In "A Link to the Present: Class Consciousness and the Need for Change in the Legend of Zelda", David Lasby argues, "Today the world is suffering more than any time in recent memory. COVID-19 has exacerbated the tensions already pulling societies apart. Economic inequality already reached record gaps even before the pandemic. Millennials and Generation Z held a deep skepticism of institutions long before the current crises, which has produced astonishing failings at the highest levels of power. The time has come to produce a Zelda game that reckons with these very issues facing humanity.... It is time for a Zelda game that evolves past bloodlines and sacred institutions and embraces the skepticism and class-consciousness of this moment.... The growing crisis of our time requires a new kind of hero, a transcendent storytelling. This threat also provides opportunity. Now is the moment to give us a Zelda game worthy to be called high art."
Responses to this pretentious crap have been overwhelmingly negative. "Good grief," said Stormcrow. "I get so sick of 'Its about time...' proposals that simply suggest the thing they're talking about look and sound like everything else in the culture right now. Class struggle? How original. How challenging. Yawn. I'd rather see people inspired to be a hero, than inspired to make sure everyone around them knows how oppressed they are."
In calling it pretentious crap, I don't mean that I'm against everything he says. I fully support the Legend of Zelda series trying out interesting new directions and breaking the old formula, as it did with "Breath of the Wild". As a writer myself I am inclined to prioritize the story over the gameplay, which is the opposite of Nintendo's approach since they are, after all, a game company. I would applaud more complexity and nuance. And like many, I really want to see the series namesake take on a more active role in her own games. I get that most countries don't want the heir to their throne running around having dangerous adventures, but there are ways around that. The much-maligned cartoon series got around it by making her father senile. "The Wind Waker" got around it by making her a pirate queen who didn't remember her real identity. And I had an idea years ago for a fan fiction called "The Z-Team" where she leads a band of guerilla fighters to retake her throne. It was going to have an epic tagline like "She wants her kingdom back, and she isn't asking nicely" or perhaps "When diplomacy fails, Triforce." The only reason I didn't write it is that I'm lazy.
But the series is, at its heart, a way to escape from the real world and have some fun for a little while. I enjoy it precisely because the boundless and unapologetically weird world it creates is not this one. And while I'm there, I'm perfectly willing to slip into a different mindset and accept ideas that would be repugnant in real life - that one race rules by divine birthright because the blood of a literal goddess flows in their veins, that certain people are predestined to sacrifice their own comfort and normal lives to be heroes for everyone else, and that it's okay for thirty-five year old men to dress up in green jumpsuits and think they're fairies. When I want more serious or unorthodox themes than what the games offer I can read fan fiction. In one fan fiction I particularly like (spoiler alert), Hyrule's three patron goddesses are revealed to be ordinary women who accidentally became immortal, used their free time to learn all about science and create the world, and set up the eternal cycle of good versus evil so they could bet on the outcome because they were bored. How's that for distrust of institutions? I love such a cynical deconstruction of Hyrule's theology, but I'm glad it's not canon.
The comment that got my attention the most was from one David Garcia Abril, who wrote, "Over the years, I've come to DESPISE the concept of high-art, since it's basically two things:
"- Just another form of tribalism.
"- A death cult.
"As for tribalism, because it basically divides people into groups in which one is considered inherently superior to another. People who enjoy 'high-art' is considered intellectually, or even morally superior to the low scum who enjoy 'popular art', thus giving an excuse to believe they are entitled to see those people with condescension at best and disgust at worst.
"And a death cult, because it worships negative emotions (sadness, hate, depression, despair, etc) above everything else, while positive emotions are dismissed as 'just escapism', and are only allowed in 'high-art' when they are put to serve a contrast to negative emotions. Just to give an example: most actors and writers would tell you that making the audience to genuine laugh is far more difficult than to make them cry. And yet, tragedy is easily considered high-art, while comedy has to really struggle to get that status (and even when it does, more often than not, it's because it has dark elements to it). In other words, 'high-art' celebrates the emotions that remind our lizard brains of the constant presence of death, and then have the audacity of consider them inherently superior to the emotions that make life worth living. Just to clarify here, there should be place in art for both of those things. We still have to cope with negative emotions, and the catharsis we get from art can be a powerful thing. It's the inherent hierarchy in which those emotions are put what is completely messed up when you stop and think about it.
"So, yeah, f*** high-art."
