November 18, 2009

Is that really how this book ends?  I’m just glad that it’s over.  And now that this ugliness is behind us, I can do with this book what I’ve wanted to from the beginning- and that is hollow it out and hide things in it. 

            This whole time I expected the last word of the book to belong to Hal.  But we lose sight of Hal after he has his deep philosophical awakening shortly after The Darkness leaves most of his face attached to a frozen window.  Hal’s thoughts became weird and disjointed in this part.  There’s his picturing of an imaginary room filled with all the food he would eat over the course of his life, and another room filled with the subsequent excrement from that food.  He also mentions that for the first time ever he has become indifferent about tennis.  He says it’s of no matter to him whether he wins or loses and he isn’t even all that interested in playing anymore.  And the last mention of Hal comes in the locker room right before the boys are to take part in the fundraiser tournament. 

A question about that part- Who was talking?  For the last part of the book, the stories were alternating between Hal and Gately, but this bit in the locker room was not told by Hal.  Whoever is speaking mentions seeing Hal being taped up, and whoever it is uses “us” later in that section.  My best and only guess is Mario.  Mario, who seems to be the nicest and only genuine character in the book, even though he had every reason not to be.  Mario, who wondered what was making Hal sad, when his reaction should have been more along the lines of “What’s the matter Hal?  Drugs and being really good at tennis making you sad?  Maybe you should try walking around with a camera strapped to your head all day and having arms that look like the things people use to play jai alai with.”  But he never said that.  And it was also Mario who through simply not knowing any better, reaffirmed Loach’s faith in humanity. 

Moving on to Gately- not really sure what to make of those last few pages.  Was it a hallucination brought on by the fever which was caused by his refusal of drugs?  No matter how bad the pain got, he simply refused any drugs.  There is the bit on page 894-95 where the pain does cause him to question the AA program and their requirement of turning over to a higher power, namely God.  In thinking about that higher power Gately asks a very Job question, that being, Why?

“It’s a bit hard to see why a quote Loving God would have him go through the sausage-grinder of getting straight just to lie here it total discomfort”

And the funny thing is, the answer Job gets to his question is about as satisfying as coming to the end of this book.  Thought Gately’s thoughts do seem to connect with the saying on the sign Hal mentions “Those who serve best usually win.”

  Kim suggested re-reading the first section after coming to the end, and in doing so there is to be found a mention of Gately made by Hal after his freak out, “standing watch in a mask as Donald Gately and I dig up my father’s head” (17).  Now that makes absolutely no sense, but why would Hal mention Gately?  Is this like Fight Club?  Is Gately Hal?  Is Hal Gately? 

The end of this book doesn’t seem to provide any answers.  Maybe someday I’ll read it again to look for those answers… but probably not.


Tennis anyone?

November 11, 2009

            There’s been some buzz in the sports world lately due to the release of Andre Agassi’s new book.  In hearing some of the parts which are causing the greatest stir, there are some connections to be made to Infinite Jest.  The biggest revelation may be that of Agassi’s admission to using crystal meth during his tennis career.  You don’t have to be reading this book in sequential page order and can even be skipping chunks maybe even up to 50 pages at a time to know that drugs play a major part in the novel.  Agassi also writes that there was tremendous pressure from his father to perform well in tennis.  And as a result, there were times in his career when he hated the game and considered losing on purpose in the early rounds of tournaments so he would not have to keep playing.  There are several mentions in the novel as to the pressure the ETA students are under.  And there is also the scene in which we see Hal’s father at Hal’s age being pressured by his own father in terms of tennis.  Agassi also admitted that he wore a hair piece at certain points during his career.  And if I am remembering correctly, one of the guys at Ennet House wears a wig.  I just thought it was interesting that there are these similarities between Agassi and a book about a tennis academy.  Maybe it’s a common thread among all tennis players. 

