What is brand can never die.
December 31, 2018 5:37 PM   Subscribe

OMG, I love Lindsay Ellis. She is one of the best critical film theory film reviewers I have ever seen.

“I ate the whole plate.”

Also, this is one of her best viseos.
posted by daq at 6:22 PM on December 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

I learned something! I had never heard of death of the author, and spent the first five minutes of the video wondering if we were talking about fans actually murdering authors. I was pretty confused and worried.
posted by greermahoney at 6:28 PM on December 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

I actually disagree with Death of the Author as a theory. It's one thing if the author is actually dead or so mentally done with the story (as John Green apparently is) and they genuinely are not still involved with the world/characters/having any more thoughts about it. I guess if you're 100% done, fine. But JK Rowling is still obviously mentally involved in her world and creating in her world--she ate'nt dead and her world/story/brain creation isn't either. So why is it not okay for her to mention things that aren't set down in books yet but are canon to her? (Other than people not liking those plot developments, apparently.) Maybe she will set them in canon someday, maybe not, but that is what she's basing things on. Though admittedly I am a spoiler-liking person so that sort of thing would be fine with me.

As for Dumbledore being gay: (a) I pretty much got that vibe reading the section about Grindelwald so I deduced it from that, (b) we media-savvy folks have learned to figure out when there is coding for someone being gay even if it hasn't been explicitly spelled out in the text (pretty sure the youngest brother in Hallmark's "Road to Christmas" and the best guy friend in "A Christmas Prince" are gay, call that a hunch), and (c) we're well aware that sometimes someone is gay or cool with gay marriage (certain prominent Democrats having to eventually say they came around to it, ahem) or whatever BUT they are dealing with an audience that isn't cool with that, so therefore we don't spell it out and have coding that those "in the know" can figure out and those that want to stick their heads in the sand can ignore. It's walking a weird tightrope. I reasonably assume that since JKR is writing "children's books," someone laid down the law with her that she couldn't spell it out in the books with Dumbledore. Now, I don't know if that is *still* an issue even now with the Fantastic Beasts movies--I'd guess yes since this is a pretty open secret by now--but it might be. Lord knows the movies won't sell in China if you have an out gay person, or whatever the hell the logic is.

I don't think any of that is super awesome, mind you, but I can see the original logic behind making that choice, at least. I'm not sure if we really still need to be keeping it technically under wraps these days, but I'm not the one making money off of JKR's works so I don't get to determine that.

OMG, Lindsay's face when she was on the camera with John Green. Delightful.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:55 PM on December 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Very cool.
posted by eustatic at 7:26 PM on December 31, 2018

I'm down for the death of the author. Beyond that, the death of the thinking human generally. We attach too much value to "intent" and "sentiment". I don't particularly care what someone was trying to do, as much as the consequences of their decisions.

This has important consequences. Eg. the way we talk about race. If "racism" is an evil intention, ignorance becomes a catch all defense. Critique of racism becomes a moral inquiry into the heart of an offender. I'm honestly tired of the thought counting.

What did a person say, what did they do? What did the author write? This is what's relevant. This is what we need to address.
posted by idiopath at 7:54 PM on December 31, 2018 [10 favorites]

Ellis is usually way over my head when it comes to media criticism (honestly, I'm so naive I've always just read books with no thoughts of the author beyond "oh, I've read their other stuff, I'll probably like this too"), but she does it so engagingly that I end up learning something despite my untutored shortcomings.

Also, in this case, I thought the old-school corny film reel framing was pretty neat.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:56 PM on December 31, 2018 [4 favorites]

Who else was distracted checking out her bookcase in the VHS-style segments? (You think that Scalzi guy's gonna make it in the big time?)

I generally lean well away from "death of the author," in the same way that I'm generally more prescriptivist than descriptivist, language-wise. But I keep an open mind - you learn more that way.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:25 PM on December 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

My 16 yr old son just came out and we asked him about New Year's resolutions, and he was like, "Dad, we don't make any of those. We're post-Structuralists." And of course I was like, "Ok, so who are some of the post-Structuralist theorists that inform your critical thinking?". "Foucault", he said.

"Oh", I said, "you've just watched the latest Lindsay Ellis..."

Reader: he had.
posted by maupuia at 9:52 PM on December 31, 2018 [41 favorites]

Lindsay Ellis is great; I just wish she made videos more often.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:12 PM on December 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I kinda had the knee-jerk reaction of, oh another single-link Lindsay Ellis FPP, but damn if she doesn't have her finger on the pulse of modern media. Like, every new video is on point like hell.

