Interview with a Translator, Part III

Part III of an Interview with a Translator focuses on the history and culture behind creating comprehensible yet faithful translations.

Kate: For your Twelve Kingdom translations, you supply many historical notes. Do you do this research while translating or is it information with which you were already familiar from other research?
Eugene: The Twelve Kingdoms takes place in an alternate universe that is parallel to China and Japan, with China being the bigger influence. As a result, Fuyumi Ono uses medieval Chinese terminology throughout, which sent me to unabridged Japanese dictionaries and Wikipedia.

Allures are allures are allures.
Often this meant, for example, reading a description of a Chinese castle in a Japanese dictionary and then looking up articles about medieval European castles to figure out how best to translate a word.

Here are two examples of starting with a medieval Chinese term and finding an English equivalent based on medieval European military history: Part 17-12 of Kingdoms and Part 19-12 of Kingdoms
Another early challenge was deciding how to handle terms describing the political divisions of the kingdoms. I looked at the nomenclature used in English translations of Chinese history books and tried to come up with a consistent set of rules. Consistency can matter more than specific accuracy.

Between the lines there's also a good deal of political commentary, couched as criticisms of Qin Dynasty-style legalism. So I spent some time researching that too.
Characters in Japanese settings visit shrines for
festivals, before tests, for New Year's. Homes
also have personal shrines to ancestors.
Kate: You lived for several years in Japan, once from ages 19 to 21 and once when you were older. Have you found that experience helpful to you when doing translations? In what way (if so)?
Eugene: A critical part of language acquisition is the accumulated exposure to unfiltered input. Living in the country, you're surrounded by the language. You see how things work close up, get a sensory feel for how the gears are turning, how the abstractions of language interact with physical reality. However you may feel it doesn't make any sense, it sure does to 127 million Japanese.

I often discuss on my blog the extent to which religion is an integral part of everyday life in Japan. It is rarely as overt as it is in U.S. political campaigns (even the Komeito party downplays its ties to Soka Gakkai in public). But it is inseparable from everyday life in Japan. Get outside the commercial core of a big city and you can't walk 100 yards without running into a shrine or temple or a little altar by the side of the road. What you rarely see in public in Japan (aside from the far-right nationalists) are the noisy evangelical movements common in the U.S.
Japan's most evangelical home-grown religion, Soka Gakkai, claims about 10 million members in Japan, a quarter of which are "active." By comparison, Catholic membership is five percent of that and Mormon membership is one percent of that. Harmful fringe cults still figure into the mix, but they generally try to keep under the radar (except when they go apocalyptic like Aum Shinrikyo).

Observing first-hand how religion "works" in Japan and how it "works" in the U.S. makes clear the deep differences in the culture despite how similar things can appear on the surface. Most Japanese claim to be irreligious. And yet religion governs their lives. The opposite is true in the U.S.
Kate: Regarding fantasy and science-fiction, what cultural issues/assumptions (Japanese sci-fi versus American sci-fi) come into play?
Eugene: Since so much manga and anime takes place among the teen demographic, you can never get away from the social dynamics of the high school hierarchy. That sense of the group and the collective identity affects every aspect of their lives for the rest of their lives.

From this springs a great deal of fascination with conspiracy as a plot device, and at the same time, a great deal of nonchalance about it. Call it "X-Files sociology." It evolved out of a real school of political philosophy called "Nihonjinron." It took off during the 1970s and 1980 but subsided as Japan fortunes waned with the bursting of the economic bubble in the 1990s.
Pop culture "Nihonjinron" influences during the rah-rah 1980s--depicted in Hollywood movies such as Rising Sun, Ridley Scott's Black Rain, and even Gung Ho (a Japanese firm buys an American car company run by Michael Keaton)--in no small part reflected "Japan as #1" attitudes.

It's a fair argument that Japanese writers simply latched onto Sean Connery's James Bond in You Only Live Twice (1967) and returned the favor. This certainly seems the case in the 009-1 series, replete with retro Cold War politics. Call it "Japanese exceptionalism."
These days, the "Nihonjinron" philosophy has largely faded from the scene. It now manifests itself between the lines in plots that posit that we keep screwing ourselves over because we're so blasted brilliant. These stories are closely linked to the post-apocalyptic conspiracy genre. Two examples are Vexille and Appleseed. Vexille explicitly refers to Japan, while Appleseed is more pan-nationalistic, but they both play off the everything's-a-conspiracy and flew-too-close-to-the-sun themes. 
Kate: How about horror and/or ghost stories? What differing assumptions show up there (if any)?
Eugene: Japanese are no less superstitious than anybody else. And in many respects, more so. A lot more so.
Relatively more superstitious Kenji
instructs the ghost to leave the
apartment. More pragmatic Shiro isn't
worried--but isn't disbelieving either.
It's common in police procedurals for cops to do the Buddhist equivalent of crossing themselves when they encounter a dead body. Haunted houses are as big in Japan as in the U.S. Omamori are ubiquitous. And somebody dying in an apartment is considered a curse.

I would say that several key concepts differentiate the horror genre from its Western counterparts: the lack of a fixed boundary between the mortal and the immortal, the sheer expanse of the transcendental, and reincarnation.

Hollywood makes shows about people who can see dead people. But as in Spirited Away, Shinto supplies a spirit world of almost infinite expanse and variety. Practically anybody and any thing can become a god or demon tomorrow.

There is also infinite variety in the moral nature of these transcendental beings. And in their job descriptions. Not every god or spirit world warrior needs to be constantly engaged with damnation or salvation or with a looming apocalypse. Not every horror is horrible. A lot of the time, the problem is simply insuring that the spirits and demons stick to their own lanes, stay under the speed limit, get to where they are supposed to be going.

In [U.S. television shows] Ghost Whisperer and Saving Hope, the dead go--somewhere. To heaven, presumably. Reincarnation, on the other hand, doesn't leave the eschatology up in the air. As in Angel Beats, the question becomes how you will be reincarnated, not whether you'll end up in an ill-defined "heaven."
Buddhist Naraka
But even when you're not getting reincarnated, the Buddhist and Shinto spirit worlds are more "concrete," perhaps closer to Greco-Roman concepts of the divine, where the mortal and immortal worlds intermingle and reflect each other in recognizable ways.
It's ironic that "Eastern religions" are stereotypically depicted as naval-gazingly "metaphysical," yet the Buddhist hell (naraka) out-Dantes Dante and reincarnation is plainly materialistic and comprehensible in its outcome.