I for one have never been particularly concerned about what anyone else thinks about art. Some of my favorite people are artists, and I mean no offense if any of them actually ever talk like that in real life, but I just like what I like and everyone else is welcome to like what they like, and we don't need to apologize or explain ourselves to anybody, and I think most of the fancy words some people use to explain why everyone else should like what they like are pretentious crap. If nothing else, they can take their sense of elitism and shove it. If I like what someone else considers "low art" I don't need to justify myself to them by calling it "a guilty pleasure". Granted, I may not be in a position to fairly evaluate the situation since I've mostly learned about it from "Calvin and Hobbes".
I found David Garcia Abril's comment interesting, though, not just for how it puts certain people in their place but also because I find myself one of the exceptions to his "most actors and writers". Mostly the writer part. I'm not an actor and there are no videos on YouTube of me trying to act, so don't waste your time looking for them. But in my case, I find comedy easier to work with than tragedy.
I know I can be funny because I often make people laugh, usually on purpose. In high school it was easy because everyone knew me as someone who rarely spoke, and when I did it took everyone by surprise and magnified even the slightest humor potential. Like one time my math teacher said she liked math more than history because it's not so violent. I said, "Except for when seven eight nine." There was an awkward silence as everyone processed the fact that I had spoken, and then they all laughed themselves to tears at the thing I said that I'll be the first to admit wasn't really that funny. And then I never consciously set out to try to become a funny person but over the years I've just sort of internalized certain skills and principles from witnessing other people be funny, and sometimes when I'm with people and they're talking my brain happens to work fast enough to craft something relevant that will make them laugh. Basically I'm saying that I'm smart. I don't know how to say that without sounding conceited so I'll just say it and move on.
I don't typically have the luxury of hearing whether anyone laughs when they read my writing, but I assume that's funny sometimes too because I draw on the same principles and in this case have the advantage of time to think about it, fine-tune it just right, and come back and edit it later if I think of something better. Of course I often write things that I think are brilliant and then become self-conscious and think they're terrible as soon as I hit "Post". I wasn't sure if my recent satire of creationism that I'd been all excited about was any good after all until a Christian biochemist that I admire went to the trouble of thinking up a comment that, while ostensibly criticizing my piece, totally played along with and expanded on the central joke. It was the most flattering thing I could have imagined, even more flattering than all the "Haha" reactions from Facebook combined.
I put a lot of thought into most of the jokes in that post, but at one point I also threw in a random line about God wanting to get the deposit back on the Garden of Eden, just kind of being like, Whatever, I'm not sure what the actual joke is here but maybe it's goofy enough to get a smile. And one of my friends said, "Oh my heck!! Not getting the deposit back on the garden of eden had me rolling." Conclude from that what you will.
In my experience getting an English degree, I indeed found myself somewhat unique in my propensity to gravitate toward humorous writing. Everyone else in my classes did more "serious" stuff and even if one or two of them was technically a better writer than me, I took comfort in knowing that I filled a different niche and we could coexist without fighting to the death. I gravitate toward humorous writing because it's the kind of thing I typically want to read, because these are, as David said, the emotions that make life worth living. That's just a personal preference and not a dig at my classmates. At least most of them didn't try to be too "deep" and come across as pretentious or condescending. "Deep" messages are all well and good but I think they should usually be imparted with a healthy dose of humor, without taking oneself too seriously (think Douglas Adams), because I'm not interested in being preached at by someone who thinks mankind's angst is such a big screaming deal. We're born on a microscopic dot in a microscopic dot, we make a lot of mistakes, and we die a very short time later having left no measurable impact on the universe, so let's have a bit of humility.
I think comedy is easy because there's so much leeway. You can come up with something legitimately brilliant and clever on multiple levels, or sometimes you can say something so stupid it's funny, and get people to play along and then the seriousness with which you all take this stupid joke becomes the joke, and then if it becomes a running gag or inside joke it gets funnier every time as long as you don't overdo it, but sometimes you can overdo it on purpose and make it funny again, like that one famous scene from "The Simpsons" where Sideshow Bob steps on nine rakes in a row. And not that you necessarily should, but as long as you wait long enough you can make almost any inappropriate and/or tragic topic into a joke. Humor is a mechanism of catharsis that helps us to cope with this hell we call reality. Making sad things funny is much, much easier than making funny things sad. I can't think of a single example of the latter off the top of my head. Of course I try to be a good Christian and draw the line a lot sooner than many would, but I enjoy dark humor very much.
