Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

surprise, startle, unfold

When I was a small kid--early grade school, say--some of my playmates discovered that I startled easily. They took great delight in grabbing me from behind, jumping out at me, making loud noises suddenly, etc. More frustrating, they went on and on about how I was scared, how easily scared I was, how they could always scare me. This seemed to me wrong, and my mother put her finger on the semantic difference I was seeking: "You're not scared, you're startled," she said. And that was just it. I was not likely to burst into tears or have other stress-reactions to being startled. I was not experiencing heart-pounding, lasting fear reactions. I was just jumping. (I am not, perhaps, the least high-strung person of your acquaintance.) And all this came to an abrupt and happy stop around the third or fourth grade, when my reflexes were trained enough that instead of jumping when someone grabbed me from behind, I rammed a sturdy little shoulder into her chin, and suddenly someone was scared, it just wasn't me, so they gave it up.

But it gradually became clear to me that some* of these people thought it was fun because they liked to be startled. They liked the jump. They liked to try to prolong any heart-pounding reaction to this sort of thing as long as they could; they thought it was neat. It felt good to them. I think there was more genuine fear, but safe fear, the haunted house kind of fear rather than the kind that comes from being pursued by a genuine attacker. I went to a haunted house once, because it was a fundraiser for a Boy Scout troop a friend of mine helped with in college. It bored me for about nineteen minutes and startled me in the remaining one. Others loved it. I want to make it clear throughout here: I am not saying that my reaction is good and theirs is bad, or mine is smart and theirs is dumb, or anything like that. I'm saying that it looks like there is a bit of hard-wiring that varies from person to person, and that's okay.

I was watching the end of West Wing S1, and there was an event that made me wonder if that's part of why some people care more about spoilers than I do (and some care less). I knew going in that there was going to be an assassination attempt at the end of S1. Why do I know this? Well, because rmnilsson lent me the first three seasons on DVD when I had nothing else but the DVD booklets to read in the car on the way home, and I have, as the fella said, a 'satiable curtiosity. It was printed matter. I had no other printed matter. I will further admit that "on the way home" is not "on the way home from Omaha" or even "on the way home from the north suburbs," but rather "on the way home from Nokomis area," so, like, 15 minutes tops. But did I not say the bit where the DVD booklets contained printed matter and I had nothing else to read?

So. I knew there would be an assassination attempt. Even if I hadn't read the DVD booklets, I think I might have; they were not being subtle about the foreshadowing. And it took place very near the end of the episode, so it was not as though I had any doubt about when in the show it was coming, by then; there wasn't any time left except when they did it. There was barely that. What I'm saying here is that all of the startle factor was removed from this event. It would not be humanly possible to make a loud and violent fictional event any less startling than the assassination attempt at the end of S1 of West Wing was for me.

And still when I saw C.J. get shoved to the ground, when I saw Toby's head hit the barricade, my hand went to my mouth and I said, "No no no oh no." (Toby is my character in this show. Hands who couldn't predict that? Yah, okay, so sometimes I'm obvious. I also like C.J. Sometimes I am pretty good with Josh or Charlie, and there were several moments in 2.1 where I really think I might have started to love Leo. The first one was when he came into the President's hospital room when the President was about to go in for surgery, and the first thing out of his mouth was asking Zoe how she was doing. That was perfect. That was so well-done. I said, "Okay, you can stay."** But from the very first episode, I knew that the equation was going to be "more Toby = happier mrissa." Toby is the reason I kept going until 1.13, which is where I fell in love with the show a little bit.)

But here's my point: if they couldn't make me react that way at that moment, knowing it was coming, fully prepared for it, if they couldn't get an involuntary no out of the scene then, I am not at all sure the show would be worth watching in the first place. It certainly wouldn't be worth watching twice. What they are doing as storytellers is giving me the particulars. The concrete bits. What is happening and how, and what it's doing to the people it's happening to when it does. If the specificity of characters I liked being shown in that situation didn't move me, there would be no point to it. I might as well listen to a listing of events--"and they try to get Admiral Adama put on the Supreme Court and there's something about a panda"--and watch Desk Set or Sneakers again instead.

For me, what's left when you're no longer startled is what's worthwhile. The way the events unfold, not what the events are. I know it's not like that for other people, because the startling itself has more value for them.

When I was watching Veronica Mars--at least the first two seasons of Veronica Mars--I thought I finally had an emotional understanding of what some people were so adamant about when they begged others to avoid spoilers in descriptions of fictional series. But I haven't felt like that about anything else since, even things that supposedly have mystery to them. For example, I knew who the four Cylons were who would be revealed at the end of S3 well before I watched the end of S1 of Battlestar Galactica, and I was fine with that. I think what happened with Veronica Mars is that the narrative unfolding--the bit that makes it worthwhile to read book one first or watch episode seven before episode eight instead of the reverse--was really tied up in the pace of revelation of clues. I don't find it this way with all mystery plots, but mystery plots are more prone to it than non-mystery plots. The other thing was that I trusted the people who made Veronica Mars to make the revelations worth my emotional energy/risk, and I don't trust very many TV teams that much.

*Others were mildly sadistic or power-hungry. Yes, at the age of 6. Especially at the age of 6; do you know 6-year-olds?

**Yes, I talk to the TV a lot, particularly when it's just me watching it. I have a general sense of how tolerant markgritter and timprov are of which kinds of comment, so I talk to the TV some when they're with me. With other people I really try not to because I don't want to interfere with their enjoyment. Talking to the TV is one of the ways in which I am totally my grandpa all over again.

This weekend we discovered--and by we I mean I, because my folks and timprov apparently already knew it and markgritter was out of the room for it--yet another way in which I am totally my grandpa all over again. Some of you know the face I make when I totally disagree with you and refuse to argue or pretend to agree or anything like that, I just make the face for a few seconds and then I go on with the next thing. I discovered this because Mom was telling a story about Grandpa and she did the face he did, and it suddenly looked very familiar, like I had felt it once or twice before. Apparently everybody else already knew this was my Stubborn Like Grandpa Face. People do not give me all the memos I'm supposed to be getting, I don't think.
Tags: full of theories, grandpa, small screen, stupid brain tricks
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