merricatk: (weirdos)
[personal profile] merricatk
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. (Oscar Wilde)

(I started this back in February but didn't finish it because for some reason it descended into gibberish. I'm hoping I've excised the gibberish and tacked on a decent ending in its place.)

I've been reading about misaimed fandom--which I never heard of before. I'm going to summarize it, but I'm sure I'll be inaccurate and snarky, so for someone who takes this seriously, you might want to go here:

Misaimed fandom is when fans in a significant number decide we like the badguy as much as--or more than--the good guy. We are Doing It Wrong. There are no examples given in the essay itself, but if you go to the bottom of the page, there's a list of media you can click on that gives examples. The only ones I'm truly intimate with are The Shield, Sopranos, and Gilmore Girls. And I don't think Gilmore Girls really fits. Fans who sided with Vick Macky or Tony Soprano weren't getting how violent and corrupt they were. [Disclaimer: I haven't watched The Shield since Pat died, and I didn't watch the last season of Sopranos.]

Where I read about this was metafandom, in a post where the characters' sins were neither illegal nor violent. They were politically incorrect. The author was concerned about how to write such a character in a way that readers would understand that they weren't supposed to like him.

I think you now have the context I'm writing this in.

The first badguy I remember writing is Ben Horne from Twin Peaks. There was a guy writing a zine that was a continuation of the series, and in his interpretation of the finale, Ben was killed when Doc Hayward punched him and he hit his head on the mantlepiece.

For reasons I no longer recall, I objected to this, and I ended up writing Ben back to life. The zine fizzled out shortly after that--not because of Ben, I don't think.

Now, Ben started off as a bad guy, had a breakdown of sorts, and became a good guy. I wrote him as reverting due to the hit on the head. And you know what? It was a blast writing him. There's something liberating about writing an unapologetic bad guy. I later wrote him again in my Twin Peaks novel. Still a bad guy, still fun.

The next bad guy I wrote was Sonny Steelgrave, and I'm not over him yet. Sonny is a criminal. He kills people, he has people killed, beaten up. He corrupts the the justice system. And he's homophobic, a firm believer in the Madonna/whore binary, and an unrepentant racist.

You wouldn't think it would be hard to write him unsympathetically, but the writers of the show couldn't do it because the actor who played him was both charming and skillful enough to make an audience love Sonny in spite of his moral lapses, let them see his heart and his loneliness. (I could analyze how he did it, and how the writers failed to villain him up sufficiently, but that is for another day.)

The art of writing fan fiction, as I've said before, is getting the characters right. If I wrote Sonny as nothing more than a cold, calculating criminal, I'd be doing a terrible job as a fan writer. Trying to keep other fans from coming over to the dark side of liking people who do things society disapproves of--that's not my job. It's not anybody's job.

Somewhere today I read about skinheads taking some evil characters Pink Floyd's The Wall (the movie) as the heroes. This is an example of misaimed fandom. (And I'd guess that the Manson family's use of the Beatles' White Album would be, too, though [tellingly] it's not mentioned.)

So are we talking about a some kind of sliding scale of misaim? My screen name comes from a Shirley Jackson character who poisoned most of her family when she was twelve years old; I adored her then (when I was twelve) and adore her now, at fifty-one. And she was neither the first nor the last. Badguys have a lot of freedom other characters don't. They don't have to follow society's rules, and by extension, neither do we. We share their freedom, so of course we find them attractive. What could be more attractive than that kind of freedom?

It's not that we long to be sociopaths. It's that we have so little control over so much of what goes on in our lives, that living vicariously through people who take control--even if that means breaking laws or social conventions--is something we need. The very fact that it's somehow considered dangerous of us to like the "wrong" characters proves that. Hell, we live in a society where people think they have the right to tell other people how they're allowed to feel about fictional characters! If we didn't expend real frustration through vicarious rule-breaking, we really would become weaponized.

