“That’s what you mean, eh?”

Canadians Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis created the Canadian quintessential cultural touch-stones, The Mckenzie Brothers, for SCTV (1980).  Created originally as filler to both satisfy and mock network Canadian content demands, the duo became a pop culture phenomenon in both Canada and the United States. Though initially intended for Canadian TV only, some of the two-minute “Great White North” segments would find their way into U.S. versions of the 30-minute shows due to a shortage of content that week. When NBC ordered the 90-minute shows for the 1981 season, they specifically cited good affiliate feedback on the “two dumb Canadian characters” and requested that the characters be included in every program.

One of the characteristics of the pair was their exaggerated Canadian  dialect, made up of a mixture of  Ottawa Valley and Toronto dialects.  It incorporated real and imagined idiom ( Hoser – false etymology ) to satirize the expectations of Canadian culture &  image. The most famous expression is the ubiquitous “eh”.

“And we thought if we’re going to do these characters, we’re going to slow down our speech a little, certain words we’re going to over-pronounce and we’re going to tag a lot of sentences with ‘eh.’ ” – Dave Thomas

 

For an more expansive article on this topic see Toronto Star-So you’ve heard all about this Canadian myth, eh?

 

Peace Starts With Me: Video Art by Magali Charrier

 

Magali Charrier was commissioned by PUMAPeace, alongside 7 other artists, to create a piece around the idea of Peace for the World Peace Festival 2011. The piece was subsequently broadcast on Channel4 in October 2011 as part of Random Acts.

Artist Statement

“I use drawing as a tool for investigating the human body and its inner workings—giving sight to what is only felt, not yet seen or known. By merging animated drawings with live action, I put mark making at the centre of filmmaking. In their dialogue, body and trace question the materiality of movement and of human presence.

For films4peace, I was concerned with depicting the intimate battles that occur daily within oneself and the chaotic journey that takes place in order to reach inner peace. A simple setting: one fixed long shot, a human figure in an empty space. Stillness. Suddenly shadows flicker out of the human figure, sporadically first, then frenetically entering and extracting themselves, interfering and frantically disrupting the initial state, building up to darkness. Peace comes as a sudden breath born out of chaos.”

Charrier is an award winning director, animator and video editor whose work has been toured and broadcast throughout the world.

 

Magali Charrier – click to visit her website.

 

Click to view Le Corps en Construction series by Magali Charrier.

Her background in fine arts, animation and dance gives her a highly sought-after and distinctive style often incorporating film and animation. She is the recipient of numerous awards (VideoDansa Prize, Barcelona; NAHEMI Award at Encounters Film Festival, Bristol, Best Dance Film at CineDans Festival, Amsterdam and more) and bursaries from Channel4, BBC4 and the Arts Council.

Magali also works as a visual artist, producing animated video projections for live theatre and dance productions as well as short films and illustration. She completed a short series of animated films about contemporary dance, commissioned by The Place. The series was due to launch in summer 2014.

 

An Arrow through The Heart

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Each medium has its own codes and conventions. When you take the content (message) from one medium and convey it in another it becomes altered – change the medium, change the message.  Trying to carry over the audience from one medium to the next, while acquiring an audience new to the content becomes a difficult balance.  In part, this is why  adaptations can fail or succeed  in attempts to being faithful to the source material. Too faithful, may mean that it is working against the codes and conventions of the new medium, which in turn fails to grow the new audience. Adapting the material to make the most of the medium, while growing the audience, may in turn upset, even alienate, the original built-in audience and undermine the potential growth envisioned in the adaptation of the content.  An obvious example of this is when works of print,  such as novels, short stories, sequential graphic narratives ( graphic novels and comics ), are adapted to movies or television.

 

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There are are a number of examples that can be used. The current CW television show, Arrow, is such an example.  The show, Arrow, began as an adaptation of the DC superhero, The Green Arrow.  This comic character has a long history, going back to the 1940s.

