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Fanservice, aughhhh. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Fanservice, aughhhh. [May. 6th, 2011|10:19 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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So I finished watching S5 of Bones a few weeks back, and my reaction to half the shows included words like "fanservice" and "pandering." And it got me thinking, because on the face of it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with pleasing the fans of one's show (or book or etc.). It's got more point to it than pleasing people who are dedicatedly not fans of one's show, or deliberately displeasing fans of one's show. And yet I'm pretty sure that I'm talking about a genuinely negative thing here. So where do the lines go?

I'm pretty sure the problem is not that they're pleasing fans who aren't me, because occasionally there's something that is squarely aimed at me, and if I notice it in that context, I am still annoyed. And I will make announcements like, "Okay, apparently I am the fan being served here"--which still indicates that I have been thrown out of thinking about the story and into thinking about how the writers interact with their fanbase. Which is not generally a plus while I'm in the middle of experiencing a thing (watching or reading).

So I think that's what's going on there: things that I will object to as pandering or fanservice are things that distort the narrative in favor of hitting certain moments, lines of dialog, or images. And I'm noticing more and more that there are lines of dialog and images that don't suit the current story all that well...but are admirably well-suited for taking out of context in fanvids etc. Which strikes me as sort of equivalent to pausing your song in the middle to throw in a riff that you feel is more sample-able than the rest of the song: I have a problem with derivative works only to the point and in the ways that they interfere with the original. If the awesome riff to sample--or the moment that every fanvidder of your show in the entire world is going to use as a clip--distorts the melody line or the plot line, then we have a problem.

Of course, sometimes I think the problem is that the writers of an ongoing show aren't entirely sure what they want to do with their plot arcs/character relationships, so "distort" is less the problem than "flail around for any solution." I am feeling like the problem with Bones is not just that it's getting more and more pandering with every season* but that in the course of doing so, it's highlighting where I have a different concept of the show than the writers do. I don't actually think the central interesting thing is whether Booth and Brennan end up together romantically; in fact, I don't find that interesting at all. I am not keen on "will they or won't they" plots in the first place, and then they've been so completely transparent about this one that I know the emotional arc of their eventual ending anyway. Brennan has to make some decision that symbolically gives up reason, logic, and data in order to be with Booth, and Booth has to give up nothing in particular to be with Brennan, wheeee. Why am I still watching this? Hodgins sometimes still gets to do experiments. That is why. Sigh.

*In S5, there were three episodes in a row that featured sequences that were only there to show off a male cast member's body in some way. The most egregious of these was when Brennan "had to" take Booth's clothes off him for the purposes of collecting evidence. Honestly. I would not object to more nudity than this show gave me if it was in service of something related to plot and/or character. Rather than practically coming with a squee-track. But this is exactly the sort of thing that 13-year-olds who are not dating come up with. "And then what if Hodgins and Angela were trapped together, like, in an elevator! or on an airplane! or, ooh, I know, in jail!" I have no idea how anyone could look at that and say anything but "fanservice" or "pandering." Unless it was, "Again? Dammit, not again." TV writers! Stop trapping your characters in things! They can interact without being physically forced to, and if they can't, go back and figure out how to write things differently to allow them to do so. Bleh.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-05-07 03:25 am (UTC)
House is at least willing to go places with some things, which a lot of shows are not. It set up such firm expectations in S1 that I have been pleased with how much it's willing to let the characters progress beyond some of them. Which--still some pretty firm structural expectations. But not as narrowly as I might have thought it would.
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[User Picture]From: kitryan
2011-05-07 04:57 am (UTC)
I have been bothered by the incessant product placement. I've noticed it in an episode or two of a couple other shows but there's a moment in almost every episode where the camera lingers lovingly on the car's special feature as it is explained by a cast member. Last week they showcased that automatic parallel parking thing. I seem to recall that it's been going on for over a year now. I also very much am also not interested in Booth/Brennan. What I do want (and had for a while, sort of) was a guy and a girl who had fun and worked together without being in a relationship. I'm tired of shows that say that guys and girls can't be friends.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-05-07 12:05 pm (UTC)
Oh yes. "You control this vehicle? But I thought it was for the mothers of soccer only!" "Contrariwise, anyone may pilot this machine! It has features of great utility, the which I will now explain!" Gahhhhh.

I'm pretty tired of men and women being canonically unable to be friends on TV, too. Actually, while I understand what slash fans and other fans of non-canonical romantic pairings are talking about finding appealing in doing that, one of the things that frustrates me about it is that it seems to thrive on finding and magnifying the tiniest hints that people are romantically involved into full-fledged relationships, and these "hints" are often signs of friendship. Friendship matters! Friendship is important!
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From: swan_tower
2011-05-07 10:08 am (UTC)
I watched a couple of episodes from the beginning of S5 and just . . . stopped. When I first sat down with the show, Hodgins and Angela and Zack were great entertainment, and distracted me from the fact that Brennan wanted to make me tear my hair out both as an anthropologist and as a writer (and oh, the irony of that latter, with that name). Now it's S5 and Zack is gone and Hodgins and Angela don't seem to get to be cool as much anymore and there's this romance I really just don't care about, and the stuff that annoys me is no longer buried under a nice concealing layer of better stuff. So I haven't even gotten far enough to see the pandering.

I find your approach of ID-ing "fanservice" an interesting one. The kind of moment you're referring to predates vidding as a category of fan-work, of course; heck, I'm pretty sure you could count some of the low humour in Elizabethan comedies as fanservice for the groundlings. But the notion of clipping strikes me as a very good metaphor. It's the line or moment designed to push the buttons of some segment of the audience, but so isolated from the surrounding narrative that it no longer integrates with the whole. I may quite like the prospect of seeing a male character with his shirt off, but if the event is shoehorned in there, then all I get out of it is a moment of aesthetic appreciation, followed by "oh yeah, there was a story going on here somewhere." If the shirt comes off for good and natural narrative reasons, then I get a lot more out of it.

