R.I.P., Tony Soprano

The Sopranos final episode, “Made in America” (originally aired June 10, 2007) is a marvel of literary engineering both independently and for the way it resolves the entire series. To do the latter, the episode must resolve the underpinning engine of its plot—Tony Soprano’s ongoing efforts to reconcile his family life and his Family life. While the meaning of the controversial sudden cut-to-black conclusion has been much debated, a convincing analysis of the cinematographic cues (which most of this post is an abbreviated version of) shows that the blackout is Tony Soprano’s (inevitable) death. He is ultimately incapable of resolving family and Family life, and that failure is embodied by his being violently assassinated in front of his family. Part of the genius of the episode is the unexpected representation of that violent assassination.

The series’ theme/plot engine is established in its pilot, when Tony makes his first visit to his psychotherapist Dr. Melfi and they identify that the source of his ongoing dread is his fear of losing his family. One of the things the writers are most adept at is use of the objective correlative, which it turns out therapy is preoccupied with, as it too is a field that understands the tricks of the psyche—specifically how our abstract emotions attach themselves to concrete objects. The objective correlative for Tony’s fear of losing his family is the flock of ducks that’s been nesting in his pool but then flies away, causing him to have a panic attack.

Over the course of the series Tony repeatedly makes decisions that prioritize his quest for power and money over his family, implicitly imposing questionable values on them in the process. Brett Martin, in his book Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of A Creative Revoluion, explains why television is the perfect medium for an ongoing cycle of progress and regression:

After all, the goal of a TV show, unlike that of a movie or novel, no matter how ambiguous, is to never end. One way to address that basic economic mandate is to create a world in which there is no forward progress or story arc at all, just a series of discrete, repetitive episodes—in other words, the procedural. But if you’re interested in telling an ongoing story while remaining true to your own sense of the world, it helps for that worldview to be of an endless series of variations in which people repeatedly play out the same patterns of behavior, exhibiting only the most incremental signs of real change or progress.

This is a pattern that could still easily be replicated in a novel. There are 86 episodes of the show; it could be an 86-chapter novel.

Tony Soprano is the model for the male antihero that emerged to carry what Martin calls television’s “Third Golden Age” on his shoulders. The show’s creator David Chase describes how the show captures the post-9/11 emotional tenor of the country, an extreme event causing us to think we’d start doing everything differently, an intensity of feeling that faded with time, much like Tony Soprano’s arc in the final season, during which he’s shot and, in a coma, experiences something of a parallel universe. In this parallel universe he’s not Tony, but a law-abiding businessman who winds up with another man’s briefcase. He is berated by some Buddhist monks for not taking responsibility for his actions, and diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which he considers to be a death sentence, though his doctor insists that these days it doesn’t have to be. This is his symbolic warning: he can change, or die. In his coma universe, a beacon continually flashes in the distance; upon discovering that the man who took his briefcase is supposed to be at the house that is the source of the beacon, he eventually makes his way to it. He’s greeted by the cousin he murdered, though in this universe he does not know him to be such. The man tells him to go into the house where everyone is waiting for him, but he cannot take his briefcase with him. Tony resists, saying his whole life was in his real briefcase. He is not ready to die, and his daughter Meadow’s voice at that moment calls him back from his coma.

Upon emerging from the coma, Tony does at first seem to change. He resists an opportunity to cheat on Carmela, lets his nephew Christopher pursue his non-mafia filmmaking dream, and declares that every day is a gift. After some time passes, however, Tony reconsiders:  “Every day is a gift. It’s just . . . does it have to be a pair of socks?” The old Tony reasserts himself, stronger than ever. The culmination of his sink into his old self occurs when he opportunistically, and guiltlessly, murders Christopher after they get in a car wreck together; he’d been grooming Christopher to be his number two but regretting the decision based on Christopher’s behavior and issues with substance abuse. (As he suffocates Christopher, a pair of headlights flash by in a manner very similar to the coma dream’s beacon.) Tony then goes to Vegas to wrap up some of Christopher’s business, which includes sleeping with Chris’s old goomar and taking peyote in a trip that’s an inversion of his coma experience, the ultimate confirmation that he will not change. (Though he does not share this particular episode with Dr. Melfi, she, too, is able to sense that he will never change, that he’s done nothing with the insights about his actions and motivations that they’ve come to together, and drops him as a patient in the second-to-last episode.) Which means it’s time for the character’s tragic flaw—his prioritizing Family over family, all the while convincing himself his prioritizing the Family is in fact for the sake of the family—to undo him.

