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Fannish opinion

I'm not a big fan of "breaking the fourth wall" in fiction. Sometimes it can be used effectively, when it's subtle, but most of the time it is done tongue-in-cheek, as a joke by the writers to say, "Hey, it's only a TV show, hee hee!", which totally throws the viewer out of the suspension of disbelief that gives fiction its magic.

I think there is a difference between breaking the fourth wall and a show (or other extended work of fiction) satirizing/parodying itself. "The Zeppo" is an effective example of a show satirizing itself without breaking the fourth wall. It's a subtler form of what most cases of actually breaking the fourth wall are trying to achieve and end up failing at.

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( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
spiletta42
Jan. 21st, 2012 04:55 am (UTC)
I'm completely with you on that opinion. There are episodes of things that everyone loves, but I can't stand, for that very reason. Like that episode of X-Files with the hillbilly zombies and the constantly changing (and wildly unreliable) point of view. Or that thing with the puppets in the tenth season of SG-1. Or for that matter, the puppet episode in Angel. Okay, I also kind of hate puppets, perhaps that's another matter entirely.

I'm tolerating the fake documentary style on Parks & Recreation, mostly because it's actually funny and it's a comedy anyway, so it's already not quite my tastes and I'm having to make an exception to even be watching in the first place. But it's a challenge.
cornerofmadness
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:22 am (UTC)
I agree with you
dlgood
Jan. 21st, 2012 11:57 am (UTC)
I see where you are going - Scream and Community being movies and shows that waltz up to breaking the 4th wall without actually doing so.

But it doesn't necessarily bother me. When I'm watching a TV show, I know I'm watching a TV show. The right kind of character, the right kind of story can acknowledge that without throwing itself out of rhythm.

How do you see cases like The Purple Rose of Cairo, in which the movie within the movie breaks the fourth wall, while the movie itself does not?
masqthephlsphr
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:37 pm (UTC)
No, I haven't seen it, and I wouldn't be able to tell you what I thought without seeing it, but generally, BTWF moments are just a little too "aren't we clever" for my taste.

When I'm watching a TV show, I know on one level I'm watching a TV show (intellectual?), but on another level (more emotional, I suppose?), I want to be caught up in the narrative, and I don't like someone else deciding for me when I will be thrown out and when I won't.
dlgood
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:45 pm (UTC)
Ah.

The "Purple Rose of Cairo" is a Woody Allen movie set during the depression. A woman frequently spends her time at the movies, watching one film in particular over and over again. One of the characters in the movie notices her and steps out of the film into her world. Wackiness and drama ensues...

It's one of my favorites.
ponygirl2000
Jan. 21st, 2012 02:06 pm (UTC)
There have been times - and of course my brain is blanking on actual examples - where as you say it can be effective, as though breaking the wall actually draws us in rather than makes us step back, like live theatre. Maybe Buffy's look to the camera in OMWF when she sings "you can sing along" is an example of a non-funny way to do it.
masqthephlsphr
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:35 pm (UTC)
That moment in OMWF is so brief and sort of... when you sing to yourself, you sometimes act like you're performing to an invisible audience, and so that moment didn't throw me out of the scene, you know?

I am totally blanking on examples myself. I just recall the general feeling of hating a lot of cases of BTFW because they are often not-so-inside jokes by the writers.
mamculuna
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:37 pm (UTC)
I wrote a whole essay on that once, which I won't subject you to, but I think it can be more than just a joke or even more than self-satire. In Marat/Sade, there's an audience on stage that makes the real audience become a part of the play, and makes us have to see that our judgments of the on-stage audience are judgments of ourselves. The stage version of Chorus Line does something vaguely in that vein with mirrors in the finale.

I just saw The Artist and there are a couple of places where the use of sound does something with the fourth wall, but can't pin it down, exactly.

masqthephlsphr
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:39 pm (UTC)
In the hands of a skilled writer/director, it can be an effective artistic technique, but most writers aren't skilled enough to pull it off, they just *think* they're being clever.
mamculuna
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:41 pm (UTC)
True! And it's the same "clever" every time.
harsens_rob
Jan. 22nd, 2012 05:05 am (UTC)
Opiniony-opinioning
I always return to Buffy's "Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday" muttering in 'Once More, With Feeling' as done right.

Wrong would be the Supernatural books fandom on the Supernatural TV show in episodes like, 'Sympathy for the Devil', which is just too OTT.
masqthephlsphr
Jan. 22nd, 2012 04:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Opiniony-opinioning
For the most part, the BTFW in Buffy was subtle in those ways, or was built into the plot in a way that edged on breaking the fourth wall without actually breaking it. In Storyteller, for example, Andrew is "talking" to the audience, but not really, because he has a camera set up in the bathroom and what he's doing is pretending to play Masterpiece Theatre.
harsens_rob
Feb. 29th, 2012 02:51 am (UTC)
Re: Opiniony-opinioning
Agreed.

In fact, I can generally forgive the OTT OoC of characters commenting on the general actors, plot, arcs, or characters if they have a 'reason', like with Andy filming himself making comments which (presumably) he wouldn't be sharing with the characters within the narrative.

But, you can also tell (generally) between writers saying "Yes, we know this was kinda a cop-out, let's laugh together" and those who state "Hey, I created this you a-holes, stop bitching about it" attitudes. Joss tends to embrace, while Gamble (or Kripke, or both) tends to be defensive about it.
masqthephlsphr
Feb. 29th, 2012 03:23 am (UTC)
Re: Opiniony-opinioning
Is that Supernatural you're referring to? I stopped watching that in Season 1, I'm afraid.
harsens_rob
Feb. 29th, 2012 03:57 am (UTC)
Re: Opiniony-opinioning
Yes.

Alas, I'm referring to Kripke/Gamble's use of 'Becky' and 'Chuck', which you can find plenty of info on online.

The point is that Joss clearly knows his fan base and what they're talking about and engages. Kripke (or Gamble or both -- I'll admit I don't search out behind-the-scenes stuff so I don't grow resentment for creators or actors toward their own roles [didn't David B. make negative comments about Angel because he didn't like that he was known for that role...?].

Anyway, I'd recommend "All Hell Breaks Loose, P I and II" in which a narrative ends with Sam's murder and Dean doing ANYTHING to bring him back. And, "No Rest for the Wicked" in which Dean's choices come to roost and "Lazarus Rising" and "Are You There God? It's Me, Dean Winchester" in which Dean is lost. This is some phenomenal acting work by "pretty-boy" Jensen Ackles. These two episodes is what sold me on being a fan [like 'Prophecy Girl' sold me on SMG].

It is SUCH a pleasure when you see actors doing work that expands a character beyond what was probably in the [sorry- mind blank: whatever it is when actors know the basic role their trying out for].

Jensen shows in these episodes he's not just "ooh, I'm pretty".
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