WARNING: SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN UP TO EPISODE SIX OF FALLING SKIES AND WANT TO; DO NOT READ ON!
Earth has been invaded by strange, six-legged creatures from outer space. Everything that we rely on has been destroyed and mankind is forced to flee the cities we knew and learn to work togther again in order to survive. Not only are we homeless, hungry, and confused; but to make matters worse our alien colonisers are capturing our children and using them as zombie slaves to do their bidding.
The premise of Steven Spielberg’s new sci-fi drama Falling Skies is intriguing and thought-provoking, but unfortunately its execution leaves something to be desired. While the sets and costumes are all recognisable and realistic, the characters themselves are not.
Now I’m not sure if their incompetence, short-sightedness and inconsistency is supposed to be an intentional comment on the dysfunctional collaborative nature of our blinkered society (and it is true that lots of humans working together are often Very Stupid) but in this case they just don’t make sense. Why wouldn’t you capture an alien as soon as you could in order to interrogate/dissect it? Why would you only collect heavy, inflexible, tinned food instead of something versatile like maize (or, perhaps, grow your own)? How long did it take you to work out that if you disable a creature with six legs it will then stay still long enough for you to shoot it in the head? Why didn’t you talk to the alien when you had the chance? In short, didn’t any of you watch science fiction programmes before this happened??
What doesn’t help is the episodic nature of the series – and yes, I am aware that a series consists of episodes. What I feel is a let-down is the lack of continuity between episodes. Events occur in one which have no bearing on the next. In Episode 4, for example, the refugee camp’s surgeon dies and the pediatrician working with him stabs an alien to death. In Episode 5, nobody mentions the death or the surgeon, not even to say what a bugger it is that they lost someone so useful; and the pediatrician is unable to defend herself against a human. Hell, the progatonist’s son’s girlfriend was kidnapped by aliens in the second or third episode and he hasn’t mentioned her since! What happened? Did they just forget?
It is as though the status quo is reset at the end of every episode so that the characters can deal with new events without having to acknowledge what went before. This gives the overall impression that they are not learning or experiencing anything and so the series trajectory feels very slow and flat.
The events do not have further-reaching consequences and the characters merely react to what is happening to them this week rather than growing on their own as a result of what happened last week. I can see how in certain dramas – Stargate being the obvious example – that the episodic approach works. It keeps things fresh, there is always something new to deal with, and there are no major twists to our characters’ statuses – we know they will be back to fight another day. But that is because the characters in Stargate do reset the status quo each episode: they return to Earth. And their time dealing with events is limited, as they only have so much time to spend on alien worlds before they need to go back home. That’s the deal: they travel on short trips to other planets but they always have to come back to what they know.
The problem with Falling Skies is that this is not the case. The entire world has changed as a result of alien invasion and so have everyone’s roles. So this inability to learn from their mistakes, or acknowledge past events makes the viewer feel as though they are merely watching something unfold from a distance and that they are disconnected from the characters. We have not had time, as yet, to see them not reacting, but simply acting.
I think the writers have missed a trick here, as this could be a brilliant thought-experiment: what would we, the urban masses, do if all our electronic comforts were taken away and life became a fight for survival? How would we go about organising ourselves? But these decisions have been taken away from us as viewers. Six months have already passed since the invasion and, predicatably, the military have taken control; shipping civilians from safe place to safe place and on the way gathering as much ammunition as possible for the frequent firefights that take place. There is very little concern for character development, personal reactions (save that of “Bring me back my children”) or societal changes. Women (mostly, apart from the edgy one – and there is only one) do the cooking and the healing; men (even the professors) do the fighting, and the civilians do what civilians do best: stay anonymous and take up all the space.
This is not to say that there haven’t been some lovely Life After Invasion moments, but just that there have been too few so far. The children’s schooling takes place in abandoned classrooms, with the world’s previous high-flying scientists and professors extolling the virtues of learning and exploration to dislocated teen and tweens. It’s lovely to see what the writers think we should teach: how important science and exploration are, how we can rebuild ourselves using education and ingenuity, not merely facts with no bearing on the real world. Baby showers and birthday parties are thrown, and communities are still seen to be thriving – although the how of this is unknown. These are all well and good, and nice to see, but in such short bursts feel a little cliche and easy. The few moments of civilian conflict are solved by military types shouting a lot, and those who do break the rules have so far had their comeuppance. There has been no room to really consider what could happen, and in place of this complex society we could be seeing, we are shown mostly action scenes; shooting and fighting aliens without much thought as to what to do next.
I can see that there has been some attempt to reinstate the human aspect, and the action scenes are punctuated by moments among families. But due to the static nature of the series so far, these family scenes seem schmaltzy and overall they mostly detract from what could otherwise have been an excellent, modern-day War of the Worlds.
After a talk at the Kultivate Project Conference that I recently attended in London, I’ve been thinking about the process of creative writing and why it is so difficult to archive creative works.
Professor Kersten Mey spoke an awful lot of sense on Friday, and for a while it was like being back in my Creative Writing lectures at university. I hope that nobody in the room stopped paying attention to what she was saying as I know would have happened if the speech had been a university lecture, because it genuinely got across some really vital points regarding how artists create art.