So even though most Japanese don't consider themselves "religious" (in the "Christian conservative" sense), when push comes to shove, they're more than willing to make Pascal's Wager. Being superstitious is simply a way of hedging one's bets. On that subject, Justin Sevakis makes a very good point:
Every culture has its superstitions, and some are more widely believed than others. And since Asian cultures don't put much value in flaunting your beliefs publicly or confronting the beliefs of others, they do tend to take root a little more over there.
Plus, people tending not to walk around with religious chips on their shoulders gives popular culture more latitude to play with the types and tropes.
Kate: Do you think that translators have to be aware of these changing/differing assumptions or do you think Jung wins out in the end? That is, does it help if a translator understands variations in pop culture? Or can concepts like post-apocalyptic conspiracies and ghost stories be handled from the "Hey, everybody gets paranoid and wonders about death!" standpoint?
Kate: Leonard Cohen's "She broke your throne, and she
cut your hair" indicates story: the artist connects the
yearning of a broken heart to the pain of spiritual
doubt. "Delilah," on the other hand, is an allusive
term, short-hand for a clever, tempting woman.
Eugene: It's a paradox: the universality of story always triumphs, but you can't divorce the original context from the source culture. Hence, The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven share the same story, but the contrasting cultural reference points produce two unique works.

The translation process straddles that line. Understanding pop-culture references is important when differentiating between an aspect of the zeitgeist critical to the story in terms of substance, or an aspect of the zeitgeist that's in the story because the allusion was available to be plucked out of the air (see Kate's example above and Eugene's example below).
Eugene: In Chihayafuru, there really isn't any way
to get away from the Hyakunin Isshu and preserve
the meaning and intent of the series. The translator
will have to do some exposition along the way.
Fortunately, karuta is unique enough in Japan that the
author provides this exposition as a matter of course.
If the former (an aspect of the zeitgeist critical to the story in terms of substance), it has to be made comprehensible to the audience. The challenge then becomes to avoid bogging down readability by littering the text with additional exposition or footnotes (one nice thing about posting online).

If the latter (an aspect of the zeitgeist that's in the story because the allusion was available to be plucked out of the air), then it's the topicality and internal textual consistency that matters; the actual reference point is probably ephemeral and less important.

(Similarly, it is interesting--and revealing of our evolving biases and mores--to observe what ages well and what doesn't when watching old television shows.)

The translation of Harry Potter addresses such issues.

No matter what, the demands of storytelling must always win out.
For more of Eugene's thoughts on the supernatural in Japan, check out these posts:
Japanese Genre Horror
Anime Genre Horror
Ghostbusting in Japan
 Part IV of Interview with a Translator coming next . . . 

Interview with a Translator, Part II

Part II of an Interview with a Translator focuses on the nuts and bolts of creating a translation:

Kate: Have you translated novels? Manga? Both? Which do you prefer?
Eugene: I've only done one "professional" manga translation, Osamu Tezuka's Triton of the Sea in 2013. When I was at Microsoft, one of my coworkers asked me to do a chapter of Fruits Basket for a scanlation group. I suppose that was my first "published" translation. Around 2003, my translation of Whisper of the Heart was picked up by another scanlation site that also no longer exists.

Oh, and I did some First Love translations for you, Kate.

Triton of the Sea was the last project I did for Digital Manga. I'd previously done light novels, mostly yaoi. Digital Manga didn't have a big budget to work with. They mailed me a book, I emailed them a translation, they mailed me a check, and that was that.

I totally understand. I suspect in some cases they paid me more (at a bare-minimum rate) than they earned in royalties.

In the U.S. market, light novels are rarely (if ever) as popular as manga and anime. If a light novel doesn't have a manga or anime tie-in, the value of the IP in the U.S. market is close to zero. Twelve Kingdoms had an anime tie-in and still the novels (some of the best in the historical fantasy genre) floundered. I don't think any U.S. publishers pursued the license after TokyoPop lost it.

I'm sure Scholastic could make it into a hit, but that would involve a big up-front investment of the sort publishers don't like to make with unknown properties that already failed once in a market.
Kate: How much time does a translation take? In a perfect world? In a non-perfect world?
The rough draft of Triton went about as fast as I could type. Though technobabble and slang can slow things to a screeching halt. All things being equal, I prefer the more deliberate pace of translating novels. Maybe because there's more "there" there: novels provide more context for figuring things out. Yet without access to the author or editor, you still end up guessing.

With the Twelve Kingdoms novels, I've been able to immerse myself in a single fantasy world created by a single author; [I've] created my own style guides, found informative fan reference sites (this site run by Yoshie Omura has been invaluable), and gotten great feedback from readers. I can go back and revise long after the fact.  That's not an option on a commercial project. It's nice being able to do some things for the love of it.

The English-language publication of a massive literary work like The Clouds Above the Hill was a "three-year project funded through Japan Documents, an independent publisher under the direction of Saito Sumio." The contributors included three native-English speaking J-E translators, two native-Japanese speaking J-E translators, and a Russian language consultant.

And then there's the Lord of the Rings debacle.

Basically, the bigger the reputation (say, Haruki Murakami or anything John Lasseter gets behind), the more time allocated for translating and editing. And time is money. Less prestigious projects (the vast, vast, vast majority of them) can expect only the tiniest fraction of those resources.

I typically worked on two-month deadlines (plus or minus). Even if the publisher could stretch it out, the translator can't afford to. A free-lancer has to work fast or end up making the equivalent of minimum wage. However much time you spend is going to butt up against how time the editor has to edit (the level of feedback and back-and-forth described on this site is rare when it comes to most light novels, manga, and anime). So there's this vicious circle always going on.
Kate: I own several manga series and a few novels. Overall, I've noticed fewer grammar/language errors, such as vague pronouns and passive voice, with dialog than with exposition. Is dialog easier to translate than exposition? Do translators feel freer to take artistic license with dialog?
Stephen King suggests putting aside a 
manuscript for a month! But hey, he's
Stephen King and can afford the time.
Eugene: I think dialogue tends to fare better because we "hear" it, even when written down. The perpetual problem with proofreading is that, having written or read something, the meaning registers itself in our brains and we stop seeing the word-by-word text. A tried-and-true technique is to put a manuscript aside for a week or two so you forget what it "means" and have to reread it.
But again, the enemy is time. And time is money.
Kate: Language is inherently ambiguous--all those metaphors, idioms, and colloquialisms! A translator must--to a degree--make some decision about meaning. Are translators able to retain the ambiguity of figurative language when they translate?
Eugene: Like Zack Davisson, I believe that a translator can't translate literally and expect the reader to understand all the cultural references. The translation has to mostly reside in the literary context of the target language. So as long as it doesn't create anachronisms, I will employ references and allusions I believe the writer might have used if the writer were writing in English.