This particular issue has been rattling around in my skull along with the #metoo and the Hannah Nanette discussions. I'm looking forward to this thread.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:15 PM on December 31, 2018

if art is in the soul of the beholder, and I believe it is, and a cat in a closed box with a pellet of poison is as much dead as alive until the box is opened, then it follows that the author is probably drinking too much and spending way too much time mucking around on the internet
posted by philip-random at 10:46 PM on December 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

That was very interesting, and (not being a consumer of John Green's public persona), I was super-interested to hear his thoughts on his own authorial death or lack thereof, and how they've changed over time. I read The Fault in Our Stars when they were making the movie and it was such a huge phenomenon; only afterwards did I vaguely hear he was an Internet Person as well; this is the first time I've ever read or seen an interview with him or any writing of his beyond his books. But yeah, I can imagine I would have read the book differently had I know about his relationships with his fans and so on.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:02 PM on December 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

the funny thing is that it doesn't really matter if the author thinks they're dead or not. the reader can think whatever they want and there's nothing the author can do about it. trying to agree on such a minor point is really rather laughable.
posted by sineater at 11:18 PM on December 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

So why is it not okay for her to mention things that aren't set down in books yet but are canon to her?

It's fine for JKR to shoot the shit about her ideas, but to the extent that they aren't in the text, it's just somebody's headcannon.
posted by wotsac at 11:50 PM on December 31, 2018 [6 favorites]

Maybe it's just because I find it hard to concentrate on videos like this so I was reading other things while I listened to it, and might have missed something, but I found this pretty... superficial?

Like, it's fine to talk about whether it's okay or not okay for JK Rowling to keep making up details of her fictional universe and for her readers to ignore them all and come up with readings of Harry Potter that are much more interesting than anything she actually wrote. Go for it! But if you're going to name-drop people like Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault I think you should try a little harder to understand what they were on about.

To be honest, the bit about Foucault's "What is an Author?" (at about 16:15) looks to me like someone skimmed the text (which is easy to find online, e.g. here) to find something they could laugh at in typical online snarky gotcha style, but it completely misses his point - which, to grossly oversimplify, is to shift the focus of analysis from the author's personal identity and authority to the context in which the work is produced, transmitted and consumed and the power relationships that are embedded in and reproduced through each process. The distinction the video makes between "text" and "para-text" might be useful here in some way, but you'd need to put a lot more thought into it.

I mean, Foucault's not exactly straightforward, but he's not that hard.

I don't know so much about Barthes, but Rowling's gay Dumplingdore thing actually has something in common with what Barthes wrote about in S/Z, and it would have been interesting to explore that in a little more detail. Oh well.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:48 AM on January 1 [10 favorites]

I've always been puzzled by the popularity of the "death of the author" idea in the US, which seems to be taken way more seriously that it should. Roland Barthes' text was mainly a reaction against the Sainte-Beuve/Lanson school of literary criticism and teaching that was predominant at the time. Barthes' target was not so much the author per se, but, as he later wrote, the author as an institution. Knowing that Balzac drank fifty cups of coffee per day may or may not be of importance when reading the Père Goriot. Sainte-Beuve and Lanson's emphasis on the role and life of the author was itself a reaction against the traditional way of teaching literature in France up to the late 19th century, when texts were studied and taught for their intrinsical (and sometimes tautological: texts were great because they were great) properties - moralism, religious virtue, rhetorics -, regardless of why, how and by whom these texts were produced. La Fontaine was introduced in the French canon in 1721 not because he was La Fontaine, the famous court poet, but because he made Phaedrus and Aesop's fables accessible to pupils. Of course, Barthes' text being taken out of its authorial intent is so meta.
posted by elgilito at 5:31 AM on January 1 [11 favorites]

The author is undead, reanimated by arcane rites of social media as the brand image of the author, cursed to roam the wastelands of Twitter and Youtube for eternity.
posted by sfenders at 7:06 AM on January 1 [9 favorites]

In traditional literature studies, the authors studied tend to already be dead, so "killing" them is just grave desecration at worst. Living authors are another kettle of fish. Like elgilito, I think Barthes wanted to kill biographical overemphasis, not the use of authorial intent. After all we already went against authorial intent when we read authors who asked that their works be destroyed.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:11 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]

Now that "consume" is apparently what one does with media, even down to reading a book, I propose we murder the consumer next.
posted by sfenders at 7:15 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]

Soooo...I had actually never heard of Lindsay Ellis before this bleary morning, and the video was the very first parcel of media I encountered this new year*


* Well, other than the bit of BBC World News I had on while I was making my morning espresso, but that's more like audio wallpaper, so...
posted by Thorzdad at 7:33 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]

So if we agree to reimagine Barthes' general thrust as "Death of the Intent of the Author," can we stop telling each other that we and/or Ellis don't really understand what Barthes was on about, and get back to pointing out that Jo Rowling is using her stature to make her original work worse, rather than better?

And as far as discarding anything any author has said (or written!) about their own work ever, including the "canon," well, we've never needed Barthes' permission for that anyway. Go back to William Gillette and his Sherlock Holmes play. Better yet, go back to the Arthurian lore, or Robin Hood.
posted by tzikeh at 7:46 AM on January 1 [4 favorites]

It would be nice if Ellis would pronounce Jo Rowling's name correctly, unless she's making a point about how far afield of the text Barthes' work can take you.

but I don't think she is
posted by tzikeh at 8:04 AM on January 1 [1 favorite]

Also, the phrase “death of the author” aside, the general “only the text matters” reading as understood by most people that yammer on about it feels like more of a New Criticism holdover.
posted by thivaia at 8:49 AM on January 1 [3 favorites]

tzikeh: "It would be nice if Ellis would pronounce Jo Rowling's name correctly, unless she's making a point about how far afield of the text Barthes' work can take you.

but I don't think she is

I've only ever heard Rowling's name pronounced the way that Ellis does.
posted by octothorpe at 8:57 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]

Huh, I had no idea. I just figured that it was pronounced the same as Rowlf.
posted by octothorpe at 9:38 AM on January 1

First treasure of the year.