GoldenAgeArrow

 

The comic superhero is an interesting genre of fictional hero. It has its origins in both the pulp magazines and the newspaper comic strips.  It evolved into a sequential narrative that blended the genres of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, with the masked/disguised hero-vigilante . Originally aimed at children and young teens, as time went on the target audience became decidedly male. Over many decades it began to skew to an increasingly older target audience, that has been often stereotypically portrayed as the inept adult male, the Nerds on (CBS) Big Bang Theory being a comical example.

The Big Bang Theory Cast 1sm

 

The problem then, in adapting the Green Arrow character to a  weekly television series becomes one of how to to portray the character and his world . A recent development in American television broadcasting is that some networks have attempted to create an identifiable house style of entertainment, both in the variety of  shows and how they appeal to a specific demographic of the viewing audience.  In the case of CW, the emphasis has been on youth and in particular, young women. For Arrow to be accepted by the network and succeed, it would have to adjust its content to appeal to that demographic.

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In deciding this, certain elements of the character and his world were placed to the fore front, other elements reduced or jettisoned.  Emphasis was placed on how the protagonist, Oliver Queen, would take on a Count of Monte Cristo  goal of vengeance-redemption of his father’s failings. His character would be of a modern brooding Bryonic hero.

 

He knew himself a villain—but he deem’d
The rest no better than the thing he seem’d;
And scorn’d the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the bolder spirit plainly did.

       (Byron’s The Cosair)

He returns after five years to a family full of melodramatic secrets and  fractured by the tragic loss of a father and son . He gains in this television adaptation, a younger troubled sister, a step father, and a mother who is the classic matriarch of a rich and powerful.  Also added to the mix is a wronged girlfriend, Dinah Laurel Lance ( an adaptation of the comic’s Black Canary– Dinah Lance, the super hero and sometimes romantic interest) and her angry police detective father. In addition, there is a boyhood friend, Tommy Merlyn, to be part the required love triangle and a tie to the big bad, Malcolm Merlyn ( comic  villain). 

Black Canary Variations

Initially, costumed villains and science fiction/fantasy elements are avoided for more “grounded” political and industrial corruption. A Bight colourful costume and the mask are also avoided. Relationships are tortured, full of torn allegiances, secrets and lies/half-truths. A private security employee, John Diggle, is also introduced to eventually become confidant and “side-kick support”.  A need for technical support comes in the form of the character, Felicity Smoak ( the name of a comic character used as a lighthearted fan service). Presented as a plucky techno Girl Friday – she initially was  intended to provide the technical backup that a modern 21st century  hero would need, as well as comic relief providing asides and commentary on the fantastical events and situations, plus unintended double entendres.

 

There were some unintended side effects to this adaptation. The action  superhero elements generated far more interest than expected. Instead of a soft comic book adventure veneer over top of a  evening soap-melodrama, the superhero elements widened the audience. The lighter character of Felicity became an  identifiable surrogate for the female audience and a desirable attractive character for many in the audience. On the other hand, this additional character  combined with the acceleration of the super-heroics  to turn much of the love triangle involving Tommy, Laurel and Oliver into a slow mess. Tommy becomes the season’s sacrificial character to satisfy need for real consequences, and act as a motivational drive for various characters. Laurel’s role in the overall narrative now becomes an issue. 

 

Laurel is portrayed (intended) as destined love of the Oliver’s life.  Somewhere, way down the line, she is also destined to become the Black Canary.  Unfortunately her narrative role and relationship has been taken away from her, by circumstance.  Rather than being a strong assertive character, she becomes the helpless victim – as a consequence many in the audience take a dislike to the character. Rather than growing into the confidant and emotional support of the protagonist, the writers had inadvertently created another  female character who ends up filling that role, one with whom the audience identifies.  Because of the none fantasy elements ( no super powers), the means of turning Laurel into the Black Canary becomes tortuous and convoluted.  How to acquire the skills and motivation ? How to bring her character into the inner circle in a meaningful way ? How to back away from potential the soap opera love triangle that actually engenders hostility amongst the viewing audience ? The codes and conventions of the superhero comic  collide with those of a television drama  – narrative & character development evolves as the show progresses and responds to a target audience it did not totally anticipate.