In other words, translators can retain the ambiguity of the original figurative language by not being tied too tightly (or tied at all) to the original figurative language.

In chapter 36 of A Thousand Leagues of Wind, for instance, I used "A whiter shade of pale." The adverb here is「白々」which Daijisen (Shogakkan) defines as "the state of the brightening sky at dawn" (白 by itself means "white"). It's close enough in meaning that I couldn't resist the allusion. Here is the relevant lyrics by Keith Reid from "A Whiter Shade of Pale":
And so it was later
As the miller told his tale
That her face at first just ghostly
Turned a whiter shade of pale
As you point out, cultural references work their way into the language to such an extent that comprehension is not impaired even when the original references are lost. Consider "crossing the Rubicon." How many people who know what it "means" understand the original historical context? And is the original historical context a song by Journey or a reference to Julius Caesar?

In Japanese, "Crossing the Rubicon" can be translated as "Crossing the Rubicon" (ルビコン川を渡る). The translator has to decide whether the reader will understand "Crossing the Rubicon" in other than literal terms. If not, the task is to find an equally poetic or portentous turn of phrase that means, "Making a big decision after which you can't turn back."
Part III coming soon . . .

Interview with a Translator, Part I

Translators are underappreciated even on Star Trek! Exactly
who designed the universal translator to pick up on context?!
Translators, like editors, fulfill a hidden yet extremely important role in the world of written communication.

Below is Part I of my interview with Eugene Woodbury, a translator of Japanese to English works as well as a guru on what goes into making a translation work.

A list of Eugene’s translated works can be found on his website. He has received praise from reviewers for his professional translations: “Superb translation. The language is smooth, artful and draws you right into the story." He is currently most invested in his translation of Twelve Kingdoms, a fantasy novel series.

Kate: Among current translators, some learned Japanese from their cradle but surprisingly more didn't encounter it until college while still others encountered it first and foremost through popular culture. You began to study Japanese when you reached college age. How difficult did you find it? In what ways is Japanese harder or easier than English?
Eugene: Japanese and English are similar in that they're both a pack rat's collection of widely different language systems: Chinese and the utterly dissimilar Altaic languages in the former; the Germanic and Romance languages in the latter. Japanese grammar is more logical than English grammar (plus no gender), and the phonology is close to Spanish (it's not tonal like Chinese).

The only equivalent that I, Kate,
could find to a lack of gender cues in
English was Sarah Caudwell's series.
Is Dr. Hilary Tamar a man or a woman?
Perhaps the most difficult thing about Japanese is that it's perfectly acceptable to drop the subject of a sentence. An unclear antecedent is indicative of bad writing in English. It's par for the course in Japanese. Well, those antecedents aren't always unclear, but they rely on subtle sociolinguistic clues such as who is using what honorifics and who is using what pronoun to address whom.

A common narrative trick in Japanese crime and suspense novels is to write an entire paragraph (or whole page) in the third person without revealing the sex of the character. Try doing that in English. It's easy in Japanese. And grammatical.

There have been times where I've had to stop and go back to the last dialogue tag and count paragraphs to figure out who's speaking. Or simply read the passage over and over, faster and faster, until the brain's language centers could buffer the grammatical antecedents long enough to figure out what was going on. (This "leaky bucket" approach does work.)
Kate: What should students of Japanese expect?
Eugene: Japanese intimidates people because of the writing system. The tendency of some well-intentioned teachers to exaggerate the difficulty of learning kanji doesn't help. The kana can be learned in an hour or two. Really. The kanji are no less rational than English spelling (which isn't as irrational as people think). I recommend James Heisig's philosophy (not necessary his exact approach).

If you're willing to immerse yourself in a language, you can master it. If you wanted to become a professional golfer, playing a lot of golf would be the obvious prerequisite, not only reading books about golf or taking lessons. That "10,000 hours" thing is a good rule of thumb. Several hours a day adds up to ten years. The younger you start, the fewer total hours you'll need.
Kate: How proficient do you consider yourself?
Eugene: Unfortunately, the decade after I graduated from college, I was "around" Japanese but didn't "practice" it much. I only started studying seriously when I was on a Microsoft project that was transitioning technical support to India. I had time on my hands (see below) and the tools were available. This was fifteen years ago or so. Windows 2000 and Windows XP had just debuted and had full Unicode support and Microsoft's fantastic IME. Incredibly useful reference websites like Eijirou and WWWJDIC were coming online too. And JWPce became my most-used Windows app.
Kate: How did you get into translating?

Eugene: The last year or so of the [Microsoft] project, the Utah team only existed as a backup if the India site went down, so we had a lot of time on our hands. Management didn't care what we did as long as it was legal and we didn't bog down the network playing games or watching videos. That's when I started working on my Twelve Kingdoms translations, a dive-into-the-deep end approach.

At the same time, I was teaching myself HTML and set up a website. I posted a couple of chapters of Shadow of the Moon (more as an experiment) and then got distracted by other things. Not long after that I started getting emails asking when I was going to post the rest.

Quite unexpectedly realizing I had an audience, I kept on going. After the Microsoft project ended, I tried my hand at free-lancing, and made a go of it for about seven years. But I was pretty much in perpetual starving artist mode.

I'm the PGA golfer who realizes he's never going to rank above 70 and figures he might as well save it up for the senior tour. And get a "real" job. Number 70 on the PGA tour makes $12,000 a year. It's a move up or move out kind of thing. If I knew then what I knew now, well, things might have been different. I started ten years too late. So I've shifted it from vocation to avocation.

And that's all good too. As the Japanese like to say, "Shikata ga nai."
Part II coming soon . . .

Awful Comediennes--But They Are So Funny!

These are comediennes who excel at playing crazy, high-maintenance female characters: they're funny and insane! In real life, most of us would stay far, far, far away from these nutty broads. On television, they hit the comedy note with professional and side-splitting hilarity every time.

Robin Strasser: Robin Strasser plays Elaine Tewksbury on Coach. The great thing about her character is that initially, she seems to simply be one more person that Coach Hayden Fox, Craig T. Nelson, has offended, misused, or otherwise chauvinistically mistreated. And, of course, he did. But Strasser's Tewksbury is not a typical victim. Hayden's boss, she freely admits that she is more than willing to use her position to make his life difficult. Her snap-one's-finger switches from mature forgiveness to hysterical blame are hilarious. So--she's nuts, but she's hilariously nuts.

