The fact or myth of "originality"

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The fact or myth of "originality"

Postby SirMustapha » Mon Jul 01, 2013 3:37 pm

Sometimes I am convinced that there are only 6 stories in the world, and all writers are just retelling them over and over again.

Yet, once in a while, something like Frank Zappa's The Adventures of Greggery Peccary comes along and smacks me in the face.

But then again, stories about swines inventing the calendar and hiding from hip young people in a mountain that laughs and produces brown clouds have been told ever since the ancient Greeks. I mean, that's the plot of King Lear, isn't it?

I really wonder: I am never convinced whether "originality" truly is a myth, an invention of a society that is constantly unsatisfied with everything, or a nasty little bug that has to be squashed over and over again by greedy, lazy script writers and novelists.

I do know that, usually, the way that you tell a story is more important than the story itself. But is it always like this? Why so things happen in our lives that, when when think about them, we end up thinking "you can't make up stuff like this"? Why can't we make up some stuff? Is it because, maybe, real life is original?

If all stories have already been told, then our lives are pointless. We're just living the story that's already been written by dozens of writers along history. Every little tale and anecdote our friends tell us have already been told (much better, by the way!) by some highly respected Italian playwright. All those little jokes and puns we make up in our head, even the embarrassing ones we only tell to our significant other just because he/she is used to the bullshit we say? Simpsons did it.

I don't know, I just can't wrap my head around that idea. And all these things came to my head when I watched Monster University in the theatre last week (I was under duress). Part of me was saying "so what the story is unoriginal and has been told in hundreds of other crappy Hollywood movies and lame TV shows? It's the way it's told, man!", but the other part of me was remembering that Avatar got lambasted for being just Pocahontas with CGI, and it was trendy to do so. Which part of me was right? I couldn't decide, but I couldn't help feeling ripped off, robbed, fooled by group of greedy guys in suits who want to earn as much money with as little effort, and need me to believe that "originality is a myth". It makes their work easier. If they convince me that their rules are right, it's better for them. If the mechanic takes 5 months to replace the headlights in your car, it's convenient for him to convince you that that's the way it works, that it is a "myth" that some people do it in 30 minutes, and that the people who do that are doing it wrong.

To me, this nagging feeling can't go away. I don't think that being original is an obligation for the writer, but I think that blatant unoriginality is an issue. I mean, if the writer doesn't spend his effort trying to come up with a story that's even mildly interesting, why should I believe that he spent his effort anywhere else? On the other hand, originality for its own sake is not always good. "New" doesn't automatically mean "not bad". Sometimes the "new" is only "new" because people knew it would suck before they tried it, and when someone did try it, it sucked. What I think I'm trying to say is that, when it comes to people's opinion on what is good and what isn't, I don't trust the guy that's making the money. He's the one making up the rules. And who's to know if he's making money not because he's really good, but because he just got lucky? Instead of looking at the winner to see what he's doing right, we have to look at the losers to see what they did wrong. It's survivor bias. If 100 writers tell the same old, tired story and one of them becomes a millionaire, does it automatically mean all 100 of them were right all along, but 99 failed just because "shit happens"? And if that one millionaire is Dan Brown, does it mean he is a genius and we're forced to accept it? And if James Cameron is a cheap rip-off for recycling old stories, should Pixar be judged by the same standards? Or are they above everything, just because the sycophants say so?

Whatever. All I know is, if you ask a philostopher, he'll see that you pays.
"Inside the museums, Infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while
But Mona Lisa musta had the highway blues
You can tell by the way she smiles"

-- Bob Dylan, "Visions of Johanna"
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Re: The fact or myth of "originality"

Postby AssistantCrone » Sun Jul 07, 2013 1:42 pm

I reckon the 'way it's told' is the originality. Themes, say, are not original. That's probably a good thing, because we have to recognise something in the story so we can identify with it. Characters and plot devices and such can probably be traced back to all of their influences (rant about TV Tropes redacted), but when everything's combined into a story, it's likely that nobody's seen that specific thing before. It's making a new experience out of a bunch of recognisable, relatable stuff.

I say 'it's likely' because sometimes authors don't see the difference between that and copying, and we get Avatar. And, sadly, nice safe copying is what gets the green light from the execubots. I'm very glad at this time to be living in an internet, which, hopefully, will cut out the middleman altogether and allow quality independent stuff to get funding straight from the audience.

That'll be five bucks.
"Now, I know art is all about expressing ourselves, but today we're going to express ourselves by getting it right." --DB

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