Episode 13: Transcript
Our Opinions Are Correct Episode 13
Transcribed by: Keffy Kehrli
Charlie Jane: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct, a show about the meaning of science fiction. I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who obsesses about science.
Annalee: [00:00:09] And I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist, who writes science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:14] Today, we’re going to talk about Peak TV, which is a new phenomenon where TV is just proliferating and multiplying and exploding and basically there’s just a million TV shows out there.
Annalee: [00:00:25] And then we’re gonna like run out of TV and we’re gonna have to find an alternate source of TV, somehow. Wind-powered TV, or I don’t know.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:32] We’re just gonna have to start telling stories to each other around the campfire again, possibly with like flashlights under our faces. I don’t know. But, for now, there’s a million TV shows, and we’re gonna talk about why that’s amazing, and why it’s also kind of confusing.
[00:00:45] Intro music plays.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:51] So, the past ten years have seen kind of an explosion in the number of TV shows and I think that the last number that I saw was that there’s 450 TV shows a year, like dramatized, scripted TV shows. Per year.
Annalee: [00:01:02] In the United States alone.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:04] In the United States. And this is a result of the sheer number of channels that are out there, because now, in addition to a million cable TV channels, you’ve got streaming channels like Netflix. You’ve got Apple TV, you’ve got Amazon. You’ve got Hulu, and there’s just a bunch of channels that used to not have scripted TV shows, like MTV used to actually show music videos. It’s kind of hard to believe at this point.
Annalee: [00:01:26] Back in Ye Olde Days.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:28] Back when we all had buggy whips.
Annalee: [00:01:30] Yeah, but I mean, I think that’s true of, as you said, many channels. Like Court TV has scripted drama, and things like that, so there’s a proliferation of really, I think what we’re talking about is mostly scripted TV. Although, of course there—part of Peak TV is also reality television, as well.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:46] There’s just so much television. And you know, the History Channel now has Vikings, and it also has some other shows. And the History Channel used to be just Hitler.
Annalee: [00:01:54] I know…
Charlie Jane: [00:01:54] And now it’s Vikings and Hitler. It’s confusing.
Annalee: [00:01:56] Well, Vikings are like the prehistory of Hitler.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:59] It’s true.
Annalee: [00:01:59] White supremacists, you know, they need their history. They need ancient history, they need medieval history, they need…
Charlie Jane: [00:02:05] They need all the history.
Annalee: [00:02:06] Modern history. Like, it’s important to cater to their needs.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:08] But yeah, and so… you’ve had this explosion of the number of TV shows and that has meant that a lot of TV shows are getting really adventurous and weird because you have to stand out from the other 450 TV shows out there. This has coincided with a time when there’s also a huge proliferation of the number of movies. Like, I think that the number of movies with like giant budgets has been going up year on year. But, it’s also increasingly only movies that are kind of big franchise pictures like superhero movies or Star Wars, or Jurassic Park.
Annalee: [00:02:38] Probably because it’s really hard to compete with TV in this era of Peak TV. So, part of Peak TV is just what you’re describing, like that there’s this proliferation of channels, but also it’s kind of the peak of television’s influence over pop culture, in that people know what Game of Thrones is even if they’ve never watched it. People have heard of Westworld even if they don’t care about robots. And, this was the case, for example, with Battlestar Galactica, which was actually one of the early moments in Peak TV, where again, it was a TV show that just captivated people, and I think it used to be that movies did that. It used to be that conversations were about movies, and I think… not that there aren’t conversations about movies, but I think increasingly it’s television.
Charlie Jane: [00:03:24] Yeah, I mean ten years ago, you saw the rise of the term watercooler television, which was the idea of television shows that you would talk about around the watercooler at work. Like, Lost was a watercooler TV show. I don’t know why it’s so hard to say that.
Annalee: [00:03:39] [inaudible]
Charlie Jane: [00:03:39] Lost was a watercooler TV show, but Battlestar Galactica…
Annalee: [00:03:43] Slack TV. Like, what TV are you talking about in your Slack channel?
Charlie Jane: [00:03:46] Exactly, it’s all Slack TV now. And you know, that was a rare phenomenon in the past. Like, people obsessed about I guess, Who Shot JR. And I still don’t know who shot JR. I’m guessing you know, PQ shot JR. I don’t know. Some other set of initials, you know.
Annalee: [00:04:03] And I think… I mean, generally when we hear the phrase Peak TV, like, people bring up Twin Peaks. The original Twin Peaks in the early ‘90s as being kind of an early example of this kind of… you know, it’s not just about a glut of television, it’s about a certain kind of television. It’s quality television. Something that is on-par with movies in terms of storytelling. And, I think partly that idea comes from believing that maybe TV is kind of crappier than movies and at this point, now, we know that’s totally not true. And, there’s no—nobody thinks that like being on a hit TV show is crappier than being in in like a medium-sized movie. I mean that would never be a question.
