Thursday, January 23, 2014

Character Disconnect: The Mileage Of Vicarious Entertainment

When Jar-Jar spoke, and waddled across screens in 1999, I suppose this is where my toes were dipped into the mire that was a sharp public dislike for a character. In fact it was so bad, that by one week into the wide release of Star Wars Episode One, the long-eared minstrel show had become the most hated creation the franchise had ever witnessed - even in print.

So what happened? Was it the presentation? The performance? The writing?

All of the above? 

If there is any phenomenon that has haunted me time and again via the internet, it's the often sharp break some online commenters/tweeters have with characters that do not gather favor in certain works. And while characters like the one mentioned have an almost universal stain upon them, there are times when expectations run against what is a film's central conceit, creating an instant pushback from some viewers unwilling to follow along. Subjectivity aside, this is something that has long fascinated me as a fellow viewer. As one almost willing to follow any intriguing premise, it at times feels a little telling when others cannot see themselves capable of climbing aboard. Again, this is more a fascination with the phenomenon, as there have been many instances where even peers find themselves unable to enjoy similar things due to a main character that rubs them the wrong way. Whether it be a deep unwillingness on someone's part to meet a character halfway, or a simple inability to relate, this is something that often works like a line drawn in the proverbial sand for some.

And while one cannot blame another for what is something that ostensibly begins and ends with a viewer's willingness to buy into a film's choice of character angle and requisite worldview, curiosity does admittedly come creeping in from time to time. Like when a protagonist is not quite so romantic in their stand against adversity, or when it comes off at the beginning like some perceived weaker, less than flattering quantity. Some viewers find themselves less invested in characters who seem to be at a point in their evolution that feels as within some no longer, or perhaps never possible point of tangibility. Or perhaps, the very idea of a character that is less than ideal can be seen as an unquestionable deal-breaker.

Merely an observation that has long eluded. And something that I have been recently considering when looking back at films I perhaps never gave a fair shake in the past.And perhaps that is just it; some characters are not unlike choosing between titles that will or will not speak to us at any given time. Even when certain films offer up stylistic choices that are unusual, or designed to entice a certain audience, characters are an essential part of the package. So when a prospective viewer catches wind of what type of story, and therefore cast are on the roster, one can surmise (often quickly) whether or not a solid choice will be made. Some characters who grace a certain story's cast may not speak to all audiences, just as much as every thematic aim may not be for all. But sometimes it does boggle the mind when crowds walk away from characters who's flaws often reflect certain attitudes that either seem counter, or alien to some.

Because unlike what many textbooks often postulate, a great many viewers often find themselves drawn to stories in the hopes of inhabiting the lives of those less than familiar. And while it is indeed important for there to be some conduit between viewer and character, it in in a less than obvious psychological need that we view stories in hopes of a vicarious connection. To be transported into not only external, but inner worlds of those not quite so safe in lifestyles and situations. It is the core of what makes realms of genre so enticing to so many. So when film writers opt to place a character perhaps as bent and feeble as say, a very ordinary person, there are often many who find themselves ready to abandon the contract before pen is ever taken to ink. If the disconnect were guaranteed every time personal ethics or morality were an issue, shows like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad might never have seen the success they did.

Connections run the gamut from fair to rough, from sweet to vicious.

In the end, it's all about how far a viewer is willing to travel with whatever journey each work has to offer. (Hell, reality television relies on this to be the case!)

And therein lies the hope of every title that comes out onto the ether. That perhaps in time, a work that may not speak immediately to one today may more successfully do so later. Believe me, even I put off (IE- did not appreciate) films with certain thematic/character choices as a young one. Sometimes, maturity is all one needs to reconsider certain pieces of art regardless the arch of its brow.

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