Heck, even the wokest, most progressive people can do pretentious mental gymnastics to make themselves feel okay about laughing at things they know are wrong. Russell Marks: "Perhaps the cleverest thing about The Book of Mormon [musical] is the way it manages to keep actually-racist white people out of the theatres while using black actors who have no creative control to tell jokes written by non-racist white people about Africans that would be blatantly racist if there were actually-racist white people in the audience and if Parker and Stone had intended to be racist instead of satirical. This is quite a complicated manoeuvre, and it obviously takes quite a high level of sophistication to grasp it fully. Sophisticated critics clearly ‘get it’. The ‘parody’ of Africa is ‘far too close for comfort’, wrote Peter Craven in The Saturday Paper, but ‘the chief comfort of The Book of Mormon is that its fundamental structures, the foundation upon which it rests, is unspeakable bad taste’. Less sophisticated people might interpret that as another way of saying that racism is actually OK if you intend it in bad taste, but such an interpretation would presumably only betray their lack of sophistication."
Pulling off negative emotions well is much harder from my perspective, and I don't think a lot of people manage it, but this probably is more my personal problem than any shortcoming on their part. The experiences of my life have led me to construct a lot of barriers around my heart and try to avoid emotional vulnerability as much as possible. I also have to suppress a lot of my natural empathy so I'm not constantly miserable about all the suffering in the world that I can't do anything about. So when it's obvious to me that a writer or filmmaker or whomever is trying to elicit a certain emotional reaction from me with the phraseology or the music or whatever, when they're basically screaming "THIS IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU SAD AND/OR INTROSPECTIVE", I put up the barriers and refuse to let them get away with it, unless I'm so invested in the characters and the setting that I still notice but don't care. The only movies I can think of right now that make me cry are "Revenge of the Sith", "Rogue One", "Return of the Jedi", "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", "Remember the Titans", "Temple Grandin", "The Cokeville Miracle", and some of the Pixar movies. I can't think of any books that make me cry.
The Zelda game "Ocarina of Time" doesn't pretend to be anything super deep but it does manage to make me cry. It deals with some simple but heart-wrenching themes and ends on a rather bittersweet note. As far as negative emotions go, though, I think "Majora's Mask" is the champion. It carries a very dark, unsettling and somber tone throughout, just unpleasant enough to be intriguing instead of actually, well, unpleasant. The world of Termina is full of Nightmare Fuel and at the start of the game is three days away from being crushed by the moon. "Final Hours", the melancholy tune that plays on the last day against the rumble of earthquakes and the clanging of the clock tower as the moon fills the sky, is one of the most underrated video game compositions in the history of ever. (But the silly and lighthearted moments balance things out!) Actually, "Majora's Mask" also anticipated twenty years ago some of the real-life subtext that David Lasby craves. I used to think, "It's ridiculous how the people of Clock Town start out so nonchalant and in denial that the freaking moon is going to kill them all when it's right there for everyone to see." But now with the current situation in the United States I think, "Oh."
In a review of the fan-made game "The Legend of Zelda: The Fallen Sage", someone with the screen name Asinine wrote, "Let's get to the very first problem and the reason for why I have a grudge against the man who wrote this lore: The 'making it more mature part'. This is a very noble thing to attempt, a more mature Zelda title is certain to appeal to quite a lot of people, but not enough for Nintendo to genuinely cater to. However, there is a difference between 'mature' and 'childish'. Mature is when you tackle interesting and controversial problems with a sense of dignity and purpose, I feel like I am experiencing something mature when I am playing around in The Path and I am slowly realizing the subtle commentary on modern-day parenting the game contains. What certainly doesn't qualify as mature is a never-ending flow of depressing events befalling on a cast of suicidal characters.
"Having depressive themes in your game is not bad by default, but when you are endlessly throwing in more excuses to make your characters sad, it loses it's mature intentions and it instead becomes sadistic. We are no longer exploring a world with genuine troubles, but rather the author's sadistic fantasies."
So I find tragedy a lot easier to get wrong than comedy. Of course I still dabble in them on this blog and in my works of fiction because they are a necessary ingredient most of the time, especially in a story that needs to have actual conflict and stakes and drama, but I feel very inadequate. I feel like any attempt to make my readers feel things is hamfisted and clumsy and even more obvious than most. That's one reason why I'm more likely to just be sarcastic even when dealing with dark topics like police brutality or mass shootings or being suicidal. I'm not trying to be funny as such, because like I said I place boundaries on my use of dark humor, but as a more jaded and detached way of getting the information across, and to direct righteous anger at the people who should be doing things but aren't as opposed to just trying to be sad about the things that aren't being done. I think this is one of my bigger weaknesses as a writer and maybe I'll be able to tackle it in graduate school.
Anyway, this is obviously just how things are for me and not meant to refute most actors and writers who find tragedy easier than comedy, but I found David Garcia Abril's comment thought-provoking and figured it was as good a jumping-off point for a blog post as any.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.