            After having read E. Unibus Pluram, there were some sections which speak on television which really stood out to me.  The first comes on pages 599-600 where Orin is reminiscing on the glory days of television.    Orin says he misses the way television used to be: “I miss commercials that were louder than the programs.  I miss the phrases ‘Order before midnight tonight’…I miss being told things were taped before a live studio audience…I miss stuff so low-denominator I could watch and know in advance what people were going to say.”  When reminded that their current entertainment option allows them to watch whatever they want whenever they want Orin replies, “The choice, see.  It ruins it somehow.  With television you were subjected  to repetition.  The familiarity was inflicted….I miss seeing the same things over and over again”

            The section which begins on the bottom of page 638 talks some more about television.  In this section Steeply recalls how his father became obsessed with M*A*S*H.  Steeply talks about how his father at first would just watch the one episode a week, but then would also have to watch the syndicated episodes whenever they came on, then he began recording the episodes and watched them over and over again.  Steeply mentions how his father became so obsessed with the show that it took over his conversations, “The he started developing the habit of quoting little lines and scenes from M*A*S*H to illustrate some idea, make some point in a conversation…then at some point it was as if he was no longer able to converse or communicate on any topic without bringing it back to the program”  Then there was also the mention of his father writing letters addressed directly to Frank Burns ( I was always more of a Charles Winchester fan).

            These 2 sections really echo Wallace’s sentiments from the essay.  That once television sinks its claws in, there’s way of it ever letting go.  This is what’s happening in the novel with that cartridge.  People are so entertained by it that they literally cannot look away and die from it.  Television’s job is to make you addicted to television and literally feel that you could not live without it.  You know, if it wasn’t for graduate school I never would have heard of fan fiction.  And if Wallace is painting Steeply’s father as sad and disillusioned for writing a letter to Frank Burns, I can only imagine what he would say to entire online communities based on the continuation and propagation of the lives of fictional television characters.  He’d probably have a whole new essay to write.

Don’t know how many of you are fans of Weird Al Yankovic, but he wrote and was in a movie called UHF.  The movie came out in 1989.  I was watching a sort of biography about Al when the topic of the film and its lack of commercial success came up.  And he said something that I think goes along nicely with this book.  He said that even though he thought the movie was good (By the way, it is) and it was well received in preliminary screenings, the weekend it came into theatres it was going up against the first Batman movie, as well as a few other blockbuster types.  In essence, the timing just wasn’t right, and UHF got buried.  Bringing it back to this book- I’m sure it’s a very good book, but this just isn’t the right time to try and read a giant book with footnotes that go on longer than The Old Man and the Sea.  Having said that, below are assorted ramblings trying to make sense of it all.

Something I noticed in reading was the continual mention of Interdependence Day.  No longer does America celebrate Independence Day.  This is something I find interesting, especially given the action takes place in Massachusetts, one of the most important cites of American independence.  But it does seem fitting given that nobody in the story is independent, they are all reliant on something else, mostly drugs. 

            I found it interesting when Hal and Pemulus would not take the DMZ (also an abbreviation for demilitarized zone-significance?) drug without have first conducted extensive research.  Given that drugs play such a large role in this story, I thought it was odd that they would be so hesitant to take this drug.  Also, when it gets to the part about the tennis tournament and describing how Pemulus’ opponent began acting strangely- did anybody else get the impression that was meant to say that Pemulus slipped the guy some DMZ?

I found the section at Ennet House and Tiny’s obsession with the tattoos interesting.  I don’t have a tattoo and don’t plan on ever having one, but his fascination in asking everybody in Ennet House about theirs was interesting.  Also the comments made in that section about permanence.

I’m still waiting for it all to come together and start to make any kind of sense.  In reading page 223 I was expecting that to provide some kind of light bulb over this book, but aside from being able to make some chronological sense-not really sure why that page plays such a big role.

That’s really all I can give for now.  I still need to read a bit more for class this week.  Will it all get done?  Let’s just say yes.


            *Also- completely forgot that it was necessary to blog about your idea for the paper.  So just in case you were interested in reading mine and were super disappointed when it wasn’t there, below you will find my blog post on my ideas on how Dr. Horrible is connected to Wallace’s idea on television and the lonely viewer.

Now the Nightmare’s Real

November 2, 2009

            For my project I would like to take the Wallace article and use it to look at Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.  In thinking about the two, I came to see Dr. Horrible as being the lonely viewer Wallace writes about.