Charlie Jane: [00:04:47] Yeah, and of course part of what’s happened is that actors who used to only appear in huge movies are now starring in TV shows. And part of the whole sort of watercooler thing, and the thing of like TV shows that we obsess about is the kind of mystery element. Like, you mentioned Battlestar Galactica, and part of it was like the whole thing of who’s a Cylon, and here’s a moment where they talk about that.
Battlestar G Clip: [00:05:07] If you’re a Cylon, I’d like to know.
If I’m a Cylon, you’re really screwed.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:15] It’s hard to remember now, but we used to frickin’ obsess about who was a Cylon and what the Cylons were, and what their plan was, and…
Annalee: [00:05:23] And I mean, that’s now kind of spilled over into Westworld which pretty much, and I don’t think this is a spoiler to say, pretty much has borrowed that exact plot, is who’s a robot and who isn’t. And that was a huge part of the first season, and it’s becoming—and in the second season it was also even more of a question. So, I think that… in Lost is the same thing. And I think that also there’s soap opera type questions, as well, like soap opera mysteries. And I think that’s why Madmen was such a huge hit, because people were like, how’s the soap opera gonna end? It’s not the mystery of what’s in the box. It’s the mystery of who hooks up with who, and whose marriage falls apart, and who gets a job. Stuff like that.
So, I think that Peak TV. I want to acknowledge that like, this is not a term that you haven’t heard before. People have been like handwringing about Peak TV for a couple of years now in the media. It’s been a topic that’s come and gone, but it’s particularly relevant now, because so many shows are on the air. It used to be kind of like, whoa, there’s lots of stuff happening in TV. But now, it’s like, it’s insane. Like, everything is getting a show. Which is great on one hand, like—and, on one hand it’s really great because books that I never would have imagined becoming TV shows are, like Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Who Fears Death, which is amazing. Many people know Nnedi Okorafor’s work from the Binti series, and Who Fears Death is going to be like an HBO series. That’s like, amazing. It’s just incredible to live in a time when a super smart sci-fi fantasy story about people in Africa is being turned into a show.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:13] Yeah, and Victor LaValle’s Changeling is becoming a TV show. Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff is being turned into a TV show by Jordan Peele, who directed Get Out. N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is going to be a show on TNT, or at least it’s in development. It’s interesting because on the one hand, one of the ways that you stand out from the pack in sort of the Peak TV era is by getting weird and challenging and kind of like… Shows like Breakin’ Bad blazed a trail for that.
Annalee: [00:07:40] I think you mean Breaking Bad. This is not the Judas Priest version of… Doo doo dooo doo doo BREAKIN’ BAD!
Charlie Jane: [00:07:47] BreakING Bad has been a huge influence on how people think about storytelling and characters. And then the other way that you kind of stand out from the pack in the Peak TV era is just by taking something from the ‘90s, anything from the ‘90s, pretty much like, if somebody had an infomercial in the ‘90s for like a soap product and just bringing it back as a big TV show, and that’s like the other part of this that everything from the ‘90s is back.
Annalee: [00:08:12] Part of the struggle for places like Netflix, for example, when they’re bringing a billion TV shows to market is they want something that people have heard of before. And, you know, people grew up in the ’90s and so it’s nostalgia. So, that’s one of the down sides of this Peak TV phenomenon, is that you’re getting really creative weird stuff, but you’re also getting just horrible rehash of like, garbage that we weren’t really that into the first time. Or, maybe we were, but like now it’s completely out of date. Or it just isn’t the right show anymore, like Roseanne. I guess Murphy Brown is coming back as well.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:49] Mm-hmm. And, you know, it’s interesting to see that still, in this era where there’s like 450, I don’t even know if that’s the current number, TV shows, there’s still a lot of TV shows that don’t get picked up, that are put into development. They did a Greatest American Hero show, which sounded like it was going to be amazing, and they filmed a bunch of episodes…
Annalee: [00:09:07] I remember you telling me, like, this is going to be the greatest. And I was like, no. And you… you were excited.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:12] I still really want that show, and they gave it a season pick up.
Annalee: [00:09:15] I validate your feelings.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:17] They gave it a season pick up, which means that they probably filmed a bunch of episodes and then the network was like, no, we’re not going to use this. So somewhere, there’s a bunch of episodes of a Greatest American Hero reboot with a female hero, which we’re never gonna get to see.
Annalee: [00:09:28] Meanwhile, I have to frickin’ live in a universe with like Iron Fist getting a second season, like, what the fuck. Okay, seriously, no.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:38] So, part of what goes along with like the rise of Peak TV and being unable to keep up with so many shows, is the phenomenon of binge watching, which Netflix strongly encourages. And, you know, they kind of talked about this in this one segment no the PBS News Hour.