Of course, I only have limited experience in this area, and it’s to do with how writers write rather than the visual arts – but there was a lot that struck me as true. This is partly because I studied writing as an academic subject, and as such guidelines had to be put into place to make sure that we could be properly and fairly assessed. This is similar to the way that academic research is assessed and graded by the REF and is something that we all need to think about when presenting the institution’s research in a public domain. For us as students, therefore, it was frequently drilled into us that we had to consider what we were writing, why we were writing it, and how it fitted into the literary canon.
All big things. But nothing that any good artist won’t do anyway?
There are those who sit down and write whatever comes into their heads. Stories and characters seize them and don’t let go until they’ve finished telling their tale. (I’m not one of these people. Not often, anyway.)
But, these writers will – I believe- tell you that after two or three novels, short stories, poems etc themes begin to emerge. And it’s these themes that help you to work out what you are writing, and with further analysis why you are writing it. Your cares and worries emerge cathartically through your work.
The other way to consider what you’re writing (or want to write) is to think about something which you’re passionate about. This was some of the best advice I was given (as I’m not one of those people who often spontaneously sit and write until the idea has run dry). You can’t just write about things which you’ve never experienced or don’t care about. You have to be moved, annoyed, emotionally invested – otherwise you won’t produce convincing art.
So: to consider what you’re writing and why, you need to look into your motives. Perhaps this happens organically, an idea or news story sparks your imagination and you run with it. Or perhaps you work the other way around: you want to create something which explores a particular (contemporary) issue that you care about and so you build your story around what you read or learn in the real world.
Both of these methods of writing include research as well as experience and personality. You are influenced by what you experience, and this includes the things you read in the paper and see on the news. It also includes the research you carry out to flesh out your characters experiences, and it includes the theories you read to flesh out the philosophy you want to get across.
The second part of producing art/writing is to think about where it fits into the literary canon. This sounds scary, but it’s not really. It can be as simple as recognising your literary (or musical, or televisual, or whatever cultural thing floats your boat) influences, or it can be an active attempt to recreate a past movement, or invent something entirely original.
I’d like to think that most of us do this anyway. A lot of what we write is subconscious, but we can all tell you who we’d like to emulate, or which things we’d never do. This is what considering your place in the literary canon means. Are you a chick lit writer, a science fiction writer, or do you want to break the mould?
And in order to do all of these things you need to read books, read the paper, watch films, listen to music and engage. As part of my degree, we were taught to think about where our influences came from and document them. This was because we were not just marked on the originality of our piece, but the thought that went into producing it. We were taught to consider the ideas that went into producing something because often, with art, the output is not the sum of its parts – it is influenced by a great many things which come out as subleties in the work and so are not always obvious. So we were taught to contextualise our work in relation to what we had researched, and we had to write an accompanying essay to each creative piece which detailed our considerations. This meant that our examiners (and readers) could consider what we were producing in the same way that we had, and so our meaning was shared in this way.
Obviously, it’s impossible to get all of your influences across in the output itself – you’d be there forever explaining why Dune was such an important book and why you spent two weeks reading about the construction of religion and the importance of charismatic leaders when you produced this minor character who controls the fate of the protagonist. So documenting the process of how you got to the output is important – especially if anybody else is going to see the work as you meant it, and as more than just its words/images. For assessment, they need to see the work that went into the production of your piece.
Of course, I won’t argue that all art happens this way, as I’m not all artists. But, as I’ve mentioned above, there are ways to work back through your portfolio and pick apart the influences that lead you there. As subconscious as they were, once you recognise how you got somewhere, you are able to share that process with those who need to consider it in order to grade it.
And, of course, I won’t argue that this is necessary for all art or writing. The beauty of creative work is that it invites interpretation, and I don’t want to spoil that by contextualising everything. In fact, I think it’s one of the most restrictive things an artist can do to her audience. But in this case I am talking about assessment – assessment of the quality of your research process as well as of the output itself. And this is something which is becoming increasingly important, what with the cuts to the arts we are experiencing here at the moment. It’s not a case of justifying what we do, but explaining more clearly how we go about it, and that it’s not so difficult to assess after all.
The most important point that I’m trying to get across here, and it’s one that Professor Mey made at the Conference, is that research and art are inextricably linked. You cannot have one without the other. The work that goes into producing artistic outputs is often equally empirically based, but the need to represent the research process as well as the output (so as do document the path to this single conclusion) is what causes repositories a problem.It’s just a case of learning how to record what is significant, and for librarians and repository managers (and software developers) to find ways to accommodate this way of working.
I’m going to library school!
By which I mean; I will be working full time and coming home each night and trying to remember to study.
No, of course not, I’ll be dedicated really!
I got this letter two weeks ago, actually, but have been sitting on it since then. Despite serious cold feet, now that it’s all real I’m actually very excited. I like studying (it’s all I’ve ever done), and it’ll be good to know more about the job that I do! I still worry about whether or not I’ll be any good at distance learning, but there’s no other way to find out! And I did pass that OU course in January… Hopefully a colleague of mine will be studying with me so he can write my essays/provoke me to study.
