Sunday, November 8, 2015

An Absolute Failure of Imagination

Hello and welcome, everybody! Again, my only excuse for a late Sunday post is general laziness. But I'm here now so let's do our part to tear this series a new one.

Like I said last week, this plot cul-de-sac with Mark can be summed up as "Ellanjay want to show how eeevil Nicky's regime is, but they can't let a Main Character suffer so..." Thought I should warn you: at numerous points, various Angelic beings show up and like I said, succeed in accomplishing fuck-all! And oh boy, do we see a lot of it this week with all these damn angels, instruments of a being who is supposedly all-powerful, all-present, and all-good, showing up to do little more than say "There, there," before leaving, INSTEAD OF DOING ANYTHING THAT WOULD ACTUALLY MATTER!!

Okay, I shouldn't be too shocked by this, but more and more, I think of the poor readers of this series. If Ellanjay mean for this series to serve to educate young RTCs, they fail miserably. The readers of this series like in an entirely different world, where faith and matters related to it, are often on uncertain ground. Whereas the characters receive absolute proof that this is all real, especially the brand of PMD beliefs endorsed by Tim LaHaye. So the reader would have the damnedest time trying to apply the lessons from these books to a world where issues frequently are in shades of grey and often it comes down, not to right or wrong, but to "Which is the least bad solution to a bad problem?"

I suppose it is possible, as the existence of the Christian Right and the current roster of GOP candidates proves, to keep the young'uns in a nice hermetically sealed bubble where they never have to encounter anything that might disprove or shake their beliefs in easy answers, but there's still a chance that at least a few are going to wriggle free and escape.

But again, I am making the assumption that Ellanjay wrote this series out of a genuine desire to see people get saved, but as Fred points out, this fictional world more serves as a nice bubble for them. In this bubble, RTCs are kings of the mountain, the ones who get to kick sand in the face of those logical others who spend time kicking sand in their faces in the real world. It's like trying to play superheroes with that one kid who just keeps getting new powers that just so happen to cancel out yours, until you want to say, "Screw it, I'm going to play with someone else."

Yeah, I know, given how far I've made it in this series, I shouldn't be too surprised by all this, but I spent the entire chapter just shaking my head at the absolute failure of imagination. Again, you have angels, supernatural beings who are basically instruments in the hands of an even more powerful being, and this is what you use them for! Even though, in a post I linked to last week, said Angel had no problem using supernatural powers to bust out another tribble and provide a spacious ride so he can make his escape.

To be fair, though, this seems to be a common imagination limit, especially when it comes to Hollywood writers. Somebody gets visited by a dead relative, as in someone who has been to that undiscovered country from whence no traveler returns and returned, only instead of pumping them for information , like asking, "So Big Bang or Steady State? Which religion got God right? Is Heaven and Hell real and do you really stay there for all eternity?" said living person is more concerned about banal everyday stuff the dead relative could help them with. Roger Ebert had an entry in his Bigger Little Movie Glossary that perfectly sums it up:

Angel Limited-Involvement Rule. Modern movie angels mostly seem to visit Earth in order to smoke cigarettes, eat pizza, and show what regular Joes they are. Although famine, war, disease, and higher prices torment the globe, they solve such problems as a guy who has stopped dating because he’s lost his faith in women.

R. E.

All right, I'll get to the damn book already. I swear I didn't intend to rant so long about this; it was just a case of "Once the spigot is turned..."

Mark is still all emo about how the Satanic NWO is being so mean to a child soldier for a terrorist organization determined to bring them down. Realizing that this is his fifteen minutes away from the Minor Character Cloud, Mark starts doing this long inner soliloquy about how much he loves Vicki, but she's into Judd. I'll admit it's perfectly adequate writing--even at the End of the World, unrequited love sucks--but it falls completely flat for the obvious reason of, maybe Mark had been shown as having feelings for Vicki before, but given that I can't remember when it was mentioned...yeah. I almost want to resurrect Anton Chekov so he can beat Ellanjay to death with his guns. Basic rule of storytelling: plot points must be set up in advance in Act One, if you expect the reader to care when they come to play in Act Three. They can't come way the hell out of nowhere in Act Three.

Mark tried to think of something to take his mind off the pain. His first thought was Vicki, and he smiled. She had looked so pretty on the video feed from Petra. Beautiful. He had known early that Vicki was attracted to Judd. Mark’s own feelings hadn’t stirred until much later. He loved the sound of her voice, the way she took chances to help people. There was something fearless about her, something pure and noble.