PBS News Hour Clip: [00:09:51] Binging until recently was a word usually associated with the meals we enjoy during the holidays. Not in this golden age of television. New TV series debut almost every week and among avid viewers there’s a feeling that you can’t keep up.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:06] I love how she basically just ties it together and is like, “We can’t keep up, and that’s why we’re all binge watching, and by the way this isn’t about Thanksgiving turkey.”
Annalee: [00:10:14] It’s something that I think creators aspire to, but it’s also something that we kind of know is unhealthy, and it isn’t something that is necessarily good. Like, there’s—it’s a way of relating to narratives that seems vaguely problematic.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:31] Yeah, I mean, I think it could be really fun. You and I have experienced this personally, the thing of just like sitting down and watching like ten episodes of, I think, Supernatural we did that with, and Vampire Diaries we did that with.
Annalee: [00:10:43] Steven Universe.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:44] Steven Universe. And like, it can be really satisfying, partly because something that happened in episode five that gets mentioned in episode 12, you’re like, oh yeah, we watched that like a few hours ago, or whatever. Versus, like, we watched that like a month ago.
Annalee: [00:10:59] Although, ironically, the two shows that you mention that it is true that we binge watched, Supernatural and Vampire Diaries, because we were behind, those are actually not shows that were necessarily made to be binge watched. The shows that are made for binge watching are things like Luke Cage, or Westworld, which is weird, because again, Westworld is actually not all dumped at the same time. But, basically, it’s shows that are super complex and they have an arc. It’s not episodic. They are… what’s the term that people use for it? That’s episodic…
Charlie Jane: [00:11:31] Serialized.
Annalee: [00:11:31] Serialized.
Charlie Jane: [00:11:31] They’re more serialized.
Annalee: [00:11:33] They’re more serialized meaning they’re just more soap operatic and so I think that when people are making TV to be binge watched, the problem is: one, they fall into because they want to get people to just sit there and watch a million shows at once, they will sometimes fall into the Lost problem of having mysteries within mysteries within mysteries, that just finally go all the way up their own butt and then out their own mouth and then up their nose again… I mean, it’s just like the worst. Like, whatever… however many orifices you can stick your mystery up, it’ll happen, and then it gets really boring. Because it’s like, oh, there’s never any payoff. But I’m like, hooked because I want to know. Like, where—which orifice is the mystery going to go up?
But then, the other problem, and you’ve talked to me about this and really taught me about this is that a lot of these shows will just become really slow because they have so much space to spread out and so you’ll get an episode that’s like, literally watching someone drool, which actually happens in the show Legion. Which, I would say is a show that was designed for binge watching. There is like a long scene—several long scenes of literally watching people drool.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:46] Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a two-sided coin like most things. It’s—it allows for richer storytelling, it allows for more layered storytelling, it allows you to make shows that actually reward people for paying attention, whereas I feel like I can remember when it seemed like a lot of TV shows were being made so that you could get up, go to the bathroom, make yourself a snack and come back, having missed like 5-10 minutes of the show and still be able to follow what was going on. I feel like TV shows now are kind of designed to reward you for really paying close attention and hitting the pause button if you want to go pee. And, I think that that’s interesting but I think that, you know, it does kind of sometimes lead to just this relentless deepening of the mythos to the point where it’s like just a bunch of stuff, and it doesn’t mean anything.
One of the reasons why so many of these successful—most interesting shows are adapted from books is because books will have this deep backstory that the author worked out on the page and like the classic example of that is Game of Thrones where George R.R. Martin has literally written an encyclopedia that kind of goes into every single aspect of like the past 2,000 years of Westeros history, and for example, just listen to Jamie Lannister talking about, like, the Mad King.
GoT Clip: [00:14:01] You’ve heard of Wildfire.
The Mad King was obsessed with it. He loved to watch people burn, the way their skin blackened and blistered and melted off their bones. He burned lords he didn’t like. He burned Hands who disobeyed him. He burned anyone who was against him. Before long, half the country was against him.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:23] And that’s the kind of thing that really rewards people who—for obsessing about the backstory and all the complicated stuff.
Annalee: [00:14:29] Right, it’s not just like, oh there was this bad guy in history. It’s like, no no no. He has this whole connection to people alive now, and he had this—we learn about all these things he did. And then that, later, gets deepened, because we learn even more ancient history about the people. So, it’s like, yeah. It’s not just you know, here’s the bad guy. It’s like here’s 2,000 years of bad history.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:54] And, you know, maybe it allows you to see patterns of abuse and how things that are happening now are kind of tied into terrible things that happened in the past, and how…
Annalee: [00:15:00] I think it does, yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:02] … There’s these cycles. Yeah.
