Tuesday, September 9, 2008

People Out of Context

Something I like to do in my short fiction is place a stereotype or recognized cliche character in a radically different setting. Would you recognize Kurt Cobain if he was bagging your groceries? How would Conan the Barbarian feel if he was employed in a washing machine factory? What sort of presidential candidate would Odysseus have made? Would I vote for him? Would the rest of America? What if he was running against Hannibal Lecter?

Context can be very important to understanding a person. And yet, finding the keys to the locks that opens them up sometimes involves a change of scenery, to remove them from the setting that makes them so familiar. Give someone a haircut, clean up their speech, give them a new job, but have you really changed them? Would you even recognize them?

Is that a pulp hero who is taking your order? Could the woman ringing up your bill have been a Mata Hari or a Marlene Dietrich given half a chance? How do we know?


Spin the Moon said...

And... could that marauding barbarian have been a poet had people just stopped shoving a sword in his hand every five minutes?

John Goodrich said...

*chuckle* Great image.

"KRATOS! It is time for you to take your revenge on the gods!"

"But I was finishing this painting of waterlillies."


"Oh all right." Kratos puts a final lick on a rill off water, then carefully washes his brushes. Opening a cabinet, he blows the dust off the Blades of Chaos.

William Jones said...

I'd venture to say that it is the contrast that makes the character. This was done a bit with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Of course, all of the characters played to their strengths (from previous works), but each one was taken out of the usual context and placed in a "new world." In the film, that might include some of the actors as well. :)