"The Flying Snowman" -- John Scalzi gives us terminology that we really need

Discussion in 'Now Playing - TV Show Talk' started by Rob Helmerichs, Dec 25, 2011.

  1. Rob Helmerichs

    Rob Helmerichs I am Groot! TCF Club

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    In short, a Flying Snowman is the one unbelievable thing among many that takes us out of a story.

    In long...

    So, since we stumble around the concept so frequently here, we should adopt the phrase. And if you use it to describe your own thoughts on a show, then you're hanging a lantern on it!
     
  2. kaszeta

    kaszeta $nullstring TCF Club

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    Heh, I myself wondered when that particular Metafilter thread was going to end up over here....
     
  3. jsmeeker

    jsmeeker Notable Member TCF Club

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    lol

    This is gonna apply to so many discussions here in TV talk.

    Most every SciFi show
    Glee
    and on and on
     
  4. sieglinde

    sieglinde Active Member

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    I think Terra Nova is a giant flying snowman.
     
  5. scooterboy

    scooterboy Coney Island Small

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    I think in some cases, a Flying Snowman is an absolutely valid thing to question. When something in a fantastical book/movie doesn't make sense even within the world in which it exists, it could and should be questioned.
     
  6. Rob Helmerichs

    Rob Helmerichs I am Groot! TCF Club

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    Oh, absolutely. But that's not really a Flying Snowman. That's just bad writing.
     
  7. scooterboy

    scooterboy Coney Island Small

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    Ah - ok. I misunderstood the definition then.
     
  8. Rob Helmerichs

    Rob Helmerichs I am Groot! TCF Club

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    Scalzi explains it better (and at greater length) than I did. You should read his article. It's not that long, and he's a funny writer who makes a lot of sense.

    [edit] By the way, here's an important quote from Scalzi in the comments of the cited post, which I think we need to bear in mind when discussing Flying Snowmen in the future:
    There are three different things at play here: Flying Snowmen, which is one element out of many that just throws you out of a story (which is your fault, but not a flaw in you; just the way you're wired); crappy writing (there's something wrong with the story); and you being an idiot (there's nothing wrong with the story; you just can't understand it).

    I'm sure much of the fun will be in determining which case applies in a given situation. :D
     
  9. jradosh

    jradosh Newlywed

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    Examples? :confused:
     
  10. Rob Helmerichs

    Rob Helmerichs I am Groot! TCF Club

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    Not liking Lost because of the time travel is a Flying Snowman.

    Not liking Lost because of the ending is crappy writing.

    Not liking Lost because it's weird is you being an idiot.

    :D
     
  11. doom1701

    doom1701 Time for a new Title TCF Club

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    So which one applies to "It's a Unix system!"
     
  12. Mars Rocket

    Mars Rocket Loosely wound

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    Crappy Writing and You're an Idiot. It was a unix system, but that doesn't mean the girl would know what to do with it.
     
  13. jradosh

    jradosh Newlywed

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    Alas your examples are (pardon the pun) lost on me. Never watched that show. :eek:

    But I think I get it anyway.
     
  14. doom1701

    doom1701 Time for a new Title TCF Club

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    Re-reading the article, I can't say that I really agree with the concept. So the Flying Snowman is not something that is a flaw in the story, but it is a flaw in the viewer that notices it? I would say that both of his examples were flaws in the story (flaws introduced for artistic purposes, but flaws none the less).

    A writer must understand the universe in which he is writing. In the same vein, a director must understand the universe in which he is directing. While neither of the examples in the article would probably take me out of a story, I can see why they do:

    The Gollum example: Yes, the world of Tolkien is filled with crazy stuff. But physics is still physics (unless it's being acted upon by magic). If I pick up a rock in the Hobbit world and drop it, it falls. If someone is riding a giant eagle and they fall off, they plummet to their death. So why shouldn't someone hitting lava act in the same way? Apparently lava is pretty thick and you don't sink into it.