Annalee: [00:15:02] So, this brings me to a topic that we want to talk about, which is the Wiki-ization of television. Which, is just basically the way in which so many of these binge-able TV shows and TV shows that are very complex in this era of Peak TV basically can’t be understood without a wiki. It’s also that they lend themselves well to the kind of thinking that leads to creating wikis. And, in case you’re wondering what the heck we’re talking about, we went on YouTube and found a very old video of someone explaining wikis, which I thought was delightful because it sounds like it’s from the ‘50s, but it’s actually just from the early Noughties.
YouTube wiki Clip: [00:15:45] This is the new way. Yay. Most wikis work the same. They make it easy for everyone to change what appears on a webpage with a click of a button. It’s as easy as erasing a word and rewriting it.
Annalee: [00:16:00] So, basically, we’re just talking about any kind of software that’s like Wikipedia, or Wikia that are built on top of an editable webpage. And, now, I feel like, people use this as a complement. Like they’ll say, like, wow, that show makes me want to make a wiki.
Charlie Jane: [00:16:18] Yeah, and I feel like this is one of the ways in which TV shows are really rewarding deep fan involvement, because it’s not just sitting back passively, and like, staring at the screen and maybe drooling a little bit, to have a callback to Legion. But, it’s also about getting actually involved in fandom and creating something. It goes along with fanfic and fanart and fan theories…
Annalee: [00:16:38] Which we were talking about a few weeks ago…
Charlie Jane: [00:16:40] And wikis often kind of lead to fan theories and I personally… like there are a lot of things that I cannot follow without a wiki. Like, some of the really deep Star Wars stuff about like what the heck happened in all those different cartoons…
Annalee: [00:16:52] Okay, so I look at Wookiepedia all the time. Like, I really do. If I’m trying to figure out, wait, who’s this character? I thought I saw them in a comic book? Was it? Was it that? Was it a different blue person with a weird protrusion on their face? I don’t know.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:08] Yeah, and you know, Memory Alpha for—Star Trek has Memory Alpha and Memory Beta, and Memory Beta is the stuff that’s kind of non-canon that was published in novels and comics…
Annalee: [00:17:15] Ooh, I didn’t know that.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:17] … that are not canonical.
Annalee: [00:17:18] I’ve totally gone to Memory Alpha like, way too many times, yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:22] And I think with Wookiepedia you can click a button and get the non-canon stuff. It could be like, well, if you want to know the non-canon—or maybe that’s the Doctor Who wiki that has that. That’s like, well, there is the canon stuff but then if you want to know what all these books and tie-ins did that’s probably not canonical… and it’s super interesting. And like, Steven Universe—I look at the Steven Universe wiki every day because I get so confused about like all the different gems and the gem war and all this stuff. And you know, it’s interesting to me because it used to be that back in the dark ages, for example, the movie Cloverfield.
Annalee: [00:17:56] By the Dark Ages, you mean like ten years ago.
Charlie Jane: [00:17:57] Like ten years ago. Like 2008.
Annalee: [00:18:00] Before this YouTube video was made.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:01] Yeah, so. So, you look at the movie Cloverfield, and it’s just about a giant monster stumping around New York and going RAWWW. And these people who were having some dumb party are like running around and trying to find their girlfriend or whatever. I don’t even remember. And there’s pubic lice.
Annalee: [00:18:15] The pubic lice is probably one of the best parts of that movie.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:16] There’s some super pubic lice in that movie.
Annalee: [00:18:19] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:19] But when you looked at the alternate reality game, which was—consisted of a lot of viral videos and a bunch of fake websites and a bunch of other stuff, you would actually understand where the monster came from and how it happened, and how there’s an evil corporation that caused the monster to be unleashed and how…
Annalee: [00:18:34] And some kind of terrible soda…
Charlie Jane: [00:18:36] Slusho, which was like a kind of weird Easter egg. And there was just all this stuff that was only—not even hinted at in the movie. Like, the movie had like a couple of little Easter eggs that kind of connected you to that stuff…
Annalee: [00:18:48] Yeah, but it’s true. It’s not in the movie.
Charlie Jane: [00:18:51] But if you wanted to understand the plot of Cloverfield, you had to follow all these other breadcrumbs that the fans had dug up that had been left there for them. And that was kind of frustrating and weird, and so now, instead, we have wikis where fans kind of dig up little hints and clues and pieces of information and throw-away references and stuff. Like, little bits of exposition that someone mentioned when someone was naked on Game of Thrones, and we were all kind of zoning out. And, you know, all these little bits of information get collected and catalogued and collated and cross-referenced by fans.
