All The Good Stories Suck

Ernest Hemingway Fishing Michigan Trout Image

I was catching up on MPR Midmorning podcasts recently and they were talking literature…can’t remember precisely what literature but that’s beside the point.

Some guy called in to complain that his high school lit teachers were always pushing books that were so depressing. If they’d assigned more uplifting stories, he argued, English classes might’ve been more interesting.

It sorta gave him the feeling that his teachers were trying to push some kind of agenda.

Yeah, that’s right, high school English teachers are secretly plotting to force depression on our children.

What the guy clearly never grasped was the fact that the vast majority of the really, really good stories are downers.

Think of all the literature you’ve read and list on one hand the uplifting stories and on the other the depressing stories. I’ve done this exercise many times (because I”ve made this argument many times) and the only uplifting example I can ever think of is E.M. Forster‘s A Room with a View, and that’s not even nearly his best work.

Ernest Hemingway–one of my favorite authors–was plagued by depression (and committed suicide himself), so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that his work reflects that tone. Yet though such masterpieces as The Sun Also Rises and Old Man And The Sea are decidedly not uplifting, I’ll take the insight they provide into the proverbial human condition any day of the week.

If you pay close attention to most Hollywood movies, you’ll notice that most of them have a happy ending tacked onto the end.

The hero comes back from seeming death.

The guy gets the girl.

Love is requited.

But those endings don’t feel right because they are not the natural ending of the story. All the good stories suck because they’re real, because they reflect life; and in real life, the hero often dies, the guy often doesn’t get the girl, and love remains unrequited.

Literary Video Games – My Brilliant Idea

My college writing professor used to say that the novel is dead. I didn’t really agree with him then and I don’t know that I agree with him now, but it is true that film and, now, video games, are the preferred media for enjoying long-form fiction.

Video Games As Literature

Film has clearly proved to be a superb medium for telling stories; the jury, however, is still out on video games. Role playing games such as and are the genre most suited to storytelling but I’d like to see a literary genre emerge that allows the player to explore much deeper issues and themes that have thus far escaped the video game industry.

In short, .

The Obstacles To Video Games As Literature

A primary obstacle to the development of such a genre is the video game’s absolute need for action. The player has to do something and the action always has to be compelling or entertaining if the video game is to be successful. That’s a big challenge. I think it will become easier as video games get more immersive, as the graphics become more photo realistic and once someone figures out how to apply virtual reality technology to video games.

I love first person shooters but more often than not, the story line, such as it is, is merely a pretense to kill. ‘s story was deep and well conceived but it was mere surface science fiction, it did not deal with any social, political, or psychological issues. And it’s story was told entirely through cut scenes.

The Call of Duty franchise’s story succeeds in large part on our understanding of World War II history and, in the case of , our understanding of current events.

The best most recent example of storytelling within a first person shooter that I can think of is , with its dystopian themes and its remarkable sense of place:

Even so, video games in general and first person shooters in particular have a long way to go before they reach the level of literature. I’ve been thinking about this for some time, but a recent visit from got me thinking about it again and the result is a brilliant idea for a first person shooter that would allow you to explore any number of literary themes.

My Brilliant Video Game Idea

My working title is The Short, Miserable Lives Of Fran McNeal.

So here’s my idea:

You begin the game being pursued by some shadowy government agency that is out to get you. A long, elaborate adventure ensues during which you need to evade your persecutors while engaging other characters you meet along they way, evaluating their trustworthiness, and obtaining help from them in your efforts to escape.

Eventually, however, you will be cornered and required to kill or be killed. By killing your antagonist, you obtain the ability to become other characters in the game. With that ability you are able to see your character from the perspective of other characters and it begins to dawn on you that your character is a paranoid schizophrenic. With multiple personalities.

A power struggle ensues between your personalities; you get to play as each personality. That power struggle maintains the paranoia of the game and becomes the rationale for the game. The object is to conquer each personality by killing it.

Upon killing that personality, you absorb the characteristics of that personality and therefore obtain or become stronger for the characteristics that were unique to that personality. So, for example, if one of the personalities could speak French, was extremely witty and charming, and was an expert driver, by killing that personality, you would gain those characteristics: You would be able to speak and understand French, your charm would make you more persuasive and give you the ability to make friends with ease, and your driving skills would improve significantly.

The game then would also have a strategic aspect to it. If, for example, you wanted to take down personality X, you may first need to kill personalities Y and Z in order to obtain the skills and/or characteristics you would need to kill X.

