Wednesday, September 20, 2006

14 comics: Rushkoff

Why do I have this dreadful (and not-yet very deeply explored) suspicion that Testament and Club Zero are very like Waking Life and What the Bleep?

Is it because the "story" is utterly sacrificed to the "ideas" the author is trying to share? I love ideas (and Rushkoff's work is mostly full of cool and good ideas), but I love stories more -- and, yes, the best stories are able to communicate ideas without the audience feeling like "uh-oh, I think this is some kind of statement or idea or something... I think I'm supposed to be getting it or something..."

Maybe it's because I don't like being instructed in what constitutes cool. Maybe I like to be shown, not told.

The characters in Testament read like walking barcodes. These aren't people with an array of terrible and wonderful and meaningful particularities; these are cliche cardboard people that the author musn't realize he's parodying. I really don't think he meant to parody the counter-culture he's writing about -- I do, in fact, take him at least that seriously.

I mean, who care'ss about all this Torah-as-metaphor stuff? We get it already! And it's atemporal and all that too. Eternal struggle against the forces of singular domination, yada yada yada -- we get it!

What Testament should have been was a story that started as a story -- instead of a manifesto that got a spackling with plot.

Well. I won't be buying any more comics by Mr. Rushkoff -- but I might check them out from the library some time, see if future attempts make for better stories. And good luck to him... his non-fiction rocks, after all.


Jared said...

I bought the first three issues of Testament and wasn't impressed, either. If the characters seem cliche, its because Rushkoff is forcing them to act as modern-day equivilants of their Biblical counterparts. The problem with THAT lies in a strange realization my Bible as Literature class has come upon: characters in the Old Testament (as Rushkoff's book is mostly based upon) have no traditional motivation. Their only action, their only want is to serve God. They trust in him so much that they've no problem fulfilling his strangest requests. We've no insight into their thinking, even when their actions are completely alien to us. And lack of motivation stumps characterization, kills drama. Rushkoff is trying to give motivation to these characters, but failing miserably. Traditional writing has motivation build toward action, creating drama. He's having to take previously set drama and derive motivation from that. It's backwards and-- when writing for a Western, 21st C. audience-- fails fails fails.

Woody Evans said...

That's very interesting. It makes me wonder about this motivation for serving and pleasing God. Is that code language of some kind, I mean, is it metaphor for real motivations like sex and drugs and greed and love and stuff? Is that what the Old Testament is about -- is that why it seems alien? Because the real human motivations are obscured in a set of symbols that have everything clouded up in God talk?

I don't know about saying that subservience to God (or whatever)is the general motivator for the Old Testament characters, though... and several very human, very real examples come to mind...

Eve wanted to know.
Adam wanted Eve.
Job wanted, yes, to obey -- that's pretty clear -- but definitely wanted his family to prosper, and that's the motivation God played on when he let Satan test him.
Moses wanted to obey God, definitely... but it seems to me that that desire mainly came from a desire to see his people become prosperous and free.

I haven't read the Old Testament closely or deeply in a long time. But if the characters lack human reasons for doing what they do, the would be absolutely, as you say, dramatic failures.

I don't think that the reasons the Bible may or mayn't work as a story are the same reasons Rushkoff's story fails, though. To me it's like Grant Morrison's worst stuff -- relying on the "gee-golly-wow" effect of maximum mind-blowing ideas per panel instead of building real characters and real drama.

Hm. Now that I write those last few sentences, I think I may agree with you after all...

The point of the Old Testament stories aren't to show the human heart in conflict with itself; the point is to show the human heart losing to the Will of God until the human heart begins to understand that loss as victory.

It's polemic or instruction, or hell, I dunno, religion or something... but the point isn't to tell a great story, is it?