Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Worldbuilding with Fire And Ice Part 6: Values Twist

Here are the previous parts in this series:
The first 3 are from a very different "angle" than 4, 5, and now 6 involve.  We'll get back to this mix of Sex and Politics, weaving in Romance, Love and goshknows what else, a little at a time.  These posts are the foundation upon which to build facility with the use of THEME as discussed in previous years.


Part 7 is scheduled for August 14th, 2012, and Part 8 for October 9, 2012.

We're dissecting and discussing a single World War II film made in 2005 titled THE GREAT RAID.  We started this discussion in WORLDBUILDING WITH FIRE AND ICE PART 4: STORMS OF DEATH  That post has links to previous worldbuilding posts. 

Death is an odd topic for a Romance blog, but a necessary one if you are a Romance writer.  This discussion will lead us deep into worldbuilding to show-don't-tell theme, so you never have to explain philosophy in words.  It is, however, the presence of conflicting philosophies shown by Values that makes Art live for generations. 

Now we'll look at some ways this 2005 film shows the pivot point in audience values, the twist between the 1940's and 2012. 

--------Values Twist -------------

By focusing on an accurate portrayal of the actual historical Events -- using some of the old footage, too -- THE GREAT RAID casts an air of authenticity.

Unlike many modern films and TV series, this film does not totally rewrite History into the opposite of what it was.  Even in the 1940's there were many women like the nurse/resistance-leader in this film.  There were many Japanese who didn't respect the Catholic church enough to stop when confronted by a Priest (but there were also many who would have stopped.)  The explosions might be a bit bigger than the usual WWII actual explosion, but that's Hollywood. 

The prisoners of war in this film might have looked a little handsomer than starved men would look - and there were no issues of lice, no swarms of mosquitos, no rats, and other jungle-island pests depicted in the film.

In a film made in the 1950's, you wouldn't find the icky realities portrayed graphically either. 

In this 2005 film, we watch as a Japanese garrison commander (portrayed as cruel and evil as any Nazi is ever portrayed by American films) orders 10 men executed because 1 man disobeyed a regulation of the prison camp. 

He lines up the men, swaggers a bit, and makes the others watch as their comrades (some of which the viewers now know) are shot in the back of the head.  Yes, it's a cliche scene, too, but it's well staged.

Here's the twist: in a 1950's war movie, you wouldn't see blood gouting from the ruined skulls at the headshots.  In this 2005 film, you don't see the blood gouting -- and the shooter, who stands way too close to the men he's shooting doesn't get spattered with obvious gore.

Note that this execution is not done by firing squad so that the person who murders another in cold blood will never be sure it was his bullet that murdered the prisoner.  In a firing squad, only one rifle is loaded with live ammunition, and the squad stands a good distance from the victim.  The victim's face is covered, and any onlookers don't see the expression -- nor does the victim see the squad.  This procedure is considered clean and merciful insofar as possible under those circumstances, preserving humanity.

In this 2005 film, one Japanese solder stands BEHIND the prisoners he, by himself, is executing, and shoots them drug cartel style.  We do see the line of victims fall one by one, but the camera is at a good distance -- there is no emphasis on the gore, the anguish.  It's distanced physically and thus emotionally, but it is raw and direct.  To half the audience it depicts the Japanese executioner as evil; the other half of the audience simply sees a scene that could have been more interesting if it were more realistic (realistic like a videogame, maybe).

In a 1950's film, the cliche scene would be a closeup on the commander of the prisoners listening to SHOTS FIRED outside the wall.  We wouldn't see the people lined up, nor see them fall. 

This is a cinematic TWIST at this pivot point in audience sensibilities. 

There are many examples of this kind of twist in this film, but let's get back to the Religion aspects because they are stark, and relevant to the worldbuilding issues writers face today. 

All human cultures we know of have SOMETHING in that niche Religion occupies.  Today, in the USA about half the people are on a campaign to expunge religion from public consciousness, even though at least 70% (according to an annual survey) believe there's something more to life the universe and everything than can be measured and quantified by science. 

Hence we have the popularity of shows like the syfy channel's ghost hunters and other shows about the Paranormal.  We also have a raft of TV series where paranormal creatures (Vampires, werewolves etc) are taken for granted, or a best kept secret of the town or show's main characters only.  We have comedy like PSYCH which parodies the psychic, and real psychics who help the police, too.  People are pushing hard to penetrate the veil between the reality science shows us and the "other" side whatever that may be, but at the same time denying the possibiity that God is real.

That is a brief sketch of the audience a new writer is inheriting now.  That ambivalence needs to be built into the fiction if it is to reach across those audience boundaries and unify an audience.

So let's look at some of the dialogue in THE GREAT RAID.  If you watched it as I recommended on July 3, 2012, find your notes on the dialogue.

"My future isn't in your hands." 

That is very profound, and very pre-2000 audience appeal.  But it's phrased ambiguously.  Some will hear that the person's future is in their own hands.  Some will hear it as declaring the future is in God's hands.

