I know I usually devote Thursdays to a one-off deconstruction, but nothing really hit me square between the eyes this week, possibly because my "viewing time" was mostly taken up with Priest, which left me largely feeling meh, and some gawd-awful Conan the Barbarian TV show that Husband found on Amazon Prime Video and which he coaxed me into watching because he finds it amusing when I scream in frustration at the television. (Just to give you a taste: the female love interest can't say "I want to have sexy times with you," she has to keep saying, "I want to make sons for you." Because it's a Primitive Culture, natch. *strangled gargle at the back of my throat*)
So I thought instead I'd talk about something I like, with a side ramble into why Darker and Edgier is something that crops up so often in the deconstructions around here. (Here's looking at you, Twilight.)
The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing is a cross between a "Let's Play" and fanfic that attempts to make sense of the framework of the Animal Crossing video game series, and ends up spiraling into Lovecraftian madness. It's incredibly dark, completely disturbing, and although I'm not always one for graphic horror, I love it for the trapped helplessness it portrays. This story is not light reading; you have been warned.
TTSoAC is one reason why I hold fanfiction -- or I suppose I should say "derivative works" -- in such potentially high regard. The story of TTSoAC would never work as a stand-alone story: the reader would constantly be wondering at the strange setup of the plot. An eight-year-old is sent off to live in his own sparsely-furnished "house" in a walled property from which he cannot leave? He's expected to pay back his "debt" on the house by fishing and digging up fossils? His parents never notice he's missing or demand to visit him? The other inhabitants of the walled property are giant talking animals? What?! That doesn't make any sense. The whole story -- everything that follows from that setup -- simply wouldn't work because it's so artificial as to be nonsensical. If the author created both the setup and the Lovecraftian story, the reader would rebel because the whole thing would seem too convenient and artificial -- the setup would appear to be laboriously worked in order for the Lovecraftian nightmare to occur.
On the other hand, the story of TTSoAC works beautifully as a derivative work because all those problematic backstory elements already exist in the Animal Crossing video game. By starting with something that the audience already accepts and by using as a framework a background that someone else provided and which is set in stone, the author is able to pick apart everything that is Terribly Wrong about this setup and then glue the pieces back together into something truly terrifying and utterly messed up. The story is original, but the foundation provided by the pre-existing work is crucial, not so much as a source of inspiration, but rather as a concrete backstory that the reader will not question and the author can creatively riff off of. Best of all, the fanfiction stands well on its own but at the same time retroactively improves the original: people bought and played Animal Crossing (myself included) because of this fanfiction.
What's interesting to me about TTSoAC is how well it works with the concepts of Crapsaccharine World and Sugar Apocalypse, and this got me thinking recently about the Twilight deconstructions and where they send my rambling mind. I think it can't be a coincidence that so many of the one-off riffs that appear in the comments on the deconstructions are essentially attempts to make the series a little darker and edgier, and I ask myself why that is.
Vampires and werewolves and powerful families hellbent on maintaining a dangerous secret are all rife within the pages of the Twilight series, but for all that, the series doesn't feel very dark to me. Maybe it's because so many of the powerful characters are unabashedly devoted to Bella -- it's a bit hard to imagine Bella in serious danger when the entire Cullen clan (expect maybe Rosalie) would fight to hell and back for her, and then too there's a nearby clan of beefy werewolves ready to die for her honor. Perhaps it would have been better for the love triangle in particular and the story in general if Edward's family and Jacob's clan had been opposed to the match, perhaps even to the point of hostility to Bella herself.
But even when the powerful families are teleported away to clear the narrative air for Bella and the Vampire Du Jour to have it out in the forest or over a sea cliff or on a mountaintop, it still feels oddly devoid of tension. Secret societies and powerful families and supernatural creatures should not be dull, but the ones in Twilight seem somehow stale even when they're front-and-center. Am I just such a jaded reader that I can't work up any fear for the protagonist, knowing that they'll probably be alright? Maybe, but TTSoAC reassures me that's not the case.
Contrasting TTSoAC with Twilight drives home some pertinent points in my ramble-addled brain. The first being that the world of Twilight is always too clearly what everything seems to be. Bella may take forever to figure out that the Cullens are vampires and the local reservation is inhabited by werewolves, but the savvy reader will understand immediately what kind of story this is. As such, any grind towards "discovery" is a dull plod for the reader because they already know the answer, and the longer the protagonist takes to find out, the more they will hate her for her (understandable) obtuseness.
The way to bypass boredom for a Genre Savvy reader would be to make the eventual discovery frightening and meaningful for the protagonist, and therefore something the reader can emotionally build up to. From the middle of Twilight (when Bella discovers Edward's nature) to the end of the series, Bella will always feel exactly the same way about vampirism: Super! Where do I sign up? There's no real meaning assigned to her discovery, no Wham Line that the reader can savor when suddenly the protagonist's world falls apart.
Bella does not seem to realistically grapple with the deeper meanings of her life. Her true love is attracted to her at least in part because he wants to kill and eat her. The only way she can live safely with him without fear is to change her essential nature -- to possibly lose her soul, and to definitely become something that must struggle constantly to not murder people. She will have to give up her family entirely to be with him, she will not be able to have children (until magically, she does), and she may have to give up any number of dreams in order to be a vampire. (She can't, after all, do anything that requires her to be in sunlight and in public, ever.) And once she changes her essential nature, will her true love still love her once she no longer smells like a delicious Smash Burger?
These are all serious and very dark matters, but they're all swept aside in favor of Bella being utterly and completely assured that she wants Edward forever and ever no matter what. I would say that Dead Until Dark is a significantly darker human-vampire love story (and it's not even the central premise of the book!) simply because serious discussion is put into the strain of completely altering one's lifestyle to suit the needs of a boyfriend who is several hundred years old, with a strongly self-centered set of morals, a dodgy past filled with murder, and who is something of a smug asshole at times.
It's possible that I want Twilight to be darker and edgier for the same reason that I like Lovecraftian horror stories wrapped around delightful childrens' video games, but I think there's something more here than just a perverse need to eliminate cheer. I think I want Twilight to be darker and edgier because I already feel like it is darker and edgier and the author is just hiding those aspects under a hat so the narrative can focus more on Edward's perfect face. It's almost like if The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing were in-game canon, but the developers kept trying to distract the players from it by giving us more outfits to wear and pretty wallpaper to put up.
Or, you know, I could just be seriously disturbed. So veering wildly back on target: The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing is a really delightful story (if you like that kind of thing) and I would definitely give it 5 stars for sheer bombastic creepiness.