Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#1
What do I mean by this? 

I appreciate its a broad description, though if there is a word or phrase to describe it I've not heard it. Regardless, it's something which I think is safe to say we've all seen in one shape or another:
  • Characters in an otherwise life-or-death scenario firing quips at each other, Marvel style
  • Otherwise genuine, wholesome, or character developing moments undercut by self-referential/'lampshading' jokes
  • Characters making meta-references to situations they find themselves in, even in a setting where such a joke would be anachronistic at best - "Ah, the old 'we're not so different speech' - save it pal!"
  • Near constant snark, usually explained as some sort of coping mechanism
  • 'EXisteNTial cRISis' 
I could go on, but you get my point. Now, I'm not saying that this style of humour doesn't have its place. I can even understand where it comes from; we know what the tropes in fiction are, we've seen them played straight, subverted, reinterpreted, and so on. It's an easy way to get a quick chuckle, a meme of sorts - 'I know you've seen this situation before, you know that I know, here's a little Easter Egg'. 

However, as the title says, these cheap gags are everywhere. I understand that not all of us are gifted with humour or wit. That's fine, you don't need to be funny to be entertaining. I would take no jokes at all over a barrage of quips, maybe a fraction of which might stick due to sheer volume. For those who aren't naturally funny, it's fine if only one decent joke came to mind in 5000 words of writing (or none at all!). For those who are, surely you can craft a joke wholly within the context of the story, with no reliance on 'meta', and trust that your readers will get it? 

Even in a modern or postmodern setting where such jokes could be excused, could you not instead reward the reader for paying attention to the setting? A joke misses, but on a rereading it suddenly makes sense - those are some of the best laughs you can get!. It doesn't have to be that our third millennia man has a fondness for late 90's and early 2000's pop culture.  

Maybe this is my 'boomer' moment, and I've just gotten too old and too jaded to lie back and embrace the snark. Maybe this is just a mainstream thing and I just haven't seen the good stuff. Unfortunately, for me at least, I don't think this is something you can un-notice after having noticed it (and if I've shattered this particular bubble for you, I apologise).  




 

Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#3
I think it can be used well when done with purpose and not used as a crutch. In Daria, for example, the style was used to support the theme and characters of the show; it was an integral and valuable part. In the MCU, it's used to churn out low-effort writing, and it shows.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the style per se, but I agree that it's often done badly because it's easy to imitate and give the illusion of depth or humour where none exists. (And when used in a meta way, as a tool to lampshade one's own narrative devices or character tropes, it reeks of defensive insecurity, like the author was scared to commit to selling us on the plot and felt the need to self-deprecatingly wink at us to protect themselves, which makes investing in the story really hard.)

Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#4


Derin_Edalaensive Wrote: ...I don't think there's anything wrong with the style per se, but I agree that it's often done badly because it's easy to imitate and give the illusion of depth or humour where none exists. (And when used in a meta way, as a tool to lampshade one's own narrative devices or character tropes, it reeks of defensive insecurity, like the author was scared to commit to selling us on the plot and felt the need to self-deprecatingly wink at us to protect themselves, which makes investing in the story really hard.)


That right there gets to the heart of it; it's not the jokes per se, but the thin veneer they create around the work. It's as if the writer to be taken seriously, but at the same time want to leave themselves an out in case anyone should criticise them for being overly derivative or unoriginal. "Well obviously  I included this cliché, it's ironic, I can't believe you don't get it" - OK buddy, but just because you've lampshaded a trope doesn't mean you haven't used it. 

Rather than doing this two-step, I think everyone would be much better served if the pretence were dropped. Like you've alluded to, I think it stems from a lack of confidence in the work and a fear of (constructive) criticism. 


Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#6
Quippy humor and self-reference is like when a really cowardly and non-confident person wants to ask a girl out, but he dances around the subject with jokes till he completely blows it.

It's pathetic. You either intend something or you don't, stop making everything a joke.

It's an endless fear of commitment to emotion or tone that makes every character seem like a robot or a complete coward.

Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#7
I like my humor and emotion less like Buffy, more like Aquaman. The ridiculousness of it all is funny in its own right, but to some extent the story takes itself pretty seriously, and the characters never undermine themselves. The characters make jokes, but in general the humor is about the pure situation of it all. Aquaman is a wonderful movie because it's a funny-ass movie, yet not trying so hard that it loses its heart.

Joss Whedon has made some great stuff. He is an abuser, a creep, and he should never be given a position of power again, but I do think a fair bit of his work is quite well made, particularly Cabin in the Woods. What I don't like is when quips undermine the actual emotional resonance that should be going on, AKA most Marvel movies and especially the first two Avengers movies.

Quippy sarcastic humor is widespread, and sometimes it can be a crutch. I sure use it in my lower-effort work such as Cultivine. But for any work that I put my heart into, I try to make sure that heart is shown there on the page. Humor is extremely important to me, and so is making sure that the humor not only gets laughs, but fits into the story at large. Breaking the fourth wall to talk about how crappy the story is right now is absolutely not the kind of thing that lifts your story up, and sadly that is the thing that so many quip-heavy Whedonesque stories do.