"You have to believe in something stronger than yourself."

A priest says that to a worried soldier. 

Our 2012 culture is trending away from such beliefs in God -- maybe toward the Supernatural or Paranormal but away from the concept that a single Creator still commands every little event in our lives, and most especially our Destiny.

If ONE mind is behind all reality, one would expect that when we look at Reality we'd see a coherent pattern.  In a way, we do.  We've deciphered genes and found how all life on earth is woven of certain patterns replicated in many dissimiliar creatures.  We are soooo one organism infesting this Earth.  Yet Death (the main subject we've  been addressing in Parts 4, 5 and here in Part 6, of this series) seems sporadic, unpredictable, unjust, and a destroyer of the Happily Ever After ending to any Romance.  No rational course of action can avoid Death -- therefore how can you say that life is commanded by a Creator?  Or at any rate by a Creator who cares?

"It isn't safe to bring them here."

This line turns up as they strategize how to complete the rescue mission.  If they extract the prisoners, they have to take them someplace, and it better be someplace that won't be destroyed by the incoming US invasion force clashing with the Japanese defenders.

Of course, the reason for the Raid is that the POW camp is not safe either.

These soldiers are not volunteers, as we have today.  They were drafted.  So it isn't right to say that because they're soldiers they know the risks, they signed up to do this risky job, and they willingly put their lives on the line for the defense of Freedom.  They didn't.  They were forced - most of them anyway.  We had very few career military in that fight.  We did, at the beginning of the war, have volunteers who rushed to sign up to defend the country after Pearl Harbor.  But by the end, it was drafted army.

So in the context of this 1940's situation, that line of dialogue can pass by you without making any impression.

Even in the context of 2005, prior to 9/11, you wouldn't notice that line of dialogue.

But it's the spike around which the entire value-system pivot is rotating.

Today, as I noted previously in this discussion of THE GREAT RAID, it has become immoral (and in many cases illegal) to put anyone at risk of anything for any reason.  All risk is being expunged from life.

The sole property that a Happily Ever After ending must have to be valid is that it must be absolutely risk-free. 

That's our real-life, real-world post-9/11 view.  Consider the TSA -- what is their reason for existing?  They submit anyone to any indignity on any statistic's whim simply to "keep us safe."  Nobody ever considers that the public would willingly risk another plane crash into a building in order to get rid of the pat-downs and other "unreasonable search and seizure" the TSA was created to impose.

Consider the scene in THE GREAT RAID where the prisoners are lined up outside, and because 1 had violated a regulation, 10 are shot.

That is a standard method of controlling hostile crowds.  It is used in every totalitarian state because it works (include the old Fantasy world standby of the Kingdom in totalitarian).  Think about the French Revolution. 

If you don't know much about the French Revolution, you can have a great time and learn too by reading Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germain novel set in 1792 at the time when Thomas Paine was writing two books that literally shaped the post 2008 culture of the USA.

Here's the Vampire novel of the French Revolution:

And here is some of Thomas Paine's writing.  He wrote in the 1790's and you can get everything he wrote on Amazon Kindle for 99cents (a bit more if you want it on paper!). 

Just imagine where we'd be if the Founding Fathers in the 1700's (or the farmboys who fought WWI and WWII in the 1900's) had been as obsessed with safety as we are today.

We flinch at everything.  Our food is dangerous, full of pesticides (it really is) and now we keep getting e. coli and other infections in salad, which is the only healthy food left to eat!  We sue our doctors if they give us the wrong medicine (many are very deadly).  We want to crack down on "illegal aliens" because the drug dealers shoot each other in the street (that's real! I live near it all.) 

We are becoming psychologically incapable of accepting RISK.  Our mental model of what life must be is "safe" -- i.e. sans all risk. 

The pioneers who trundled across the prairie in Conestoga wagons lived with risk and death every moment of their lives -- and voluntarily chose to take the risk to get land of their own upon which they could do as they chose.

They took that risk to get out of the control of Kings and other kinds of governments that wanted to keep them as "peasants."  That is, a class of poor farmers who could be controlled by such tactics as killing a bunch as punishment for what 1 person did as THE GREAT RAID shows a Japanese commander doing to control a prison camp. 

How many of you have been in a grammar school class where the teacher punished the whole class because a couple noisy kids were cutting up?

That's what teachers are now taught to do -- I think it's largely because we no longer have any teachers at all, we have Educators who don't know a subject they are teaching, but only how to teach. 

Your audience is familiar with the tactic of punishing the whole class, or an entire group, for the misbehavior of a couple.  That's why the TSA seems so logical.  People don't think it's wrong to impose a burden on everyone because of something a few people did -- or MIGHT DO. 

That attitude toward controlling groups is a huge Value Twist between the 1940's and the 2000's.  And 2005 is a pivot point, as this film depicts.

Today, nobody questions the premise that a group must be controlled by force, and if you have a group of opinionated indivduals as Americans tend to be, you absolutely must control them.