Through each personality, you can explore a separate literary theme and the game would conclude in any variety of ways, depending upon which character you ended up becoming.

Now I just need to learn how to write video game scripts!

Sports Writers Who Don’t Play Sports

Among of ‘s performance Monday night is that the QB would "bail out on a game because of a leg cramp, as he did Monday night."

This kind of stuff drives me nuts. I can only assume that Souhan does not play football or perhaps any sport because he clearly doesn’t understand how a leg cramp feels.

It doesn’t last long but it hurts a lot and freaks you out even more because your body is behaving in a way it does not usually behave. It’s not a condition with which you can effectively play.

There was plenty to criticize about Jackson’s game but taking himself out for a few plays because of painful and disruptive leg cramps is not one of them.

And is Souhan had had just a bit of experience with the sport he writes about, he’d understand that.

Update: Add to the list of desk jockey sports writers: ""

Update II: Sadly, add the Star Tribune’s generally very good Vikings beat writer Kevin Seifert to the list: ""

Links for March 2, 2006 – Podcasts & Book Publishing

  • – Podcast transcription search engine.
  • – Blog-to-book publishing software. Extracts your blog posts and formats them in a book format that you can then sell.
  • – These are the podcasts of science fiction writer James Patrick Kelly. two-time winner of the Hugo award

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Links for 2/18/06 – RSS Search, PR Blog, Comedian, Author, Music & Business Directory

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When Did The Metrodome Become British?

I have been wondering for some time why the folks at KFAN keep dropping the “the” when referring the Metrodome, such as when Paul Allen introduces his Vikings broadcast by saying “Welcome to Metrodome” rather than “Welcome to the Metrodome.”

I’d first noticed the British habit of dropping the “the” during BBC news broadcasts where the anchors would say, for example, a student was “at university” or a victim was “at hospital.” Then, maybe two years ago, I noticed the phenomenon make it’s way into the mouths of American anchors at 24 hour cable news outlets like CNN. Well, they’re trying to sound cosmopolitan, I thought.

It makes a certain amount of sense for CNN to adopt the habit, especially if they are positioning some of their content for a European or global audience. But when sportsguys on KFAN start doing it, it just sounds like a) they’re mindless copycats, or b) they’re trying too hard.

So today, P.A. and Dubay did a bit on the subject prompted by a letter from a listener taking them to task for dropping the “the.” P.A., to his credit, believed that the letter writer was correct. Jeff Dubay, on the other hand, was derisive and dismissive of the letter writer, saying flatly that he was wrong.

Sorry, Dubay: You’re wrong. :

A few “institutional” nouns take no definite article when a certain role is implied: for example, at sea [as a sailor], in prison [as a convict]. Among this group, Commonwealth English has in hospital [as a patient] and at university [as a student], where American English requires in the hospital and at the university. (A nurse, visitor, etc. would be in the hospital in both systems.) On the other hand, American English distinguishes in back of [behind] from in the back of; the former is unknown in Britain and liable to misinterpretation as the latter. Both however distinguish in front of from in the front of.

Katherine Kersten – Minnesota’s Worst Writer?

I know something about writing so I know it’s not literally true that Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten is actually Minnesota’s worst writer, as Minnesota’s liberal bloggers would have you believe. But I’ll agree that she is Minnesota’s worst paid writer. It’s a shame the Strib had to pick Kersten–who, prior to being hired by the paper, was at the heart of one of Minnesota’s most profoundly conservative political institutions, the Center of the American Experiment think tank–to mollify the paper’s conservative critics who, no doubt, mumble in their sleep about the paper being too liberal.

Whatever. Kersten was obviously a public relations hire because it’s patently obvious she’s not expected to meet many journalistic standards.

The liberal bloggers have had a field day in the political blood sport of picking apart Kersten’s columns. It’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel, but it looks like so much fun, I just have to jump in:

Kersten’s only purpose with her column, it appears, is to spread pedestrian, boilerplate, conservative dogma to all corners of Minnesota. Her hobgoblin today is predictable enough: Liberal academia; her argument is that they’ve lowered our standards for artistic excellence.

Kersten frames her argument at the outset by using a patently offensive example that she can imply is the rule rather than the exception it truly is:

When you think of "outside the box" art, what comes to mind? Elephant dung splattered on a picture of the Madonna?