Annalee: [00:19:23] Yeah, I mean, that’s certainly what’s happened with Westworld on Reddit. And, Jonathan Nolan, one of the show-runners along with Lisa Joy, he loves that. Like, he’s on Reddit all the time. Like, reading the fan theories and adding to them and like rewriting episodes because he wants the plot to be more confusing or more difficult to guess at. And so, I think yeah. I mean, it’s … I think that’s what people strive for. I really feel like with Westworld especially, because I did have a chance to talk to Jonathan Nolan about it a little bit. He considered that to be a win that people were obsessively dissecting it on Reddit and creating a wiki… And of course, like, Cloverfield, Westworld has this massive alternate reality game associated with it, which is their website and a bunch of other stuff with lots of hints and maps and additional information that you can get if you wanna go down the rabbit hole.
Charlie Jane: [00:20:24] I feel like it used to be that if you wanted the viewers to understand something, you had to spell it out. You had to mention it a bunch of times. You had to sign-post it, you had to be like, this plot point, or this piece of backstory, we’re gonna mention it like ten times to make sure you get it, whereas now, I feel like probably creators know on some level that they can mention something once in passing, and the people who really care about understanding all of the big picture and all of the wrinkles and all of the plot holes and the different ins and outs and whether everything holds together will go and look on the wiki and if it was like five episodes ago, or a hundred episodes ago, they will go and find it.
Annalee: [00:21:00] Dude, and they’ll like. They’ll screenshot shit. Like, if you just have a brief shot of a computer monitor or like a piece of the maze that’s inside someone’s scalped head.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:12] Scalp.
Annalee: [00:21:13] That’s a reference to Westworld, not a spoiler. And, people will screenshot it and analyze the hell out of it, which I often find delightful. Like, when I was watching Person of Interest, like fans would always screenshot stuff from that show that was actually really important to understanding the character of the machine who was the AI, who was one of my favorite characters. And, one of the best AI characters on TV.
I guess my question for you, Charlie, because you give good writing advice. I feel like you’re just—you’re really smart about this stuff, and I like—do you think that that stuff is necessary for enjoying these stories? Like, are these stor—I guess I have two questions. One, can I enjoy some of these stories if I’m not in the wikis. And two, are these stories relying on the wikis to make them good?
Charlie Jane: [00:22:05] I mean, those are interesting questions. And, obviously, it’s a case-by-case basis. But, also, I think it’s—it really comes back to what we were saying about Cloverfield, where you could enjoy it on different levels. You can enjoy it as giant monster comes and stomps things. Handful of characters have to survive, or do whatever the hell they were trying to do in that movie.
Annalee: [00:22:21] I don’t think any of them survive, which is why I love that movie. I love that movie on so many levels, but like, I love the fact that they all die. That’s great.
Charlie Jane: [00:22:30] Or, you can get really steeped in the mythos, and to some extent, like what we were saying before about Lost and Battlestar Galactica, and some of these other shows—
Annalee: [00:22:39] Westworld.
Charlie Jane: [00:22:39] Westworld. I would almost rather have the deep mythos and kind of complicated twisty how deep does the rabbit hole go be something that’s kind of like a dog whistle, that only the people who really care about that stuff are going to see versus have it be something that gets talked about for 20 minutes. You know, if you’re gonna have that stuff… I personally am not a fan of like how deep does the rabbit hole go—how many clues can we clue it up with. I’m just like, eh, ok, sure. Whatever. I just care about the characters. I care about what’s gonna happen to the characters, and what they’re dealing with. And I feel like if you want me to be interested in a plot thing you have to make it directly related to the characters. Versus, like, I know that there are people who really enjoy mysteries and like, want to puzzle out that stuff…
Annalee: [00:23:25] But a good mystery also has awesome character. Like, people do not love Sherlock Holmes because they’ve created—Well, I’m sure there is a Sherlock Holmes wiki. But like, they’re not in it for like, oh my god and then there was like this one little thing over here, and like, this other thing. They’re like, I’m in it for Sherlock. Like, and yes, Sherlock is good at picking up all those little details, but like, that’s why the mystery is good, I think.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:46] But some people really love puzzles. I’m not one of those people. I don’t do puzzles for fun or whatever. I don’t. You know, I’m not a Sudoku fiend or whatever.
Annalee: [00:23:54] Maybe what we’re really describing is kind of the gamification of TV narratives, because I think a lot—I know for sure with Westworld that part of what inspired the writers and creators was games. I mean, it is—it’s a show about a game, and of course in the second season that becomes even more explicit. But, I think that I worry—like with something like Westworld which I keep bringing it up because it’s a show that I’m really invested in. Like, it’s a story that I think is an important story. I think that some of the characterization of artificial intelligence in that show is some of the best that I’ve ever seen on screen. And, it’s super smart. And, at the same time, I feel like it’s hobbled by the fact that it just depends so much on this kind of wiki-ish backstory. Where like, people can’t really make it through the story and enjoy it without being like, okay, fine, I’m gonna go to the frickin’ wiki and find out about all the different backstory, all the different guys who made this company and like what their internecine relationships are with some other frickin’ guy who has like different instances of himself. And like—because every… why is it on that show, like every fuckin’ dude has like multiple instances of himself but like women are singular. That’s just like, whatever. I don’t know.