 

Those in the viewing audience who were drawn to the show, hoping to see beloved characters adapted in a manner that was faithful to the spirit of the originals, were demanding that both Oliver and Laurel exhibit those familiar characteristics.  Oliver needed to be less dour and guilty. Laurel needed to be more assertive, competent and not so oblivious to the dual identity. The writer response was to use the Felicity-Oliver relationship to very slowly lighten up the protagonist’s character and actions, he smiled and even joked a couple of times in the season. Laurel however, went into an emotional  spiral shifting motivation and occupation. Now even more damaged, she was further from the inner circle and becoming an antagonist/obstacle.

Black Canary - Sarah Lance

In an attempt to create the Black Canary as quickly as the audience demanded, the writers introduced a new character by resurrecting the supposedly dead Sarah Lance, Laurel’s sister.  This character served the role so well in bringing a version the Black Canary character to life, that Laurel looked even more inadequate and unnecessary. The character of Laurel was so tied to the CW soap opera format that the writers were incapable of finding a way to transform her into the superhero that she was intended to become. 

 

It is especially ironic that Arrow, a show hoping to draw upon a strong female demographic and the comic-book fans, shifted more and more into a realm of fantastical adventure and individuals with either  magical or science fiction  based abilities  and yet failed so badly to  bring an early positive female superhero to life.  After further convolutions in plot, Laurel took on the role of Black Canary, acquired technology to produce the Canary sonic  cry, and even demonstrated competency as a lawyer, supportive friend, and as a costumed superhero, only now to become this season’s sacrificial character to motivate others and demonstrate serious consequences. 

White Canary - Legends of Tomorrow

 

There is already much outcry (pun intended) on the internet by those against her death. Typical show-runner  spin on why this was the best  move available to them in the narrative thrust.  It will take time to see what the outcome will be for the viewership of the show.  

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A couple of closing  observations to consider.  There may be a possibility that the actress, Katie Cassidy is still with the show for next season.  She will be portraying  her Earth Two self, Black Siren, on the companion show, The Flash. She will also voice the Black Canary character on the Vixon online cartoon.  Some viewers are interpreting the death as some type of fake-out to fool both the audience and this season’s big bad. This has, so far,  been denied by the show-runners.  Considering how audience demand has modified the trajectory of the show, it is possible that  viewer response may still alter plans. There  is another possibility to consider, Warner Bros. attempt to develop a DC superhero universe may be planning on introducing Black Canary in one of its films. There may have been pressure to   remove the character from the Arrow TV Universe , as they did with Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad.

 

I Know that Icon, Just Can Not Place The Medium

 

Bill Amend’s strip points out a problem with comic publishing and the superhero genre in particular. Everyone knows the character(s)/set-up, but they have not read the originals. In the case of the comic book  that also means the current   on-going series.

Older folks will say, well that is for children. This is incorrect on two counts. First point is that comic publishing have been skewing to an older demographic target audience since about the early seventies. This thanks in part to the Baby Boomer Generation.

The tail end of the BB-Gens entered teen years in the 70s and the comics followed. Marvel lucked in to this trend first when Stan Lee coped with writing his comic superheroes in a slightly more realistic manner and acknowledged  the absurdity of of the characters’ situations.  How the average superhero earn money, ride a subway, get a date or deal with a head cold became a plot element. 

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Current popular songs, movies and food showed up in the Marvel Comic Universe. The shawarma scene at the end of the Avengers movie was a typical Marvel comic element.

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The gritty adult oriented  fantasy, horror and mystery of DC Vertigo comics line was also an acknowledgement of changing demographics and the need to hold on to an audience that enjoyed the graphic narrative form. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series being one that moved into literary acceptance as “Graphic Novel”.

DC Comics Sandman Fantasy hg

DC Comics Sandman

This however brings up the second error in stating that  comics are for kids, like Trix.