“You gotta forgive me, Vicki,” Mark whispered. He felt bad about yelling at her at the Dials’ hideout in Wisconsin. He had told her she had to leave or he would, but the truth was, deep down, Mark was simply confused about his feelings. Now he knew he felt jealous of Judd and had lashed out at her in anger.

Later, when he and Vicki had talked, he had almost told her how he felt. Almost let her know that he wanted to be more than friends. Mark took a deep breath and tried to hold back the tears. It was okay that she didn’t know, almost better.

Yeah, doesn't take much for me to start reading overtones into this, especially given Ellanjay's regressive views of women, where they're either a Madonna or a Whore, and once you've crossed that thin, fuzzily-drawn line, you're forever dirty and your only hope is that some gallant man will gallantly overlook said dirtiness.

Okay, maybe I'm reading entirely too much into this, but given how he keeps bringing up how pure and noble Vicki is, as opposed to anything like the way she touches her tongue to her teeth when she grins or how much she loves Bruce Lee movies or anything that would tell us something about her as a person, gotta conclude that Mark's ardor for her will greatly cool given that since Vicki has finally gotten married, chances are she and Judd have performed the dirty act of making love. Granted like all good RTCs, Vicki and Judd only do it for the purpose of procreation and they don't enjoy it one bit, but still.

It reminds me of something Fred said about Rayford. I'll provide a link to the full post, but I still feel that one passage warrants quoting. Not only does it describe Rayford, but I suspect it describes Mark's feelings for VIcki.

Irene was purest good, a saint, and therefore chaste and sexless. Or perhaps she was chaste and sexless, and therefore a saint and the purest good. Those other women — Hattie, the nameless Christmas-party slut, the prostitutes that flitted about the edges of his subconscious — they were all "tawdry" and "beneath him." Rayford is reminding me more and more of John Leguizamo's character from "Summer of Sam." Leguizamo played a sex-obsessed lothario who cheated on his wife because she didn't do That Thing That Your Wife Won't Do. Then, when his poor wife offers, he is disgusted by her.

For those of you wondering when I'm going to get to the part of the Angelic visitations and how little they matter, fear not, they show up on the next page.

Basically Angelic Being bamfs aboard the GC bus, says, "I'm a messenger," and gives Mark a neck massage which somehow makes all his aches and pains go away. And yes, I am fighting the urge to make so many dirty jokes about the Angel giving Mark a happy ending after his massage. They just keep making it so damn easy! But these hang-ups seem to keep coming up in RTC culture: they're torn between the physical desires hardwired into them by evolution and their hatred of those desires and the feelings they provoke. Because anything that makes you feel good might distract you from the fact that you are irredeemable scum in the eyes of God and that's bad! There's a reason that whenever a scandal seems to arise among the Religious Right, it always seems to involve sex.

So Mark's like, "Okay so what's the message? Did God send you to rescue me?" And because I peeked ahead, in my head, the Angel's response is to point and laugh until he dry heaves. Because, as you probably guessed it, the Angel's message is just Bible quotes, copied and pasted.

Angel quotes from Isaiah, chapter 43, and like a good RTC, only quotes the second verse because paying attention to the larger context is for liberal wusses. But then again, there's a reason they only quote a few verses here and there from the Prophets, given that both the Minor and Major Prophets spend a lot of time lambasting those who make their fortunes off of the misery of others and do nothing to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

Mark, wondering just what sending an angel to parrot back Bible verses is supposed to accomplish, is all "So you're not going to get me out of here?"

I will say that they do actually have said Angel respond in something besides Bible quotes, but as you guessed, it's pure weaksauce.

“The Father has not promised to snatch you away from trouble. But he has promised to be with you every step. You have served him well, Mark. You will serve him yet.”

Let me provide a helpful translation for you: "I feel really bad for you but I'm not going to do anything that would actually help you. In fact, God has decided that he's going to inflict even more suffering on you just to make some half-assed point."

Mark notices his leg is healed and is all "Did you do that?" I'm going to assume the little bit of half-assed effort they put into the Angel's words, thoroughly exhausted Ellanjay, because said Angel reverts to speaking solely in Bible quotes.

Angel quotes from Proverbs 13, specifically verse 17. I'll bet that Proverbs is probably more popular reading among RTCs what with it's straightforward "Do the right thing or get punted" verses. Plus, Proverbs 13 also has their favorite verse, "Spare the rod, spoil the child."