As the final episode begins, Tony is in the midst of a war with the New York family that’s just killed his number two and three guys, but, once again, he himself escapes and an ostensible peace is brokered. It seems Tony will continue with business as usual. In the last scene, he meets his family for dinner at an all-American diner; he gets there first and takes a booth in the center of the restaurant—signifying that he seems to be at ease. He watches the front door attentively, but this is because he’s expecting his family; he’s clearly not watching his back. He watches Carmella come in, and then his son AJ (notably partially blocked from Tony’s sight by the guy who enters right in front of him), and in the meantime we see shots of his daughter Meadow outside making multiple attempts to parallel park her Lexus. Tony mentions to Carmella that a guy who’s flipped to the feds that same episode will likely testify against him in court (notably, the guy has flipped for the sake of his son, who’s been arrested on drug-dealing charges). Then the guy who walked in with AJ, who’s been eyeing Tony although Tony has not appeared to notice, gets up and goes to the bathroom. As Meadow finally enters the restaurant, Tony looks up, and then the shot cuts to black, holds there for several seconds, and the series is over.

There’s the cinematic evidence Tony has died here, and then there’s the thematic evidence. The cinematic evidence is the way David Chase sets the viewer up subliminally to understand when they’re occupying Tony’s point of view directly. This is established in standard POV shots: a shot of Tony, a shot of what Tony is looking at, a shot of Tony again for his reaction to what he saw. This pattern is established when Tony looks up at the door every time someone enters (signaled by a ringing bell). The same pattern of Tony/what-Tony-sees/Tony’s-reaction shots recurs as he sees two strangers enter the diner, then Carmella, then AJ with the suspicious guy. As Meadow is about to enter the diner, we expect the pattern to repeat. We get the shot of Tony, and, as per the pattern, we implicitly expect the next shot to be of his seeing Meadow, entering the diner, but instead it’s blackness. The blackness, then, is what Tony is seeing. He sees nothing because at that moment he was shot in the head. He never heard it coming, and neither did we, as per Bobby Bacala’s heavily emphasized line that in a mobster’s line of work, you never hear death coming.

One of the reasons some viewers seem to resist the idea that this sudden final blackout is Tony’s death is that there’s been no clear ongoing plot for a hit to be out on Tony; he’s just brokered a peace deal in the war he’s been involved in, after all. But there have been seeds planted throughout the whole season, if not series, that point not directly to who might want to kill him, but indirectly to Tony’s obliviousness to the destruction and pain he’s caused others.

The most powerful symbol of this obliviousness callousness coming back to bite him in the ass in the end is the “Members Only” jacket worn by the potential hit man, the guy who walks in with AJ and then goes to the bathroom—whom the careful camera shot clearly shows would have a clear shot at Tony once he emerges. “Members Only” is the title of the season’s first episode, in which a character we’ve never met before but who’s apparently a member of Tony’s crew asks if he can retire to Florida, since he’s received a sizable inheritance. Tony says he’ll think about it, then sends the guy on an errand to murder someone, which the guy does, shooting someone in the head in a diner while wearing a Members Only jacket (same jacket as the guy in the last episode’s last scene). Tony then, characteristically, refuses to let the guy go. In response, the guy hangs himself, and we never hear anything about him again. The reason we don’t ever hear anything is that Tony doesn’t think about him again; he’s completely oblivious to the pain he’s caused. The guy in the Members Only jacket in the final scene is this guy, and all of Tony’s past transgressions, symbolically reincarnated, come back to kill him.

I had trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that Tony would be hit like that in front of his family. But, probably not ten minutes prior in the episode, his rival mob boss who’d been trying to kill him, Phil Leotardo, was similarly capped, shot in the head in front of his wife and two grandchildren. If the hit on Tony in front of his family is not direct retribution for the way Phil died (which it well could be), then it’s certainly karmic retribution. His being shot in front of his family is also the ultimate way to resolve the show’s family v. Family dichotomy, not only for him, but for those family members. Carmella in particular has been implicated for enjoying the material comforts her husband’s career provides while turning a blind eye to how he’s procured them; now, she’ll pay the ultimate price—witnessing Tony’s death actually seems higher than Tony’s price of death itself, as he doesn’t have to deal with the fallout of his family having witnessed something so gruesome. He’s lost his family, the very thing he’s feared from the first episode, but not in the expected way of their dying or disappearing—he loses them via his own death.

