mjj (flemmings) wrote,
mjj
flemmings

Cringeworthiness

Someone over at incandescens' FL is talking about narrative squicks. I'll quote rather than link, since one never knows who has lurkerphobia these days: When people talk about "squicks" in terms of stories (be they book, movie, or TV), they usually mean things having to do with sexual content or certain kinds of violence. What I'm talking about here are narrative devices or tropes that make you cringe, upset you, or otherwise unsettle you deeply enough that it ruins the story for you.

Now I cringe a lot about perfectly ordinary things. ST-TNG, as someone famously said, made me cringe just from putting the cassette into the player. But I have a very good narrative squick and have had for years, which I call Last Battle Syndrome.

Everything goes wrong. Everything goes against the heroes. The bad guys win easy victory after easy victory and the good guys not only win nothing, they're misunderstood and mistreated and miserable and despairing. And it's probably raining. Or snowing, whichever is more misery-making.

I hate it.

CS Lewis and Beverley Nichols did it; OOtP did it for its first four hundred pages; Nix does it too much for my liking. All of whom are British authors, I note. Can't see Americans standing still for Good Guys Finish Last (And Suffer While They Do It) myself, because the American ethos likes people who battle to the end and refuse to believe things are as bad as they are. (Parenthetically I'm sure the Japanese do it chronically, but that's a function of their Kawaisouuuuu reflex and bearable; like fan service, you know what it's doing there. It's also too over the top to be taken seriously.)

Anyway I'm tempted to stop reading when it happens in western works, because actually I have no assurance that everything *will* Turn Out Right, and the sheer misery going on makes me want to stick my head in an oven. Anent which, I stay away from Holocaust anythings for that very reason.

Which brings me to Woxin. What a good thing, I think as I watch the feather recitation on a proper screen in proper colours, that I know how it all ends because this is just too hideous to be borne. What a good thing anyone likely to be watching this knows how it ends. (I only know because paleaswater told me.) But even knowing how it ends, you know... I haven't the tiniest *clue* what Gou Jian is doing, or feels about what he's doing. Which is either 'but everyone knows: this is what he *did*' or is the director also playing his cards very close to his chest.

Simple enough to think, OK he's playing the game that will get him back to Yue. But what kind of self-control, what kind of determination does it take to subsume all your instincts and training, and abase yourself so completely that not the slightest crack shows on the surface? Can you? Did Gou Jian? Or has he just become someone else for the duration, a kind of splitting of personality needed to get him through this trauma? I wait to find out.

And after all this time thinking 'Yes, yes, you keep showing me what Gou Jian's up to, how about showing me more Fu Chai?' it's now, 'Yes, yes, you keep showing me what Fu Chai's doing, how about showing me more Gou Jian?' It might have been hard to do in terms of actual narrative, but I do wish the screen time had been balanced out better. Your OTP ought to be paired more.

And it is, it really is. 'I want to keep him alive so I can use him' is so ridiculous an attitude it's amazing that even the rather dense that way Fu Chai can believe it of himself; and more ridiculous that the astute WZX doesn't see the simple truth. Fu Chai doesn't understand Gou Jian and needs to and can't; and so he has to subdue Gou Jian just to remove the dangerousness of something that's so much outside his own experience. 'If I can put a collar around its neck then I'll have proved that it's really just a housecat, even if housecats don't have scales and claws and batlike wings.' Truly, he'd have been much better off playing chess with the king of Yue in the evenings.

Oh, one other thing. To my ang moh eyes, the feather recitation is *so* dramatic, *so* theatric, *so* over the top, it almost seems as if Gou Jian is mocking Fu Chai. The Yueites clearly don't take it that way, but to me it looked terribly like Wu Zi Xu got up and walked out because he couldn't believe Fu Chai was dumb enough to fall for a word of this.
Tags: reading, techy, woxin
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