Narrative Usurpation; Quick Thoughts On the Previous Post

First, please to enjoy the new t-shirt:

The statement will be familiar to this year’s class at Viable Paradise. For the rest of you, it relates to characters who show up in a story and are so entertaining that you forget whatever else is supposed to be going on and just pay attention to them instead. Guilty characters include Falstaff, the devil, and anyone Alan Rickman happens to be playing. Someone suggested I was a bit of a narrative usurper myself, which I don’t know is true (it presumes real life has a definable narrative, and God, whatever his other virtues, is crap at organizing his stories), but is flattering. Me and Alan Rickman, baby! Thus, the shirt. I also made one for Alan. I wonder where I should send it.

Second, thanks everyone for the kind notes about today’s previous entry, both in the comments there and on Twitter, and the various other places I’ve seen comments online. I’m glad the point I was trying to make is coming through. That said, I’ll note this before someone else feels the need to: Please, all, remember that I have shown my ass on the Internet before, and it seems very likely I will do so again in the future — although, of course, I will try not to. But like any number of people who presume to clever, I am often guilty of saying or writing something without first passing it through the “will this make me look like an entitled jackass” filter. And then, surprise, I look like an entitled jackass.

This is my roundabout way of saying that one of the reasons I wrote that last entry is to remind myself to try to be that person, the one who is aware what he gets unearned. In day-to-day life I work on it. Some days I do a better job than others. I’m sure all y’all will let me know when I’m having a bad day of it. I’ll try not to be too petulant when you do.

47 Comments on “Narrative Usurpation; Quick Thoughts On the Previous Post”

  1. Thanks for this, too. Far too often, people get horribly defensive over being told their ass is showing, to the point where they sprout a new, shinier, neon plated ass just to defend themselves from the original ass showing, which totally could have been avoided by thanking the person telling them, and putting on some damn pants.

  2. Man, I have been a jackass here. I’ve tried to move past that into “thinking before one hits the Submit Comment button” stage.

    And I want that shirt. I’ll wear it with pride next time I see Alan Rickman.

  3. And now I can’t get the image of Scalzi’s butt, clad in something analogous to the “bacon bra,” out of my head.

    Why, O God, why?

  4. If you find out where to send Mr. Rickman’s t-shirt, I shall be glad to deliver it for you.

  5. 1) Where do we get that shirt?

    2) More importantly, where do I get a new, neon-plated ass, preferably one I don’t have to show on the Internet?

  6. Does usurpation require the character to be entertaining? What about a character so annoying that the entire narrative becomes secondary to the pain caused by, say, Jar-Jar?

  7. [sarcasm]t sounds to me like you’re trying to say that you are human and therefore may make a mistake every once in a while. [/sarcasm] That being said, as far as I’ve been able to tell, when you do show your a$$ and have it handed to you, you admit it and apologize and in fact, have used it as a teaching moment for all of us. I’d say that’s being a real adult and a good example for us all.

  8. #10 —

    Operative word in that sentence is “was”; it was usurped by several other things, greed being one of the larger ones.

    Huh. The agent listings have moved to IMDBpro. :( You’d think the agents would have objected to that. Ask Wil?

  9. Is it just me, or will Alan Rickman be playing Neil Gaiman in the latter’s autobiographical movie?

  10. 1. In my opinion, people willing to admit that they are behaving like an entitled jackass and then try to make amends for the fact gets an occasional pass on the jackass-o-meter.

    2. No, you’re not delusional, of course there was no narrative in the Phantom Menace!

    3. Full of fabulous as that shirt is, I don’t really think Alan Rickman needs one. All he has to do is, well, say something. Poof, narrative, focus, plotline, ALL usurped but good.

  11. One of the things about privilege is, if you have it, you’re going to be an idiot about it, at least occasionally. That’s inevitable.

    What makes a difference is how you react when called on it. Trying to do better is infinitely preferable to insisting you have nothing to work on.

  12. Falstaff? The Falstaff in Arthur Clarke’s Rama series? The little robot that Richard Wakefield made to entertain himself?

  13. Considering your first reply to your earlier post was interrupted by the dog, perhaps a doggie tshirt version for Daisy is appropriate. But not a sweater, cuz that’s not cool. Maybe a bandana version? I’m not sure what all the cool dogs wear these days.

  14. “I am often guilty of saying or writing something without first passing it through the “will this make me look like an entitled jackass” filter. And then, surprise, I look like an entitled jackass.”

    Benji, the main character from your contribution in Metatropolis definitely seems to have had a number of these moments. (Just spent my afternoon reading your and Schroder’s contribution to that book. Onwards to the New Space Opera II)

  15. “This is my roundabout way of saying that one of the reasons I wrote Things I don’t Have To Think About Today is to remind myself to try to be that person, the one who is aware what he gets unearned. In day-to-day life I work on it.” – John Scalzi 18 Oct 2010

    Today when I woke up my Internet access had failed, my site stats were down, and a resource I’d booked for a job in Singapore pulled out at the worst possible moment.

    I was thinking, “Oh man this is going to be one of those days…” and then I read your previous post. I don’t live in USA, don’t think that matters, what you said applies just about everywhere.

    So today I’m not thinking about the little things; instead I’m thinking about a great list of things that bear thinking about, and a guy, “who hung his ass out”, at great personal risk, to remind me that I have much, unearned, and to be aware of that.

    Thanks John you’re a lovely guy, ass hangin’ out and all.

