The Worst Filing System Known To Humans

A Song of Ice and Fire (1) Affect (9) Alienating My Audience (27) Animation (17) Anime (5) Anonymous (3) Anything Salvaged (15) Art Crit (30) Avatar the Last Airbender (2) Black Lives Matter (1) Bonus Article (1) Children's Media (2) Close Reading (88) comics (24) Cyborg Feminism (2) Deconstruction (9) Devin Townsend (2) Evo Psych (1) Fandom Failstates (1) Fanfiction (18) Feminism (21) Fiction Experiments (14) Food (1) Fragments (14) Games (20) Geek Culture (21) Getting Kicked Off Of TV Tropes For This One (8) Gnostic (2) Guest Posts (8) Guest: Ian McDevitt (2) Guest: Jon Grasseschi (3) Guest: Leslie the Sleepless Film Producer (1) Guest: Sara the Hot Librarian (3) Guest: Timebaum (1) Guest: Yanmato (3) Harry Potter (8) Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (3) Has DC Done Something Stupid Today (3) Homestuck (11) How Very Queer (28) hyperallthethings (3) hyperanimation (1) Hypercomics (7) I Didn't Ask For Your Life Story Sheesh (20) Illustrated (29) In The Shadow Of No Towers (2) It Just Keeps Tumblring Down Tumblring Down Tumblring Down (10) It's D&D (2) Judeo-Christian (13) Lady Gaga (5) Let's Read Theory (2) Lit Crit (18) Living In The Future Problems (6) Lord of the Rings (5) Mad Max (1) Madoka Magica (1) Magic The Gathering (3) Manos (3) Marvel Cinematic Universe (12) Marx My Words (12) Medium Specificity (5) Meme Hell (1) Metal (2) Movies (23) Music (24) Music Videos (20) Object Oriented Ontology (2) Occupy Wall Street (3) Pacific Rim (2) Paper Roundup Clambake Panic Attack (5) Paradise Lost (4) Parafiction (1) Patreon Announcements (10) Poetry (11) Pokemon (1) Politics and Taxes and People Grinding Axes (13) PONIES (9) Raising My Pageranks Through Porn (4) Reload The Canons! (5) Remixes (8) Review Compilations (6) Science Fiction Double Feature (16) Self-Referential Bullshit (19) Sociology (11) Spooky Stuff (27) Star Wars (2) Steven Universe (2) Surrealism (8) The Net Is Vast (19) Transhumanism (4) Twilight (4) Using This Thing To Explain That Thing (105) Watchmen (4)

Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Creating As The World Falls Down

As a kid, the part of Jim Henson's famous fantasy film Labyrinth that always freaked me out wasn't a part full of strange monsters or weird settings. It was a sequence towards the end of the film when the protagonist, Sarah, has escaped from a strange illusory costume ball (literally--she's stuck in an actual crystal ball) into a vast junkyard in which, strangely, her bedroom sits, with all her toys. In her room, which sits separate from the rest of her house, she is handed toy after toy by a strangely unsettling junk-covered creature.

The sequence is unnerving in part simply for the intrusion of elements of the Labyrinth environment into the mundane setting of Sarah's room, and perhaps that alone is enough to explain my consistent feeling of discomfort during the scene. Special shoutout in particular to the moment where she opens the door, expecting to see the hallway, and instead comes face to face with the blasted wasteland and the bustling figure of the junk woman.

But beyond that simple disorienting intrusion of the labyrinth into a recognizable home environment, there's also, I think, the recognition that at no other point does Sarah come closer to failing in her quest, and the implications of that are fascinating to me.
To understand that, predictably, we need to talk about the overarching theme of the I think many read this film as being about growing up and setting aside fantasies. Which, ok. In a sense I suppose we might say that it is. But in that reading the ending, when Sarah calls back all her fantasy friends to her, is Henson trying to have his cake and eat it, too*, and that it fundamentally undermines the character progress Sarah makes over the course of the film.

*My deep loathing of this phrase continues unabated. Someday I'm going to need to write an article on how much I hate this phrase, particularly as a polyamorous queer.

This reading only makes sense if you assume that the endpoint of maturity means moving beyond fantasy. This reading doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you consider that the film is made by a bunch of people who made puppets for a living. It seems, at best, more than a little disingenuous, if that's the intended message.

There's quite a bit in the film that argues against this reading, however. I mean, leaving aside the fact that it's... honestly kind of a cliche reading. If we're going to make grand New Critical statements about the deep meaning of the film, let's at least come up with something a little more interesting, eh?

Rather than setting aside the things of childhood, there's another way of reading the major moments of the film: we could see it as setting aside self-invented distractions that stop the protagonist from moving forward with her life as not just an adult but an adult with creative agency. Which is probably clear as the waters of the bog of eternal stench, but roll with me here for a bit, yeah?

One way of getting at this idea is to analyze Sarah's lowest point in the film and the doubling of her great final hurdle: her capture by way of Jareth's poisoned peach. The two challenges here, first the masked ball and then the dummy house in the junkyard, are, from what I've seen through an admittedly brief search, often analyzed separately, but there's a lot about the scenes that suggests they should be read as symbolic twins. Most obviously, Sarah must break through both obstacles before she can reach the goblin city and regain her memory. In that sense, they are a pair.

There are also a series of visual cues and repeated actions that tie them together.