I say this despite knowing that Morgan of ATL fame is a true Marvel superhero-style snarker. One of my most known stories is one where the protagonist is quite self-aware and loves to undermine opponents, even in life-or-death situations. I've taken great care over the years to craft this story in a way that is both cartoonishly silly but still has genuine emotions and interesting mysteries... but whether or not it's actually any better than a Whedonesque story is still for the jury of readers to decide. Is Morgan a good enough character to transcend the snarkfest roots? Someone, read all 1000 pages and tell me because I sure don't know lol

Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#14
Yep, it really does cheapen the story and doesn't come off as clever so much as- well, people have given some good descriptions already.

This thread among other evidence does make me firmly believe this sort of humor has overstayed its welcome.

For example, the manga Demon Slayer (Kimetsu No Yaiba) recently outsold the entire American comic industry. One had a lot of this kind of humor, the other is honestly a fairly standard type of setup very well done very much lacking such humor.

Be like Demon Slayer.

Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#15

Jon Wrote: Yep, it really does cheapen the story and doesn't come off as clever so much as- well, people have given some good descriptions already.

This thread among other evidence does make me firmly believe this sort of humor has overstayed its welcome.

For example, the manga Demon Slayer (Kimetsu No Yaiba) recently outsold the entire American comic industry. One had a lot of this kind of humor, the other is honestly a fairly standard type of setup very well done very much lacking such humor.

Be like Demon Slayer.


That's a very good point - I think what we've had here in 'the west' is a generation of artists and storytellers who believe (rightly or wrongly) that every story that can be told has been told. That we know all the tropes, story beats, plot progression, etc. 

Therefore, to be 'original' we've got to Subvert Expectations™: emasculate an otherwise strong mentor character, make the villains sympathetic or simply misunderstood, tear down old idols and show them as flawed, weak and imperfect. It's nihilism after a fashion, and perhaps breeds this style of humour. And so the young, snarky kid, who really doesn't know as much about the world as they think they do, is now in fact wise beyond their years. As cynicism becomes wisdom, then it's a trait all of your good guys are going to share as they banter with a nudge and a wink towards the audience. 

Maybe I'm reaching a bit, but I do think this is the symptom of a larger problem.  

P.S. I'm not saying that 'subversive' elements in a story can't be good, but if its motivated purely by mean spiritedness or being subversive for its own sake, then I wouldn't be surprised when most people drop it. 

Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#17

Helmsman Wrote: And so the young, snarky kid, who really doesn't know as much about the world as they think they do, is now in fact wise beyond their years.
I'd say that is the wrong way to look at this. Kids know the world. Their world. Even those who leave their 'kid'-hood don't really know the world of those kids, or rather, they forget, looking down on the time they'd passed in an oft condescending way, complaining in their own way why the kids behave as they do. Kids see their own world and adults their own. Each sees life from a different perspective and each is affected differently by things around them(some of it is, of course, the media they consume, which is full of snark and cynicism)...


As for cynicism, rather than the ignorant trying to act smart, it's more a product of the age we live in. Because for most, with all the ever-expanding problems of the modern world, life is becoming increasingly harder, and people with judgemental views towards their lifestyle isn't making it any easier for them. And so comes the cynic view of, well, everything around them...

The problem is the lack of understanding, empathy, and acceptance of current times, and also sometimes, the all-around knowledge(some of it false and misguided, but whatcha gonna do when people want to believe that stuff) that's so readily available due to the internet...

Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#18
Agree. It's because it's not organic and jarring it's forced. Because of all those it tosses people out of the story. a lot like when a writer uses big words thinking it makes them look smarter, but just causes annoyance. Not that all books doing this do it wrong but most do, most need to work it in a better way IMO then it should work.


Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#19
Ironically, I think that Whedon's best works generally *don't* do this. Firefly? Doesn't do this. Buffy? It's laden with snark and quips in dangerous situations, but (the good episodes) usually let the sincere moments just be sincere moments and the gallows humor works better there because it's explicitly a comedy show. Cabin in the Woods? The whole film is intensely meta, but the characters tend not to just remark on it in overt ways. 

It's really only a Marvel thing - At least, from the works I've seen of his. I'm not really up to date on Whedon and don't plan to catch up. (Though I hear this problem also plagues his version of Justice League... I didn't watch it.) It worked in The Avengers, and The Avengers made a billion dollars, so every Marvel movie after that had to include some of it - even when it was wildly inappropriate for the story at hand. And then everyone wanted to mimic the MCU, so it shows up everywhere. 

Re: Gen X/Daria/Whedon - Style humour is everywhere, it's overdone, and it's a writing crutch

#20
I think it's also sometimes a symptom of that old pitfall - authors writing characters as an aspirational, glamourised version of themselves. I often get the impression they want to write a character based on how they handle things in a video game, using that inflated, powerful ego, but while lacking the self awareness to realise how badly they (or any normal human being) would be bricking themselves if a seven foot tall minotaur was charging at them.

That snarky, detached, above-it-all personality also tends to be a bit of a teenager's ideal. It's a natural, 'omerta-style' response to having others possess large amounts of control over your own life, but with the drama of fiction it's not realistic and comes off as insincere. In real life that sort of detachment tends to go away pretty immediately when shit hits the fan.

Unless the story is a comedy, it just doesn't really pay justice to generally dangerous or emotional situations, and tends to cheapen the whole thing. Not that a little gallows humour is bad, but when the general reaction to a scenario is unearned ambivalence it definitely strains both investment and credibility.