(Melody, I pulled this quote for you from here: "Contrast with The Walrus Was Paul, where the audience tries to find meaning in a work when in fact the work isn't supposed to have a hidden meaning — the author's just fucking with them.")

Date: 2010-06-05 11:00 am (UTC)
ext_3245: (Sakura)
From: [identity profile]
Interesting concept - I've never heard of misaimed fandom, either, and find the concept that liking the wrong characters is a *major problem* quite mindboggling.

For a long, long time, I was used to liking the antagonists as a matter of course, because the portrayal of the "heroes" in pretty much every movie and series to come out of Hollywood at that time annoyed me immensely. This has started to change a bit in recent years, because some protagonists are now portrayed in a way that doesn't immediately get my hackles up; all the same, I am still pleasantly surprised when a pop media character intended to be a protagonist actually appeals to me.

Personally, I can't help but see it as the fault of the author when readers are unable to sympathize with the characters the authors intend them to. They have clearly failed to portray the protagonist in a sympathetic fashion, and the antagonist in a believably villanous one. The reaction of blaming the readers for "not getting it" is nothing more than an angry sulk attack a la Anne Rice's "you are interrogating the text from the wrong perspective"; "you're just too stupid to understand my genius!" In effect, blaming someone else for your failure.

I see it as a very different thing when a group of viewers with what we would term wrong or immoral ideals takes to a character whose own ideals are compatible with their own - say, skinheads liking the racist villain. That's not a fannish problem at all, that's just people being hateful idiots, as people will be. On the level of fiction or fandom, there's nothing to be done about the fact that some people have such ideals. This is a problem that has to be addressed by other means.

(As a sidenote: I was always convinced that Sonny Steelgrave is intended to be a violently ambivalent character for the viewers, just as he is for the hero. That Vinnie *can't* not like Sonny, despite knowing full well that he is a violent, dangerous criminal with a plethora of horrible characteristics - that Vinnie is so torn, and that Sonny is *both* a cruel, vicious murderer and a charismatic, likable guy -, that's what provides the story with most of its dramatic tension.)

Date: 2010-06-05 11:06 am (UTC)
ext_3245: (Sakura)
From: [identity profile]
Also, I agree with you entirely on the appeal of the villain as such - well-written villains can be very engaging and powerful characters, and *should* be. Enjoying them for what they are is not a bad thing; liking them as characters is not the same as agreeing with their actions and/or their goals. Most authors do seem to understand that, fortunately...

Date: 2010-06-06 03:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's as though because some people get their inspirations to do horrible things from books and movies, we're all suspect. Because I like Sonny, I might garrote a business rival. Because I like Merricat, I might poison my family.

It's assuming that we're all mentally unbalanced in one particular way, and as though people who are violent really need someone to show them how to kill people.

Date: 2010-06-06 03:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There are so many reasons for readers to prefer the villain to the hero, the idea that it's some kind of pathology seems ridiculous to me. People who go to franchise slasher movies like Halloween are going to prefer Michael Myers to the victims if for no other reason than he's the constant, and they know only one of the victims will survive. And they're going to see the bloodshed, so of course they'd prefer the one causing it.

And you're right about skinheads liking the racist villain--it's because that character mirrors their opinions.

I agree with you about Sonny. I've always been fascinated by the dichotomy of Frank and Sonny. Frank was the good guy, but in the beginning he was cold and sarcastic and did nothing to make Vinnie feel cared about. Sonny was the bad guy, but he was so warm and caring, Vinnie couldn't resist him (whether in a romantic way or not). And with Vinnie's own family cutting him off, that left only the badguy to be his friend. I love Frank, but he played that whole situation all wrong.

Date: 2010-06-22 04:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Since Stephen Cannell and Frank Lupo decided the relationship of the arc would be between Vinnie and Sonny, I'd say they had to have known that Sonny would have to be likable guy. (And Cannell cast Ray personally, so he knew just what he could bring to the role.)

I know how frustrating it can be for readers to focus on something other than what I consider the main point of the story. But that's entirely their right!

