It’s taken me a long time to decide whether to log my thoughts on the screenwriting class. Since yesterday (after seeing my teacher’s social awareness fail), I’ve lost a lot of faith in the teacher and motivation to do the homework. Today was the third day in a row of coming home and going to sleep.
Ordinarily, having some sort of set structure assists me in being productive. Today, though, after having sat through another three hour lecture, I’m trying to avoid my consideration of not going back. The only thing to keep me in is the fact that my financial aid paid for this class, and I don’t want to stop getting financial aid because of multiple Withdraw statuses.
My life on non-work days is strongly circling around this class — mornings, in class; afternoons, asleep; evenings, homework. If I had any interest in film or animation I think it would be different, but I’m coming to see that I don’t — which is part of the reason I took this class. I needed to see if I actually did want to be telling stories.
I write prose, fine. But I don’t like to write stories as much as I used to. And what I do want to do — which I don’t actually know if I’ll enjoy at this point, but it’s a possible goal, at least (writing and producing a graphic novel) — is less stringent than this. It might give me a leg up to submit a graphic novel script in standard screenplay format, but I really think that most of what we’re being taught are formalities (e.g. use Courier in 12-point font), and not how to write a compelling, non-formulaic story.
In short, I think I’m liking my art more than I’m liking the process of writing. It could just be because I’m not doing the art. Or because I’m stuck with this kind of…intellectual exercise of trying to figure out what scenes and actions to show, and my art is much more exploratory and intuitive. I suppose that my writing style is also very internal, because my stories are internal. I’m just not that interested in laying out autobiographical works…
All that to say that my writing style is not well-suited to film.
One of the benefits to scriptwriting is that internal states are implied by action and not set in stone the way they can be, in prose. This allows a state of openness toward differing interpretations which may not be allowable in highly specific fiction or prose format. This means that I, as a writer, am not locked into one reality and one set future, as I’m writing. However…problems arise in representation.
I found this early on in manga and anime, but it applies to other formats as well — the tendency of life to reproduce art, when art (or, rather, mass media) is using established social conventions in order to convey as specific a meaning as it can. This means that it’s using known conventions, and known conventions have the problem of being grounded in the social hegemonies — or unquestioned societal systems of understanding which define “right” and “wrong” — which undergird and reinforce the power structures of the world we live in. Thus when life imitates art, if art is reinforcing the present power structure, life comes to reinforce the present power structure.
In this way, certain things like body image come into play, as each body is encoded with specific meaning which may have little to nothing to do with the person who lives within that body. Or, at least, when one meets another in the real world and comes to associate the other’s body type with the meanings one has gleaned (often unknowingly and unconsciously) from media which has used established social conventions in its encoding, then we have a problem.
We end up with a really big problem when we’re talking about mass media and people doing this en masse. This reinforces racism, sexism, the idea that heterosexuality is to be celebrated and everything else is deviant; the idea that for one’s personality to differ from the image that is associated with one’s body is dangerous (particularly where this comes to transgender subjectivities); etc. This has been getting better recently, at least in the LGBT realm, but racism and sexism are still rampant, as can be observed from the disproportionate targeting and incarceration — or straight-out killing — of non-white males in the U.S. This is not to mention the high rates at which feminine-appearing people are targeted for sexually-themed violence.
I see this lack of criticality, and it makes me not want to engage in learning the system. On the other hand, I only have 12 more class sessions left, and I can deal with a C. Whether I’ll be able to restrain my own derision is something else (I find it likely that I know more about these issues than the instructor, having spent the better part of my life in the educational system, regardless of the fact that I only have a BA). What I’m finding out is that covert racism in the faculty is really very present in all of the college systems in which I’ve participated. And this is sad — especially considering where most of these schools are located, and who makes up the student body.
I learned to expect it at the University I first attended, because they had very little meeting of the minds with ethnic minorities. Those who were on the faculty there…well, I remember one professor whose words were that of a conservative, racist white man, even though his skin was dark. Of course, though, his own philosophy excused his behavior as “bigoted” at most; he could never be “racist” because “racism” was a term which depended upon structural inequality. To him, because of his racial background, he could never be racist, even though if a white man said the same thing…well, I guess you still couldn’t fire him (tenure). I (rather foolishly) thought I could confide in him. I was wrong.
Moving on to other colleges and Universities, I’ve found that often those who were employed as faculty, if of a nonwhite race, were often assimilated and complacent with the systems they found themselves within — at least within the English department, which was so oppressive that the term “festering” comes to mind. (One of my professors said that I couldn’t call any author “racist” if they lived before the term “racism” was coined. Seriously?! So all those slave owners and traders weren’t racist, I guess.) Some of them (like the one who called me “Godless”) were more overtly oppressive than the white faculty members I studied under, though the really progressive faculty, at both of my Universities, were within the Ethnic Studies and Human Sexuality departments.
One of the things I was taught in the Creative Writing department, by someone on loan from Stanford, was not to make anything “different” in one’s story which the story wasn’t about. I’m encountering this again in my Screenwriting class. I don’t know then what the standard reference is — white, heterosexual, middle-class? What do we avoid “differing from” unless relevant to the story? I’m not here to write a story about Everyman, because Everyman stories tend to be ethnocentric and sexist. But what then do I do, write stories about people who are of my race and ethnicity? How is that less ethnocentric? In more formal language, how do we avoid ethnocentricity when composing our stories?
I don’t think anyone teaches that, probably because people have tried before and failed obviously and miserably. The best we seem to be able to do is hire writers who can be ethnocentric in a way we haven’t seen yet.
I think the problem arises with the model we’re being taught here. It would be somewhat more refreshing if this were a three-semester series and we addressed these issues. But, no. This is a six-week class at a public community college. What can I expect?