            Wallace writes that this lonely viewer turns to the images of television because they provide a better image of life than what the viewer has.  The viewer will also come to identify and aspire to be like these images.  I see Dr. Horrible as fitting the bill for this lonely viewer.  In the beginning, his life as Billy/Dr. Horrible is that of a lonely 6 hour a day viewer.  He is someone who is too afraid to even approach a woman in a laundrymat.  As Dr. Horrible, he has been thwarted by Captain Hammer at every turn.  In this scenario Captain Hammer is television.  Dr. Horrible begins by claiming he wants social change, however, as Wallace writes, television emphasizes sameness and punishes change.  So when Dr. Horrible wants to change things, Captain Hammer/television must stop him.  This brings Dr. Horrible to want to join the Evil League of Evil.  He wants change-change is wrong-therefore he must be evil.  He associates The League/Bad Horse with being evil.  He has recognized and accepted an image.

            Just as Wallace writes the viewer will want to embody the images they see on television, Dr.  Horrible wants to become this image of evil he sees.  As the story progresses, Billy slowly slips away and Dr. Horrible becomes more prominent.  And by the end, Dr. Horrible has replaced Captain Hammer, thus becoming the very thing he was fighting against in the beginning.  Where before Dr. Horrible was just a guy who wanted a working freeze ray and a laundry girlfriend, he became the image he was fighting against.  Wallace writes that even though television ruins the world for a viewer, it does so in a way that the viewer must always return to television with the feeling that everything will be okay.  This is seen with Penny’s last words, “Captain Hammer will save us.”  Even though Captain Hammer is the reason she is dying, she still believes that he can make things alright.

            Using Wallace’s ideas, it can also be seen why it is necessary for Penny to die.  Wallace writes that even though an audience will think it wants new things, deep down it will crave sameness.  This is why the 3 fans while singing about Captain Hammer and Penny say “We have a problem with her.”  Penny is attempting to change Captain Hammer.  He sees it as being able to “do the weird stuff.”  The audience has a problem with that because they would like things to stay the same.  That is why at the end they all switch to Dr. Horrible fans, they simply need an image to flock to. 

            Also, this was created during the writer’s strike and posted only on the internet.  Though it may have started as a critique of television and looked to provide an alternative, the ending seems to wrap up nicely with Wallace’s idea that television will always be there.

You lost me

October 19, 2009

Didn’t quite finish all of the reading yet, but got far enough to start talking about the book.  After reading the first few pages and getting the basic gist that a kid who is good at tennis has a meltdown in front of a college admissions board I was wondering what all the fuss about the book was.  But then it turned into something horrible, like letting a mogwai get wet and then feeding it after midnight.

            I suppose it would be safe to say the novel is complex.  Complex in the sense that I really don’t know what’s going on.  There are the sections which follow Hal, but those are interrupted with sections devoted to characters you really don’t get much information on.  The narration of the story seems to be constantly changing, especially with the sections which don’t seem to be written in English at all.  I’m referring to the section which starts on page 128, and is being told by yrstruly, as well as another section earlier in the novel which is told in the same broken up English.  There are also the sections in which the narrator uses “like” in telling the story.  And that really like bothers me.

            The description of Hal’s family is interesting.  There are his parents, who started the tennis academy.  They are never referred to as mom and dad.  Hal’s father is always referred to as Himself, and his mother is The Moms.  Then there is Orin, the punter who has panic attacks and suffocates roaches in his bathroom.  There is also Mario, who is at the tennis academy with Hal.  Mario is always spoken of as having some deformity, though I’m not entirely sure what that is.  And it must not be that bad if that girl was throwing herself at him in the woods while looking for the hidden camera.

            Though a definite time period is never given, the story seems to be taking place in a quasi-futuristic time.  I’m not really sure why I feel like that.  The only thing I can put my finger on is the talk of the cartridges everybody seems to be watching.  There is no more television, and instead people just watch these different cartridges.

            There are several different characters, many of whom are difficult to keep track of and judge their importance on the story.  The one character who did come up several times is the man who sells marijuana while living in a trailer filled with snakes.  It will be interesting to see what comes of that.  Addiction and wanting to stop is a theme I found to be common.  There is the section early in the book, which I’m not really sure who it’s about, and then the section about Katherine Gompert in which both describe abusing marijuana.  They both admit they don’t even enjoy using marijuana and both want desperately to stop.  While at the tennis academy, Hal also engages in drug use.  It is also implied that the other students use drugs as well.  It appears that drugs and addiction and secrecy play a big role in the story.

            Not sure what the rest of the novel will bring.  But I am sure that whatever happens, I probably won’t understand it.