Charlie Jane: [00:25:20] It’s a mystery.
Annalee: [00:25:20] It’s a mystery, yes.
Charlie Jane: [00:25:22] But basically you find yourself in a maze of twisty passages all alike, and then you try saying, “XYZZY” and somebody appears out of thin air and says, “Them’s fighting words.” And then you get, like, whacked or whatever.
Annalee: [00:25:34] That, to be clear, does not happen in Westworld. That was not a spoiler.
Charlie Jane: [00:25:38] If it did, I would be super excited. That’s a spoiler for Zork.
Annalee: [00:25:42] I do feel like, I mean. Maybe that was like a trick question I was asking you before because I wanted to answer it, where I was saying like, “Do they become too dependent on these wikis.” But I feel like some narratives, they’re—they are held back by that. Like, I feel like Westworld is an example where it’s like, they wanted so badly to create a show that would spawn conspiracy theories among their enthusiastic fans that they kind of lost sight of some of the stuff that you’re talking about, which is just like, I just… these are great characters. And there’s a fantastic corporate conspiracy plot already. We don’t need like, 90 layers to that.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:19] I just want to see Thandie Newton killing people, like all over the place.
Annalee: [00:26:22] Right? I am—
Charlie Jane: [00:26:23] Just killing a million people.
Annalee: [00:26:24] I am all in. I am like… yeah. She. Maeve, the character she plays, Maeve is like my leader. She’s leading my revolution right now, in my mind. And heart. And other parts.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:34] I guess my thought—my final thought is that you know, like I said, it could be good if it works on two levels, if you can enjoy it on just the level of this is a really fun adventure and then there could be this other level for people who really enjoy the puzzles and enjoy the kind of mythos stuff, they can have their thing. And, you know, if you can have both at the same time.
Annalee: [00:26:53] Yeah, like, and I think that’s what’s great about something like Memory Alpha or some of these other—because you have to have that. Any time you have a narrative that lasts for like multiple generations, like Doctor Who and Star Wars and Star Trek. These are stories that people watch with their grandkids because they watched it when they were kids, so yeah. All power to those wikis.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:16] So, we’re gonna close out this episode with a segment that we’re calling Research Hole, where we talk about something that we’ve been researching and kind of gotten obsessed with. And, why don’t you go first, Annalee? What are you obsessed with researching this week?
Annalee: [00:27:27] I think I was researching 18th century Caribbean politics, which, that’s a whole thing—why was I researching that? I’m not gonna tell you.
And, I stumbled across information about the Haitian Revolution which was a slave uprising in 1791. So, just a couple of years after the French Revolution, and it surprised me because I didn’t realize there’d been a slave revolution that early. But the really weird thing about it was that it also involved reparations.
Charlie Jane: [00:27:56] So, was this reparations like they paid to the former slaves?
Annalee: [00:27:59] No. So, that’s what I thought initially because, like all right-thinking people, I’ve read Ta Nehisi Coates’ On Reparations and I’m totally down with the modern definition of the reparations program. But, this was something else. The people who revolted and set up an independent government in Haiti paid reparations to slave holders, former slave holders and plantation owners in France in order to be recognized as a nation. And, they couldn’t afford it. It was too much money, so they had to borrow money from French banks in order to pay reparations to slavers for I guess, what, stealing themselves.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:45] So they became an independent country, but they were immediately saddled with like crazy levels of debt, sounds like.
Annalee: [00:28:50] Yep. And so that’s the story of the first reparations for slavery in which the former slaves were horribly fucked over. So, I much prefer the contemporary definition of reparations where in fact former slave owners pay the slaves for having destroyed their lives.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:10] And how long did that go on for, though?
Annalee: [00:29:11] This went on… they were paying off this debt for over a hundred years. And, of course it completely crippled the Haitian economy, which is still in great debt and the country is still struggling to be economically independent and sustainable, and it’s only in like the last like 10-20 years that there’s been any discussion of real, what I would consider real reparations, where, you know, the French government actually pays Haiti for all of the money that they stole after already stealing a bunch of people.
Charlie Jane: [00:29:45] It’s just hard to believe that they could actually force that on them. That they were able to make that happen.