Shelley Long: Shelley Long is so good at playing the self-absorbed, pseudo-intellectual Diane Chambers from Cheers that I can't watch her--most of the time. She shows up in the occasional Frasier episode, also as Diane Chambers, and is so drop-dead funny, I've grown to appreciate the actress for herself: she really is that good. In the episode, "The Show Where Diane Comes Back," she manages to be condescending, friendly, vulnerable, and pompous all at the same time--and don't forget that twitch! I wouldn't want to spend a day with her; I can certainly spend a single episode.

Millicent Martin: British actress Millicent Martin has a long and respectable career. She is incredibly hilarious as Daphne's mother on Frasier. She also shows up on Castle as a character with a not dissimilar personality: critical, shrill, and domineering (with a soft spot). She steals every scene in Frasier, not because she is trying but because she can (in Castle, she is up against Susan Sullivan, and they steal the scenes together). One of my favorite Frasier episodes is when she gets into a "trick (or treat)" fight with a young boy in Niles' building.

"Meet our 'daughter'," Niles says when the parents come to complain, and Martin as Gertrude Moon hangs her head in appropriate chagrin.

Of course, once Niles and the others have gone, Gertrude and her once-nemesis plan a way to get back at the "parents."

Like my list of grumpy old guys and grumpy old gals, these awful comediennes are lovable . . . so long as they stay safely inside the television. 

Peter Gabriel: Narrative Poems

Lately, I've been exploring music from my younger years, specifically artists of the 80s and 90s. Not all of them have an enduring sound. One that has, surprisingly enough, is Peter Gabriel.

I was doubly surprised to realize that the still-contemporary artist he reminded me of most is Meatloaf!

Although their sounds are quite different (Meatloaf has a more joyful rock sound), both Meatloaf' and Gabriel are narrative lyricists. I didn't remember that about Gabriel from my youth (despite the fact, that I remembered many of his songs and those I forgot, I forgot in exactly the same way as before!). Yet every song on So and Us has a story and a theme. Like Meatloaf, Gabriel isn't afraid of stating emphatically what a song is, in fact, about.

Unsurprisingly, Gabriel has contributed to/created soundtracks, including for The Last Temptation of Christ. In this sense, he is also remarkably similar to Meatloaf who moves without self-consciousness between movies, television, and rock (Bowie did too, but he always seemed so much more self-conscious).

Also, like Meatloaf, Gabriel readily employs choruses and female soloists on his albums. Both musicians are romantics (see above video of "Don't Give Up").

Of Gabriel's 80s/90s albums, I greatly prefer Us. "Washing of the Water" (what I call "River") is one of my all-time favorites, but the song with the best "story" is the satiric "Kiss That Frog"--it's also a great retelling of a fairy tale (like the massively misread "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, "Kiss That Frog" is full of sexual innuendo; Gabriel's "tribute" is more in line with the original tale than later cleaned-up versions):
Sweet little princess, let me introduce his frogness
You alone can get him singing,
He's all puffed up, want to be your king

Oh you can do it, c'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon c'mon
Lady kiss that frog

Splash, dash, heard your call,
Bring you back your golden ball
He's gonna dive down in the deep end
He's gonna be just like your best friend

So what's one little kiss, one tiny little touch?
Aah, he's wanting it so much

I swear that this is royal blood, running through my skin
Oh, can you see the state I'm in

Kiss it better, kiss it better

Get it into your head
He's living with you he sleeps in your bed
Can't you hear beyond the croaking
Don't you know that I'm not joking

Aah, you think you won't, I think you will
Don't you know that this tongue can kill

C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon
Lady kiss that frog

Let him sit beside you, eat right off your plate
You don't have to be afraid, there's nothing here to hate
Princess, you might like it, if you lowered your defense
Kiss that frog, and you will get your prince...

Jump in the water, c'mon baby jump in with me
Jump in the water, c'mon baby get wet, get wet, get wet
Kiss that frog, lady kiss that frog
Get wet, get wet

Songwriters: GABRIEL, PETER
Kiss That Frog lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

The Problem with Superhero Shows: Flash, Season 2

Unlike many superhero shows (and movies), Avengers
delivers characters whose behavior and arguments
arise naturally from their personalities and pasts.
The second season of Flash illustrates a fundamental problem that dogs superhero shows.

I love superhero movies! And I qualify as a Buffy/Angel fan although I prefer earlier seasons of both to later seasons. But the only other superhero show I've been able to watch is Lois & Clark (I'm discounting the superhero qualities of my favorite detectives.)

I enjoyed the first season of Flash very much despite hints of writing problems to come. I gave up on the second season of Flash around disc 4.

The problem is the same problem that dogs many superhero graphic novels (not all): the need to have stuff happen--for characters to do certain things--overwhelms character and plot integrity.
Barry feels guilty about the singularity and agrees with Dr. Wells/Harry Wells that going back in time is a bad idea. 
Right up to the episode where he decides that it is absolutely necessary.
Zoom needs to be prevented from causing utter havoc on Earth 1!
Right up to the episode where Barry decides he has to go back and save Earth 2, opening up Earth 1 to Zoom's attacks.
Everyone agrees that Zoom needs to be taken out at all costs, and Barry believes it can be done!
Right up to the episode where Barry gives up his speed to the Zoom to save someone without a single person saying, "You know, Zoom is evil. I think it is okay if we double-cross him--just like it's okay to lie to serial killers when they are trying to kill you."
Grant Gustin is a respectable actor and Jesse L. Martin is
phenomenal--unfortunately, the writers have Gustin do
remarkably dumb things as the Flash. Martin as Joe
West either has more clout or a better writer.
It isn't that characters can never change their minds. Or decide to behave differently than they did the day before. The problem is the writers of these shows provide no hints that a character might be struggling with the other side of an issue or pondering different methods of accomplishing a task. At least when Stargate characters bother people on other planets, they have the same objectives from earlier episodes/seasons, whether it's anthropology, medicine, or defense. Characters in superhero shows, on the other hand, make decisions based on their feelings/needs on that particular day.

In other words, superhero shows often seem to sink into the shaggy dog story pit of "we need to have the character suddenly want to do something that the character has shown no interest in doing before, so that's what will happen."

And it isn't even respectable shaggy dog storyness (see Lois & Clark) since the writers still demand that I take seriously a character who could be just about anybody tomorrow depending on the writers' needs (Lois & Clark simply wants me to have fun).