As quoted by Martin, one of the most appealing factors of the show is summed up by Craig Wright, a playwright who wrote for Six Feet Under:

“A show like The Sopranos has a soothing quality because ultimately there’s an unspoken assumption behind it that even the most monstrous people are haunted by the same concerns we’re haunted by…. But the funny part is that masked by, or nested within, that critique is a kind of helpless eroticization of the power of the Right. They’re still in love with Big Daddy, even though they hate him.”

The Sopranos and the legacy it passed to its progeny was the antihero: getting the audience to sympathize with people doing objectively despicable things—itself evidence that the way television achieved its Third Golden Age was to emulate the novel. The problem, as David Chase seems to think, is that while the viewer rooted for Tony Soprano to do bad things, they also, at the end of the day/show, wanted to see him pay for it:

“There was so much more to say than could have been conveyed by an image of Tony face down in a bowl of onion rings with a bullet in his head. Or, on the other side, taking over the New York mob. The way I see it is that Tony Soprano had been people’s alter ego. They had gleefully watched him rob, kill, pillage, lie, and cheat. They had cheered him on. And then, all of a sudden, they wanted to see him punished for all that. They wanted “justice.” They wanted to see his brains splattered on the wall. I thought that was disgusting, frankly. But these people have always wanted blood. Maybe they would have been happy if Tony had killed twelve other people. Or twenty-five people. Or, who knows, if he had blown up Penn Station. The pathetic thing- to me- was how much they wanted his blood, after cheering him on for eight years.”

So he did the entirely appropriate and entirely unexpected thing, and put us directly in Tony’s head at the moment of his death—we have to suffer the same fate he does. As much as the show’s pacing and use of objects owes to the novel, it’s hard to imagine how a novel could pull something like this off. It’s an especially interesting coup considering this was the show that revolutionized TV by actually showing gruesome murders in the first place.

What a Wonderful Ringworld

The tightly constructed plot of Larry Niven’s sci-fi classic Ringworld (1970) might not render it a marvel of its genre, for which plot seems to be an elemental pillar. Rather, what makes it unique is its character development, as well as the way the plot itself explores the meaning of character itself. While the story mainly centers on 200-year-old human Louis Wu, he’s part of a team of four explorers who by the end will turn out to all be developed equally, though it certainly doesn’t seem like that will be the case. Teela Brown, the only female member of the expedition, seems so flat initially that one wonders, reading it in 2016, if her character is merely an unintentional cipher for ingrained seventies sexism. But her flatness turns out to be an integral element of the plot, existing for a reason very intentional indeed.

The coordinator of the book’s central expedition is not human Louis Wu, but Nessus, an alien of the variety known as a “Pierson’s puppeteer,” exceedingly technologically advanced, but known to be cowards. Like most aliens, they have a distinctive appearance:

…something neither human nor humanoid. It stood on three legs, and it regarded Louis Wu from two directions, from two flat heads mounted on flexible, slender necks. Over most of its startling frame, the skin was white and glovesoft; but a thick, coarse brown mane ran from between the beast’s necks, back along its spine, to cover the complex-looking hip joint of the hind leg. The two forelegs were set wide apart, so that the beast’s small, clawed hooves formed almost an equilateral triangle.

Nessus intercepts Louis at one of the ubiquitous transfer booths that have made travel so accessible that every city on Earth looks exactly the same and Louis has gotten bored enough that Nessus’s offer of an interstellar expedition to an undisclosed location sounds like a fine enough idea, largely due to the ship Nessus has promised as an incentive that will become critical to survival in the wake of the eventual galactic core explosion (the ship “will cover a light year in five-fourths of a minute,” a speed previously unheard of). Once Louis agrees, they recruit a kzin, a species of “sentient carnivore” more specifically described thus:

Rich orange fur, with black markings over the eyes, covered what might have been a very fat tabby cat eight feet tall. The fat was muscle, smooth and powerful and oddly arranged over an equally odd skeleton. On hands like black leather gloves, sharpened and polished claws slid out of their sheaths.

