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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Anything Salvaged

I have a question for you. Two, actually. First, I want you to tell me what the absolute worst work of art you've ever been subjected to is. There. You have it in mind? Picturing it vividly?

Alright, now tell me what you liked best about it.

No, listen, this exercise isn't going to work if your answers are, respectively, "This Beer" and "The more I drink the less I feel." Stop being so sullen; I told you to get the wine.

Look, we're going to come back to this later, and you had better have an answer or Abraxas The Hideous Armrest Rat is going to gnaw your thumb off.

It's a tricky question, though. After all, it's natural to look at something utterly terrible and just dismiss it completely. Hell, part of the point of criticism is to pick apart flaws in order that mistakes can be avoided the next time around by other artists. Heaven knows the world can do without another Twilight Saga, and we sure don't need another Thomas Kinkade running around. (I would include a picture here, but I'm pretty sure it would give us all diabetes. In lieu of that, here's a picture of Lord Humungous).

Pictured: The Ayatollah of Rock-And-Rollah
And yet... and yet...

There's often some fragment of worth even in the most degenerated artwork. There's almost always something you can learn. And not just learning in the form of, "Now I know to never do anything like that." No, if we look closely we can often discover a kernal of an idea, or a fragment of a scene, or a simple color choice or image choice or tertiary character that we can point to and say, hey, this might actually be onto something. The attitude is, essentially, that you try to find the good in the bad, no matter how difficult it is.

This isn't just fluffy feel good kumbayaa shenaninganery, though.1 The thing is, in our rush to dismantle the problems with various works, we often misplace our critiques and end up losing sight of what actually sinks the piece.

Consider Twilight, for example. I once got into a debate with a meme-programmed chucklehead over the merits of Twilight. I argued in favor of it. Listen, before you shank me with that bottle you've just broken, listen to the context. See, this strapping young lad was railing to me about what a dumb series it was, but he stayed oddly vague about the details. So, I asked him, have you ever read the books?

Ha ha ha, heavens no. Why should he? The Blogoblag had already told him that it sucked!

And why?

Because it had sparkly vampires.

And sparkly vampires, The Blagotubes posited, could never be taken seriously.

I begged to differ.

See, the problem here is one that FILM CRITIC HULK talks about. It's about the tangible details of the thing. Everyone who reads the books know that they suck. But what they see is Bella Swan being a moron, Edward Cullen being a creepy pedo stalker, and, of course, the sparkly vampires. The character flaws are, to be sure, important, and the sparkle thing isn't ever really satisfactorally explored in the first book at least, but the problem with this is that they're taking the external details--what everyone can see and access--and blaming them for the deep structural flaws of pacing, word choice, story structure, the interaction of main and side characters, horrific anti-feminist messages, and so on. All that stuff is hidden. So, the default is to just blame it all on sparkly vampires.

Which is rather unfortunate, because it hides the fact that sparkly vampires is really the single original concept in the entire book. It is literally the only interesting things. So it perhaps is worth reexamining their actual worth to see if we can find a way of playing around with the concept. I mean, it's not like sunlight has always had the same effect on vampires. Its only effect upon the famous scion of the Dragon was that it made him fractionally less overpowered, locking him in one of his multiple shapeshifting forms until nightfall. So perhaps it's not crazy to rework vampires as beings that avoid the sunlight not because it damages them, but because it immediately outs them as disturbingly inhuman, no matter how beautiful.

This isn't the only example of this sort of thing, of course. I've found that even in blatantly, eye-gougingly terrible films tend to have one or two images that stand out to me as legitimately interesting. Remember my review of the nonexistent "Manos" remake? Well, that bit in there about the little girl walking in with a massive hellhound is, in fact, straight out of the original terrible film, and it sure gave me the willies when I first saw it.

Really, I do believe that we can find something useful in just about anything. Hell, even Thomas Kinkade has... he uh... has a... sense of... whimsy? [koff]

Even Abraxas, despite his loathsome appearence and foul cravings, has in him a glimmer of usefulness in that he obeys my commands.2

This, I think, is the point of criticism:3 to uncover not just what we can avoid, but what we can learn, even from the most apparently worthless pieces of trash. By reexploring even material that others have discarded, we can enrich our own experience of art.

It is, at the very least, some compensation for the time wasted on this crap.


I hope you aren't too attached to that thumb... aha. Ahahaha.

As always, feel free to leave comments, complaints, or, best of all, your own interpretations, or e-mail me at . And, if you like what you've read here, share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Xanga, Netscape, or whatever else you crazy kids are using to surf the blogoblag these days.

1. Might I just point out here that google apparently recognizes "shenaniganery" as a word. I can only view this as a triumph.

2. Technically one command: "Tear it."

3. To threaten people with rats.


  1. One could argue that the value in a Kinkade piece is the knowledge that it is the perfect gift for your grandmother this Christmas. Even if she already has that one, when she sees it she'll realize she really needed a new copy.

    A jolly good point, sir. Lets not be so quick to chuck out the shit.

  2. You make a great point. I think we, as creators ESPECIALLY, need to be cognizant of that and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. It doesn't matter if Random Internet Guy doesn't give Twilight a fair shake because of sparkly vampires; he probably wasn't going to read a vampire romance novel anyway, and it seems doubtful that reading it would have a profound effect on his life.

    As creatives? No, what we consume (and what we dismiss from what we consume) has effects on our work, and what we put out into the world. I think we benefit greatly from not throwing ANYTHING away, because almost any idea, concept, or turn of phrase can be dusted off, polished up, and repurposed into something better.

  3. I thoroughly agree with Zomburai. I totally learned (read: stole) from Twilight in one of my D&D campaigns that I have written and never used... it actually includes vampires quite heavily, but Twilight taught me to BREAK AWAY from the obvious garlic, stakes, holy water, sunlight, etc., weaknesses.

    Twilight did literally nothing else for me except incite rage, but that one thing was worth my knowledge of its horribleness. (No, never read any of them, never watched a significant portion of any of the movies.)

  4. Although, what does being a sparkly vampire actually do?

    To me, it removes one of the keystones of what being a vampire is about; the idea that sunshine is death, that something that humans find comforting, warming and healing is forever denied them and is utterly lethal is one of the defining elements of a vampire (at least, to my mind). Remove that, and you might as well have werewolves that grow goatees at full moon. It trivialises what should be a main part of the concept.

    Just to make it clear that there's not just Twilight-bashing happening here, Angel does a similar thing in making it fine so long as there's shadow involved. Both are guilty of the same thing; trivialising what should be a tragic notion.

    1. Well, the thing is, there is no "keystone" really of vampirism, since the whole thing is a very fluid mishmash of different folk traditions. One of the things I'm fond of pointing out to people is that Death By Sunlight is a vampirism feature invented by MOVIES--in Dracula the sunlight does one thing and on thing only: it limits Dracula's ability to transform from bat, to wolf, to chill mist, to humanoid. That's it. It's literally just a minor constraint placed on his otherwise OP Min-Maxing stats. So, I actually disagree that this is a debasement of the tradition--that tradition never really existed to begin with.

      I would agree that you lose something by opting out of that part of the myth, though. You have to weigh, like you say, what being sparkly does against what you lose with that trade. Meyer never managed to make the two things balanced, in my opinion.


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