Episode 65: On Expectations of Genre and Tone

One of the weird things after my oral comprehensive exam was that my professors decided to unaminously declare that I suck at working with notions of readership. I had just passed my freaking comps so I let that part slide but they did offer some pretty decent advice which is probably turning into the major focus of my dissertation. Apparently, I have some pretty interesting ideas as to the evolution of the role and identity of the author figure. I recently finished a draft for my proposal which honestly wasn’t too good but it’s a step in the right direction. During the old days of the blog I’d just post that alongside a mission acomplished banner and call it a night. However, lent is a bout sacrifice and I need to minimize my shortcuts. Instead, let me flesh out some ideas about an upcoming conference where I will be talking about authorship when it comes to the things in the title (yeas, I am lazy enough to not write it and then include this addendum justifying my laziness. Just scroll up a bit).

I’ve worked on Cerebus Syndrome a lot before but I want to change the whole narrative procedure as to why that decision was made but rather as to it’s reception (which is weird since I should stear clear of all things readerly) and whether the author can actually do that. I mean, artists have the freedom to do whatever they want for the sake of their work but readers still have doubts as to your qualifications toward a particular area. As a teacher, one of the first things I and a lot of educators do is introduce ourselves with direct quotes from my resume (X years of experience and a degree of so and so). Sure there some issues of relevancy, like an engineering major teaching math, but othertimes you get weird connections that make you actually ask what the Hell is going on. Imagine that you go into an art class and see that your professor is a former gym teacher; or worse, that you actually took his gym clas years ago. We have expectations that stem from the most basic bio of the author. A lot of times this information is foregrounded purposely so that your audience is aware of your entitlement towards this particular area, but a lack of information or one that gives me no indication that you have any idea of what you are doing beforehand is just begging for premature apprehension. It’s one thing to not have any formal training, there’s a lot to say about innate talent and/or passion towards a hobby or something you did since you were a kid. Still, it just feels odd if you have nothing to show to validate your actions and how this is acceptable and standard procedure from artists to brain surgeons and everything in between. Except in the case of humor.

Somewhere down the line it become completely standard to say that anyone can go into jokes. Maybe it’s the issue that everyone has a sense of humor and it’s not something that you need a lot of training for (except for clowns, they still need to go to college of some sort). You can have the most serious writer in the world suddenly sneak in some one liners into a psychological thriller and while it may seem out of place within the specific book, no one really asks as to whether the author could really do that (should he/she do that can be debated indefinetely). One of my favorite webcomic cartoonists illustrates this pretty well. Randall Munroe was an employee for NASA (and I don’t mean like a janitor, he was a hardcore engineer that worked with robots) that decided to make drawings of stick figures discussing some pretty complex mathematical issues but in a funny matter. The man is clearly qualified to talk about all the science he wants but the use of humor and slice of life topics does not seem out of bounds under any circumstance. His little webcomic eventually became huge and suffice it to say that he no longer works at NASA and provides his readers with consistent super nerdiness. On the other hand you have Zach Weiner, another webcomic dude that I like to call the King of the One Panel Comics. He has a background in literature so his jokes on puns and observations about various parts of life and stories makes sense. Then he started doing graph jokes and kept including more complex material based on scientific principles and philosophical teachings. If you have no knowledge of what Mr. Weiner does with his life outside of webcomics then you might wonder why exactly is he using this material and is he using it correctly. Apparently, even if the sole purpose is to make you laugh, your depicitions of the source material need to be accurate. This shift in material is attributed to him going back to school to learn physics, in addition to him just being a voracious reader of just about everything.

I read somewhere that specialists when it comes to intelligence will eventually be phased out because “regular” people can learn all these geeky things down the line. Consider the nerds who first came up with electronica music who figured out how keyboards can make whatever the Hell sound you wanted them to make. It didn’t take long for other musicians to figure out the process and do it for themselves. Maybe knowledge is being democratized so much with things like Google and Wikipedia that anyone with rudimentary basic understanding of science can make a joke about the Higgs-Boson and have anyone else find it funny. Does this mean that there are no real borders as to tone or genre that one can write about without being questioned about whether you should. More importantly, those this mean I can change between any of these in serialized work (almost without warning) and not raise red flags along the way that can alienate my readers. I really need to keep thinking about this before the conference if I want this paper to make any sense.

Maybe I should write a down to earth romance and see if anyone calls me out on it. Then again, no one has called me out on this blog or any of the craziness I post here so maybe that’s the way it should be. I got to find some sort of example of a guy or girl who tries to do something artistic in which she has no idea what to do and fail miserably.

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