Date: 2010-06-05 04:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have never heard of misaimed fandom. There is so much out there in fanfic that addresses everything under the sun, including major taboos, that I kinda thought that was what fandom and slash was for...addressing things not normally addressed in "pretty little fictions." Now much of fanfic is not well-written, but that's another subject. If the author cannot pull off her insane idea, then, well, it may not be the idea that is the problem but the writing itself.

As for liking the villains, it depends on how it's done. If done well, you find yourself liking the bad guy and then questioning it, which is a GOOD thing and a tribute to good writing (getting the viewer/reader to question, philosophically, some things they might think are black and white when really things come in shades of gray.)

I have liked quite a few villains in my time. I love Lestat. I'm always on the side of the misunderstood vampire. I like Spike from Buffy (and always have.) A more recent film I watched where I found myself liking a serial killer (and maybe a little shocked about that) was the film "Mr. Brooks" starring Kevin Costner. In every way he was a pretty good guy...he just had this little quirk...he liked to kill couples as they made love. Just a little quirk, mind you.

And of course the BIGGIE is (and like you I am not over him and never intend to get over him) is Sonny Steelgrave. What I like about this character is that he's not as dumb as he sometimes acts, he does have feelings (not just coldness) and he is a businessman. I think I may see the character slightly differently from you, which is perfectly fine, in that his "evilness" is purely business, not really personal. I never saw him, like you do, as homophobic. In fact, I saw him as maybe more open than others that way (compared to his brother and Tony.) I never saw him as racist, either. But maybe I missed something. Or maybe it's my penchant to always be defending him. But he is not going to lose sleep over doing what needs to be done to keep himself and his loved one safe, and keep his business on-going. Now a lot of people say that he corrupts Vinnie, but I see it the other way around (and write from this pov a lot) wherein Vinnie comes along and corrupts Sonny, makes Sonny feel a bit more, feel conscience, compassion, makes him want to be a better person. Well, I think about that episode with Joey the singer, where Sonny is pushed by others (like Mack) into doing bad things he doesn't seem to really want to do. And he argues with Vinnie over Joey, but you can see he really tries to take Vinnie's advice to heart and is sorry that he cannot do that because business is business. There are other things about Sonny that I'm not even sure I can put into words as to why he is such a sympathetic characters. The actor did a bang up job...I give him major credit. I think the writers took stuff from the actor and wrote later on more for the way Sharkey was "taking off" with him, and it was later that Sonny became more and more sympathetic and vulnerable that you just were so sure he had something inside him worth saving, worth it for Vinnie to save.

I have never watched The Shield. I despise The Sopranos and never felt sympathy for ANY of those characters so got bored with it quite quickly. It did not push any of my "good" buttons. I can fall for villains, but I don't like shows with only cold characters. However, I like Patty in "Damages" and she's NOT nice.

By the way, I am a total Twin Peaks fan and can get behind you re: Ben Horne quite easily.

Date: 2010-06-06 05:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Sonny was supposed to get the whole first season, but the writers were afraid he'd take the show away from them, so they had to kill him off. From what I've heard, Ray did have input in the mafia stuff--he was friends with John Gotti. And of course he knew how to make a villain sympathetic--that's why Stephen Cannell hired him. *g* The writers definitely used things from Ray's past, and his earlier movies--"A Deal's a Deal" was something of an homage to "The Idolmaker."

The thing about Joey was how badly he handled the whole thing. His manager confronts--and threatens--Sonny in public? Even if Sonny had wanted to say yes, he couldn't have, it would have made him look weak. Word would have gotten back to Patrice and Mahoney and who knows who else that Sonny could be threatened by *a manager* and he rolled over? It would have been the beginning of the end for Sonny.

Our interpretations of Sonny are somewhat different, but not so much that I don't thoroughly enjoy reading yours. *g* One reason I went with Sonny's culturally-inbred homophobia is that it was something I wanted to play with in my stories.

