January 22, 2017

Intellectual Snobbery

On the whole I think the snobbery of my childhood, the snobbery of birth, that is, is more palatable than the other snobberies: the snobbery of wealth, and today's intellectual snobbery.
Intellectual snobbery seems today to breed a particular form of envy and venom. Parents are determined that their offspring shall shine. "We've made great sacrifices for you to have a good education," they say. The child is burdened with guilt if he does not fulfill their hopes. Everyone is so sure that it is all a matter of opportunity--not of natural aptitude.
I think late Victorian parents were more realistic and had really more consideration for their children and for what would make a happy and successful life for them. There was much less keeping up with the Joneses. Nowadays I often feel that it is for one's own prestige that one wants one's children to succeed. The Victorians looked dispassionately at their offspring and made up their minds about their capacities. A. was obviously going to be "the pretty one." B. was "the clever one." C. was going to be plain and was definitely not intellectual. Good works would be C.'s best chance. And so on. Sometimes, of course, they were wrong, but on the whole it worked. There is an enormous relief in not being expected to produce something that you haven't got.
The general standpoint in my young days had a certain humility. You accepted what you were. You had assets and you had liabilities. Like a hand at cards, having been dealt it, you sorted your cards and decided how best to play them. There was, I am almost sure, less envy and resentment of those more gifted or better off. If some young friends had expensive or exciting toys one did not expect or demand to have them oneself. I might say to my mother, "Freda has a wonderful doll's house. I wish I had one like that," and my mother would reply placidly, "Yes, it's nice for Freda. Of course her parents are much richer than we are." Nowadays it seems to be "Marylyn has got a bicycle, why can't I have one?" as though it were one's right.
~Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Sadly enough, it doesn't seem like things have reversed since then...

January 15, 2017

The Mystery Of Storytelling - Or Notes On How To Control Your Audience

Just watched this really interesting Ted Talk by Julian Friedmann about the art of storytelling, in particular with regards to movies (and, even more so, how Hollywood's managed to apply it so successfully over the years). So here are a couple of my notes for you (see below for the full video):

  1. Storytelling is about the audience more so than the story or the storyteller, for great stories define us, reflect who we are or wish to become.
  2. To be able to control your audience (this can only be done through emotions), you need to have them feel for the following:
    1. Pity - through an undeserved misfortune, for instance, so that we, the audience, can emotionally connect with the character, identify with it.
    2. Fear - by putting that character (in essence us) through worse and worse situations
    3. Catharsis - by releasing the hero from all these fears; this release then results in the PEA chemical (the chemical also present when consuming any of the following: speed, ecstasy, chocolate or sex, for example) being released into our bloodstream, making us feel happy.
  3. Main reasons why so many American movies are so popular around the world:
    1. Accessible characters the audience will get emotionally involved with.
    2. Upbeat endings if possible (happy endings statistically perform better--again, thanks to the PEA chemical).
    3. Less dialogue as the movie will the appeal to wider audiences (don't have to have a PhD to get the story and be involved in it), which is directly tied to the next two points.
    4. Tell stories more visually. We believe what we see, not so much what we hear. So if you manage to show something that differs from what's being said, you'll immediately get the audience awake and involved in the story, because they'll see right away something off.
    5. More music. Again, this will strengthen the audience's emotional bond to the story.
The key, really, is to entertain the audience, because, when we're looking at the screen, we're actually looking at ourselves. We are the heroes of your stories.

January 7, 2017

From Minstrels To Jugglers, The Fall Of A Line Of Poets

"Once attached to great houses, as trumpeters of family pride, [minstrels] had taken to wandering about to inns, fairs, and popular gatherings, as well as to castles; so their strains, at first addressed to "seigneurs" and "barons", became tuned to catch the ears of the vulgar."

Their once epic and sought-after poetic tales became stale, offering nothing new to the now jaded ears of their patrons. And so these jongleurs found themselves almost having to beg for food, money and clothes from those willing to listen to them.

"This title, from the Latin joculator, reflects he history of a brotherhood that in its wandering life had a ready chance to fall into bad ways. The jongleurs or gleemen became jugglers, mixed up with conjurors, tumblers, bear leaders, and other more or less disreputable vagrants, among whom they lost their character while increasing in numbers."

And thus, "[a]s minstrels went out of fashion, romance took a new lease of life in the form of prose."

Excerpts from Romance & Legend of Chivalry, by A.R. Hope Moncrieff.