So Why, Exactly, Did it Work?

20180110_174945It’s unusual for me to go out of my way to see a new movie in theaters. Even more-so after I’ve gotten home once already and I’ve decided that I have no interest in leaving my household ever again #introvertlife

However, my friend and I had finished getting caught up on some of the new anime that had grabbed my interest this season (disclaimer: one really good one, one mediocre one and one mostly satisfactory one. More on those another time), and we had decided to sit down for a nice quiet evening of Minecraft. That motivation lasted for all of 5 minutes before the two of us got incredibly bored. Then, a thought struck me.

The new Jumanji movie had come out a couple weeks back and I had heard from two other friends that the movie was exceedingly good. With little else to do, we packed up and shipped out to the big city to go see the movie.

If this were to be a review piece, I’d now tease you, reader, relentlessly for about half a dozen paragraphs about whether or not I liked the movie while picking it apart on a cinematographic level and quoting some needlessly inane metaphors to make my opinion sound more trustworthy. However, this is not a review, and I’ll save my inane metaphors for my typical nerd-tastic anime reviews another time (I did say more on the three anime later, didn’t I?). Instead, all you really need to know is that I fucking loved the new Jumanji movie.

JUMANJI_LIGHT_PANEL_2_1_1Going into the movie, I was already rather confident I’d enjoy it thoroughly. My friend, however, was much more skeptical. Most of his skepticism was born out of cautious interest in anything resembling a two-decade later reboot (actually, 22 years later, but that’s neither here nor there) of a franchise that was solid in its inception with a good ending (well, good in an enjoyment sense anyway) and nothing much left to say. We’d both seen the trailers for the movie and knew about the same amount going into it.

Moreover, much of my friend’s worries stemmed from the casting choice of having Jack Black playing a 16~ year old girl trapped in an “overweight, middle-aged man’s” body. I can most certainly see where his worries would come from in that sense: we’ve all seen that trope used before and become an exercise in patience rather than good joke material. To cut to the chase on that matter, that role was played surprisingly well: Black played the girly-ness often enough to just remind the audience in who he was on the inside, but not to the extent that it was painfully in-your-face the whole time.

By end of the movie, both my friend and I agreed that the movie was amazing, the casting choices were solid, and that we’d both be willing to see it again in theatres. This, of course, brings us to the main question of this article: why, exactly, did it work?


Funny thing is: only about half the audience will actively remember a time when 4 controllers had to be plugged into the same console…

For starters, we’ll poke at the whole premise of the movie. I was similarly worried about how the idea of Video Game Jumanji would have come into existence: neatly answered by the fact that the game is sentient-enough to understand its audience (or victim, depending on wordage) and change itself into an Atari game to better work for the times. This does raise several questions that are not answered by the movie itself: why does this game seek to bring people into itself, does it feed on human souls or something, why is the game (which clearly has no regard for whom might be harmed in its playing) so strict on following its own rule set and giving the players a reasonable chance to win?

I’m not answering those today, but you get the point.

Once inside the world of Jumanji, you see the story really come into its own. It’s not a remake/reboot of the previous movie. It did not awkwardly try to tie in references to the past movie, or call on mindless star-power to sell its tickets. It also had, much like in the first movie, a core message it was trying to relate. A moral to the story, as it were.

In the first movie, the main moral was that the cowardly Alan Parrish needed to learn how to face his fears and stop running from his enemies and/or consequences. This was reinforced by the various trials and tribulations that Alan, and his unlucky companions, were forced to overcome. Specifically, in the form of Van Pelt in the first movie’s iteration: ironically played by the same actor who played Alan’s father. In the beginnings, we see how Alan’s father is hard on the boy and how he is almost portrayed as harsh and unforgiving, controlling his life and direction. Take that to the extreme where Van Pelt, same actor, is actively trying to hunt Alan and is, in many senses, the final battle.


Classic Van Pelt: stereotypical British Colonialism at its finest! Except with a German name…

In the new movie, the main message is learning about yourself: who it is you want to be. It’s a message that most assuredly resonates with younger audiences today than the previous message would: high school is a sick sort of jungle on its own where the student body almost dons personalities and become artificial characters in the interest of fitting in. I could go into much more detail, but I feel many of you folks could start filling in the blanks yourself. In this iteration, Van Pelt does not serve as a literal antagonist much like he did in the previous movie.


Updated Van Pelt: what happens when Nathan Drake becomes a possessed evil bug-monster thing.

In actuality, his presence is significantly less important to the heroes to overcome than it is themselves that pose the greatest threat to their own survival. Overcoming their own personal biases, insecurities and shedding their artificial personas to find who, it is, they really want to be. The changes in these four Breakfast Club contenders from Jumanji entry and exeunt are small, but significant.

