When not working on that, I have been working on my fiction. I've done the last "pre-submission" round of edits on the Airship Pirates novel and marketing it is the next step there, so while that simmers I turned my attention back to the half-completed Brigid and Greg novel that I was working so feverishly on when the house sale bumped it aside. This led to quite a bit of introspection, and a ramble on Twitter which I've cleaned up, edited and elaborated on here:
As much as I love Brigid and Greg, the novel idea has some systemic problems that I’m not sure it can overcome. The core problem with B&G is that they are at heart an affirmation of and succor to a very specific sort of problematic yuppiedom. If you’re inclined to side-eye at Whole Foods and spit “gentrification” like a curse, you’ll have a problem with B&G.
And while my feelings on the matter are mixed at best, I do at least understand where such opinions come from, and am sympathetic. When you're working two jobs just to stay in debt and being called a "taker" by nitwits who don't know how society actually works, seeing a pair of affluent (or at least comfortable) middle class white people be snarky about their non-problems might very well grate.
Another aspect is that the whole gist of B&G’s humor comes basically from them disapproving of (and fleeing) everyone who’s not just like they are. Inkblitzer likened them to Statler and Waldorf, and that’s not a bad analogy. B&G aren’t as toxic, but they are just as insular in their own way. In small doses it can be a “laughing with” look at introversion. But in large doses it starts to look more like xenophobia/classism.
B&G is also very Whitey McWhitebread. NeverNever had the same problem. For somebody banging the diversity drum, I don’t always do a great job. :( The book finally brings in Art as an important character, and retcons Alex as being Chinese, but it’s still hella problematic. (Art, for those unfamiliar, is lifted straight out of my college comic, Whistling In the Dark. He’s a gay black bohemian-type. He has had an oblique mention or two in the Fictionlets, but I don't think he's actually appeared in any of them.)
All of these issues, none of which stand out in any given Fictionlet, become highlighted and magnified when you put them into an extended narrative. What had been "minor gaps" before become a giant pattern stitched together.
The plot I came up with ended up with Art’s disreputable cousin chasing B&G through Brigid’s family reunion with a pack of dogs, who would then be chased off by Brigid's crazy shotgun-toting relatives. It was a funny set piece in my head, but then if you add the race element it suddenly sets off all kinds of red flags. :P
Brigid’s relatives were all based on the sort of people who annoy me IRL; thus having the family reunion trashed by dogs as comeuppance. But then I thought about the church massacre scene in Kingsman, and how sick to my stomach that made me. :-`
It’s like… Brigid and Greg are kinda the same thing, but the difference is degree. A pie in the face is certainly very different from in-your-face graphic violence, but still boils down to "attacking people you don’t like."
But all of B&G is structured this way when I break it down. The core conceit is those two reinforcing their bubble of comfort vs. the world. In that respect, it was quite explicitly modeled on Jeeves & Wooster, which works the same way. But that has a level of removal B&G don’t. J&W is set in an idealized inter-war Britain that never really existed. B&G are in fairly realistic early 21st-century USA. Wodehouse did have a few real-world Take Thats in his stuff, particularly the character of Spode and knocking of A.A. Milne. But he was mostly gentle, non-specific, and very silly. When B&G sneer, they’re sneering at whole classes of real contemporary people.
And realizing that about my own writing, didn’t feel good. :-`
I don’t know if B&G can be retooled into something that actually, y’know, PROMOTES things like diversity and positivity without breaking it. I like the voice of the B&G Fictionlets, and I like B&G as characters. I'd like to turn them into a force for good; but for the moment at least I don't know how. It’s weird that my pulp novel about airship pirates actually tells a story I’m proud of when B&G don’t.
Packbat's Commentary, and the Nature of Farce
A while after my ramble, Packbat (who is on the Beta Reader team), popped up with some comments, which I've transcribed here to preserve them for my own reference later:
Thank you for talking about this so frankly. I love a lot of the B&G Fictionlets, and I'm okay with missing out on a novel.
Which is to say: I don't feel like I'm missing out. I trust your judgment.
(Random: can I make an unsolicited suggestion? Been thinking about what you said a little.)
Like ... it feels to me like most of what B&G detest in their yuppie world concerns entitlement, arrogance, and privilege.
There's parts that aren't - the sacral dimples thing, for example - but Treville? Brigid's coworkers?
I feel it wouldn't take much for B&G to realize much of the idiocy they're disgusted with is hurting less privileged outsiders.
And that they can find a lot of people they'd want to support who never took any Latin classes.
...I dunno. I feel like they could be in a story about figuring out what privileges you have and what you can do with them.
This commentary was timely, as I was at that moment reading up on the nature of farce (which is the closest thing to a single-genre description of B&G) and watching The Art of Love, a comedy film starring Dick Van Dyke and James Garner (written by Carl Reiner) in the mode of Blake Edwards. The movie itself was far less than the sum of its parts, alas, but looking at what didn't work there gave me some food for thought about what does or doesn't work in B&G.
I also found this little gem on my old nemesis the Idiot Ball, on a Christian culture webpage, to my surprise:
“I grow restless,” Ebert said, when the misunderstandings driving a plot “could be ended by words that the screenplay refuses to allow [the characters] to utter.”
This was less of a pitfall in Shakespeare’s day, and even up through Victorian times, when convoluted and capricious mores and manners were understood to prevent those characters from uttering those words. The characters in Pride and Prejudice were constrained by social norms that no longer hold sway. So for that same plot to work in Bridget Jones’ Diary, the characters have to be constrained by something else — some limitations within themselves. Thus Elizabeth Bennett comes across as a smart, capable person who is prevented from being fully honest — to others or to herself — by the stifling rules, roles and expectations of class, gender and manners that shaped her life and her time. Bridget Jones, facing fewer such external rules, just comes across as neurotic and indecisive.
The essence of a romantic comedy is pretty simple: Introduce two characters who belong together, then contrive to keep them apart for about 90 minutes. Again, this is trickier now than it was in Austen’s or Shakespeare’s time. A lot of contemporary romantic comedies are annoying because the only obstacle they can imagine to keep their heroes apart is a kind of mutual immaturity. That serves the need of the plot, but it makes the couple less likable, which means we don’t care as much when they finally get together in the end.
One solution is to find a contemporary setting that still involves something like the kind of stifling social constraints in a Jane Austen novel. That’s what Ang Lee did with The Wedding Banquet, which ... is more of a farce than a romantic comedy. The complications and misunderstandings that drive the plot in Lee’s story could all be cleared up with just a few honest words from the protagonists. But they can’t say those words — not because an arbitrary “Idiot Plot” screenplay prevents them, but because the story involves a closeted gay man in New York and a visit from his ultra-traditional Taiwanese parents.
LiteraryDevices.net also provided:
Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Importance of Being Earnest, is one of the best verbal farces. Just like a typical farce that contains basic elements like mockery of upper class, disgraceful physical humor, absurdity and mistaken identities, this novel also contains demonstrates these features of a farce.
What all of this gets at, I think, is that I discovered to my chagrin that Brigid and Greg, rather than Punching Up, were just sort of punching indiscriminately, which included (unfortunately) both punching sideways, and punching down. I also think that shows me the path towards fixing it.
Once more through the outline, old scout.