The kzin they find is willing to go because he will receive a true name only once he’s done something notable for his species; in the meantime he’s known as Speaker-To-Animals, or Speaker.

Louis, Nessus, and Speaker head back to the birthday party Louis abandoned, where Nessus realizes that one of the guests, the beautiful 20-year-old Teela Brown, who’s been mooning over Louis (yes, it sounds sick, but there’s a reason she has to be that young, and beautiful, and there will even be a reasonable explanation as to what’s made her fall for Louis), is actually someone he’s been looking to recruit for the expedition. He wants her for her luck. At this point in the future, overpopulation has facilitated the need for “birth lotteries” to see who gets to procreate; Nessus believes the descendants of the people who won these lotteries must be genetically lucky. Teela is utterly uninterested in the expedition but agrees to go out of love for Louis.

On their high-speed ship, the Lying Bastard (“the Liar” for short, which Speaker tries to steal for the kzin before Nessus subdues him with a tasp, a weapon that stimulates the pleasure center of the brain), they travel to the fleet of puppeteer planets migrating away from the galactic-core explosion and learn about their ultimate destination, “‘a star with a ring around it…A ring of solid matter. An artifact,’” “’an engineering compromise between a Dyson sphere and a normal planet’”: the Ringworld. (A Dyson sphere, a real-world theoretical construct, is  “’a spherical shell around the sun [that] trap[s] every ray of sunlight.’”) The surface area of the Ringworld is hundreds of thousands of times that of Earth’s, which is why the puppeteers want to explore it—due to the fact that their only possible method of birth control is abstinence, they have an overpopulation problem.

They crash land on the Ringworld next to a massive mountain after being brought down by the atmosphere’s meteor detectors, in the process severing one of the razor sharp wires holding the “shadow squares” in place, which replicate a normal planet’s patterns of night and day on the Ringworld. On flycycles from the ship they head off in search of natives who might help them repair it so they’ll be able to leave. Louis figures out that Teela has an utter lack of fear and awareness about their expedition because she’s never been truly hurt before; Nessus conjectures that since they have crashed Teela is not a good-luck charm after all, that she didn’t get the luck gene, otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to locate her to join this dangerous mission.

In the ruins of a city they get in a scuffle with some natives who initially mistake them for Ringworld engineers, whom they believe to be gods. Then Nessus lets a remark slip (perhaps not unintentionally) that leads Louis to figure out the puppeteers secretly intervened to help man beat the kzin in the ongoing man-kzin wars and selectively breed the kzin so they became more docile and receptive to potentially cooperating with other species; on the heels of this discovery Louis figures out the puppeteers also intervened in the human world’s breeding laws to create the birth lottery, attempting to breed lucky humans. Nessus flees their group when Speaker flies into a rage, but stays in touch with Louis via flycycle intercom.

The remaining three are almost taken out by mutant light-reflecting sunflowers that nearly kill Speaker. They discover a floating castle with a room of maps that seem to be missing that gigantic mountain the four crashed near that the natives call “Fist-of-God.” The castle is surrounded by natives who believe it to be heaven, and Louis, now intentionally posing as a Ringworld engineer god, speaks with a priest who he tries to get info about the Ringworld from, but then his translator disc suddenly burns up.

Then, flying into the eye of a storm that looks like a literal human eye, incautious Teela ventures too close to the equivalent of an atmospheric whirlpool (caused by a meteor-punched hole in the Ringworld floor) and gets sucked in, escaping only by accidentally activating the emergency thrusters when she passes out from oxygen deprivation and bangs her head on the controls—strongly evidencing that she does in fact have the luck gene. The thrusters have caused her to fly off at high speed, and, right after Speaker lets Nessus rejoin him and Louis, before they can figure out where Teela is, her intercom cuts off. Speaker and Louis head toward a cluster of lights they think looks like the city they last saw her, where control of their flycycles is taken over by some external force and they’re whisked into a floating building that resembles a prison, still able to communicate with Nessus via intercom. Louis sees a female-looking alien on a platform watching them; when Nessus arrives, he begins to use the tasp on Halrloprillalar, preventing her from using her sexual prowess to dominate Louis Wu in a similar but apparently not as powerful way. Pril tells them about how the power failed (due to a mold introduced by a foreign ship that preyed on superconductors) and civilization collapsed while she and a team were away on an exploration mission. With Pril’s help, they’re able to use the building’s floating machinery to appropriate it as a vehicle (which Louis dubs “the Improbable”). A car then appears in the Improbable bearing the presumed dead Teela Brown. With her is a knight-like companion named Seeker on a quest to walk to the Arch, which is what the distant edge of the Ringworld looks like to its inhabitants. Teela wants to travel with him, teaching things to the inhabitants they meet along the way. Louis realizes that the Ringworld is the perfect environment for Teela and that everything that’s happened to them, from Teela’s falling in love with him to their crashing on the Ringworld, has in fact been dictated by Teela’s luck, charting a course for her to meet Seeker.

