Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Communication Is Hard (a Followup)

Last week, I had a failure to communicate. That's actually a big issue for a lot of writers, although it's an issue I usually don't have a problem with. It's quite likely that the problem came out of trying to do a more visual post without much actual writing. In that, I overestimated the general ability that people would have at recognizing people. Of course, I also thought that people would not need to actually recognize the people to get the message. But more on the actual post in a moment.

One of the most common things I see writers saying in response to the responses they get to any given piece of work is, "You just don't understand." With that statement, they place the blame for the lack of understanding on the reader. Granted, there are occasions when that's true, but, usually, it's the fault of the author. Yeah, guess what, authors don't like to hear that, but, unfortunately, it's true. The weight of understanding is on the writer, not the reader.

Now, part of that is determining your audience. Different audiences won't understand the same things. Sometimes, it's a knowledge thing. Sometimes, it's a culture thing. Sometimes, it's an experience thing. I mean, you don't give War and Peace to 6th graders and tell 999 out of 1000 of them that it's their fault for not getting the book. I may be being generous with 999, there, too.

At any rate, when your audience doesn't understand, you can stubbornly stand your ground and blame your audience for just not getting it, or you can "man up" and go back to the page and figure out why you didn't get your message across. After all, it's your message, so it's your responsibility to present it in a way that people can understand.

With that being said, my post from last week, "Romanticizing Authors," failed to deliver its intended message, so let me explain. [But you'll need to go back and actually look at the post for the pictures, because I'm not including them in this post.]

I ran across a quote from the show Californication that went something like this:
"I like you; you're handsome. Most authors are these pasty, white things, but you're handsome."
Of course, I immediately thought of Nathan Fillion and Castle because of the whole dashing leading man who is a writer thing and George R. R. Martin because, well, I guess I associate him with a pasty, white thing. Then I checked on Californication, and that's also about a writer, one played by David Duchovny, so you have another inordinately handsome man playing a writer. That made me think of Stephen King who is, let's face, kind of weird looking.

All of which got me thinking: Male writers in movies (or on TV) are always played by very good looking leading men. So you take someone like Edgar Allan Poe, whose face is more than a bit rumpled looking, and you make a movie about him but have him played by John Cusack, basically an idealized version of Poe. Now, Poe's handsome. Why do we do this?

We don't do it with women playing writers. No, we get someone like Nicole Kidman, one of the most glamorous stars in Hollywood and let her play Virginia Woolf, but do we let her look like Nicole Kidman while she's doing it? No way! We make her look as much like Virginia Woolf as possible. We de-beautify her to play the female writer. We make her look plain. Or we have Lena Dunham on Girls, and she is the writer of that show! But she makes herself as unattractive as possible for her role as Hannah.

So... we make male writers look good for a viewing audience, but we make female writers look plain or normal for a viewing audience. And I have no real answer, or even thoughts, as to why that is (beyond the typical, I mean); it is just an observation, hence the post that relied on the visuals. It's something I find interesting from a cultural standpoint. Interesting and more than a little lopsided.

The truth is probably more along the lines of writers being pasty, white things. All of them. That's what comes of spending time in a cave with a notebook, whether the notebook is electronic or made of paper. And I think I would find a show about a writer that was actually about the writer doing writing rather than say, solving murders, to be very interesting. That may just be me, though.


  1. I feel like it's normally the other way around. "They" do their best to find the prettiest woman to play a particular part and have an average Joe play the counterpart. (King of Queens comes to mind although that's not what you're talking about). I don't know why they glamorize the males and not the females when it comes to authors.

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  2. Sounds to me like the old Daphne/Velma dichotomy: society thinks a woman can be pretty or smart, but not both. Even Hermione in Harry Potter suffers from this (though I think it's more evident in the book description).

  3. Wait, Hermione wasn't pretty in the books? I missed that.

    Elsie's right that there's a HUGE disparity between how good looking men are on TV and how good looking their wives are, something I've noticed, too.

    But I think Sandra's actually more on point: we don't think smart can also be pretty, for women.

  4. I did understand the point you were making in your post and used what I think is a somewhat analogous situation (film biographies that change a change story to conform to what Hollywood thinks the audience will enjoy most regardless of whether or not the facts are true). Sure, I didn't go for the gender thing so I was off in that respect.

    I noticed what you are talking about in a Fellini film I was watching last night--"La Dolce Vita". Fellini's films are essentially stories based on the director's own life--fictionalized biopics so to speak. He always seems to use Marcello Mastroianni to play the lead role which is the imaginary Fellini. Mastroianni is a very handsome well built guy unlike Fellini, but I guess either Fellini was feeding his own ego or he understood that audiences did not want to see a romantic lead that looked like Fellini himself. I also think it's interesting that Fellini in earlier films depicted himself more as a writer than a director, but as time went on he would portray the director role more often.

    A female example I can think of, though not a writer, is Charlize Theron in Monster. They took this incredibly beautiful woman and through the magic of make-up and weight gain turned her into an incredibly homely woman. Criminy, aren't there some good actresses who are not so comely who could have played that role. Theron was great in that movie though I must admit.

    I like seeing films where the characters are not so glamorized. Steve Buscemi for example has played some good ones.

    You may be being a bit hard on the looks of writers though. There are some writers who are incredibly good looking. You and me for example. What actors could they ever find to ever portray our handsome looks?

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    Tossing It Out

  5. Elsie: Well, I will say that less attractive men (Paul Giamatti, for instance) have a much better chance of success in Hollywood than less attractive women. However, I think there is a more frequent downplaying of a woman's beauty than a man's.

    Sandra: That's true. And I've known women who downplayed their intelligence because they didn't need it.

    Briane: There's a lot of attention paid to Hermione's hair and how unattractive it is; unattractive hair seems to equal unattractive. For women, anyway.

    Lee: I love Steve Buscemi, but I bet you will never see him playing an author. heh
    Except, now that I've said that...

    And LOL! You're right! Hmm... for you, I think I see Robert Duvall. Don't ask me why; it just seems right.

  6. "I love the smell of napalm in the morning." And I really like Robert Duvall. He's played some great roles.

    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  7. He has had a lot of great roles. I think I liked him best in Lonesome Dove.

  8. I see what you're saying. There's a stereotype of writers being unattractive, but it's only portrayed with women.

  9. Good freaking point. Never thought about that before.

    I may be reading too much into this, but for women, there's a stigma. If you're pretty, you can't be that smart. Or talented. Or awkward... and a lot of writers are all those things. So, for our society who sometimes thinks that very pretty women cannot be anything more than very pretty, we debeauty to make it believable. So the audience doesn't watch the whole time, with this uneasy feeling in their subconscious they just can't pinpoint as to WHY they don't believe or like the story about this woman writer. That sucks, but I think there's truth to that.

  10. Oh-- sorry, as an addition. Men who are handsome, ugly pasty, short, tall -- whatever -- can be anything in the ways of intelligence or creativity. So Hollywood just makes them pretty for the audience, as their validity will not be questioned.

  11. Jean: Well, I agree with that. It's pretty much what my wife said, too. Smart or pretty, not both.