Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Copy and Paste a Plot Line Here

Author T.S. Elliot once said, "Good writers borrow, great writers steal.", and the first time I heard this I thought it was ridiculously untrue! How can a great writer, steal someone else's work or ideas and be "great"? Isn't that plagiarism?! But the more I read books, or watch television, the more I start to see reoccurring plots. Being completely original has gotten nearly impossible.
Sometimes I'm convinced I've already read a book or watched a movie because it seems so familiar, only to realize it just reminds me of something else. Sometimes, you have to think a little harder to figure out what the connection is, but sometimes it's like a slap in the face. One post I saw on facebook made me laugh. It said that Aladdin and Les Miserables have the same plot. Which sounds insane and untrue. But the more you think about it, the more similarities you can find. "A guy stole a loaf of bread, went to jail, was given riches by someone, gained political office, took part in a rebellion against the government, has a longstanding feud with one specific government official, ultimately influences this enemy to defeat himself." AND both are musicals! While this isn't the most accurate definition for either film, it does summarize several of the major plot lines. I would have NEVER thought to compare the two, but when I saw the post, I realized they both have a lot more in common than you would think.

The Films Avatar, Fern Gully, and Pocahontas have the same plotline too. Some men come along, thinking they can take the land and turn a profit. They want to strip everything from it, without any concern over what will happen to its locals. One lone man breaks from the group!  The man begins to learn the Native culture so he can trick them into giving everything to him, when suddenly (!) he meets a beautiful woman! She teaches him how wrong his point of view is, they fall in love, and the powerful man saves the poor natives from the group he once was part of.

The point is, we often follow strict archetypes because they make the media more relatable, and a lot of people see these archetypes as "Christian" values. We need to have an everyman. Someone who comes from a  humble background, who is suddenly thrust into a role where they have to fight and lead! Suddenly, the protagonist realizes they have to go on a journey or figure out how to fix a problem or do something that everyone else is too scared to do. (Think Harry Potter,  Katniss Everdeen, Bella Swan, Frodo Baggins, or any protagonist from a Young Adult dystopian novel). This creates a firm "mold" for our media, that people can readily recognize. They have to see the bad, and the good and help others to see the "right" as well! They fight, sometimes to the death, for their cause to protect the innocent

In the essay we read this week, Brent Jorgensen explains some of these archetypes. He talks about Kenneth Burke's principle of "equipment for living".  It's hard to get someone to read the bible to find "Christian Values" but it's easy to get someone to watch a film or read a book. By putting "equipment for living" into movies we learn things in a more accessible way. We have the same themes in so much media because we connect so easily to it. Even if we don't realize that we are picking up something from the media, we learn from the media we consume. Once my friend's car was stuck in her driveway, and we couldn't get it out no matter how much we pushed. Suddenly, I remembered an episode of That 70's show, where Eric's car was stuck on ice and eventually he remembered Red telling him he kept kitty litter in the car to use for traction in case he was ever stuck. Luckily, she had cats, and Red's trick worked! We finally got out of her driveway! It's a silly example but shows that we really can use media as a way to learn.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you think there are any truly original plot lines?
2. Do you think that when we consume media we, to a point, absorb it's message?
3. Can you think of a time where you used something from a book, movie, or TV show, that got you out of a tough situation? (A time where you used media as Equipment for Living.)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Elizabeth!
    I enjoyed reading your post because so many of your examples were familiar to me. I love young adult literature, with or without the “pasted plotline”. I like how you boiled down the plot so the comparison became so clear. I’ve seen both Les Miserable and Aladdin on stage, and let me tell you, the blue genie is far more entertaining than any character in Les Miserable. :)

    I love PBS’ Curious George cartoon. In your post you wrote, “…we learn things in a more accessible way.” Curious George is a wonderful example of your point. At the most obvious level, the show teaches scientific principles as George interacts with the world. Additionally however, the narrator (the monkey George’s inner thoughts) is so creative and clever, and he offers witty insight. Also, the audience is presented with various perspectives, so viewers learn that there are multiple ways of interpreting a situation. Most of children’s programming capitalizes on the idea of teaching principles in a welcoming way. Add a catchy song, and the children have lessons in their minds continually.

    You asked if media has ever been “equipment for living” in my world. I am a firm believer that while we cannot interact with every culture on earth in our lifetimes, we can break out of our neighborhood bubbles by picking up a book or even watching a movie. Third grade was the first time I remember being effected by reading someone else’s story. I read a biography of Helen Keller, and I was simply amazed. By reading her story, I learned about what is truly meant by “deaf and dumb” and it made me more skilled when interacting with others – mostly by educating those who misunderstood the term. Next I read about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In my elementary school in Idaho, we did not have much diversity. There was not a black student in the school, so my understanding of racial oppression had to come from a book. I believe that was an essential piece of equipment for my life. Reading about Judaism in The Chosen, Japanese-Americans in Farewell to Manzanar, and Navajo soldiers in Code Talkers has repeatedly helped me be a better communicator. Now I do interact with a diverse population, and they are frequently grateful that I have tried to learn about their culture. I try to put these types of books on front of my teenage son, so he too will have equipment for living a pluralistic life.