Thursday, March 17, 2011

In which I possibly overextend my metaphor to dangerous ends

Last night we went to a preview for the new Omnimax movie Tornado Alley. If you like weather porn, it's really swell, with big scary skies, hail, and lots of cloud and funnel action. I'm not sure I learned much more about tornadoes than I knew going in, but that could be because the immersive footage overwhelms Bill "Big Love" Pullman's Paxton's! narration of the science behind what we were seeing.

Two points I began considering when my attention wandered: One, the only other Omnimax movie I remember seeing is The Polar Express, awful in more ways than I can say. So I don't know if it's my inexperience with the medium that lead to my queasy but delighted disorientation, for, say, the first fifteen minutes of the 45 minute film. I thrilled to the rain, the approaching tornadoes and the zooming-in on the Mad Max-like storm-chasing truck. But after a while, the screen simply looked big, and I felt less like I was experiencing the weather and more like I was watching a movie. (Richard fell asleep.)

My second point might be related to my first. Through most of the movie, we go along with stormchaser-filmmaker Sean Casey as he seeks to plant his truck (which has these cool extensions that grip the ground) right in the middle of a tornado. With aid of radar and other Science, he gets close, closer, but the storms either die down or dance off in another direction. The funnels--gestating, growing, twisting--are awesome to see. But when he does get himself inside, at the end of the movie, it's a letdown, just a blur of wind and rain and white noise. It turns out tornadoes are a lot less interesting (visually, anyway) from the inside than they are from without. Bill Pullman's Paxton's! other tornado movie, Twister, made high drama of the (admittedly ludicrous) moment when he and Helen Hunt are chained at the heart of the storm, watching little silvery cups twirl up into the funnel, their experiment a success and their love renewed. So don't go see Tornado Alley thinking it's going to look like this.

My work-related conclusion concerns our now-reflexive expectation that an "insider's view" is always better, and more "authentic," than an outsider's when it comes to a book 's cultural context. I know people aren't weather. I know outsiders looking in can "get stuff wrong." But I'm guessing that if tornadoes had people living inside them (hey publishers! a new hook!), those folks would have no clue about what their home looked like from the outside--and it's a spectacular view. Inside, it just looks like rain as usual. Now, it is true that Sean Casey's journey into the storm promises to give us new knowledge about tornadoes, and who's not for that? Let's just not automatically dismiss the view from the outside as one not worth seeing.

3 comments:

Megan said...

I get what you're saying here Roger, and I totally agree that diverse vantage points can enrich literature. But I think a missing point in your argument about the potential value of "outsiders" telling others' stories concerns power dynamics. It's not just a matter of an outsider potentially "getting stuff wrong" that ruffles feathers; it's the possible impact of that wrongness on the perpetuation of stereotypes and oppression when we consider books and other media as not only reflecting culture, but constructing it. Much more to say about this (and tons more to hear--I hope this thread goes on and on. I am so interested in this topic), but I am typing on the fly since after school pick up looms.

Megan Lambert

Zelda del West said...

I do like the idea of the people that live inside of tornadoes. It kinda reminds me of the people in the Pacific Northwest that live inside active volcanoes. They don't seem to mind the lava at all. Hmm.

Rosanne Parry said...

The thing I am always reminding myself when write from the position of an insider is that my status is no guarantee I will "get things right", no excuse to shirk research, and reason to expect that my view will be free of stereotypes.

It is not possible to take a point of view that contains no limitations. Which, in my opinion, is exactly why multiple points of view are vital.