Maybe authors should write books about what they meant in their other books.
posted by filtergik at 10:10 AM on January 1

But then what did they mean in those books? It's books all the way down!
posted by RobotHero at 10:26 AM on January 1 [2 favorites]

Wait, is this John Green the same one as in the Mental Floss videos? He looked familiar when I was watching this video yesterday, but it wasn't until this morning that I made the connection.

Not that that's relevant to this video in any way, I was just surprised.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:32 AM on January 1

Greg_Ace: Yes it is.
posted by tzikeh at 1:12 PM on January 1

@TransSalamander on Twitter:"What kind of a grown-ass man writes sex scenes between teenagers?"
*jokingly cut to John Green being just outside*
*the above point is never returned to*
To quote this video: Yikes

I know this is old discourse. I've never once had an interest in reading Green's stories (I hardly ever read books honestly but I prefer my fiction to be a bit more fantastical) so I'm not gonna rant or anything, but jesus christ Lindsey why did you even bring that part up?

I'm sorry but you don't get to sweep "here's this book this man wrote based on a real 16-year-old girl he knew with sex scenes in it" under the rug by inviting the author on and never addressing that topic again. That's... the exact opposite of how that works.
What the fuck.

Btw I'm not saying I expect her to invite John Green on and like, grill him on this one point or anything. The answer is way simpler. Just pick ONE: 1) Don't bring up the sex scenes or 2) Don't invite John Green on.

Because like, I get it. This topic is really complicated. You can't address all of this with the care it needs in 30 minutes. All I'm saying is having "Hey wait aren't there sex scenes" be the SET UP to the punchline "John Green is outside" is really, really gross.

posted by kafziel at 2:39 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]

Also given that JK Rowling is a racist reactionary TERF, I'm not sure how much credence you want to give her ideas outside the writing if you want to still be able to enjoy her writing. I've given up enjoying her writing once I noticed how much of her politics are in it.
posted by kafziel at 2:40 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]

kafziel - I totally agree re: what Ellis did with setting up John Green's presence after "OMG ADULTS WRITING ABOUT TEENAGERS HAVING SEX IS GROSSSSSSS." While The Fault in Our Stars was certainly inspired in part by his friendship with Esther Earl (and HER PARENTS), Green was a student chaplain at a children's hospital long before he met Esther (or even started writing novels), and he drew on a lot of different stories to create his protagonist.

Ugh, sorry, just... this has been a *thing* in fandom for the last few years due mostly to teenagers not understanding that there are lots of adults in fandom (especially slash fandom, but fandom in general) because WE GOT HERE FIRST AND PEOPLE EVEN OLDER THAN US INVENTED IT YOU WHINY SHITSTAINS, not because we're pedophiles.

It's really tiring.
posted by tzikeh at 3:16 PM on January 1 [11 favorites]

octothorpe: Huh, I had no idea. I just figured that it was pronounced the same as Rowlf.

But "Rowlf" ends before her last name does. "Rowlf" ≠ "Rowling;" "Bowling" = "Rowling."
posted by tzikeh at 3:19 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]

J.K. Rowling's name is just another example of the failures of English Language Pronunciation best described by the Dr. Seuss book title "The Tough Coughs as he Ploughs the Dough". And you do realize we all pronounce "Seuss" wrong.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:06 PM on January 1 [2 favorites]

And you do realize we all pronounce "Seuss" wrong.

Yeah but that just means Jake and Amy will get it right by accident, which is the best thing ever.
posted by tzikeh at 6:26 PM on January 1

I feel like there's kinda an important distinction between the author's involvement in terms of their background or experiences, versus the author's involvement as an authority who gets to speak ex cathedra after the fact about stuff that's not in the text. By way of obvious example, I think it's totally reasonable to use an understanding of George Lucas' upbringing, interests, and prior projects (along with the culture he grew up in and the things he was clearly paying homage to) to have a better understanding of Star Wars. I simultaneously think it's complete bullshit for him to go back over a decade later and try to re-write it and claim everyone is obligated to go along with how "he always meant it", because fuck that noise, once the story's out there it doesn't belong to you anymore.
posted by tocts at 9:54 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]

Does this have to do with zombie strawberries?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 4:24 AM on January 3

Scalzi response.
posted by Chrysostom at 4:45 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]

Okay guys, I know what I argued before but this suddenly just made me reconsider. I don't think I would have chosen to share that information.

(Wizard TMI within. You have been warned.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:49 PM on January 4

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