E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction

David Foster Wallace



 E pluribus unum= out of many, one.  This phrase was created and put on the Great Seal of the United States after declaring independence.  It is meant to speak to the diversity and unity of America.

 E unibus pluram=from one, many.  We are alone, yet alone together in our viewing of television.


I Like to Watch

                       Wallace begins by comparing fiction writers with “oglers.”  His point being that writers of fiction strive to present the most realistic image of life in their work as possible; and to accomplish this, fiction writers are constant observers of human activity.  What Wallace finds unsettling is that a new generation of fiction writers seems to be looking to television as a means of learning about people.  Wallace argues that turning to television is a mistake as it does not provide an accurate depiction of normal life.  Television is not showing the same average life that a voyeur may see looking through his neighbor’s window simply because that’s not what people want to see.  Well, most people.  Television, according to Wallace, is about desire and showing people what they want to see.  Wallace equates this desire with sugar.  The point being that while sugar may make things taste better, too much of it can have a long lasting and negative impact.

 The tag of voyeur does not fit when applied to watching television.  Wallace writes, “What classic voyeurism is is espial: watching people who don’t know you’re there as they go about the mundane but erotically charged little businesses of private life.”  Watching television does not make one a voyeur, you are simply a viewer.  Television is the exact opposite of voyeurism.  With television, you are not watching people who don’t know they are being watched, but instead watching actors who are portraying characters.  Wallace takes this argument even further, “It’s ultimately not even actors we’re espying on, not even people: it’s EM-propelled analog waves and ionized streams and rear screen chemical reactions throwing off phosphenes in grids of dots.”  Wallace closes by saying that those dots are being viewed on a piece of furniture no different than a couch or coffee table.

Throughout the piece Wallace continues to reference a finding which said people view an average of six hours of television per day; with, in Wallace’s opinion, lonely people watching considerably more.  These large doses of television are shaping the expectations of what it means to act natural.  He mentions how whenever it is apparent that someone is uncomfortable in front of a crowd it is said how unnatural they look.  Conversely, anyone who is comfortable acting in front of a crowd is deemed natural.  Equating acting with being natural is a mistake.  This leads to the characters on television to be considered natural and real.  Viewers become familiar with characters and often times talk of them like they’re old friends.  People become more intimate with the character than with members of their own family.

A person is smart.  People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals.-Men In Black

      Mentioned above is Wallace’s belief that television is about desire and giving people what they want.  As a result television has become “low art, the sort of art that tries too hard to please.”  Apparently this is nothing new for Americans.  Wallace cites Alexis de Tocqueville all the way back in 1830 as being of the belief that Americans were as easy to amuse as a baby whose face you jingle your keys over.  According to de Tocqueville Americans enjoyed forms of entertainment which stirred “the passions more than to gratify the taste.”

            For all of the love we’ve given complexity, Wallace does not see it as the norm in television.  As mentioned before, Wallace considers television low art.  But the blame isn’t put on television.  Wallace is of the belief that the sole purpose of television is to gain viewers by appealing to as many people as possible.  So when Wallace writes, “television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose Audience are vulgar and dumb” he’s blaming the audience for television, right?

Yes and no

 “Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be really similar in their vulgar prurient* and stupid interests and wildly different in their refined and moral and intelligent interests.”       

(*Prurient= having or intended to arouse an unwholesome interest in sexual matters)

This is the car crash mentality.  Though you know it’s wrong and shouldn’t watch, you do anyway.  This is the reason VH1 is able to get away with everything it shows.  I’m looking at you Bret Michaels.

 Wallace goes on to write that television has viewers trained.  But instead of salivating at the sound of a bell, television has trained viewers to expect and look for low art every time they sit down. 

-“the Audience really craves sameness but thinks, deep down, that it ought to crave novelty.”-

           This is why whenever a show tries something new and makes an attempt to break away from what is expected as the norm, often it is put down by the almighty hand of the Audience. 

It’s Better Here

  Television has viewers caught in a lonely, depressing cycle.  Lonely people watch a lot of television because they have nothing else to do in their lives and are afraid to leave the comfort of their living room.  However, when they turn on the television, they see a number of different worlds, all of which are better and more desirable than theirs.  They see a world populated with amazingly attractive people who never seem to have anything bad happen to them.  And in the event they are victim to a slight misfortune, it is more often than not corrected by the end of the episode.  This assurance that the television world is better than your world only locks a person more into a sense that they need television.

