How to Be an English Major: Revisiting Frozen, Meaning, and the Death of the Author

A few weeks ago I wrote an essay about the new Disney movie Frozen. A few people read it, and then a few more, and then it exploded and became the most read post on this blog by a factor of ten (a fact found using English Major Math™, so take it as A Number I Made Up, Signifying Lots). Loads of people left comments – for some people it resonated with their own thoughts, or showed them possibilities they hadn’t considered; and others had their own ideas about the film’s significance, or felt it spoke to them in a different way. 98% of the comments were well spoken and polite, and I wanted to take this into-time to thank people for that. The internet might be a seething sea of cruelty bolstered by the false comfort of anonymity, but that doesn’t mean that every little scrap of civil discourse doesn’t help.

As I read I began to notice a certain trend: the search for the ‘Real Interpretation.’ Whether it was proposing another reading of the text or asking after the official intent of the creators, there seems to be a fervent desire to have a sanctioned view of a work of art. It comes from high school, I think, where teachers often find it easier to help students get through the unit by highlighting one interpretation as What it Means. That’s not a bad way to start, but it’s also only a start….which becomes a problem, given that for many people close media inspection starts and ends with those classes.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I could give people a crash course in English Majoring, with Frozen (and a few other things) as our guide. It’ll be just like college, with less Herman Melville and debt.

Continue reading

Do You Ever Wonder What Time It Is? Modern Media and Storytelling

Part of me is convinced that someone on the Adventure Time staff is a fan of Red vs. Blue. It’s more a gut feeling than what one might call ‘empirical evidence’ or ‘substantiated by a single shred of proof.’ Both are blazing successes, of course, characterized by a short and loosely linked episode format, but it’s the narrative style that I want to talk about today. In the bizarre mental land that this theory lives in, both shows are sterling examples of the new-narrative for internet long-standers (okay, AT is on TV, but it very much lives in the comedic stylings of the internet).

Back in 2003, RvB started a serialized comedy show and released it onto the wild west of the internet, hoping to attract consistent viewership with the idea that you could come back to one place on the internet each week to see an ongoing story. Well, duh, you might say, but this was back in the day when one-shots were the big thing – even stuff like Homestar Runner just had a core set of re-used characters without any particular interest in narrative. Rooster Teeth’s machinima (stories filmed using videogame engines) project was doing something pretty unusual for the medium at the time – I’d go so far as to say they were pioneers on the subject of narrative machinima (not the first, but formative for sure, not to mention an early work that’s still going). It worked, too. As the story goes, the first episode had more than a million downloads within the first week. It wormed its way into many a heart, though the decade spanning duration of the series means that you tend to find fans who stopped watching around the first three seasons and others who fell in around the sixth (the eleventh just finished airing).

As far as the content of the narrative it, uh…starts a little on the light side. It is a consecutive narrative, in the most basic sense – events that have occurred remain in continuity, and there’s dramatic climax from one season to the next (boy did they love their cliffhangers in the early days). It’s just that those plot events tended to be with a comedic focus, with the stories pursuing what Burnie found to be the best reaping ground for jokes than any kind of deep world building or character introspection. The first five seasons, known collectively as The Blood Gulch Chronicles, more or less stayed that way aside of a surprisingly bittersweet conclusion. When it started up again, things took a decidedly more plotty turn, if one that was content to move at its own pace.

How about Cartoon Network’s current darling, Adventure Time? It’s well into its fifth season now, and I at least would’ve never guessed from the outset that the deeply, deeply weird little piece of surreal children’s media the show started out as would later weave in an apocalypse and plentiful gut wrenching. What is it about the appeal that speaks to so many, and inspired such a similar trajectory?


The Lich is not funny

Continue reading