Consider the presence of a mirrored surface:



Which Sarah then shatters:



Or the music box that becomes Sarah in her ballgown, which is later used to shatter the false bedroom:



All of this suggests that the scenes should be read together. And they are generally understood to represent not just magical but psychological and symbolic hurdles which Sarah must overcome.

So what are those hurdles, exactly, and why are they presented as a pair?

Well, if one of the challenges for Sarah is to abandon the fantasies she's constructed for herself (and there's certainly much in the film pointing to that idea--note the constant refrain about "taking things for granted" early on) the two represent alternate fantasies of existence. One is a scary, sexualized, romantic adulthood that is incomprehensible to Sarah to the point where she is swept off her feet by Jareth's charms.

The other is a more insidious fantasy because it is simply so normal. It's the fantasy of a comfortable, materialistic, suburban existence. (Hold on tight here, folks, my Marx is gonna be about as obvious here as David Bowie's magnificent codpiece.) I really think the scene in the room represents the act of hiding from tough aspects of life in a nest of material excess. Sarah is being literally covered in junk here, with the implication, perhaps, that given time she will transform into the same kind of subtly malevolent creature as the junk woman. She's being distracted from her quest by a whole series of material things. I don't think it's that much of a stretch to suggest that an old hippie puppeteer (and I just caught for the first time, incidentally, the fact that the goblin guards attacking Ludo mockingly call him a hippie as they torment him!) slipped some messages into the film about the danger of finding comfort in commerce.

And what's more, they're assuredly not simply "childish" things that she must set aside! One of the key items here is a tube of lipstick, remember, which she dazedly applies to herself while staring into the mirror that doubles the reflecting wall of the masked ball in the crystal ball. She's just as much captivated by this symbol of oncoming adulthood as she is by any of the toys--arguably more so. What's more, the doubling of this challenge and its pairing with the erotic fantasy of the ballroom suggests that what she is really running from here is a fantasy of a particular life or lifestyle that will allow her to forget her problems.

So, what we see here is not a setting aside of childish things but a setting aside of constructed illusions and distractions from the conclusion of the quest. Those illusions include an illusion of childhood safety (weirdly intruded upon by the uncanny presence of the creature and landscape of the labyrinth), but they also include a glamorous adult sexuality, and a comfortable material suburban existence where Sarah clings to objects and, ultimately, is swamped and absorbed by them.

But what's the other part, that bit about creative agency? Where does that come in?

Well, recall that the mirror is not just symbolic in these scenes but literal. Sarah is twice confronted with her own distorted reflection, which she must shatter to break free.

Now, given what we know from the rest of the film about the nature of the labyrinth and the fact that Jareth has, at least by his own claim, been manipulating his word specifically in order to give Sarah the experience she wants and expects, it seems reasonable to read this double mirroring as symbolic of Sarah's own power over these fantasies. While they are given to her by Jareth and Hoggle, ultimately it is Sarah who sustains them and has the power to accept or reject them. The illusion can only hold so long as she allows it to.

This is what I mean by Sarah's creative agency. In contrast to a person who simply consumes objects or rehearses existing material, Sarah grows over the course of the film into someone who challenges her own illusions and ultimately comes to understand her own power over the narrative she seems caught within. Her realization at the end of the film that Jareth has no power over her represents, too, the realization that she is not merely playing a part and reciting set lines. Rather, she has the ability to actualize them and expose the way in which they are meaningful to her. She is not just a cosplayer, acting out scenes from the Labyrinth book, she actively embodies the character and transforms her through the manipulation of the text.

Sarah is a fanfiction writer, a manipulator of fairy tales, a creator of transformative works.

And it seems quite likely that she always was, she just wasn't aware of her own creative agency. It's hard to say much about the Labyrinth book because we only get occasional glimpses at it, but if you look closely you can see that the text within is not as neat as one might expect.

To my eyes, it almost seems handwritten. 

And certainly there are visible marks on the margins that suggests someone has been taking notes on the text.

Sarah may be quite literally acting out a fairy tale of her own invention. Her growth represents not the emergence of a creative consciousness but the wresting of creative control and a willingness to transform old cliches into new sources of meaning and invention.

From this perspective, the conclusion of the film is not a contradiction or failing but a beautiful reassertion of the power and value of fantasy. Fantasy is, after all, not childish, and it is hard to imagine Jim Henson creating a movie with that message. Fantasy is inherent to the human mind. When Sarah brings the inhabitants of the Labyrinth into her reality at the end of the film, she is acting on an urge that I honestly consider innate and fundamental to human existence.

But unlike at the beginning of the film, she does it with the knowledge of her power--the knowledge that the things distracting her from her goals are at least in part the manifestation of her own fears, the knowledge that she can be an active participant in the narrative she creates, and the knowledge that ultimately the story is under her control.

And so is David Bowie.

And that is a fantasy I think we all share.

Attraction to David Bowie may also be innate and fundamental to human existence. I mean have you seen his codpiece jesus christ have mercy. Follow stormingtheivory.tumblr.com for updates, random thoughts, artwork, and news about articles. As always, you can e-mail me at KeeperofManyNames@gmail.com. Circle me on Google+ at gplus.to/SamKeeperIf you liked this piece please share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Xanga, MySpace, or whathaveyou, and leave some thoughts in the comments below.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent article, and quite timely. I just began work on my own original fantasy novel yesterday. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Relevant: http://www.cracked.com/video_19052_why-labyrinth-secretly-about-masturbation.html

    ReplyDelete

Support on Patreon
Store
Reader's Guide
Tag Index
Reload the Canons!