            Wallace writes that a viewer consuming six hours of television a day will come to relate to certain characters.  They will see themselves in certain characters.  However, that viewer will then demand to see some of the character in himself.  It goes without saying that someone who watches six hours of television a day will have little in common with the people he watches.  This mass consumption of television has led to a shift in values.  Once characters on television become an idealized image, the viewer will want to become more and more like what they see.

            All one has to do is look at what products are most advertised and they will see what I have labeled the desire to be: hot, happy, and hard.  No matter what the program, the commercials are pushing a large amount of chemicals.  The three most notable are pills which seek to help you with weight loss, depression/anxiety, and erectile dysfunction.  This type of advertising pushing for a pharmaceutically new you can be said to come from a desire to more like the characters from television.  To go with the identification that Wallace mentions, the six hour a day audience now wants to be thin and attractive, live in a happy cheery world, and be able to have sex whenever they want (though not for longer than 4 hours),  just like their favorite television characters.

“TV’s real pitch in these commercials is that it’s better to be inside the TV than to be outside, watching.”

Rage Against The Machine

           In the beginning of the essay Wallace writes how television is having an impact on the world of fiction.  There is, however, a group which Wallace sees as fighting back against television.  He writes that there is fiction “written mostly by young Americans…and made a real attempt to transfigure a world of and for appearance, mass appeal, and television.”  The name Wallace gives this is image-fiction.

            According to Wallace, image-fiction had its origins in the 70’s but picked up steam in the 90’s.  The apparent goal of image-fiction is to comment on how television has trained society to recognize symbols and characters.  They achieved this by including those very symbols in their works.  Wallace provides some examples of works of image-fiction:

 A.M. Homes- The Safety of Objects– “features a stormy love affair between and boy and a Barbie doll.”

 Michael Martone- Fort Wayne Is Seventh on Hitler’s List– “a tight cycle of stories about the Midwest’s pop-culture giants—James Dean, Colonel Sanders, Dillinger”   

   The hope is that in reading these works, people will come to realize their dependency on visual images and see the ridiculousness in it as well.  Wallace writes of image-fiction that it “is not just a use or mention of televisual culture but a response to it, an effort to impose some sort of accountability on a state of affairs in which more Americans get their news from television than from newspapers and in which more Americans every evening watch Wheel of Fortune than all three network news programs combined.”

                  While Wallace finds it admirable that image-fiction is trying to make a stand, he writes that it cannot work because television has already beaten it to the punch. 

 “Image-fiction doesn’t satisfy its own agenda.  Instead, it most often degenerates into a kind of jeering, surfacy look ‘behind the scenes’ of the very televisual front people already jeer at”

 One of Us

           “U.S. pop culture is just like U.S serious culture in that its central tension has always set the nobility of individualism on one side against the warmth of communal belonging on the other.”

 Wallace writes on the irony which exists in advertising.  He notes that even though the audience being sold to is very large, ads try to appeal to the individual.  Products claiming to help someone express themselves and to standout from the crowd are being marketed to audiences of millions of people at a time. 

These ads use the idea that “people are always most vulnerable, hence frightened, hence needy, hence persuadable, when they are approached solo.”  Ads are taking the lonely six hour viewers and speaking to them directly, making the viewer even more insecure in telling them that without a certain product, things may get worse.

            Wallace does note a change in advertising from earlier generations.  There was a time when a viewer was simply told to buy something.  However, with the trend in individualism, a consumer does not want to be told what to do.  To get around this, the viewer must somehow come to the feeling that they need a product. 

            How advertisers come about that is changing as well.  With the advent of multiple recording devices, the viewer now has the option of bypassing ads entirely.  This has led to ads attempting to become more watchable and seen as less of a nuisance.  To this effect, ads are becoming more and more like shortened films and shows.  When even that won’t work, ads are placed in shows themselves.  This goes back to the idea of identifying with characters.  If your favorite character stops at Burger King or has an i-phone, the viewer may crave those products as well.

