Friday, February 06, 2015

Guilty Pleasures: Yoda, Carnivàle

Mark Dery’s plea to “put the guilt back into guilty pleasures” is getting a lot of link-love, which I happily (and entirely without guilt) add to.

As I near the finishing line of my 50th year, I’m finding there are fewer and fewer pleasures that don’t come with at least some residual guilt. I’m running out of time. I always was, of course, but I’m also running lower on snap and vim and all the qualities one needs to get worthwhile things done. Is this really how I want to spend it?

For instance: I recently recommended, sight unseen, a novel about Yoda. Wow, do I ever regret that. I’m about two-thirds through it, and the book now hurts my eyes. It’s not bad, exactly, but it’s definitely not Sean Stewart at his best. And that’s because it’s a Franchise Novel, and Stewart soars when he’s in his own defiantly non-franchise territory.

So now I’ve got this book I feel obligated to finish, even though I reflexively roll my eyes every time I encounter the name “Dooku,” and of course eye-rolling slows down the speed-reading, so the reading never gets done.

Maybe I'll just play Grim Fandango...
You want guilt? I’m guilty of recommending it, I feel guilty reading it -- guilt compounded by what I could be reading instead -- but will feel greater guilt if I don’t finish. What’s more, I’m hooked: I want to see how Stewart plays it out. I am even, yes, enjoying the book. Guilty pleasure.
"A second time? Sure you wanna do this, sport?"
The younger daughter was after me about Carnivàle. That’s 24 episodes, which I’d already seen, so I’d be committing one more of my disappearing days to an enterprise I’d already given a “Welllll . . . better than meh” to. But I knew she’d dig it in a big way, so of course I finally queued it up.

Wouldn't you know it, I enjoyed it more this second time around? The first time I'd been completely ignorant of avatar folklore. Now that I was all caught up and knew where everything was heading, I had no impatience with the leisurely pace Knauf & Co. took exploring the various characters at play in the carnival, much of which contributed absolutely nothing of significance to the developing story arc of two avatars fated to confront each other. 

It's just fartin' around, exploration for exploration's sake. And why not? A carnival with supernatural goings-on, travelling through the dust-bowl of the '30s has fabulous potential for writerly breadth, depth and texture -- keeping the storyline too lean and mean would be a crying shame.

Ironically, the material that now struck me as overindulgent was run as an integral element of the second season. The writers were keen to cultivate Jonesy's sweet-natured cluelessness around women for greater viewer empathy, the better to maximise the emotional pay-off of the season's conclusion. I get it, but man oh man: as the travails of his love-life played from one episode to the next, I found myself restlessly wondering what the Siamese Twins or the Lizard Man were up to.

"I'm an interesting guy: why no storyline for me?"
Just to compound my time-expenditure, I returned to the AV Club’s episode-by-episode breakdown, and discovered this two-part interview with creator Daniel Knauf. It’s curious to hear him talk about where he’d hoped to go with the concept. “Five Years Later” strikes me as quite a promising launching point, but of course there is a barrier that keeps it grounded: HBO has the rights locked-down. Knauf says they received death-threats when they shut down the show. Well then, c’mon, HBO: release the rights so Knauf can pen his novel/comic book/what-have-you. Truly, all will be forgiven.

Anyway. Twenty-four hours, spent with my wife and kid. All pleasure, no guilt. Next?


paul bowman said...

All pleasure — ha, indeed. (Read “But I knew she’d dig it in a big way, so of course I finally queued it up,” and I’m thinking, “And this is a post about guilt?”)

Joel said...

I liked that link to the article about guilty pleasures. And I think I agree with it. Guilty pleasures are important, but it's not a bad thing to qualify them with the words "guilty pleasure". Not that we have to feel guilty in the protestant self-loathing sense of the word, but we recognize it for what it is.

As far as reading goes, I've felt a lot less guilty about my guilty pleasures ever since I read Stephen King's book On Writing. Which I believe you've read also. As you probably remember, King makes the point that reading anything and everything will develop your literary skills, and a bad book can have just as much value as a good book in terms of giving you a sense of how good prose should, or shouldn't work.

But more than that, it's important just for your generally sanity to have a book you can relax with. My general rule of thumb is to try to always have two books on the go--one book that is challenging me a little bit, and one book that is just for relaxation. When I first wake up in the morning, and my brain is still feeling a little foggy, I reach for the relaxation book. And when I'm reading in the evening before bed, I also go for relaxation. But during the afternoon reading hours, I might try to push myself on the harder book.

Darrell Reimer said...

A time for everything, as the wise man sez. Unfortunately for me, Yoda is the "work" book.