the writer of the biggest tv show ever made saying "themes are for eighth grade book reports" is the natural end result of the literalist approach to fiction which has grown in influence over the last two decades and is a direct result of the ever-increasing size of media conglomerates and the abandonment of humanities education

i usually blame this on a certain strand of online culture but the truth is that the reddit approach to fiction is a symptom, not a cause

the neoliberal transformation of the education system into a worker-producing machine has turned the humanities into a societal embarrassment, a jumble of bizarre cultural detritus, and the last few generations of schoolchildren have internalised this distaste. the cultural forces which work to undervalue less-profitable pursuits such as art are then internalised by creators and consumers of art

so that the kind of response to art which accommodates its non-productive specificity, responses that acknowledge art's possibility for meaning, responses that are conscious of themselves as participating in the work's creation, are subject to a concentrated form of the stigma that strikes art in general.

while we fall short of the neoliberal ideal of the absence of art as anything other than an object of financial speculation, what encounters we do have with art still bear this system's mark

we come to think of ourselves, whether readers or writers, as technicians rather than creators. we reduce the work of to a set of data, and its analysis to data collection. writers are praised for producing data which is more coherent (without plot holes or inconsistencies), and which stands out - as data - from other data (this is the emphasis on unpredictable twists). good analysis of art in this framework focuses on collecting the data (establishing lore and timeline, rating their coherence)

we have created a way of thinking about art which erases its artfulness. instead of encountering a work of fiction as a work of fiction, we encounter it as a kind of history book for an alternate reality. its very nature *as fiction*, as something which is not and does not pretend to be real, which claims to be neither true nor false, which is outside of our productive world, disappears.

it's been 50 years and 12 days since adorno died

@garfiald wait what happened? what show? i didn't hear about this

@minus_zero quote is from david benioff, game of thrones showrunner

@garfiald oh for fuck's sake. yeah i see like a weird distaste for talking about "themes" and an overly technical way of talking about media wrt "nerdy" stuff in particular, like the tv tropes school of media analysis. the wookieepedia page on darth vader's suit is probably the best example of everything i hate about this way of thinking.

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald so tvtropes sort of lists out and collects recurring tropes in media, and the general culture there encourages people to view media through the lens of tropes: tropes *do* exist, obviously, and are kind of unavoidable, but this culture encourages people to view them as lego bricks to put together a story with - while there are *some* good writing tips on there, you could get those same good ones literally anywhere else, and the general lens they view art through //

@minus_zero @garfiald this is probably cliche in itself, but it's still better than the heroes journey

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald // results in *bad art*, because this very technical view of tropes means that "tropers", when they write their own stories, start by thinking about what tropes they want to include so you get an awful by-the-numbers story. the darth vader thing is kind of representative of a similar attitude: the star wars expanded universe (sweu) overexplains almost *everything*, with individual lines from the films being expanded into whole stories. like the line from anh about //

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald // "the kessel run" - this was originally meant to show that han solo was untrustworthy, because he was nonsensically exaggerating his achievements, but this for some reason was expanded into being a field of black holes that ships needed to find the shortest distance to. the darth vader wookieepedia page is the perfect example of this attitude in the sweu: if you read it, it overexplains all the faults and inner workings of darth vader's suit to the point where //

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald // darth vader just becomes really *silly*. you can read it here ( to see exactly what i mean: not only does it now have a *serial number*, implying it's just some variation on something mass produced, making it kind of boring and contradicting star wars' mysticism and fantasy, but it details every single minor annoyance the suit ever gave him. this general attitude to media, of breaking it up into building blocks and overexplaining minor //

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald // details, is the attitude that annoys me. the really interesting things, the themes and messages that the art puts forward, are ignored for uninteresting technical details and expanding minor details into whole stories entirely so you can sell more art; it's a symptom of the commodification of art. this isn't to say that science fiction can *never* discuss technical details; obviously, that's a big part of the genre, in particular hard science and "golden age" //

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald // science fiction. but this usually means exploring the inner workings of some hypothetical future tech in an interesting way; either by optimistically praising the wonders of science or by exploring how the technology would interact with real world society. this is neither of those things; this is actively makes darth vader's suit *less* interesting, since star wars is a fantasy series and darth vader's mystery is part of what makes him intimidating. to summarise: //

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald // this general attitude breaks down and analyses art not in a way that makes it more interesting, but in a way that attempts to turn into a science so it can be commodified and sold.

@minus_zero @a_breakin_glass @garfiald

Extremely interesting...
English-speaking Wikipedia has this approach to movies, novels and such and I was never able to understand why.

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald absolutely! i went over that talking about golden age and hard science fiction. but this very much doesn't do that. it's not exploring the technical details because they're fun; it's detailing them so that as much star wars fiction can mass-produced as possible, because pop culture is so heavily commodified.

