Monday, December 27, 2010

The Engines of Mischief

A gimmick is first and foremost an engine of mischief that causes what is apparent to seem real enough to be predictable.  Experiencing this resulting and expansive confidence leads honest folk to stake belief systems and/or sums of money on an outcome that has been arranged against them in advance by dishonest folk.

Where ever people gather, gimmicks will abound, teem, even froth, luring the innocent to tiptoe over boundaries they had not previously transgressed.  This shift over the borders as it were comes when the innocent are operating in the confidence of their own inherent goodness.

Such beliefs in the goodness of our species is by no means a bad or disabling thing; with it in our genome, we have survived and grown through the millennium, but along with our evolution we have developed the need to become predators of unrivaled nuance and guile, if for no other reason than to keep up with our growing awareness of the limitations for grazing and survival within urban landscapes.

You were first introduced to the concept of the gimmick in a formal sense when the chum who lured you away from journalism and into worlds where your fictions might stand a better chance for survival took you through the carnival midway, introducing you to "the G" or gimmick of every amusement booth, including one--the fun house--you'd have sworn was as close to innocence as you could get given the advances in sexual experimentation among teenagers in the twentieth century.  What possible gimmick could a fun house have beyond the minimal price of admission.  Ah yes, your friend said.  The G is alive and well here.  During the last stage of your trip through the fun house, you are led into a room that tips you onto your side, then your back.  You would be surprised, your friend observed, how much loose change and other valuables fall from unsuspecting, innocent pockets, and you will notice the late model cars driven by most of the individuals who own or work in the fun house.

The G or gimmick for the storyteller is to present a specific audience with someone to root for or laugh at.  The essence of humor is to cause the audience to laugh at the teller, hence the teller must seem to be naive or, failing that, the teller must appear to be so self-involved and self-important that his or her downfall in stature is accomplished by the gradual denuding said individual of such pretension as said person demonstrates.

The G for non-humor is to set an individual on an apparently hopeless quest and/or to make that character appear to be headed for accelerated disaster.  There are other fictional Gs such as reversal of fortune or the seemingly foolproof trope in which two individuals believe they are agreeing to the same thing when in fact they are set on the collision course of missed communication.

As a general rule, the G you are so often tempted to regard is the university or college, in no small part because of your associations with it as an organic thing, seeming to draw humans into its wispy tendrils as they maneuver for some ideal or goal.  Publishing houses remind you of universities, the unholy alliances often orchestrated over a project that brings a fresh source of energy on stage.  The energy exists in the form of a particular manuscript or the individuals who are responsible for shepherding the manuscript through the slalom course of publication.

A basic example of what you mean by the definition with which you began this essay is the shell and pea gimmick, where the rube or innocent or, for that matter, the mark or victim is led to believe he can "tell" which nut shell hides the pea.  The manipulators of this particular gimmick are deft, skilled craftspersons, well able to secrete the pea between the webbing of their fingers , although one such practitioner used as his G a wad of thoroughly chewed chewing gum on which to store or stash the pea, meaning that although the mark or victim believed he saw the pea being placed under a particular shell, he could pick any of the three walnut half-shells, confident the pea would be found in none of them because it was stuck somewhere to his hand.

Story is manipulation of apparent reality and actual reality; we approach it with one kind of confidence, the confidence that something will go wrong.  An artful practitioner will lead us to believe that the thing that has gone wrong was totally unexpected, contained a wrenching turn of events we could not foresee even in our darkest moments of cynicism.  We will despair even more as we fall victim to the practitioner's sleight of hand.

But we always go back to the shell-and-pea game that is story because, although we may not have articulated it in so many words, we know that things will somehow resolve.  We may not get the results we crave; who in fact does?  We will get some results, some negotiated settlement in which the force for whom we have rooted will have gained some kind of dramatic recognition, and who among us does not crave even a moment's worth of that?

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