23 May 2006

Violence, Mayhem, and Murder Most Foul: Ideas on the Anti-Hero

I love writing posts like this. They're an opportunity to look at truly profound and philosophical aspects of the human psyche, yet they are dumbed down enough by references to geeky pop-culture to still amuse me. So, today's topic shall be: The anti-hero.
In literature and film, an anti-hero is a fictional character that has some characteristics that are antithetical to those of the traditional hero. An anti-hero will perform acts generally deemed "heroic," but will do so with methods, manners, or intentions that are not so.
Thus, anti-heroes can be awkward, antisocial, alienated, cruel, obnoxious, passive, pitiful, obtuse, or just ordinary. When the anti-hero is a central character in a work of fiction the work will frequently deal with the effect their flawed character has on them and those they meet along the narrative. Additionally, the work may depict how their character alters over time, either leading to punishment, un-heroic success or redemption.

Thus spake the great Wikipedia.

Anti-heroes are cool. They are, in essence, different from the traditional goody-two-shoes good-guy (Superman, Prince Charming, Captain America) in that they are somehow flawed. That's what makes them fun.

Take film for example: Some of the most successful franchises deal with anti-heroes of some sort: The Terminator, Die Hard, Batman, The Punisher, Shaft, the X-Men (specifically Wolverine), the Mask (part one, only). Oddball characters with a tendency for violence tend to come to mind, but in general, most action films revolve around a character that has problems and bad habits. 24 is a great example of this, especially with the heroin-addicted Jack Bauer in series 3.

So what makes these guys so fun to watch? Well, I think there are two main reasons. The first is that they depict the true conflict we like to imagine affects us all internally; our basic struggle to do good/lead a good life (well, some of us, at least) while dealing with all our problems. We don't want to see beautiful, invulnerable, successful people who can't really exist...we want someone real and gritty.

The second reason is that they can get away with acts of gratuitous violence in the name of "the greater good" that we can only fantasize about in our daily lives.

My personal favourite examples have got to be Wolverine of the X-Men and Black Mage, from the online comic strip 8-bit Theater http://www.nuklearpower.com/index.php (seriously, check it out).

Wolverine is a born mutant, a step up the evolutionary ladder from normal humans. He has senses as keen as a predatory animal, accelerated healing, and a skeleton and claws covered with an unbreakable alloy, which he uses to hurt people. He's severely emotionally scarred, can't remember much of his life, and is prone to fits of extreme violence where his conscious mind is overthrown. But he tries to help people and do the right thing. During the course of his adventures, he gets shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, incinerated, poisoned, thrown off of/out of high places, bludgeoned, mauled, disemboweled, drowned, crushed and otherwise abused, and still survives and goes on to do what he must, usually committing acts of extreme violence on the way. And he's haunted by this.

The other extreme of the situation is Black Mage. A parody of an 80's Nintendo videogame character, he is more a villain than a hero, as he takes pleasure in stabbing people, destroying their lives, burning towns, and otherwise being responsible for vast amounts of property damage and loss of life. And perhaps that's what makes him so appealing: You love to see him hurting people for being stupid, hurting them because they're trying to rip him off, and just generally trying to hurt EVERYONE. At one point, he is faced with the manifestation of his evil given form, and kills that, too. He takes over hell, briefly. But his finest moments are when he actually ends up saving the day, and nobody but the audience sees it happen. That's when he gets frustrated and starts behaving violently again.

So, in conclusion: Violence is fun, especially when being employed for a good cause (good being a VERY relative term here), and characters who aren't afraid to use it are very cool to watch. Thus endeth today's lesson.

15 May 2006

Days, Nights, Hours, Minutes.

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight?
Nay, tis not nothing, but the passage and course of life
That thus reveals the truth of our world to us.
The flow of time we wish to hasten,
With every fibre of our soul,
For every minute passing, brings us closer.
There is longing, and sighing, and whisper'd words.
There are confessions, revelations, and secrets told.
I shall not fear being away from thee, though it hurt me to the quick,
For knowledge I bear that soon again we shall unite.
I bid my longing farewell, and blow thee a kiss,
My marvelous angel, my rain cloud, my gift.
On the Scientific Names of Beings Animalculous

Well, in case nobody knows what that line means, it's actually a stanza from a song called "I am the very model of a modern Major General" from a musical called The Pirates of Penzance, by two English gentlemen of the 19th century known as Gilbert and Sullivan


The song is positively hilarious and is perhaps one of the nicest bits of music to listen to when sung correctly. The lyrics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_General%27s_Song are worth a moment of your time, but it's highly recommended that you download the song if you can find it.

So why should anyone care about this crap?

The character goes on and on about things that really have no bearing on his position as a major general. Who cares if he can "write a washing bill in Babylonic cuniform"? Not really a handy skill. But that's really the irony of it: The man has a number of tasks that, at the time, were considered superfluous and at the same time funny, but which nowadays would make him a valuable "team player" with a "versatile employment portfolio" to use some modern business jargon.

And where am I going with this? I don't know. But I must ask: where does one draw the line between padding a CV with useful skills and just blatantly filling space by putting in Cub Scout merit badges for selling lemonade as a skill? Something to ponder, I think.

08 May 2006

That's what I call job satisfaction

Wow! A great end to a crap day! After a serious bout of amoebic dysentary (yeah, who knew you could get that in this day and age?) and a crap day at one of my jobs, I had one of the best rehearsals in living memory! And I'm chuffed about it! (That means happy, by the way. I'm not suffering linen burns or anything.)

Despite not having a great run during the run of the scene, and even having to run a certain sequence three times, it still worked out great! I was pumped, I was emotional, I made contact with the goddamn character for the first time! I'm slightly worried, however, that I might not be able to maintain it for the "press night" we're having wednesday, but who knows? Whenever there's someone watching, actors tend to give a little extra, so I may not have peaked just yet.

So, that's good news. What else do I have to add? It's just been a difficult to work with my character, because he's essentially got no journey; he appears in two scenes, one at the very beginning and one at the very end of the play, and only has dialogue in the latter. It's been quite a jump going from mild to positively fuming to having a mental breakdown in the space of a ten minute scene, but it clicked for the first time today. The only comments the director had at the end of the run-through were "louder" and "don't look at her, look at the king". Sounds like an achievement.

So, I think I must needs look through the script a couple of times in the next day or two, and just kick some arse when the run through happens. Cool!