The racism is another culturally acquired thing, something I doubt he thinks about, but calling the guys at the Rabid Rabbit mulignanes--it's Italian for eggplant. And it's really more xenophobia than racism per se. I found it amazing, on my trips to New York to see how Indianapolis is in some ways more sophisticated than Brooklyn.

"Mr. Brooks" was wonderful, wasn't it? I wrote a review of it at the time (

Date: 2010-06-06 05:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I sort of ignore "culture" in my stories, which is maybe wrong of me, but I guess I concentrate more on just who they are underneath the labels. It's probably totally idealistic and unrealistic of me, but oh well. I do see homophobia in slash characters of course, because it's usually a first time for many of them, and they do not normally (or have ever) identified themselves as "gay." That's why I liked your Roadhouse stories so much. It was great when Sonny kept thinnking "is Vinnie a fag?" and you knew it was Sonny projecting his own insecurities about homosexuality because, really, Sonny was the one all over Vinnie every night and Vinnie, in his deep depression, often just tolerated it (although of course he liked it, too, maybe a little more denial there, too?) It makes for some great drama, and the characters really are forced to take a deeper, harder look at themselves to finally, in the end, just accept themselves for better or worse. That is good writing! I have Sonny finding it easy to love Vinnie but difficult to admit it to others in some of my stories. But that's because of the current climate we live in. It's still, to this day, threatening and scary for a man to be gay or bi in this country, although things are maybe a tad better than they were in the 80s. And the program in a heterosexual man's brain would be possibly constantly telling him "this is wrong" and he has to hear that, even from himself, every day even if he is smack in love with another guy.

I missed the part about mulignanes in the Rabid Rabbit ep. I thought Sonny treated them just like anyone else, as if he didn't even notice their color. So I missed that small thing. But he was pissed at these guys. He might call white guys who pissed him off mulignanes, too,...maybe?

It is so true that Joey handled everything wrong re: Sonny. Vinnie tried to give Joey advice and Joey ignored it. Sonny was in a corner. I love that ep because it shows Sonny as a vulnerable guy who cares, but stupid people put him in the position of having to teach them a lesson. Maybe it's like saying flies cause garbage to say other people force Sonny to make not nice decisions, but I do see it in that ep. Sonny also came across in the series as wanting to do right by others who do right by him. He's fair in that way. And you cannot tell me that people who deal with Sonny don't know any better. They know who and what he is. They are just plain stupid if they think they can make a contract with him and then break it. Hello! It's a Steelgrave! You don't do that!

I could sit and defend Sonny's actions all day long. And list dozens of his likeable, good traits. Does that make me insane? Does that make me want to be like him? Hell no. I just love, as a writer and viewer, complex characters. Huzzah to writers who can pull off complex characters and make them sympathetic, make us feel for them.

Like you, I like horror, too. But it's not the same to root for hilarious Freddy Krueger as it is to love Sonny Steelgrave. Freddy equals fun/funny. Sonny is, well, I just love the heck outta him.

Oh, and about Vinnie falling for Sonny in your comment to rheasilvia. I couldn't agree more. It feels, at first, like Frank is not on his side. And his family has abandoned him. You send Vinnie in with a guy who is a lot like him feeling all bereft like that and the only guy who shows any amount of caring of him, even if he's the guy Vinnie is supposed to take down, is going to become a real friend. That's fantastic writing, because their friendship was real. More real than anything else for the two of them at a certain point. Whether or not a viewer decides to view it as romantic is up to the viewer, because it's all there if you want to see it that way...the physical touching, the affection, the expensive gifts, the looks, the up/down looks, eye contact, voices going softer when they talk to each other, Sonny being in Vinnie's room early in the mornings sometimes, etc. Even pro reviewers called their relationship homoerotic.

Date: 2010-06-10 09:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you! Having been brought up Catholic, their culture is one of the thing that resonates with me, so I enjoy writing it. It's not something I've ever focused on in any of the other fandoms I wrote it. I do love the forbidden love aspect being heightened, though. *g*

I think you're right about Sonny treating anyone who pissed him off pretty much the same. But mulignanes is a racial epitet; it means eggplant. I think if Vinnie told him to stop using the word, he'd do it.

