shop. Sales have increased by 20% over the last month, and there’s a slate chalkboard welcoming customers inside to access the WiFi. Sometimes, a staff member event plants lures so clients stay for longer. My manager brought up the success in the last meeting, and said she wants to draw more publicity from Pokemon Go.

19th August, 2016:

I’ve joined the Pokemon Go Melbourne group on Facebook, and made 3 new friends at the first pPokemeet already! We go out regularly to hunt Pokemon and send screenshots of what we’ve caught or hatched. I’ve even got a girlfriend from chatting by a Pokestop too, and now we regularly go out walking to take down gyms. I just need to ensure the game doesn’t make me put off my college assignments and do the chores – dad keeps yelling at me for not washing the dishes! Who knew Pokemon Go could do wonders for my social life?

The second examples could easily be documented on social media blogs such as Twitter or Instagram, and Pokemon Go improving business could easily be a LinkedIn article. Whereas the first format could simply be an excerpt from the game’s log of events.

The main difference between the examples is that Pokemon helps to achieve personal goals, and is not limited to in-game achievements. By giving a brief back story to the player’s life and incorporating emotive language, the trainer transforms from being a digital avatar, to a real character with ambitions and desires.

About the game’s unique platform:

The game adds a fourth layer of identity that merges the digital world with the physical due to the game’s unique platform. Due to the augmented reality graphics features, combined with a virtual character coordinated inside a digital maps environment, Pokemon Go is the closest any fan could get to playing real Pokemon. It’s main appeal is the emphasis of catching Pokemon in the wild. The next generation of pokemon reduces  emphasis on a storyline to get from point Aa to B, as previous games required users to complete certain tasks to advance e.g. defeat a rival, earn a gym badge or battle team rocket. Furthermore, the Pokemon caught have stats which resemble those of the Pokeathlete by removing the need for Pokemon to level up, learn new moves and evolve with  battling.

 

What do you use Pokemon Go for, and do you keep a  Pokemon journal? Comment below!