Framing Is Everything

“The tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.” ― Søren Kierkegaard.png

There was one aspect of Black Panther that settled in my stomach, rough and raw for weeks after I saw the film. It left a bitter taste in my mouth and left a haze of a film that I had mostly praised.  It was around the issue of Erik Killmonger. I mentioned it in my review of the movie so I’ll get straight to the point. The issue I have with Killmonger is a framing problem. His actions, his motives, his motivations, his everything is framed as “perfectly fine” and that is to be very frank, troubling as hell. Killmonger is compelling, heartbreaking, tragic, real and very valid. His anger is rational and he is very much a sympathetic character. So when Erik says radical things like “Hey, maybe we should make our own militant colonizing force.” and similar statements, he sounds like a rational, logical young man. How else would one expect for someone in his position to feel and act?

And in his final moments, there was the line that burrowed deep into my gut and remained there. “Death over bondage.” (Yes, I’m paraphrasing but in my horror, that was all I heard.). And that brings up to framing.

Framing in film language is how a thing is set up. We code (another film and sociology term) lots of things about characters and setting based on framing. A hero is a hero because of swelling music, bright colors, bright clothes and handsome looks. A villain is a villain because of dark music and tones and velvet and other things that make a villain a villain.

And framing done wrong is just as bad as framing done not strongly enough. Poor framing gives up the Victorian mustache twirling villain and the overly Jesus-like hero. Now, weak framing does a similar thing were a bad guy doesn’t seem so bad. Let’s take a scene from Rent that Folding Ideas and Lindsay Ellis both took umbrage with and that I mentioned in my post about Rent. There’s a scene in both the musical and movie during the whole No Day But Today thing where Mimi stands out in the cold with her posse that doesn’t know here while Roger remains in his ivory tower refusing to come down and play. But the framing makes it look like Roger is a stuck up mean guy for not wanting to leave his lonely life but really, his concerns are valid. Mimi is a known stripper and drug-user and Roger is a recovering drug addict with HIV. He has every reason to not want to be with her but the framing makes Mimi’s lack of care, concern or logic seem good and warm while Roger’s very valid logic and hesitation is framed negatively and that’s just not fair.

But plenty of films recently have had framing problems. A big example that comes to mind is actually both Kingsman films. We’ll use the first one mostly because it’s my favorite. Valentine is compelling, charming, charismatic and in parts of the movies just plain right. He has lots of ideas about how the Earth is going to hell and how to stop global warming. The problem is that his plan involves a violent mass genocide. But by the time he gets to the “I want a lot of people to die.” part, he just sounds like a pretty okay guy with a good plan to save the world. And that is a framing problem. The film around him has done a piss poor job of saying “Hey, watcher of this film, this man’s ideas are not good.”

Anime has had this problem for easily 20 years with antagonists and villains who are far more relatable than their hero mains. I’ve been paneling about this topic for literally almost 5 years. Many times, this is done to create more empathetic villains while also giving the hero/main something to do but again, it’s weak storytelling when your villain is more compelling than your protagonist.

Which brings up back to Black Panther. Erik’s sympathetic backstory makes it easy to ignore some of the venom that drips from his mouth. And in today’s current socio-political climate, I am sure that many see his vision as logical, sure a little radical, but surely sound. We’ve seen militancy fail over and over again for African-Americans. And while Black Panther does kill off Killmonger, his actions and words leave a heavy shadow over the film.

How do we correct such framing issues? Well, by simply not rewarding them. We’ve talked about characters getting what they deserve in a previous post and that is one of the best ways to combat poor framing. At least in Black Panther, Erik does not make it to the end of the movie but his message lives on and forces T’Challa and the people of Wakanda to think more closely about their isolationism. Not glorifying clearly horrible things is easy to do in real life but difficult to impose upon fictional characters. Consequences are vital. Erik’s rage rightfully makes him too unstable for this world and his exit is a pained sigh of relief. And those consequences don’t always mean death. Think of Loki in the rest of the Marvel movies: he is denied empathy at every turn despite his actions being mostly reprehensible. And movies are particularly fertile ground for framing issues. When you’re a handsome and well-known actor, you want screen time and being a mustache-twirling villain can be fun but often means that you are not on screen very long. Additionally, movies are a complex and visual media, creating sympathetic and likable characters is vital to keeping your audience’s interest. And I’m happy to see more complex characters, it has come at the cost of clearer storytelling. And I love morally ambiguous stories but those still have the stakes and consequences vital to keeping such narratives afloat. Valentine still dies at the end of Kingsman. Poppy for sure dies at the end of Kingsman 2. And if we’re talking anime then most of the time, the villain goes down with his or her overly complicated plan in a blaze of flames and glory.