What makes this all so sad is that it is so easy to fix: if a season is going to include an episode where Barry goes back in time (again), why not have him ponder in an earlier episode, "Hey, I wonder if that really was such a bad idea? Maybe I could control the event better. I could even prevent what happened last time. Sure, Dr. Wells was against it, but he turned out to be evil."

Cavanaugh as Wells in Season 2 is still fairly awesome--
unfortunately, his storyline no longer runs the season.

Or the writers could have the time travel be something that happens to Barry rather than something he makes happen.

Otherwise, Mr. Ends Justify the Means has become little better than the villains he fights. Which is a classic superhero problem except the writers don't want me to believe that the superhero of the week has fallen so far. The writers want to make their cake, eat it, then have it miraculously reform itself.

Interestingly enough, I think one reason Flash, Season 1 is so comparatively good is the use of Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanaugh) as the villain. The writers were forced to remain consistent to a character--and actor--whose behavior ran the entire season's arc. They had no choice but to retain character and story-line integrity. Consequently, the season is far superior to much superhero television. It's a pity it couldn't last.

But it does prove a basic truth: classic narrative rules are there for a reason. And holding a writer to those rules is the birth of creativity, not its death.

Kate's Voting Experience: November 2016

Kate's Take-Away, 11/9/2016: Absolutely seriously, my biggest take-away is Google did a lovely job on the live election figures, map, referenda (and isn't it nice that someone at Google knows the difference between referendum and referenda?) and all. Seriously.

Will Trump be as obnoxious as a president as he was a candidate? Maureen Dowd says presidents are often quite different in office than on the campaign trail. He may end up being really boring, which will disappoint the press.

My thought: good programming is often considered a given in our world--that doesn't mean it shouldn't be appreciated. Kudos, Google!

* * *
I'll get the big stuff out of the way first: I voted for someone other than Trump and Clinton; then I voted on a number of bond issues; then I wrote in names for all the positions like Water Board Inspector.

On non-National Election years, only the nearest booths
are set up.
I voted this morning before driving up to Central Maine Community College--around 8:45. I vote at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine. As usual, I had to run the gauntlet of petitioners. This is, unfortunately, typical for Merrill Auditorium: people with petitions plus the occasional spouse of a candidate crowd around the voting entrance. It is impossible to enter without dealing with them. Today, for the first time, I informed two of the petitioners that I thought their being there inappropriate. Voting should take place without any form of pressure or harassment, no matter how well-meant. (For the record, I have no idea what the petitions were for--I think voting areas should be kept clear on principle.)

One of the petitioners informed me that she had been given legal permission to be there.

"I don't agree with that," I told her.

Once I entered, things got more enjoyable. First of all, there were nearly four times as many people as usual. This is my third National Election voting at Merrill Auditorium; I always vote around the same time, and it's the first time I've ever had to wait in line.

I'm a "W" so I got moved along fairly quickly. The man who took my name was very careful to make sure I was who I said I was. There were also twice as many observers/helpers. When I finished filling in the little ovals on the paper ballots (oh, so that's what taking the SATs prepared me for!), I feed the ballots into the electronic counter while being observed--but not helped--by an aide. She absolutely refused to press the Acceptance or Return buttons on the screen. *I* had to do it.

Vigilance is the name of the game!

Unfortunately, the stickers hadn't arrived yet--so I voted but can't brag about it visually.

So here's my brag :)

I'll add my little soap box here: I know it's de rigueur these days to decry modern society, but I woke up to a quiet city. Even the petitioners outside Merrill were no more exasperating than usual. Despite silly people defriending each other on Facebook, I've witnessed little face-to-face obnoxiousness. No one--from my students to my landlord--has pressured me personally about whom I might vote for. I saw no rioters or even angry citizens on my way to work, and all the voters at Merrill Auditorium were friendly, talkative, and good-natured.

History--even in America--has produced worst voting days. In other places, it's produced terrible days Americans can't even imagine. There's a lot to be said for a reasonably civilized process.

I is for Ibbotson and Irritating Arguments about Fantasy

CLAIM TO FAME: I know
Kevin Hawkes, who illustrated many
Ibbotson books.
Eva Ibbotson is a fun writer. She is also a helpful rebuttal to the argument that a famous author eliminates other authors' chances.

During the Harry Potter years, Ibbotson (and other children fantasy authors) received MORE notice, not less; in fact, in some cases--like with Ibbotson--their books were reprinted. The reason? Kids enthralled by Harry Potter went looking for more fantasy authors, especially in the lagging months between each of Rowlings' books (remember being a kid waiting for a holiday to arrive? that's how Potter fans felt!).

A variation on the "famous author eliminates others" argument is fairy tale aficionados who accuse Disney of corrupting the field. I find this argument bizarre in the extreme. I was brought up on Disney--and Perrault--and Lang--and Cricket magazine. (I wasn't brought up on Grimm, despite my mom receiving a Maurice Sendak-illustrated copy of Grimm volumes as a birthday present. I was prone to nightmares, and Grimm would not have helped. Occasionally, I would walk by the volumes--they stood on a desk in the living room--and experience a shiver down the spine. Scary books!! And that would be enough horror for that week.)

Scary books!!
The problem with the anti-Disney argument is that the arguers assume that without the presence of Disney, kids would be exposed to all the authors/collectors I referenced above. Which is utter nonsense.

It is possible that a kid without Disney would go searching for other fairy tales--but that same child is just as likely to do what I did. Similar to Harry Potter fans, I wasn't satisfied with a Disney movie (or record album) here and there. I wouldn't have been satisfied with Disney picture books either--any more than I was with Dr. Seuss. I went looking for more because one type of tale was never going to be enough.

I always rather liked Sleeping Beauty because the prince
had a job: he wasn't simply a prop like in Cinderella.
(Sidenote: Several years ago, I witnessed a mother in a library fiercely informing her child, "You can pick out only TWO books." My thought: "Ohmygosh, only TWO? It's child abuse!")

The truth is, without Disney, it is likely that some kids (and many parents) would never be exposed to fairy tales at all.

And that would be very, very, very sad.

H is for Virginia Hamilton and Halloween

I enjoy several books by Virginia Hamilton. One is the gorgeously illustrated and well-collected anthology Her Stories. Another is In the Beginning, an anthology of creation stories.

My favorite novel by Hamilton is the captivating Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed.

