Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Seedy Underbelly

Ever watch something half-informed, or half asleep, and miss some subtle but important overarching detail?  Ever read something and finish the book completely mystified, not enlightened at all? Ever watch something as a child, and then watch it as an adult, and realize that it wasn't what you thought it was at all?

I've got a major example of one of those. Somewhat embarrassing, but really kind of funny. The Sound of Music.

The very first time I watched The Sound of Music, it was on television, and I was allowed to stay up until midnight to finish watching it, perhaps the first time I was genuinely allowed to stay up until midnight. Previous times, I suspect I'd been told it was midnight, and it wasn't actually. After all, it isn't as though you're born knowing how to read a clock, and my family was given to these small, mostly harmless falsehoods (a longer post that another day, I'm sure!)

But so. I watched The Sound of Music when I was 8 or 9, and it had to have been that age, because I read Diary of a Young Girl when I was in 5th grade (so 10), no sooner. I liked the music, I liked Maria, I liked Julie Andrews. I had a notion that there were Bad Guys and Good Guys, something that things like cartoons and the Bible instill early. I knew the Family Von Trapp was clever and got away at the end! Yaay! A compelling story, but I didn't think very much about it.

So, forward to late high school or perhaps early college. I was reclining of a Sunday afternoon, flipping through the channels, and saw that The Sound of Music was on. I remembered liking it, so what the heck. There was an interlude, and then the whole family sat down to eat. Cut to Rolph, the dreamy boyfriend delivery boy, coming to the front door. He knocks (or rings the bell, I forget), and slightly sinister butler guy answers. They have a brief exchange, and then it leads into "I Am Sixteen (Going on Seventeen). I sat bolt upright.

Wait a minute! They were NAZIS! How had I missed that memo? The Family Von Trapp escaped Nazis! I felt really stupid. But I wondered if everybody knew and that's why nobody told me.

So, when you're writing, maybe you should keep in mind that not everybody knows the whole story. A certain amount of historical fluency can be assumed most of the time, but not always. Consider your audience, no matter how clever you think you are. This is bigger than Mel Gibson only wearing one sock as "crazy" Hamlet. This is world history, here! Go re watch some old Bugs Bunny cartoons, and look for the adult jokes and political overtones. They're there! It's best when things work on both levels. Or, y'know, when you know about World War II.


  1. Well, the other day I was watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother and Lily had a beer and I thought to myself OMG LILY HAS A BEER HOW CAN SHE DRINK WHEN SHE IS PREGNANT FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME but it turns out it was just a flashback.

    Probably not the answer you were looking for.

  2. Any answer is better than none at all!

    But really, that kind of thing is valid. Or, my fiance was playing the new Call of Duty and one of the "bad guy" patrols had a dog that started going NUTS while he was in a sneaking level. And the "bad guys" were just like "hah hah hah, stupid dog" and walked off.

    Uh. Personnel detection is what dogs like that are for. Quoi?