Wallace writes that television does an excellent job of convincing us that we need television more than television needs us.  Going back to the lonely viewer, they are scared enough to venture out into the real world.  Yet television serves to frighten them even more by convincing them that without possessing certain knowledge (gained only by watching television) you will be ostracized even more in the real world.  To prevent this, you need to watch more television.  God help you if you’re the one who showed up to work one Friday and didn’t know what “shrinkage” or “puffy shirt” meant.  And imagine the looks of disgust one would receive if while in a group someone pulls off a masterful “that’s what she said” and you don’t get the joke.  The punishment for such a mistake is banishment from the group, leaving the unblinking, non judging television as your only friend.

Remember Last Week?

           Remember last week, the Dawson article talking about more mobile forms of entertainment?  Wallace talks about George Gilder, and how Gilder thinks along those lines.  Gilder is of the belief that making entertainment more mobile will break us from the chains which lock us to the couch.  The rest of Gilder’s argument goes something like this:

“My real dependency is on the fantasies and the images that enable them, and thus on any technology that can make images fantastic.  Make no mistake.  We are dependent on image-technology; and the better the tech, the harder we’re hooked.”-Wallace

 Wallace writes that new technological advancements will only help to strengthen television’s grip.  No matter how we watch television, we are still watching television.  Dawson mentioned how watching on a smaller screen would force the viewer to concentrate more, that’s exactly what television wants you to do.  It is the constant job of television to convince you, through television, that your life sucks and the only place to go for comfort is right back to the very thing which hurt you in the first place.





The argument Dawson is considering in his article seems similar to the debate on the impact of texting and text language might have on the English language.  Like text messages are to Shakespeare, are video clips and videos meant solely for mobile phones not as worthwhile as the hour long tv show?  The examples he gives of missing details on an episode of LOST and the 24 mini-series seem to say so.

            It seems that there need to be certain sacrifices made when a video is made to be viewed on a smaller device.  The example Dawson gives is that while viewing an episode of LOST, because of the format he was seeing the episode in he missed the logo tattooed on the shark’s tail.  This shark’s mark was a crucial clue in the early going of the show.  Dawson goes on to speak of the short episodes of 24 which were made to be seen on mobile phones.  He notes that these videos were lacking in almost every aspect of which the original series is known for.  And when the mini-series was added as a DVD extra, it did not translate well at all to being viewed on a television screen. 

            Given his comments on LOST, 24, and the other shows which focus primarily on showing brief clips, this format of viewing programs eliminates the narrative complexity which we all seem to be so in love with.  And I’m not really buying the argument made towards the end of the essay that because of the smaller screen that the viewer will actually work harder and be more attentive when watching something on a mobile device.  I relate it to Dr. Horrible’s pie analogy: on the surface they are just clips with no complexity or importance of story continuation, and though you can try to look deeper and find another different level, just below that there is a level just like the one on top.

             Sticking with Dr. Horrible, this video can be seen as an example of how the clip format doesn’t work.  Going to Hulu, you are able to view the story in its entirety.  However, you are also able to go to YouTube and see the story broken up into segments.  On their own, the individual clips mean nothing, it is only when connected and the story is put together that the clips have significance.  Dawson mentions how there are those who feel the flow of a normal television broadcast is not needed for a viewer to understand story, that instead one’s familiarity with television is enough for a viewer to take segmented clips and “reassemble” them into a story.  I disagree and think that flow and continuity are important to a story and that it is more difficult to “reassemble” than people may think.  Once something has been disassembled, it cannot just as easily be reassembled.  And I just happen to know a certain robot who agrees with me.

            An audience has differing expectations as far as story, based on how they are viewing.  With film and television, there is the expectation of some kind of story; whether it be episodic or complex, there is something which the viewer can attach to for the length of the show.  With the clips made for mobile devices, the expectations are different.  They are in the same field as YouTube videos, good for a quick watch, but nothing too complex is happening.  They serve to entertain only briefly, before a viewer is moving on to the next one.

On an island

October 5, 2009

After watching LOST, I skimmed through Mittell’s article on narrative complexity.  And while it probably goes without saying, LOST falls under the umbrella of a complex narrative.  Mittell writes that what distinguishes a complex narrative, in terms of television, is the breaking away from the episodic.  A complex narrative is one which most likely will not have a tidy ending at the conclusion of each episode.  He writes that a staple of the complex narrative is “rejecting the need for plot closure within every episode that typifies conventional episodic form, narrative complexity foregrounds ongoing stories across a range of genres.”  Given that definition, it can be said that LOST is tops among complex narratives.  Throughout the duration of the series, LOST has not gone the route of episodic closure at the conclusion of each episode.  It would seem the show makes a point of ending each episode having done little to bring the viewer closer to any kind of closure, and instead leaves the viewer with more questions than when the episode began.