Framing is a vital part of writing but an even more vital part of film and other visual media. How a character, scene and act are framed tells you a lot about how to feel about this character, the scenario and about the work. And when you frame a bad guy as a pious saint, you not only risk betraying your work but you risk muddying the waters of your own narrative.

About The Journey

You still are blind, if you see a winding road,'Cause there's always a straight way to the point you see..png

I was late to watch Moana. That tardiness was intentional. I balked a little at its overwhelming praise and in pure cynical, hipster fashion I had to wait a full year before I sat down and watched it in full despite the few times I tried to watch it via clips and less than great downloads. I can’t say that the film Moana means to me what Up or even Princess and the Frog does but I can see why, how and where it’s important in the discourse. But I wanted to talk about the heroine’s journey, finding yourself and your culture and knowing the difference between your voice and the voice of your people.

Moana is a story about the titular Moana on an adventure where she discovers that she is from a long line of sea-faring people and through her bravery and cultural identity, she fixes the problem, becomes princess and all the things are good again. What is the most touching part about Moana is that it is a journey with her and through her culture to find herself. Moana is her people but in that she is also something so much more.

The idea that especially female characters have to go on some epic road trip isn’t a new one. Most female characters in great works tend to sit and stay in various castle or castle-like arrangements but anime and comics and some young adult novels are great in giving us tales of women who have to go on an adventure and hopefully find something more than just a man at the end. Rukia in Bleach searches for strength and her overbearing brother’s approval. Ino in Naruto uses her time during missions to find and learn new things and hunt for a replacement for Sasuke.  If you want an entire playlist of “girls on an adventure” stories look at the library of Hayao Miyazaki: most of his stories center around young girls that have to go out on an adventure to do something or learn something or to just save your pig-parents because capitalism. And if you must give  Disney more credit then they probably deserve, Merida in Brave has to go on a quest to find a solution to the whole…mom and bear thing before Moana aired. Lilo has to go on a self-discovery mission with her new alien friend in Lilo and Stitch and this was also way before Moana hit theaters.  And while the quest isn’t always literal: the need to put a heroine in the place of the hero on a journey is now a pivotal part of telling a female’s story. Though I will personally advocate as an out of shape person more metaphorical journeys.

Dear readership, you’ve been there with me as I’ve struggled with being more than my skin tone and that struggle has continued on for most of my life. I’m the dictionary definition of cultural abandonment. I’ve always prided my voice over the voices behind me. Look at my current situation with my family. Like the anime boy I am, I broke from tradition and forged my own path: for better or worse. I chose to listen to my own voice and ignore the voices that shouted so loudly behind me. My voice became the last one I heard and valued. But it’s lonely being on the top.

I work through being culturally abandoned through other cultures. I just said at dinner “I’ve given up so much for Japan.” . I work through my angst of not being “black enough” by turning my back on being black, being American or even being traditionally Southern or female for that matter. I embraced Japan, France, Austria, Germany…I embraced all of these cultures and countries as I did my best to come to terms with how wronged and left behind I felt by my own. I was never black enough to be black but could never and never wanted to be white. I just wanted to be me and in books I can be anyone or anything.

Amber and I are road-warriors and considering that we are both black women, it’s no surprise that many of our ventures have us facing the history and legacy behind us. We retrace the stories of rebellion, history and the complicated stories of complicated men and women. We venture out with our mythical steed (usually my Prius) and we go out to find our voices. She really only takes me along because I speak a few different languages and that there is still awe in my eyes when we find something genuinely interesting. She takes me because she knows she can probably still shock me and make me feel something. We go because I’m hoping for an experience that will shake me from my usual cynicism and will either make me feel immense shame or pride of the mix of both that comes with being a dually-conscious black person.

In my haste and desire to find my voice, I silenced out all the other voices that were kind. There are survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in me. There are Airmen in me. There are veterans, scientists, government officials, activists and writers in me. There is greatness in me and their voices are just as loud as mine. Those voices also do a wonderful job of drowning out the not to positive voices that still echo in my heart.

And while I’m not an airman or a survivor or even a full-time activist: I am me. I’m not in competition with their greatness and their weight isn’t a burden: it should be a comfort; albeit a bit of an overwhelming one. Their desire and the path they paved to let me be a cosplayer, writer, panelist and all should be enough. It is enough.