It's also much less confusing than Psalms with its metaphorical language that delving into the raw anguish and uncertainty that comes with living in this world or any of the Prophets what with their Islamo-Commie-Fascist BS about how those who trample on the poor will in turn be trampled. Again, you're forced to conclude that for all their chest-thumping and obsession about reading the Bible, RTCs fear what would happen if their children actually read the Bible and started asking questions like, "Okay, so what exactly were Jesus's last words on the cross? Because the four gospels all have him saying different things."

Mark is all "What do you mean I'll serve him? How am I supposed to serve him in jail?"

I'm like, "He'll serve you with fava beans and a nice Chianti."

But Angel quotes from Isaiah 40, specifically verse 28. And somehow that comforts Mark because he doesn't ask anymore pesky questions like, "What is going to happen? Will it hurt? Will my friends and family be able to cope if they lose me? Will any of us survive?" Because if you read the full chapter, instead of just the last part quoted, those were the kinds of questions that Isaiah and many of the other Israelites were struggling with. I often find myself wondering, given the RTCs' profound ignorance of scripture, if they even know about the Babylonian Captivity, how so much of the Old Testament, not just the prophetic works, was written in response to it. It was a major earth-shattering event in the history of the Jewish people, an event that would shape their history for centuries to come; as a result, many writers would devote a lot of time and ink trying to work out the meaning of said event.

Those are the questions the Prophets are obsessed with, not so much "Future events that will affect you in the future," but the very real suffering that their people are going through right now. To quote a passage from the oft-shared "Myths over Miami" article:

Virginia Hamilton, winner of a National Book Award and three Newberys (the Pulitzer Prize of children's literature), is the only children's author to win a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. Her best-selling books, The People Could Fly and Herstories, trace African-American folklore through the diaspora of slavery. "Folktales are the only work of beauty a displaced people can keep," she explains. "And their power can transcend class and race lines because they address visceral questions: Why side with good when evil is clearly winning? If I am killed, how can I make my life resonate beyond the grave?"

Those where the kind of questions the Prophets were trying to address, the ones Virginia Hamilton mentions. Whether you feel they pulled it off or not, at least know that the three Isaiahs were writing for their people, not citizens of a country that doesn't yet exist and will not exist for several centuries, across the ocean, on a continent that they haven't heard of, and would not have known existed at the moment of their deaths.

Angel tells Mark that his friends are safe, tells Mark we'll see each other again before the end, quotes Psalms 28:7, and leaves, but before taking off, the Angel removes Mark's handcuffs. The GC all freak out, but for some reason, Mark is comforted thanks to the Angelic visitor. Even though said Angel could have, oh I don't know, CAUSED THE DRIVERS/GUARDS TO HAVE HEART ATTACKS OR CAUSED THE BUS TO BREAK DOWN OR SOMETHING THAT WOULD HAVE ACTUALLY HELPED BEYOND SHOWING UP AND GOING, "THERE, THERE."

Next section, Lionel watches them deal with Mark through a private prison feed. And of course, he's shocked, shocked that the GC see Mark's involvement in a terrorist organization as a sign that he's deeply troubled.

“Why aren’t you going to execute him for not taking the mark?” the reporter said.

“Normally we would, but we believe this prisoner has valuable information. What we have here is a troubled young man who has been brainwashed to believe our lord Carpathia is evil. I’m not making excuses for his crimes, but if we can go inside his head and get information about other members of this dangerous group, we’ll be that much closer to the kind of world peace we’ve been striving for the last few years.”

Awfully nuanced and respectful words coming from a Satanic NWO. But then again, given that the Right tends to have the loudest voices crying for the "Shoot 'em all and let God sort it out" or if they're feeling generous, "Lock 'em up and throw away the key," maybe we shouldn't be too surprised that the limp-wristed, effete, possibly homosexual Satanic government would do something weak like talk to the kid, try to understand why he wound up in such bad circumstances and see if being put in a better environment would help, rather than just label him as damaged goods and bludgeon him with the law, making it so he'll be forever suffering for something he did as a stupid teenager. Because the Christian Right believes in Love and Mercy, so long as you never ever screw up. Though to be fair, if you're rich and white, they'll let you have youthful indiscretions well into your fifties, though they'll try you as an adult at twelve if you're poor and black.

Lionel rolls his eyes over the lying lies the lying liars are saying about Mark, even though like I said, they're being awful kind to someone who was basically a child soldier for a terrorist organization. Pretty much anyone, like me, who knows about the American Justice System and how it basically comes down like a ton of bricks on Juvenile offenders, regardless of circumstances, is laughing and laughing bitterly.