The backdrop for Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed is Orson Welles' Halloween broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, which reputably frightened thousands of people. Orson Welles actually apologized for making it (probably entirely insincerely).

Recently, historians have argued that although some people "believed" in the broadcast, many of those same people were deliberately and excitedly scared. One non-fiction book about the event quotes the reaction of a woman and her boyfriend or husband: the woman relates how upon hearing the broadcast, they left their apartment and got on a train heading out of New York. Halfway through their journey, they realized the truth but had no money to buy a return ticket. They weren't upset--rather, the entire evening was a grand adventure.

This is the approach taken by Hamilton. Willie Bea's family and neighbors take the radio program seriously but there is a high-spirited, larger than life aura over the entire event. Willie Bea isn't altogether afraid of the aliens. She wants to meet them! 

There is naturally another side to the broadcast--it came at a time when the United States was teetering on the edge of World War II. Fears of foreign invasion were real. Darkness loomed on the horizon.

Still, I prefer Hamilton's approach and consider it more accurate than historians who paint a picture of widespread panic. Her approach also supplies enchanting insights into the power of art: intelligent listeners/readers/viewers allow themselves to be voluntarily "bamboozled"--they want to engage, sometimes quite literally and physically, with the source of entertainment. That's the fun!

The Character Who Is Never There

In Sherlock's Season 3 first episode, writer Mark Gatiss
explores the Holmes phenomenon--why people responded
as they did to Conan Doyle's "murder" of his own character.
One of the most fascinating aspects of human behavior/psychology is our ability to believe thoroughly in things that are not directly in front of our eyes--to not just believe but to become invested.

Yuval Noah Harari believes that this ability to imagine, specifically to imagine the future, is what sets humans apart from animals. Pierre Bayard believes that this ability to imagine and invest accounts for people mourning the "death" of Sherlock Holmes (when Conan Doyle--tired of his creation--tried desperately to kill off Holmes in 1893).

What I find even more astonishing than believing in the future of an imaginary character is the human capacity to believe in an imaginary character who has only ever been referenced.

Maris is so real that when Niles shows up with his
whippet, everybody, including the audience, knows
it's a substitution for his estranged wife.
Frasier accomplishes this with Maris, whom the audience never meets. And yet we get to know her very well through how others reference her--and through the effects of her behavior--to the point where the writers can insert jokes about her and evoke a response. She might as well have appeared on the screen.

Along the same lines, a character can be so real and present and important that the readers or viewers will become invested to the point of believing the character is more omnipresent than he or she actually is. I often have to remind myself that actors and actresses see their jobs in terms of lines or time on the screen. In his initial seasons, Castiel on Supernatural is so omnipresent in concept, I have to remind myself that Misha Collins was only getting paid by appearance, not by how often people thought about him.

Likewise, I have elsewhere praised the Stargate writers for referencing Daniel so often in Season 6 (the season he was technically absent, guest-starring in three or four episodes), he might as well have been "there," simply hanging out in the infirmary or guest-lecturing on Atlantis.

This is the point where some people get cynical about human beings' gullibility, yadda yadda yadda. I think it is rather sweet: humans have this impressive ability to care absolutely totally unrelentingly passionately about the real and about the imagined.

Speaking of Zootopia--Mafia Moments

I'm not a fan of mafia-focused entertainment. I've never seen The Godfather movies and my desire to see it lies somewhere between Go Bungee Jumping and Eat Snakes.

I suppose if I was trapped on an island . . .

What's amazing, however, is my utter familiarity with Godfather jokes from Zootopia's Mr. Big to Robin Hood: Men in Tights' Dom Deluise to Ballykissangel's horse saddle in the bed (rather than the head).

What's even more amazing is how hard I laugh at these jokes. Often, satire depends on a thorough appreciation and knowledge of the thing being satirized--like the "countdown" in Galaxy Quest or, also in Galaxy Quest, Sam Rockwell's marvelous riff about being the disposable guy (not to mention his fantastic reality check: "HEY! Don't open that! It's an alien planet! Is there air? You don't know!")

But I have no interest in mafia stories. I have less interest in The Godfather. And I only know about Al Capone from reading Bill Bryson's 1927.

And yet, I fall out of my chair laughing at Dom Deluise.

Is Marlon Brando truly that pervasive? Is our culture that inculculated with Godfather imagery?

Possibly.

Or is it that watching a man pull cotton balls out his mouth would be funny no matter what?

Zootopia: Good Feminism

When I was growing up, the political face
of feminism was not this open-minded. If
you didn't want to be prime minister, you
couldn't call yourself liberated.
I came to feminism relatively late in life--I didn't consistently refer to myself as one until I was in my mid-20s.

My primary reason: I formed a hearty dislike of 1980s political feminism. (Any consistent reader of this blog may form the opinion that I hated growing up in the '80s. I didn't. I had a fine time! But I don't remember the political activist climate with any degree of enthusiasm.) I had to age a bit to realize that there are many, many other forms of feminism than the type I encountered in my teens--and a bit older than that to encounter trenchant criticism of '80s political feminism.

The face of political feminism in the 1970s and '80s was NOW (National Organization of Women), specifically a NOW that stated emphatically that women weren't really liberated unless they (1) worked full-time; (2) had less than 3 children; (3) voted Democrat; (4) had a secular mindset.

In real life, none of these criteria are automatically linked. One reason that the ERA amendment did not pass in 1982 is that organizations like NOW consistently overlooked (even denigrated) church-grown organizations which were filled to the brim with organizing, planning, active women of both political parties. In contrast to NOW, Phyllis Schlafly was able to utilize such women to establish an organized, well-planned, and active anti-ERA movement.

Finally, people like Susan Pinker came
along and questioned what women
actually want to do with their lives.
I have no interest in discussing whether the ERA should or should not have passed. As a libertarian, I am generally more against National involvement in people's personal lives than for it. However, the point here is that 1980s political feminism was embarrassingly non-inclusive. When my mother attended an ERA political rally in Albany with two fellow church members, they each came away feeling ignored, dismissed, and belittled. My mother decided that she could spend her time better elsewhere and eventually went back to college to get her master's degree!

Accompanying NOW's rigid, dictatorial, all-women-fit-into-one-cookie-cutter mentality were the assumptions that (1) women ought to support female candidates on principle; (2) there are women's causes that women should care about/promote more than other causes; (3) women are intrinsically more noble and virtuous people than men (so if women were in charge, the world would be a better place). 

I admit, I have some respect for (1) even if I don't practice it myself. True believers of (1) will vote for Sarah Palin and for Geraldine Ferraro. I admire consistency.