Louis agrees to sell Teela to Seeker (appropriate to Seeker’s custom, not Louis’) so she can remain on the Ringworld, but before they go their separate ways, they return to the floating Heaven tower, where they previously noticed a pile of the razor-sharp shadow square wire that must have fallen there after the Liar severed it. But when they try to cut it, the natives attack them, lopping one of Nessus’s heads off at the neck during the battle (an event Louis also concludes is for the sake of Teela’s luck, theorizing that she needed to see a friend hurt to learn to sympathize and become a proper adult). Nessus’ flycycle has medical equipment able to keep him alive on life support, though he’s essentially dead. They return with him and the wire to the Liar (getting food offerings along the way by pretending to be gods in native villages), and use the wire to tow the Liar from the Improbable up to the summit of Fist-of-God mountain, which Louis has correctly hypothesized is not a mountain but a formation punched in the underside of the Ringworld surface by a meteor, leaving a hole at the top the Liar can drop through to escape the pull of the Ringworld and gain enough momentum to return to open space. Louis and Speaker agree not to tell anyone of the puppeteer manipulations they’ve learned about, as it would induce a war with the puppeteers that both their species would likely lose. The End.

Louis is the only character who initially seems round, but the flatness of his three cohorts soon blossoms into complication. Speaker is initially characterized by his mindless fierceness, yet eventually shows himself capable of overcoming pride for the sake of a better outcome. Both he and Teela’s characters are dictated by the puppeteers’ genetic experiments, and yet they’re still round: when Teela hears what Nessus did to Speaker’s race, she urges him to consider that ultimately his race is better off because of it, but when she then finds out she too is a product of similar manipulation, she’s unable to see things the same way, shrieking that Nessus is a monster. The critical difference between Louis’ and Teela’s characters is encapsulated in their opposing reactions to Seeker’s mission:

Louis had seen love in Teela’s eyes, but never tenderness.

“You’re proud of him for it! You little idiot, don’t you know there isn’t any Arch?”

“I know that, Louis.”

“Then why don’t you tell him?”

“If you tell him, I’ll hate you. He’s spent too much of his life doing this. And he does good. He knows a few simple skills, and he carries them around the Ringworld as he travels to spinward.”

Nessus is characterized by his extreme fear and paranoia—it might seem ironic that the most technologically powerful race is so fearful, but it seems they are so tech-advanced precisely because of their fear—but Louis figures out during a battle scene that a puppeteer’s urge to turn and run from danger is not a flight response but rather a fight one—they turn their backs on danger to be able to use their powerful hind leg to kick it.

You could almost argue the book is feminist in that the entire plot turns out to revolve around Teela Brown, who initially seems like no more than a young warm body Louis is using to pass the time—it turns out Louis and everyone else are the ones being used, by Teela’s luck. Thus Nessus himself becomes subject to manipulation by the very same force he manipulated into existence—and in this sweet symmetrical justice, the what-goes-around-comes-back-around plot model, the narrative structure replicates that of the Ringworld itself.

“The Way News Should Be Done” Write Up by Thomas Graham

So just for starters, this piece was about David Cay Johnston’s experience at Al Jazeera America (AJAM). It’s a reflective piece discussing what AJAM was before it was canceled. This is what prompts Johnston to argue that journalists in the profession today do not discuss the real issues in America because they seem too afraid to step on any toes. Rather, they get what is called by producers “the get”, which is having some big name in for an interview and doing everything they can not to insult them so that maybe they’ll come back or some other big name will want to come and be interviewed for the fame. It’s all about the ratings and getting people to read, not really about actually educating them or trying to persuade them on serious issues in America like poverty or unemployment or something along those lines. This, Johnston claims, is the tragedy of American journalism today. That and we don’t recognize true journalism, as done by AJAM, as it should be recognized.