Besides the significance of the character dynamics and developments, the setting of immersion in a game world is much more relevant to facing challenges in the real world to my, and younger, generations. In many regards, the youth of today do most of their self-exploration and development in a digital format: translating that into video game terms might actually have been the only way the game of Jumanji itself would have had any sort of impact on the movies’ audience. Gaming is a very common pastime, and no longer just for the declared “nerd” culture.


While board games are making a come-back in Western Culture, they’re still somewhat an archaic form of entertainment.

By extension, this makes the intended audience much more literate in the short-hand gaming terms that are used in the movie; almost to an extent that the included dialogue used for explaining certain game functions (cutscenes, NPCs, etc.) to really be for the purpose of older audiences who were fans of the original movie and wanted to see where they’d go with the new one.

And, of course, you have all the staples on modern action-film cinematography: lots of explosions, an injection of womanly sexual push, big-name cast, more explosions, a few penis jokes… (I never claimed this was a very forward-thinking movie, just a good one) When brought together, you are presented with a very tight and well received movie but audiences at large. It really comes as no major surprise that audiences love this movie as much as they do; even if they might not understand all the details as to why it works.


But Did it Make a Difference?

20170808_201604By now, everyone and their dog is aware of the particular little catchphrase that gets slapped across the title of a video or within the first sentence or two of an article. We call it out to each other during conversations and, lest we not forget that some online forums even have programs in place to protect their reader’s eyes from the unholy machinations of the careless or compassionless. It’s become iconic of our culture and, frankly, an odd component of our modern world.

By now, you’ve probably been able to put two and two together and arrive at a shortlist of such possible phrases. To my mind, based on my own descriptor above, I can think of only two examples: Trigger Warnings, and Spoiler Alerts. And while both relatively recent additions to our modern colloquialisms are the subject of some contentions, I’m choosing to focus my attention to the latter one.

Spoiler Alerts: we read about them in titles, they precede virtually every discussion on any work of fiction and, in ironic cases, any work of non-fiction. They’re found in professional reviews, editorial articles, and quite often even on our own tongues as we discuss things with our friends. In fact, the term gets so thrown around that is rivals even the number of times one Canadian might ask “Hey, how’s it going?” to a complete stranger (as a personal aside, I probably ask that question somewhere around a dozen times per day to people I have never talked to before or since).

headerThis of course raises the question of why? Why do we feel that such a disclaimer before we discuss any piece of fiction, new or otherwise, and feel terrible backlash or verbal abuse should we, writer speaker or otherwise, fail to mention it?

Understanding, of course, that the phrase “Spoiler Alert” to as early as 1982: it’s been circulating around internet-based vocabulary for over thirty years now. As a disclaimer: that’s older than I am. I am being outdone by a concept (yes, I may, perhaps, be a little salty). When a concept has been ingrained into a populace for any prolonged matter of time, it will invariably be an unshakable truth in how we view things and the world around us. For example: the idea that an average work-week is Monday to Friday, eight to five is a dated concept going back over centuries now. And I’d be willing to hazard that most people interviewed would explain that as typical business hours.

This is part of a larger issue at play, but not the focus of today’s dissection. Yes: I wrote dissection there. And then a second time; repetition is key, I’m lead to believe.

I’d read a few articles and listened to a few opinions over different channels over this whole Spoiler Alert issue; and generally I find there are two primary ideas behind the feeling in favour towards it:

  1. That is primes someone’s awareness towards avoiding reading/watching/hearing something if they wish to maintain a degree of ignorance on a topic
  2. That the spoiling of particular plot points or “big reveals” in many fiction pieces can eliminate the enjoyment of a particular story

It’s a little harder to argue against the first mentioned idea since it’s very subjectively minded and, frankly, pretty logical. After all, who am I to determine that someone would or would not enjoy something more if they didn’t know a key story detail? It is, however, closely tied in to the second point, which many might actually include as part of the first point and, by extension, omit all together.

The second point is where I start asking questions. What is the purpose of enjoying a story (regardless of media)? Is a story defined by its plot twists or surprise developments? Does the knowing of a surprise detail automatically reduce or eliminate the impact of a tale’s completion?

Things get muddled in that second idea, I find. Since so much of this seems tied to opinion and to the first idea, it is also very subjective. But I’d like to challenge a few of those points, see if I can’t bring some different light to your way of thinking about it.

For starters, we need to address why, specifically, we read/watch/listen to any sort of fiction. Depending on which particular school of philosophy you subscribe to will drastically change your views on things. The main reasons that I am aware of, however, are distraction, escapism, comprehension and/or enlightenment.

Listed in no particular order; probably should have prefaced with that…

However, these tend to be the primary reasons people partake in fiction in any of its form. Notably, half of those are for purposes of entertainment or stress reduction, the others might be to broaden your mind in either spiritual or mental endeavors. Maybe even physical if you consider it an eyeball workout.