Kids are not reading comics. The comics publishers so successfully chased after the older demographic that their product was no longer accessible to the younger demographic – this was not simply a shift in content.  The increased price of printed paper entertainment together specialty stores taking over distribution altered the buying patterns. More serialized interconnected stories were great for an audience that had the money and a comic store available.

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This helped produce the scene in Amend’s comic . You have an audience that knows the characters from television (live action & cartoons), movies, video games and toys, but have never read the original source material- even if it still being published monthly.

SUPERMAN #44 - cv art JOHN ROMITA JR. and KLAUS JANSON

SUPERMAN #44 – cover art JOHN ROMITA JR. and KLAUS JANSON 2015

I remember my son  commenting years ago that his fellow students would get into debates about characters like Spider-man or Batman without having read any of the comics. They “knew” the character and debated the minutiae  of events, relationships and characters, as if they had been “reading” the stories for years.

While this situation is strange, it does have forerunners within Mass Media history. Consider this, among the most recognized fictional characters worldwide the following have been in the top twenty for many decades: Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Dracula, Frankenstein (The Monster), King Arthur, Merlin, Robin Hood, Zorro, Superman, Batman. Now consider how many people have actually read the original poems, short stories and novels which introduced the the first eight characters.

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Most people have acquired a knowledge of those characters through movies and television. Some earlier generations may have been exposed through radio dramas, newspaper comic strips and  comic books.

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That is why so many people had a vague sense of Sherlock  being alive running around in a deerstalker in a fog bound London right up into the late 1950s. It is also why Tarzan was regarded as a dumb monosyllabic  ape-man ( get an actor of limited skills who is an Olympic swimmer – looks good in a loin cloth ) and Frankenstein  was the monster, not the doctor (easier to market Frankenstein vs. The Wolfman).

Sherlock & Poirot

It also  helps us understand why the  character of Superman evokes such a strong opinion as to a movie interpretation. Generational layers of movies and television have created a distilled version of the character, that any deviation creates hostility. An expectation of emotional tone means that presenting something different feels like a piece of very familiar music that is altered/distortwed in tempo and style.

Mass Media consumes itself. As one form of Mass Media rises it imitates the codes and conventions of  the most dominate Medium and tries to absorb its content.  Look at the transition from Oral Literature to Written forms.  The significant pieces of Oral Literature are collected in a written form and edited. This early written body often takes the form of sacred text.

 

Shinto Text

Shinto Text

In reality, only a small number can read and write at this cultural stage. Emphasis is still placed on oral presentation, often accompanied by music. Eventually, some of these narratives take on the form of theatre. Medieval Passion Plays and the Morality Plays see the shift as those with the ability to read & write take the content of Biblical Stories, Allegory & Parable in combination with Folktale to generate a new Medium.

Scenery for the Valenciennes Mystery Play, 1547.

We have to wonder how much of the characterization of the Biblical protagonists & antagonists came from the stage interpretation and how this would shape the Medieval audiences understanding and expectations. David against Goliath is not that different from Spider-man against the Rhino.

Presently, we are cycling through a change in Mass Media that bears a strong resemblance to the lengthy transitional stage to a printed text society. As visual media  becomes more dominant, popular culture and general knowledge  is being shared in new forms. Many members of society are relying on those forms to acquire knowledge and have developed a shared experience based on them.

As a consequence, the comic book narrative is been absorbed into these other forms. Survival of the comic book narrative depends on how effectively and cost efficiently it can move to digital text and the Graphic Novel format. It is the only way to recapture and maintain a large enough market share. Whether this will encourage the movie & television audiences to sample the product is difficult to gauge. History has shown that here are many who are satisfied with the adaptation and will not seek out the original source.

The other factor now playing into this is how valuable the continued generation of new comic book material is to the other forms of media. Converting the source material into film and television may be of such economic benefit, that companies such as Disney and Warner Brothers  will maintain some form of comic book production.