In some ways, Sonny was all wrong for the business he was in. He was way too trusting--not just of Vinnie, but of anyone he cared about. The writers wrote a complex character, and Ray was able to embody that. Of course we're going to be fascinated!

Date: 2010-06-11 04:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I was brought up Unitarian. Catholicism is so alien to me! So I think it is mostly wise to ignore it in my stories except peripherally, or write the characters as "fallen" as far as faith so I don't have to deal with it, but still having the cultural effects.

About the racial epithet. My bad! I didn't know. Eggplant? I find it a rather non-threatening plant myself.

I absolutely love that the character of Sonny is so easily trusting...and generous and affectionate. The writers also did it in a way that did not make him look stupid or too naive...just sweet??? How'd that happen?

Date: 2010-06-22 04:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I do my best to avoid writing aspects of characters that I'm not familiar enough with, and I think it's a good policy.

I have no idea why eggplant is an insult. I'd mostly be confused if someone called me that. Or any other vegetable. "Radish!" Uh, what? *g*

I'm biased, but I think Ray brought a lot to Sonny's character. He always did know how to bring a warmth to a character who wasn't supposed to be particularly warm or sympathetic.

Date: 2010-06-22 10:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I have, since the first time I watched WG in the late 80s, always given mucho kudos to the actors...all of them. You get a genius combination of good writing and good acting and good directing with that extra spark all too rarely...when it's there it should be bottled and saved. I still believe they made a big mistake killing off Sonny. Who cares if he took over the show and it went in a different direction? That's what good writing is about...recognizing what you have and adjusting the plan to make room for it. You don't get that kind of spark every day, especially in Stephen J. Cannell cheese. It's so rare. Arrogance made them think they could repeat it with the rest of the arcs? Sure Vinnie and Frank are GREAT and they tried to give Vinnie Roger as a new boyfriend but it just never worked for me. I can't even watch the rest of the arcs.

Date: 2010-06-06 05:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Read and loved your review of Mr. Brooks. I LOVE William Hurt. I'm not a Kevin Costner fan much, but love The Bodyguard and Mr. Brooks very very much.

Date: 2010-06-10 09:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I fell for William Hurt the first time I saw The Big Chill. When he and Mary Kay Place are driving to the cemetary and she says that the last time she talked to Alex they had a fight and she yelled at him, and he says, "That's probably why he killed himself." I knew I had to see it again. *g*

Date: 2010-06-11 04:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I do love The Big Chill and ironically it is Kevin Costner's first movie...he plays the dead body! I love William Hurt. Altered States! Yeah! Another Costner movie I forgot to mention that I just adore is "Field of Dreams." Back to William Hurt...was pleasantly surprised to see him in second season of "Damages." I am way behind on TV because I only watch dvds because I travel so much, never live broadcast and do not own a Tivo, so I only just finished watching "Damages." Was impressed.

Speaking of traveling, this was written on a laptop from So. Lake Tahoe where I have been for a week. Can't wait to get home Monday night. No new writing for me. No time during my busy season, but I have to ask, are you writing? Will you be posting more fic ever? Wondering minds.

Date: 2010-06-22 04:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am writing! And I will be posting more fic, though I'm not writing in order (I'm writing more Roadhouse stories). So it could be a while before they get posted. If you'd like to read them before they're officially ready, that could be arranged. *g*

Date: 2010-06-22 10:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Please turn away while I lose all respect/dignity and beg. Yes! Please. Please. I would like to read the stories you're writing before they are officially ready. And then when they are officially ready and posted, I'll read them again and comment again. Roadhouse Blues is my favorite WG thingy I've read in all of WG fandom.

I await them while trying to keep from jumping up and down...with difficulty.

(Let me know if you need my email addy.)


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