Seeing as my primary experience is as a writer of fiction, it will skew my views on the matter slightly. After all, one thing I always strive towards is that impossible idea of creating the perfect story for people to read. And in doing so, I’ve read many different views and lessons on how to compose a story. What I’ve noticed, however, is that there seems to be a bit of a divide in mentality there.

You’re perhaps of the mind that there is no such thing as a new story and that everything has already been written; sometimes with different skins and to different degrees of quality, but otherwise it has already been done. Of that mindset, would that not negate the need to warn people of spoilers? If everything is already written, then the consumer would, either on a conscious or sub-conscious level, already know of the major plot developments as well as have a good comprehension of what the likely twists and turns will be.

Or, if not for that reason, perhaps then it’s for the simple enjoyment of the story as it’s written. For the pure satisfaction of the prose, of the dialogue or of the descriptions of peoples, places and things. In that regard, there is little to no reason for spoiler warnings considering that the only thing to be ruined for someone to discover is a particularly well-composed sentence (we’ve all read sentences that just hit that sweet spot in us when we read it), and even then the only thing to be ruined is that self-gratifying sense of discovery.

There is, of course, mention of the third component to this and that it is possible to write something in such a way that it truly shocks and surprises your audience with the big reveal or the sudden plot twist. This seems to, in actuality, the common belief of most consumers of fiction; and it’s not a viewpoint I particularly subscribe to. For myself, it has more to do with that previously mentioned point.

The specifics of the “what happens” is significantly less important to me than the way it happens. The inflection in the words of the actor, the particulars of the dialogue or descriptions within the text or even in still images. The enjoyment for me isn’t in the big surprise, so much as it is in the reveal of the surprise. Very seldom am I able to not predict what’s going to happen next, and because of that logic, I should have stopped enjoying fiction quite some time ago.

when-you-see-a-car-with-a-big-spoiler-snape-kills-dumbledoreAnd yet, I can still harken back to when Half-Blood Prince was published and the stories floating around that the “Dumbledore had been killed by Snape” spoiler had been belted out to crowds of people buying the book. There was genuine outrage from patrons. I had heard this story when I was only one chapter into the book, and yet, it did not kill for me the joy of reading the story. When the big scene came along, it was fairly apparent that the death of Dumbledore was eminent, regardless of spoilers.

Though I’m still not entirely convinced that Dumbledore is actually dead in that series; just comatose. But that’s a different article for a different day.

In essence, I can’t help but ask to what purpose do we, as people, need shielding from plot twists and sudden developments. In our exceedingly interconnected digital world, it’s become more and more difficult to “protect” ourselves from being exposed to story-ruining elements. Personally, I feel no inclination towards the inclusion of spoiler warnings and alerts in my works, but I also acknowledge that it is a personal decision that is, by no means, reflective of the mentality of the public on a whole. At the very least, I hope this has given you some different ways to look at the topic at hand.

Writing convention now dictates I should shoe-horn in some cheeky “spoiler warning” joke; but I’m better than that. Instead, I’ll just end it with an unexpected

Some Thoughts on Education – No Click-bait-y Titles Here

Anyone who has held a prolonged conversation with me can probably tell you there are several topics that will send me into a spiral or rants or musings, depending on the nature of the discussion. Oftentimes, we call this a “heavily-opinionated person”, and I can certainly attest to being someone under such a label (despite my general disdain for labels in general, more on that another time). My reasons for launching into these triads stem from a few different sources: the need to express an opinion, the desire to challenge my own thoughts and critical thinking and a plethora of minor reasons that are a little too tedious for my shockingly presently-focused mind to feel like rationalizing.

Chiefly among those reasons, however, is the need to voice my beliefs and thoughts about topics I have seen or read. My mind is a jumbled mess of thoughts and concepts at the best of times, and vocalizing these thoughts helps form them into concise statements and hypotheses. And one such topic that I find myself launching into rant-realms over is the land of education.

Now, I understand education is something of a hot-button topic (a phrase I didn’t think I’d ever use until now, which means I probably am misquoting or incorrectly using it), and everyone and their dog has an opinion on the matter. Teachers, students, parents, politicians, researchers and board members all have their opinions on what the educational system today is like and what it needs to do to improve, or conversely, what it needs to stop declining in quality.

It should come to no surprise that I, myself, am someone who has very charged and self-important beliefs on the quality of the school system in Canada (or at least in Ontario, as I understand there are minor nuances to the systems not only between countries, but between provinces as well). I mean, I possess all the warning flags of someone who has deep-rooted grievances with the current school system: I did poorly all through school due to a laundry list of personality and motivation flaws, I did not attend post-secondary education due to financial and personality flaws, and am largely against the commercialization of education due to financial and personal beliefs.