(And for all I know, the writers think of Brennan's anthropological screeds as pandering to that segment of their audience. In which case my response is PANDERING FAIL. TRY AGAIN WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-05-07 12:18 pm (UTC)
See, and I never liked Angela. Ever. So the Angela not getting to be as cool thing never occurred to me. One of the things in S5 is that the writers will not let Angela be wrong. She dumps a character, and he and a previous character she broke up with sit down and have a conversation about how awesome she is and how great it is that they had the chance to know her. Seriously? Seriously? I mean, I appreciate the attitude that women who break up with men are not automatically heartless bitches who are in the wrong, but people aren't even allowed to be frustrated and angry on the day someone has dumped them? They can't refrain from being in the Fan Club for even a minute?

And yah, I mean, the bit of S5 that was just there to show me TJ Thyne's biceps and shoulders: I like TJ Thyne. I like the character of Hodgins a lot, and the interviews I saw with TJ Thyne indicated that that full-on manic geekery is something the actor has himself, not something he's totally made up for Jack Hodgins. Also he has rather fine arms and shoulders. But the moment of aesthetic appreciation of that was completely overshadowed by the fact that it was marring the aesthetics of the storyline in its gratuitousness. Sigh.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-05-07 12:08 pm (UTC)
This is actually one of my most common reactions when I'm revising and something major needs changing: "No, that's not true." It's the same emotional reaction as when someone tells a story about themselves or someone else in real life and screws up the details. I don't always know what else is true instead, but not true is more frequent than wrong or suboptimal for me when I'm changing plot points.
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From: diatryma
2011-05-07 02:55 pm (UTC)
I had a similar reaction when I finally saw Dr Horrible, a year after it came out. I'd spent the previous year surrounded by people who had seen it but discussed it only in vague spoiler-avoiding terms and precise (and in one case weirdly parodied) quotations. Very little of the actual Dr Horrible was as funny as what I'd been laughing at all year.

I sometimes mention that I don't like a certain book as much as I might because it decided to be good instead of satisfying. It's kind of like having M&Ms and chocolate milk for dinner rather than putting together chicken and rice: one of them is easy and likely to happen when I'm tired, and the other feeds me for four or five days.
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[User Picture]From: dhole
2011-05-07 05:38 pm (UTC)
There was a book I read back when I lived in New York, which I think was by Garry Marshall, but which might have been by some other long-time TV writer. One of the things that he talked about was that every so often, a show would do a "stuckina", where the characters were stuck in an elevator, or a taxicab, or something.

The reason that this kept coming up was because these shows are cheap to do; one set, no extras, no bit actors, and so on. So, if they burned through the budget, and needed to do a cheap show or two, they'd add a stuckina or two, to fill out the season.

About Bones, I know nothing, so I can't say if that's what's going on. I can say that I noticed stuckinas a lot more frequently after I read that book.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-05-07 06:21 pm (UTC)
I think there's an element of truth to that, but the place I first got sick of stuckinas was in my fiction studio in college. People wanted to write these literary short stories where people were talking, and they didn't know how to begin or end them or why those people should talk to each other. And so there was an endless series of stuckinas. Elevators and airplanes were the most popular. I think that it not only provides a cheaper show in the budgetary sense, but it also "forces" people to work through problems that the writers don't know how to get them to deal with otherwise.

(These people are a great deal less stubborn than I am. If I was stuck in an elevator with a person I did not want to talk to, I would read, or at the very least ignore them with great heaps of dignity.)
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[User Picture]From: merriehaskell
2011-05-08 12:01 am (UTC)
I have largely given up on Bones, which makes me sad, because there aren't a lot of TV shows about anthropologists. On the other hand, Brennan's anthropology is like a convenient superpower. It comes in handy for solving murders and making her hilariously rude, but not for, you know, actually understanding *people*. Except when it does.

I consider that sort of a hand-in-hand frustration with the fanservice issue, honestly. They frequently sacrifice character competence for laughs.

But what bothers me MOST about the show, and has bothered me since the beginning, is that they frequently deflesh murder victims even when the vic has been ID'd, and apparently without asking the family. I suppose all that happens off-camera, but seriously, respect for the dead? Respect for the dead's loved ones? Has this never come up yet? Has it come up since I stopped watching? Dunno. Seems to still happen a lot. Frustrating.
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From: swan_tower
2011-05-08 07:29 am (UTC)
I can't vouch for the biological anthropology (aside from the occasional basic detail where I'm like, yeah, okay, fusion of the epiphyses, that sounds right), but the cultural anthropology is TERRIBLE. The only way I could get past it was by ignoring the occasional line that implied Brennan had actual ethnographic fieldwork experience, in favor of the story in my head where her entire background is in bio anth, and her only fieldwork experience is with primates. It has the virtue of explaining why she boils everything down to aggression, and has zero understanding of how cultural relativism works.
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From: jenfullmoon
2011-05-10 05:02 am (UTC)
I don't even want B&B to get together. Pretty much because I am horrified at the idea of Brennan with a baby and you know they'll go there if they get them together because there's no way Booth is going to settle down with someone who doesn't want a houseful of rugrats.

That said, they are dragging it out to the point of ridiculousness and even I think they need to just give in and go there already. It's really just stupid by now in the current season.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-05-10 11:53 am (UTC)
Oh yes. They have been signaling the B&B w/Baby turn for ages now, and oh, my eyes, they roll.
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