Annalee: [00:29:50] I think because there were not any other independent former slave nations, and they desperately needed international recognition as a country, right? So, it was basically—my understanding is it was like, “Okay, either you pay these reparations, or basically you’re under embargo, so you’re not going to be able to trade with anyone, so yeah, they were strong-armed. And, I just love that little cherry on top, of like, and you’ll have to borrow money from us to pay us. It’s just like the perfect example of moving from outright slavery to kind of post-colonial economic enslavement, kind of World Bank shit. Or like a little early example of the World Bank.
So, what kind of a research hole did you fall into?
Charlie Jane: [00:30:36] So, I was a guest at a convention called Diversicon and we were talking about Theodore Sturgeon and somehow that lead to me getting obsessed with researching Ellery Queen who was one of the most important mystery authors of the 20th century, and at one point was like one of the most read authors in the world. I think his books were like millions of copies.
Annalee: [00:30:55] Wow, what era was that?
Charlie Jane: [00:30:56] I think it started in the 1930s, and basically Ellery Queen was a collaboration between these two dudes who were cousins and they both used false names for themselves in addition to using the pseudonym Ellery Queen and they occasionally had another pseudonym for a different mystery series and then they would appear as Ellery Queen and the other fake dude together.
Annalee: [00:31:21] That’s awesome.
Charlie Jane: [00:31:21] But it was these two dudes…
Annalee: [00:31:22] So they would pretend to be Ellery Queen in public.
Charlie Jane: [00:31:24] Yeah, and actually the first time they had to be Ellery Queen in public, was I think 1932, so I think they’d been doing it since the ‘20s, and they were invited to come speak at some kind of mystery conference in 1932, and they flipped a coin to see which one of them would actually show up as Ellery Queen. And one of them did, and he wore a mask, and he gave a whole speech about writing mystery novels wearing a mask, and then I guess left. [Transcriptionist note: Goals.] And, you know… but…
Annalee: [00:31:48] That’s delightful.
Charlie Jane: [00:31:48] Yeah, and the—
Annalee: [00:31:49] Do we know what kind of mask it was, or that’s lost to time.
Charlie Jane: [00:31:52] We don’t, at least as far as I know. Also, in their novels, Ellery Queen became the fictional protagonist of the novels written by Ellery Queen.
Annalee: [00:32:00] Whoa.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:02] And so, Ellery Queen in the novels was a mystery writer whose father was a police detective who would occasionally come to him and say, “We’ve got a tough case and I can’t crack it, and I need your help, son.” And so Ellery Queen would go and help his dad to solve mysteries in New York, and so…
Annalee: [00:32:17] This is very meta.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:18] It’s super meta. It’s like—
Annalee: [00:32:19] So, Ellery Queen is writing mysteries about Ellery Queen solving mysteries.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:24] Yes, and it’s like Ellery Queen the mystery author writes about Ellery Queen the mystery author who solves mysteries in his spare time. And it’s just…
Annalee: [00:32:31] I guess it’s like Castle or something. Where, isn’t he a mystery writer who’s also solving mysteries?
Charlie Jane: [00:32:37] It is. It’s also like Murder, She Wrote. It’s a fond tradition which I think Ellery Queen started, and there were multiple Ellery Queen movies and TV show and radio shows, and actually here’s the intro from one of them.
Ellery Queen Clip: [00:32:46] Match wits with Ellery Queen and see if you can guess Who Done It?
Charlie Jane: [00:32:50] Part of the Ellery Queen mystique was that towards the end of the book they would say, “You’ve seen all the clues that Ellery Queen has seen, can you solve the mystery before he does.” And it was like a little challenge to the reader. There’d be a little page of like, the Ellery Queen challenge. And like, it was like a promise that all of the clues were there on the page, and if you had read carefully, you could arrive at the solution that Ellery Queen arrives at the end of the book.
Annalee: [00:33:16] It sounds like they could have used a wiki to like… get that out.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:18] They could have totally used a wiki. Yeah. And the part that got me interested in it is that later on when the two dudes got really busy and they started an Ellery Queen magazine and stuff, they hired other people to write the Ellery Queen novels, which those didn’t typically feature Ellery Queen as the protagonist and they had Jack Vance write a bunch of them. They had—
Annalee: [00:33:38] Jack Vance the sci-fi writer.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:40] They had Avram Davidson the sci-fi writer write a bunch of them, and they had Theodore Sturgeon write one of the Ellery Queen novels, under a pseudonym, under the pseudonym Ellery Queen, and—
Annalee: [00:33:51] Yeah, presumably, all of these people were writing as Ellery Queen. This is like Carolyn Keene, right?
Charlie Jane: [00:33:55] They shopped it out.
Annalee: [00:33:55] Carolyn Keene who wrote the Nancy Drew books who was like actually a whole bunch of different people.