A lot of opinions came out through the adjectives he used. Interesting thing to be careful of; it’s not just what facts we include or don’t include that sets the bias. We don’t always know what a journalist doesn’t include, but the adjectives he uses make the bias clear. In this case, though I think it’s clear that Johnston would only include the positive things people said about AJAM and not the negative things at all. Well, he did mention that one person said AJAM was slow paced. The other person questioned the validity of the station based on it being “owned by Middle Easterners”, and if that’s not enough to make you mad I don’t know what is. It seems like that inclusion makes Americans seem closed-minded and that it’s not really AJAM’s fault for closing, but that of Americans. So in a sense, by pointing out this criticism of AJAM, Johnston is still arguing his case that AJAM is a good, reliable news station. Also being in the “opinions” section of the editorial is a pretty big signaler that this piece is highly opinionated. Not to mention the fact that this man, Johnston, is writing this piece about his employers. So taking into account who the author is would give us a clearer insight into what biases he may bring into the piece (like Gay Talese being sexist and the like) because no one can actually be totally unbiased. We all bring our personal beliefs into our pieces even on a subconscious level, so that’s something to watch out for in our own writing, whether it’s journalism or not. And even more so in this piece by Johnston because he’s writing mostly about his own experiences at his job that he loves. This, you could say, causes the piece to border on being a creative nonfiction piece, but even then the piece still has evidence to back it up and it’s not really about Johnston himself so much as it is about AJAM, though his own experiences play a key role in the piece because they establish an inside look at the organization. He is his own primary source. Still biased though.

Another interesting thing Johnston did was that after he gave his introductory paragraph which established what the piece was about, he gave his credentials. We all know that this is the technique known as Ethos which is used to get the audience to trust the writer’s word. In this case it came off slightly pompous, though. It makes sense that he would be so, though, because this amazing company he’s worked for for a long time and loves is shutting down. Anyone would be indignant at losing their job. Thus, even though giving his credentials sounds a little egotistical (or maybe that’s just how extensive it is), it does set the tone more completely for the piece, as does the introductory paragraph with the aforementioned adjectives. But what’s interesting is that he didn’t even give all of his credentials in the beginning right then and there as an information dump. Instead, he mentioned all his awards. Later, though, he slid in the fact that he’s been a journalist for 49 years, just for example.

Another thing Johnston does is he separated his article into sections. I’ve seen this done before and not done before. I kind of like it because it makes the whole piece more organized and you directly get what the journalist is trying to say before he goes into the evidence to support it. One could argue that could be done in the topic sentences, but topic sentences are just for the paragraph, not really for the entire section that has multiple paragraphs to support it (people don’t want to read a topic sentence and then a huge body paragraph. It’s better to have the section heading and then however many paragraphs you need to support it).

One final interesting thing Johnston did was he put several hyperlinks in his article. This is a good way to get people to read more because not only will it help them understand more completely what Johnston is talking about if they read what he is referencing, but it’s also a one-click-away article for people to read without having to dig through a bunch of articles to get to. I know for my piece I submitted for this class I hyperlinked an article to something about the Republican debate being canceled because of Trump. It didn’t really have anything to do with the topic of my article and I’m not really sure if anyone clicked on it and read it, but still I gave it an effort. So that’s something I’ve actually tried in my writing and I think that’s a good way to get people to read more journalism. There’s just the problem of getting people to click on them.

Was it convincing even though it was clearly an opinionated piece? It doesn’t seem to matter considering AJAM was already being canceled when he wrote it. So it’s important to think about timing when writing a journalism piece. The question of “is it too early?” never seems to come up, but something we should probably keep in mind is “is it too late?” That said, if this article had been written in time and wasn’t just a reflective piece on Johnston’s experience at AJAM then it probably would have been convincing because he paints a vivid picture of great journalists and editors losing their jobs (especially if they have backbones like they used to) and he clearly put a lot of heart into writing this piece so we can tell that it matters a whole heck of a lot to him–that journalism in general is kind of going down the drain. But even though this was a highly opinionated piece, he still slid in solid facts like how when Gay Talese wrote “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” he didn’t even meet Sinatra, which supported what he said about journalists not needing direct access to the subject to write about it. So in that respect it is convincing us to want real news that goes in-depth on social issues facing us today that so many are afraid to touch. And that real news, Johnston claims, could have come from AJAM with its diversified staff if it hadn’t been flushed away.