You might have noticed something of a trend in there somewhere.

Granted, I’m not so self-important as to believe that I am blameless in my current academic standing, nor do I honestly think that the problems that plagued me are anywhere near similar to those that bother other individuals or organizations. That’s why I make it a point to read up on different studies, articles or coverage of the ever-changing landscape of education. I also keep contact with several friends who are teachers at different levels in the school system (by that, I mean the range from kindergarten to high school, teachers to school board members, and even a couple of politicians) and am very careful to listen to those who have differing opinions on the school system than I (check out my piece on Echo Chambers in social media for more).

I also consider the opinions of those who have personal views on the nature of school because of life experience or spiritual beliefs, as these are both important aspects in understanding how we can better operate as a global community in our exceedingly diverse world. I’ve noticed several trends in these varied beliefs that sometimes I am, at first, inclined to argue against, but often have to sit back and think on until I can properly process what I’ve just learned.

There is one general consensus that I have noticed, however: very nearly everyone thinks the current academic landscape is broken or has gaping holes in operational efficiency/policy. Very seldom do we hear people discussing the accomplishments of a standardized educational system that has made significant leaps and jumps in how our brains have developed over the decades, let alone centuries or millennia of the history of education.

Instead, there seems to be an overwhelming belief that there is little good from our current school system. This generally stems, I have noticed, from small groups picking out an issue and inflating the damaging nature of said defect. This is not to say there are not dangerously broken systems in our schools; one needs only look at the academic disparities between both racially segregated or financially destitute schools to see things, two traits that are oftentimes linked. But some issues are only a part of a greater concern, and that is the need for hard evaluations on the intended direction that education serves as.

Now you start leaving the realm of hard, numerically provable evidence and get into the realm of cultural or philosophical reasoning. What EXACTLY is the purpose of education? This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer as it seems the intended purpose changes based on personal views.

I know it seems that I’ve performed a complete 180 from my original statement, but bear with me: it’ll all tie together in the end. I think.

Note from Self: I can’t help but feel the “bear” that was used in the sentence prior is incorrect. I’m almost completely confident that it should be “bare”, but Microsoft Word is convinced otherwise. I might also just be losing my mind, which is exceedingly possible, as well.

I don’t claim to have the greatest knowledge of educational history, but based on what I do know, it seems that for the better part of western culture and history the drive for better education was a largely social need. In order to develop a more stable and prosperous civilization, better academic reasoning was required. To cultivate this sense of logic, students (or monks, before that) focused on the mathematics and sciences. As anyone who has built a tiny bridge in science class can tell you: understanding weight dispersal and fulcrums are not exactly guess-work when trying to plan for a bridge to navigate a tiny car across two desks.

But with the maths and sciences, so too came the humanities. Poetry and music can help maintain a semblance of order and sanity in large populations; they also further reinforce a sense of cultural identity and stress relief that maintains a higher quota of productivity than otherwise. And as time progresses, so too do these systems improve. Science and learning becomes more precise, and literature and the arts have more to draw upon as human nature and identities change with the times.

Now, I’m not even going to begin to speculate on eastern education, because I know very little about it. Based on academic rankings, though: they seem to be doing pretty well in the past couple decades.

Based on these developments, I’d say the nature of education is to improve upon the human mind in general. We can see this in the varied and diverse fields of study that can be obtained within the higher academic establishments; the only real limits to what you can learn comes down to ethics at that point. Or money.

And in that regard, the education system we have today has achieved that goal with remarkable success. Our brains are sophisticated machines that, as a result of the stimulation and information we’ve received through our developmental years, can process complex questions and scenarios that have built civilization as we recognize it today. The fact that we can even question these ideas on such a massive scale, potentially reaching and hearing millions of voices at a time with universal theories and scales to work with is testament to that accomplishment.

But this begs the question: what is the purpose of education now? Where do we go from here? And this is where everyone splinters into their different groups and beliefs. We’re all asking the same question, frankly, just in different words. And this is good. This is hella good.

I strongly believe that everyone who partakes in these conversations and arguments all have the same base goal: to improve upon such a fundamentally important system that our world relies upon. And if we’re all having that discussion, I genuinely believe that, as far as morals are concerned, there are very few wrong view points to have.

Except for anarchists. I do not like them, or their beliefs at all!

The funny thing is what sprouted this recent mind experiment for me. I was thumbing through a social media feed and happened across a post about the nature of education. It stated that home education was far superior because, as far as human history is concerned, it’s the one that’s been in use the longest and that established education was an experiment.

The implication was that established education was wrong and we should go back to individualized family-based learning instead. I can sympathize with the sentiments behind the post, but I largely disagree with the overall message. As a whole, our society is better for having an educational system in place. And while I, much like many, believe that our system is far from perfect, it is infinity better than having nothing at all.