Charlie Jane: [00:34:01] Yeah, and by the ‘60s it was definitely, Ellery Queen was a bunch of people. Most of them were sci-fi writers who just needed a little extra money on the side. And, you know…
Annalee: [00:34:09] Did they bring like, sci-fi themes into the books, or?
Charlie Jane: [00:34:12] I don’t think so. I think that they were just straight-up mystery novels. Theodore Sturgeon’s Ellery Queen mystery novel, which was called A Fine and Private Place, which is also the title of a Peter Beagle book, was acclaimed as one of the best mystery novels of all time, and then people were slightly shocked and maybe put out when they realized that it was actually written by this other person who was already an acclaimed science fiction writer. And so, possibly the most beloved and acclaimed Ellery Queen novel was actually written by Theodore Sturgeon.
Annalee: [00:34:40] Wow, that’s so interesting. At that point, it’s basically like writing a Star Wars tie-in novel, or something like that. Where it’s like—
Charlie Jane: [00:34:46] It totally is.
Annalee: [00:34:46] Because I mean, obviously when someone comes to you with that proposition. If you’re a well-known writer, you know. You take the job, partly because of course, you love Star Wars, but also you know, they got some money.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:00] It’s funny that you mention that, because the first Star Wars movie was novelized and the novelization is credited to having been written by George Lucas who was actually Alan Dean Foster.
Annalee: [00:35:10] Uh-huh. I thought you were going to say it was Ellery Queen and I was going to be like, “Full circle.”
Charlie Jane: [00:35:16] That would be amazing.
Annalee: [00:35:17] Alan Dean Foster, by the way, wrote a ton of amazing novelizations of movies. He like… turned it into an…
Charlie Jane: [00:35:26] And Star Trek episodes.
Annalee: [00:35:26] He turned it into an art. Like, all power to him, because he’s amazing.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:30] And his own novels are also amazing. But yeah, no, and I think Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind are written by other people, like famous authors, but credited to Steven Spielberg on the book.
Annalee: [00:35:40] That is so funny. I mean, that gets into like a whole other thing about how do you credit novelizations, which I think now we just credit it to the actual author because so many famous authors actually do IP tie-ins and stuff.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:55] If you have Jeff VanderMeer writing your Predator novel, you want people to know, you know what? This was written by Jeff Frickin’ VanderMeer.
Annalee: [00:36:02] Which he did. He wrote a great Predator novel before Annihiliation. But yeah, his Predator novel is totally on my list of cool tie-ins.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:12] But now I wish that the Star Wars novelization had actually had towards the end of the book, like, “You’ve seen all the clues that we have.” You know. “Could you solve the mystery of Luke’s parenthood before Luke does?”
Annalee: [00:36:21] I just want Ellery Queen to be a character again, like, a) I want a new Ellery Queen movie, and I keep thinking that Ellery Queen is a lady just because Ellery is just such a lady-like name. So I want Ellery Queen to be this kind of like 50-something detective who’s like, you know, writing books, and like… I don’t know. I want it to happen.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:43] You know…
Annalee: [00:36:44] I want Ellery to come back.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:44] Now that we’re talking about every old TV show coming back, I’m suddenly like, I want Murder, She Wrote back.
Annalee: [00:36:49] I think a lot of people would want that. I don’t think that’s just you.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:52] A new Murder, She Wrote.
Annalee: [00:36:53] I think Murder, She Wrote, or just a cross-over, Murder, Ellery Queen Wrote.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:59] Yeah, they could team up.
Annalee: [00:37:01] I think… why not, you know? And like—James S.A. Corey could be in there, too, because that’d be another two dudes writing under a different name kind of thing.
Charlie Jane: [00:37:08] Although, they don’t have a character named James S.A. Corey in The Expanse, do they?
Annalee: [00:37:12] Okay, word up to James S.A. Corey. Please write a book about James S.A. Corey writing space operas but also becoming involved in a space opera. I’m sure they’ll get right on that.
All right, so. Thanks so much for listening. You’ve been listening to Our Opinions Are Correct, which I’m sure now, you totally believe now that you’ve heard all of our amazing opinions about what’s next for James S.A. Corey.
Thank you so much to Veronica Simonetti at Women’s Audio Mission for engineering this, and thanks to Chris Palmer for the music, and also thanks to you, our listeners. You can find us at Apple Podcasts. We’d love to have you review us there. You can find us on Stitcher. You can find us on lot of other places that carry fine podcasts.
And, you can follow us on Twitter at @OOACpod. And, you can do all kinds of other stuff. You can support us.
Charlie Jane: [00:38:07] You can make a wiki about us.
Annalee: [00:38:08] Make a wiki about us. That’s exactly what I want you to. All right. See you in a couple of weeks.
[00:38:14] Outro music plays. Synth over drums followed by a guitar riff.