Tuesday, June 22, 2010

To infinity and beyond--

Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story, metafiction, Borges, a single reference each to DeLillo and Gaiman, another to Stephen King, and some other words there as well. If you feel like it.

Toy Story is an intriguing film, not just due to its greatness (as shown in its 100% Rotten Tomatoes approval), but also because it fits right into my particular field of interests. The various toys that were presented in the film would then become actual toy merchandise in the real world, so what does this have to say about the realness of these characters?

Certainly there is a fictional Woody or Buzz Lightyear, but there are still interesting precedents to the film—characters like Barbie and Ken or the Potato Heads are examples of fictionalization, where the toys were portrayed as characters in a movie with voice actors. But at what point do they become fictive?

The beginning of Toy Story 3 is an example of the imagination built from the toy characters, when in the hand of a child. I see it as somewhat idealistic—I do not remember myself having such complex fantasies with toys, but I’ve also never seen myself as a particularly visual person. Then again, this is not essentially a bad thing, because what the third film in the franchise is meant to be is a sort of idealistic look back at what’s behind us. At least for my generation, which grew up with the films, and is now of comparable age to Andy, the main toy-owner, the series has now reached a new degree of meta. The third film is a reminder of the past, continuously referencing the various comic scenes and such from the first films (the aliens’ continuous reference to the claw comes to mind), but is also introducing somewhat grown up themes. This is played comically, often, including a near-quote from V for Vendetta that is, I think, in the script for Barbie, and played for laughs. This is a film for the in-between audience, as much as children.

What’s even cooler about a film series like this is that we have various stories-within-the-story. Buzz Lightyear, himself, is a character in the film as a toy, a fictional toy that is alive, but also as a toy. However, Buzz thinks he’s real; he believes himself to be the fictional character that his toy is based on. Buzz Lightyear toys have now been made, so the toy itself is somewhat real. The character, then, has always had layering—existing as a fictional toy based on a doubly(?) fictional character. It is this kind of existence that becomes overly interesting, as Buzz would spin-out of the movie in 2000 with a film of his own.

Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins is a direct-to-video film that launched the eponymous television series. Outside of the film itself, which put this series in the context of the films, with Buzz again as a doubly fictional character, using the story-within-a-story technique, the television show would be about the stories of Buzz Lightyear, the character who inspired the toy. If we call this canon, then Buzz then exists in our world as simply a fictional character and then as a toy of that character, that actually, in some ways, pre-dates its own inspiration.

This is like Borges’s stories in El Aleph, which has two stories together, “Ibn-Hakam al-Bokhari, Murdered in His Labyrinth” and “The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths,” the latter of which is actually told in the first. Borges simply skirts over the second story when it is actually read in the first, but he eventually wrote it, apparently, and it found its place in this short story collection. Consider also the beginnings of the Stephen King short stories “The Fifth Quarter” (which was being written by a character in The Dark Half) and “1408” (which began as an exercise to be used in his book On Writing). The interactions of fiction and reality always bear interesting fruit.

I was never one to watch Buzz Lightyear’s television show, which had a first season of…wait for it…fifty episodes!, but the idea that it exists is totally cool. The existence of the show and the films is similar to the way that one could read Less Than Zero after going through Imperial Bedrooms and read the former as a fictional book in a fictional world. The layers build.

Books like the Necronomicon inevitably get written and various fake writers, like Kilgore Trout, enter our world by way of a ghostwriter, and cataloguing these things is something that I’d like to do someday. And all of this will continuously lead us back to Borges, who, with his very writing style—that of the essayistic short story, is innovating along these lines. A story like “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” depends on the feeling that we’re reading an article from Borges. It then flops this notion, but the reality of the fiction is very important. A story like “The Other Death” further complicates this situation, because Borges is up to even more complex tricks. In what is somewhat a coda to the story, he explains how the story is supposedly true, but that he’ll eventually begin to view it as fiction, because of the way he has written the story. One is reminded of Neil Gaiman talking to people about his The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch and having to tell them that it didn’t happen just like that, that that comic-book was a work of fiction.

All of these ideas are of interest to me, but I’m not sure if I’ve made the connections well enough available to the reader. I am left now with another feeling that I’ve stolen from Borges. And there’s something here to be said about the High Fidelity question, whether we feel bad in a break-up and then listen to pop music, or if we feel bad because we’ve listened to pop music, but adapted. Could I feel this way about what I’ve written if Borges hadn’t written it or if I hadn’t read what he wrote? The answer, I’d say, is that the exactness would not exist, but the feeling would remain. This connects with everything else, because this is a brief burst of truth, but its still in a fictional story.

Speaking of the preceding story, in another coda of sorts to “Averroës’s Search,” he writes “I felt that the work mocked me, foiled me, thwarted me.” Or rather the translator wrote that, as I mused a few days back. In quoting Borges just now I’ve also encountered a problem I also noted in a Facebook note about Don DeLillo’s Americana, in that I can only capture a small part of a fairly beautiful piece of text, because most of it only makes sense in context. Like the fictional toy Buzz Lightyear, who is what every kid wants in the Toy Story film series. He is only wanted by all these youths because of the fictive layering that is the context of his fictional world with his fictional popular television series.

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