I think (2) is ridiculous. I think there is nothing more patronizing than being told that as a woman, I'm supposed to care more about children's education than, say, war.

I think (3) is sexist in more ways than one.

Zootopia is about (3).

When Judy informs the press that the sentient animals in cages have reverted to their savage ways because they all have a predator/primitive streak just waiting to get out, she might as well be saying, "The male can't help but be uncivilized."

And note, the animals that go wild are all male.

Nick's disillusionment at her statement is rooted in more than childhood trauma (which is devastating enough). What's he supposed to do with that information? Apologize for existing? Constantly watch himself? Support only those programs that non-prey (i.e. women) approve of? Blame all his behavior on his "maleness"? Shed his supposedly "dangerous" male behavior? Get a sex change?

He is willing to be her equal (not higher than or lower than) partner. Is she willing to be his?

Kudos to Disney:

She is.

Double kudos: one is allowed to conclude that they remain great friends--or became a couple. Either way, they're partners.

The Sad and Lovely Ache: Sweet Moments in Romance

I am a fan of romance, from manga to paperbacks, from classical literature to movies. Generally speaking, I prefer my romances to end on a positive note, which I define as "conclusively." So, are they married or what?!

Every now and again, I will encounter a captivating film that ends somewhat inconclusively. Such films leave behind a gentle, sweet sadness or acceptance--mono no aware in Japanese. And that's okay. It isn't the equivalent of some dreadful French drama where I'm asked to acquiescence in the futility of life. Rather, instead, I'm being asked to accept the fleeting beauty and kindness of life.

The two that come to mind are both the product of Japanese artists (slight spoilers):

Only Yesterday: From Studio Ghibli, Only Yesterday ends romantically (if not entirely conclusively). The romance is either the entire point or it is entirely incidental: I'm not quite sure. What brings an ache to the heart is not necessarily Taeko and Toshio meeting on the road but Taeko's decision to leave the train. And what turns that ache into a shout of joy are the children from Taeko's past. They crowd about her, encouraging her, even egging her on while they engage in high energy, hilarious romps.

The entire sequence is accompanied by a gorgeous rendition of Amanda McBroom's "The Rose" sung by a Japanese singer. It sounds sappy. It surprisingly isn't. Rather, the song evokes a nostalgia that transcends mealy-mouth nostalgia. Taeko is not remembering her childhood fondly or wishfully, the way people think back to their "glory" days in high school. She is recapturing her youth in order to move forward.

Voices of a Distant Star: One of my all-time favorites, Voices of a Distant Star ends, possibly, with the lovers separated. There are Blade Runner-type hints--especially in the manga--that time and space may collapse, but as with Only Yesterday, that is hardly the point. They have already transcended time and space through the  email messages that eek through what Star Trek fans would call the space-time continuum and what Cat from Red Dwarf would call magic.

In this case, Cat is the closest because the result is magical.
"It's like a miracle to hear from her after all this time."
"Maybe thoughts can overcome time and distance."

"One thought. What would it be?"

"It would be--"
I am here.

Character Actor: Conrad Dunn

Watching Conrad Dunn as Saul Panzer in Timothy Hutton's Nero Wolfe series is one of my delights.

Conrad Dunn is one of those working actors I admire so much. However, I rarely watch any of the other shows he appears in, so I have to check Nero Wolfe out of the library if I want my Chaykin-Hutton-Dunn fix. (In comparison, the actor who plays Fred Durkin, Fulvio Cecere, shows up in lots of the shows that I watch, including Elementary. Yup, he played a mafia guy in Season 3!)

Conrad Dunn has one of those mobile faces that I love to watch think or smile; so much of the action takes place in the eyes and mouth. Dunn also utilizes an economy of movement in his gestures. As Saul Panzer, he conveys absolute confidence in himself at the same time that he is absolutely willing to fade into the background if necessary. He is far more respectful of Nero than Archie; he is also  plausibly good friends with Archie. These characterizations correspond to the book-Panzer (for the purists). Conrad Dunn gives Panzer his own extra dose of charisma.
Kari Matchett proves that casting is often about
actors' vibes. Timothy Hutton obviously prefers
and plays well opposite European-looking women.

In fact, I adore a number of Nero Wolfe alumni from Kari Matchett to Beau Starr (the latter is a major reason I love to watch Due South).

Latest Publication: Tales of the Quest

My latest publication--Tales of the Quest--is now available in electronic form (paperback forthcoming)! Tales is a compilation of previously published and new stories bound together by an overarching in situ discussion of THE QUEST:

How do quests work? What types of tasks can prince (and princesses) expect? Are quests successful? Can a participant really hope to find true love? Why are quests and questees so fascinating? 

The blurb:
Ah, the Quest! The sight of noble knights setting forth on heroic tasks to win the hand of the fair princess stirs any heart. Here are the medieval heroes who once donned clanking suits of armor to fence, joust, and battle fire-breathing dragons for honor and acclaim.

That is, until the tasks got too messy, too inconvenient, too strange. And the armor way too heavy. To be sure, talent and determination still count. But the Quest just as often becomes a tool of trade and diplomacy, with fortunes and royal reputations weighing in the balance.

Immerse yourself in chronicles of desperate princes, strong-willed princesses, and romantic beasts. This fourth installment in the Roesia series pulls together new and previously published stories of questing daring-do updated for the modern age.

Amidst all the politics and game playing, can true love still triumph? Therein lies quite the tale.
This is the fourth Roesia novella and a few characters from previous novellas do make an appearance. However, like all the novellas, it can be read alone.

As always, mucho mucho thanks to Eugene for creating the cover, editing Tales, and making suggestions--particularly about the linking "history" between the tales--that substantially improved this latest creation. Every recent novella is my favorite; in this case, I also had a ton of fun.

Non-Comparative Money Arguments in Hollywood

One type of article that really bugs me is "Women actors get paid less than male actors in Hollywood!"

There is a minuscule truth to this argument. Do I think, for instance, that Cote de Pablo should have been  paid more by CBS for her work on NCIS?

Yes, actually, I do. I thought it was appallingly short-sighted of CBS not to pay her more. NCIS attracts both male and female viewers, and female viewers across the board liked her. Sexy, killing tomboys are a hit! (In fact, Cote de Pablo's salary was so low, I wonder if she simply didn't care that much.)

The problem with "women actors get paid less than male actors" is not that higher salaries aren't nice but that the argument (1) doesn't take producer thinking into account; (2) makes faulty comparisons.