After that interlude, we cut back to Mark, who is experiencing torture at the hands of the GC. Once again, those of us, who know anything about what the US puts suspected terrorists through at Gitmo or the stuff any fascist regime does to its dissidents, are laughing and laughing bitterly.

Though GC officials tried everything to get Mark to give his name and information, he kept silent. He didn’t want to be traced to Nicolae High School and his friends in the Young Trib Force.

After they processed him, Mark spent hours waiting in an interrogation room. He finally got so tired that he put his head on the table and went to sleep.

When the narration says they've tried everything to get Mark to give them his name and information, well, my readers aren't the least bit surprised that my mind went to a Simpsons episode. If you're wondering, I am thinking in particular of the episode where Sideshow Bob forces them to go into Witness Protection and they hide out a Terror Lake. Don't know if I could ever list my favorite Simpsons episodes, but that one would be in the top five.

Anyway, the moment I'm thinking of, well sorry to say, but I couldn't find it on YouTube. Basically it's the part where the guy is trying to get Sideshow Bob to leave town. I pretty much think that the GC questioning of Mark went the exact same way.

GC Interrogator: C'mon tell us what we want to know.

Mark: No.

GC I: I'll be your friend.

Mark: No.

GC I: Oh, you're mean.

Because really can you think of anything more horrible than the fact that Mark became so tired that he had to lay down his head and sleep on a metal interrogation table. Other dictatorships and whatnot would simply beat him ever time he tried to rest or water-boarded him or blasted him with bright lights constantly or blasted him with loud music constantly or even forced him into stress positions, thus making it impossible for him to fall asleep. But the GC government, which is headed by Satan and is supposed to be so much worse than Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot combined, SHOW A SURPRISING AMOUNT OF GENTLENESS AND RESTRAINT! BECAUSE THAT'S AN EXAMPLE OF GOOD WRITING, TALKING ABOUT HOW EEEEVIL AND BEYOND THE PALE YOUR VILLAINS ARE WHILE AT THE SAME TIME, HAVING THEM SHOW MORE REGARD FOR THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE THAN ANY OF YOUR HEROES EVER DO! IT IS DEFINITELY NOT YET ANOTHER INSTANCE OF ELLANJAY USED AN INFORMED ATTRIBUTE AND HOPING TO MAKE UP FOR SHORT-COMINGS BY TELLING US THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE'RE SEEING IS HAPPENING!

:deep breath:

I know, I ragedump entirely too much. At the rate, I'm going, my Capslock is going to go on strike and I'll lose the ability to express any emotion besides brutal sarcasm. But this slapdash approach to the craft really pisses me off. Ellanjay are not only peddling bad theology but they're also fleecing the readers who deserve a good story given that they've paid for this overly long series.

Again, we can talk about C.S. Lewis and the failures of his Chronicles of Narnia series, especially when it comes to The Problem of Susan, but for all the series' flaws, the Chronicles are still worth reading. Lewis may have been peddling a Christian Allegory, but he also knew that it was his duty as a writer of children's fiction to produce fiction that children would enjoy reading. He put forth effort creating good characters and good world-building; he didn't just slap a Jesus fish on the spine, pepper a few prayers in the manuscript, and call it a day.

Plus, C.S. Lewis had some insight into human nature. Just try to picture Ellanjay writing anything close to Puddleglum's speech in The Silver Chair.

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

Ellanjay basically are playing the part of the evil queen in The Silver Chair, creating a dark, ersatz version of God and Heaven and telling the people who read their books that this is the only version there is and you better believe in it, because somehow we'll send you somewhere worse, even though it'd be damned difficult to think of a worse place than Ellanjay's take on Heaven.

Anyway, the rest of the chapter is taken up with the GC trying to do a Good cop/bad cop routine. But since the GC are made of Fail that doesn't work. Instead, the chapter ends with them doing the most horrible thing possible! They give him an energy bar and shove him into a dank, smelly prison cell with several other criminals! Quelle horror! The GC's eeevil truly knows no bounds!

I know, I linked to this webpage twice back when Chloe was captured, but the damn link still remains pretty apt. If you gave anyone five minutes, they probably could have written a better torture scene. Heck, a toddler whose idea of torture is being in time-out for five minutes, would have come up with something more compelling and wrenching! Anyway, here's that link: Torture and the Virgin Army.