            In terms of the narrative of LOST, it contains many aspects commonly found in other “stranded” narratives, such as Lord of the Flies and Robinson Crusoe.  I tried to get students to see this connection during one of my student teaching stints, but they couldn’t seem to get over the fact that there was a character named Jack in both LOST and LOTF.  A few examples include the debate over whether hunting or a signal fire deserves more attention (Episode 4), and Jack beginning to feel the pressures and burden which goes along with being dubbed the leader (Episode 5) as does Ralph in LOTF.  The loss of hope and the presence of an unseen “monster” are also present in both LOST and LOTF.  So while the way the story is told differs, LOST is telling a very familiar story.

            The idea of controlling your own narrative is one which continues to show up; and it can be seen in LOST.  Each of the characters has their own distinct narrative, given to the viewer primarily through flashbacks.  However, the more episodes one watches, the more it is seen that the narratives of the characters are connected with each other.  There is also the claim that the island itself has a narrative, and it is controlling the narratives of the characters.  The argument between Jack and Lock early in the series debates the validity of the island’s narrative and who is really in control of what happens.  Like in Zodiac, there is the impression that there is something larger at work in the narrative than simply the characters; and the characters all become caught up in this and have their stories changed because of it.

            Mittell mentions flashbacks as being tools in both complex and not complex narratives.  With LOST, a majority of the action in each episode is seen through flashback.  However, keeping LOST in the realm of complex, the flashbacks are not used to wrap up a neat episodic story —  i.e. “And that was the story of our first date”  Instead, LOST uses the flashback to help explain past events and character motivation.  Without flashbacks, the viewers would have to rely on character interaction to learn any back story.  For example, the viewer would have had to wait until Jack told someone else that he and his father were surgeons and they had a fight over his father operating while under the influence of alcohol.

            LOST is one of, if not the most complex show currently on television.  The proof of that being that if someone completely unfamiliar with the show were to ask an avid viewer just what the show is about and what happens, even someone who has seen every episode would have to stop and think before giving an answer.

            Before getting started I think it bears mentioning that the actor who played Arthur Leigh Allen, the number 1 Zodiac suspect, is the same man who played Drew Carey’s cross dressing brother on The Drew Carey Show.  I know this may seem like nothing, but there is somewhat of a trend of tv sitcom brothers going on to become violent criminals.  People who grew up watching Home Improvement may remember Tim’s younger brother Marty.  Well after Home Improvement ended, Marty went on to become a somewhat reoccurring character on CSI: Miami where his role was that of a criminal who molested and murdered young children.  I have decided to dedicate my advanced project to investigating the connections and reasons behind people who are main character brothers that go on to become violent criminals.  Perhaps jealousy plays a role.

  There’s a lot to keep in mind while watching this movie.  Something I realized about half way through was just how much time elapses throughout the film.  It would be easy to just follow along with the scenes and come away thinking the whole thing took place over a month or so.  But with the movie beginning in 1969, ending in 1991, and with jumps of sometimes almost a decade in between, a watcher needs to be vigilant in keeping track of not only where the action is taking place, but also when.

 As far as murderers go, I think in terms of arrogance that Zodiac would come second only to Hannibal Lecter.  With the letters, calling in his own crimes, the phone calls, leaving a score on the side of a car, demanding that people wear buttons about him, and writing in to take credit for other murders, Zodiac was clearly a man who wanted attention and desperately needed everyone to know how good he was at what he did.  The mention that he loved The Most Dangerous Game and that he fancied himself as some kind of hunter somewhat explained his actions.  Hunters will often stuff a kill they are particularly proud of or hang a deer head from their wall.  These serve as trophies and a means of showing off what they’ve done.  Zodiac was doing the same thing in calling in his crimes and sending letters to all the local papers.