Hollywood producers are all about saving money. Caring so much about money (versus art) is kind of soul-destroying--and thank goodness Michelangelo's pope didn't seem to have that particular problem!--but it is a producer's job. Which means--producers are never going to pay actors and actresses what they should get; rather, they are not going to pay them what they don't have to pay them.

NCIS can survive with Ziva. Personally, I doubt it survived well--I stopped watching it several seasons ago. But it can survive. It can, eh, sort of survive without Michael Weatherly.

It cannot survive without Mark Harmon.

So Cote de Pabo earned $125,000 an episode (when she left). Michael Weatherly earned approximately $250,000 an episode (when he left), and Mark Harmon earns $525,000 an episode.

In my Murder Mystery course, as many male
students as female students will write about Hargitay's
Olivia Benson. Like Ziva, Benson is a tough, sexy
tomboy who inspires both genders. Female viewers
specifically often get tired of too sexy-to-be-real
female heroines; giving such heroines tomboy
qualities makes them more relatable to women.
As I say, de Pablo's wages were too low. She was earning the same as Pauley Perrette and frankly, was a more integral part to the show.

However, keep in mind that Friends' co-stars (male and female) negotiated their contracts together and were earning $1 million per episode in the final seasons (a decade before Cote de Pablo left NCIS). Also keep in mind that Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloniper both earned $400,000 per episode on Law & Order: SVU.

Nobody on NCIS earns as much as the Friends' co-stars and nobody on NCIS except Harmon has ever earned as much as Hargitay and Meloniper.

The studio will pay what the studio can bear. And if it can dump the actor/actress and pay someone less, it will.

The other point has already been addressed but I'll re-emphasize it here:

Comparative statements are pointless. 

Sure, in fairness world, Kate Mulgrew would earn as much as a starship captain as Patrick Stewart on their respective Star Treks. But that's a terrible comparison because The Next Generation was massively more popular and earned massively more money (for ALL its co-stars) than Voyager. I like Voyager, and I like Mulgrew. But my personal likes and dislikes make no difference to what Hollywood determines people should and can be paid.

The smile of a man who says, "I earn way
more money than you!"
In tangent-ville, I happen to think that Stewart is a better actor than, well, everybody on Star Trek, but truthfully, acting ability isn't on the table here. What's on the table is what a single show--not Hollywood generally--can handle. 

Kyra Sedgwick deservedly earned $350,000 per episode on The Closer (over $250,000/episode more than Mulgrew). She was the lead. The show was a cable success. The money was there. And she's a decent actress if that matters (which it only kinda does).

But there would be no point in comparing her salary to salaries of actors and actresses on a popular network show. Or to Mark Harmon.

Because, really, in the end, nobody should be comparing themselves to Mark Harmon.


Rusty Beck and Wesley Crusher

"I only have about 50,000 viewers," Rusty argues in a Season 5 episode of Major Crimes, "and for some reason, a lot of them really dislike me."

It sounds like an inside joke. If it is--if Graham Patrick Martin is one of those characters that viewers love to hate (FYI: I like him)--he bears a remarkable similarity to Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher.

In both cases, a teenage boy is adopted into an adult world: a Major Crimes Squad/a starship. In both cases, the boy is older than his years. In Rusty's case, his experience on the streets has given him a belligerent, yet adult (though not mature) comprehension of the world. In Wesley's case, his supposed genius (which gets watered down in later seasons) justifies allowing him on the bridge (since Star Trek: TNG isn't about Wesley, his genius is eventually transformed into him being very, very bright; otherwise, he would be called upon to solve every problem!).

Both teenage boys are boyishly cute. I personally find Graham Patrick Martin more interesting to watch than Wil Wheaton (who grew a burly beard after Star Trek but willingly spoofs his youth on Big Bang Theory). Graham Patrick Martin is also--my apologies to Wil Wheaton--a somewhat better actor. His exchanges with M.A.S.H. graduate, G.W. Bailey (I can't believe how long it took me to figure that connection out!) are downright amusing. Still, Martin is so youthful looking that I assumed for several seasons that he was the same age as his character.

Rusty walking away from his drug-addled mother.
Despite their innate abilities (Wil Wheaton is a decent enough actor in his own right), both young men are used in their respective dramas as troubled youths who bear up to trials with stoicism and slightly hurt expressions--as opposed to rampaging rebellion (although Martin is given more opportunities to yell at people). That is, in both cases, the writing and direction--as much as the acting--provide the audience with reasons to dump scorn on the characters.

To put it another way, audiences have a tough time being asked to sympathize with distressed teens.

Although I was never fond of Wesley Crusher, I
never hated him or confused him with the actor!
I was very happy that Sheldon was made a Wesley
Crusher fan (albeit a disappointed one).
I'm sorry to say that I was one of those who didn't see the point of Wesley Crusher although I can appreciate some of his episodes at this later date. I've never had much trouble with Rusty since his purpose on Major Crimes has always been so clear (The Closer was about marriage and fitting into; Major Crimes is about parenting and making a place for oneself). Also, Rusty is allowed a greater range than Wesley, as in Rusty is allowed to sarcastically provoke people.

So maybe I should amend my statement to "Audiences have a tough time being asked to sympathize with distressed teens, especially teens who are supposed to be geniuses and who fulfill the role of whiner rather than rebel."

In real life, I think most people would prefer to have Wesley as their kid followed by Rusty (despite the whole "street" background). And yet, when it comes to drama, we seem to prefer teens who are sarcastic and rule-breaking (that is, teens who in reality cost their parents a great deal of money and anxiety).

I wonder if adult audiences in American culture feel that they are already being asked to sympathize too much with teens ("teenager" as a stage in life is a relatively new development in human civilization). So much angst in our culture over teen problems and teen crises and teen fears and teen angst!

Provenza (Bailey) and Raydor (McDonnell)
Maybe, too, we remember our own teenage years reluctantly. Who wants to relive them? Perhaps sweet, distressed teens on television provoke an atavistic urge to slap around the teenage mindset. Do the Rustys and the Wesleys become "whipping boys," scapegoats for society's annoyance with teen problems?

Wil Wheaton left Star Trek: TNG at the end of year four. James Duff has kept Rusty on Major Crimes by changing his raison d'etre (this is the best approach--see my notes on Stargate). The focus is no longer on his filial relationship with Sharon Raydor (played by the incredibly talented Mary McDonnell) but on his relationship with Gus. He also isn't expected to carry the show, something Mary McDonnell and G.W. Bailey are well-able to do by themselves.