@minus_zero @a_breakin_glass @garfiald I love this thread! Thank you so much for writing it--it's been personally helpful for something I've struggled with in my own writing.

People who look at art like that have not only confused analysis with dissection, but also have completely missed that there are some things in art you can only analyze *before* you dissect. Because dissection kills those aspects.

@minus_zero @a_breakin_glass @garfiald I also think that mindset is a product of the oppress/control mindset, that divides art from tech and puts tech on top. It's a necessity of capitalism, and so many of the other binaries (hard vs soft scifi, sexism, etc) align with it.

I've been stressed in my writing, unconsciously bracing to have my ideas torn apart by people with that view. I need to just not care. Nothing holds up to that scrutiny.

@minus_zero @garfiald e.g. how do all the tiny flaws in vader's suit affect his psyche?

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald it does try to do that a little bit? but a lot of the tiny flaws, like the constant beeping of the suit buttons, are so mundane that they're almost funny; darth vader the mysterious and intimidating sith lord is now much less mysterious and intimidating. not to mention that the reason this lore exists is to keep his suit consistent across all sweu media, because it's basically an army of writers pumping out art under the star wars name because star wars sells.

@a_breakin_glass @garfiald honestly i don't have any particularly strong feelings about those. they're fun, i guess. just don't take them too seriously.

@minus_zero @a_breakin_glass @garfiald This whole thread was a great read, thank you all. I'd like to chip in that tvtropes as a tool may be the road to really bad fiction, but as a tool for analysis -- e.g. to realize you haven seen a movie which is build out of stale troops with no variation --its very valuable. Also, this emphasis on details and worldbuilding seems to me a way to shield it from criticism, as a anticipated deflection of it, like "you cannot criticise this, its just a 1/2

@garfiald what about works of fiction that have "being an AH history book" as a central conceit

@garfiald e.g "For Want of A Nail" being the most famous example, afaict

@a_breakin_glass hmm well it seems to me that those books are lying about that, you see

@a_breakin_glass yes but im not sure you know what i mean. the kind of analysis which focuses exclusively on the coherence of plot and worldbuilding and denies the very possibility of thematic or allegorical meaning to the work treats texts of fiction as statements which are more or less true. which is not what they are.

@garfiald honestly, when it comes to fiction I prefer plot and worldbuilding, but without denying thematic or allegorical meaning. it's more that you can't get by with themes that aren't suppported by wordbuilding or plot.

@a_breakin_glass to give only one example, have you heard of samuel beckett

@garfiald correction: you can, but a. I'm talking about my overall preferences, which are pretty arbitrary b. no-one said the plot had to be coherent ;) c. lucky was godot :^^^)

@garfiald @a_breakin_glass i wouldn't say that allegory is entirely dead — it's just been reduced to a sledge hammer.

similarly, we have a rich set of themes to choose from in modern media: dark, gritty, dark *and* gritty,,

@garfiald somehow i was thinking about adorno at the same minute you posted this.

@policeinchains maybe we're living through an adornian moment... who knows

@policeinchains @garfiald

how did I never know of this person (Wikipedia quote)

"The masses have become conditioned by the culture industry, which makes the impact of standardization much more important. By not realizing the impact of social media and commercial advertising, the individual is caught in a situation where conformity is the norm. 'During consumption the masses become characterized by the commodities which they use and exchange among themselves.'"



@garfiald this thread is shifting my world. thanks garf

I love this thread. It reminded me of this essay about approaches to world building which also wants art, even fantastical art, to be applicable to reality.

@garfiald this thread is very good. Boosting was not enough

@garfiald I've started writing a piece of fiction set in a specific historical era and I'm intentionally incorporating at least one glaring anachronism, and I'm so worried about it being seen as an error or laziness. tbf "they won't get it" is my go-to excuse for abandoning writing projects, but I feel really good about this one and I want to complete it. I feel encouraged by your thread, so thank you.

@tessaracked you should absolutely not let worries of that kind stop you! whatever the anachronism is, the Venn diagram intersection of people who will notice it AND of people who will think it's a mistake is likely to be very small

@garfiald ok it was amazing again as always thank,s for writing

@garfiald think it's also important to note though that obsessively looking for meaning is also limiting your view on what world building can do tho. sometimes (and if you're obsessed with The Value Of Art you don't like this one bit) world building in fiction can be incoherent, mean nothing, have no purpose or deeper intention or potential allegory behind it and still be important because it's Just Fun

@garfiald and i think we're also conditioned to think that things that are Just Fun are bad because they don't correspond to a standardized way of evaluating their worth, but fiction that builds a nice atmosphere and lets me travel inside an intricate world can mean so much to me just because i appreciate the way it's done, coherent and meaningful or not

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