 I saw a few comparisons between this film and The Uses of Enchantment.  The most notable is the idea of controlling a narrative.  In the novel we repeatedly get this idea of reclaiming your own story and being in charge of your narrative.  In the movie we have a narrative which changes hand several times.  In the beginning, Zodiac himself is in charge of his narrative.  He is the one writing the letters and making the calls.  The narrative then shifts to Paul Avery and the police.  They are the ones trying to figure out who Zodiac is and attempting to make their own narrative about him.  In the last half of the movie the narrative clearly belongs to Robert Graysmith.  Under the guise of writing a novel on Zodiac, Graysmith takes on the case that, over the span of many years, the police have all but given up on.  Graysmith talks to everyone who was ever involved in the Zodiac investigation and lets his search for this narrative consume his life.  He gets so involved that in one scene where he is talking to Inspector Toschi, Graysmith says “we” many times in referring to action on the case.  He is including himself as part of this, the same way a sports fan uses “we” or “us” when speaking about their favorite team.

 Graysmith’s obsession with the case draws one more comparison to The Uses of Enchantment.  When Graysmith is confronted by his wife on when enough will be enough with Zodiac and when he’ll ever stop, Graysmith states that he will not stop until it’s over, that he needs to be face to face with the Zodiac and look him in the eye.  In one of the final scenes with Graysmith and Toschi in the diner, Graysmith is convinced that despite the lack of evidence that    Arthur Leigh Allen is the Zodiac.  When Toschi brings up the evidence Graysmith tells him that “Just because you can’t prove it doesn’t mean it’s not true.”  This goes along with something that Mary said to Dr. Hammer- “Truth is created through logic, and logic can be used to prove anything that is true.”  Both with the identity of the Zodiac and finding out the truth about what happened to Mary, we get the idea the truth is always the truth, despite what evidence might say.  However, also like in the novel, death prevents any type of closure from taking place.  The death of Mary’s mothers prevents any type of reconciliation or patching things up between the two.  Likewise, the death of Arthur Leigh Allen prevents Graysmith from ever looking face to face with the Zodiac.  In both instances, the characters are left to think of what might have been and have only their assumptions and truths which can never be proven

One of the main ideas in this novel was that of claiming your own narrative.  K says it was the reason his ex-wife left him, because he was taking her story.  The problem with this story is at the end it’s hard to tell just whose narrative we had just read.  It could be said that it’s Mary’s narrative and her story.  However, her story is the same as Bettina’s, whose story is the same as Freud and Dora.  So even if Mary’s story were true, she was just duplicating something that had happened before.

 Roz Biedelman seems to be the one pulling all of the strings in this story.  She confronts Mary about going after Dr. Hammer, and is the reason that Bettina files a lawsuit against Dr. Hammer.  And though Roz is the one behind the idea of taking back your story, she is the one pushing her story and ideas onto everybody else in the novel.  THE example of this is when Mary is following Bettina in the stationary store and actually hides behind Roz’s book so as not to be seen.  Throughout this story Roz is constantly pushing her own agenda and is attempting to control Bettina as well as Mary.

            In the “What Might Have Happened” sections, it is evident that all throughout her “abduction” Mary was the one in charge and held the power.  The man even admitting to himself several times that he was afraid of her and wanted to be rid of her at times.  The same can be said of her sessions with Dr. Hammer.  It seems there was never a moment when Mary was not in total control.  Even when the men didn’t realize it, Mary was leading them.  The fact that those sections were titled “What Might Have Happened” gives the impression that those things might not have happened and Mary had made it all up.  But the fact that details from those sections line up with things she told Dr.  Hammer as well as her going to visit the man at the end makes it seem that Mary really was gone from her family for some time and was with this man.

            In thinking about whose narrative this is, I’m leaning towards saying it belongs to Dr. Hammer.  He appears to be the most reliable narrator in the story.  And in the end Mary even tells him that it was his story now and it always had been.  Mary’s narrative seems to have no closure anywhere.  She feels guilty about things she wasn’t able to say to her mother, or things she wanted her mother to say to her before she died.  She is distant from her father.  Her and her sisters weren’t brought any closer through the loss of her mother.  She never got to see Dr. Hammer.  And there weren’t any answers from her last night with the man.  Mary even says that she would be leaving shortly, and things would be exactly the same as they were before she arrived.

            A person could pour themselves a big mug of grief tea and read this book three times over, and there will still be lingering questions which seem to have no answer.