Nobody asks WHY control a group?  Why bother?  The assumption is in place that the individual can not and will not control himself.  The absolute proof of that is the way a handful of men from another country hijacked aircraft and crashed them to make explosions and kill people. 

Since we must be safe at all costs (literally all costs) and the threat lies with our individualism we must be hammered into a group, then the group hammered into a mold that behaves itself.  Thomas Paine made that clear, but what he didn't foresee was how fearfulness would invade our command structure.

That's one main Value Pivot you see in this 2005 film.  When a bully (such as the Japanese Commander we see in this film -- and I'm not implying there weren't such Commanders among the Japanese) gains power and is given the task of controlling individuals each with personal, individual self-esteem, the only tactic he can possibly envision is to KILL 10 for every 1 who misbehaves.  FEAR -- instilling fear -- is the main tactic of the bully.

A bully is a bully because he/she lacks self-esteem (and some other character strengths that can be acquired under kind teachers).  Lack of self-esteem leads to feeling powerless, which leads to fear, which leads to lashing out at someone weaker in order to feel a sense of power as a substitute for self-esteem.

Or it can work the other way.  The fear can lead to knuckling under to the Bully, backing away and backing down until backed into a corner -- when for fear of life itself, the fearful person lashes out blindly.  If the attack succeeds and vanquishes the bully, the Victim can oh-so-easily become another Bully. 

OK, that's very simplistic, but when you are creating a character, keep-it-simple is the rule.  Your audience understands bullies, even better maybe than the 2005 audience did.  But we also now understand the Victim better than we did.  The Victim also lacks self-esteem, or has it but has lost access to it from repeated abuse, and is therefore ripe to become the Bully they fear.

THE GREAT RAID depicts this subtle psychological connection between seeking safety, fear, power abuse, and the "glory" of rising to an occasion requiring valor, honor, teamwork that isn't forced on the individuals from above but rises from below as a leader is chosen and followed.  That one line of dialogue where the US soldier commanding these untried trainees discusses glory just says it all.  That is the kind of dialogue writing we strive for, and seldom reach.   

You can exploit the modern audience's familiarity with the safety/fear/crowd-control-by-punishing-all-for-transgression-of-one connection as a writer because Bullying has made headlines as it rises into High School.  It used to be shed by 8th grade, now you see it all the way into college, and students are being bullied to the point where they will commit suicide, or take up a gun and hose down a cafeteria full of people. 

This is the reality your reader lives in.  When you incorporate that into a worldbuilding exercise, you produce a world they can believe in.  Then you can do anything.  You have power.

The scrambling, screaming, overwhelming need for safety at all costs is the signature of lack of self-esteem at the core of the bully personality.  People with high self-esteem are Leaders.  They're not fearless.  They're not risk-averse.  They live risky lives and fail a lot, often enough to get used to it as the pioneers of the Old West got used to arrows springing up in the side of their horse-troughs. 

A Leader with high self-esteem does not become a Bully when handed the job of getting people to work together to common purpose.  He doesn't have to fire 10 others every time 1 person violages a rule.  He doesn't have to hide behind metal detectors and guards.  It isn't that he's ignorant of the threats that are coming at him.  It's that he can handle it.  That is the attitude of the Hero in a really hot Romance. 

Or you can flip all this upside down and write about the connection between punishing all for the transgression of one and its obverse, what the philosophers term Collective Salvation -- the bedrock principle behind the hammering repetition of the word, Fair, by so many in the media today. 

I'm not saying here one side is "better" than the other, just that this is a SOURCE for writers looking for a defined conflict that can "reach" a wide audience.  But to use such nebulous conflicts as Values, you must be conversant with both sides of the argument, really understand the positions from the inside, create characters who espouse those positions from comprehensible human necessity, and then you must argue the fine points of the positions just as this film does, "off the nose" -- in symbols, in brief throw-away dialogue, in a hesitation before acting, in a riveting glance before swallowing an objection and saying, "Yes, Sir!" 

"It isn't safe" is substituted for the more likely 1940's line, "It's not far enough away."  If you're writing a novel, one of your characters will say "It's not safe," and another will counter, heatedly, "Who cares!" and a third will put in, "Here, that's far enough away from ground zero."  In a film, you can have only 1 line of dialogue making that point about Values. 

Here's a wikipedia entry on Collective Salvation in case you've missed it.


It's harder to write about because there are not that many who understand it, but soon it may be a full half of the USA that accepts this philosophy as reasonable. 

That's another huge Values Pivot represented in THE GREAT RAID. 

Hitherto, WWII has always been about individual salvation.  Now history is being rewritten to make the entire 2-theater conflict about collective salvation.  It's subtle, at the moment, though, and you can still argue it in fiction. 

You may want to watch that movie again with all that in mind.  There are a number of terrific Romance novel concepts in this film.

Part 7 in this series is scheduled for August 14th, 2012, and Part 8 for October 9, 2012.  We're going to move way beyond this film and what you can learn from it. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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