I’m optimistic. And still apprehensive. But I will be a real librarian
I say this now, come September, I will be terrified and trying to remember how to construct a sentence. Wish me luck!
The Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2011 – complete with my attempts at learning to take pictures (which WordPress has kindly blurred for me).
Aside from playing golf with my dad – in which I got round the whole course in less than a day, so consider that a personal victory – lazing around on the beach, and catching up with lovely friends (I want to buy an Xbox), I have been a rather exciting librarian at a flower show.
It was very pretty, and given that I am a gardener of aesthetics (in that I kill most plants I buy); really enjoyable. In spite of most people’s reservations, I am determined to learn how to become an at least halfway-decent photographer and so flowers seem to be the way forward. At least they stand still. And the camera has a macro function for really zooming in.
I have discovered that not only do I still really like acers (I have edited out all the photographs of me grinning next to a pretty tree); but thistles are in fashion with garden designers and that you can plant enormous cabbages next to echinaceas and other pretty things like foxgloves – although I’m concerned as to how you retrieve said massive cabbage without trampling all the other flowers.
I also noticed that RHS flower shows are such middle class affairs that nobody says so much as an ‘excuse me’ and that people would rather run over your sensible-shoe-clad feet with their fold-out plant trolleys than acknowledge your existence. Which is kind of a shame.
The cream tea wasn’t half bad, though.
There were lots of weird and wonderful things to look at – including smoke-issuing metal dragon sculptures, large bronze gorillas and some sort of water feature which involved trees raining. Also, these lovely little features like the one above in many of the gardens which (I thought) made quite cute pictures.
A weekend with my parents is rather different from a weekend at home, or at the beach as the previous weekend was spent. Although I would have ended up going to the flower show regardless, I think. That’s what you get for knowing horticulture students.
My favourite gardens were definitely the more pretentious, arty ones. Especially the one in which plants were presented in a gallery setting (see above). According to the real gardeners, this really made you consider the abstract nature of art and forget all you knew about gardening, but I mostly liked the way people stood back like they did in an art gallery instead of doing what they did in other gardens; leaning forward to get a closer look at the flower of their choice.
All in all, a rather nice little summer holiday, if quiet. Back in the jug agane tomorrow, though. What is it I do for a living again?
I have just discovered this timeline and plan to go through it thoroughly at some stage. I already chuckled at the thought that Tony Blair would be ‘dead’ by now.
Any amusing extinction dates, do let me know?
At my lofty height of 160cm (5’2″ and a bit), I am considered by my considerably taller friends to be Vertically Challenged. Little. A shortarse.
I work in a library. I plan to do so for a number of years.
I was once told – tongue in cheek, I should add – by a library superior that tall shelvers are preferable to short shelvers. Which begs the question, how does a midget such as me manage to work in a library for real people of Height?
All in all, as you might have guessed, it’s not entirely bad to be a short librarian. It has its advantages, but mostly its disadvantages. Though, I am stubborn, and so I have managed to work in said library for a good three years so far. Here’s to a long (and short) future!
So it turns out that there are just so many things wrong with Twilight that I have spent a week writing up 2300 words detailing my dislike for the series. In the interests of being an honest blogger, however, and not censoring myself, I will make them all available to you. All 2300. But not all at once.
There are four main points which particularly get to me about the books, and I’ve split my entry into four parts, which you can find here. So if you want to be saved from my anger, don’t click! But if you find yourself curious about it, follow the links below to the appropriate angry section:
It would probably help if I explained what lead me to produce this diatribe.
In my second year at university I finally realised I was old when everyone was talking about Twilight and I didn’t know what that was. After reading a little about it online, I firmly decided that I was not going to like it. But after I while, I thought that perhaps it would be better to be specific in my hatred of the series rather than decide I didn’t like it without trying it.
Luckily for me, I was not disappointed. I hated the first book. But after persuasion from a lovely colleague that the books improve if you can suspend your impulse to be sick, I recently finished Twilight: New Moon and have since borrowed Twilight: Eclipse. I am going to just come out and say that I do want to know what happens. And so I will most likely make it through to Breaking Dawn. Can’t say I’m enjoying myself, though. I really am too much of a literary snob (and possibly a grown-up woman?) to say that I care about Edward, or Bella, or can put up with horrendous lovey-dovey stuff or the dodgy metaphors. But I will persevere! Because I am coming round to the idea that Stephanie Meyer had a good idea, she just executed it poorly. And the parts of the books in which there are other characters involved, I am actually interested in – hence I want to know the conclusion. I’m not holding my breath, but I do want to know.
Right. So that should be about it. If you read, that would be lovely, if you don’t, well – blogging’s for posterity as well. So all my hatred will be here for me to read. And possibly edit one day.
For an explanation of this, go here.
Point 4: The sexual relationships are skewed, wrong and carry a manipulative message.
For an explanation of this, go here.
Point 3:The women in the books are flat and exploited, whereas the violent men are idolised.