    The Flying Snowman himself: the story sounds like a story about a snowman coming to life and acting like a human. Eating, playing, running, etc. The physics of a snowman being able to do any of those things is not a facet of the story. What is a facet of the story is the humanness of the snowman. Should the snowman fly? Not if the purpose of the story is to make him seem human.
     
  15. Rob Helmerichs

    Rob Helmerichs I am Groot! TCF Club

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    But the point is, why is it THAT violation of the laws of physics that makes somebody object, and not the countless other violations of the laws of physics that are scattered throughout Lord of the Rings? If you accept giant spiders (whose weight in reality would snap their own legs), then why can't you accept that Gollum can sink into magic lava (and it is established that the lava of Mount Doom has magical properties)?

    It's not that the Magic Snowman isn't "wrong" somehow; it's that it exists in a story where other things are equally "wrong" but don't draw the same disbelief.

    And as I quoted earlier, Scalzi takes pain to point out this doesn't mean something is "wrong" with the reader. We all have different levels of what we can accept. It's just that sometimes the contradictions between what we can and cannot accept are, when viewed objectively, a little strange.
     
  16. doom1701

    doom1701 Time for a new Title TCF Club

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    Probably because the magical lava isn't magical enough. There's nothing that says "This lava should physically react differently than other lava".

    All that said, this one didn't ever raise a red flag with me--I had no idea that you aren't supposed to be able to sink into lava as you burn to death. And that's why it's in the story, too--the writers and director didn't think about it in that way either. No one put the movies together thinking "This lava is magic, so Gollum should sink into it."
     
  17. Rob Helmerichs

    Rob Helmerichs I am Groot! TCF Club

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    And I think again you're missing the point.

    The lava raised a red flag with somebody (who complained about it in the post that Scalzi referred to). But given all the other physical impossibilities in LotR, Scalzi asks why is THAT the one that makes the guy complain?

    Which is an interesting question. LotR is FILLED with physical impossibilities, yet this reader got thrown out of the story by one that would not make you, me, nor Scalzi blink. And I'm sure you, I, and Scalzi have all been thrown out of stories by elements that would not make other people blink, despite the presence of other equally "wrong" elements. And THAT'S what the FLying Snowman is all about.
     
  18. Ereth

    Ereth Unemployed Bum

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    If I'm understanding the point correctly, each of us will have our own Flying Snowman moments and they may not be ones we can even explain to each other very well.

    Technical people have that all the time. For me, I can't watch "The Hunt for Red October" because I know how to track that submarine and could do it in my sleep. For someone who doesn't know anything about anti-submarine warfare, they won't have that Flying Snowman and can enjoy the movie.

    How many movies do we complain about that get computers wrong? "Over-ride security protocol". "OK. Access Granted". Hollywood OS throws many geeks out of movies, but average moviegoers won't care.

    I vaguely remember a bit on a movie about special forces where the advisor told the director that what he was showing was wrong and the director said "How many people would know that?" and since the answer was "several hundred" he left it in. It wasn't enough people to bother him.
     
  19. Rob Helmerichs

    Rob Helmerichs I am Groot! TCF Club

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    And you go on to explain some, but I think your point here is key...sometimes, we can't accept the Flying Snowman just because. But we know there must be a logical reason, because we're logical people, so we come up with an explanation for why it's OK for a snowman to drink hot liquids but not to fly...and end up sounding kind of silly in the process.

    That's exactly the kind of discussion that goes on here all the time, which I thought of when I read Scalzi's article. We all do it, but I don't think most of the time we realize we're doing it.
     
  20. DancnDude

    DancnDude Thrice as nice TCF Club

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    This is a perfect description for a lot of TV shows. I basically gave up on Glee because while I could accept the premise that the characters will break out into song all the time (that's the whole point of the show) but some of the things the characters do or say was just too far off from how a real person would act. Too many Flying Snowmen for me.
     

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