So, of course, it makes a lot of sense that I found the story of a young Polynesian girl discovering her voice and path through the stories lost to time immensely powerful. I had already bonded somewhat withe the stories of Mother Tahiti and of Polynesia during my time in Hawaii. And I’m not going to say the film’s perfect. I’m contractually obligated to mention the film’s not perfect. I was annoyed by Maui’s portrayal and most of the humor came from a literal dumb chicken. Being meta actually weakened the film a lot. Admitting that Moana in so many ways is just like the princesses that came before her actually weakens how special and unique her story is. But framing Moana as a light-reboot of  Pocahontas actually helps remind the view how different the movie is from all those that came before it. Moana achieves her goal through persistence and listening to the voices in her heart that can help her while shrugging off the ones that cannot.

That’s a lesson even a cynic can get behind.

What’s In a Name?

There's the private persona and the public persona and the two shall never meet. Liev SchreiberRead more at- https-%2F%2Fwww.brainyquote.com%2Fquotes%2Fquotes%2Fl%2Flievschrei184607.html (1).png

I’m fortunate enough to have come up in the Internet generation. I grew up in chat rooms, forums and made lifelong friends that I have never met in person. And coming up in the Internet of things; I like many of my contemporaries, I have a ton of screen names. It’s always a little weird introducing myself as a stage or screen name. I have plenty of people who never call me by my human name. So I wanted to go over a few of the names I use and what they mean and by proxy, what they mean to me.

AichiYume

This is my panelist/cosplay name! I also used to use it on deviantArt when I was there…I’m not there anymore. I’m a little too old for that, aren’t I? AichiYume is a combining of several screen names I’ve used across the internet for years. AichiYume is like the manic pixie dream girl of the anime world. Opinionated, knowledgeable and funny (most of the time). It’s the name you’ll see me use as a panelist and as a person who posts videos and such. You can use any combination of the name: Aichi, Aichi Yume, or Yume; all of those are acceptable and I’ll answer to them. Why did I choose the name AichiYume? Because I’m melodramatic and an otaku.

Nai

Back in the early days of the Internet, I made my home on a little site called Gendou. Gendou was a site for anime music and it also featured a chat room. Nai is the name of a character I made forever ago to a series that will never see the light of day because I wrote it when I was 15 and angsty. Gendou became my home. Gendou was my family when my own failed me. My friends when I needed them and I have made lifelong friends all from a chat room online. If you see me on stage with Carlos (a friend from Gendou that I’ve met now in real life) he’ll still call me Nai sometimes.

RawrAmandaRawr

That’s my Twitter name! So I made a Twitter account several years ago for school. I essentially had to have one for my journalism class. (Yes, I was one of the last StMU students to take print journalism rather than digital communications). I never thought I’d stick with it after college but over 17,000 Tweets later…clearly, I’m in it to win it.

Amanda.Actually

The name I use on this blog! This is the more human version of me. Still a comic book, anime/manga fan but a little more cultured. A little more mature. A little more well-rounded as a person. It is, as it says, The Actual Amanda. Amanda’s my human name. The one I was given as a child. The one I refuse to have shortened to “Mandy”. Amanda is me. I am Amanda. I’m more personal on my blog, my open, more willing to talk about things that aren’t just comic books.

This post is short and different, isn’t it? I’ve never really felt like any one side of the names I use are characters. They’re all just a part of me. They’re all valid. They’re all the whole that makes up the wonderfully complex person I am today. But it does a bit go in line with the last post about persona, censorship and which Amanda is the real Amanda.

 

If you ever hear me go by a different name, I hope this guide is helpful!

Always Self-Improve(Edit)

If I take care of my character, my reputation will take care of me. Dwight L. MoodyRead more at- https-%2F%2Fwww.brainyquote.com%2Fquotes%2Fkeywords%2Freputation.html.png

I like to think of myself as a liberal, outgoing extroverted person. And none of those things are false but in other aspects of my life I am a remarkable Southern Belle. I am concerned about my image, my reputation and what people see when they see, well, me. What started this line of inquiry? Actually, a video of Alyssa Edwards: a Southern drag queen after my own heart. She was on a panel with a fellow drag queen, Katya and they were of course having a grand kiki. And all throughout the panel Alyssa would said “Edit that out.” she said that multiple times to her assistant and even in her show Alyssa’s Secret she is constantly asking for unflattering things of her to be edited and removed from the show. Now, I never really cared for Alyssa Edwards and I realize now that maybe it’s because she’s a bit of a kindred spirit. So that being said, let’s discuss self-editing, censorship and what it means to put your best face forward.