Actually, that is not what comes to mind for me, but I see where she’s going. Kersten uses The Atelier, a Minneapolis art academy that teaches the techniques of the Old Masters, as her contrast in her attempt to prove that LIB-eral academe disdains the Masters in favor of Modern Art.

I, too, prefer the Masters to Modern Art but I’m pretty certain that that’s were I part company with Kersten on probably any other subject in the world. The problem, as with all of Kersten’s columns, is she fails to deliver any evidence to support her thesis; a standard she’d fail to meet in any high school composition class. Which is why I find it deliciously ironic that the woman is always on about standards, especially academic ones!

Assertions are not proof, but that’s all Kersten seems to have:

But in the 1950s and ’60s, Lack [the founder of the Atelier] and artists like him were shut out of galleries and museums as the juggernaut of modern art swept all before it.

It’s perfectly believable, but where’s the proof? How bout numbers on gallery showings and museum exhibits for Modern Art versus Classic art? Nope, Kersten offers nothing. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Kersten; after all, that kind of data may not even be available. I’m not being too hard on her. Several paragraphs later, she writes:

Atelier teaches foundational artistic techniques that generally get short shrift — if they’re taught at all — at today’s art colleges and university art departments.

I added the italics to highlight another of Kersten’s unproven assertions. It could be true but we’ll never know because Kersten has not bothered to do the research to support her argument. Surely among all of the well-funded conservative "think tanks" throughout the nation, someone‘s been tracking the amount of time academia devotes to traditional as opposed to Modern Art.

Five paragraphs later:

Today, establishment art programs generally discourage — even frown on — representational art.

No proof. The closest Kersten comes to offering evidence to back up her argument is in the third from the last paragraph were she uses that rhetorical device conservative commentators have mastered, the anecdote:

Redpath [one of the Atelier’s co-directors] floated around looking for the right art school until she stumbled across the Atelier. While taking an art course at a local community college, she said, her teacher mentioned with disgust in her voice, "There’s a show downstairs I suppose you would like." It was an Atelier show, and Redpath was hooked.

Disgust in her voice!! Clearly, Liberals are destroying our traditions!

Let’s be charitable, give Kersten a pass, and concede that academia does not spend a ton of time on the Old Masters. Has it never occurred to Kersten that, if this is indeed true, it could simply be a matter of the problem that plagues every educator, Time? There is simply not enough time to teach all of the material you’d like to teach, so you end up short-changing all subjects?

Here’s a dirty little secret I learned when I was an art major: Modern Art is much more appealing to students whose skill may be lacking. It’s easier and it doesn’t take as much time. The students who truly have the skill, devotion, and patience to excel are the ones who will study the Old Masters and practice their techniques.

Here’s a generally known fact that Kersten seems oblivious to: Artists are a dime a dozen and there’s far more crappy art being created than there is good art. The phenomenon knows no school or movement; it flourishes amongst those emulating the Masters as much as it does those who splatter Pollocks.

Kersten’s criticism is misplaced. Rather than railing on LIB-er-al art professors, she should be criticizing lazy art students such as yours truly.

The thing is, Kersten’s column today could have been a great piece about a little art academy doing great work in our midst that few people know about. It’s been said that a great painting can be destroyed by the frame you put around it. The same can be said for this column. By framing her column in forced conservative dogma, it’s hard to focus on the great story she has otherwise painted.

How To Be Patrick Reusse

First of all, harumph a lot.

If you’re writing about the Vikings, be sure to take a shot at 1) Randy Moss, preferably by calling into question his sanity and/or maturity, 2) sports talk radio listeners/callers by calling the whiners, and 3) the Culpepper-bashers because, what? there’s some risk of Daunte not being recognized as the great quaterback he is by the majority of Vikings fans?

I dunno; I guess I’m just sick of reading the same damn Culpepper’s-great,-you-peons-don’t-know-anything-and-by-the-way,-Moss-sucks column year in and year out. I heard you the first time. Let it go, already.

But then I guess dusting off last year’s column is easier than actually writing a new one.

How ’bout telling me why Culpepper is such a phenomenal quarterback. I know you don’t want to throw a microcosm of credit Moss’ way, but still, how bout answering the question about how much more accurate Pepp will need to be this year when he doesn’t have the six foot four, mile-long-armed Randy to throw to? 

It would be nice to actually learn something from our sportswriters, for a change. Besides, I already know where you stand on the Culpepper/fans/Moss thing, and frankly, I don’t give a flyin rip.