  16. Somebody make a LOLCAT of Scalzi with a caption of “I iz in ur storree usurpin ur narrativ”

  17. John, I don’t know about entitled jackassery or whatnot, but you could do us all a favor by never using the phrase “all y’all” ever again.

  18. What’s wrong with “all y’all”? It’s the most encompassing form of “y’all” and very appropriate.
    At least he didn’t use “all youse guyses.” ;)

    I too have to echo how much brighter that post made my morning. Needs to go far and wide across the intertubes, that one does.

  19. My son in law from Mississippi informs me that y’all is the singular and all y’all is the plural. So, yes, John used it correctly.

  20. I was always under the impression that “y’all” was second person plural and “all y’all” was second person plural for a large or scattered group of people.

  21. Oh Lord… now that you’ve mentioned Rickman, every straight woman (and some gay men) who read this post will be diverted in to some sort of gobsmacked reverie fantasizing about him.

    Yes, think about it for a sec – fantasizing about Severus Snape. I think I just threw up in my mouth a little ;->

  22. There was a narrative in The Phantom Menace?

    There was a meta-narrative. Lucas making a fourth movie in a series is a sign of the impending collapse of Western civilization.

    This was re-emphasized with the last Indiana Jones film.

  23. The traditional means of dealing with a character who usurps the narrative is to kill him* off. This is called “Mercutioing.”

    *Relevant to yesterday’s post, are usurping characters always white males? They’re almost universally comical–that’s why they’re distracting.

    Though I suppose there are non-comical black males who qualify, e.g., Hawk from the Spenser books.

    I can’t think of any women who usurp narrative, but perhaps the collective brainpower of Whatever can come up with one.

  24. are usurping characters always white males?

    No. J. J. on “Good Times” and Urkel on “Family Matters” were both usurping characters, and in both cases an attempt at a semi-realistic TV sitcom about working-class black people turned into a show revolving around a broad comic figure.

  25. Joan Cusack would be my vote for the female equivalent of Alan Rickman. I haven’t seen her in a movie yet where she isn’t a scene-stealer.

    Can I go back to contemplating Alan Rickman now?

  26. Alan Rickman played the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. His usurpation of the narrative from the hopelessly miscast Kevin Costner was the main thing that made that movie watchable (seriously, if they had just replaced Costner with a journeyman British actor, that could have been a really decent movie).

  27. Alan Rickman…the ultimate bad man. Yummy. So yummy I’ll even forgive him for that perfectly awful movie about wine that he made a couple of years ago.

  28. John:
        I <3 the shirt you model in today’s post so very much … at least in part because I keep imagining this printed on the side opposite.

        Just keep on usurpin’, sir – ’cause you’re good at it.

  29. 35E: – Dame Judy Dench? I know that setting her as M means that there’s only one focus of attention whenever she is on-scene, and it isn’t Bond. Even if you have a visceral reaction to naked Daniel Craig being beaten for your enjoyment (which I don’t).

    10JS: Of course TPM had a narrative:
    “Here’s the new action figure. Buy it. Here’s the new video game. You want to play this, but don’t pirate it, or the Trade Federation^W^W MPAA will blow up your planet. Oh, by the way, you can buy the Star Destroyer and, even the planet it destroys, too, kids. Moms, here’s the new plushy – you want this as well for your little kids. Oh, the story? That’s not important, people don’t listen to the words in music, why would they here? But the soundtrack is available on Arista Records, folks!”

  30. Does a usurper have to be a fully fledged character in their own right or just someone who shows up, steals the scene, and then leaves? Are Hypno-toad and Scruffy the Janitor from Futurama usurpers?

    I think that Jordan from Real Genius counts (and is an example of a female usurper). I’m sure the writers must have been tempted to throw her in every scene just because she’s that much fun to have around.

  31. With all the folderol present here about Alan Rickman, I would like to present proof positive that John does indeed usurp narratives.

    See, there’s this giant guy in the foreground with this weird knit-looking clown sweater on, and a fierce grimace on his face, and he’s wielding a golden spear. And he’s riding a flying Unicorn-Pegasus-Kitten over an active volcano, with all this portentious atmosphere with storm clouds and lightning.

    And it’s amazing in it’s hideousness and general stupidity, and you think “Wow, that was a lot of effort on someone’s part for this.”

    But then, just above the lower left of the picture, there’s this ScalzOrc….

    BOOM!! Narrative usurped.

  32. Thank you, Mr. Scalzi, for the new shirt. I shall relish wearing it between scenes as the master villian in Buckaroo Bonzai and the World Crime League. Peter Seller was asking if he could get one as well. I just gave him my signature stare, you know, the one that makes abundantly clear I’m not at all happy with what you just said, and he hasn’t mentioned it since. Brad Pity (playing Perfect Tommy) pretended he wasn’t interested in the shirt, but I could see the envy in his baby blue eyes. Jason Stathman, playing one of Buckaroos new international sidekicks, Turkish, thought it was nice, but said it wasn’t as good as his shirt that says “because he dodges bullets”. Keira Knightly ((Penny Priddy) informed him gently that mine was the better.

    You have my gratitude.
    As always,

  33. Neither you nor he is wrong.I received an invitation, but I did not accept it.Keep it up!I’ll call a taxi in case of need.There comes a bus.How can I climb up that wall!Help yourself.The population of the city is close to a million.You look as if you didn’t care.As far as policy is concerned, I have to say something.