For those of you who don’t know, on the weekends I’m a panelist, podcaster and writer. During the week, however, I’m a social media manager and copywriter in a rather sensitive and at times very conservative industry. And while seldom do my two selves meet, there are moments of brief intersection where my personal life and professional life clash. Because I’m a career-woman, of course, I am worried about what my co-workers, clients, potential clients and supervisors think of me. Being Southern means being aware of one’s status and standing and those things can make or break an individual. I’m quick to rather not have something online for fear of my boss or family see a joke and not understand the context. I avoid making grand political statements lest I cause a flame war in the comment section of my Facebook page. Additionally, I tend to avoid serious discussions about my personal life anywhere but, well, inside my personal life.

So while outwardly I appear outgoing and open, I in fact can be rather quiet and shut off. What causes this separation? To me, there’s always been a very fine line between you and what other people see as you. Think of it like the ego and the id. You want to show off the ego and the id remains quietly tucked in the back of your mind until you get home. I’m very calculating with my words, I always seem to know what to say. I’m empathetic and can read situations easily. Because of course, you’d measure your response against what everyone else around you is saying. To me that’s common sense. To others, that’s disingenuous of even phony (yes, those are things I’ve been called).

To the people who have called me phony, they think I should say exactly what comes to mind all the time. I should be honest about how I feel about everything. But why would I? To me, that’s just reckless. If I’m in conversation with someone and I am distracted by their questionable choice to blend a paisley with a plaid I shouldn’t just blurt out “Wow, that outfit looks awful.” that isn’t disingenuous, it’s just polite. What sort of sophomoric id of a creature would I be if I just outwardly said everything that comes to mind. I should measure my responses. I should read a room. I should feel out a speaking partner. Those aren’t things to subjectively decide to do or not: those choices make and break careers, relationships and lives. If holding my tongue or giving a diplomatic answer keeps those around me happy and content then I think that’s a better solution than just blatantly saying every little thing that crosses my at times racing mind.

Let’s take on another example: social media. Now, I’m a social media manager by day and digital native and person with opinions by night. I’ve always proudly said that I don’t post anything on Facebook that I’m not ashamed of my family seeing. And that is for the most part true. I don’t share anything that my family, extended family, coworkers or close friends wouldn’t understand or approve of. And for a while, sure, that did mean a lot of self-editing. I kept away all of my emo song lyrics. Concerns about relationships and friendships were shelved and I kept talk of politics far far away. I hid those feelings on other websites and social networks and mostly kept a neat and clean social front door: I did want a job and to keep my Catholic family happy. To me that was never a negative. My Yankee family didn’t need to know that I was having problems with the 2nd or 3rd mostly nameless boyfriend. My aunts didn’t need to know that I was secretly way too early to class after falling face first in front of the bell tower at school. And as someone who does social media professionally, I am doubly aware of the importance of keeping the social media front door clean, tidy and free of suspicious posts.

Now, I’ve been able to relax a little. I’m lucky that conservative industry aside, I am still an advertising girl; that means I get to have a lot of personality and fun online. My aunts and the rest of my family understand that comic books, cosplay and music from Japan are just parts of my life and they only ask a few questions about why I named my sewing machine. But I still for the most part do my best to edit myself. Why do you guys think I didn’t start putting panel videos up until now? And I’ve left podcasts, quit shows and projects and everything because I am worried about my image. And when my friend whose podcast I left said “You’re too worried about your image!” I immediately responded: “Why aren’t you more worried about your image?” But that also means I’ve tabled projects because of what others have said. I tend to be a pretty good girl online but all it takes is one out of context soundbite from a friend and here I am guilty by association. And I respect my friends and their desire to not be censored. I’ll never hold back a friend from saying something: but that doesn’t mean I have to post it to all my social media channels.

There’s a certain Southern knack for self-editing and I think in moderation, it’s a needed part of social interaction. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t express myself. If any of you know me, I tend to be very candid about how I feel: just in other places or in person. I write as a wish, I blog, I do what I want and in moderation accept the slings and arrows of those who find my views controversial, strange or ridiculous. Let me know in the comments how you all feel about self-censorship and how far that power should extend to others.