Even though this man David Johnston has the narcissism of Harm de Blij with the presentation of his many, many, many credentials at the beginning of the piece and then more credentials throughout the piece, leading up to the piece de resistance of talking about his finishing of the article allowing him to write a book about “a simple and effective federal tax system for the 21st century economy” not to mention his mentioning of several news organizations begging him to write for them, I still found myself convinced by him. I don’t know how, maybe it was the evidence he gave about all the recognition AJAM received over the years or maybe it was his conviction or maybe it was just the way he presented it all, but despite his personality I was still convinced that AJAM was a great news organization and the world/the nation should be sad to see it go because it was one of the last true news organizations that gave real pertinent news. Color me impressed.

“Movies Vs. Television: The Tide Shifts Back” Write Up by David Mejia


This piece focuses on the downfall of movies while considering where television stands in retrospect. The author focuses on multiple sources to provide a contrasting viewpoint on where Television work stands compared to cinema.

Yellow Highlight:

The yellow highlighted focuses on moments in which the writer uses a listing method, a list to clarify or provide supporting information to back up his previous statement.

The first highlighted portion [underlined]–

Maybe that was Spielberg’s way of acknowledging the inevitable: that The King’s Speech was about to take home the big prize, even though 10 years from now, movie buffs will more likely remember 2010 as the year of Winter’s Bone, Black Swan, Toy Story 3, Inception, and The Social Network (not to mention Dogtooth and Exit Through The Gift Shop). It may be cold comfort, but it is some comfort. Daring, rousing filmmaking losing to respectable awards-bait? That’s just Hollywood tradition.

–focuses on Spielberg saying that the films that typically win the awards don’t. In fact, the fellow nominees are more memorable so the writer lists some of the bigger hits of that year and it is true because since this was published in 2010, I have had 6 years to see these films age—still talked about today. I don’t hear much about King’s Speech.

The third highlighted portion that discusses True Grit also does the same, it provides a clear point for the reader to latch onto what the writer is saying when comparing to the other solid films of the previous year.

The following highlighted portions focus more on the actual content, really serving the previous thing I analyzed which is to provide clarification on what not.

Green highlight:

The green highlight focuses more on the actual writer really providing technical information to really help the reader understand what’s going on in the argument/discussion. The parenthesis is the highlighted portion, it is used to incorporate quotes, finance information, more description of the subject. This is helpful in allowing the reader as I said earlier, more of an understanding. I think it is important to highlight since there are so many factors that go into really grasping the magnitude of this work since the film business is so dynamic in terms of what effects what.

What Can We Learn:

For starters, we can learn that every view on the TV is helping it, keep that low-key show you stumbled on and now love on even if you’re not paying attention, hell text your buddies and tell them to tune in.

The film industry isn’t just about storytelling, unfortunately, it’s more about being tactical and savvy. It’s a business after all, sometimes it’s that before an art, I think this article really portrays that. The real artists in this article (the indie filmmakers) are the ones paying for their stuff in full and really shooting for their idea.

What Can I Incorporate:

As I just used above, the indie filmmaker parenthetical, I can use parenthesis to offer more clarification and what not. I can really also consider in terms of my own art what medium I should focus on, television writing/production or filmmaking/screenwriting. There’s a lot I can really use outside of just writing techniques, of course the author uses listing and that’s always been thing I love to do in order to provide or more clear and powerful point.

“The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” Write Up by Laura Mercado

SUMMARY of “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” by Gabriel García Márquez:

The village’s children see what they think is a beached whale down by the shore where they play. When they approach the blurb and wipe the seaweed and other trash of the lump, they see it is a drowned man. A villager sees them playing with the man and decides to go and investigate, noticing for the first time the sheer size of the man. The village men took him to their flowerless village after confirming that he was not one of theirs. Once the men had left him at a hut and gone off to check on neighboring villages, the women began to clean him off. They belied to have uncovered the handsomest mad they had ever seen, one that even kept his dignity about him while he was dead. They then decided to dress him up, but because none of their clothes actually fit the man, they made him custom-sized ones from sails. The woman begin to imagine all the wonders the man must have surely been able to do and all of the beautifulness he would have brought to their land, primarily in the form of being able to grow flowers, and, go as far as to announce that they would be countless times dreamier and better at everything than their own husbands. The older of the women decide that he has to be named Esteban while the youngest argue he looks to be more like a Lautaro. They go back to picturing daily village life with who they have now successfully deemed Esteban and begin to weep at the notion of sweeping sadness that follows. The men return shortly with the news that he belonged to no neighboring village, and the woman rejoice while stating ‘Praise the Lord’ and ‘he’s ours’. The men get impatient after some time and demand the woman hurry up and stop adorning the nobody’s body so they could toss him back into the sea, but they all stop when someone pulls back a handkerchief covering his face. The men all stare in awe at the man, who could be none other than Esteban, and start to feel pity for the undersized and ashamed man. Both sexes agree, however on just how handsome the drowned man is. They proceeded to hold the “most splendid funeral they could ever conceive” for them an, going as far as to visit the nearby villages for flowers and appointing their fellow villagers as the stranger’s family. As they proceed in the funeral, they notice for the first time just how gray and drab their village is in comparison to Esteban. They all finally throw him into the water with the last act of not tying him down to a boat anchor so that he may “come back if he wished and whenever he wished”. They then all agree to do whatever possible to liven up the village with brighter colors and more flowers in order to pay tribute to the miracle that was Esteban.


This story, written by Gabriel García Márquez, utilizes a style called “magical realism,” which I personally find a very interesting mix. Just as the name suggest, it combines magical elements in a realistic piece. The sheer monstrosity of an abandoned, drowned man, both in size and power, give off a deep, almost godly sense of mystery surrounding him, which is just amplified as we are told he comes from another realm, the sea. The presence of a magical realm outside from our reality, one with fish scales so thick they cover an entire giant and where said giant, obviously so different from the human population that lives nearby, appears from one random day reinforces the magical experience the reader goes through. This combined with the descriptions of time in this island, where an entire village can spend a whole day wishing over a dead man and describes seconds as “fraction of centuries” gives the illusion that this universe, no matter how familiar to ours with all the mentions of flowers and seaweed and nearby villages, cannot take place in what we would call reality. Although the main plot, villagers swooning over a dead body, is not Harry Potter wand-like obvious magic itself, the word choice used in describing every little detail from the way the drowned man was found to the funeral itself gives off an audible not-quite-normal vibe, something I feel is powerfully accomplished in this piece. It is through selection of detail and, most importantly, word choice that the reader is successfully sucked into this land outside time. I wish to utilize Márquez’s “show, don’t tell” in my future writing as well as experiment in this relatively new genre.

Other than the superficial beauty of the piece, the symbolism implanted between the lines also proves to be well thought out and supremely placed throughout the piece. The references to important and powerful historic figures, such as the Mapuche (Chilean indigenous inhabitants) toque (leader during time of war) known as Lautaro, Esteban’s fought-over possible name, and the new-world explorer and writer Sir Walter Raleigh adds feelings of deeper respect and awe-like emotion to the otherwise, if extremely stripped down, unbelievable and ridiculous story about a village who reverends a cadaver. The symbolism plays a vital role in delivering the extra push of sympathizing with the villagers, the shove that sends us tumbling down the magical rabbit hole that some people who read realistic fiction or just lack enough flexibility and creativity might need.

As purposely pointed out in my summary, the flower motif also follows this piece. We first hear about flowers at the beginning of the piece, when the village is being described as “made up of only twenty-odd wooden houses that had stone courtyards with no flowers”. Other than providing concrete imagery our brain can latch on to, the absence of flowers also reflects on the mundane monotony of an average, colorless, lifeless village. The flowers are brought up again as the women daydream about what such a splendid man could have done in their village once looking upon Esteban, which is kind of ironic because he is dead, the opposite of lifeless. It is only just now, however, when staring upon a dead man does the village seem to notice just how their village could appear if it was more alive. Flowers are also mentioned at the end of this piece, after Esteban has been returned to the ocean. This picture of change contrasts to the flowerless village they were before they had encountered the man, illustrating physically just how much they have all changed by his visit.


  • What did you think of the contrast in the men and women’s point of view concerning Esteban?
  • Why do you think Márquez chose to tell the story from the point of view from such a large group of people instead of focusing on a specific person?
  • Why was there a debate about naming the man Esteban vs Lautaro?
  • What do you think of the genre?
  • How else do you think the village was changed by Esteban?