Monday, March 14, 2016

Nonsense and Sensibility

One day I asked for suggestions for a specific kind of webcomic I wanted to read. The requirement was that it had to be set in a world lacking any sort of internal logic. Anything could happen. The first and only suggestion that came forth was The Property of Hate, by Sarah Jolley. Right away I noticed the influences from The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and perhaps Mary Poppins -- though I suppose the latter is just my American eyes referencing British things through a narrow lens. From what I've heard, Jolley has said she considers the comic Rice Boy an influence too. The world in that story is rather fantastical as well.

I think there's a possible misstep in The Property of Hate though, and it occurs in the early pages. At one point the apparent viewpoint character named Hero wishes to go home; It is implied however that whatever life she had before was not real. From that realization, Hero goes on in her travels with a companion. After reading this segment I assumed there would be a point in the adventure where this revelation would be teased out further and eventually unfurl as something deeper. Hundreds of pages later, nothing seems to have come of it. What I thought was the beginning of a narrative pull may very well have been just the rational part of my brain taking over. Heck, the title phrase "the property of hate" apparently has no context as of this writing.

To reiterate, I was deliberately seeking a nonsensical story. My goal was to take an existing webcomic continuity and fold it into my own, as a form of fan art. As I implied in my drawing in The Stick Prelude, my own interpretation of the world of The Property of Hate is that it is actually part of a virtual zoo of sentient computer programs. The reason why all the characters look unrelated to each other is that they aren't -- they are individual A.I. culled together from various sources and stored inside a vast network of mainframes. The collectors are powerful beings able to reach across time, space and into other dimensions to grab whatever they want. Why do the beings collect A.I. and slap them together into a zoo? Well, why does anyone collect anything?

This all raised an ethical question regarding the remixing of another person's story. Is it right to apply meaning to a work when the whole point of that work is that it has no meaning? While it may have made The Property of Hate more entertaining for me to do so, it may have cheapened the world that Jolley created. One possible parallel to this is the sequels to the film The Matrix. Like Jolley's work, the first film in The Matrix trilogy takes a page or two out of Wonderland: it even goes so far as to directly reference things like the rabbit hole. The movie then ends with the main character Neo literally saying that anything is possible. The sequels on the other hand stumble when they apply specific background information and rules that don't cohere well.

In the first Matrix film, the Oracle is introduced as an enigmatic entity taking the form of an elderly woman -- "someone's grandmother" the audio commentary specifies. The question of who or what the Oracle actually is was untouched. In the sequels, she and Neo have a discussion breaking down how it all supposedly works. The air of mystery from the first film is dispelled, replaced by explanations of sentient digital life forms. Programs like the Oracle were created for specific purposes in "the machine world", but exiled themselves into the virtual world of the Matrix to avoid deletion. This revelation leads to Neo questioning how he can trust her at all. The answer she gives basically amounts to "I don't know, but you can choose to believe me if you want. Whichever." It appears that being vague was the more entertaining option.

In an apparent attempt to offset problems like this in The Matrix sequels, the filmmakers introduced a slew of characters, settings, and unusual instances that raised new, unanswered questions. Yet these newer elements don't seem like they were meant to be answerable, whereas most of the things in the first film did seem that way. This ultimately lends to the conclusion that the first Matrix film was simply a better movie. I wonder if I'm doing the same thing with The Property of Hate. Am I adding a bottom floor to something that is better off not having one? Perhaps the rabbit hole is supposed to go on forever. Or maybe if you think about things too much, things will cease to make sense regardless.

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