Character Over Corpus

-I am just a human being trying to make it in a world that is rapidly losing its understanding of being human.-John Trudell.png

I follow a few Youtubers, well Vloggers, really. I can list them off for you since it is in fact so few: Hannah Hart on occasion, Mamrie Hart on occasion, Craig Benzine for sure, Hank and John Green (Or John would prefer: John and Hank Green) and the rest of my Youtube activity is split between Crash Course, The School of Life, Good Mythical Morning, It’s Okay to be Smart, PBS Idea Channel (Mike Rugnetta is like my spirit animal) and videos of cats. Cats wearing hats. Hats filled with cats and sloths oh and the occasional prehensile-tailed porcupine. Vlogging is a strange thing for me and I have very severe usual opinions on various Youtube ‘celebrities’. I don’t understand Tyler Oakley, Michelle Phan or PewDiePie (by all means feel free to ask about my rants on PewDiePie). I don’t understand how people can make literally millions doing something so innocuous as posting their daily rantings, ravings and nonsense but the few vloggers that I follow do remind me that it can and is a full time job and I’d love to thank Craig Benzine (WheezyWaiter) for showing me that being a personality is a lot of work.

But today we’re here to talk about people. Because there’s a strange cognitive dissonance between seeing an online celebrity and recognizing them as human. I know John Green not as an award-winning author but as the Nerdfighter behind French the Llama. This comes really from a very central thing: Hank Green recently announced that he and The Katherine were about to have a baby. I noticed in all of the videos where Hank mentions the new human child that’s about to enter his life that in my opinion he seemed terrified and miserable. I went to judge him as I would a comic book character before I realized this is a human being. This is a man who wakes up every day just like I do and is about to add to his family. Anxious, worried, scared, mortal: he was a human being and had every right to feel that way and I have no right to judge him.

Vlogging is in fact a rather voyeuristic thing. You do in fact open yourself up to be no longer a person but an object. When you put every single thing you say and do and start to monetize those things and build a community it does feel a bit like a forfeiture of your personal humanity. You are then not a person but a personality. Think of Oprah. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always resisted posting too many videos from convention or my panels or even of my costumes: those memories are personal, private and mine. I know what happened 2 AnimeFests ago. My friends do, too. The rest of the Internet? They don’t need to know the whole story. But the clips, vignettes, intimate glimpses are more than enough to share with the unwashed masses. As a blogger, writer and social media professional, I am keenly aware of what is appropriate to post and what is not and I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping my personal and private lives in check but also managing my online footprint pretty decently. But because I panel and cosplay there is a little bit of Stage!me and Everyday!me: those two people are very different and wear vastly different amounts of make up.

It’s interesting coming from someone like me who is a writer, cosplayer and general nerd. My friends and I talk rather casually about comic book characters, anime characters, novel characters like they’re people: like they’re real people. If you ever get in the middle of a Harry Potter conversation between friends and I, you will hear us talk about Potter as if he was right there and we were still equally annoyed and displeased with him. And if you sit with us further to hear conversations of headcanons you’ll come to find that even characters have idealized versions of themselves.

What’s even more interesting is that glimpsing into these people’s lives can reveal plenty of curious things. For a brief moment I found a person annoying based on a Let’s Play video. Think of how very shallow that is. I was willing and able to pass judgement on another person based on a video that completely out of context showed nothing about this individual or their life. And if anything I find that I am more sympathetic to John and Hank Green and the choices they make of who to show in their videos. John’s wife is famously in known in Nerdfighteria as “The Yeti” because she is often spoken about and rarely seen. He kept his son, Henry, out of many videos because he wanted his child to have agency over what what kept of him in the digital archives. And when clips, and snippets and soundbites are taken out of context: well, doesn’t that change how we’re all viewed? If someone pieced together a simulacrum of me based merely upon old anime club meetings and things I said while I was in costume: then you’d scarcely know the me that’s witty, charming, bookish, entirely too smart for my own good and frightfully introverted.

And what’s more important is that we forget to in these moments see these people are mortal. We put them on pedestals. We assume the wealth they’ve amassed from advertising makes them monoliths. But they are human, just like the rest of us. John Green goes to bed every night with his wife and family and if anything his open discussion of his anxiety to me makes him even more human. He worries about his existential life. He openly discusses mental illness and admits to the struggles he has had with faith. He admits to being an insufferable teenager ( I was, too) and he admits to being normal. Well, aside from the awards and stuff. I think it can all be summed up very well by another quote: “Even on the most exalted throne in the world we are only sitting on our own bottom.” said so wonderfully by Michel de Montaigne and illustrated beautifully in this video.
The moral of the story? Context is key. We’re all human and the internet is a scary place where we try to put our best foot forward only often to have our kindness used against us. So stay kind. Stay human. There’s a fine line between personality and persona.