Again, don't agree with all the views of that website, but the webmaster/mistress who slapped it together, does demonstrate more insight into human behavior than Ellanjay ever will.

Anyway, that's it for this week. In an attempt to soften the blow, I'll provide a link to one of the best bits from that Simpsons episode: Sideshow Bob steps on many rakes. See you until next week.


aunursa said...

Even though, in a post I linked to last week, said Angel had no problem using supernatural powers to bust out another tribble and provide a spacious ride so he can make his escape.

We've seen many times that the God of Left Behind is a whimsical deity.

Firedrake said...

I think it's more subtle than that. RTCism is about believing that everyone else in the community is guaranteed in with God, but are you? Really? You sure about that? Better come to another altar call, and donate more money.

(What's the first thing a biblical angel says? "Be not afraid." That suggests to me they look more like than like .)

A minor character and a Protagonist? That was never going anywhere. Mixed marriages rarely work.

Note, Mark has done something bad - but it's only because he was confused. If only he'd listened to his pastor, everything would have been all right.

Now now, be fair - RTCs have scandals about money too, in spite of the fact that they get to write their own rules about acceptable uses of church funds. (And some day someone will have the guts to remove religious tax exemptions.)

"Sucks to be you, dude. But I've healed you up so you can last longer when they torture you."

Oh, suuure, he held out under interrogation. After a couple of days he'll be saying anything he thinks they want to hear. Everybody cracks. The ones who were strong crack faster. The only hard bit about interrogation (with or without torture) is working out when they're telling you something useful and when they're just making something up to get you to stop. (With torture it's almost always the latter, which is the practical as opposed to the moral reason why it's such a bad idea.)

Anonymous said...

Just punting in the dark, but perhaps the lameness of the torture is because this is supposed to be a "child-friendly" series, and anything like actual pain is too scary for the average RTC child?

Mouse said...

Anonymous, I would be inclined to agree with you except if you clicked on the link called "Torture and the Virgin Army" you'd see that the lameness of the torture shows up in the adult books as well. Plus, given that people can point to so many Young Adult titles that deal with some pretty serious shit, can't help but think that the "It's for kids, so we have to defang things a little" mindset is BS. Because misery doesn't wait until you're eighteen to strike; plenty of people have to deal with some awful stuff before hand.

Abby Normal said...

I have a theory that "Christian" media these days is so piss-poor because RTC artists are exposed to such a narrow scope of "acceptable" influences during their training. Just as an example that applies here--I think that one of the most affecting torture scenes I ever saw on TV was the "Chain of Command" two-parter from ST:TNG. It was freaky as hell despite having to meet criteria for prime time network TV, largely due to Patrick Stewart's performance. Now, chances are good RTC's were never allowed to watch Star Trek. Heck, if they've been raised on a steady diet of Psalty and Murder She Wrote, I suspect that the closest vision of a "torture scene" that the writers here could come up was a police procedural where one of the cops gets a little loud. It's probably all they know.

And I freaking love Puddleglum's speech. I don't know if you've read Ana Mardoll's takedown of the Narnia books--I've seen a her point for a lot of them but I can't get behind Puddleglum hate, even if he is supposedly a lame author insert.

These critiques have been reminding me of an incident my mom told me about a while back. She and my dad work with Christian Motorcyclists Association, which is a group that goes to biker rallies to "witness" to the bikers. At one of the rallies they went to (and apparently this happens at a lot of them), their group got the job of working the table collecting entrance fees for the rally and watching the cash box, because the rally managers figured out that their group was the only one that didn't steal from the till. The rally manager made an announcement about this at the beginning of the rally by saying "if you can't trust the fucking Christians, who the fuck can you trust?"

If I were to rewrite this series as an evangelizing tool, I would do it with that in mind--the Christians ought to be the ones you can fucking trust. They should be building hospitals for victims of all the plagues, or looking for cures for human-headed-wasp stings, or hiding people from the GC, regardless of whether they have God-marks or not. Right now, all there are are two warring factions that aren't all that different.

Firedrake said...

Abby, I think that it's both narrow inputs as you say and narrow outputs, in that anything which might offend the most sensitive RTC isn't allowed.

And yes, as has been mentioned in some other places, if they aren't going to do anything why are they hanging around? They've got their second-class tickets to heaven (which is as good as they'll ever get), so why not walk down to Global Community Plaza and start preaching until they get shot? (Actually trying to help people seems a little much; after all, they're going to die soon and will be damned when they do, so they won't serve as references for the Heaven Country Club.)