My impulsive answer to Anne's question-comment on Isaac's post (“Why are we so attached to closure as a sign of quality?”) is to say that types of closure are gendered, and that there's something manly about ending a serial. That’s not the whole story, but I think it’s an important part
Some ideas on that subject and others after the jump.
We admire endings (snicker) in part because they conform to our most basic notions of what an artist does. That’s often a particularly masculine model, which we place in distinction to things which don’t end, like soap operas, which are interpreted as both feminine and artistically inferior. I’m certain that I’m not the first person to say this, although I don’t know precisely who has said this before (please let me know). I realize that I’m at great risk of being reductive here, but I want to get my ideas moving a little. There’s the idea of dichotomies as masculine, and formless things as feminine, right? An ending creates a dichotomy. There was this show, now there’s not this show. Something about this question of the superiority of closure suggests feminist language theories, doesn’t it? Masculine language splits and defines, etc. And then I think of an interview I just heard with Ricky Gervais (speaking about his new film, Cemetery Junction), and how in the way he speaks about his work, with references to the works of Woody Allen and Billy Wilder, he places himself in a tradition of auteurs. Guys who did serious stuff. I’m not ragging on Gervais for doing that. I thought both The Office and Extras were awesome. I even watched his short stand-up special in Grand Theft Auto IV all the way through. His conception of himself as an artist has led him to produce some striking and original work. But it does seem a very masculine model, and I wonder sometimes about the limits of that kind of work—auteurish and deliberate, where the forces of collaboration and continuation are frequently characterized as the negative, undermining, commercial, industrial, and feminine (I’m again ripping wholesale from Daniel Worden’s article about McSweeney’s number 13 here).
is okay as far as it goes, but becomes kind of boring and stultifying when that
struggle between the auteur and the agents of compromise becomes the theme of
the work. I’m thinking of the second season of Extras here, which I liked, but man was it a pity party. I’m also thinking
of Sigourney Weaver’s turn as the sinister—but very funny—network head in The TV Set, undermining and undercutting
everybody’s favorite masculine melancholic, David Duchovny, with her daughter
as her main advisor. I’m not saying that it’s not an accurate satire, but it
does also seem heavily gendered—one potential message of that movie would be
that teenage girls make everything shittier.
Iguess my first impulse is to reframe Anne’s question as a challenge—to try to begin to answer it by searching for that model of an artistically interesting (and that criterion is suspect, but whatever, at least for the time being) serial that delays closure indefinitely. What does it, or would it, look like? Would I want to consume it? I take Isaac’s idea of central tensions as important. Is it a definition of the narrative serial that something is always trying to get resolved, being frustrated? It does seem really important. Can that be sustained indefinitely, without becoming intensely irritating (I’m looking at you, David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel on Bones—your will-they-won’t-they thing done constantly in every episode actually manages to be more irritating than the long stretches of humorless product placement incorporated into you dialogue)? You can make the central tension an endless variation on a theme, like Krazy Kat’s love triangle, but that’s not actually a serial in the sense of a continuous narrative. But it does seem like comic strips may have part of the answer (because comics secretly hold the keys to understanding the universe—but you knew that already, right?). I was never that big into Doonesbury, but I did adore Bloom County, which was heavily influenced by Doonesbury in a number of way, not least of which was the incorporation of serialized narrative into a gag strip (not that this was in itself new—I’m pretty sure that was also the structure of E.C. Segar’s Popeye strips, and probably goes back further). There was no explicit promise of overall closure in
Those works where the characters or the stories outlive the
creator seem, frequently, to be regarded as inferior works. Take Isaac’s
(totally valid) pronouncement about the post-Sorkin West Wing. Take the entirety of superhero universe continuity comics,
which may have many interesting moments but tend to be overall so dull—or let’s
say they’re not dull, but their supporters are often on the back foot, having
to defend their love from haters like me. I fear if I continue I’m just going to restate the parameters of Anne’s question with endless examples (totally closure free, but in a boring way),
without ever further addressing the fundamental question of why closure is so
important as a mark of quality. My impulse is to say that moving away from the desire for closure
could potentially make for more interesting stories, but perhaps I’m being naïve
about that. I have, lately, been fascinated with the output of Sumi Ink Club (from whose website I stole the image above),
the drawing collaborative based in